Little Rock to Staunton, VA 4/3 - 4/13/16


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April 13th 2016
Published: April 13th 2016
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THE BASICS

We visited Hot Springs on a sunny Sunday, then headed to Memphis, where we spent time at Graceland and Beale Street, and ate bbq. For a few days then, we headed east, stopping after short stretches of driving to camp overnight in small towns. Our next larger town was Roanoke, which we remembered fondly from earlier trips and enjoyed again. Now we are in the Shenandoah Valley - revisiting Roanoke, Lexington, and Staunton - and will head tomorrow toward northern Virginia so we can visit with a couple of daughters, their spouses, and four grandsons. We are definitely in the home stretch of this trip, so this will be my last entry unless we discover something wonderfully new on our well-worn route.

THE FLUFF

Hot Springs AR, is a nice old town. One side of the main street is lined with huge old bathhouses in various stages of renovation. The other has hotels, shops, and restaurants. It is fun to imagine what it was like to travel here (though it did feel like a really long trip from Little Rock) to soak and be pampered for any number of days. The surrounding area is a large recreational area, with lakes, hiking trails, etc. etc.

Years ago, my grandson Kai advised me to visit Memphis and Graceland, so we finally did so. Graceland is quite an unusual place. The den, for example, has bright green carpeting on floor - and ceiling - and fuzzy animal print covers on the furniture. There are rooms with walls covered with Elvis's gold records and other awards. His movie career is featured. John says it looks like what a Donald Trump White House would look like, but I think Trump is more apt to feature gold and crystal. Elvis's home looked to me as if it was dedicated to comfort and fun for all the people who hung out there. His generosity to charity is impressive. And his devotion to his family is as well; he had both his mother and father buried there, along with his twin brother who died at birth. The grounds feature a meditation area and horses grazing on the lawns. I can understand how real Elvis fans could find Graceland a special experience.

In Memphis, we also had to go walk along Beale Street, which is actually only a couple of blocks long. We were there on a Monday mid-afternoon, but there was already so much loud live music playing that we didn't hang around. Imagine what it's like at night! Actually, a news report told about a tourist being accosted on Beale Street during an afternoon, so charming as it is, it has another side.

From Memphis we headed east and there were just a few experiences which are worth noting. In Crossville, John got to spend an hour admiring a model railroad exhibit at a mall. And we visited the Homesteads Tower Museum. During the Depression, that area of Tennessee was hard hit and it was chosen as one of the hundred spots in the country for people to be encouraged to apply to join a community. They worked building their homes and the town buildings, and plowing the fields to grow things, and their labors were eventually repaid with home ownership. In that area, there are still many of the stone homes, many with additions. Some are still occupied by members of the original families, and those homes sell for a good price. John was especially interested, because he had lived in Greenbelt MD, which was another community established in similar fashion.

We had considered proceeding through Asheville, NC, which we have enjoyed in the past. But we chose to join Bruce Springsteen and boycott NC for its current civil rights violations. (Our boycott did not make the national newscasts, however.) Our turn north onto route 81 led us to Bristol, which is in a neat situation straddling the border between Tennessee and Virginia. Indeed, one side of the main street is in TN and the opposite side is in VA. We enjoyed a couple of delicious bagels with our coffee as our last meal, for now, in Tennessee.

We only found one campground near Roanoke, and it was next to Caverns which we chose not to visit - after Carlsbad Caverns in NM and Luray Caverns in VA, we find other caverns much less impressive. Downtown Roanoke is really a delightful place. From the visitors center, you walk on a pedestrian bridge above a lot of railroad tracks to the market area. The market area has plenty of shops which have unique clothing and a lot of unique gift items. I chose to browse in the shops while John went to the railroad museum. He studied the history of railroading in that area and looked at a bunch of old locomotives. I was struck by the styles many of the women were wearing, and not only the young ones. I don't know the name for those styles, but flowy, multilayered, gypsy, come to mind. For lunch, we went to a well-rated burger restaurant. Yes, they sell only burgers. We couldn't quite bring ourselves to order their Elvis burger, which has bacon and peanut butter on top. It was highly recommended, but we were a bit more conservative.

We have spent pleasant hours in the towns of Lexington and Staunton. Both are built on hills and it is great fun (and exercise) to walk around their downtown areas. We have driven around several very attractive college campuses in our recent town visits. We haven't patronized the museums and historic sites as much as earlier in our trip; sometimes we just feel we have seen enough for now. This western part of Virginia is so lovely, with its rolling green hills and mountains in the distance to both east and west. It's a lovely area for a drive. And oh, how we enjoy lazing in the warm sunshine!

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