Texas to Arkansas

Just To Say We Were There

Texas

After a while of driving we found ourselves crossing through the corner of Texas. Part of our goal for this day was to drive into Texas and Oklahoma (which were both out of the way) just to say that I were there. So we made our way toward Texarkana and by early afternoon found ourselves in the Northeast corner of Texas. We stopped at a gas station to get a postcard, and then continued on our way. When we got to Route 8 we headed north on the backroad highway searching for a place to take a picture. There were a lot of fields, cattle and back roads on route 8 so eventually we pulled off onto a dirt road and quick got a picture with the book ‘Holes’ by a herd of cattle. Antonia stepped on some ants and got bit – she wasn’t happy about this.

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Before crossing the Red River we stopped at some historic picnic spot near Woodstock, TX. Hobbes loved watching the tractor-trailers speed by as he stood in the grass. It was quite entertaining to watch. We soon got back in the car, and before we knew it we were in Arkansas. One of my regrets is that we didn’t stop at the pull off by Red River it looked so amazing driving across it! But we probably wouldn’t have had the time anyway.

Oklahoma

We weren’t really in Arkansas all that long actually before we got to Oklahoma. We drove into Foreman and then headed west on route 32 for about 15 mins until we saw the sign for Oklahoma. We pulled over and took a photo by the sign and then thought it’d be a good idea to get a photo by the Arkansas sign too. We ran across the street and I realized I still had ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ as a book so it wouldn’t have worked. Being there were big trucks flying by us on this small back road we decided to skip it and head back into Arkansas.

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Arkansas

We got gas in Foreman, looked for a postcard (to no avail) and got back on the road again. After a little while of driving through some beautiful woods and discovering some unexpected views we looked for a place to eat. (Side note: On our way I saw a place that had a firetruck standing end-for-end in a field with a flag on it, as well as a mail box that was shaped like a right-side-up firetruck – it was kinda weird and kinda cool). Eventually we found a place called ‘Ari’s Little Italy Italian Restaurant’. We ordered a large pizza (so we’d have lunch for the next day as well). It was amazing! And yet again, the whole time Hobbes watched and pointed at cars that passed by on the road.

That night we drove through Hot Springs, but it was too late at night to stop at the National Park, this was a bummer, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. As we made our way east on route 70 a cop decided to mess with my mind. After driving slowly in front of me, and alongside of me, he decided to pull me over when I merged into his lane in front of him. He said I merged too closely, but I think he was just finding a reason to pull an out-of-stater over.  He never gave us a ticket, but just asked about our trip and let us go – I’m sure having Hobbes crying in the back helped. (The next day another cop tried to do the same thing, but I decided not to speed up or move until I reached my exit so he wouldn’t have a reason to pull me over).

That night we slept in Searcy, AR. The next morning, we looked at a map and determined that instead of passing straight from Arkansas into Tennessee that we would head south down to the Mississippi River State Park / St. Francis National Forest, get a picture on the banks of the Mississippi River, and then drive through Mississippi as we made our way toward Nashville. It took us an extra hour, but we soon found ourselves watching a barge move up river on the banks of the second longest river in the United States. We took a picture with ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, talked with some locals, walked around on the shores, and then drove back through the park to find a less buggy spot to eat lunch.

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Earlier, before we had driven down the 3 mile dirt road to the Mississippi we had noticed that there was a dam and little beach by a lake.  So on our way back through the little bayou we determined we would stop there for lunch. The lake was called ‘Storm Creek Lake’. We got out our pizza, from the night before, and ate while sitting on the breezy banks of the lake. It was a nice spot to take a break before crossing the Mississippi River on our way back north.

Highlights: 

  • For some reason it was really memorable just watching Hobbes turning back and forth to watch the big trucks pass by in Texas.
  • The view crossing the Red River.
  • The pizza in Arkansas was surprisingly good.
  • It might not be a positive highlight, but getting pulled-over sure was interesting.
  • Watching the barge on the Mississippi. The timing was really cool because it just made its way into view when we got there and made the experience even cooler.
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Mississippi to Louisiana

On the Southern Edge

Mississippi

Not long after waking up in Alabama we found ourselves beneath unusually blue skies – at least for having just seen severe storms pass – in Mississippi. We were debating for a while where we wanted to stop while we were there. North of us was the De Soto National Forest, and south of us was the Gulf of Mexico. I had wanted to go into the National Forest, but Antonia really wanted to ride along the coast. So we decided to take a southern route and head for Biloxi, Mississippi. After getting off the highway we almost immediately found ourselves on the coast and right before us was ‘The Lighthouse Pier’. So on a whim we turned into the half-filled parking lot and explore for a little bit. We even found root beer in glass bottles at the visitors center and it make for a nice little break.

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One of the coolest things about driving through Mississippi (and Louisiana for that matter) is that the highways become mile long bridges through swamps and bayous. These bridges, as they rise up, become their own vistas in a world that is mostly near or below sea-level. One truly feels like they are on top of the world when really they are at one of its lowest points.

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Louisiana

We arrived in Louisiana at 5:07pm. I remember this distinctly because the welcome center (for some odd reason) was open until 5pm.  When we got there the doors were locked, and there was no way for me to pick up a map, postcard, or coffee (the people at the beautiful welcome center in Mississippi told me that Louisiana gave out free coffee). This was a huge disappointment, but the weather was beautiful and so we walked around outside a bit before moving on.

We continued on the highway / bridge system with the destination of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Due to time we were unable to stop in New Orleans – like every visitor to Louisiana does. Breaux Bridge is the town that Antonia’s former college roommate lives with her husband, and our plan was to stay there for a few days. (It is also a town that was hit by a Tornado just the day before). We arrived just before dark and unpacked knowing we’d stay in one place for a full day for the first time since we left.

Swamp Tours and a Blackjack Oak

It was quite exciting to have a full day to be tourists while we were in Louisiana. We woke up a gracious breakfast and after eating went to check out an opportunity to do a swamp tour at Lake Martin. After booking a tour at 11:30am we decided to go back into town to get some coffee. As we drove through we found a quaint cafe called, ‘Joie De Vivre Coffee and Culture Cafe’. It was such a fun place to enjoy a coffee, look at artwork and let homes exclaim, ‘Vroom’ every time a car passed by.

After coffee we headed back to Lake Martin and somehow made it through a 2 hour boat tour with Hobbes – we had to pass him back and forth the whole time. A nice lady from Alabama kept pulling things out of her purse to entertain Hobbes (like a flashlight from the Grand Canyon and a fan from New Orleans). We learned a lot about the alligators, birds, and the swamp in general. It was a really fun and informative tour.

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Following the swamp tour we explored Breaux Bridge a little more and went out for some authentic Cajun food with our friends. I wanted to have everything while we were there, but that would have been a bit pricy. So I just got some Alligator filets and the Shrimp Gumbo, while trying some of my friend’s crawfish. Afterward, when we got back to our friend’s house it was a beautiful evening to just sit outside beneath the giant Blackjack Oak and watch Hobbes run around. Later, my friend Cody played me in NHL 94′ and I got creamed, sadly.

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It really was nice to have a break and to just spend time with friends, but before we knew it, it was time to be on the road again. Before leaving I had to buy a new tire for the blazer (because the front passenger tire was super worn). So I woke up early and headed to Walmart to get one while Antonia slept. Once we had the new tire, we ate some donuts from the ‘Cajun Market Donut Company’ (I’m not sure if they were better than Krispy Kreme or not), and made our way north toward Texas.

Louisiana really is a beautiful place. I wish we had more time to explore there and maybe tour a Plantation, but maybe another day.

Books for these few days included:

‘ Three Famous Novels’ by William Faulkner (Biloxi, Mississippi) 
‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin (Lake Martin, Louisiana) 
‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana) 
‘This Side of Paradise’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana)

Highlights: 

  • The view from the bridges in Mississippi really took my breath away. It was so amazing to just see the whole landscape and to admire it for how different it was.
  • On the Gulf of Mexico we walked to the end of the pier and watch a man fish with a net, which seemed to be pretty successful for him. He had a bunch of fish laying around that he had caught already.
  • Finding root beer in a glass bottle is like finding a treasure trove.
  • Breaux Bridge was a memorable little town and the swamp tour just outside of it was really worth the money we spent to be a part of it. Our guy knew a lot and answer any questions we threw his way. Who knew we’d see so many birds on a alligator tour…
  • Like I said above, just having a break for a day in the midst of the trip was huge for us. And I can truly say I really enjoyed eating Alligator.

 

Georgia to Alabama

Jukeboxes and Catfish

Georgia

We intentionally spent as much time as we could in South Carolina before we set out for Georgia, so we left around 1pm. Our next destination was Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, Georgia. I didn’t know much about this park, only that it looked kind of touristy. Well about 4 hours later we arrived to crazy traffic and signs that said it was, ‘Spring Break Fun’ week! Just great. Parking was $15 so we debated for a while if we should go in (we had a long wait anyway), but decided that we drove all the way here and might as well go in.

So we paid our fee, got our map and drove around looking for a secluded spot to take a few photos with the Orange Chair. The place was packed! We stopped for a bit at a nearby playground and let Hobbes play, and then we proceeded to drive around the park. It seemed challenging to find a spot where you could see the mountain, and pull over to take a few pictures. Going the long way around we soon found a bridge and a distant view of the mountain with budding trees. So we took some photos as a few teenagers speculated and laughed at us.

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Then we drove around some more. We found a cool covered bridge that we drove across and then trying not to get sucked into all the tourism looked for a place to get a postcard. I dropped Antonia off at a gift shop and looked for parking. Lo and behold right in front of my spot was a great view of the mountain with no people around! So while I waited I took a few photos there as well. I love some of the shots because the mountain looks almost like a close up of the moon which is the subject of my book ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ – obviously.

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Directly after these photos we took off, once again, for Alabama. Our car had a slight scare as soon as we got on the major highway by Atlanta (some issues bucking as I accelerated), but after stopping seeing that everything was normal we pressed on and had no further issues.

Alabama

It took a little while but we eventually reached Alabama just as it was getting dark and turned on some ‘Robert Johnson’ as we found ourselves submerged in Southern Culture. We pulled off at a welcome center, changed Hobbes into tractor jammies, booked a hotel in Atmore, and let Hobbes walk around barefoot in the grass before moving on. It was a nice short break, but we had a lot of driving to do before  the severe weather hit Alabama.

We were told that severe thunderstorms and possible tornados were on the way, so our goal was to make it to Atmore, AL (just above the pan handle of Florida) to spend the night. Then from there we would wait for the storm to blow over and proceed to Mississippi as the storm moved way from us. We reached Atmore around 11pm and proceeded to check in to our room, and went to sleep.

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Crazy winds, heavy rain, and an alarm in the hotel woke us up, but after an hour or so things calmed down and we went down for breakfast. We hung out in the hotel until check-out then drove around to find a place to eat lunch.

Florida

On our way to lunch we accidentally drove into Florida and so got a picture on the state line with the book ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway, and then turned around to head back into Alabama.

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Dixie’s Catfish Shack

We found a small little catfish shack back in Alabama. It seemed like a nice place to eat so we got a table in front of the jukebox and ordered catfish sandwiches. After a little while of playing with Hobbes (we set up cups and pushed his toy tractor back and forth between them) I was tempted to put some quarters into the jukebox. I looked through the selections and saw a song called ‘Blue Monday’ by Fats Domino, and some songs by Chuck Berry. They seemed fitting for the occasion. I proceeded to put my money in, typed in the number and, suddenly, the music started to blare. (I think I scared the other people in the ‘shack’ – it was dead silent before that). From that point on Hobbes would only eat with the jukebox playing, and he danced around when he ate. It was one of my favorite memories from the trip.

IMG_5511The catfish was quite good and filled us up enough to proceed through Alabama. Right before the border of Mississippi we found a random spot off of a scenic byway and took a photo with Harper Lee’s two books ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Go Set a Watchman’. It took a while, but somehow we actually got Hobbes to hold the book in front of his face.

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Highlights: 

  • It was quick comically watching Hobbes aimlessly roam around the play ground at Stone Mountain with no real goal in mind.
  • It sounds silly, but watching Hobbes walk around barefoot in Alabama was a moment I always want to remember. I’m not really sure why.
  • Having the alarm go off at the hotel and having them tell us we didn’t need to evacuate (like we’d evacuate from shelter during a tornado).
  • Puddle and border jumping to get a random photo in Florida.
  • The jukebox at the catfish shack and Hobbes only eating with it on.
  • Moving from crazy storms to blue skies all in the same day.

The Carolinas

Further Up and Further In

North Carolina

After waking up, eating breakfast and getting charged $20 in taxes on our room (those punks), we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains. The skies were overcast so we were really unsure of what we would be able to see as we drove up to 6,000 feet. (We seem to have this habit of visiting mountainous regions when its cloudy and overcast). As we wound our way up the windy roads we took every opportunity we could to search for the mountains beneath.

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Eventually we found Clingman’s Dome Road which was open for this first day of the season and we slowly began our ascent to the top. As we climbed the clouds played tricks on us. Certain spots would be completely shrouded in mist, and then all of the sudden the sun would blaze through and we’d see wisps of blue everywhere. It all reminded me of the scene at the end of the book we brought with us – ‘The Last Battle’ – where the Penvensie children explore the far reaches of Narnia as they press on ‘further up and further in’ and everything is made new.

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After about an hour of driving we fnally we reached the parking area, and found ourselves above the clouds! As far as we could see white and blue intermingled to create a breathtaking scene. We stared off into the distance, took a few photos and then leaving the chair behind hiked to the top of Clingman’s Dome.

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The hike to the top was steep and tiring (especially with a baby on one’s back), but we made it all the way up to the observation tower and it was worth every step. On the way up we met a couple who keep teasing Hobbes when they passed us. It was a bit chilly on top of North Carolina/Tennesee, but the view was beyond words.

When we left we a hid a few Orange Chair ‘calling cards’ in the gift shop and made our way over to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove along this for a little over 12 miles on our way to Columbia, SC. At a fitting overlook we stopped for a photo with another C.S. Lewis book ‘Till We  Have Faces’ and, soon after, took a nap at the last pull off  (which to our dismay was the only ‘vista’ without a vista).  With new energy and full stomachs we continued on our journey south.

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South Carolina

It didn’t take us too long, and before we knew it we were now in South Carolina. At the welcome center they gave us multiple postcards and maps (one map was of BBQ joints in South Carolina), and immediately began looking for a place to take a picture so we could enjoy the next day without scrambling for a shot. We saw on the map that there was a ‘Sumter National Forest’ on the way, so we set our sights on that location.

When we reached the exit we got off and there were no signs for a National Forest. We followed our GPS which took us to a random drive-way that was apparently in the forest. All we saw though looked just like a back woods community. As we tried to figure out what to do I spotted a random dirt road and we decided to quick pull off and get a picture there. It wasn’t anything special, but it seemed to stand out from other pictures we had taken so far on the trip.

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After finding, or not finding, our National Forest we made our way via backroad – to avoid traffic – to Columbia, SC.  There we enjoyed a great time with friend involving Applebee’s, NCAA Basketball Games, Harry Potter Clue, Crash Team Racing till 1am, Krispy Kreme donuts, and watching two toddlers play together (or something like that) for the first time. It was really nice having a place to stay that wasn’t an over-price hotel.

The next morning we decided to save ‘Congaree National Park’ for another trip – because we had a lot of ground to cover before severe weather hit – and set off for Georgia to see Stone Mountain.

Highlights: 

  • Just experiencing the change in scenery and weather as we climbed Clingman’s Dome was really amazing. Before we left I already hoping we could return one day when Hobbes was older.
  • Interacting with people on our hike up to Clingman’s Dome made the strenuous hike more fun. People would make funny comments like, ‘If they can do it with a baby on their back, I can do it’.
  • Our lunch stop was memorable even without much a view. At one point Hobbes, as he tried to stand up, fell on his face in the dirt. I probably shouldn’t have laughed, but it was quite comical to see him go through all that work to stand only to fall on his face. He was fine though and enjoyed watching the cars fly by on the road.
  • With The University of South Carolina playing in the NCAA Tournament that night things in Columbia were pretty upbeat. So it was exciting watching the game at Applebee’s with everyone else – even though South Carolina lost.
  • Playing old video games with old friends is the best.

Virginia to Tennessee

Embarking on our Journey 

On March 31st we set our on our adventure at 3:30am – so that Hobbes might sleep through the night. Our car was packed with all our clothes, a pack-n-play, toys, diapers, snacks, the Orange Chair and a crate full of books – some I have read and some I haven’t. It seemed a bit odd driving through the night, but by 8am we had already made out way through to Virginia. (And we found out that if you ask sometimes you can get free postcards at Visitor Centers! Thanks Virginia!)

It was very rainy most of our trip that first day. At times there was just a light sprinkle, but often if was a heavy downpour. It wasn’t until we got past the Shenandoah Mountains that the skies began to clear. Suddenly the mountains appeared and we just had to get off at the next exit for a picture in the foothills of the George Washington National Forest.

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Tennessee 

We continued driving through the early afternoon and made our way into Tennessee around 3:30pm. We quick grabbed a map at the visitor center and pressed on toward Townsend, TN for the night. A little before 6pm we found ourselves in Sevierville, TN, about to enter the Great Smoky Mountains. We stopped at the Visitor Center and bought a handkerchief for Hobbes (with hiking trails of the Smoky Mountains on it) and a postcard for ourselves.

Before this day I had never realized how crazy tourism is on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. The view driving down 66 was amazing – and pulled us right in – but before getting anywhere near the mountains we had to pass through a giant tourist trap. It reminded me of a combination of tourism from Lancaster, PA and Ocean City, NJ.  Route 441 soon greeted us with upside-down buildings, dinner feuds, the Titanic, King Kong and billboards galore. It took us an extra 45 mins just to get through.

Little did we know at the time, but spring break was beginning to happen all around us and would haunt us the rest of our trip. We got to our hotel – which I didn’t make a reservation for – and they had two rooms left. So after being over charged for a room we decided to go across the street for some BBQ, but not before getting a picture behind the hotel of a great view.

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Highlights: 

  • Seeing the mist and clouds rolling off of the Blue Ridge mountains was an amazing sight I hope to see again some day.
  • We discovered reggae style children’s music on a strange CD someone gave us.
  • At the gift shop Hobbes kept grabbing stuff animals and hugging them as he ran away trying to take them with him.
  • At the visitors center they had a huge model of the Great Smoky Mountains and the more I looked at it the more excited I got about traveling up to 6,600ft the next day to explore Clingman’s Dome.