Just a couple of weeks ago we got to spend 4 days at the beach in Wildwood, NJ. So we brought The Orange Chair along for a few photo opts. Both with the books ‘Flotsam’ by David Wiesner and ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.