Alarm 4.00 a.m. for start of this trip to USA. Our taxi arrived just before 5.00 am. Pleasant taxi driver - we arrived at Savacentre at 5.15 for our 5.45 bus to Gatwick. Arrived at Gatwick at 7.40 - still dark. Easy check in, now 8.00 a.m.
10.05 flight left on time for Dallas/ForthWorth. Pleasant flight. Delighted that the film ‘Ladies in Lavender’ was being screened, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Soon went into cloud, but had glimpse of Devon as we flew over, then over Atlantic, and the icy wastes of Northern Canada. Cloud again as we approached Great Lakes, but cleared as we neared St. Louis and the Mississippi. Landed on time at Dallas / Fort Worth airport at 2.00 p.m., despite strong head winds. Clear blue sky and sunny, temp 21ºC - lovely.
Got taxi and arrived at Bam 3.30. It was at repairers in Fort Worth, not at the storage place, as we had had the back repaired. Further away, and longer taxi journey. Had also had new tyres fitted, but not quite right, so after filling water tank, left to drive to tyre place, some miles away. I started unpacking some stuff, and cleaning the fridge while the chap swapped the tyres. Feeling very hot! Now had to find our way back toWalMart at Hurst to spend the night. Feeling weary by now, but made our way through the traffic. Got some fuel at Walmart, then got settled in. Ate beans on toast for supper, and got into bed at 7 o’clock local time, feeling pretty exhausted!
Friday 21st January 162 miles
Up early after night of not much sleep! Night had been cooler than we’d expected. Adrian into Walmart at 7 o’clock! Left 8.30 and stopped at nearby Albertsons and did good shop.
On to ‘Cingular’, where Adrian spent a long time trying to sort out the phone. Looked at books/maps about where we are going.
Headed out of Fort Worth/Dallas (70 miles from one end to the other!)
Pulled off to little park for lunch south of Dallas and sat outside in pleasant temperature at picnic table.
Had difficulty in getting back on to I20. Continued east for short way, but not as pretty as we’d expected, so turned off just before Canton. Made our way towards the dammed LakeTawakoni, but there was a high embankment, so we couldn’t see anything. Carried on on small rural roads with humble dwellings through Point and Sulphur Springs to a picnic area near Birthright at 5.00 p.m. Backed in, and found that we nearly hit a post!
Saturday 22nd January 213 miles
The sky was blue, but there was a cool wind.
We left at 8.20 and drove through rural country past Clarksville to the Red River at Albion. At 10 o’clock we pulled in beside the river, which was large and red, and made us think of the Letaba River in S. Africa. Still cool and windy.
Crossed the Red River into Oklahoma and drove on to Idabel - a run down looking town, but we were soon able to get an internet connection.
Drove on north through Broken Bow (with a genuine looking ‘historic centre’) to Beavers Bend State park.
Drove a 10 mile circuit with lovely forest views. Had lunch beside water.
Continued north to Winding Stair Mountains and drove delightful 21 mile Talimena Scenic Drive. Lots of viewpoints over beautiful forested hills, but bitterly strong gusts of wind. Roadrunner ran across in front of us.
Drove north short way, then back on small road parallel to Talimena Drive, but with scattered housing, and nowhere to pull off. Reached main road at Hodgen and drove north few miles to area beside road by pile of road chippings, just south of Heavener, 5.20.
Sunday 23rd January 169 miles
The night was colder than we could possibly have imagined! Adrian put the heating on at 3 o’clock, then had to run the engine in the morning as the battery was almost flat. Sunshine and blue sky, but very cold (max 40ºF) all day.
Drove back south. Joined Talimena Drive going eastwards, continuation of yesterday’s road - and just as beautiful.
Stopped at viewpoints again and had coffee at last viewpoint before crossing (without note) into Arkansas. (why isn’t it pronounced R-kansas?)
Stopped and walked short trail to a Pioneer cemetery, with poignant note about the first burial - a little girl of 8, who had left the cabin where her family were sick, to collect firewood. She had hidden in a tree from wolves, and her frozen body was found next morning.
Next came Queen Wilhelmina State Park, where there was a fine steam engine.
This was a campsite/recreation area in season, but for us it was still extremely cold.
We were amused at the sign as we left, saying that the road was ‘crooked and steep’! We now continued through pretty, but not dramatic country.
We were passing through a ‘rock area’, with places everywhere selling quartz and other rocks, and ‘dig your own’ signs.
At Joplin (not the Route 66 one) we turned off to view Lake Ouachita (pronounced Washita), but it was just a glorified covered marina, so we didn’t stop long!
We continued to the town of Hot Springs, childhood home of President Clinton. This is a spa town with splendid buildings of a bygone era. We made our way to the restored Fordyce Bath house, now a FREE National Parks ‘museum’. It had been splendidly restored, and we were able to wander through 4 floors, and feel what a ‘bath house’ of the 1930s was like.
After our visit, we wandered along behind ‘Bath house Row’ back to the Bam. There are many springs in the town, with hot water, but we drove off to one with cold water. We couldn’t fill the tank directly, but Adrian filled several large bottles, and poured them into the tank, while I made a cup of tea with the spring water.
We drove up the ‘Mountain Drive’ to a viewpoint over the area, but didn’t contemplate the tall tower, as the sun was now low, and it was time to find somewhere to stop for the night.
We had seen in the book which Simon had given Adrian for his birthday of a campsite some miles north, free in the winter. We headed out that way, past Jessieville to the site called Iron Springs, arriving just before 6 o’clock, as it was about to get dark. We pulled in beside the stream, with the almost full moon shining down on us, and soon poured a drink!
It had been a good day.
Monday 24th January 166 miles
It was another very cold night, but I wore my beanie, and slept until 7.45. Short walk to ‘Iron spring’ - very cold as sun hadn’t yet reached us.
Left 9.30, and soon took road towards Little Rock, but it was over 20 miles of unsurfaced ‘scenic’! Stopped near Lake Winona for coffee, then soon reached tarmac and headed for Little Rock, stopping by Lake Maumelle where there were long icicles on twigs by the lake.
Made our way into Little Rock and located Central High School - centre of racial rioting in the fifties, when 9 black children wanted to join a ‘white’ school. Visited petrol station opposite, restored to look as 1957, and now a visitors centre/museum about the happenings then. Viewed the outside of the attractive, imposing looking school, (and saw lots of the seemingly integrated students) and also a small dedicated park opposite.
Drove back into centre of town and stopped by Riverside Park and viewed actual ‘Little Rock’, in bank of Arkansas River. Walked around in sunshine - several river bridges - pleasant feel. Liked a quote in a ‘belvedere’ overlooking the river ‘A teacher affects eternity, he (she) can never tell where his influence stops’ (Henry Brooks Adams) Also saw a marmot in the river bank.
Left Little Rock and set off south to Pine Bluff. Took an easy, wide, treelined road, with wide grass central reservation, and found place to dump at Pine Bluff, also got water and petrol. Continued on freeway round Pine Bluff, then south. Sun was setting, and full moon shining down. Lots of water everywhere - evocative. Turned off towards Arkansas Post to free place at Moore Bayou Park, arriving 5.45.
Tuesday 25th January 105 miles
The night was not so cold. The bayou looked lovely as the sun rose. We could hear a woodpecker.
Left at 8.50. Drove short distance to Arkansas Post - site of former town, with much history, dating from 1542. First saw site of FortHindman , destroyed during Civil War, and now under the altered course of river. After looking around Visitors Centre, we walked trail around town site, with views to Arkansas River.
Beautiful, and some bird song, but chilly!
Drove to picnic site for coffee, sitting outside, overlooking Post Bayou, then I drove back to the road junction, seeing deer leaping across the road. Here we visited Arkansas Post Museum, which consisted of several buildings restored to look like different eras relevant to the area. I liked a little playhouse, dating from the 30s, and fully furnished.
Now drove south on small roads across very flat country, through a small place called Watson, with very humble dwellings. Stopped for lunch on levee above Mississippi Flood plain. Drove on to Arkansas City (589 inhabitants), on Mississippi River, just south of confluence of Arkansas River. Read plaque of great flood of 1927, and later saw more about this flood, which was the cause of a huge project of levee building and flood control. The river level was high today. Water everywhere - some catfish pools - saw hundreds of geese (we think snow geese) and herons. This is a migratory route.
Turned off to Lake Chilcot - largest oxbow lake in U.S. Drove to State Park. Drove part of the levee tour, and continued to bridge over theMississippi, nearly 2 miles long.
Crossed it (into Mississippi State) then returned to area beside levee, near Shives, looking to bridge 4.45. Cup of tea as sun set beautifully, and full moon rose behind bridge.
Wednesday 26th January 188 miles
Woke 7.00 am to thick fog! Started writing first email, and left at 9.30.
Drove back across the Mississippi Bridge into Mississippi State to Greenville. Visited visitors centre in replica steamboat, then walking tour of rather rundown town. Asked in Post office for stamps to Europe, but didn’t have any! Sun came through 10.30, then warm and sunny. Walked by river, looking lovely with mist - several casinos.
Drove north, stopped at Winterville Mounds - ancient Indian burial mounds with museum about them, and about 1927 flood. Short walk around afterwards.
Should have stopped here for lunch, as next picnic place had no table, then long dreary drive to Rosedale, where decided to try state park, but flooded, so couldn’t get in. Lunch on adjacent levee.
Drove on to Clarksdale, blues place. Run down town, drove on to Helena, across Mississippi and back into Arkansas - even more run down. Excellent museum , on 1927 flood, local life, and Civil War battle. Nice view over Mississippi - walked up levee after (4.30), but now very cool. Back across bridge into Mississippi, then north. Turned off to Lake Arkabutla to free camping places, but went on wild goose chase, now in dark, going round and round. Eventually pulled in by farm barn and asked if we could stay the night. Farm Manager said that it is warmer than usual, so tractors were out ploughing the fields. Now nearly 7.00 p.m.
Thursday 27th January 105 miles
As the man said, they would be starting work at 7 o’clock, and they did! We left at 7.30 and drove on to the dam for breakfast.
We drove on towards Memphis, stopping at Nesbit to get fuel. We found our way to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home, and entered the parking lot ($2), then had coffee (10.30). Despite our reservations, a really super visit followed. We decided to go for the ‘all in’ ticket, giving access to the mansion, and the car and plane museums. It may have turned bitterly cold again, but at least there were relatively few visitors. One guide told us that in summer it is packed, and you might have to wait up to 2 hours for the shuttle bus (the only way to the mansion). Also we found that the mansion is closed on Tuesdays in winter, so it was lucky that we didn’t come here after visiting Little Rock.
Tour of the house was self guided, using personal headsets, and worked really well. We were able to see all the rooms, as they would have been in Elvis’ time, and much memorabilia.
Elvis music was played on various videos as we wandered around. Outside was a garden with the graves of Elvis and his parents and grandmother (who had outlived them all).
Elvis certainly came over as a genuine, generous, caring, and talented person. After viewing some of Elvis’ cars, including his pink Cadillac, we realised that it was past lunch time, so we returned to the Bam, where I cooked a pasta dish, as we had no bread, and hadn’t passed any shops to speak of.
We returned to visit Elvis’ 2 aircraft - the small ‘Hound Dog 2’ and the superb ‘Lisa Marie’, which was Adrian’s idea of flying, with its double bed and luxurious furnishings!
By now it was 2.45, so time for us to leave. On the way out of Memphis we stopped at a ‘Kroger’ store we had passed on the way in. We were in great need of many things, but this wasn’t the place to get them, as the shop was being rebuilt inside, and everything was all over the place. There were great holes in the ground, with goods just pushed out of the way!
We now made our way SE out of Memphis, turning off at Holly Springs. There was a Walmart here, and we pulled in and had a cup of tea while we decided whether to stop for the night. We didn’t want to repeat our experience of last night, in particular, when it was dark before we found anywhere to stop. We decided to push on, as we had various camping places in our free book a bit further south. Once again though, we found the directions totally inadequate, and finally pulled off the road at 5.40 on a grassy area by the forest. The dull day meant that it had got dark earlier. A girl at Graceland had told us that the weather had been really erratic - warm one day and cold the next.