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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Spring in the Mid-South

    One of the great advantages of being retired, as my wife and I are, is that you can grab unexpected deals when they show up, rather than taking whatever is available during the brief periods that you can get away from work. This was the case a few years ago when we took advantage of an incredible flight deal to Albany NY and participated in a summer family reunion in New England. So we keep a working list of places we'd generally like to go and just watch for sales and other 'mistakes'. We just saw one for a very specific set of flights to Nashville that were about 40% off the normal price, and also found a car rental that allowed us to pick up just off the airport while still returning it to the airport for, again, about 40% less than we would otherwise pay. Since one of the trips on our list was vaguely listed as 'St. Louis and the South', this seemed an offer we couldn't refuse.

    Now with airline seats and car rental arranged, we're starting to fill in a rough itinerary. The outline we have so far has us spending a few days in Nashville at the end of the Memorial Day weekend, then heading for St. Louis via Land Between the Lakes and Cape Giradeau for a few days. Next we'd head east across southern Illinois (Mt. Vernon for some family history), spending a night somewhere along the Ohio River and then continuing to Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to Bristol VA/TN and Asheville for more friends and family. From there, we'd spend a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains/Pigeon Forge area before heading down to Chattanooga and some Civil War History (my great-great-grandfather fought there) and finally returning to Nashville for the flight home.

    The timing is not anywhere near cast in stone as yet other than the start/end dates which leave us 15 full days to wander through the above area. With our roughly mapped outline and general interests in history, scenic nature, stately homes and gardens, as well as good eclectic food, I am hoping that you all can provide some insights into sites not normally covered by the standard guide books.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 11-06-2016 at 08:47 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    In St Louis, other than the Arch, the old Courthouse, Six Flags Over Mid-America, Busch Stadium, Grant's Farm and the almost-free St Louis Zoo, there are a few things to be discovered.

    Of course, there is the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, along with a little bit of Lewis & Clark history there (Lewis & Clark SHS). On the Illinois side, near Collinsville, there is Cahokia Mounds SHS. A place I have yet to visit, but is on my bucket list, is Scott Joplin House SHS in St Louis.

    If you get anywhere in the Park Hills, Potosi, Bonne Terre area of Missouri, take out your map and find your way to the little bitty townsite of Irondale. There is a little place there called the Blue Haven Cafe. The food was always great, cheap, and plentiful -- especially given the low prices! I guess it still is, according to a distance relative who was there a few months ago. My MIL always called the place just "Earl's", after the man who ran the place for years.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default In the Begnning...

    I've moved the first two posts (inquiry and response) to the RoadTrip Report forum since now that the trip is over, I'm filing the report on how it worked out. You may note that the report is a bit late, but it does get me (finally) caught up on my comments on previously taken RoadTrips.

    Day 1:

    Flying day, never my favorite. Today, however, was better than most. We had gotten relatively inexpensive round-trip airfare from Tucson to Nashville. It wasn't direct/non-stop of course, but both legs were on smaller 'regional jet' aircraft. The advantage of such planes is that even in coach it's just 2x2, i.e. no middle seat. The flight from Tucson to Chicago on an Embraer 175 was especially nice. Our particular plane seemed to be relatively new and had decent leg room (important since I'm 6'3"). The connection in Chicago was snug but not tight, meaning we had time to grab a quick bite and then soon boarded for the second leg to Nashville.

    While waiting in Chicago, we had a short conversation with a woman who had just arrived from Belgium and was also waiting at the same gate to board her onward flight - to Winnipeg Manitoba! Turns out she was at the right gate, but just had to wait for the next plane. Wasn't there a recent incident where someone actually managed to board the wrong plane? I can see how this happens at busy airports with quick gate turnarounds.

    By the way - small hack! We had considered checking our bags to make the connections easier, but decided against adding another $50 in fees to check two carry-on sized bags. But because everyone else these days feels the same way about paying for what should be (and traditionary was) included in the price of transportation, and because the flights were pretty full over the holiday weekend (Memorial Day), they made an announcement in the waiting area in Phoenix asking people to 'gate check' baggage. What caught my ear, though was that they specifically said they would check the baggage through to the final destination and they made no mention of any fee. So I went up and asked and yes, right on both counts. So if we had checked our bags at the ticket counter: $50. Because we checked them at the gate (and, of course, because they were carry-on size): $0! And we didn't have to deal with them at all in Chicago.

    Anyway, we got settled in to our temporary digs in Nashville and just ordered delivery pizza. We'd start the RoadTrip tomorrow.

    Day 2

    So today, we got a relatively late start and picked up our rental car - from an off-airport location, saving us hundreds of dollars on the overall cost. Also, because we are member of the rental company (Avis) 'loyalty' program, we both get to be drivers for no extra charge.

    The only stop today was a tour of The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home outside Nashville. Very interesting, it's one of the best preserved of the early Presidents' homes and both Andrew and his wife Rachel are buried on the grounds. We seem to be collecting presidents' homes in some of our recent travels, most recently those of Coolidge, Truman and Johnson (LBJ).

    Other than that, we just laid in some food supplies and (another small hack) bought a cheap disposable cooler for use on the trip. Nashville was in a bit of a frenzy during our visit because their NHL franchise, the Predators, was in the Stanley Cup finals. This marks the first major league pro championship opportunity in the city's history. Fortunately for us, the first two games are 'away' in Pittsburgh, so most people are off the roads and in their homes or favorite bars during the games.

    Day 3

    The major activity today was to visit another stately home, walk the grounds, and soak up the ambience of a by-gone era. Today it was Bell Meade, and although it was called a 'plantation', its major product was thoroughbred race horses. The tour and grounds also placed a major emphasis on the lives of the slave 'staff', not just the owners.

    We also hit upon one of those local treasures, or 'hidden gems' for lunch, a place called The Picnic Cafe in the Belle Meade area. Yes, the decor suggested as much, but basically this was an excellent deli with home-made potato/chicken/egg/turkey salad, great sandwiches, and a very pleasant staff (cafeteria style) tucked away in the back of a shopping center.

    Day 4

    Another day, another southern mansion. This is, after all, my wife's year to pick our destination. Today we toured Belmont mansion which has since been surrounded by, and incorporated into, Belmont University and so it sits in the middle of a college campus.

    We had thought about seeing some traditional Nashville sights such as Music Row or the Ryman, but neither of us is all that much interested in country/western music or in going into large downtowns - particularly those that are in the midst of a frenzy because they are playing for the Stanley Cup. And besides, the current home of the Grand Ole Opry is just across the road from us (still not interested). In the evening we just relaxed and started getting stuff together for tomorrow's RoadTrip to Mammoth Cave and onward to Lincoln's early homes in Kentucky.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Mid-Trip

    Day 5

    Today we drove north from Nashville with but one major stop en route, at Mammoth Cave National Park. We had reserved our tour time, so no standing in line only to be disappointed that nothing was available. Also, since both my wife and I are retired seniors, we qualified for the 'Access Tour' which involved driving in a caravan led by our two ranger guides to the one and only elevator entrance to the cave. As it happened, there was only one other small family on the tour so we had what amounted to personal tour of a section of the cave. Add the fact that there were no steps (other tours can involve as many as 500) and it was a very pleasant experience indeed.

    We then continued on to our home for the next couple of nights in Bardstown KY, a small house directly across the street from a well-reviewed bakery. Have I mentioned that my wife does an incredible job researching and finding housing for our RoadTrips?

    Day 6

    On the one day that we had available from our two night stay in Bardstown, we drove to several sites along the Lincoln Historic Trail including his birthplace,

    which is, of course, a reproduction. Strangely though, rather than trying to give a sense of what it would have been like for the infant Abe and his family the cabin, which the national park website refers to as "symbolic", is fully enclosed within a mausoleum that somewhat resembles the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

    His boyhood home (again, a reproduction) is in a more natural setting on the same land near Knob Creek KY where it originally stood.

    What was also enjoyable about this particular stop was that the land around the home, and particularly the path down to the creek, has been preserved so that one can walk in his footsteps, see the stream where oral history has it that young Abe saved another boy from drowning.

    We also visited a small museum dedicated to Lincolniana. Oddly enough, Lincoln still gets something of a mixed reaction from the residents of the area, apparently because their true sympathies were and are with the Confederacy. Still, we enjoyed wandering around, visiting his homes, walking in his footsteps, and learning a bit more about him. I'm sorry to say that perhaps the most famous graduate of my high school/college (outside Baltimore) was John Surratt, one of the conspirators involved in the Lincoln assassination plot.

    Day 7

    As with the last couple of days, this was part of the trip where we were spending more time on the road than in a particular location. We drove from Bardstown KY to Asheville NC with two main stops. The first was at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site outside Perryville KY. Not many people visit this particular Civil War battlefield, but for me this was always going to be one of the highlights of the trip. The Battle of Perryville was where my great-great-grandfather received his baptism of fire in the Civil War. When we first walked in to the visitors center/museum we were greeted, as it happens, by the site's historian. When I mentioned that my forefather had fought there with the 21st Wisconsin, his eyes lit up and he had a number of tales to tell. It turns out that they played a pivotal role in the battle, and after taking us over the basic flow of the battle and showing me how to look up my relative's war record on line he directed us to The Cornfield

    where their major engagement took place. The 21st Wisconsin was placed in a line to act as reserve to a brigade of other regiments fighting the rebels. There were two big problems facing them as they stood waiting for their next orders. The first was that they were raw recruits, so raw in fact that many of them had never even fired their weapons!. The second was that it was late in the summer, actually early fall, and the corn was "as high as an elephant's eye". They simply could not see what was going on more than a few feet in front of them. They could hear the battle raging but it came as a total surprise when the Union line broke and the regiments in front of them came streaming out of the Cornfield followed closely by the Confederate Army. The 21st Wisconsin managed to hold their ground and repulsed the attack, turning the tide of battle and setting up the Army of the Cumberland, of which they were a part, for its march through Kentucky and Tennessee into Georgia and on from their to Atlanta and the sea. A great way to spend the morning.

    Then for lunch we stopped in Corbin KY. If the name of the town doesn't ring a bell, the name of the former motor hotel where we had lunch might. It was the Sanders Inn, to become famous for the fried chicken recipe (including eleven secret herbs and spices) developed by its owner Harland Sanders. And actually, the Colonel was prouder of the breakfasts he served in the little cafe attached to his motel that featured larges slices of Smithfield Ham.

    Then without further ado, we continued on to our mountain top retreat outside Asheville for the next week or so of relaxing and exploring the area.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default ...and Finishing Up

    Day 8

    Today was spent visiting with an old friend who lives in the area. After a great and leisurely (2 hours) lunch we adjourned to the Mountain Crafts Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed a short walk along a trail with signage describing the various Appalachian trees and their uses and a demonstration of bowl making by a local craftsman. Afterwards, we just stopped at a super market and stocked up for our week's stay in the Asheville area.

    Day 9

    Since it rained much of the day, we tried to stay indoors a bit more. We slept in late and did laundry, then drove into Asheville and toured the Basilica for a bit before heading out to the Visitors Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get some suggestions for short hikes to take later when the weather cleared. Finally just headed back to our home base, finished doing the laundry and ironing, and just sat on our porch overlooking the Blue ridge Mountains. Not every day has to be go, go, go.

    Day 10

    After two relatively uneventful days, today was more of a typical RoadTrip day with a fair amount of driving interspersed with some significant stops. The main order of business was to take a short foray into the Great Smoky Mountains with two objectives. The first was to learn a bit of the Cherokee history both since my son-in-law is part Cherokee and because I am a docent at a Native American Archaeology/Anthropology museum. So we stopped and toured the Museum of the Cherokee Nation in Cherokee NC.

    The museum is very well done, very informative, and well worth the time and admission charge. After lunch in the town of Cherokee, we headed into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoyed the scenery, and also took advantage of an under-utilized bit of history in the park. We toured a number of buildings that they had gathered (from various locations in the park) into a Mountain Farm Museum

    so as to get a feel not only for the land but for how both Native Americans and first 'western' settlers and pioneers utilized it and lived their lives. We also took a nice hike along the Oconaluftee River, and viewed a few elk and wild turkeys before heading for home base yet again.

    Day 11

    Back to the homes of the rich and famous today with the obligatory tour of the Biltmore Estate of the Vanderbilt clan. We got there right around opening which made the time spent more pleasant with the cool of the morning and the absence of crowds. What made the visit even more interesting was that each room also had a display of costumes from one or another well-known movie.

    We also took a leisurely walk through some of the many gardens around the estate and by the time we left at mid-day, it was neither cool nor quiet - It was summer and they do get over a million visitors each year.

    We then had a great lunch in 'The Village' at the Corner Kitchen, did a little shopping and repaired to our mountain cabin. Did I mention that it came with a spa? another great day in the mountains of North Carolina.

    Day 12

    And more traditional RoadTripping today. We slept in a bit and then drove a good bit of the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking lots of pullouts, short hikes, and other photo opportunities. And while most people think of the Blue Ridge Parkway as 'only' a road, the fact is that it is part of the national park system and has Visitors Centers with well-informed rangers to point you to the best spots, most appropriate hikes, and a folk art and craft center.

    Despite being early June, great weather, and with the rhododendrons in full bloom, the Parkway was not at all what I would considered crowded. Most of the time we had open road and the speed limit along most of the section that we drove was a very pleasant 45 mph. Had a late pulled pork BBQ lunch at the Okie Docksides Smokehouse in Santana before our last bit of the Parkway to get 'home'.

    Day 13

    Our final day in the Asheville area was spent going the other way (southwest) on the BRP to the North Carolina Arboretum. The Parkway was again not terribly crowded, although there were a few stretches with a 35 mph speed limit. Still, nobody seemed to be on it to make great time, just enjoying the views. The Arboretum itself was just a nice set of gardens and woods with not-so-well-marked paths past some very-well-marked plants and trees. And they have a very nice on-site cafe with sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices and excellent outdoor seating. Then it was back home to pack up for our final two days of driving through Chattanooga to Nashville for our flight home.

    Day 14

    More actual RoadTripping today as we drove from Asheville to Chattanooga for one last stopover before returning to Nashville. We had the choice of following the GPS/mapping software recommendation of taking the Interstates (I-40/I-75) or our own navigation and (obviously) chose the later. Using instead the older, as-the-crow-flies, route of US-74/US-64 proved the much better option as much of it was designated as the Ocoee Scenic Byway and followed the white water river of the same name. It is also true, as I have mentioned occasionally here and there, that many of the older US highways through the South are multilane divided (but not controlled access) roads which bypass the larger towns. Again, we just had a picnic lunch from our cooler (something else that gets suggested here often) at a stream side picnic area and spent a pleasant (and profitable!!!) hour at a Cherokee casino as part of the days activities.

    Day 15

    We only planned to spend two nights and one full day in Chattanooga and we spent that day visiting the Chickamauga portion of the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Battlefield. As with the Perryville Battlefield earlier in this trip, this was one of the places where my great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. It was also another example of our tax dollars doing giving us great value in return. There is no entrance fee to the battlefield, the first of its kind in the US, nor was there a charge for the excellent half-hour movie explaining the importance and history of the battle, nor for the amazing hour and a half caravan tour led by a pair of Rangers through the park where we drove our own vehicles to three separate sites of significance to the battle and heard a talk on each. We did the drive first and then returned to the Visitors Center where we were given a map of the monuments to and markers about the 21st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment which we then returned to examine at our leisure. We returned home in the afternoon and then took a walk along the banks of the Tennessee River to end a very rewarding day.

    Day 16

    Just a final day to get back to Nashville, catch the plane back to our home in southern Arizona, and get a bit of rest to recoup from our travels. Another RoadTrip under our belts and a few more highways marked off in my 'Roads Driven' atlas.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada


    Always great to follow along with a great roadtripper!


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