Updated on September 10, 1999.
The next morning at Diamond Lake Campground we rigged for travel after walking the dog and checking that there would be a good way out through the trees. I had looked over the Co-Pilot proposed route to the Paducah area and had forced it to take a more direct route, but a route over roads I knew would not be too narrow.
We headed southeast on KY56, which I knew from experience to be a good choice. We intersected the Pennyrile Parkway (not a toll road) and headed south to I-24. Then it was westerly towards Paducah.
The roads in Kentucky have all been very good, at least the four lanes. The driving is mostly through rolling hills with some bottom lands. It is very green with trees and fields all along the way. It took little time to complete the 97 miles to our new camp just to the east of Paducah, not far from Kentucky Dam. We were in place and set up in time for lunch.
In the afternoon we drove over to the Kentucky Dam and just looked around. Then we went back into Paducah to find a liquor store and get some lunch. It was good barbeque.
The field trip this time was to check out the Dam in detail, then downtown Paducah, then across the river and south to Cairo where the Mississippi and Ohio join.
The Kentucky Dam is across the Tennessee River. The dam is 8,700 feet long with an average 90 foot head. It was built primarily for flood control and to provide for barge traffic. The locks at the dam were the most interesting part of the operation. We watched a 1,000 foot coal barge working its way through the locks. They had to separate the barge into two pieces to have room in the locks.
Paducah is renovating its downtown old town, a collection of three and four story brick buildings. They are doing a good job so far, but they have a lot to do as yet. There are a number of brass signs around the area telling of the history of Paducah. The murals on the flood wall are outstanding.
We crossed the river on the old bridge and drove the old roads down to Cairo, which is a very old city. The land in southern Illinois is all very flat, mostly recovered swamp. You can still see the remains of old beds of the rivers through the area on the map.
At the tip of the penisula containing Cairo, there are bridges that go to both Missouri and Kentucky. There are no remains of Fort Defiance, but there is a large concrete observation tower that offers a good view of both rivers. It is obvious that it was built to withstand the floods that periodically flow over the area.
We saw a great deal of barge traffic in the Ohio River, but very little in the Mississippi. From there, it was back to Paducah on a fairly good road.
We had planned on a second field trip, but we were so exhausted from the first, we vegetated in the trailer for the second day.
We had not done anything to prepare the night before, so it took a little longer to get ready to travel. We had 157 miles to go to reach the TTN park at Natchez Trace in Tennessee.
We headed south on the Purchase Parkway, another fine four-lane road. The parkway turned west and we continued south on US641, still on a four-lane. When we reached Murray, the road narrowed to two lanes, but it was still a good road. It widened when we crossed the border into Tennessee at Hazel, or maybe it was my imagination.
At Parsons we turned east on US412 and drove on into Hohenwald. We left on TN20 to go catch the Natchez Trace for the short drive south to Napier Road. However, the signage is not very big, so we missed our entrance onto the Trace parkway. I was looking for a place to turn around when we came to Napier Road heading south. So I took it. Well, it shortly became a dirt road and there was no way I could turn the rig around. We kept going. After about four miles we finally came to a place where we could see the underpass under the Trace parkway that we would not have been able to make anyway. We had found our way to the TTN park.
We checked in and were sent off to find a place to park. They kept my TTN card until I returned and told them where we were. It is a nice shady spot in Phase 2 camping area. We set up and collapsed from the heat and the drive. Later we toured the park, retrieved my card, and collected 29 emails. There were two left because someone had sent me a very large one and I cancelled the download. It was a late barbeque but we finally had supper. The cicadeas were singing very loudly in the evening.
On Friday we took it easy and I did some writing. The weather remained hot and humid. I retreived the 1 and 3MB emails that were holding things up and found they came from Mike Coker. I was still on his joke list, and he sent out a couple of mpeg files. I asked to be taken off the list and heard an apology from him a couple of days later. Your priorities change out on the road.
We picked up our mail in Hohenwald and did some shopping for groceries. It is an interesting little town, but not much is going on.
On Saturday, we headed into Nashville. We drove up the Trace almost into town and then moved over to state and county roads. It was a pretty drive. When we arrived at the heart of old Nashville, they were getting ready for the first NFL exhibition game, so the streets were a little crowded. We found a place to park the truck and started our walking tour of the town. I took lots of pictures of the old buildings that are at risk in the event of a major earthquake.
We had a late lunch at the NASCAR cafe. It is a good meal, and we got to watch part of a NASCAR race on the TVs that were all over the place. Then we walked back down towards the river and the Hard Rock Cafe. There we had a drink and looked at all the memorabilia. As we were leaving we went by a Gray Line kiosk and talked to the girl inside. She had tickets to the 6:30 Grand Ole Opry on the front row, so we decided to go.
Alice and I had trouble communicating over driving directions and we spent some time traveling out of the way places in Nashville. We finally arrived at the Opry and had a chance to tour the museum. Then we went to the show. It was very interesting, but somehow I remember the Opry from radio days. Seeing it was not quite the same.
After the show we found our way out of Nashville. It was a bit hectic because Alice and I were still not in synch. But finally we arrived back home.
The next day was a matter of taking it easy, with some more writing. On Monday, we did the wash and prepared for travel. While washing we came upon this beautiful moth on the side of the washroom. It was about six inches across. There was another of a different species, same size and color but with long tail. I did not get a picture of it. During all this time the weather was simply too hot to really get out.
We did go back out and do some more exploring along the trace. This is the remains of the old trace; you can just see where the ruts were through the trees.
We dumped the next morning and pulled the slides in to travel south to Cherokee Landing TTN Park, a drive of 117 miles. We finally had the experience of having to take the side dirt road to get under the overpass of the Natchez Trace. The clearance on the road is only 11', but if you go off on the shoulder a ways, you can get a clearance of 13'. It was not much trouble, and soon we were headed southwest on the Trace to Napier where we took US64 to the west. The roads were all good with no hard pulls. The land was a bit hilly but not bad driving.
When we reached US45, we headed south for six miles then continued west on TN57. We went through Middleton, the closest town to the TTN park, and there were three restaurants, all completely crowded with cars of people eating lunch. When we arrived at the park, I asked about the big crowds. It seems the one industry they have in this area has about 700 employees, and those were the only restaurants around.
We lucked out. There were some sewered sites open where they had previously had rental trailers, so we found a great site and backed in with the help of our next door neighbor, Richard. Soon we were set up and had the air conditioner going. It was another really hot day.
On Wednesday, we drove into Memphis and started getting the know the city. We went to the Visitor Center on Riverside and got some good information. Then we found a place to park and started our walk. I took a ton of pictures of the different buildings in the older section of town.
We had lunch at the Elvis Presley Cafe on Beale Street, a pulled pork barbeque sandwich. It was very good tasting, but it stayed with me the rest of the day. Then we walked Beale Street. It was quite interesting and old but not really what I expected. Maybe it would be different at night, in fact I am sure it would. In fact, all of Memphis is not the town I expected it to be, so I will have to do some plot revisions. It is more open and spread out in a lot of ways.
Friday the "cold front" went through. We expected some rain, but there was none. However, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, so the last couple of days have been pleasant..
We went back to Memphis on Saturday, and enjoyed the city even more, partly because the weather was better. We also drove over to check out a camp ground in West Memphis and make reservations. We had supper at Landry's. This is the skyline coming from the west across I-40. Both the food and the view were great.
Sunday was take it easy day as I processed the pictures we had taken so far and did some work on the book. We visited with Ranger Monica on Monday when she returned to work and tried to calm her from dealing with the grouch that came in the night before.
We pulled out a day earlier than we had planned to head over to West Memphis. The long drive into Memphis was getting us down. We headed to the north to catch I-40 so it would be an easy drive through the city. After 114 miles we reached the Tom Sawyer RV Park and settled in under the huge cottonwoods that lined the camp.
The town of West Memphis is a little daunting to drive through for RVers who avoid depressed areas. But when you finally get over the levee and into the RV Park, it is very pleasant and secluded, except for the river which is 200 yards away. The shipping channel is 220 yards away, and the towboats do make a lot of noise as they push the barges up and down the river.
Since it had been a relatively short drive, we still had the afternoon available, so we drove over to Memphis. We found out we could go on a river cruise at 6:30, so we had time to do some more sight seeing. This is a picture of Mud Island with the I-40 bridge and the Pyramid in the background. We walked up to the city offices and found out where their Emergency Planning Department was located, in the second basement of the city building. We went down and had a very pleasant visit with Tammy Simonton, the Planning Officer for the department. She provided copies of some recent reports on earthquake studies and preparedness in the Memphis area. It was very interesting and useful. They just need to get that particular office out of the lower basement, a place that will do them no good at all if there is a real shaker in the area.
Then we drove down to the cobblestone parking area across from Mud Island and went to the excursion boat office to buy tickets for the cruise. I bought a book describing some of the areas along the river and then we boarded the boat. It departed at 6:30, and for the next hour and a half we journeyed down the Mississippi and then back up.
It was a very pleasant boat trip. During the first part the captain gave us a running commentary on what we were seeing. It was all very interesting, and I got some great photos. Since it was later in the day, the temperature was not quite so hot, and we were able to find a place with a nice breeze most all the way. It cost $10 for seniors (one of the benefits of growing old, I suppose).
When we returned to shore, we purchased the picture of the two of us boarding the boat. There are so few pictures of us together! Then we went to the Spaghetti Warehouse for another fine meal. Wolf was pleased to see us when we returned to camp.
The next day we drove north to Marked Tree, Lepanto, Dyess, and Blytheville. These are towns along the New Madrid fault that would be destroyed if there were a major earthquake along that part of the fault. Then we drove to the area when the fictitious town of New Simon is located, and I got my first look at what my imagination had been working on for the past three years. It was just a bunch of cotton fields.
Wednesday was a wash day. Amazingly, the Tom Sawyer campground does not charge for the use of the washers and dryers! That is the first time I have ever seen that situation, and their rates are reasonable. They also have a phone line in the office set aside for Internet access. If you are going to Memphis, I recommend them as a place to stay.
While washing clothes, Alice made friends with Harriet Stark from Pennsylvania. After a bit of discussion, Harriet and her husband Russell and the two of us decided to tour Memphis together the next day. We decided to do Mud Island in the morning, but we were too early -- the Mud Island monorail did not start running until 10am.
One of the Blue Denim Brigade ladies suddenly appeared next to us and suggested we take the trolley around the city, so we did. The BDB are people who walk around downtown helping the tourists. Memphis is one of the nicest towns we have visited in that way.
The trolley trip was a lot of fun, and we had a great closeup view as we traveled around. The trolley cars are old-fashioned and open. The driver stopped at all the stops and called out the locations. At one point, a fellow on the street wanted to talk, so he stopped the trolley right there and had an involved discussion for several minutes about something to do with city politics. It was all the right speed for a couple of retired old fogeys like Russ and me.
After completing the circuit it was 10am, so we got off the trolley and went over to buy our ticket to Mud Island. The monorail is the only way to get over to Mud Island, and you are about 80 feet above Wolf River.
Once you get to the other side, you can look down at the five block long replica of the Mississippi River. It runs from Cape Girardeau and Paducah down to New Orleans. I took a lot of pictures, at least down to the Memphis area because it showed the bed of the river and flood plain very well. I just hope I can figure out how the pictures relate to actual places along the river.
There is also a great museum on Mud Island that discusses pre-historic inhabitants of the Mississippi valley and a growth of boat traffic along the river. There is also a great deal of civil war history material. Maybe my next book should cover that era, that is if I really want to come back and spend a lot of time in Memphis. I'll have to think about that -- maybe in May and September (August is too hot).
When we left Mud Island, we went to Presley's Memphis on Beale Street for lunch and then found our way down south to Graceland. We did the tour of the mansion and gravesite. It was all very interesting with an audio tape that told what all the rooms were for and something about all the trophies Elvis collected over the years. He had a very nice home in Memphis.
The previous weekend had been the great Elvis visitation time, so there were many wreaths around the gravesites, or at least I assume there were more than normal. It was an impressive tour and one I recommend for anyone who comes to the area.
Then we drove back to the downtown area and went to the Peabody Hotel for drinks and ducks. By the time the ducks were to head back up to their penthouse, you could not see them for all the tourists standing around. After that, Russ drove us over to Landry's for supper. Another fine meal and leftovers. We finally made it back to the campground and crashed after a long, delightful day with a couple of new friends.
Once again we awoke to the sound of a big towboat heading up the river. We quickly rigged for travel and pulled out, waving to the Starks as we left the campground. We were headed for the drive to the middle of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. We refueled just before we got on I-40 and once again had good mileage.
The drive was on Interstate the whole way, and after 89 miles we were at the KOA alongside I-55. As we were setting up, I thought the air suspension was not working, but the combined noise of the cicadeas and trucks on the freeway was so loud I simply could not hear it doing its job.
The KOA had suffered a fire of its offices the beginning of the year, and they were in the process of rebuilding. Business was conducted in a Tuff Shed. We had good shade, but there were some really mean mosquitos.
There is generally little reason for stopping in this part of the country. In our case I was doing research for my book. A key place in the book is the fictitious town of New Simon on the Arkansas/Missouri border next to I-55. Since the town was fictitious I needed to be sure there was nothing at that location. Other towns in the area are also discussed in the book, and I needed to see what they were like as well.
Since we had arrived so early, we decided to check out the I-155 bridge and Dyersburg. In my book the bridge gets wasted in the earthquake and Dyersburg has a few problems as well. As we drove the road towards the bridge I kept hoping it would look like I had imagined, but it didn't. It was constructed differently from the way I had thought.
We headed into Dyersburg and found it was set several miles back from the flood plain, not what I had deduced from the topo maps I had used (low resolution). After cruising Dyersburg looking for a Dairy Queen (and finding none), we headed back to the bridge. I took a side road to get under the bridge and took a number of pictures of the structure. We also touched the waters of the Mississippi River at that point.
After careful inspection, it was obvious I was going to have to change my story with regard to the bridge.
Later that day we went over to the Aztar Riverboat Casino in Caruthersville for supper. We bought tickets to board the gambling boat and went to take a look. I guess we are just getting old or something. It was smoky and the sounds of the slot machines was loud. After fifteen minutes of walking around we walked out without spending a dime.
We had the buffet at the Aztar. It was fair but nothing to write home about.
Saturday was the day scheduled to see the I-155 bridge (which we had already done), so we stayed at home. I thought long and hard about the bridge, and with careful reverse engineering and much imagination, I finally came up with a solution for knocking the bridge down, getting the boats all under it in the right fashion, and getting the necessary people across it at the right time. Writing can be a lot of fun when you get a good engineering problem to solve, at least for a nerd like me.
On Sunday we took a tour to the south through Steele and then to the New Simon location. From there we followed the dirt roads Alex and Tina would walk to the landing strip and then north to the town of Cooter. (Sounds exciting, doesn't it). From there it was over to Cottonwood Point on the Mississippi and north to Caruthersville. We had to cross Ditch 5 several times, and I am not sure if Alex and Tina will be able to do that, what with all the earthquake damage there will be. Most of the bridges will probably be down.
By this time, it was almost 2pm, so we continued over to Hayti and found a Dairy Queen. Their grilled chicken sandwich and fries stay with you a long time. But the butterfinger blizzard was worth the discomfort.
We drove up I-55 to the New Madrid exit and went into town. We visited the museum and walked along the levee. Both are worth doing.
New Madrid has an observation platform so you can get a really good view of the river. When the river is running more normal, the water comes most of the way up the levee. I bought another three books about the New Madrid fault that had some information I had not known before. So it was a fruitful trip.
I have added a snippet about New Madrid from the book to the writing log. Take a look if you wish -- it's a little tongue-in-cheek comment on people watching a disaster happen.
Then it was back to the trailer. The next morning we went to Caruthersville to collect mail and buy groceries. It was another day of writing and taking it easy while avoiding the heat and mosquitos.
Tuesday morning we were up early and rigged for travel. We pulled over to the dump by 9am, pretty good for us. The weather was humid but not too hot. But I was glad to be leaving the mosquitos that seemed to be everywhere.
The plan had originally been to head northwest to catch I-44 into Springfield and then down US65 to Branson, but Co-Pilot suggested a more southerly route that was forty miles shorter, only 255 miles. I was feeling brave, so we went south. We headed out US412 from Hayti across the delta lands of Arkansas. It was as flat as everywhere else in the delta with fields of soybeans, cotton and rice. We crossed the state border into Arkansas at the St. Francis River and shortly after merged into US63.
When we reached the Black River we entered the hills. We had been driving in the delta flat lands for so long it took a while to get used to driving in hills again. A short time later we took US62 to the northwest to West Plains, Missouri. The road was winding and hilly, and I was beginning to get up tight.
In West Plains we found a WalMart parking lot and stopped for lunch. I could have headed on north to I-44, but decided to continue directly west on US160. Wow, what a choice. The road turned into a typical Ozark highway. Up and down and right and left and vice versa again, etc. As you come over the top of a hill, you wonder if the road will stop, turn left or turn right or simply turn around. It is lots of fun if you are in a sports car, but pulling a 34 foot behemouth behind you makes you a little nervous, at least it did that to me. Add to that that there were absolutely, absolutely NO shoulders to the road. Most of the wide spots I found where someone could pull off were about 30 feet long, nowhere near long enough to hold the truck and trailer.
Thirty minutes down the road I was seriously doubting my sanity. And I had 85 miles of this! But I made it!! It helped when I decided I would drive it at only 25mph if necessary, and in some places I had to go that slow to get around the curves.
So, if you like to drive a winding sporty car road, take US160. If you want a more peaceful ride, take the long way around and enjoy the dullness of the roads.
We arrived at the SKP park about 4pm and checked in. It is new to Escapees, and they have done a good job cleaning it up and making it look great. John gave a nice spot with some shade and we set up. Then I had a stiff drink of scotch to calm my nerves and took a long nap.
Later in the evening Alice and I went out to eat. We drove along the Branson strip and found the place where the traffic comes to a crawl. We finally made it over to BT Bones and had supper. It was fairly good but the barbeque in Paducah still ranks tops.
Wednesday was sit around the rig day. I was able to download another 30 emails and catch up on what was going on in the rest of the world. We had good phone reception so we took care of phone business as well.
Thursday was wash and go to a show day (Sons of the Pioneers). In the evening I worked on the webpage update.
It was foggy in Branson when we awoke and started rigging for travel. It was also warm, which seemed strange. When we were ready, we went to the office to pay for our three day stay and to upload the newest information to the webpage. We finally left at 9:15.
We drove through Branson on Business 65. Then we merged into US65 and headed for Springfield. They are doing some major work on the freeway near Branson and making some monstrous cuts in the limestone. It did not slow us, the hills took care of that.
We bought deisel in Ozark and continued our trip. We caught I-44 and headed west and took US166 at the Kansas border. The land got flatter and flatter as we drove along. There was not much traffic and even though it was a two-lane road we made good time.
The weather was hot, into the 90s. We stopped for lunch at the Hong-Kong Chinese Restaurant in Coffeeville, KS. At Arkansas City we turned north on US77 all the way to KS54. By that time it was nearly 5pm and we wanted to avoid any rush-hour traffic.
We took KS54 over to I-135 and headed north. As we got nearer to Newton, there was more construction on the road, and it became a bit slow. We finally reached our exit and turned off. We were supposed to find the Mid-Kansas RV Park. Instead we found the Payne Oil Company. It was a parking spot with hookups, but there were no other amenities. Oh, well, we had come to visit relatives, not enjoy the RV park.
We rested from the long drive, over 320 miles and then went to supper at an Applebys down the road. The next morning we drove north to McPherson to visit with Alice's sister and brother-in-law. It was enjoyable visiting with them and catching up on family happenings. Wolf made a couple of life-long friends with Margaret and Ralph and enjoyed the freedom of a house to run in.
That evening, Margaret and Ralph took us to Wichita for a dinner-theatre show. The meal was excellent and the show, "Social Security" was very well performed at the Crown Uptown Theatre. Then they dropped us back by our rig and we said our goodbyes.
Sunday morning we dumped and headed for Oklahoma City. The drive down I-135 and then on I-35 (the Kansas turnpike -- $2.75 for the rig) was smooth and uneventful. We again stayed at the KOA east of the city. It claims it is Oklahoma City East, but it is on Choctaw Road in the town of Choctaw according to the Co-Pilot.
We called my cousin Roseann as we came into town, and she came out to visit. We had seen her last year when she visited us with her mother, my Aunt Beulous. Her mother passed away a few months ago, and Roseann is now working very hard to adjust. She had been the caregiver and she is now adapting to a life not centered around her mother.
We had a great visit and I printed some chapters of the novel I am writing for Roseann to review. Then we went to eat supper at the Steak and Ale on I-240 to the west of Sooner Road. Roseann had told us of the path of the F-4 tornado that had torn through that area earlier this spring. We saw the clear path left by the storm as we drove to supper; it was awesome.
We had a very good supper and talk, and Roseann gave me some great pointers regarding the novel. She agreed to help do some of the editing; now I have to get busy and get some more written to send to her.
On Monday we drove the short distance to Chickasha, my old stomping grounds. We called my Aunt Lottie and made arrangements to go visit with her and take her to an early supper.
She is doing very well and is spry and bright. It was great fun to talk with her, and even more skeletons came out of the closet.
Tuesday we were up bright and early to head out for Canyon Texas. We drove through the town of Chickasha. It was still much the same as the last time I saw it. As we went out of town to the north I noticed some changes in the road. I did recognize as we crossed the Washita River the field where Dad's friend Tim had cut off his finger in the combine; the one we found later that night. Ah, what one remembers of their early life.
We drove north on US81 and caught I-40 near El Reno to head west. From there on it became rather boring with mile after mile of long rolling hills and occasional bottom land. The land became dryer and there was less good farmland. It did not change much as we entered Texas.
About noon we were nearing Groom, Texas when off to the right we saw a water tower tilted to one side. The was of special interest because while touring around the Mississippi River valley we had often speculated about what an earthquake would do to water towers. Now, here was one that looked like it was in the midst of the shaking and was about to fall over.
We stopped for lunch at the Dairy Queen and asked about the tower. It had tipped shortly after it was built and was such an attraction, they put in some supports to keep it from falling completely and used it as a tourist attraction.
Groom is also noted for having the world's tallest cross just to the west of town. It is 190 feet tall and 120 feet wide. Quite a spectacular sight. We did not take the time to visit the grounds to learn more of it, but we continued to see that cross for many miles away across the flat Texas plain.
As we neared Amarillo, there were signs about construction and possible delays. We were supposed to turn south on I-27, but when we neared that intersection, more signs said that it was closed and we should detour by way of 11th Street. That was the last notice we received of either 11th Street or I-27. They just hung us out to dry!! Boy, was I mad.
After about three miles driving through the I-40 construction zone looking for some kind of sign indicating where we should go to get back on I-27, I finally pulled off at the next exit and over to the side of the road. I created a bit of a traffic jam, but just toughed it through. We pulled into a service station that could hardly hold the trailer and using Co-Pilot I recomputed a trip from where we were to I-27. After looking at the map, I saw where I could go another mile to the west on I-40 and then catch the western loop road south to reach I-27.
I waited through two traffic light cycles before I just barged back into the flow of traffic so I could re-enter the freeway. I had all lanes blocked for a while, but by then I didn't much care.
We finally made it back on the freeway and found the outer loop road and made it to I-27. From there it was a snap to drive the remaining 10 miles and turn off the freeway to the Palo Duro road where we found our campground. We were among the first to arrive, so the manager set us up in a nice bit of shade and we settled in.
Alice had a headache and I was still frothing, so we stayed in the trailer for the evening and watched TV and read. The weather was better than in Oklahoma, especially with respect to the humidity, so we were more comfortable.
We had planned to go to Palo Duro Canyon the next day, but both Alice and I were not feeling all that chipper. I think it was a reaction to the increased elevations and the heat and humidity we had suffered with the previous week. So we stayed around camp.
I was able to get some writing done on the novel and Alice took life easy. We had dinner at a good Mexican place in town, Pepitos. It was very good, especially in comparison to the "Mexican" we had had back east. That evening I got on the Internet to collect email and check some web sites.
So ended August. Looking back through the log I see we started the month in Kentucky. That seems so long ago, we have seen so much in this past month.