Sunday, September 23, 2012

 The Second Sunday Drive, Day 34

A Kudzu Covered Landscape
Western Mississippi

Many years have passed, the trav'lers gay,
Repeat the tune along the highway;
And every voice that sings the glad refrain
Re-echoes from the mountains to the fields of growing grain.
--Music by Colonel Sanford C. "Sandy" Faulkner, lyrics by a committee!
 To hear Bill Monroe play the Arkansas Traveler, click here.

Now the lyrics above are not the lyrics I learned as a child, although under the circumstances they seemed appropriate.  For you old fogies, like me, who remember things a little differently, the words I learned went:

Oh, once upon a time in Arkansas,
An old man sat in his little cabin door
And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,
A jolly old tune that he played by ear.
  On Monday evening, Yelp had helped us find Stromboli's and, as I noted in my previous post, the best pizza ever (even Kevin thought so).  Tuesday morning, however, was not as promising.  The earliest opening I found on Yelp was 11:00 and that was way too late for us to have breakfast.  We asked at the front desk as we checked out, and were given the options of Huddle House and Waffle House.  The desk clerk had a definite preference, and for the second day in a row we had breakfast at Waffle House, albeit in a different state than the day before.

After breakfast, Kevin met with the owner of MFJ Enterprises, and filled the back seat of the Saab with catalogs from that amateur radio accessories manufacturer.  He also put in a plastic bag with two MFJ coffee mugs--something I learned only when I heard what I thought was glass breaking behind me.  I had visions of West Virginia wine staining the carpeting, but no, it was the empty coffee mugs, and they didn't even break.

Cotton Fields, West Central Mississippi

The last time I traveled through Mississippi, I was riding the train.  In 1999, I attended the winter convention of New Image International which was held in Birmingham, Alabama.  As I had some vacation time saved up and had never ridden the train in the United States, I decided to take Amtrak to Birmingham and back.  My choice of itinerary meant taking the Empire Builder from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago, Illinois, the same train on which I started this Second Sunday Drive.  But the winter conference was in the middle of January, and there was no leaving the station once we got to Chicago.  Way too cold. At Chicago I boarded the City of New Orleans and headed south across Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and finally Louisiana.  There was an overnight in New Orleans, which troubled Amtrak no end.  When I booked my tickets, the clerk kept trying to change my mind.  From Chicago I should take the Capitol Limited to D.C., then change to the Southern Crescent to reach my final destination of Birmingham.  When I insisted that I wanted to take the City of New Orleans, the clerk despaired.  "You'll have to spend the night in New Orleans."  I replied that there are worse things than spending a night in New Orleans, and indeed changed my itinerary to spend two nights in the Big Easy.

The City of New Orleans crosses Mississippi on a north-south route, and you see a lot of the state.  Even in the wintertime, you cross the state during daylight hours, and I have to say that my impression of the Magnolia State was not good.  This was the ugliest place I've ever seen.  From New Orleans to Birmingham, I took the Southern Crescent, at that time an older train where the cars were only one level and the seating was just above the rails.  (Both the Empire Builder and the City of New Orleans used newer, two level cars where you rode one level above the tracks.)  The route took us across Lake Pontchartrain and into Mississippi near the town of Picayune, then past Hattiesburg and Meridian before crossing into Alabama.  I felt that I had seen quite a bit of Mississippi and was not impressed.  It didn't help that our train broke down somewhere between Hattiesburg and Meridian and we sat in silence on the tracks for about half an hour.

Crossing the state by car, I was able to see a different, and greener, side of Mississippi.  Can't say that I have a much better impression of that state, but c'est la vie.  The one question I can't answer is how anyone lives in such a hot and humid climate.  When we asked natives, the response we got was invariably, "This isn't so bad."

The Mississippi River
Helena, Arkansas

We turned off U.S. 82 heading north on Interstate 55.  Past Batesville (of the Batesville Casket Company), we left the Interstate and drove west on Mississippi 315 until we reached the Big Muddy, the Mississippi River itself.  Crossing into Arkansas, we stopped at the Arkansas Visitor Center at Helena where I was offered a packet of brochures, maps and advertisements for various attractions throughout "the Natural State."  When I told the hostess that we were headed for Eureka Springs, she expressed amazement that we would try to get so far in one day--undoubtedly dismayed that we wouldn't be spending more time (and money) as Arkansas travelers.

Kevin did have another stop in mind.  A ham radio shop in DeWitt, Arkansas had caught his attention on the web, so from Helena we drove south and west to the seat of Arkansas County.  Over the phone, the shop owner told Kevin that he would probably be disappointed by his store, and when we got there, we found a small ham business tied in with a satellite tv operation.  While Kevin talked with the store owner, I stayed in the car reading.  By the time Kevin returned to the car, it was pushing 2 p.m. and I was past being ready for lunch.  Turning to Yelp again, I found a café across from the county court house, and that's where we headed.  The café was closed, as was every other food establishment we saw.  A UPS delivery man explained that he carried his lunch with him because "These folks eat lunch at noon, and then the restaurants close until dinner time."  Out by the main highway we found a Sonic and a Subway, and opted for the Subway because I wasn't ready to bring food into my new car.

Driving Interstate 40 into the Ozarks

From DeWitt, we drove north through  Stuttgart, catching Interstate 40 which let us skirt Little Rock as we continued north and west across the state.  Bypassing Conway, Russellville and Clarksville, we left the interstate to drive north on Arkansas 23.  We were finally in the Ozarks and this road could give some West Virginia highways a run for their money.  Kevin was driving and got to find out just how well the Saab handled in such situations.  There were a few times he passed trucks crossing double yellow lines to do so, but had he not passed the slow-moving behemoths, we might still be on 23. 

Once in Eureka Springs, we found Magnetic Road and Nancy led us right to the artists' entrance to the Ozark Passion Play.  This was not quite what we were looking for, but continuing on up the road, we found our lodging for the night, checked in, unpacked the car, and moved to the pool area where we visited with our hosts.  The day involved over 500 miles crossing two states, and had taken well over the nine hours that Mapquest suggests. 

An Ozark Mountain Farm
Near Huntsville, Arkansas

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