No Direction Home

This humble blog was started to document our travels around the country during the summer of 2006, We have opted to continue updating it due to the requests from family & friends. Enjoy!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hot Springs, AK

August 4, 2006

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When we drove in to Hot Springs, we took a chance on the most luxurious old hotel in town and were lucky to find their rates were not too prohibitive; in fact it was such a deal we opted for two nights in Hot Springs. The Arlington Hotel opened originally in 1875 and it has been the standard of luxury through 3 incarnations, the current building opening in 1923. The largest hotel in Arkansas, the resort has hosted numerous luminaries, from Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Will Rogers and many more. In the 1930s, the hotel served as a base for gangsters such as Lucky Luciano & Al Capone.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Arlington Hotel

What lured all these people and more to Hot Springs are the 47 natural springs that dot the mountainside along Central Avenue and the luxurious bath houses that opened to take advantage of the healing waters. Called the American Spa, Hot Springs still draws those interested in “taking the waters”. Today, bath house row is part of the National Park system and all the traditional bath houses are being restored as part of the park. We started our visit at the National Park Visitor center located in the Fordyce Bath House. Fully restored and opened as a museum, the Fordyce provided a wonderful look into the history of the golden age of bathing.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting The Fordyce

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Fordyce Gym

Across Central Avenue from the bath houses is one of the largest cold springs in the US and the home to Mountain Valley Spring Water. We were on our way in to tour their headquarters when a car pulled up and we heard a familiar voice. A friend from Key West, Henry Woods, was visiting his parents in Hot Springs and saw us on the street. Talk about a small world. It was nice to see a familiar face.

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We spent a lot of time hanging out at the hotel pool and hot-tub which were each filled with natural spring water. The pool is built into the side of the mountain at the 7th floor and our room was nicely located just down from the pool deck. It was nice to spend the afternoon just relaxing. In the evening we went to dinner at a great little restaurant called the Brick House Grill before hiking up the side of the mountain to ride to the top of the 600 ft. tall Mountain Tower, which offers a commanding view of the area around Hot Springs.

Of course no visit would be complete without visiting the only still operating bath house, the Buckstaff Baths. Kathy & I both choose the traditional package which included the bath package and a massage. It was easy to see why so many people still flock to Hot Springs. It was a very relaxing experience.

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Buckstaff Bath House Website

Into the West

August 3, 2006

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We have finally crossed the Mississippi and officially entered the West. Crossing into Arkansas at a small town called Helena across from the Mississippi Delta. Before we crossed, we spent a day exploring a small section of Mississippi that included Tupelo and Oxford.

We began the day in Tupelo. No trip there could be considered complete without a visit to the birthplace of Elvis Presley so we headed over to the birthplace and Elvis museum first thing. The actual small two room shack where Elvis was born is fairly interesting. Restored to the way it looked in the 30s, the small home gives you the sense of how far Elvis rose to fame. After visiting the excess that is Graceland, it really puts things into perspective. The museum and chapel at the birthplace are not so interesting. The collection consists of the personal collection of Janelle McComb who is described as a personal family friend of Elvis. The stuff is a jumble of unexplained items that makes little sense.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting The room where Elvis was born.

We drove next for a time along the Natchez Trace, stopping at the visitor center just outside of Tupelo. This historic and scenic road leads from just south of Nashville through much of Mississippi. Once a popular trading route, the road passes by Choctaw Indian Mounds and villages. Our next stop was in the small town of Oxford. This beautiful little town is the home of The University of Mississippi, William Faulkner and the best book store in the US, Square Books.

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We had lunch at a little restaurant bar called Proud Larry’s before spending a good bit of time perusing the selection at Square Books. They have a huge selection of signed first editions mostly because just about any author who releases a book has an obligatory book signing at the famous bookstore. Nearby, we toured the home of William Faulkner, Rowan Oak. Faulkner lived and wrote almost all his most famous books there until his death in 1962. It has been preserved just as he left it by the University and we were the only visitors the day we were there. We had the whole beautiful place to ourselves. His office is especially of interest because the outline of his final book, “The Fable”, is still visible written along the walls of the office.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFaulkner's Office

Our travels west continued as we meandered through the Mississippi, up the famous Highway 61 and into Arkansas. We made a quick drive through of the small town of Marianna, where Kathy’s maternal grandmother was from, before driving on to our next destination, Hot Springs National Park.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Shiloh to Tupelo

August 2, 2006

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We backtracked about 100 miles into Southwest Tennessee after leaving Memphis to visit Shiloh National Military Park. Located on the west bank of the Tennessee River about 9 miles south of Savannah, Tennessee, Shiloh is the location of another of the most bitter and decisive battles of the Civil War.

It’s a large and beautiful park, with a top notch visitor center and a great bookstore. They do need to update the film, it looks and sounds as if it was filmed in the 1950s and was as humorous as it was informative. What was informative was the Ranger guided program we participated in. Ranger Brittany Kilburn lead a program on “The Forgotten Warriors: Civilians on the Homefront”, which explained the hardships faced by the civilians during the war. It was excellent and as an added bonus, they took photos of us while we listened that will be used on the park service web-site.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Brittany & Kathy

The battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6 & 7, 1862 and was a decisive victory for the Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant. The victory there opened the way for the North to capture the important railway system located 22 miles south in Corinth, Mississippi.

After touring the battlefield, we drove south through Corinth and on to Tupelo, our next stopping point. We arrived too late to go to the Elvis Presley birthplace, which we plan to do today. We were not too late to have dinner at one of his favorite restaurants here in Tupelo, Johnnie’s Drive-In Barbeque. I can’t imagine it has changed all that much since Elvis frequented the place, many parts of the South seem frozen in time and Johnnie’s is just such a place. Our waitress, Crystal pointed out the booth Elvis sat in on most visits. The food and service were great

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting The Crew at Johnnie's
(l to r; Tiffany Tine, Crystal Rogers, Kenny Sheffield, Eddie Ellis & Webb Lyle)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


August 1, 2006

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Memphis is famous for many things, not all of them as wonderful as Graceland, Sun Studios, the Peabody Ducks and delicious barbeque. On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel while in town to assist sanitation workers who were on strike. This horrible tragedy has been commemorated with the transformation of the tragic location into a wonderful museum which chronicles America’s civil rights movement, the National Civil Rights Museum.

The museum incorporates the hotel balcony where Dr. King was slain as well as the rooms where Dr. King spent his final hours and the location where his killer fired the shot that killed him across the street. The massive and comprehensive museum is full of heart wrenching displays and tributes to the civil rights struggle. After the surreal experience that is Graceland, the sobering displays at this museum are at once thought provoking and cause for outrage. Of all the things we would have enjoyed seeing in Memphis, I am really glad we choose to visit the museum.

We could have stayed much longer in Memphis, but we felt the need to get back on the road and continue our trek west. Saying goodbye to Annabelle & Abbey was difficult. They were wonderful and enjoyable hosts. Our final evening in Memphis was spent at one of the classic and best barbeque restaurants anywhere, the famous Corky’s. This place is amazing and well worth its excellent reputation. If you ever find yourself anywhere near Memphis, it is well worth a special trip.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Annabelle & Abbey

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Corky's

We have had a special guest ride along with us since we left Baltimore. When packing the car at the parking garage in downtown Baltimore, we noticed a small spider had built a web on the driver’s side rearview mirror. Each day as we drive, he crawls behind the mirror, often wrapping up his web and taking it with him, yet each morning the web is back and there he is. So far he has traveled, through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, more than 3 weeks and 1500 miles and he is still there. We call him Spidey. I tried to take a photo of him, but it did not come out so well. I guess he will just ride along until he finds a place worth settling in and hopping off.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Spidey

Graceland- Memphis, TN

August 1, 2006

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Graceland

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Of all the stops on our trip, there was one place that Kathy & I agreed we must see, Graceland. Neither of us had ever been and it was one of those quintessential places that any decent American road trip must visit. Plus my sister Marika may have strangled me if we somehow missed out on one of her favorite places. I have to thank her though because not only was her recommendation spot on, she also arranged for us to stay at the lovely home of her Mother-in-law, Annabelle Martin during our stay in Memphis.

Annabelle and her adorable dog, Abbey, have given us the royal treatment and it has been a real pleasure staying here. The night we arrived, we were treated to the best home cooked meal we have had in months and her hospitality has been wonderful.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting The Jungle Room

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Graceland is an amazing experience. We opted to go with the more expensive “VIP Entourage” tour, which included the mansion, Elvis’ airplanes, the Elvis Car Museum, the Sincerely Elvis Museum and Elvis After Dark. It also had the added bonus of allowing us to by-pass the long lines in the 97 degree heat and be personally escorted between the attractions on a private shuttle.

Our first stop was the Graceland mansion, the home where Elvis lived and died. Only the downstairs and basement areas are open, but they offer more than enough to experience. It is all maintained just as it was when Elvis lived there and it’s pretty amazing. Like stepping into a time capsule, the home has all the infamous rooms such as the Jungle Room, the TV room, the Pool room and the trophy room where the thousands of gold records, grammys and other awards Elvis received are arrayed in an impressive display. The tour also includes many of the most famous clothes and artifacts from his incredible career. One does not need to be an Elvis fan to appreciate the impact the man had on our culture. By the time you get to the site where Elvis is buried you can not help but be impressed.

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The planes, "the Lisa Marie" and "the Hound Dog II" are more examples of the trappings of rock star life as is the impressive car museum which houses many of the huge collection of cars that Elvis owned including his famous pink Cadillac. The other museums include even more Elvis memorabilia and many interesting artifacts, like a TV that Elvis shot and the pool table on which he played pool with the Beatles. The entire experience was great. The whole place is set up so well and the staff was courteous and helpful. We were there for the better part of the day

Monday, July 31, 2006


July 31, 2006

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting On Stage at the Ryman

In every place we have visited, we always go away thinking that as much as we have seen, there is always more we could have done. This was certainly true in our brief visit to Nashville. Nashville has tons of history and interesting places to see. For music fans there are few places that rival Nashville as a destination.

The one place we wanted to be sure and see was the historic Ryman Auditorium. Built in 1892 as a tabernacle by Captain Thomas Ryman, the landmark building was home to The Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974. Fully restored in 1994, the building now hosts concerts from a variety of the nation’s best musical acts. Filled with the original wooden pews and beautiful stained glass windows the building reportedly has the second best acoustics of any venue in the country behind only the Mormon Tabernacle.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting View from the stage

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We took the tour and had our photo taken on the stage. It was a really awesome experience to stand on the same stage that has hosted the best musicians in the world. After the tour we continued our exploration of the history of country music by checking out two additional landmarks, Toosie’s Orchid Lounge and Ernest Tubb’s Record Store.

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Tootsie’s is the infamous nightclub located just across the alley from the Ryman that has been a watering hole and performance place for most all of the performers who have graced the Ryman stage. Often after performing at the Ryman, musicians would cross the alley and duck into Tootsie’s to put on impromptu performances in the intimate club. It hasn’t changed much in over 50 years, except it now has one of our business cards gracing the walls.

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Ernest Tubb’s record store is the home to the famous Mid-Nite Jamboree. Broadcast live every Saturday night for the past 40+ years, the Jamboree has hosted all the greatest stars of country music in an open-mike format. Many of the stars from the Grand Old Opry would just drop in and sing with the house band. It is still selling music as well, not so many albums as CDs these days. Nashville is a great town, one of the places we plan to return to at some point.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Music City- Nashville, TN

July 30, 2006

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Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWill Kimbrough

The next stop of our journey was one of those sheer happenstance special events that was brought about by an actual blog reader and led to one of the highlights of the trip. As some of you know, I am a huge Todd Snider fan and as such I am a member of the Todd Snider listserve which distributes info about Todd and his music. Well one of the other listers, Ann Witzany of Atlanta, had been following this blog and realized that our path was leading towards Nashville where a group of listers were gathering to attend a CD release party for Will Kimbrough. If you are not familiar with Will, here is a quote from his myspace site, “You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Will Kimbrough's been on the road singing his songs for 25 years now, well over half his life. He started young and he's stayed that way. He's one of the hardest working men in show-business (and we'll get to some of the many hats he wears) but first and foremost he's a songwriter, gifted with turns of phrase that should be on T-shirts, and melodies that can evoke dusty Americana with traces of deep and catchy melody that keeps things spare but not numbing. Just recently, he's played his songs alongside Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Todd Snider and many others. Jimmy Buffett recorded Will's "Piece of Work" and has made it a staple of his live shows. Jack Ingram recorded "Goodnight Moon", Little Feat has recorded "Champion of the World" and the list goes on.”

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Rochelle, Laura, Kathy, Ann & Ramcey

We couldn’t pass up on that opportunity, so we headed to Nashville. There was a large group of listers who met first at the 12 South Taproom before heading over to the show. We met a bunch of great people most from out of town like ourselves. After a few beers we headed over to the great venue, The Basement for the show. Will’s wife, Jessica was kind enough to get us on the guest list and we got a table right in front, just next to Will’s mother & aunt. Singer Amy Loftus opened the show, and she was good, but the star of the night was Will and he gave an electrifying show in front of a standing room only crowd that included many of his family & friends and us. He played almost all of the songs from his excellent new CD. It was an amazing night; we had a great time, met some incredible people and want to thank Ann, Jessica and all the new friends we made for a wonderful experience. Special thanks to Ramcey, Laura & Rochelle for helping us get to and from the venue.

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting In the front row!

To check out Will’s music try the link below:
Listen to Will Here