We set out Monday morning heading east across the country toward Nashville. At a distance of approximately 670 miles (1, 078 km) and crossing three states (Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee) we were ready for our first road trip and to put the Ford Focus to the test.
The roads were generally good and varied between three to six lanes the whole way. Our car was the smallest vehicle on the road by far. A car is not a common vehicle over here, the majority drive oversized trucks or pickups. This seems hugely unnecessary but big is better, I guess.
On day one we covered 445 miles. Feeling slightly jaded we pulled into a camp ground just west of Memphis. Our first experience of a US campground was great; the grounds were very well kept and sat alongside the mighty Mississippi river.
Refreshed after our first night in the wilderness; the next day we headed directly through to Nashville. We were greeted by heavy afternoon thunderstorms but continued our mission and pitched our tent at a campground west of the city. During the night we were able to test the durability of our tent with 6 hours of the most intense thunder, lightening and rain storms. Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep and were slightly soggy in the morning. Our cheap tent did stand the test well, but with the sheer quantity of rain that fell it would be enough to test any piece of fabric. After drying our gear the best we could, we spent the day in Nashville; a remarkable city also known as ‘Music City’.
Back in 1925 Nashville became famous for its’ live music radio station known as the Grand Ole Opry. The recording studio business then became very popular in the city and Nashville was soon known as the ‘country music capital of the world’, and still is!
With Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, etc cranking from the shops, bars and even speakers on the traffic lights - we really were in Music City. Strolling Broadway we visited the many tacky but fantastic gift stores and just absorbed the atmosphere that was electric at 10 am on a Wednesday morning! With endless pubs and bars, Western clothing shops and flashing bright lights this place caters for the tourist. But at the same time the locals are ever present mooching the streets and happy to offer a friendly “how y’all doing?” to those obvious out-of-towners.
We visited the Museum of Tennessee and Capitol, both were good in their own right but rather difficult to get excited about after our DC trip. The real highlight though was our lunch at the very famous Toostie’s Wild Orchid Lounge. Open since the 1960s this dingy wee place is covered wall to wall in music memorabilia and signatures of famous people and anyone else that has visited.
The tiny wee stage at the front of the pub has hosted many a famous musician, and is still the place to play for those up and coming. We indulged in a lunch of Bud, burgers and nachos while enjoying excellent live country music. With two dudes playing any request thrown at them we stayed for a couple hours, such fun times I just wanted to leap from my seat and do the ‘two-step’, but held back.
We also visited one of the many record stores on Broadway which felt more like exploring your old man’s garage; with records dating way back but still as popular as ever. We purchased a Compact Disc; Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits. We hope to see him in concert when we head up North later in the trip.
To be honest I have never been a country music fan, but with Cam’s encouragement and the complete immersion of visiting the Southern States, I am certainly coming around. It grows on you, it just does.
Feeling full and content we hit the road heading back west toward Memphis, where we found another lovely campground to pitch our tent in the sun and dry out all our gear. RV, or Recreational Vehicle camping is huge over here. Many people rock around the country in these gigantic bus like vehicles (towing a 4WD behind) that are a home (or mansion) away from home. Some campgournds do not cater for tents but when they do we are always the only tent in the grounds. No AC or satellite for us!
Our next stop the following morning was Graceland, Memphis. We decided to pay the rather high ticket price and had our first audio tour of the trip through the Graceland Mansion.
The tour took us through the home which remains as it was when Elvis died in 1977, and continued through the grounds of Graceland which included amazing tribute rooms displaying all his achievements, costumes and stories over time.
The tour ended in the garden where Elvis and his parents are laid to rest. This area was decorated with wreaths and memorabilia made by people and fan clubs from all around the world who had made a pilgrimage to visit the King and his home.
We learnt how much of a legend this man truly was, especially without the internet or any performances done outside the USA; he sold over 1 billion records world-wide and stands as the best selling solo artist in history.
After Memphis we headed back to Dallas and broke the journey with a night’s stay in a campground west of Little Rock; a city famous for Bill Clinton and John Grisham’s birth place.
We arrived back safely in Dallas on Friday afternoon where we will recoup for the weekend before beginning our epic journey north.