January 11-13, 2004

Hey, What Happened to New Mexico?

Well, ya see, it's like this. Our stay in New Orleans was so pleasant that we knew it couldn't get any better if we just kept heading west. And living out of our suitcases in endless Super 8's, Comfort Inns, Best Westerns, Motel 6's, Ramadas, etc. was wearing thin. And never-ending traffic-choked exactly-the-same strip malls have gotten depressing. And interstate highways are a drag. And so we're cuttin' it short. But there are still some highlights to report...

Sunday, January 11

We left New Orleans on Sunday morning after a delightful stay and headed north up the interstate to Jackson, Mississippi, where we stopped at a family-run roadside shack for a terrific batch of spicy boiled shrimp and crawfish—yum! Then we got on the Natchez Trace, which is a 430-mile two-lane road that heads northeast from Natchez, MS through countryside the whole way, without a single traffic light. It's maintained by the National Park Service. It's a pleasant, relaxing drive (although the highly-enforced speed limit is 50mph). We stayed on it for 150 miles; here's what the first few miles looked like:

And here's what the last few miles looked like:

In other words, pleasant as it was, it didn't change a bit! I think the Park Service must have groomed it that way.

For a change of scene, we got off the Trace for a few miles and drove through the "city" of Kosciusko, MS. This, we assumed, must have been where Kosciusko mustard was made, which may or may not be true. But imagine our surprise and delight to learn that Kosciusko was also the home town of Oprah Winfrey! So we sought out the site of her family home (wouldn't you have done the same?):

Back on the Trace, we stopped for a walk around this picturesque swamp with cypress and tupelo trees growing in the water:

Speaking of tupelos, we ended the day in another motel among rows of strip malls just off the interstate in Tupelo, MS. Where, dammit, you can't even get a beer with your Mexican food on Sundays. Freakin fundamentalists.

Monday, January 12

However, Tupelo, as we discovered, was the birthplace of The King of Rock'n'Roll! Wow—can you believe our luck? First Oprah and now Elvis! So naturally, before leaving town, we had to visit the

Awestruck and humbled, we visited the Elvis Presley Chapel (and gift shop), and here's the plaque inside the door:

And you can click here to see an inspirational QuickTime video (size 1MB) of Vi kneeling before the King, with Elvis singing a gospel song over the PA system.

OK, here it is—the very building in which Elvis Presley was brought into our midst:

Somehow, we were able to tear ourselves away and drove eastward across the line into northern Alabama. In mid-afternoon, we stopped at another state park with a canyon, and hiked to the bottom where there were some nifty waterfalls (and back up again).

You can click here to see a QuickTime video (size 1.5MB) of the waterfall at the bottom of the canyon above.

We ended the day in yet another motel among rows of strip malls just off the interstate in Dalton, Georgia, having gotten not much further north but a lot further east. Had dinner at a very weird restaurant/bar that was reminiscent of One Eyed Jack's in Twin Peaks...

Tuesday, January 13

Didn't make a lot of progress today, in large part because Vi found us some back roads that twice zigzagged up and down mountain passes, turning to dirt in the upper elevations and becoming covered with snow and ice. (The Saab's quite a trooper, and is now exceedingly filthy again.)

Click here for a wide 270-degree panoramic shot taken from one of the peaks. (Use your browser's horizontal scroll bars to pan back and forth.)

Down here in the South, about every third building has a white pointy thing on the roof:

The only thing I can figure is that they must have something to do with television reception.

Tonight we're in still another motel among rows of strip malls just off the interstate in Johnson City, Tennessee, where the otherwise fine restaurant we went to doesn't serve beer at all! They used to, but the locals frowned on it and they stopped. Freakin' fundamentalists.

The weather's been nice the last several days—sunny with temps in the 50s. Tomorrow we head north and east and get closer to rejoining our fellow frozen New Englanders.

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