Monthly Archives: March 2018

2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: March 28

Fort Oglethorpe, GA. March 28

A view of Hunter Museum in Chattanooga with a winding bike path.

A young boys’ baseball game goes on across the street from our Bed and Breakfast while we munch on cheese and crackers and other appetizers. We have finally been able to put away the fleece and hoodies and enjoy the warmth. After a short relaxing nap, life feels good again. Sometimes even travel gets a little tiring and you need to slow down the pace. But as I reflect, I am glad we started these travels over five years ago. I find myself slowing down a bit and the knees and hips move a little more slowly and with a few more creaks than they did in 2013.

Americans that we meet seem generally happy, with themselves, with their towns, with their families. Maybe the pool of people we meet is atypical, but it is refreshing to not deal with angry and upset people day after day. It probably helps that we are reading and listening to less news shows.

For the next ten days or so, these posts will be less than daily. Thursday and Friday are drive days, and for the following week we will be in Miami Beach, frequently just walking and laying out in the sun.

Ed and Engine 4501 at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The 4501 was manufactured in 1911 and has been in several movies before being retired and refurbished for its new role.

After breakfast this morning, we headed south to Chattanooga. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offered a noon excursion. The train ride is more nostalgic and educational than scenic. The ride is only a few miles but you go over several bridges and through a tunnel to the museum’s rail yard where they repair old rail equipment from around the country. The engine is uncoupled from our passenger cars and placed on a turntable for us all to view as it reverses direction for the ride back.

From the museum we headed to Chattanooga’s Riverwalk Sculpture Garden. As we parked, we realized we were hungry and for something other than bar-b-que, baked beans, etc. Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria filled our needs with exquisitely flavored pasta. Tony’s is located next to the Sculpture Garden and is part of what is called Bluff View Art District. This small neighborhood has restaurants, shops and art galleries. Hunter Museum of American Art is right next door although we did not stop in today.

Glass bottomed bridge foreground, Walnut Street Bridge background

After lunch we viewed the sculptures and walked over the glass bottomed bridge to the Walnut Street Bridge. This bridge is dedicated to pedestrians and bikers, reminding me of the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis although the Stone Arch is more aesthetically pleasing. The Walnut Street Bridge presents a clear view of the Tennessee River and much of Chattanooga not hidden by the hills and mountains of the area.

Battleview B and B in Fort Oglethorpe GA

It was a short drive from the Bluff View area to the Battleview B and B in Fort Oglethorpe. Fort Oglethorpe was a military training facility from 1902 to 1946. The fort is next to the Chickamauga Battlefield, a NPS Civil War battle site that we visited in the fall of 2016. Our B and B is located across from what was the parade grounds for Fort Oglethorpe and now houses the baseball field mentioned in the first paragraph. During Fort Oglethorpe’s tenure, the B and B was the facility housing the camp band. When Fort Oglethorpe shut down, local leaders successfully petitioned the state to make the area a city, which they named after the fort.

We hope your day was a pleasant one.

Ed and Chris. March 28

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 13: The house has usually seen a lot of restoration. Personal touches from collectibles, to hobbies, to theme motifs, to candies are many times scattered throughout. The breakfast menu will have some family specialty. Why people open a B and B area varied; needed to save a building; always wanted to live on a farm; enjoy cooking and home design; wanted a place where the grandkids would come. Try a B and B sometime in your future travels.

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2018 Trip 3: March 27: KY and TN

Spencer TN. March 27

Rhea County Tennessee courtroom, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925

We woke up a little chilly this morning. During the night our room’s HVAC decided to not turn on the heat and to keep blowing cool air out constantly. At least the shower water was warm. At the front desk we explained our issue and were told maintenance would address it. Breakfast was a nice buffet and our server was chatty. She informed us, we had not known this previously, that this Sunday was the last day the restaurant and our lodging units would be open. The facility, excluding the campgrounds, cabins, golf course, etc. was to be destroyed and replaced with a new complex with less rooms and twice the nightly rate. Over 60 staff are being let go; in this depressed area, the impact will be severe. The new complex will take at least 18 months to build, probably longer. When completed, the current staff will be invited to interview for jobs with no guarantee of re-hiring.

Evidently, the TN Governor has tried unsuccessfully to privatize the park lodging system with no success. Twice bids to replace this lodge have been sent out and no private bidders have come forward to knock it down and build a new place at private expense. So evidently the state will re-build it and hope that they can encourage a private company to run it once a new facility is in place. Don’t know the economics or politics of the decision-making but on the surface it seems unwise for the state to go forward if no private enterprise thinks the idea will produce a profit. We left breakfast wondering if anyone would be bothering to fix our HVAC.

Dunlap Tennessee Coke Ovens

Since the day was predicted to warm up, we postponed hiking to the falls and headed out to Dunlap, Tennessee, an hour away. Dunlap is the site of a mine opened in 1899. Coal was mined out of Fredonia Mountain and at the base of the mountain, the coal was turned into coke for use in the iron and steel foundries of Chattanooga. The mine filed for bankruptcy in 1927 and the mines and coke ovens closed. They stood vacant for more than fifty years until local residents were able to organize and gain funds to restore the site.

Today, a restored commissary and museum (closed today) sit among the coke ovens, coal washer, and idled and rusted equipment in a 77 acre park. We hiked among the relics and the 286 stone ovens, some more deteriorated than others.

Part of the Trail of Tears

Towards the back of the park, there was a trail marker for the Trail of Tears. As we have reported previously, the Trail of Tears was a forced journey in 1838 moving Native Americans (Shawnee, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, etc.) from the Southeast U.S. to what would become Oklahoma. This location was on one of the trails as recorded by a missionary traveling with this group of approximately 1000 Cherokee. It is thought the spring in the park was the reason for stopping here.

After Dunlap, we drove through mountains (which would probably be more gorgeous with green leaves on the trees) to Dayton TN. Dayton was the site of the famous Scopes trial. Once again, our luck was not the best, the museum here was being refurbished and closed today. But we had wanted to see the original courtroom and knew it was open. The original judge’s bench, jury chairs, railing, spectator seats, etc. are still present. Part of the trial was held outdoors due to the temperature at the time of the trial.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Scopes Trial, here is a brief summary. Tennessee had passed a law forbidding the teaching of evolution in any school that received state funding. Locals in Dayton, including the head of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company (part of which was the Dunlap Coke Ovens) convinced locals to contest the law in order to draw attention to Dayton. While local attorneys headed up the defense and prosecution, eventually William Jennings Bryan (three-time Presidential nominee) and Clarence Darrow (nationally known attorney) affiliated with the prosecution and defense respectively. The case did draw national attention. It is still commonly called the Scopes Monkey Trial. Scopes, the teacher, was convicted of teaching evolution.

On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the anti-teaching of evolution law was upheld but the conviction of Scopes tossed out on a technicality and the case was never re-tried. Tennessee repealed the law the following year.

Clockwise from upper left, Piney Creek Falls, Fall Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Falls at Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

The road back to Falls Creek Falls State Park took us over new mountain passes. At the park, we hiked several trails to view Fall Creek Falls at 256 feet, Piney Creek Falls at 85 feet, and Cane Creek Falls also at 85 feet. We kept running into a gentleman from New Orleans at the various sites who comes here every year, actually he visits Great Smoky Mountains and this park before returning home. He checked into the lodge this evening before returning tomorrow to New Orleans.

The view from our room at Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee at a rare moment of some sunlight

After the hikes, we returned to our room, wondering: Fixed or Not Fixed? Turns out it was not fixed BUT luck was on our side. We checked in with the front desk, who was not even familiar with our request. She called the maintenance supervisor who showed up at our room. He also had never received any notice of an issue. Luckily the gentleman has worked here for 13 years and knew immediately what the problem was and how to fix it. We chatted some more about the closing of the lodge and restaurant. Personally his job will continue but many of his long-time co-workers will be out of work. Morale is lousy he said and the Governor would not win any votes in this county. One positive: the state will pay to the county the amount of hotel room tax to be lost. The tax revenues are dedicated to education and the loss of revenue would hurt the schools dramatically.

Ed and Chris. March 27

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: March 26: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Spencer, TN. March 26

The Hazen Brigade Monument at Stones River National Battlefield. Probably the first Civil War monument erected.

We are a world away from the hustle and bustle of Nashville; its crowds, building cranes, and traffic. Tonight we are staying at Fall Creek Falls State Park, about 40 miles north of Chattanooga but a world away with its presence in forested mountains (1700 feet above sea level). The notable attraction here is the falls, at 256 feet high, one of the highest east of the Mississippi.

However, Fall Creek Falls is the end of our day. Our first stop this morning was at Stones River National Battlefield at Murfreesboro Tennessee. Frankly, Stones River is not a Civil War battle that I recollect ever hearing about. We stopped here since it was roughly on our way and it was a National Park Service site. Visiting here was a good choice.

Stones River is 25 miles southeast of Nashville and was right on the Civil War era tracks of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. Thus, it was a strategic transportation crossroads. The Union army had a primary mission to cut the Confederacy in half. Victory here would be an important piece of that effort.

Lincoln was desperate for a victory. The Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect on January 1, 1863. Yet at the end of 1862, Grant was bogged down at Vicksburg and Burnside’s army had lost a battle at Fredericksburg. Rosecrans was the only hope left and the pressure from Washington was intense. On December 31, 1862 Rosecrans Union Army faced Bragg’s Confederate Army at Stones River. On December 31st, intense day long fighting left the Confederates feeling good but the Union troops still held many of their positions.

The intense fighting forced the two sides to use Jan. 1, 1863 to regroup, bury the dead, and address the wounded. On January 2nd, the battle resumed and while early fighting went the way of the Confederates, the Union Army used 57 cannon to stop and drive back the Confederate advances at great cost to the South. The 3 day battle inflicted grave consequences: for the Union 13,249 casualties; for the Confederacy 10,266 casualties. Bragg had to retreat from the area and Lincoln had the victory he wanted to emphasize the Union’s ability to implement the Emancipation Proclamation.

While visiting the battlefield we talked to some of the staff. We met the Superintendent who is leaving in a few days for a temporary, additional assignment to oversee the redevelopment of the National Park units in the Virgin Islands which had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma and Maria. She was familiar with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), our home NPS site, due to previously working at Indiana Dunes National Seashore. The superintendent there was previously in change of MNRRA and Chris and I had met him.

One of the volunteers at Stones River was a retired Army soldier and we chatted about the National Park Service. He also emphasized the differences between Western, Middle, and Eastern Tennessee; and reinforced the value of visiting Oak Ridge Manhattan Project NPS site west of Knoxville which is on our schedule when we return home from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stones River has an informative museum and short video. We also drove the scenic loop and walked to various locations that were critical to the battle. When the battle was won, the Union forces established a major supply depot in Murfreesboro that served the Union well on Sherman’s drive to the sea. Another stop was at Hazen Brigade Monument. Colonel William Hazen’s brigade was the only Union troops who did not retreat during the December battle that favored the Confederacy. The fighting was so bad, the area was called “Hell’s Half Acre. In 1863, Hazen’s men had a monument built to honor their fallen comrades. It is the earliest known Civil War Monument. Most Civil War monuments were not built until the late 1880s or 1890s as the veterans wanted memorials built to commemorate battles before the veterans died.

Booze was our second stop. Jack Daniels to be specific. The 42 miles from Murfreesboro to Lynchburg TN took us an hour as we enjoyed the hilly terrain. Jack Daniels offers several types of tours, we did not select one in advance not knowing what time we would arrive. When we were at the ticket counter our choices were a dry tour (no liquor sampling) beginning in twenty minutes or one with liquor beginning in an hour. It was an easy choice for us, soon and sober was our selection.

Finished product at Jack Daniels Distillery, Lynchburg TN

Technically Lynchburg is located in a dry county, meaning no liquor can be sold. Jack Daniel’s nephew (Jack Daniels never married) was heading the business after Prohibition, ran for the Legislature, won and introduced a bill, that passed, allowing them to sell commemorative bottles that happen to have liquor inside and to run educational classes about alcohol that happen to include sampling the product. Or so said our guide.

Jack Daniels statue in front of cave with spring water. Daniels was only 5’2” with a size four shoe

The Jack Daniels story involves several heart warming aspects. First, the founder Jack Daniels built up the business after running away from home as a child, by buying up the land around the spring that provides the water at age 13, and by avoiding extra revenue agents at his distillery by never distilling more than 99 barrels of liquor per day. Mr. Jack began working at the distillery at an early age.

He had two mentors; the first being the owner, Rev. Dan Call, who sold the business to him when his parishioners told the reverend to either preach or make moonshine. Rev. Call chose preaching. The second mentor was a freed slave, Nearest Green, who was effectively the first master distiller here. Green’s heirs still work at the Jack Daniels distillery today. The distillery had to weather Moore County becoming a dry county and Prohibition but Jack Daniels nephew, Lem Motlow, persisted and the company has grown ever since. It is now owned by a conglomerate, Brown-Forman.

The original Jack Daniels office where he kicked the safe

The tour lasted about an hour. You walk through areas involved in all of the steps making the liquor from the wood burned for charcoal filtering to seeing the barrels being stored for aging. At the building housing his original office, we were told how Mr. Jack had arrived early to work one day (not his usual style) and had to open the safe. He did not remember the combination and kicked the safe in frustration. The stubbed toe got infected, multiple amputations occurred, and he eventually died of gangrene. Choose your take-away message: #1. Don’t arrive early to work. #2. Don’t kick a steel safe. Our guide did talk fast and in some noisy areas we did not always hear everything she had to say. BUT, as an added bonus we and three others were able to see a rat scurry along the floor.

Billy Thomas in his Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company

After Jack Daniels, we made a stop at the Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company, another heart warming story. The owner, Billy Thomas, retired as an accountant and mayor of Lynchburg. In 2003 he decided to start a hobby with a goal of making 50 cakes a month from a family recipe. The cake recipe uses one of the Jack Daniels liquors. Well he is still a hometown business operating out of a small building but he now has ten employees. He and the product have been on Nashville Public Television, “The View”, and “Food Network”; his product can be found in regional Cracker Barrel restaurants and in Kroger grocery stores. We met Mr. Thomas and he gave us a detailed explanation of the company grew, how he keeps costs down, and his extremely high sanitation rating. Quite impressive. Of course, we purchased a cake, a package of the whiskey balls, and several bags of whiskey praline pecans, although at the moment all are still unopened.

We drove two hours though Tennessee mountains to Fall Creek Falls State Park. The park is about 70 miles north of Chattanooga on the Cumberland Plateau. Tennessee and Kentucky have numerous parks with resort lodges, this is one of the Tennessee ones. Fall Creek Falls is the largest Tennessee State Park at 26,000 acres. It is known for its gorges and waterfalls. We will be spending two nights here. Our lodging is pleasant with a view overlooking the lake formed by damming Fall Creek, and the restaurant offers buffet meals that were quite tasty. And there is no admission fee to KY or TN state parks.

Ed and Chris. March 27

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 11: Many of us feel like we are living in very, very troubling times in our country. A good reminder (which is impossible to do in Minnesota) is to visit a Civil War battlefield site. The horror, the bravery, the carnage. Communities were destroyed and families took sides. The Civil War lasted for four years.

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: March 25

Nashville, TN. March 25

Flowers at Cheekwood Estate and Botanical Garden

Day 10 of a 41 day trip and we have rarely seen the sun. Prognosis for the near future is not rosy either. Ah, well, ‘tis but a minor drawback.

Today is Palm Sunday, a day that normally means a long church service. St. Edward Catholic Church came through on that expectation. The choir was large and talented; Chris had hoped maybe we would see a bunch of Nashville musicians but I believe they were just “normal” folks. The congregation, however, was one of the most broadly diverse I have experienced in a long time. Not only with a sprinkling of various obvious ethnic groups, but each group was well-represented numerically. Hurray! The priest and lector spoke clearly, slowly (maybe a little too slow if truth be told), and with great emotion. Made for a great service, even if it did last 100 minutes.

Cheekwood Mansion in Nashville TN

Since we went to a 10:30 AM service, we limited our Sunday activities to visiting Cheekwood Estate and Botanical Gardens. Cheekwood is the estate built by a wholesale grocery magnate (Creator of Maxwell House Coffee also) and his wife, Leslie Cheek and Mabel Wood Cheek. The two of them only lived here for three years together after its construction in 1932 before Leslie died. Mabel lived here for another ten years before she died and the children passed the building on to a non-profit 22 years later. When the Nashville Art Museum closed, the works were passed to Cheekwood and the current facility has art, gardens, and the restored building to view.

Cheekwood gardens in Nashville TN

The two of us spent two hours here on a cool, gray Sunday afternoon. The place was busy, if next Sunday, Easter Sunday, is nice, I would imagine they will be jammed. Spring flowers are blooming and with the temperature for the next week supposed to be in the 60s, those flowering trees are just ready to pop out.
The walking trails are pleasant but most of the many steps are comprised of a stone material that flakes and disintegrates easily, making walking more of a challenge than necessary.

The art galleries were modest and quickly walked through. The outdoor sculpture was interesting; we particularly liked the glass bridge by Siah Armajani, an Iranian-born artist now living in Minneapolis. The gardens gathered most of our attention and appreciation.

The glass bridge by Siah Armajani

We made it back to our lodging in time to see the final seconds when Villanova beat Texas Tech and now Duke and University of Kansas are in overtime. Nashville had been the host for some of the regional games. Nashville has a proposal to increase sales and lodging taxes to pay for a proposed massive transit system. The vote will be held in early May. Nashville might go from just being one the higher taxed locales for visitors to the number 2 or 3 in the U.S. Liquor, sales and lodging taxes aimed at those non-Tennessee visitors could fund over 40% of the cost. If you come to Nashville to visit, be prepared for expensive lodging and high tourist taxes.

Ed and Chris. March 25

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 10: How did we get all these strip malls? Some national chains with regional stores compete on both sides of the road. How do people make a living at some of these mom and pop ventures? Maybe having a Dollar General to shop at is just fine.

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2018 Trip 3: March 24: KY and TN

Nashville, TN. March 24

The renovated Ryman Auditorium

Today we continued our overdosing on all things musical in Nashville. The Ryman Auditorium gained a national reputation as the first home of the Grand Ole Opry or as some called it: “The Mother Church of Country Music”. But the Ryman had a storied history pre-dating the Grand Ole Opry.

Its root begin with a capitalist and a preacher. Tom Ryman was a riverboat captain and successful entrepreneur who profited from the wild days of Nashville in the post-Civil War era. Evangelist Sam Jones came to Nashville to encourage its citizens to repent and he denounced the wild, wicked ways of drinking, gambling, etc. Ryman decided to attend a gathering and attempt to squelch the influence of Jones. Instead, Ryman was converted and decided to raise the funds to provide Jones with a permanent location to preach. In 1892 the Union Gospel Tabernacle was finished.

When Ryman died in 1904, Jones had the Tabernacle renamed in Ryman’s honor. The Ryman served Nashville as the location for religious revivals, operas, traveling minstrels, famous orators, etc. Over time, under the direction of one of the few women engaged in obtaining acts for large theaters around the country, Lula Naff, the Ryman was a destination for top acts and remained profitable doing so.

On a separate track to destiny, WSM radio, one of the early 50,000 watt clear channel radio stations in country, was broadcasting a radio program called the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry had been kicked out of four venues due to its loud and boisterous audiences. In 1943, Naff agreed to allow the Opry to use the Ryman on Saturday nights for its radio performance. A marriage that was made in heaven. The Opry boomed,particularly after Bill Monroe and his new band mates Lester Flatts and Earl Scruggs, played on the show in 1943.

The Opry made the Ryman its home base until 1974 when the show just outgrew the older facilities at the Ryman and decamped for the new digs we visited Friday. For twenty years, the Ryman sat basically empty until the musicians and community came together with extensive renovations that returned the Ryman as a valued performing arts theater. Today, it is a popular tour stop for visitors and country music fans from around the world.

Our tour was self-guided and includes a series of videos and displays relating to its history and the musicians who played there. It was well-done and the building was not so overwhelmed by tourists to make the self-guided tour a bust.

The line to buy tickets extends from the bottom center to the doors at the upper right.

Not so at the Country Music Hall of Fame just down the street from the Ryman. This was one of the most unpleasant museum experiences I have encountered. We had to wait twenty minutes to buy our tickets due to the long lines in front of us. (The line grew even longer behind us.) It took another ten minutes to wait for an elevator to bring us to floor three where the experience officially begins. Once in the museum, the throngs of people made it both difficult and time-consuming to view and/or read the displays.

The museum seemed to have good material. Numerous stars and variations of country music were discussed. Examples of musical instruments associated with particular musicians were on display. Changing special exhibits spent considerable space highlighting several top stars. If you were truly committed to country music, maybe you could overlook the conditions. We found it to be a drag and it turned us off. We left much earlier than we normally would have a museum of this size. Maybe it is less crowded during the week. If you plan to visit, plan your time wisely.

The Honky Tonk area around country music museums

The area around the country music museums was crowded with people drinking, walking, eating, etc. Most restaurants had a line outside of the door. Beyond the music venue area, the downtown sidewalks were less crowded. Our first restaurant choice, Roberts Western World was jammed. We listened to music for a while but when no wait staff appeared within 20 feet of us, we left and went back to Puckett’s. A thirty minute wait was projected there so we went back to our Airbnb lodging and bought dinner at Publix. We put the Grand Ole Opry live radio show on the iPhone and will listed to it tonight.

Ed and Chris. March 24

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 9: Do you remember the early battles against “Big Tobacco”? We do. Small groups formed to prohibit smoking in public places. Gun violence is a major public health issue. The NRA, however, is a well-funded, entrenched lobbying force for the status quo. But there are voices of opposition. These kids are our future.

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: March 23: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Nashville, KY. March 23

Grand Ole Opry Building in Nashville

Music. Music. Music. Friday was a music day. A paddle wheel boat excursion began the day. The General Jackson showboat is based in the Grand Ole Opry/Gaylord Opryland hotel/Opry Mills shopping area. We arrived at 11 AM for a lunch, cruise, and show. Friday was the first cruise show day of 2018.

“Taste of Tennessee is an energetic stage show showcasing the many songs and stylings made famous right here in Tennessee. A versatile and virtuoso show band guides the audience on this exciting journey through the Volunteer State supported by gorgeous costumes, lights, and multimedia.” So sayeth their brochure and the show lived up to its hype.

Taste of Tenessee show on the General Jackson Showboat

The show lasted for about an hour. When it ended we went on deck to stretch our legs and enjoy the cruise views. The ship turned around shy of making it all the way to downtown Nashville. The river views were blah, the banks showing scrub brush and leafless trees. A section of the river was industrial; it made for the most interesting portion as we were able to watch sand and gravel being unloaded and transported to the storage area by truck and conveyor belt. Back inside, two of the performers took requests and entertained with songs and banter. The boat landed back at the dock at 2:30.

Views of the Cumberland River

The General Jackson was well-maintained and in good shape. We probably had about 250 people on board, roughly half of what it could hold at its peak. Our table companions were from Seattle, London Ontario (more Toronto Maple Leaf fans), and Kansas City and provided companionable conversation. The buffet lunch was good, a cut above normal buffet lunches at entertainment venues.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel

After the cruise, we moved the car closer to the Grand Ole Opry. We knew we would be getting back to the car late and we lucked out as the afternoon event was ending (possibly a high school show choir competition) and parking spaces opened up. We walked over to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. I knew this place would be big, and it was. Think of a Vegas-style resort without the skyscraper aspect. The hotel has about 3,000 rooms with several covered atriums with flowers, waterfalls, a flowing river, etc. In 2010, flood waters from the Cumberland River devastated Nashville and this resort was not spared. It closed for five months for renovations.

We enjoyed the scenery and climate controlled atmosphere at Opryland but when we discovered they only offered gelato and frozen yogurt on the premises we headed over to the Opry Mills shopping complex for an ice cream fix and a snack at Johnny Rockets. The wait staff put on an impromptu dance skit while we were there so our food came with entertainment without a cover charge. We had time to kill before attending the Grand Ole Opry evening performance so Johnny Rockets came in handy.

While we had heard of the Grand Ole Opry, we had never listened to it so the experience was brand new to us. Four half hour live radio shows are produced in sequence. Each half hour show has its own host and three acts, including the host, perform. It appears two numbers are allotted to each act. With introductory banter and on-air commercials, the thirty minutes are completed, the curtain comes down and then the curtain goes back up for the next show. There is a fifteen minute intermission between shows two and three; I am not sure what happens on the radio stations during that time.

Ricky Skaggs at Grand Ole Opry

We had only heard of one of the performers that night but, given our low knowledge level of any music performers, that was to be expected. The 4,400 seat auditorium was almost full, we were up high. As is usual nowadays, there were three jumbo TV screens providing an up close and personal view also. Our favorite performers were Striking Matches, a male-female duo paying guitars and singing. Ricky Skaggs had a smiling, thirteen year old boy paying guitar that was entertaining also. A 14-year-old girl “phemom’, Tegan Marie, did not impress us.

Overall, it was enjoyable although Chris said she would even prefer opera. Frequently the lyrics were not distinguishable. It was comfortable; as one stated later, music performers have fans but Grand Ole Opry is family. The audience, many of whom were first-timers and included groups of show choir youngsters, responded enthusiastically all night. For me, too many of the performers always asked “how are you doing”, “are you having a good time”, “where are you from”, etc. We were glad we made this a priority. Some of the tunes are still reverberating in our heads this morning.

Number 18 dressing room at Grand Ole Opry

After the show, we went on the backstage tour. There were groups of 25-30 people who had paid extra for this. Originally we were to attend an afternoon tour; evidently it was canceled in favor of hosting the show choir tournament. The back stage tour covered the TV recording studio-where Hee Haw had been filmed, the 20 or so individual dressing rooms for performers, the stage with the performers circle of old wood which is a remnant of the stage at the Ryman Theater in downtown Nashville where the Grand Ole Opry started, etc. The 2010 flood damaged this facility also, bring water waist deep to the old dressing rooms and higher than the stage. When renovations were made, the dressing rooms were improved and each had a particular theme. Performers are assigned to the rooms based on the theme and/or their preference (for big name performers).

We arrived back at our lodging at 11:30 PM, satisfied with a full day of Nashville music experiences.

Ed and Chris. March 24

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 8: How many iconic American performance venues have you been to: NYC’s Carnegie Hall, nope. The Hollywood Bowl, nope. Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, yes!

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2018 Trip 3: KY andTN: March 22

Nashville, TN. March 22

Corvette National Museum in Bowling Green KY

Well we crossed the border from Kentucky to Tennessee and traded bluegrass for blues; Daniel Boone for Davy Crockett, the 15th state admitted to the Union for the 16th, and a state that did not secede from the Union for one that did (although both were bitterly divided).

Before we left Kentucky though, we made a stop in Bowling Green to visit the National Corvette Museum. It is a private, non-profit organization devoted to the Chevrolet Corvette; as they say, America’s only true sports car. First produced in 1953, it was named after the British warships that were designed to be light and fast. The Corvette automobile did not gain immediate popularity until Zora Argus-Duntov wrote a three page internal memo telling the big brass that the Corvette should be re-focused as a true sports car. Zora was a Russian emigre who had worked for auto companies in England and later joined GM. His passion for quality in sports cars had a lasting impact on the success of the Corvette. The Corvette is now known around the world and has a stunning list of race victories.

The Corvette sinkhole of 2014

Even non-sports car fans generally have heard of the Corvette. even more people heard of the car on Feb. 12, 2014 when a large sinkhole opened up under the showroom of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Eight Corvettes valued at over $1,000,000 dropped into a sinkhole 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep. Several of the cars were deemed a total loss. Others were repaired. The Museum, besides repairing the damage, soon added a new feature: The Sinkhole Exhibit where you listen to the sound of a sinkhole roof collapsing, can stand where the sinkhole occurred and see tape outlining the edge of the hole, observe the cars in all of their smashed glory, and even buy a small container of dirt from the sinkhole.

It took us 90 minutes to go through the museum. I am sure Corvette and car aficionados spend much more time. The time spent was enjoyable to recollect on an American icon, the various models designed, and various tidbits of information about the Corvette. I had to make sure Chris did not sit down somewhere and sign on the dotted line to buy one.

Nashville was just a quick hour trip down the interstate through the rolling hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. We are staying south of the city in an Airbnb townhouse. Nashville hotels are extremely pricey and the one timeshare exchange located in the area had no openings from January through May of this year when we were trying to book a room. So we drive a bit more.

Tennessee State Capitol

Before coming to our lodging, we visited the Tennessee State Museum and State Capitol. The State Museum will be moving to a new facility later this year assuming the work is completed timely. Nashville is undergoing a construction boom and workers are in short supply. The current facility is twice as big as the new one but shares space with other state offices and performing arts organizations. The new facility is proposed to have more advanced displays using technology and multi-media displays.

I find it hard to well describe the State Museum. You know how sometimes you gather an impression early and may not give later reactions a full consideration? I felt that about the Tennessee State Museum. It covered the time up to about the First World War. Most topics had a display but they struck me as brief, general, covering the clichés. Maybe I have seen too many museums and historical sites. It overdid the “We as Tennesseans are just the common man with our roots in the 1800s”. After 90 minutes here, we moved on to the State Capitol a few blocks away.

Tennessee Senate Chambers on top; House Chambers at botom

The State Capitol was completed just before the Civil War. It is small, with most officials, including legislators, having offices and meeting rooms in nearby buildings. The marble and granite are from Tennessee and are attractive, with nice ceiling decorations. There is no outstanding art, generally the walls are bare or have pictures of past Governors or early state leaders, complemented with marble busts of similar types of famous people. The Supreme Court has moved to its own building and the Senate and House Chambers are pleasant but not notable.

We did learn on a tour that the state flag shows three stars, indicating East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. It seems there is a strong identification with each area, and the Supreme Court judges have to reflect a degree of balance between the regions. The Capitol is also notable that two people are buried within its walls, the architect and the head of the original Capitol Building Commission. President James Polk was from Kentucky and he and his wife are buried outside on the Capitol Grounds. This is the only U.S. State Capitol to serve as a mausoleum and a cemetery.

The tour guide refreshed our memory about the role Tennessee played in the passage of the 19th Amendment for Women’s Suffrage. The Amendment came to a vote in Tennessee, where if Tennessee approved it, the Amendment would become the law of the land. In the process of passage, an attempt was made to table (and thus kill) the Amendment. The vote was a tie. If a motion to table is voted on three times with all being a tie, the motion dies and the whole Amendment would not have passed. The second vote was also a tie, no one was changing their vote. On the third vote, the newest and youngest representative received a note from his mother telling him she expected him to vote for passage. He had not voted for passage on the previous two attempts. On the third vote, he voted for passage, the Amendment was approved and the Governor quickly signed it before any other action could be attempted. Can you imagine the media and social media attention today if that occurred?

We had an early dinner downtown, along with many visitors from Toronto who were in town for the Predators-Maple Leafs NHL game (the Maple Leafs won). Puckett’s has been serving food downtown for over fifty years and we both had a barbecue special. Quite tasty. After a ride through rush hour traffic, we landed at our Airbnb location. In the last two reported years, Nashville ranked 19th and 23rd worst for rush hour traffic, not out of line with its ranking as 25th largest U.S. city.

Ed and Chris

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris
Day 7: Visual art is all around us. The beautiful quilts made into intricate patterns with thousands of pieces of fabric. Magnificent detailed paintings of birds in their environment by Audubon. Stone buildings constructed by the CCC workers in the 1930s. What is tacked on your refrigerator door?

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2018 Trip 3: KY and TN: March 21: Caves and Crafts, Booze and Bluegrass (Music and Horses)

Munfordville, KY March 21

On a two lane road headed to Mammoth Cave

Welcome to Spring. We woke up to 2-3 inches of beautiful, fluffy, yet sticky snow. This allowed the snow to adhere to tree branches causing beautiful landscapes. The temperature was about 33 degrees Fahrenheit, so the snow melted on the roads without getting icy or slippery. By the end of the afternoon, the snow had melted. If all snowstorms were like this one, everyone would be happy to have it snow frequently.

There were six of us at breakfast at the Country Girl at Heart Farm B and B; a couple from KY who visit here frequently; a young couple from Georgia on their way to Chicago and us. Besides the scrambled free range eggs, we had bacon, fresh fruit, biscuits, and home-made danish from a local Amish couple.

Mammoth Cave was our destination for the day. The National Park site was a 45 minute drive from the B and B through a combination of narrow two-lane roads and interstate. The park offers nine different tour options, we had chosen two of them, each two hours long, and ordered our tickets a few weeks ago. Mammoth Cave had suggested ordering tickets in advance for summer tours and for tours during spring break (now). We had to keep re-checking the web site though since they did not replace their winter schedule with the summer schedule until about two weeks ago.

The historic entrance to Mammoth Cave.

The historic tour covers the original entrance and showcases the parts of the cave seen by the earliest cave explorers. Mammoth Cave was “found” by American settlers as far back as the 1780s and even by the Civil War tourists were coming here to explore the cave. The early tourists saw less than 12 miles of cave. Mammoth Cave was established as a National Park in 1941; only 40 miles had been mapped by then. This tour goes over two miles, has 440 stairs, and has elevation gain and loss of 300 feet.

Historic tour at Mammoth Cave National Park

There are over 400 separate caves within this national park and more are privately owned and available to tour outside it. Over time, cave exploration at Mammoth has continued and more miles of cave have been discovered and mapped. One major discovery in the 1970s connected Mammoth Cave to another large cave system, quickly increasing the total length. Today 412 miles with 27 different entrances of interconnected passages have been identified in Mammoth Cave. It is the longest cave system in the world. (To be connected, an opening has to be able to be traversed by a human without artificially widening or expanding openings.)

Descending the 280 stairs at the beginning of the Domes and Dripstones tour

The Domes and Dripstones tour is about one mile long with 280 of the 500 stairs on this tour coming in one quick burst right at the start of the tour. The 280 steps take you down several domes (cylindrical openings) and you slowly work your way back up for the rest of the tour. The big finale is an indoor waterfall with a large collection of stalactites and stalagmites.

Domes and Dripstones tour at Mammoth Cave

Domes and Dripstones tour at Mammoth Cave National Park

In our opinion, the Mammoth Cave System is more impressive than beautiful. Our two tours were not duplicative and we saw less than 1% of the cave miles. Numerous cave passages are extremely wide, one long passageway on the historic tour was forty feet high and probably just as wide. Certainly we had our share of narrow passages and low overhangs-more so for tall people than children. But overall, many passages impressed us by their spaciousness. I have never been satisfied with my ability to effectively show the view of a cave with either of my camera options. I include some photos here, you will have to use your imagination to complete the picture.

The cave system has five different levels caused by different geological periods when the water level of the Green River, the end spot for water flowing through the cave, eroded and lowered its channel. Only the lowest, newest level has water in it periodically. Our tours were all on dry land. Part of that is also caused by the sandstone capstone above the limestone formations in the cave which direct water to flow away rather than down into the cave.

The Park Rangers leading the tours do a nice job of providing historical background and explaining the geology behind the caves. Our Domes and Dripstones guide was able to go into more detail as we only had 26 people on the tour; this tour is frequently run with 100 participants.

We spent the entire day at Mammoth. Besides the two tours, there is a museum with exhibits and video presentations. We talked with Rangers at an informal talk and peppered questions to the Rangers at the information desk. We bought a few souvenirs. We ate a quick lunch after our first tour and had a sit down meal at the lodge in the park after our late afternoon tour. And we sat for a bit waiting for the last tour to begin. We could have gone on walks above ground but the two tours were taxing enough. While the tour description said the tours in total would be about three miles, the walking app on my iPhone said we went over five miles today. I will take the iPhone total. Add on the almost 1000 stairs and the crab walking in low overhead areas, we got plenty of exercise.

One of the barn buildings at our B and B

We were not impressed with the hotel options near Mammoth Cave but this B and B in Munfordville has been quite pleasant. It is 45 minutes away but the drive is part of the experience. The owner moved here from Connecticut, bought the 140 acre farm and added a B and B section to the farmhouse. She has been running it for nine years now. Our room is spacious and while we did not use it, there is a basement with TV, pool table etc. There are goats and chickens. Guests are welcome to join in feeding the animals to make a complete farm experience. We passed on that option.

Ed and Chris March 22

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris.
Day 6: Where to find beauty. An end of season snowstorm. Two hundred feet below the ground. The setting sun. By saying hello.

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2018 Trip 3, March 20, KY and TN

Munfordville, KY. March 20

Ed working on the blog at our B and B

As we sit in a B and B in Munfordville, KY, yesterday’s rain has now become snow. One to three inches by tomorrow noon. Luckily we should be underground for much of that time as we will be touring Mammoth Cave. A horse and carriage from a local Amish farmer drove by a few minutes ago, hopefully they will get home before snow accumulates-if it does. The temperature is around 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

We were able to sleep in today. Our first stop at the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro did not open until 10 AM. While there is a botanical garden in town, the weather did not portend a blooming sight for our eyes so we passed on trying to visit the garden first. Bill Monroe, considered one of the primary founders of bluegrass music, was born in Rosine KY, a short 35 mile drive from Owensboro so that seemed to be the inspiration for founding a museum here.

The museum opened in 1995 and has expanded once already. We were lucky to visit now; the museum will be opening a new facility around October of this year with three times the exhibit space. The current space is likely to close in May to accommodate the move to the expanded digs.

Inside the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro,KY

We spent an hour touring the museum. Displays are well done and cover such topics as the pioneers of the music genre; Bluegrass’ Classic Band of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts; historically significant bluegrass instruments, Hall of Fame, etc. They define bluegrass as “ bluegrass has a unique singing style. It is tight-throated, high-pitched, piercing and full of lonesome yearning for the good, simple life. In Bluegrass the bass fiddle typically thumps out a steady foundation rhythm and outlines the harmony. The mandolin, when not soloing, provides a characteristic chopping accent on the offbeat – called syncopation – giving the music rhythmic drive. Melody instruments such as bango, fiddle, mandolin, are free to layer new rhythmic patterns over this background pulse.” Numerous opportunities exist to listen classic songs. It was a reasonable introduction to bluegrass music.

Kentucky maps show 11 parkways. Coming in to the state, I did not know if these were toll roads or slow, scenic roads. It turns out the parkways used to be toll roads but as the bonds used to finance construction were paid off, the parkways converted to free roads. Normally, they match interstate standards as limited access highways. We discovered the quality of the roads by purposely choosing to drive two of the parkways instead of two lane roads as we headed to our second stop, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, KY.

Hodgenville has a population of 3,200 and Chris managed to find a local restaurant with good food. Chain fast food places seem to be driving many of these out of business. We had lunch here, although the Hodgenville Grill is just over into the Eastern time zone so our lunch was almost a mid-afternoon snack. For $6.49 we had an entrée and two sides. We enjoyed the vegetable options choosing baked beans, lima beans, beets, and coleslaw from among about 16 or so choices. And yes, the food was good. In contrast, our evening meal at a different local restaurant was mainly fried food, the place could have been cleaner, and we heard one of the staff discussing how sick she was this weekend. Maybe there is a reason fast food chains with standardized quality and cleanliness are taking over.

The memorial at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

The replica log cabin inside of the memorial at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is located on the site called Sinking Spring where Abraham Lincoln was born. The first U.S. memorial to Lincoln was constructed here in 1911. The neoclassical marble and granite memorial houses a simple, symbolic log cabin inside represent the humble beginnings with the monumental achievements of our 16th President. Lincoln was born on this site and lived here for three years. His family moved ten miles away to Knob Creek where he lived for five years before moving again to Indiana and later Illinois. Land disputes, due primarily to faulty or non-existent land surveys, caused the moves from Sinking Spring and Knob Creek.

We visited both sites, talked to rangers, watched a video and bought some souvenirs before heading to our B and B lodging for the next two nights.

Ed and Chris

Epilogue: Snippets on life in America from Chris.
Day 5: He was born in Kentucky. While not poor, Abe Lincoln had come from modest means with a young life marked with tragedies. He became one of our best Presidents as well as founding the Republican Party. And now we have Trump.

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2018 Trip 3, March 19, KY and TN

Owensboro, KY. March 19

Museum at John James Audubon State Park

“Rain Rain Go Away, Come Again Some Other Day” we sang as we drove from Paducah KY to Henderson KY to Owensboro KY. It worked, sort of. The rain that was supposed to start at 10 and be thunderstorms at 1 PM held off until after our outdoor activities. It helped that we modified our schedule also. We dropped a nature conservancy site with a trail to a funny rock along the Trail of Tears. Instead we just drove to Henderson for the major activity of the day, the John James Audubon State Park and Museum.

Ohio RIver near Henderson KY

Henderson KY was an early town on the Ohio River, part of the Cherokee Nation. European settlers, Richard Henderson prominent among them, came to the area to settle and Kentucky became the 15th state admitted into the Union. Agriculture was and is important in the area and in 1810, John James Audubon moved his young family here to operate a mercantile business. Initial success eventually turned into business failure, but Audubon lived here from 1810 to 1819.

Audubon had developed an interest in art and birds at an early age. During his time in Henderson, he spent considerable time hunting and stuffing birds and perfecting his artistic technique. After his financial failure, he decided to devote his efforts to produce the monumental work “Birds of America”. This work was the first life-sized realistic drawings of North American birds along with their natural settings. It took Audubon until 1838 to see the book printed.

Along the way, Audubon and his wife Lucy worked jobs such as dance and art teacher, naturalist, and giving lectures. He exhibited his work in the U.S. and overseas and eventually gathered sufficient praise and backing from Europeans to allow the work to proceed. His drawings were engraved in scrupulous detail and then hand colored individually. Each page was 39.5” tall and 28.5” wide. He utilized assistants, including his children, to gather specimens and draw background settings. The effort was all-encompassing and there were periods of time when he would not see his wife for several years as he went to Europe and traveled around the U.S. to get specimens. He continued his travels almost until his death in 1851.

Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785 and returned to France due to his fathers concerns over a possible slave insurrection. His father sent him to America at age 18 where his father had purchased land northwest of Philadelphia near Valley Forge. It was here that he met his wife Lucy, daughter of a neighbor. He died in New York and Lucy ended up selling his belongings and engraving plates to fend off bankruptcy. Today, however, most of what is remembered of Audubon is his monumental influence on ornithology and natural history.

Blue Crane by John James Audubon

Obviously this is a very brief summary of his life and his impact. But his importance is why we stopped at Henderson to visit the museum there dedicated to his life and works. The museum is housed in a building styled after a French chateau as a nod to his French heritage. It was built during the 1930s after civic minded local women raised the funds for an Audubon Museum: the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration provided the labor. Once again, no pictures allowed but we did buy a postcard of one of his works to reproduce here to demonstrate the detail included in his drawings. The museum also had two 15 minute videos on Audubon and a wing dedicated to his life’s history and drawings.

Hiking at Audubon State Park in KY

Turtles at Audubon State Park

Before the museum tour, we spent an hour walking around the park trails. As you know we are not birders, but it was pleasant to listen to the birds calling back and forth to each in their spring mating ritual. The parks in KY do not charge admission-nice. We did observe several Eagle Scout projects to replace bridges and boardwalks.

Driving Kentucky back roads

The drive to Henderson took us once again on two lane roads. Of course many roads are smooth and well-maintained. The ones that are not are more interesting and those seem to be the ones we frequently find on back roads. The lack of shoulders was the most notable occurrence. Once we coming upon the top of a rise in the road when we saw the top of a large farm tractor coming towards us. At 55 mph, it was a challenge to not go off the road as the tractor did its best to keep its large wheels on the grass and just a little bit onto our lane. Another time we came up to a bridge just as a truck pulling a boat trailer came off the bridge, with the wheels of the trailer solidly in our lane. Another narrow escape.

Ed and Chris

Epilogue: Snippets on Life in America from Chris
Day 4: Cracker Barrel: biscuits, please. Dunkin Donuts: glazed chocolate donut and coffee. Panera: soup and salad. McDonald’s: egg McMuffin. Predictability is sometimes good when one is traveling.

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