ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0: Mississippi Part One

TransAmerica Trail (TAT)

The TAT is a 4200 mile transcontinental route comprised largely of dirt and gravel roads. The trail is the creation of Sam Carrero, an avid off-road motorcyclist with a passion for exploring and tackling challenging terrain.

Sam began the process of mapping out this coast to coast off-pavement adventure in 1984. It took him 12 years to put the route together. The route utilzes only publicly accessible roads and trails, however, it is not intended for standard vehicles or standard motorcycles. Many portions of the route require 4WD and high clearance and significant portions are single lane only at best.

County Road 738
County Road 738

We had a blast driving the Mississippi portion of the TAT. Several nights of rain made some portions of the trail muddy but still passable. The notorious County Road 555 was partially washed out (see video below) and after a driver/navigator consultation we retreated to find a road in better condition and then rejoin the TAT!

County Road 555
County Road 555, Lambert, MS (pop. 1296 – size 544 acres)

The Mississippi portion of the TAT is relatively short at about 300 miles but it provided us with a fun overlanding experience and the opportunity to travel through some very rural areas of Mississippi. The majority of the trail takes the traveler through large swaths of pine forest, some farm land and the occasional cluster of homes and a small church.

This part of Mississippi is known as the Pine Belt. When we think of the timber industry we tend to think about the massive timberlands of the West and forget that Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are still major producers of timber. Timber is the second largest agricultural commodity in Mississippi (poultry is number one).

Another observation from our trip across the state on the trail is that there is significant poverty in rural Mississippi (Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of the fifty states and DC). While we only passed through a small number of rural communities, we saw that people are living in very impoverished circumstances. A number of these small communities appear to be segregated and that the most impoverished of these communities are inhabited by Black residents.

The photos below are from a small town that we crossed through while traversing the state. The town has a population of approximately 448 people and is predominately Black (85%). The poverty rate for Blacks is 52% and for males 60%.

The balance of this post will provide a brief recap of our experiences in the towns we visited that are not along the TAT.

Corinth —- home of the slugburger

Corinth is a handsome town (pop. 14,000) in the northeastern corner of Mississippi and was our jumping off point for the TAT. We had planned on visiting Corinth even before our decision to tackle the TAT. The town is steeped in Civil War history (First Battle of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth) and has 18 structures or locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But alas, the charm and history of Corinth had not driven our desire to visit the town — we must confess it was our (well, honestly, for just one of us) obsession with eating a Northeast Mississippi specialty – the Slugburger. Additionally, we needed to try the Slugburger at Borroum’s Drug Store and Fountain because Borroum’s has the best Slugburger in Corinth. Borroum’s is the oldest drug store in Mississippi and still operated by the same family (the business was started shortly after the end of the Civil War when Jack Borroum arrived after being released from a Union Army prison camp).

What is a Slugburger, you ask? Slugburgers are a mixture of ground pork, soy flour, and spices. The mixture is flattened into a patty and deep fried in vegetable oil. The patty is placed on a hamburger bun with a garnish of mustard, onion, and pickle. Developed during the Great Depression when money and meat were both scarce, slug burgers were made with a mixture of beef and pork, potato flour as an extender, and spices, then fried in animal fat. Mrs. Weeks, credited with creating one of the first, found the “burgers” were a way to make meat go a little farther at the family hamburger stand. Selling for a nickel, sometimes called a slug, the imitation hamburgers became known as Slugburgers.

New Albany-or-the crash

We popped off the TAT to visit New Albany and cycle the Tanglefoot Trail. The Tanglefoot is a 44 mile paved bicycle trail that was formerly a line of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (which still operates today as a subsidiary of the Rock Island Rail). As an historical aside, the railroad was founded by Colonel Willam Clark Faulkner, great-grandfather of author William Faulkner. The line was conceived as a way to move timber to the Gulf. The trail is named after the steam locomotive Tanglefoot which was used during the construction of the line.

The Tanglefoot is an award winning trail – noted for the scenery and small towns that can be visited directly from the trail. We set out from the trailhead in New Albany heading due south. The ride was delightful – forest, farm fields, numerous creek crossings and lots of wildlife.

Unfortunately, our delightful ride became less so when the smarter, wiser and better looking member of this partnership crashed after getting sideways in some loose gravel at the edge of the trail. Maria managed to finish the remaining 15 miles of the ride but was unable to walk on her own power once off the bike.

Fortunately, after a visit to the local urgent care and a consultation (and more xrays) with an orthopedist the next day in Oxford, it was determined that Maria did not have a fractured patella, just a severe contusion. So we purchased crutches, swallowed some pain meds and got back on the road two days later. Ten days later we were back on the bikes! Phew!

Oxford —- or everybody loves ole miss

We were fortunate in one sense that Oxford was a short drive from New Albany and is home to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and Specialty Orthopedic Group. After Maria received the good news that there was no fracture, we decided to stay in Oxford for several days and let Maria begin her recuperation.

Oxford worked well for us as our time there allowed Maria to get rest and stay off her feet for several days. So, perhaps needless to say, we spent most of our time in Oxford drinking coffee and tea, drinking beverages other than coffee and tea, and dining. The good news – as home to Ole Miss – there are plenty of choices from a culinary perspective.

We would say that while the town is very attractive and has plenty of dining options, we found Oxford more touristy than we expected and we are of the opinion the hype about how cool the town is overstated. Perhaps, we just missed it with Maria being less than one hundred percent.

Taylor grocery — “eat or we both starve!”

While we were in Oxford, a number of folks we met recommended the quick trip to Taylor to dine at Taylor Grocery. Taylor Grocery is billed as the best catfish in the South, and we would not argue with that claim. The building was erected in 1889 and we are pretty certain that not many improvements have been made to the property (part of the charm – see photographs below). We also had the good fortune to meet the owners, Lynn, Debbie and Sarah Margaret Hewlett. Lynn joined us at our dinner table, making sure we sampled most of the menu items—we had a great evening! We have included our note to Sarah below. For more information on the storied history of Taylor Grocery click on the link: https://taylorgrocery.com/


Hello Sarah—
We had the great pleasure of dining at Taylor Grocery this evening (3/31/22) and wanted to send our appreciation for the hospitality and outstanding meal.
From the moment we met Lynn on the porch playing his dobro, we knew we were in a special place. We ordered an appetizer and catfish dinners from our friendly and helpful server; and we also received complimentary sides of gumbo, rice and beans, and fried okra. And we managed to eat chocolate cobbler, too! Everything was delicious.
On our way into the restaurant, we were chatting with a local gentleman who inquired about our van. When we went to pay for our dinner, we were so surprised to hear that he had already taken care of it-Mississippi Hospitality!
We are from Connecticut and have been traveling throughout the US in our van six months annually for the last four years, and Taylor, MS will always hold a special place in our hearts. Hopefully, we will we back again.
With our kindest regards to all at Taylor Grocery,
Maria & Stephen

We hope you found this post from the first leg of our exploration of Mississippi interesting. Our next post regarding Mississippi will chronicle our time in the Mississippi Delta.

Be seeing you!

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

As we planned a rough itinerary through the Southeast for OTR 8.0 we had not contemplated a visit to Ocean Springs. In fact, we had never heard of Ocean Springs.

However, that was before meeting Cynthia Comsky, the owner of the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, who strongly recommended a visit to the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs. Subsequently, we saw a watercolor exhibit of Anderson’s at the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi and knew we needed to visit Ocean Springs and the Walter Anderson Museum.

Much to our delight, the museum met all of our expectations and we found the town itself to be a quaint and friendly destination. In fact, we extended our stay to enjoy the charms of the town and the its friendly inhabitants.

Walter Anderson Museum

”Beware by whom you are called sane.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Sissy at the Table c.1933 Oil on board

So, of course, our first stop (well, second after coffee – see below on that topic) was the Walter Anderson Museum. The museum is physically attached to the town community center – which is appropriate as its walls are adorned with murals he created (and was paid a meager one dollar). The museum itself is filled with his works as one might expect – however one might not expect to find water colors, oils, wood sculptures, woodblock prints, pencil and ink drawings all by the same artist. His work in each of these mediums is outstanding.

New Orleans Street Scene, c. 1963, Oil on board

Anderson’s personal and professional life was inextricably meshed together. His story is fascinating. He appears to us to be an artist and naturalist of uncompromising dedication, commitment and eccentricity that matched his artistic genius. There are a number of articles that provide excellent insight into Anderson’s life—links to a few that we found interesting: The Many Voyages of Walter Anderson: https://bittersoutherner.com/the-many-voyages-of-walter-anderson-horn-island-mississippi and Realisations: https://walterandersonart.com/pages/about-walter-anderson

Horn Island at Sunset 1960 Oil on board

Last night there was a beautiful sunset. One felt that it had been arranged with taste. So many sunsets seem to be simply wild explosions of color in order to stun people into a state of mute wonder. But this one had variety, vermilion red and purple together, and lilac and gold together against a heavenly clear green turquoise sky. You felt that there would never be bad weather again.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Allison Sleeping c. 1935 Oil on board
Shrimp Boat c. 1955 Oil on board

“I wonder how long it will be before nature and man accept each other again. —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Lady in Red c. 1930 Oil on canvas

The identity of the sitter in the painting above is unknown. She sits slightly askew in her chair with her hands folded delicately in her lap. She gazes off to her right – not making eye contact with the viewer. By positioning his subject in such a way, we first notice the shape that the figure makes, almost reducing her form into a series of S curves against a dark background.

WPA Mural Sketch c. 1934 Oil on board

This mural sketch was created for the WPA. This particular scene is a cartoon (or preparatory work) of The Hunt. The closely depicted forms of the hunters, deer, and yellow dog are reminiscent of the cave painting compositions that Anderson saw in France in the 1920s.

“Nature does not like to be anticipated it too often means death, I suppose but loves to surprise; in fact, seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Fairy tales


Walter Anderson loved fairy tales and even described them as being “explosive”- having the ability to inspire life and creativity. Anderson drew, painted, and carved classical images of fairy tales and myths throughout his life. Walter Anderson saw the world as a magical place full of wonder and possibility. Classic tales of mythology populated his daily life on the Gulf Coast. Around his home at Shearwater, Anderson would often carve dead trees into the shapes of nymphs and giants. He read stories to his children and illustrated their lives with fairies and mythic creatures.

Most notably, he created approximately 30 block prints featuring scenes from familiar tales to sell inexpensively to the public. Many of these block prints of myths and fairy tales are displayed here, demonstrating the timeless attraction that these tales have for all.

Bright eyed brew company

Be bright

Bright Eyed Brew Company was a massive bonus – the frosting on our Walter Anderson Museum cake – we did not expect to find a first rate specialty coffee cafe and roaster in Ocean Springs.

Bright Eyed Brew Company is owned and operated by husband and wife Ryan and Kathryn Reaux. They started the business in 2016 as a part time venture making and selling nitro cold brew from a cart at the local farmers market. Today their cold brew is on tap at a number of restaurants and cafes in the Mississippi Gulf area, and they operate the cafe selling espresso drinks, tea, waffles and, of course, nitro cold brew.

The Reaux Family

On our first morning in Ocean Springs we stopped at Bright Eyed as the prelude to our museum visit. From the moment we ordered our drinks and sat down in the cafe, local folks began chatting us up – that is what Fika is all about! Three hours later we finally departed for the museum. https://brighteyedbrewco.com/

Hotel Beatnik

Once we decided to visit the museum, we needed a place to stay and there were no camping options close by. We found Beatnik online and booked a cabin. The property consists of four cabins and a swimming pool. As you can see from the photographs below they are not rustic cabins.

The Beatnik is cool—Scandinavian style decor, a heated plunge pool and a five minute walk to downtown. Everything is online – registration, door lock combinations, housekeeping requests. What else could a traveler want? https://www.thehotelbeatnik.com/

St JOhn’s Episcopal Church

St John’s Episcopal Church

This lovely church is a two minute walk from the Beatnik. As many of you may recall we visit many churches as we tour – in addition to the spiritual aspect, we find the history and architecture of churches fascinating. We were most fortunate to meet Drew, a retired insurance agent from Jackson and a volunteer at the church. Drew graciously provided us with a tour of the church and we reminisced a bit about the problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (once an underwriter always an underwriter).

St. John’s was built in 1892, and the original church is still standing—which is pretty amazing considering it sits 1000 feet from Biloxi Bay and is a wood frame building. Drew did let us know that the building is to be sprinklered in the near future – this former underwiter is fully supportive of that! https://stjohnsoceansprings.dioms.org/

We think Ocean Springs is a cool little town. If you are an admirer of Walter Anderson and his work, excellent coffee, excellent barbecue (Pleasant’s BBQ) and friendly people, make a point of visiting if you are going to be in the Gulf Region of Mississippi.

Be seeing you!

P.S. If you have been following along at all you probably realize that we have not been publishing our posts in strictly chronological order. We are planning to get back in sync in that regard and we are working to publish a post on the first leg of our journey through Mississippi as we followed the Trans America Trail through Northern Mississippi.

Bayou Teche: laissez les bon temps rouler

Boiled Crawfish, Janes’ Seafood

After our stay in Baton Rouge we decided to dive deep into Cajun Country. We chose to roughly follow the Bayou Teche south to tour South Central Louisianna Cajun Country. The Bayou Teche runs from Port Barre south for 125 miles before flowing into the Atchafalaya River.

Breaux bridge

Breaux Draw Bridge

Breaux Bridge is La Capitale Mondiale de l’Écrevisse (the crawfish capital of the world). The founding of Breaux Bridge dates back to 1771 when Acadian Firmin Breaux purchased land on both sides of the Bayou which he then connected with a footbridge. The Bayou Teche was the main means of travel in this part of Louisianna at that time. For more information on Bayou Teche: https://www.louisianatravel.com/paddle/trail/bayou-teche-paddling-trail-entire-bayou

Breaux was in Louisiana after being forcibly removed along with thousands of other Acadians as part of the Great Deportation. The British deported thousands of Acadians to Louisiana from the Canadian Maritimes and land which is now Maine. So, if you ever wondered how a portion of Louisianna is populated by a close-knit French speaking population – now you know. For more information on the Great Deportation: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-deportation-of-the-acadians-feature

While poking around Breaux Bridge we met a number of friendly locals. Chief of Police Rollie Cantu greeted us upon our arrival (he was directing traffic) and provided us with information about the town. Kenny Domingue aka the Handle Bar Healer, provided us with the history of the town (first the Spanish then the French inhabiting the area). Artist Robin Guidry, owner of the Pink Alligator Gallery, broke out the wine for us while we shopped (at 11:00AM) and Jacqueline Salser, owner of Chez Jacqueline provided us with all the local gossip and lots of laughs. Lastly, if you thought that after 250 years in Louisiana the Acadians would have stopped speaking Cajun French or lost their accents, you would be wrong.

St martinsville

Eglise Catholique, Saint Martin de Tours, Mother Church of the Acadians, Est. 1765

Many of the folks living in St Martinsville are the descendants of Beausoleil Broussard. Broussard was a leader of the Acadians that fought bravely against the British in Acadia (now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick). Once it became clear that the British would be victorious, he led a group of Acadians south to safety in the area that is now St. Martinsville. Broussard is revered in Acadian history as a hero in the fight against the British.

St. Martinsville has one of the most beautiful town squares we have seen – anchored by the Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church and the Presbytere. Interestingly, if you note in the sign below explaining the reason for the five flags hanging from the porch, the last government that is acknowledged is the Confederacy.

Today the economy of St. Martinsville is highly dependent on tourism (the town sponsors a half dozen festivals per year) while still keeping its agricultural roots with a sugar cane crop and crawfish farming. For more information about the history of St. Martinsville: http://www.stmartinville.org/ourhistory.html

New iberia – Avery island

Avery Island is home to world famous McIlhenny Tabasco Company. The company was founded in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny. McIlhenny was given pepper seeds which originated in either Mexico or South America. He planted the seeds and the rest is history!

The company is still family owned and managed 154 years later – which is quite unusual in an economy where larger corporations usually devour and homogenize unique brands and products. The ingredients and process are not secret but the family’s knowledge is not replicable.

The self-guided tour is fascinating, taking you through the various buildings where the peppers are ground and then mixed with salt to create the mash. (Avery Island is a salt dome and rock salt was mined there beginning in 1791, making it very accessible). The mash is then filtered to remove the skin and seeds, vinegar is added, and finally the sauce is put into white oak barrels for aging. The aging process can take up to three years – the process is quite similar to wine making. For more information: https://www.tabasco.com/tabasco-history/

Jungle Garden

Avery Island is also home to Jungle Gardens and the Bird City sanctuary. Edward Avery McIlhenny developed the gardens and sanctuary in 1895. At the time the Snowy Egret was an endangered species due to plume hunters attempting to meet the demand for feathers for women’s hats! Touring Jungle Gardens and visiting the Sanctuary is a nice follow up to the Tobasco Factory Tour. For more information: https://www.junglegardens.org/

From Avery Island we headed southwest to lands’ end at Cypremort Point which sits on Vermillion Bay. We then continued along the Bayou Teche to it’s terminus at Morgan City.

Cypremort Point
Tour’s End – Crossing the Atchafayla River

Cajun Cooking

Crawfish Cake, Cafe Jo Jo’s, Morgan City

We spent two full days slowly making our way south from Breaux Bridge to Morgan City. We had a great time exploring and meeting local folks in the towns and, of course, some dang good food.

Be seeing you!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0 Alabama Part One

OTR’s only previous experience in Alabama was a couple of days driving across the northern portion of the state in March of 2020 as we were returning home prematurely due to the impact of the pandemic. So we were excited to come back to Alabama and spend some additional time exploring.

Graces High Falls

Little river canyon national preserve (LRCNP)

As we were preparing to leave Chattanooga and looking at potential points of interest on our way to Birmingham, we discovered LRCNP. The LRCNP was a great find – it provides a scenic drive along the canyon rim and a number of hikes on top of the canyon as well as down into the canyon.

Hawks Glide Overlook

The Little River flows across the top of Lookout Mountain and has carved a canyon as deep as 600 feet along the way. A river flowing across a mountain top is unusual but has helped keep this area much as it has been for centuries. There is no development within the canyon. The drive to get to the mouth of the canyon is an eleven mile steep, winding and narrow affair which limits the number of visitors to the day use area.

Little River

If you find yourself in Northeastern Alabama for any reason the LRCNP is a terrific place to spend a day driving the rim and taking a hike. https://www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm

Birmingham

We were interested in visiting Birmingham to better understand the history of this city that was so critical to the advancement of civil rights in America. However, our first stop in Birmingham was a visit to the city’s botanical garden.

We knew the gardens would not be at peak this early in the season but the grounds were still beautiful and provided us with a peaceful afternoon walking the paths.

Sloss furnaces

The following morning we commenced our tour (after fika at Seeds Coffee) of the city. We started at the Sloss Furnaces. The Furnaces is a historic landmark which both represents the industrial might that made Birmingham so prosperous and the racism that made Birmingham so notorius.

Sloss Furnaces

Birmingham is known as the Magic City due to its rapid growth and prosperity. Birmingham was just farmland until the mid 1800’s when it was discovered that the three items needed to make steel – iron ore, limestone and coal were all abundant in the area. Combined with the arrival of the railroad, the path forward was set.

The Sloss Furnaces operated from 1872 until 1970, helping to make Birmingham a prosperous city with culture and arts for the white residents. Black workers made up 70% of the workforce but provided 100% of the back-breaking labor in the mines and the furnaces. All managerial positions were held by white workers. The city was not so magical for African-Americans who were paid low wages for working in intolerable and unsafe conditions. To make the situation even more obscene the companies utilized “convict labor” in the coal mines and paid their wages to the city. Ninety percent of the convict laborers were blacks and many were falsly arrested on vagrancy charges, jailed and then leased to the city. This practice continued until 1928 – that’s right – 1928. So much for emancipation.

The workers at Sloss as well as the other furnaces were strictly segregatedBlack workers had separate showers, time clocks and entrances. The segregated workplace was not abolished until the 1960’s when the civil rights movement forced the company to abolish the policy.

The Sloss Furnaces as a physical artifact of our history are a superlative piece of history showcasing the rapid and impressive technological advances of the United States. It is an outdoor museum like few others and we think it merits a visithttps://www.slossfurnaces.com/

Birmingham civil rights institute

Martin Luther King, Jr – Birminghan Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institue (BCRI) was opened to the public in 1992. The BCRI is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. In addition to serving as a museum chronicling the civil rights movement in Birmingham, it functions as a research and educational organization .

BCRI

The museum staff has laid out the story of the civil rights movement in a compelling and dramatic fashion. There are many significant artifacts on display but it is the videos, photographs and recordings of the actual events that give life to the history. We found ourselves struggling emotionally a number of times as we watched and listened to the events that demonstrated the cruelty of the segregationists and courage of people fighting for equality in the face of jail, physical harm or even death.

16th street baptist church

16th Street Baptist Church

The 16th Street Baptist Church is across the street from the BCRI. We took a tour of this church that figured so prominently in the fight to end segregation in Birmingham. This church was a central rallying point for the protests that took place in Birmingham.

As a result, white segregationists targeted the church and on Sunday, September 15, 1963, segregationists placed dynamite under the steps on the side of the church. The explosion killed four young girls and seriously injured another young girl.

The 16th Street Baptist Church is still an active and robust parish. The tour of the church is conducted by members of the parish. They are knowledgable and engaging. Several of the elder tour guides were parishioners at the time of the bombing. If you are visiting the BCRI most definitely walk across the street for a tour at the church.https://www.nps.gov/articles/16thstreetbaptist.htm

Fika with fiona: Best of birmingham: Seeds coffee

Seeds Coffee: https://seedscoffee.com/about/

We will be publishing a second post covering the remainder of the Alabama portion of OTR 8.0 in the near future.

Be seeing you!

OTR 8.0: Virginia (but first, Maryland)

Headwaters Presbyterian Church, 1890, Headwaters, VA (pop. 113)

Cumberland, Maryland

Savage Mountain, GAP

With a cool but dry forecast in front of us we decided to delay our arrival in Virginia and head to Cumberland for a couple of days to take advantage of the forecast and do some cycling. Cumberland is the terminus for two exceptional bike trails. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland providing 150 miles of cycling. The trail roughly follows the course of three rivers from west to east: the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River and the Casselman River.

The C&O trail begins in Washington DC and follows the C&O Canal for 185 miles to its terminus in Cumberland. Based on a recommendation from some local bicyclists we rode west on the GAP. While the GAP has a better surface than the C&O, riding west is all uphill out of Cumberland. Of course the ride back takes about half as much time.

The scenery along the trail is spectacular as the trail ascends into the Laurel Highlands of Virginia. We definitely plan on going back in the future to ride additional sections of the trail.

Skyline drive

Skyline Drive sits within Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The road winds its way (north/south) along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. Skyline is the only through road in the entire park. Additionally, you can only enter or exit Skyline Drive in four places. We accessed the road at the Northern entrance in Front Royal.

Driving South – Skyline Drive

While the highest elevation on the road is 3680 FASL the views are none the less spectacular. You are witness to broad green valleys reaching across to more ridgeline, and are able to view the Shenandoah River meandering through the valley to the west.

We had hoped to camp overnight at Great Meadows, which sits approximately 51 miles south of the northern entrance at Front Royal. We would then complete the remainder of the drive the following day. We also planned on hiking from the Great Meadows that afternoon. Alas, the campground was gated and we were unable to camp on the ridge.

We also had planned to hike to Lewis Fall from the campground. We still wanted to hike so we pushed on to a trailhead about five miles further south based on a recommendation from a park rangers.

The Rose River Trail is a loop trail that descends from a trailhead at Fishers Gap. The Rose River is just 8.8 miles in length but flows down from one of the highest points on the Blue Ridge until it converges with the Robinson River.

After descending to the valley floor,the climb back up to the trailhead was steep and a bit arduous as you regain the 1000 feet of elevation lost on the way down. The sights and sounds of the multiple waterfalls and cascades that are your constant companions on this hike more than compensate for the effort.

Highland County

After finishing the hike we made our way south completing the drive and heading west to stay in Staunton (pronounced Stanton). We had stopped in Staunton in March, 2020 on our way back to Connecticut after the pandemic cut short that trip – looking for coffee and food. We found an excellent coffee shop and roaster (Crucible Coffee) and an excellent restaurant (Table 44) that were both still operating. We have fond memories of our stop in Staunton as we had limited option in March 2020 – the excellent news is that our memories had not failed us and we again had a great dinner and excellent coffee and tea before heading west to Highland County.

The trip west to Highland is a spectacular ride on Route 250. The road is a twisting up and down affair as you climb up and over the crest of Shenandoah Mountain.

Hankey Mountain Highway -Route 250

Highland County is the least populated county in Virginia. While the county is 416 square miles the population is a mere 2200 people. The economy is dominated by agriculture – mostly in the form of beef cattle as the mountainous terrain and narrow valleys are not conducive to growing crops at scale.

Eastern Continental Divide, Allegheny Mountains

The Western border of the county is formed by the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains (see photo above of Allegheny Mountains as viewed of Shenandoah Mountain). The Allegenies at the western edge of the county also form the border with West Virginia. There are just three communites in the county; McDowell, Montery and Blue Grass. You may find other places designated on maps but they are just remnants of towns.

Beulah Presbyterian Church

We are drawn, as you know, to more remote locations to enjoy nature and solitude but must confess that part of our motive for this segment of OTR 8.0 was the Annual Highland County Maple Festival. The Maple Festival has been taking place for two weekends in March for the last 52 years.

Maple Dounts

What can we say – donuts, pancakes, pretzels, etc. – all made fresh by local residents with pure maple syrup from Highland County. The money supports local churches, civic organizations and businesses. More importantly it is all gosh darn delicious and the people are happy you made the trip up to ”Little Switzerland” from down in the Eastern lowlands!

The Curly Maple, Monterey, Virginia (pop. 130)
Blue Grass Mercantile, Blue Grass Virginia (pop. 144)
Episcopal Church of The Good Shepard, Blue Grass, Virginia

We enjoyed touring the valleys of Highland County and chatting with some of the local folks we met in the towns (even if one of them called us Yankees!) but we knew it was time to move on when we awoke to snow and howling winds.

Be seeing you!

P.S. As you may have noticed if you follow our blog on a regular basis our posts are not published on a strictly chronological basis.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)

Hiking

GSMNP is a fantastic destination for hiking. There are 150 official trails within the park that provide over 800 miles of hiking opportunities. The Appalachian Trail also traverses the park.

We spent four days at the park. The mornings tended to be cloudy and foggy in the hollows and valleys so we auto toured in the mornings (after finding coffee) and hiked in the afternoon.

Hikes at GSMNP range from short and easy to full on backcountry. There are many connector trails allowing hikers to elongate or shorten hikes, or to create loop hikes.

GSMNP Trail Map

Because of the park’s topography, there are a multitude of creeks, streams, and rivers which make for many water crossings and provide the sound of rushing water as an accompaniment to the beautiful scenery. Additionally, waterfalls abound (especially in spring) providing hikers with plenty of ooh and ahh moments.

Spruce Flats Falls

Auto touring

GSMNP provides plentiful opportunities to take in vistas and view wildlife while touring the park by auto. There are a number of designated tour loops and routes throughout the park. There are almost 400 miles of paved and gravel roads suitable for ordinary passenger vehicles. There are also a number of primitive roads for those equipped with 4wd vehicles with high clearance.

Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail
New Found Gap

Park history

Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, 1827

GSMNP opened in 1940 about six years after being chartered by Congress. Much of the land within the park was previously privately owned. Many of the advocates for the park were attempting to stop the massive clear cutting by timber companies that was destroying the forest, and believed a national park was the best way to acquire and protect such a large tract of land (523,000 acres).

Henry Whitehead Cabin, Parsons Branch Road, c. 1895

Of course, in addition to the land owned by the timber companies, there were a number of small communities located within the proposed boundaries. Most of the residents were farmers.

Over a period of years the residents were forced off of their properties and the communities ceased to exist. Amazingly, many of the homes and other structures were not destroyed when the famlies relocated outside of the park.

Little Greenbrier School, 1892-1935
Little Greenbrier School

When we toured Mammoth Cave NP during OTR 7.0 we found the more typical situation – all the building and structures had been razed (except several churches and cemetaries) in order to erase the evidence of the communities and restore the land to its state prior to the creation of the park. We thought that practice was disrespectful and, fortunately, that was not the case at GSMNP.

We will skip the discussion of the displacement of the Cherokee Indians as we all know that story. Today, the Eastern Cherokees reside in a reservation just south of the park’s border in Cherokee, North Carolina.

There are over 80 structures still standing and maintained by the park service. The structures include, cabins, schoolhouses, barns, churches and a grist mill.

Cantilever Barn, Tipton Homestead

Pictured above and below is a replica of the original cantilever barn that was part of the homestead of William ”Fighting Billy” Tipton. The homestead still boasts the original two story cabin, blacksmith shop and corn cribs.

The origins of the cantilever barn are unknown but they are prevalent in this part of Tennessee. Historians generally agree that this type of barn was favored because it provided cover for the livestock from Tennessee’s abundant rainfall.

Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church, 1842

Thoughts

We enjoyed our first visit to GSMNP and definitely recommend the park if you are hikers. Our caveats would be to avoid peak season – from talking with local folks, we understand that the roads into and within the park are jammed in high season. GSMNP recorded over 14 million visitors last year.

Also, we did drive through Gaitlinberg to find coffee – as a result we highly recommend entering the park through Townsend as we did. Gaitlinberg is crowded and uber touristy; it is the antithesis of the park. In our opinion there is no reason to visit Gaitlinberg unless you just cannot get enough of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museums!

Be seeing you.

STREET ART TOURIST OTR 7.0

Regular followers of OTR know that, in addition to fine art and excellent coffee and tea, we are avid fans of street art (@streetartfromtheroad). This edition of OTR 7.0 presents a sampling of our favorite street murals from this trip. Some of the murals below we found purely by chance while others we sought out based on our research of public art in a particular area, town or neighborhood.

We should qualify that our focus is on street murals as opposed to graffiti or tagging. Marking public or private property is really a subversive activity and while we have our subversive moments, we do not support the defacing of public or private property. Okay, enough on that topic.

Street art is often very political and cultural in nature and at it’s best is powerful and moving. We also find that it is often highly creative, humorous and very often beautiful.

Please find below our favorites from OTR 7.0, we hope you enjoy the photographs. P.S. We have provided attribution wherever possible.

Utah: Moab

Muralist: @skyewalker_art

New Mexico: Taos

“El santero” muralist: george chacon

New Mexico: Plaza de Chimayo

New Mexico: Espanola

“El sembrador
Muralist: Rubel rael

New Mexico: Santa Fe

Texas: Quitaque (kitty-k)

Texas: Amarillo

blue sky texas burgers

Texas: Amarillo: Hoodo Mural Festival

Muralist: @daas
Muralist: @weshouldbestrangers
“Xochi” muralist: msyellowart
Muralist: @malcolm_byers
Muralist: @dtoxart

OK: OKC

Muralist: Eric tippeconnic (commanche nation of oklahoma)
Muralist @juuriart83

OK: Tulsa

Muralist: Aaron Whisner
In Memory of Madison Mcmanus” Muralist: @jeks_nc

Historical footnote: the Greenwood District of Tulsa was the site of the Tulsa race massacre also known as the Tulsa race riot. In the early 1900’s this area of Tulsa was known as Black Wall Street due to the concentration of wealth in this largely black community.

On May 31, 1921 multiple mobs of armed white residents of Tulsa (deputized by city officials) attacked the residents of the area killing and injuring scores of people and destroying a 40 block area of the district. Thirty-six blacks were killed and over 800 were hospitalized.

Some accounts indicate that the massacre was triggered by the arrest of a black man for assaulting a white woman. Most historians agree that this event was more the result of a growing resentment in the white community of the financial success of ”Black Wall Street”.

Muralist: @skiphillart

AR: Bentonville

Muralist: @steve.adair
muralist: @leftyeyeball
“When spirits dance free” muralist: karrie evenson

KY: Louisville

Be seeing you.

Ctsprinterlife: Mammoth cave national park

The cave

Mammoth Cave, located in southwestern Kentucky, was officially designated as a national park in 1941. The park is approximately 53,000 acres (small by national park standards); its main focus is the cave system which lies under the surface.

Mam Cave, as it is called locally, is the longest cave known to exist in the world at just under 400 miles. The 400 miles of cavern are not linear, but exist on six levels which crisscross and extend out in multiple directions, fitting inside a seven square mile area under the park.

We took a ranger led tour during our visit, venturing down 250 feet below the surface and then through a series of rooms as we gradually climbed back towards the surface to exit the mine.

The park offers a wide range of tours differing in time and the level of physical activity required to complete the tour. We took the Domes and Drips Tour where you are brought through some of the largest domes in the cave system and also to a wetter area where stalactites and stalagmites are still forming.

The lower two levels of the cave are underground rivers – with water draining down from the Green River and the numerous sinkholes in and around the park. In the past visitors could tour the lower cavern by boat but the practice was stopped to protect the environment.

Auto tour

Green River Ferry

A brief History of mam cave

As we mentioned above, Mam Cave became a national park in 1941. What we did not realize until we visited the park and spent time touring the scenic backways of the park was how the park came into being.

Road to Good Spring

The caves were originally mined for saltpeter which was used in the making of ammunition.The caves in the area were privately held and operated by the owners as tourist attractions from the early 1800s until the park became a national park.

Good Spring Baptist Church

There were many people in government, science and business who, for various reasons, wanted to see Mam Cave designated as a national park and thus be protected. The federal government would not buy land for the creation of a national park but would accept donated land for that purpose. As a result, a private organization was formed for the purpose of buying the privately owned land and donating the land to the federal government.

Over a period of several years the required amount of land was purchased (in some cases through eminent domain). There was also a land donation of 8,000 acres made by a single family.

The photographs above and below show the only remaining structures from three of the communities (Good Springs, Flint Ridge, Joppa Ridge) that ceased to exist as the residents moved to other towns outside of the park boundary. Some of the families and their descendants lived in theses communities for 200 years before they were displaced.