Galveston, Houston and Dallas:
Upon leaving Louisiana, we headed west on I-10 into Texas. The first day, we headed to the
Houston area, mainly to visit the Johnson Space Center (‘Mission Control’), which I was interested
to see, having been an aviation and space enthusiast for many years.
We drove through or around Houston on the freeway, and did not get a good impression of the city
at all. The air seemed polluted and smelly. From what we saw it was full of industrial areas, freeway
cloverleafs and shopping malls of various kinds. Probably the smell is due to it being a centre for
oil refining, which is also very visible as you drive around the city.
I know that our description of Houston is probably not all that fair, as we didn’t really see it properly.
We have read that it does have some nice features.
Anyway, we drove to the Johnson Space Center, which is south of Houston, about half way to Galveston.
We took the tour there, which we really enjoyed. There is a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo era at the
site, one of I think four that remain (we saw three of them on the trip!). We also toured the original
‘Mission Control’ that was used for the Gemini and Apollo flights in the 60s and early 70s. We were
told that visitors are not able to tour the current Mission Control that is used for the Space Shuttle flights.
It is located at the Houston site but its precise location is now apparently secret. This secrecy is a security
measure since the 9/11 attacks, we think.
After finishing at the Johnston Space Center, we drove a bit further down the freeway to Galveston.
We stayed at the Sandpiper Motel, right on the beach. This place was a bit like a hostel, with a
communal kitchen, lounge room etc. It was nice – the manager let us into the office to briefly check
our email and was generally very helpful. Galveston was a nice place, although we had really bad
weather there and did little else but go to the movies a few times, go shopping and play a few rounds
of mini-golf when the rain stopped for a few hours. I also took the kids for a swim in the balmy
Gulf of Mexico waters.
Galveston has an interesting history – it was nearly wiped out by a huge hurricane in the early part of the
20th century. It seems to be a major port for cruise ships now.
After a few days in Galveston we drove to Dallas – something like a four-hour drive. Again we had really
bad weather on the drive – so bad at times that we nearly had to pull over and stop. We quite liked Dallas –
it seemed a nicer city than Houston, with lots of greenery. We were keen to visit the sites relating to the
JFK assassination. We went to Dealey Plaza, where you can see the ‘Grassy Knoll’, the Texas School Book
Depository, the ‘Triple Underpass’ etc - all the landmarks that those familiar with the Kennedy assassination
will know well.
Dealey Plaza is full of various conspiracy fans hawking newspapers, magazine and CDs outlining
their theories as to what actually happened. There is also the ‘Conspiracy Museum’, located right in
Dealey Plaza, that covers a wide range of conspiracy theories. Naturally, the JFK assassination is the main one,
but the Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King killings are also examined, as well as Roswell and the alleged
UFO cover-up in general. It was an interesting place to spend a few hours. Whatever your views, it does
make you think about alternative explanations.
We also visited ‘Southfork Ranch’, from the TV series Dallas that was popular in the 80s. This is located at
Plano, Texas - just a few miles north of where we were staying at Addison. For those old enough to remember
the show, it brought back lots of memories.
Welcome to Texas! Crossing State Line from Louisiana to Texas on Interstate 10
Kids with Saturn V booster – NASA’s Johnson Space Center - Houston, TX
The Grassy Knoll, Dallas
NLK & Caity - Grassy Knoll, Dallas
‘X’ marks the position of fatal JFK shot - Dealey Plaza, Dallas
JFK Death Scene, Dallas
School Book Depository Building (Dallas TX), from which Lee
Harvey Oswald allegedly shot JFK in 1963
Plaque at JFK Assassination Site, Dallas
JFK Memorial, Dallas
At Southfork Ranch (from the series ‘Dallas’) Plano, TX
More Southfork Ranch (Jock Ewing’s Lincoln)
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi
Emerald Mound – off Natchez Trace Parkway
Our SUV, Natchez Trace Parkway
Small-town Mississippi - Street scene
Civil War Cemetery, Mississippi
Stanton Hall, an historic house built 1857 – Natchez, Mississippi
During a heavy storm, we had a ‘tornado alert’ one evening in Vicksburg. It was a reasonably
serious alert, as twisters had been sighted in the next county (Yazoo City area) and conditions
were right for them to form in the Vicksburg area. This was pretty scary and the kids were
somewhat alarmed, having seen on TV the effects of tornados.
They have an impressive emergency management system in the States - they cut into all the
TV channels with a loud alarm sounding from the TV. The National Weather Service screen,
complete with maps and advice to viewers, temporarily replaces the normal programming.
Once the program resumes, there is still a 'chaser' message
running across the bottom of
the screen providing regular updates.
Narrelle was a little bemused by the advice she got from the motel receptionist. Narrelle told her
we were Australian and had no knowledge of what to do in a tornado. We thought they might say
they had a basement that we were supposed to shelter in, if things started to look really bad.
Narrelle was told that what she should do, if the tornado actually came close, was grab the
mattress off the bed, put the kids in the bathtub and climb in on top of them. We were then
supposed to put the mattress over us and hang on tight! Not all that comforting…
The Americans there didn’t seem all that worried. I guess it must be almost routine in some
regions at this time of year. There were a couple of guys who were doing a roadtrip on Harleys –
they got their bikes under a bit of shelter but were just drinking a few beers and seemed very
unconcerned about it.
As it happened, the storm passed over in a few hours and apparently there was no significant
tornado damage in the nearby area. In fact, the TV alert predicted it would have passed over
by a certain time, and indeed it was gone, pretty much exactly at the time predicted. Many
Australians have commented about the uncanny accuracy of US weather predictions. I think
they have something called ‘Doppler 3000’. Whatever they use, we did notice that they give
accurate and very detailed four-day forecasts. These seem much more reliable than the ones
in Australia, as is often reported by visitors.
Illinois Civil War memorial – National Military Park - Vicksburg, Mississippi
September 11 Licence Plate - Mississippi
You do see some real poverty in the rural backblocks of Mississippi. We deliberately got off the Interstate
and drove much of the route from Vicksburg to Memphis on either Mississippi Highway 1 or
US 61 (The ‘Blues Highway’), which run through the area known as the Delta, very close to the
Mississippi River. They say Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union, and at least in these
parts, it certainly shows. Some places you drive through are very bleak and have almost a ’shanty-town’
flavor to them. Many of the residents appear to live in trailer homes or ‘manufactured homes’ as they
call them, some very dilapidated.
We briefly crossed the river into Arkansas at Helena. This is supposed to be the home of the Delta Blues.
It is the most blighted and depressing place we saw anywhere during our 11 weeks in the USA. Whole blocks
of condemned or boarded up buildings and a general atmosphere of decay and poverty. Very little evidence
of economic activity – although there was apparently a casino down near the river.
All of this was such a contrast to the affluence of California, where we had been only a few weeks earlier.
I suppose we Aussies should not be too judgmental about this – after all, in some regions we have
Aboriginal communities that are probably just as blighted and poverty-stricken.
Local Politics – Helena, Arkansas
Trailer Home – Mississippi
We got there at the time of the ‘Memphis in May’ music festival. This made it hard to find
accommodation near the city. We explored the Beale Street precinct and also took a tram ride
around the historic part of town and along the river front. We ended up staying in the Macon
Cove district, some way out of town.
Apart from the attractions we visited in Memphis that are described below, we also had dinner at
Corkys, which is supposed to be the finest place for BBQ Ribs. Apparently Memphis is the home
of that type of cuisine. The restaurant has pictures of famous guests such as Bill Clinton and many
other celebrities. It was really good – the ribs you’d get in Australia are nothing like theirs. You can
even get them to send gift packs to friends, family or business associates around the USA!
We quite like Elvis, although we’re by no means huge fans. If you’re going to Memphis, it would
be silly to miss Graceland. (I always thought it was ‘Gracelands’, but my ticket stub and the
‘official’ website both seem to confirm that ‘Graceland’ is the correct title).
Nobody did interior decorating like Elvis – a real trip back to the early ‘70s - shag pile carpet, including on
the ceiling in some places. The house itself is not as big as you might imagine, although there are plenty of
rooms full of Elvis’ gold record collection, all his famous stage outfits etc. If you don’t mind paying more,
you can also tour through his planes and check out his car collection.
Anyway, it’s well worth a visit, and still packs the tourists in, 27 years after his death. In our tour there were
people from all over the world. The photo below of his grave gives some idea of the level of devotion
Elvis still inspires.
Gravesite of Elvis and family – Graceland
The Girls -Graceland
Anti-Abortion Bumper Stickers – Graceland (Memphis, TN)
We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which was a very moving and well put
together overview of the struggle. It's still shocking to recall how violently white racists resisted
desegregation. One poster displayed from the early 60s
(KKK or a similar group) called for
'Massive Armed Resistance'.
They had Rosa Parks' famous bus there as well as one firebombed by the Klan etc during the
Freedom Rides. The Museum is actually in the old Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot
in 1968. At the end of the tour you find yourself looking into his motel room, preserved (or re-created?)
just as it was the night he was shot. You also visit the boarding house room from which James Earl Ray
is supposed to have fired the fatal shots at King as he stood on the balcony of the motel.
Civil Rights Museum, Memphis (Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968)
Martin Luther King Plaque - Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis to Chattanooga:
This is a nice drive. Once you leave the Memphis area and begin heading east, the road goes
through some lovely countryside, with forested mountains, rivers and lakes. We stopped very
briefly at Nashville but did not really spend any time there.
Kids in SUV, Tennessee
We enjoyed Chattanooga, which seemed to us a fairly typical example of the smaller
city with fairly good facilities that many Americans live in. This is one of the main
differences between Australia and the US. In Australia, the great majority of the population
lives in one of the major cities - maybe 50% in the three biggest cities combined – probably up
to 60 or 70% of the people would live in one of the six state capitals. Not so in the States,
where it’s much more decentralized, with many people living in cities of a few hundred thousand
Anyway, Chattanooga has some good attractions, including the Tennessee Aquarium, considered
one of the best aquariums in the USA. We really enjoyed the Aquarium and they have all
sorts of great exhibits, including a nice one on seahorses. The kids can also touch some of the fish
(sturgeon, I think) in a petting tank. Highly recommended.
Another thing Chattanooga is famous for is ‘Rock City’ – a maze of paths through various interesting
rock formations and nice gardens. At the top there is a lookout from which you can see seven states.
There is also a nice waterfall. For more info see the following link.
We also visited Ruby Falls as well as the Incline Railway (some pictures below) – great view from
the top! There are many other attractions in or around the Chattanooga area which we did not have time
to see. All in all, a nice place to stop for a few days, if you’re in the vicinity.
Incline Railway, Chattanooga, TN
View from Incline Railway - Chattanooga, TN
Caity at Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN