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

 

 

Approaching Dallas

 

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)

 

Dallas to Memphis, via Louisiana and Mississippi

 

Upon leaving Dallas, we headed east through Natchitoches, Louisiana, then into Mississippi

at Natchez.  We had intended to get off the Interstates as much as possible for this leg of the trip,

and we did do quite a bit of it using small two lane roads.

 

This part of the country has lots of beautiful old houses and also many Civil War sites.  We drove

along some of the famous Natchez Trace Parkway, which began as an Indian trading route and was

later used by the white pioneers and early settlers in the region.  In some places bits of the original

Trace can still be seen, as well as old inns, cemeteries and other remains. As we noticed throughout

our travels in the US, they do seem to lovingly look after their historical sites.  Many sites are managed

by the National Parks Service.  The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the sites themselves

usually very well maintained.

 

The Natchez Trace Parkway goes through some lovely countryside – for us Australians it’s amazing

how green it is!  At least along most portions of the road, there are no gas stations, billboards, fast-food

joints etc to mess up the landscape.  As seen in some of the photos, there are some old Indian ceremonial

mounds along the Parkway such as Emerald Mound, believed to have been built between about 1250

and 1600AD.  

 

We then headed for Vicksburg, site of one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War, including a

47 day siege of the town by Union forces in 1863.  We toured the National Military Park. This is an

excellent site for anyone with even a passing interest in the Civil War.  It includes some reconstructed

trenches, gun emplacements and a memorial commissioned by each of the states that took part in the battle.  

 

Apparently the idea for the National Military Park originated with the veterans of both sides, who came together

in the late 1800s and lobbied the Federal and State governments.  The Park was established by Federal

legislation, with any state involved in the conflict allowed to erect a memorial at the state’s expense.      

 

 

 

Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

 

Emerald Mound – off Natchez Trace Parkway

 

 

Our SUV, Natchez Trace Parkway

 

Small-town Mississippi - Street scene

 

Mississippi House

 

Civil War Cemetery, Mississippi

 

Stanton Hall, an historic house built 1857 – Natchez,  Mississippi

 

Tornado Alert - Vicksburg, 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

 

Memphis

 

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!

 

Graceland – Memphis

 

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)

 

Civil Rights Museum – Memphis

 

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

 

Chattanooga, 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

or smaller. 

 

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.

 http://www.seerockcity.com/seerockcity/default.asp

 

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.

 

Chattanooga, Tennessee

 

 

Incline Railway, Chattanooga, TN

 

View from Incline Railway - Chattanooga, TN

 

Caity at Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN