We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Friday, February 26, 2010


Hello! It's me, your friendly neighborhood Trailblogger...again. Due to the rave reviews (thanks Mrs. Brooks!) Mom and Dad decided to bring me back. Once again, I am honored to be a guest writer on this blog.

Well, after Shiloh, we headed to a battlefield called Chicamauga. This was slightly before Shiloh, but about the same size. This is the story of the battle:

After his Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed his offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. The three army corps comprising Rosecrans’ s army split and set out for Chattanooga by separate routes. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg’s army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis’ Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans’s army, defeat them, and then move back into the city. On the 17th he headed north, intending to meet and beat the XXI Army Corps. As Bragg marched north on the 18th, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th, and Bragg’s men hammered but did not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg continued his assault on the Union line on the left, and in late morning, Rosecrans was informed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosencrans created one, and James Longstreet’s men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Although the Rebels launched determined assaults on these forces, they held until after dark. Thomas then led these men from the field leaving it to the Confederates. The Union retired to Chattanooga while the Rebels occupied the surrounding heights.

The layout was much like Shiloh, however. They had memorials throughout the battlefield, but they told much more of the story of the battle. We bought a CD that told the story of each memorial and the battles that took place there(much to Dad's exasperation, it cost 20 dollars. For those of you who don't know, Dad is the value menu king. He hangs on to a dollar tighter than a cliffhanger to a branch.) I really enjoyed actually being able to imagine the battles happening, where they happened, and the soldier's perspective of the battle.

Mom said I had taken enough pictures of cannons at Shiloh, so I did not take as many pictures of guns this go round. Though I did talk about them quite a bit. I do love visiting these places, it just causes me to almost have a hernia. I have to admit, I am somewhat of a tactical geek. I can make a thirty minute speech out of the difference between a howitzer and a field gun. And the rest of my family doesn't seem to share my zeal for tactics. Right about when I stop to gasp for breath for the tenth time, their eyes start to get vacant. So if you're ever visiting a civil war battlefield, either don't bring me or bring earplugs.

Well, it looks like we have reached the end of another post. Well, thanks for reading another one of my posts, and seeing as you haven't sued me yet, you must have enjoyed it. Hope to write to you again soon!

Trailblogger, signing off

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Old Hickory, Hermitage and Grand Ole' Opry

Our first stop in the Nashville area was a visit to Hermitage, home of President Andrew 'Old Hickory' Jackson . President Jackson was quite the controversial figure in his day and still has his fans and enemies to this day. The museum at his home provided a lot of information to provide perspective on his life and decisions made at the time. Hearing of his difficult childhood where he began working for the American Revolution at 13 years of age and lost his entire family by the time he was 14 yo, made it easy to see how he had to develop a strong personality to survive. Not only did he survive, but accomplished a successful professional and military career before venturing into politics. Although firmly rooted in support of slavery as a plantation owner, he was also deeply rooted in the belief that the country should be united. Had he been around another 30 years or so, we would not have been surprised if he was not an ardent supporter of President Lincoln.

Displays within the museum clearly showed his appreciation for the material goods he was able to acquire and also an appreciation for big parties, along with his beloved wife. The grounds were easy to appreciate for their natural beauty, even in the winter dormancy.

The grand entry to the mansion is still framed very formally.

Under restoration, the current presentation of the mansion is very faded and tired. The appearance will be much more grand when the touchups are completed.

The original home that preceded the grand mansion is preserved on site as well.

We thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the mansion that was hosted by costumed interpreters as well as strolling the grounds. We easily spent over 5 hours absorbing the history and the nature and would highly recommend dedicating at least 3 hours if you choose to visit the Hermitage.

We took a drive around Nashville to see the other sights, which started with the famous Grand Ole Opry.

We were taken back by the development in the area which included a huge shopping mall, riverboat rides and amusement parks.

Inside the mall, we found the continuing theme of 'guitar pickers'.

On the exterior is evidence of the recording industry's presence at every turn.

Downtown is the home of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
You don't have to be a country music fan to see the evidence of the vast industry in the city. The area, while certainly busy with people and traffic, still hosts beautiful scenery within and surrounding the city that creates an atmosphere quite unique from Memphis. On to Chattanooga!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Hello, blog! This is Cory. I have been added as a guest writer to Mom and Dad's blog. I guess they were so envious of my blogging talents from Trailblogger(please visit that blog, by the way) that they had to have me write some on this blog.

We are currently parked in Chattanooga, TN. Apparently, for every city we visit there is a song recorded by someone who died before I was born. When we were in Nashville, it was Nashville Cats. Dad was really proud to find that one. But that was nothing compared to Chattanooga Choo Choo. I haven't heard that one yet. While we were in Memphis, mom found the Elvis channel on XM satellite radio, and I still haven't got Hound Dog out of my head. She was listening to a song, when I asked, "Mom, why is Elvis so famous?" and she replied, "He was famous for how he could curl his lip." I blinked. That's all it takes? But she said it was harder to do than it looks. So we all tried to do it while parked in a Shell gas station while Dad was inside getting some drinks. He came back to the car to find us all looking like angry chipmunks.

But before we arrived here in Chattanooga, we saw the battle of Shiloh. This was a battle fought during the Civil War, in which Generals Grant, Buell, Sherman, Beauregard, and Johnston all played a part. Grant and Buell, in an attempt to attack and secure Confederate railroads(an essential means of communication) Memphis and Charleston, and Mobile and Ohio. the Union forces settled a command post on Shiloh hill, with forward camps by Shiloh Church. General Johnston, knowing about these camps, planned to attack the Federals and take them by surprise, stopping them from reaching Corinth. Grant, unaware of the attack, waited for reinforcement from Buell. On April 6, Johnston attacked the surprised Federals and forced them to retreat to an area called the Hornet's Nest. The Confederates soon fell into disorganization, seeing that their element of surprise was starting to slip. This was heightened tremendously when Gen. Johnston was shot in the leg, killing him. Gen. Beauregard was then placed in command of the Confederate army. Wave after wave of the Confederates attacked the Hornet's Nest and were repelled. But, finally, 12 southern batteries were brought out to try to blast the Federals out of their defensive position. It eventually worked. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Federal troops retreated back to Grants position, where they would be able to repel the confederates. Happy with their victory, but exhausted, the Confederates set up camp, to attack Grant's position on the next day. Buell arrived with reinforcements that night, however, and when the Confederates attacked the next morning, Grant was able to easily repel them. The battered Confederates then retreated back to Shiloh church, where Beauregard rallied them and retreated them to Corinth.

We watched the film at the beginning of the tour, then toured the museum for a while. I nearly had a hernia trying to explain to Will about the guns used and the tactics that were used in the battle. I admit, I am a bit of a fanatic about the subject. As we took the driving tour, I was constantly singing out, "12 pound Howitzer!" or "6 pound Field Gun!" The driving tour took us past the Hornet's Nest, the batteries of the Confederates, and Grant's last Line. Unfortunately, some of the minor roads were closed. When we started the tour, one of the roads for the beginning of the tour was closed. Next to it was a road that said "Do not enter." Mom took one look at that, then said, "Let's go that way." Dad blinked. I looked at all the warning signs and said, "Hey...hey mom? Are you sure that's a good idea?" "Yes, of course I'm sure! Drive!" So Dad hit the gas and we took off the wrong way down the trail. About halfway up the trail, we realized that the whole thing made a big loop, and that we were going the wrong way up the loop. So we quickly turned around, or as quickly as we could in our Panzer (that's what I call our truck) and sped back the right way down the trail. We then passed the Union Cemetery (unfortunately closed) and the Confederate Burial trenches. We also took pictures of all the memorials erected for each of the units of Militia that played a part in the battle.

Unfortunately, we had to turn back home, as our very unhappy dogs were waiting to be fed. I've placed Shiloh on my list of top ten favorite battlefields.

Well, looks like my first post is over. Thank you blog, you've been a wonderful audience and I'll be back soon! *crickets chirp* Goodnight, Chattanooga! *more crickets* I'm...leaving...now *thunderous applause*

Monday, February 15, 2010

Walking in Memphis

The next stop for our family was Memphis, TN. We actually stayed in an RV park in West Memphis, AR - Tom Sawyer RV Park, right on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

After settling in, we drove over to Memphis and had to see Beale St. If you haven't muted the music from our playlist, you can hear the song recorded in the early 90's that mentions several landmarks and famous artists from Memphis - and appropriately, we were touring in the rain!The downtown portion of Beale is blocked for vehicles and reminds us of 6th Street in Austin, TX. We thought it probably is mostly for night crowds, but we were glad to check it out.While downtown, we also couldn't miss the huge Pyramid (as tall as the Statue of Liberty). An auditorium that is owned by the city, it's sad to discover that this structure is abandoned for now. Originally built as a venue for sporting events, it has been displaced by newer and grander facilities in town. Similar to Memorial Coliseum in our old Corpus Christi stomping grounds - everyone's scratching their heads to determine the best use. The architectural theme was driven by the name of the city as the home of pyramids in Ancient Egypt. Thus, the statue of Rameses in the front.On to older structures in town, the Sun Studios where Rock-n-Roll was born in the '50s still stands and has been used by contemporary artists, such as U2 and John Mellencamp. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Lewis and many others recorded here before the music industry expanded to other studios around the country.And, speaking of Elvis, we had to stop by Graceland. Bypassing the formal tour, however, we were happy to snap a photo of the mansion from the street (Elvis Presley Blvd).All along the street were businesses such as this one....We couldn't resist driving into the Graceland RV park...note the street signs (Heartbreak Lane and Jailhouse Drive).Here's Shook Up Lane...Others included Teddy Bear Lane, Don't Be Cruel Lane, Blue Suede Lane and Hound Dog Way.

And what did we find at the end of Lonely Street?Heartbreak Hotel, of course!We were amused while the kids were baffled. Since they were born long after the Elvis era, a lot of these things were lost on them - although we did make them listen to the Elvis station on our XM radio while we drove around.

We returned to the RV park about dark and about an hour later, snow started...again! A light dusting for this round. Here's a view of the Mississippi River with the light snow on the banks the following morning.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hot Springs

Another peaceful weather day allowed a drive over to Hot Springs, about 40 miles southwest of Little Rock.

Construction is nearly complete on a new visitor center for the park with a terrific old fountain front and center of the entrance.

After driving in past the huge Rehabilitation Center (formerly the Army/Navy Hospital), we found Bathhouse Row. Once immensely popular and luxurious, only a few of the bath houses are now operating, but it appeared that several were being restored.

In the roaring 20's, people flocked to these bathhouses either on vacation or in hopes of restoring their health. The buildings are quite a spectacle in their attempts to replicate classic features of the bathhouses of ancient Rome and Greece. After seeing a short video on the history and what transpires with the baths, we decided to try it ourselves.

The Quapaw, named for the friendly Indian tribe that helped the French at the Arkansas Post, offers more of a hot tub experience for groups of people in addition to the private baths.

We chose the Buckstaff since they allow children as young as 10 to participate and we didn't want anyone in our family to be left out.

No photos of the inside, as this truly is a bath house...meaning bath, not swimmin' hole. The ladies and men are in completely different areas of the facility. So, Linda went to the left and Craig and the boys to the right and we didn't all meet up again until everyone was finished, dried off and dressed!

We all received spa treatment by going first to a dressing area. Swimsuits are allowed, but the staff incorporates sheets and towels for modesty sake. First, guests are escorted to a row of large tubs, separated by privacy walls. An attendant helps you into the tub filled with swirling mineral water that mixes the 140 F spring water with cold water for a temperature around 100 F. Bathers relax in the tub for about 15 minutes, then the attendant scrubs your legs, arms and back with a loofah, then escorts you to a sitz bath where you relax again with mostly your posterior and lower back soaking for about 5 minutes. Once again, the attendant arrives to escort you to tables for hot packs. The attendant places hot, wet towels on the neck, upper back and legs. You are left lying on a table to wrapped in the wet towels for about 10 minutes. At this point, the boys reported that Craig started snoring. Next is a vapor cabinet where you are steamed for about 10 minutes. Last is a needle shower, where you are sprayed from neck to foot with cooler water. At this point, the bath is complete and you are escorted back to the dressing area. Craig spoiled Linda by purchasing a 20-minute massage for her. Very, very nice!

Here are Linda and the boys feeling very refreshed in front of a central fountain in the downtown area. Several fountains spray the hot mineral water in the area. We noticed some folks filling gallon jugs with the water at no charge. We were content with the baths and the small cups to drink during our spa treatment.

Note for those considering participating in the baths...the men (guests) were not as modest as the ladies, choosing to forego their provided sheets and towels.

Arkansas Post

When the snow passed on to the eastern states, we were able to venture out to see more of Arkansas. Heavy snows to the north and west of Little Rock prevented any trips toward the Ozarks, but we found sights toward the south. European settlements began along the Arkansas River during the 1600s so we set out to find out more.
Along the way, we crossed the river just as a large tug was pushing a flotilla of 15 barges upstream. Fortunately, traffic was light so we could stop on the bridge long enough to take the photo! After about 1 1/2 hours, we arrived at our destination in the midst of the delta region of the state.

We thought we spied beavers, but discovered a different tail! Nutrias were everywhere. We'd seen the damage these critters can cause during visits to Linda's family at Lake Brownwood in Texas. They create burrows and tunnels along the bank, destroying the root systems of trees and vegetation. We later learned from the park ranger that the nutrias were introduced in this area in an attempt to stimulate interest in their fur. That didn't work out, so years later, alligators were introduced in an attempt to curb the nutria population. As it turns out, alligators don't care for nutrias - preferring snakes and fish.

We saw many varieties of birds along our way, including this large group of white pelicans. This area is close to where the Arkansas joins the Mississippi river and bird watchers enjoy the accompanying migratory paths.

Once at the park, we took a stroll amongst the former town that was once the capital of the Arkansas territory. The buildings are long gone, primarily lost during the Confederate war, but markers guide visitors along a self-guided tour. Several exhibits explain the role of the post during early exploration, settlement, territorial squabbling amongst France, Spain, Britain, Indian tribes and the Civil War.
As we took our walking tour, we found this little guy:

He put up with us for awhile, then took a closer look at us and hopped away to the nearby cover.
The park is very serene, especially at this off-season period. We were the only visitors on this cold day and enjoyed the opportunity for the quiet of the woods and river, the silence only broken by the calls of geese and birds.

Sometimes, the best lessons are learned in the perfect stillness of God's amazing creation!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Here we are...when does it start to snow?

We had a great travel day to get us almost 350 miles further toward the east - Little Rock, AR. Around midnight after our arrival, however, here came snow again! We enjoyed horsing around in the snow a little with the guys - the wet snow was perfect for snow ball fights! The rest of the day was spent working on school, reading and enjoying the view of the Arkansas River right outside our front door.

It's beautiful and very...winter-y! We're glad to be parked under deciduous trees instead of these mighty pines! We heard some loud cracks, pops and crashes as several large tree limbs fell from the evergreens!

We're hoping for the weather to clear enough for some sightseeing tomorrow!

Eastern Oklahoma

To broaden our experience in Oklahoma, we took a drive to Claremore (northeast of Tulsa) and Tahlequah for a couple of new sights.
Claremore, OK is near the birthplace of one of the most famous Oklahomans, Will Rogers. We visited this rather large memorial which was built on land that he purchased for a homesite. Never having had the chance to build the home on the property, the family used the land to house a memorial for this amazing entertainer, athlete and statesman.

The Rogers family is interred near the gravesite for Will Rogers and is marked with the striking statue of a mounted Mr. Rogers.

The memorial is surrounded by a large plot of land, as shown in this photo taken from near the mounted statue.

Being a museum, photos weren't allowed of most of the exhibits. We toured several rooms within the museum that documented Will Roger's achievements as a cowboy, entertainer, actor, author, columnist and statesman. We enjoyed seeing more of his famous quotes within context, such as:

'When I die, my epitaph or whatever you call those signs on gravestones is going to read 'I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn't like'. I'm so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved. And when you come to my grave, you will find me sitting there, proudly reading it.'

The museum offers a comprehensive review of this man's life - from the humble beginnings in rural Oklahoma, to the independent working as a cowboy, to the surprising jump to entertainment and the Ziegfield Follies, to acting in movies and of course, the columns and radio work. We enjoyed several highlights of his rope tricks and couldn't leave without picking up a video, a CD highlighting his Sunday night radio broadcast and a small book of quotes.
We think his life demonstrates a real American success story and find his humor refreshing, even today.

From there, we moved on to the city of Tahlequah - chosen because of its status as the capitol of the Cherokee nation and designation as the end of the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Heritage Center pays fitting tribute to the Cherokee history and also serves as a research center for tracing family roots to the Cherokee tribe. We didn't have much daylight left by the time we made the drive over, but we enjoyed touring the grounds and enlightening ourselves regarding the Trail of Tears.

The stories told here seem to share a common thread with other sights we've seen in Oklahoma - of a population with great resiliance and determination despite circumstances beyond their control. The tribe not only survived after being relocated, but has preserved their heritage (including language), emphasized education amongst the descendents and achieved a prosperous future for many members. We'll be reminded of their stories as we trek eastward along some of the same ground crossed in their infamous journey.

That adventure closed out our sight-seeing in Oklahoma and we were off to Arkansas before another snow storm arrived. Along our way, we saw evidence of Okie humor in the dog walking section at a rest area:

Off to beat the snow and Arkansas....