May 14 thru 17, 2018 Pulled out of Arlene’s before 10 a.m. Although I stayed longer than anticipated, with not much visit time with Arlene, I got an immense workout starting out my trek and several projects accomplished that I hope will prove beneficial to Arlene’s life.img_20180514_1034291667727037.jpg

Headed toward Helen Keller’s birthplace at Ivy Green. I’ve heard her name here and there my whole life, but I want to know her story.

In Decatur, I followed a sign with “Trail of Tears” to Rhodes Ferry Park, a large, beautifully landscaped riverfront park with a playground, pavilion and picnic area. There were groundskeepers working when I arrived and several senior men and women on the walking path surrounding the park. The history behind the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands, is educational, heartbreaking and infuriating.

I enjoyed the bridge view from the park; the floating dead possum not so much.

Back on I-20W, headed to Coldwater Falls in Tuscumbia, I stopped at the Wavaho convenience store, where I got a delicious toasted bologna and egg sandwich made by Calvin. I couldn’t remember the last time I had one, but his was tasty!

Coldwater Falls is in Spring Park, a huge, beautiful family-oriented park with a large, grassy area, pond with ducks and geese, carnival-type rides, and pavillion in Tuscumbia (named after a Chickasaw Indian Chief who lived there). The Falls are man-made with more then 2,000 tons of sandstone. Although it’s a beautiful waterfall, I’ll narrow future searches to natural falls.

About 5 minutes up the road, I pulled into Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s incredible homestead built by her grandfather. It’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The guide and tour of the home is $6.00, or you can walk the grounds for free. I was super hot, so opted for the a/c indoors first.

The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable of the history surrounding Ms. Keller’s life. The museum looks small, but it’s packed with amazing items (e.g. letters, photos, awards, personal things, news clippings, and the key young Helen used to lock Ms. Sullivan in her room). There are family photos framed throughout the home and each room is beautifully staged in the main house and the cottage, where Helen was born.

img_20180514_134814164787481.jpgIn less than two hours, I learned Helen Keller did far more than just manage to live her life, deaf and blind. She accomplished an impressive education by anyone’s standards, became a world-wide lecturer, political activist, author and humanitarian. She was an advocate for the blind and inspiration to all, with and without disabilities, to help one another in the pursuit of happiness. My stop here was educational and extremely inspirational.

I hopped over to the Natchez Trace, which I’ve driven before, but never taken the time to explore. This time, I stopped at almost every historical marker. There’s about 10,000 years of history along the Trace. It’s so clean, no billboards, just breathtaking scenary, lookout points, rest stops, and recreational activities. It runs about 440 miles from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. The speed limit is 50 mph; perfect for cycles (gas and peddle), motorists and walkers This is not to say there aren’t stupid asses who want to speed through, but most people respect the route. The walk up the hill and through the woods to the burial site of the 13 unknown soldiers was incredibly beautiful and serene.

img_1568Stopped and set up camp at Tishomingo State Park, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains at $23.45/night. The park is named after one of the great last Chickasaw leaders, Chief Tishu Miko (died at 104 years while on the Trail of Tears), and it’s beautiful!

Up early to enjoy the view and sounds from local wildlife.img_15781439699984.jpg

Early morning Tuesday with quick breakfast before 6 mile hike across creek and gorgeous terrain with massive rocks and dense woods. Took a short nap before packing up. Drove to the local store with a neighboring camper who was cycling and grabbed a shower before checkout at 2pm.

Spent the rest of the afternoon exploring along the Trace, with a stop in the Tupelo Visitor Center for a US National Parks book (love it!). Got $20 gas at the Shell in Tupelo, MS and considered a visit to Elvis Presley’s birthplace (museum). It was about 4 pm and I wanted to set up camp earlier, which meant I had to find one.

Checked out a couple sites that didn’t give me any warm fuzzies, then headed to a free location (freecampsites.net), Bynum Creek, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. I drove far into backwoods country on a dirt road with lots of potholes to Enid Lake. There was a boat dock, block restrooms and a hill with several picnic tables. There were no other campers, but there were several men in construction-type work clothes fishing from the dock; they arrived when I did. Although it probably would have been fine, I followed my gut to move on. It was pitch dark when I made my way back to the highway, headed into Batesville, MS. My search for campsites was ZILCH, so for $98.01 (with 10% off), I ‘camped’ at the Comfort Inn & Suites. Thank goodness breakfast’s included! I totally enjoyed the pool until close at 10p.

Great sleep that was much needed. Enjoyed a tasty hot breakfast and took a mini yogurt and banana for the road. The hotel was super nice! Made a trip to Wally World for cell charger and few goodies, then swung in Raceway to fill up ($2.48/gal).

img_20180516_1555391910865682.jpgNext stop, Waffle House in South Haven, MS. Staff, Erica and Shawn, were terrific! Endulged in coffee and grilled cheese with tomatoes and jalapenos, while chatting with a few senior locals.

Since it was already about 4p, I almost opted to stay in South Haven, but headed to Hot Springs, AR. Just outside of Memphis, the weather got ugly with downpour and HAIL (gave my truck dimples), so I spent about 15 mins. on side of highway with big rigs rolling by. Crazy how small you feel and how loud it sounds on side of road, windows up, but awesome when weather passes and you can join the highway confidently again.

Super nice rest stop off I-40, so green and pretty after rain.

img_20180516_194429329384009.jpgThere’s a new section of 70 West, beautiful drive. It’s only one lane right now, but similar to the Trace; no billboards, slower speed and incredible views. It felt so clean!

Pulled into Hot Springs KOA about 8p and I love it! So glad I called ahead. There was an envelope waiting with my name on the after hours board. Place is full of campers; tenters like me and cheaters (ha). Got unpacked and staying put for couple days to explore. Weather is so much cooler here and less bugs! My joints aren’t very happy and my little finger, injured at Arlene’s, is throbbing, but I made a great salad, drank a beer and called it the end to a good day.

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img_20180517_073818906751666.jpgMay 17, 2018 Good morning! Up at 5:45 and coffee going by 6. Crawling in and out of my little tent is challenging; the extra weight doesn’t help. Did some stretches and ate breakfast, while chatting with visiting wildlife.

Said goodbye to my neighbors, Cristoff and Matt, who got diverted from Nicaragua trip due to travel warnings and have sights set on New Orleans. Enjoyed visiting with them last night.img_20180517_0935262132761705.jpg

Cool temp this morning, so took it slow, did a word search, explored the camp grounds and had lunch, before gathering day pack supplies and heading out. Every now and then I get a nagging feeling of fear, like I don’t need to venture out. I shove it hard and push forward!img_20180517_113210642437291.jpg

It was super easy to navigate to town, only 4 miles from camp. Free parking is available, but I didn’t know about it until after I’d paid for parking; immediately brought Alanis Morissette’s “Isn’t it ironic” to mind. The National Park covers an extensive area around downtown (eight historic bathhouses, gorgeous park and picnic areas, the springs, trails …). I toured the Fordyce Bathhouse, built around 1914, that’s used as the park visitor center and museum. Learned about the geothermal gradient process (how the water gets hot naturally), saw antique bath, spa, medical and therapeutic equipment (some look torturous), and the history of bathhouse attendants and clients, segregation to integration. Argh! Stupid asses come to mind. We are all human, assholes!! I would have been a horrible ‘lady’ in those days bygone, speaking out ALL THE TIME about equality and rights.

Downtown has so much going on, it would probably take at least two days to explore all it has to offer, comfortably. I strolled around Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District; loved the architecture and the city park.

Drove the winding road up Hot Springs Mountain toward the Hot Springs Tower. Along the drive, there are trails everywhere and I passed lots of walkers. It gets extremely steep, with sharp curves; no vehicles over 30′ length are allowed. Stopped a few times to enjoy the views and walk through the woods. Parked in the top lot, paid the $8 fee and rode the glass elevator, accompanied by my fear of heights, to the open observatory at 216 feet. It was amazing!

Back to camp to eat, swim for a couple hours, shower, map a bit and socialize with several ladies from Louisiana who are also tent camping. I love my awesome clothesline that reels like a fishing yoyo and can hang from just about anything!img_20180517_1706201715690957.jpg

One thought on “ALABAMA Huntsville to Ivy Green, Natchez Trace, Tishomingo State Park, MISSISSIPPI to Hot Springs National Park, ARKANSAS

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