|What a state! Memphis, Nashville and the Great Smokey Mountains…
In Memphis we stayed at out of the way Fuller State park. At first I thought we made a mistake driving through sketchy neighborhoods. Once we reached our destination we found a wonderfully helpful camp host from Texas and a quiet, secluded and inexpensive campground.
Heading into town we found ourselves at Gus’ Famous Spicy Fried Chicken. Never heard of it but now I know why it's famous. They serve really juicy chicken with just the right amount of spice inside of a hidden space on an otherwise deserted block. Thank you Yelp! Yelp is an extremely helpful tool for finding good (sometimes excellent) eateries in new places.
After arriving in Memphis, I was reminded this is where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Just a few short blocks away from our lunch spot was the now famous Hotel Lorraine. The hotel is now a fine American Civil Rights Museum. The museum also owns the property across the street, another hotel, where James Earl Ray shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. That building is also a museum but is dedicated to the details. We were able to stand in the bathroom where Ray had the view of MLK’s room across the street at the Hotel Lorraine; his Mustang is on display, his car, gun, luggage and lots of other items and information about the trial and aftermath. Well done and worthwhile stop for sure.
Next day we took a late tour of the Memphis Gibson Guitar factory. It was short but informative and interesting. No pictures were allowed inside but the craftsmen were quite impressive. Next stop had to be a bar to listen to some guitar and blues. B.B. King’s had some beer and music, now that’s Memphis. But wait, we were told that the Hotel Peabody, a beautifully decadent hotel is the site of the 10 famous Peabody ducks which have graced the fountain of the interior of the hotel lobby since the 40’s. At 11:00am and 5:00pm. with the lobby full of cocktail sipping guests (including us) the ducks are called by the “duck master” to go to their rooftop penthouse to retire for lunch or for the evening. Fun stuff!
Okay, with ducks and cocktails gone we had one last to-do on the list, Memphis BBQ!! We strolled down the busy blues playing, bar laden and cordoned off Beale Street. It felt a bit like Bourbon Street in Louisiana with the horse mounted officers milling about and owners hawking their souvenirs, bands and drinks. Eventually we saw lots of people walking in one direction away from Beale only to learn they are all headed to Rendezvous, THE place for Memphis BBQ ribs. All I can say is that I now understand all the fuss about dry rub and BBQ in this town. I only wish we ate here more than once.
Since I may never get here again, I decided I had to see Graceland, home of Elvis. This was a tour of many buildings; Graceland and grounds/burial site, a car museum, his jets, another with all his records, memorabilia, photos and outfits he wore. In short there was a lot to take in. Really interestingly decadent life he led. Mike skipped this one.
Nashville was next. There really wasn’t anywhere we could stay in the city so we camped in Goodlettsville just a 15 minute drive from the city. There is a lot to do in Nashville and yes, it’s all about country music. We listened to a few live performances and had our share of beers and BBQ in this town.
We strolled the Cumberland River which runs through the South end of town with Honky Tonk Row just a short distance away. Since we had warm weather we took a self guided walking tour to see the Ryman Auditorium (original Ole Opry), Schermerhorn Theater, Printer’s Alley and the new Music City Center to open 2013, etc.
One morning we toured the Grand Ole Opry. It is located outside of town and much nearer our campground. I must say it was nothing like I expected. It is newer but still very cool to think of all the talent that has performed here over the years. The center stage is a piece of wood from the Ryman Auditorium and placed in this stage center so that all the famous country music stars have stood on and performed on the same piece of wood. And yes, I too stood on it! We entered into the backstage reception area, peered into the member dressing rooms; saw the wall of fame, and the waiting area where the members and their families relax before performances. This was a highlight for sure. Later, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame which was good but a bit disappointing to me as I enjoy newer country music and this museum is dedicated more to older artists.
On our last day in Nashville, there was a marathon. My husband had a great idea….ride our bikes along the route. This worked out perfectly. Many different locations along the route had bands performing and the side streets were wonderfully uncrowded. Even Sheryl Crow enjoyed the day by running the marathon. After spending a bit of time at the finish line we started to head back to the car to load up the bikes when we noticed a guy acting strange on the bridge over the Cumberland just off the route. As it turns out the guy, who was in the marathon, was having issues and Mike assisted while I called 9-1-1 for help. Luckily we happened to take this street and could render assistance. God is good. Nashville was fun but it was time to run.
After a few city stops we start to long for the country (and yes, sometimes the reverse). Next stop was the Great Smokey Mountains at Cades Cove campground. The weather was cooperative so we enjoyed lots of evening campfires and biking. There is a 12 mile loop road which one can drive or bike starting from the campground. We did it many times by bike and car. The unspoiled beauty and wildlife there was amazing! We saw birds, squirrels, deer, turkeys, horses and bears. Did you know bear like to climb up trees to forage like monkeys? I enjoyed trying to be a photographer but blew my biggest opportunity with a close encounter of a mamma bear and cub by having my camera on the wrong setting as they scurried by! Oh well… The wildlife, hillsides, wildflowers, trees and streams were a surprising treat which put the Smokey’s high on our list of favorite places to visit.
On our last day in the Smokey’s we decided to take a hike and enjoy a meal out in Gatlinburg. A breakfast of crepes at the Pancake House was the perfect foundation for a nice long 5.5 mile hike to Rainbow Falls. The town of Gatlinburg is itself a tourist enclave for families. It has lots of amusement type establishments and kid friendly attractions making it a good spot for family vacations. Speaking of family, it was time to move on to Georgia to visit our niece and her family.