Day Seven:  We headed west towards Memphis.  Having only passed the area on previous cross country treks, Memphis was a priority in terms of planning.  Janice and I had some BBQ for lunch, then headed to wander around Beale Street.  (We had some fun playing “Walking in Memphis” while wandering around.) There were many bars that had blues music pouring out, just as Nashville had country.  We listened to a band that was playing in a park.  Overall, Memphis felt a bit grittier and real.  (Still not my scene, though.) We stopped in the Gibson factory, then walked down by the Missippi River for a stroll in the heat, before heading to the hotel to call it a night.

Day Eight:  The National Civil Rights Museum was the main reason I wanted to stay overnight in Memphis.  The museum was developed around telling the story of Africans and African-Americans from the founding of our nation through today.  The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. was killed in 1968 the day following his “Mountaintop” speech.

We spent several hours here.  As museums go, this was one of the best organized and crafted museums I have ever visited.  The story that unfolded, along with the historical perspective not offered in textbooks, was powerful.  More about this later.

After the museum visit, we should have made our way to Crater of Diamond State Park.  Unfortunately, they were forecasting severe storms for the area overnight.  We decided not to risk it, so we booked a hotel room in Hot Springs, which meant Janice got a bonus National Park added to her trip.

Hot Springs NP is a unique park as it is located right in the midst of a town.  Much of the park that people visit is a historical park preserving the hot baths and spas that were in their peak in the early 1900’s.  Afterwards, we wandered around the shops in town and ate at a pizza place with the slowest service ever.

Day Nine:  We had a relaxing morning that involved getting laundry done.  Afterwards, we drove the 1.25 hours to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.

After the storms had passed, the fields were a muddy mess. 

We used our rented gear to dig up a bucket of dirt and lugged it over to the wet station.  This is what the next few hours consisted of:

-I did the first clean using the screen boxes and finishing saruca at the giant water trough. 

-Janice would then meticulously sort through the cleaned material looking for diamonds.  (Spoiler: We didn’t find any.)

-Repeat the process many times over.

After our fun, we cleaned up and had a worker sort through our finds.  We found jasper, calcite, quartz, and other rocks and minerals.  As you can see from the photos posted, people truly do stumble upon diamonds here.  The girl helping us confirmed the 7+ carat diamond found here a few months back.

With additional storms forecasted that night, we opted to skip this campground altogether and drove two hours to Mount Pleasant, Texas. Before arriving, we stopped for tacos in Texarkana on the road that divides Arkansas and Texas.  They were honestly some of the best tacos I have ever had!

Day Ten:  After a Texas waffle, we made our way towards Waco, where Janice would get to visit the Silos and Magnolia that she knows from the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.”  I was expecting it to be busy, but it was more crowded than I could ever have imagined.  I spent some time strategically hiding some of my tiny cards while Janice shopped.  (She was convinced I was going to be arrested by the Waco Police who were ever present.)

Rumor had it that the cupcakes and baked goods at the recently opened bakery were delicious.  (They were.  I had the Peach Pie cupcake and a Janice had the Lemon Lavendar cupcake.  We still have cookies to try today as we drive towards New Mexico.)

We both ate at one of the food trucks that surrounded the grass field on the site.  The truck that we got crepes from was actually a tiny house!  The students who worked there were either Baylor or high school students.  As I mentioned my tiny house aspirations, a high school student shared her dream of living in a tiny house, too.  I shared one of my cards with her.  (Hello if you are reading this!).  We naturally ate our meal on the porch of this tiny house.

We got coffee (from a shipping container coffee shop) and headed towards Austin.  Our hotel is located in the midst of a shopping mall, but you wouldn’t know it by the oasis created in its center courtyard.  The whole place has a  vibe.  We took a dip in the pool before heading to downtown Austin.

I was very concerned about parking as everything I read about the 4th of July in Austin screamed crowds.  We pulled in and found free street parking with ease.  We then wandered the empty and quiet streets.  (The 100 degree temperature may have contributed to this atmosphere.)  We saw the Statehouse, grabbed “liquid learning” at the Library, ate dinner, watched the largest urban bat colony leave home from under a bridge to search for dinner, listened to the symphony with tens of thousands of other people, and finished out with fireworks.  A quick visit to Austin was just right.

Final Thoughts:  Those who know me well know that I can carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  The visit to the National Rights Museum was very moving.  As someone who will never know racism or discrimination from the perspective of someone who is black, the museum is a living example of empathy in action.  Discussions about race, racism, discrimination, intuitional oppression, harassment, profiling, and many other heavy topics are not something that come up in everyday casual conversations.  Some of you may be thinking what the hell am I even doing writing about this here.  The museum was a reminder that we as a free nation have the privilege to freely discuss tough ideas.  While in the museum, a gentleman who was about my parents’ age named Crayton struck up a conversation with me about the exhibits in the museum.  The conversation then shifted towards the world we live in today.  Despite dancing around some of the points we were trying to make without fully saying our political leanings, we both agreed that these are tough times.  Overall, these five or six minutes were peaceful and productive.  What struck me was the fact that a sixty year old black man discussing racism with a thirty six year old white man in Memphis was probably a very different situation fifty years ago.  If strangers can discuss tough topics with civility and empathy, why can’t we all?  When I was leaving the museum, the final mural on the wall summed up the morning and is my guiding mantra in life… 

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