Blogger’s Note: WordPress can be very fickle. As I was trying to make some minor changes to the post that I spent an hour and a half writing yesterday morning, the app kept crashing on me. Sadly, my entire post got deleted and can not be recovered. So instead of heading back to bed in the tent, I’ve decided to use this time at 3:43 in the morning to reconstruct the post that has vanished into oblivion.
Now it’s clear that the post wasn’t deleted, but somehow vanished for some time. Two hours later, and I have rewritten the blog post from memory. Should be interesting to see how much stayed the same and what changed!
Day Seven: We woke up and began making our way westward again. On my various road trips, Memphis is a city that I have always just passed through and never stopped at for an extended period of time. When I was planning this trip, a priority was to stay here.
We stopped at a BBQ joint for lunch. Fried pickles, hush puppies, and some pulled pork rounded out the meal. (Dinner was not needed later.)
We arrived in downtown Memphis and wandered about. The bars on Beale street had blues music pouring out of them, just as Nashville had country music. We opted to listen to a band playing in a park at the edge of all the bars. Memphis certainly had a grittier and more real feel than Nashville. (Neither was my scene.)
After Beale Street, we stopped in the Gibson guitar factory to look at the guitars in the shop, before walking down towards the Mississippi River. As we returned to the car, we had fun playing “Walking in Memphis” on our phones.
Day Eight: When I planned the trip, the National Civil Rights museum was the main reason to stay overnight in Memphis. I knew that I had wanted to spend a good amount of time here without feeling rushed. The museum is housed primarily in the converted Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968 the day after giving his “Mountaintop” speech. The museum tells the story of Africans and African-Americans over the course of the history of the United States. The museum was one of the best narrative museums as the story unfolded with an excellent point of view coupled with artifacts that no text book could ever recreate. (More on this later.)
After the museum, we began making our way into Arkansas. We were originally planning on camping that night in Crater of Diamonds State Park, but the forecast showed severe thunderstorms in the area. As my father was struck by lightning as a teenager, I know not to mess around with Mother Nature. This change in plans allowed us to stop in Hot Springs National Park, giving Janice a bonus Park on her trip.
Hot Springs National Park has many features to it. Most visitors, including us, spend their time exploring the historical part of the part that preserves the bath houses and spas that were wildly popular in the early 1900’s. After spending a few hours walking around the Park and the town, we made our way to our hotel.
Day Nine: Our morning was a relaxing one that also involved getting laundry done. We then drove the hour or so towards Crater of Diamonds State Park.
With this being my third visit to the park, I’m getting better at the process of diamond hunting! The rains the night before created a muddy mess of the diamond field. There were parts that were like quick sand and it didn’t take long for us to get completely messy.
For those who are not familiar with the diamond hunting process, here is what our three or so hours in the field looked like:
-We filled a bucket of dirt into a ten gallon bucket, which we then lugged towards the wet-sifting station.
-I did the initial sort using the screen boxes with various sized openings.
-I used the finishing saruca to circulate and sort the rocks and pebbles by density.
-Janice then meticulously sifted through that material looking for diamonds. (Spoiler: We didn’t find one!)
-At the end of the day, we cleaned our gear and had an expert look through our finds. We collected jasper, calcite, quartz, and other various types of rocks and minerals.
Much like fishing, digging for diamonds is about the process, not the product. However, some people do get lucky. The woman who helped sorted our findings was the one who classified the 7+ karat brown diamond found in the park a few months ago.
We decided to skip camping here altogether as more storms were forecasted for the overnight hours again. We did make use of our campground to clean up so we didn’t have to ride the two hours to Mount Pleasant, Texas completely covered in mud.
Along the way, we stopped in Texarkana for tacos. Honestly, these were some of the best tacos that I have ever had.
Day Ten: After our Texas waffles, we continued along the road towards Waco, where Janice would get to visit the highlight of her road trip. Waco is home to Magnolia and the Silos, which are owned by the stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” I have only seen the show a few times, but was familiar enough with the show to know what was going on. I figured that it would be busy, but it was a complete mob scene. They have created some business here!
As Janice shopped, I spent my time strategically hiding some of my tiny cards. I figured that fans of the show may be more inclined to like tiny houses than the average person. (Janice was convinced that I would be arrested by the Waco Police who were making their rounds.)
After shopping, we waited on line for cupcakes and baked goods from the recently opened bakery on site. Rumor had it that the bakery was amazing. It was. (I had a Peach Pie cupcake and Janice had the Lemon Lavendar cupcake. We may have also picked up some cookies for the road.)
We had lunch at one of the food trucks that are parked on the site. In fact, our food truck pick was actually a tiny house! We ordered crepes from them and were able to eat on the porch of the tiny house. The employees were all either Baylor students or high school students. When I mentioned my tiny house plans, a high schooler working there had shared her dream of building one, too. I shared a card with her. (Hello if you are reading this post!)
We then made our way towards Austin. Our hotel was in the northern part of the city and was located within an outdoor mall area. The hotel had a center courtyard that created an oasis to hang out in. The whole place had a modern, but retro vibe. Overall, very cool. We swam for a bit before getting ready to head into the city.
As it was the 4th of July, I was very concerned about parking. I read that upwards of 100,000 people go to the fireworks concert that the city presents. As we pulled into town, we found free street parking with no issues. In fact, the city was empty! Perhaps the 100 degree temperatures kept some away until the concert would happen. We saw the Texas Statehouse, completed some liquid learning at the Library, had dinner, watched the largest colony of urban bats in America emerge for their nightly insect feast, listened to the symphony, and viewed the fireworks show with throngs of people. It was just the right amount of time to get a feel of Austin.
Day Eleven: After breakfast, I spent the morning writing the now lost blog entry that this one is replacing. We then went food shopping for our last camping stop.
Our day consisted mostly of driving. Eight hours on the road may seem like torture for some, but I honestly love these drives. The landscape changes right before your eyes, you can have good conversations with people, music keeps you company, audio books make you feel productive, and maps will never be the same when you remember what an area actually looks like.
When we arrived, we set up camp and prepared guacamole and turkey sandwiches. As we were driving all day, I knew actual cooking would be annoying.
Final Thoughts: The National Civil Rights Museum is a lesson in empathy. When I planned the visit, I was well versed in many of the basics of the Civil Rights movement, despite not having been born yet. One of my college professors who was quite influential to me recounted his involvement and frightening tales during his visits to the South. For many years as an ELA teacher, I would play the final speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in its entirety to my sixth grade students. When I entered the first room of the museum, I was reading one of the displays when a gentleman came up to me to let me know how I could access some on the stories on YouTube. As we were chatting, our conversation became more in depth. Before long, I was having a conversation about the current state of our country with a stranger. Although we both danced around specifics and avoided divulging our own political leanings, it was clear that we were on similar pages. What struck me at the moment, and in greater depth later on, was the realization that our conversation would have likely been extremely different on this very spot fifty years ago. Something tells me that Crayton, a sixtyish year old black man, and I, a thirty-six year old white man would not have been so open to discuss the challenges we are facing in such a civil and respectful manner. The museum reminded me that the events highlinghted there are not far from our current time, and many of the struggles are still there. My perspective as a white person will never grasp the importance of the Civil Rights movement as someone like Crayton who was alive during this time. Despite all of this, we were able to share ideas for six or seven minutes in the middle of a museum. Given more time, I suspect that we could have shared more wishes for hope for the future.
Traveling has afforded me the ability to learn from others and force me out of my comfort zone. A museum like the one I visited, along with the interaction with Crayton will stay with me forever. Reflecting on the experience that day, it confirms my belief that dialogue is important. If I can speak with a stranger about racism, terrible things within American history, and oppressive forces, why shouldn’t this be happening more with those in my life?
The museum is preparing for the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next year. As countless more people visit this museum from now until then, I hope that they are as equally moved by what was presented.
As I was leaving, the last mural on the wall was the quote attributed to Gandhi and summed up what I was feeling. It’s also my guiding mantra.
Be the change you want to see in the world.