Road Trip to Arkansas and Chicago
Last Updated 10/22/2010
What follows is a somewhat silly travelogue that Leah and I kept while we took a long road trip to Arkansas and Chicago in August of 1999. We had our laptop with us and decided to post little travel updates to the Rysher Highlander Forum as we traveled. A lot of the “Forumlanders” decided they were going to hop in the van with us and come along for the ride and before we knew it, we had a lot of passengers… some of them very strange. So, although most of the events described below really happened and most of the sights we saw and described are real, I think the discerning reader will soon realize that parts of the narrative should be regarded as a bit tongue in cheek! The photos shown were taken by Annie on the trip.
Well, here we are on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama. We’re staying at a little Mom and Pop motel called Pine Lakes. It’s small but cozy with a lovely little frog fountain and garden, complete with hanging hummingbird feeders. The little birds were darting about like crazy when we pulled up. I tried to get a photo, but they wouldn’t cooperate and hold still long enough!
It was an interesting first day with all of the virtual passengers in the van, including all of the Immortals who hitched a ride. We almost lost Methos in the midst of the Russell Stovers outlet. We all went crazy picking out our favorite boxes of chocolate (Leah likes anything with marshmallows in it and managed to score a “seconds” box full of marshmallow “novelties.” One of the stock boys informed us that it could be full of bunnies or Santas or who knows what. We haven’t dared to open it yet to find out! In any case, Methos was found wandering through the aisles of chocolate boxes, a dazed look on his face as he mumbled “Food of the gods. Food of the gods.” Who knew that he was addicted to chocolate?
Our next stop was Valdosta, Georgia where we love to plunder the Book Warehouse. We were just there on our way to MediaWest a few months ago, so we didn’t spend nearly as much money as we usually do. We still found some history books that we had missed last time. Leah also found a fiction book called “Horseman” that was published in 1995. From the blurb, it sounds like a story about Methos! It’s about a young man who goes to South Africa and he comes to symbolize “evil.” He’s called “Death” and he rides a pale horse. Hmmm...
We had lunch at a wonderful little country restaurant there and then headed on up to Tifton where we turned off the beaten track. The rest of our trip has been on a back country highway. We found a wonderful little produce stand out in the middle of nowhere. The people had their own farm and there was a whole field full of gigantic sunflowers. I got lots of beautiful photos. Then it was on toward Alabama. As we crossed the Chattahoochee River, we put on some Alan Jackson and pumped up the volume. So, we crossed the river as Alan sang “Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, it gets hotter than a hootchey-cootchy” (and it was 102 degrees!).
So, here we are outside of Montgomery. I’ve been seized with a sudden desire to see Graceland at last. Leah is horrified but I’m in control of the van! Bwhahahaha.... Elvis Lives!
It’s Sunday morning already and I realized I left out some of the true highlights of our trip yesterday... the row after row of planted peanuts, watermelons growing right on the vine, fields of cotton, and as we crossed into Alabama, herds of all different kinds of cattle and, eventually, small herds of horses as we left farm country behind. As we passed through the middle of small towns in Georgia and Alabama, we saw row after row of antebellum houses, some of them well-maintained and in gorgeous repair and some of them broken down, falling apart, but still beautiful. We couldn’t help but wonder how these dilapidated old houses would look if they were restored. But, the highlight of our trip occurred right outside of Georgetown, Georgia...there we encountered “Bubba’s Mud Races,” thereby answering the question of what folks around there do for fun!
We headed out early in the morning, leaving Montgomery, AL in our dust with a van full of virtual fans and sleepy, grumbling Immortals. We wound our way through the back roads and Methos was quite pleased with himself when he realized we were passing right through “Pearson,” AL. He thought it was only fair since yesterday we had visited “Dawson,” GA (where there had been much speculation about the huge cemetery there... we wondered if the Watchers really were disposing of Immortal bodies!). Moments after passing through Pearson, it was Mac’s turn to be smug when we suddenly found ourselves in “Duncanville,” AL! We stopped to take a photo in front of the volunteer fire department.
The rest of the trip to Memphis was relatively uneventful other than Methos and Cassandra fighting incessantly over the chocolate-covered cashews. Turns out that Methos shares “everything” as long as it isn’t his chocolate nuts. Ummm, maybe I should rephrase that... or not. Kronos was fascinated by all of the Kudzu that was conquering the trees and plants and even some old houses along the roadsides. He took a lot of notes on this vegetable “virus,” and has been chortling to himself ever since. Caspian and Silas were excited when we passed Kamp Kumbaya... there was much speculation that it was a special camp for training up young Kimmies.
We finally made it to our goal for the afternoon: Graceland! The mansion and grounds were quite interesting but Methos was slightly disappointed. It wasn’t nearly tacky enough, he was heard to say, and he went off in a sulk, trying to find something that was suitably offensive as a tacky souvenir. Mac was in heaven and he and Kronos even had a bonding moment when they discovered that they both like the music of “The King.”
Silas bonded with some of the horses on the grounds and Caspian tried to eat some of the many squirrels...which got us all thrown out, alas. Oh, well. We’d seen everything there was to see, including the Heartbreak Hotel (for real). Since we couldn’t find any truly tacky souvenirs, we headed on down the road across the mighty Mississippi (where Methos was seized with the sudden desire to throw Cassandra off a bridge... Annie did NOT stop the van despite his whining) and from there to Little Rock, Arkansas. After a riotous dinner at an all you can eat country buffet, we finally made it here to Hot Springs where we are currently collapsing and anticipating thermal mineral baths tomorrow.
I’ll try to make this short since we’re a whole day behind on our reporting and you guys have gotten up to all kinds of hijinks, anyway!
We started the day early with a drive to the top of Hot Springs Mountain. It’s part of the Hot Springs National Park and after a very scenic drive through the woods, you can ride a tower up several stories for a magnificent overlook of old Hot Springs and the surrounding mountains and lakes. The scenic loop drive follows the path of the original carriage road that was built over a hundred years ago. At the foot of the mountain, you can see one of the over 400 hot springs as it comes out of the mountainside. The water is boiling hot! We had a unique Cajun style lunch at a little cafe called “The Faded Rose” and then headed down Main Street to see all of the old, historical bath houses lining the side of the street up against the mountain. One of them serves as the National Park Headquarters and is open for touring. While there, we saw a film about the history of the town and were shocked to see footage of a man on a train extolling the virtues of “Dr. Adams at the ‘Big Iron’.” He claimed that Dr. Adams was THE man to see in town for liver ailments! Methos looked slightly abashed and we didn’t see him again for awhile after that little incident. Mac was intrigued to find another open spring behind one of the old bath houses called “Maurice Spring.”
Of course, the highlight of the day was our trip to the historic Majestic Hotel and their thermal baths. The bath house there is still in the original spot and the course of treatment is essentially the same: a thermal bath (in a whirlpool tub), a lie-down with hot packs on sore areas, and then a full body massage. Leah swears that the strange sounds we heard emanating from the men’s bath house next door was Connor and Nick. We couldn’t tell if they were in pain or in ecstasy!
This morning, we pulled out bright and early after hosing out the van. It was getting ripe what with all the chocolate, Caspian’s snacks, spilled pheromone/sunblock, beer, wine spills...and we found a whole stash of strawberry stems under the floor mats. Now, how the heck did those get there???
The day consisted of lots of mountain driving. Cassandra wanted to buy this enormous quartz crystal about five feet fall. “No room in the van,” Annie said. “There will be if we dump Methos,” said Cassandra. “Better yet, ALL of the Horsemen.” Vetoed! We did stop at every little rock shop along the way for awhile, though, and the van is now weighed down with Arkansas quartz! The best souvenir shop we found was in a place called Booger Hollow (population 7, including one coon hound). Kronos loved it and everyone lined up to use the Maw/Paw Outhouse out back. Then it was on down the road to the “Grand Canyon of Arkansas” where we had lunch at the Cliff House. Little hummingbirds flitted by on the porch just outside the window while we ate catfish followed by “Company’s Comin’” pie.
And that brings us here to Eureka Springs, which is a popular wedding/honeymoon town. There are lots and lots of cozy little inns and motels lining the streets and almost every last one boasts 2-person Jacuzzis in the rooms, some of them heart-shaped. Leah says she “fears the worst” with this gang! But we checked into the Bavarian Inn and have just enjoyed trying out one of the Jacuzzis. We tried to have a steak dinner at the “Hylander,” but they had the nerve to be closed on Tuesdays! Mac was all for storming the place anyway (and the Horsemen were quite intrigued with this side of the Highlander!), but cooler heads prevailed.
Two. The Jacuzzis were supposed to be for two. I don’t even want to talk about what went on at the Bavarian Inn. Suffice it to say that the hotel will be a long time getting the weinerschitzel and the rubber ducky out of the drain system. And I don’t wanna KNOW what was making those sounds coming out of room 207. By the way, Barney, thanks for the tip about Bubba’s Barbecue; I think the Horsemen raided it in the middle of the night and left a pile of bones by the roadside on Hwy. 62.
We went off into the woods for an excursion to a couple of local Ozark natural wonders; Pivot Rock and Natural Bridge. It was very beautiful in the woods. Cassandra is considering moving her cottage to the area.
With the average temperature hovering somewhere around 106 degrees, yesterday was a bit of an ordeal. The locals finally confessed that the reason why the streams and rivers are completely dry is because it hasn’t rained in over a month, and the temperatures are running far above normal. Anyone with experience in desert climes was okay (The Horsemen and Cassandra), but the rest of us sort of hobbled around the picturesque little village of Eureka Springs, which was ironically enough nicknamed the “stair-step town”. Tucked into a hollow with absolutely no flat ground, you have to climb and ascend long, steep stairways to move from street to street and business to business. In 106 degrees, we didn’t last very long at this. When we finally reached Basin Spring in the middle of town, the Highlanders in our group shocked us by being the ones who stripped down to the buff and immersing themselves gleefully in the fountain. I was not amused when several of our fan group joined them. We are not trying to set an arrest record for the most towns along the way, guys.
New rule; no more gum in the van. Richie managed to somehow get chewing gum smeared all over the van and my favorite tee-shirt. Anyone know how to get smeared gum off cotton fabric?
Amanda commented that she feels oddly at home in Arkansas. She can’t quite put her finger on the reason why.
After a load of shopping, we’d finally had enough of the heat and piled back into the van for the journey to St. Louis. Lots of woodland, then farmland, then cattle country. Methos wanted to get out and ride all the pale horses, but we didn’t have the time, and besides...this was supposed to be a bad day to risk this, according to Nostradamus’ last quatrain, so we nixed this idea. We drove through Cassville, Missouri where they apparently have something called the Annual Cassville Bull Buckout. Lots of rude jokes followed. Also lots of billboards for this winery along Highway 44 and the two Highlanders were upset that it was too late in the afternoon to stop and personally inspect every one of the alleged 200 giant casks. There were about a billion signs wheedling us to stop and buy something called a Walnut Bowl, and ever-suggestible, Silas began to whine horribly that me MUST have one. We all finally got sick of listening to this so when we reached the factory outlet, we stopped. Methos made the mistake of asking Cassandra if one of the bowls would be big enough to serve as her cauldron. “I don’t know,” she responded. “Let’s see if it’ll hold your head.” She then proceeded to jam it down over his head, where it promptly got stuck. Everyone had a turn trying to yank it off, but it appeared to be hung up on his nose. Cassandra offered to remove it with her sword, but Methos declined. We finally borrowed some baby oil from Connor’s toiletry bag (don’t ask) and managed to get it loose.
Well, we are in a motel just outside of St. Louis tonight and will be leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning with our merry little troupe. Onward to the Oriental Institute!
Today’s report is genuinely short. The entire day consisted of...driving past rows and rows and rows of cornfields! Illinois is all corn! Well, there appeared to be one other crop mixed in, but we never did figure out what it was. Leah thinks maybe beans. Maybe someone from Illinois could clue us in. (A Forumlander in the know later told us that corn and soybeans are the “money” crops in Illinois.)
Our virtual passengers were quite bored by it all and got up to all kinds of mischief. I don’t even want to think what the top of the van must look like by now.
We did find a nice hotel outside of Chicago. It turned out to be a good thing that we stopped way out in Willowbrook. When we drove into town for dinner (which was quite a long ways), we discovered that there were no more hotels after the exit we stopped at! Cassandra was happy that we stopped near “Cass Avenue.” At least that was a bit more dignified sounding the Bull Buckout in Cassville yesterday! Anyway, we drove into town and along the way we discovered the headquarters for Kronos Gyros. Kronos was very smug for the rest of the evening! We finally found Navy Pier and after missing the exit and having to backtrack, everyone was getting quite hungry and restless. It was gorgeous outside. Finally not hot during the drive today... stayed in the low 80s. There was a wonderful breeze and the city was all lit up. We ate at Bubba Gump's Shrimp and it was delicious. Then on the drive back we saw a huge, lit up fountain in the middle of town overlooking the lake. Just gorgeous.
Well, here we are at the junction of Highways 57 and 70, just outside of Effingham, Illinois, our stopping point for the night.
This morning, we hopped into the van and headed off toward the Oriental Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago...only to get hopelessly caught in a traffic jam. Annie was complaining about all the men yakking on their cell phones while they were supposed to be driving. Caspian said “I’ll take care of it for you.” He rolled down the window, reached into the car beside us, yanked the phone away from the the startled driver...and ate it in front of him. “Needs salt,” he told the man, grinning fiendishly. As for the rest, you haven’t heard salty language until you’ve heard Horsemen, yelling at motorists in a traffic jam. It got really ugly when some truckers had enough and got out of their cabs. Thankfully, Annie floored the pedal just in time and we sped down the closed lane, knocking those plastic ‘rodeo barrels’ in every direction. A close call.
The Oriental Institute is a division of the University of Chicago that provides academic studies in archaeology of ancient civilizations, with particular emphasis on Egyptology. Their pursuits also include Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Assyria and other archaic civilizations. Many experts in the field of Egyptology have been associated with the Institute and it holds a world-wide stellar reputation. It includes a museum on its Chicago campus as well as a museum in Luxor, Egypt. The Oriental Institute’s Egyptian Gallery was awesome. Some of the best preserved artifacts of every kind that we’ve ever seen. I mean, some of the stuff looked NEW. Methos inevitably found several articles that he insisted were his, but the glass on the exhibits are shatterproof. Oddly enough, Cassandra pointed out a broken piece of crockery that she remembers throwing at someone in a temper tantrum in a tent, long ago. An unkind comment had been made about her cooking at the time. Methos made a comment about not having any unbreakable walnut bowls available, back then and earned a very evil eye.
After the Gallery, we journeyed over to the Catalog Connection Outlet (Holtzheimer store?) and all Hades broke loose. Imagine if you will many HL Immortals and fans turned loose in a free-for-all among the merchandise, most of it sporting Mac’s likeness. Amanda came away with a sleeper tee-shirt that had Duncan’s face and “I ‘heart’ Duncan” on it. Cassandra bought an alarming amount of daggers. Connor picked up another facsimile of his sword that was cut-rate (it was slightly broken). He said he would fix it like new, but the bargain was too good to pass up. He IS Scottish, after all... The K’Immies danced around the store, heckling Duncan about the clothing and we discovered Kronos lining up the Ugly Duncan Mugs on a countertop and using them for target practice. By the time we were done, the shopkeeper was BEGGING us to leave.
We loaded everything and everyone back up into the van and finally headed south. Apart from another melee at a roadside country buffet restaurant (never turn Kimmies loose at a buffet), most of the trip was more corn, more corn, some soybeans (at least we know what that green stuff is now, thanks) and more corn. The buffet inevitably had...corn on it. Corn fritters. Corn muffins. Fried corn. Boiled corn. Corned beef. It was like Bubba Gump’s all over again, only with corn.
Everyone’s snoring. Busy day! Later, folks.
We kicked everyone awake and out of bed, loaded them into the van and headed South once more, passing through Southern Illinois (More corn. More soybeans. More corn.). To MacLeod’s delight, we came upon our first open Winery and he proceeded to sample everything, including a lovely little bottle that bore the name “Amanda’s Blush”. We all restocked our wine racks, peeled the Horsemen out from under the spigots and set off again. Most of the day was simply driving and getting stuck in major traffic jams. We got back into the mountains in Western Kentucky, passed through Nashville and stopped for the night in the high country just outside of Chattanooga. I think we’ve finally worn out our entourage of Immies, Kimmies and Forumlanders. Everyone was napping happily in the back (and on the roof) among the luggage and souvenir bags when I checked this afternoon.
Tomorrow, we head home for the last leg to Orlando!!
There was a reason why we went to Arkansas and specifically to Eureka Springs on a road trip last year. Some of you know that my Mom passed away a couple of years ago. She was cremated but I never did anything with her ashes because she just really didn't like it here in Florida very much. She loved the mountains and she was from upstate New York. When I was a kid, every year we either went to Colorado or to Eureka Springs in Arkansas on vacation. So, I finally had an opportunity to take my Mom to rest somewhere that she really loved.
If you enjoyed the photography and would like to see more nature pictures, check out these Ashton Press sites:
Cornwall (November 1999)
England (March 1999)