A visit to Graceland, and then on to North Carolina

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The main entrance to Graceland

The main entrance to Graceland

If you go to Memphis, you’re supposed to go to Graceland, so we did.

I was expecting something really over the top, but it’s not. The original house, while nice enough, appears to be like many other large homes of that era. Of course, Elvis added on a lot of extensions and other buildings.

We took the basic mansion tour, for which you are given an iPad with earphones, which guides you through the various rooms, with narration by Lisa Marie Presley, among others. If you want a tour guided by a human being, you have to pay big bucks for an “ultimate VIP tour.” We skipped that, as well as a chance to see the inside of Elvis’s airplanes. We picked a good day to come, as there were no lines. Based on the size of the visitors’ center, it looked like it would be a zoo in tourist season.

The decor may have been trendy in the 70s when the house was built, but it seems pretty tacky now, with shag carpet not only on some floors but at least one wall. My favorite was probably the billiard room, where not only the walls but also the ceiling are covered in fabric. Then there was the “jungle room,” whose name speaks for itself. The TV room had three sets, which Elvis put in after he heard than Lyndon Johnson had three in the Oval Office so he could watch all three networks at once.

The "jungle room." com plate with green shag carpet

The “jungle room.” complete with green shag carpet

This red couch once graced the mansion but is now in the museum.

This red couch once graced the mansion but is now in the museum.

The billiard room, with fabric on the walls and ceiling

The billiard room, with fabric on the walls and ceiling

Elvis was a cop groupie and collected a lot of badges and patches from various police departments.

Elvis was a cop groupie and collected a lot of badges and patches from various police departments.

Of course, Elvis came from modest beginnings — a couple of years ago we visited the modest one-room house where he was born in Tupelo, Miss. — so Graceland was a huge step up for him and his parents.

The “trophy building” is now a museum, which houses furnishings no longer used in the house, home movies, Elvis’s collection of law-enforcement badges and patches (he was a cop groupie), documents, photos, and home movies.

The tour ends in the meditation garden and cemetery where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried.

After we left Graceland, we went to a local emergency room, so I could get my back X-rayed. It turnned out nothing was broken, so they just gave me some muscle-relaxing pills, which made me kind of dopey (or even dopier than usual, as some would say).

Because of that, we didn’t get to do as much as we had hoped in Memphis, especially on the music front. Our second night we did go to place called Lafayette’s Music Room, where we saw a group called the Memphis All-Stars, made up of local session musicians. They played a variety of music, mostly Motown and R&B, and were excellent.

The Memphis All Stars, at Lafayette's Music Room

The Memphis All Stars, at Lafayette’s Music Room

On our last night we had a very good dinner at restaurant called Felicia Suzanne’s, just around the corner from our hotel.

Then it was back on the road for the final two days’ trip to North Carolina. Because I was still doped up on muscle relaxers, Robin did all the driving. We stopped for one night at a motel east of Knoxville and completed our journey the next day.

The final tally:

  • Miles driven: 4,014 miles
  • Actual driving time: 76 hours
  • Average speed: 53 miles per hour
  • License plates seen: 47 states (all except Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and West Virginia) plus the District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec).

 

 

 

A look back at the civil-rights movement and the King assassination

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The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated, now the National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated, now the National Civil Rights Museum

We arrived in Memphis, dropped Teddy at his kennel, and headed to our downtown hotel. It turned out to be restaurant week in Memphis, so the two restaurants nearest the hotel were both booked, but we found a table at a a place called the Majestic Grille, located in an old movie theater a few blocks away. The food was good and they were playing clips from old black-and-white movies, either silents or talkies with no sound, on a screen above the dining room.

The next morning we headed for the National Civil Rights Museum, which is located in the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was shot 51 years ago. The motel came upon hard times after the assassination and was going to be torn down, but a group of local citizens saved it, and it is now a museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian, that tells the story of the civil-rights movement. We spent several hours there.

The exhibits are extensive, starting with slavery and going forward to the King assassination. It also has some exhibits that deal with more recent events and movements, but those seem sort of added on. There are more exhibits across the street in the boarding house from which James Earl Ray is said to have fired the fatal shots, but we didn’t make it over there.

I can’t possibly describe all the exhibits, so I will concentrate on one I thought was among the most interesting, having to do with the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, a voter-registration effort that became known as Freedom Summer. The reason I liked the exhibit is that it had lots of documents and artifacts, including an organization chart of the Council of Federated Organizations, the group that spearheaded the effort; a calendar; a typewritten “Security Handbook” for dealing with the often-violent racist response; and, most telling, an FBI missing-persons notice for Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, the three civil-rights workers who were murdered.

A blackboard shows the coalition of civil-rights organizations that led the Freedom Summer voter-registration drive in Mississippi in 1964.

A blackboard shows the coalition of civil-rights organizations that led the Freedom Summer voter-registration drive in Mississippi in 1964.

One day's schedule

One day’s schedule

A missing-persons notice for the three civil-rights workers who were found murdered.

A missing-persons notice for the three civil-rights workers who were found murdered.

The museum also deals, of course, with the assassination. A wreath hangs on the balcony where Kind was shot. The two modest rooms that he and his associates occupied have also been recreated.

The motel room where Martin Luther King stayed the night he was shot, furnished as it was then

The motel room where Martin Luther King stayed the night he was shot, furnished as it was then

Another cold trip across Oklahoma

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A jacknifed semi on I-40 somewhere in Oklahoma

A jacknifed semi on I-40 somewhere in Oklahoma

After we left Santa Fe, we dropped down to I-40 and headed east. The forecast said cold weather was coming in, but we thought we could squeeze in one more night of camping, so we stopped at a KOA just east of Amarillo, Tex.

The afternoon and evening were pleasant enough, but the wind picked up and at 4 am we were both wide awake as the vinyl upper sides of the camper shook in the wind. Realizing we weren’t going to get any more sleep, we broke camp and got back on the highway, making our way through the dark, sleet, and freezing rain, mostly just us and the 18-wheelers.

Around 7 we decided to stop for breakfast and pulled off at a truck stop with a Denny’s somewhere west of Oklahoma City. We settled in and ordered a hot breakfast. Just as I went to the restroom, the power went out. Fortunately, I had a flashlight in my pocket, so I found my way back to our table and the lights came back on.

The lights went on and off several more times and then went off for good. We were about give up when the waitress said she did have some hot oatmeal, so we ate that and headed back onto the freeway.

We encountered three wrecked semis, one overturned, one jacknifed, and one just off the road. We finally got through Oklahoma City and decided to stop for lunch. Outside a McDonald’s, with my usual gracefulness, I slipped on some ice and fell. After that we made it without further incident to our motel in Van Buren, Ark., just outside Fort Smith.

My back still hurt from the fall, but we had survived another drive across Oklahoma. (Some of you may recall that a few years ago we drove across Oklahoma in a sleet storm with single-digit temperatures.) From Fort Smith, we headed on the Memphis, our last major stop.

Indian culture, sculptures, and good food in Santa Fe

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From Navajo Lake we headed down to Santa Fe to visit our friends Dan and Susanne and Susanne’s sister Sharon.

Our first night they served us a wonderful home-cooked meal. The second night we went to The Shed, one of Santa Fe’s iconic restaurants, which has been serving authentic New Mexican food since 1953. Both meals were great and a nice change from camp cooking.

In between meals, we went up to Museum Hill, home of four superb museums and a botanical garden. We spent a few hours in the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, which houses a huge collection of Native American art, artifacts, and jewelry.

The museums surround a courtyard, which has some outstanding sculptures. Photos were not allowed in the museum, but the sculptures were fair game.

The Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, in bronze, is the largest of the sculptures on Museum Hill.

The Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, in bronze, is the largest of the sculptures on Museum Hill.

This sculpture, by a Navajo artist, is called "Two Minds Meeting."

This sculpture, by a Navajo artist, is called “Two Minds Meeting.”

On to New Mexico

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After our visit to Zion National Park, we turned east, driving through a bit of Arizona, then back up into Utah, where we passed through the southern part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, before entering New Mexico and ending up at Navajo Lake State Park.

Navajo Lake is a reservoir created by damming the San Juan River. It has a huge marina. We spent a day in the park just taking it easy.

Our drive to New Mexico took us past some more of Utah's wonderful rock formations.

Our drive to New Mexico took us past some more of Utah’s wonderful rock formations.

The large marina at Utah Lake State Park

 

Our limited visit to Zion National Park

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For the last part of our visit to southwestern Utah, we moved on to Zion National Park. It’s another beautiful place, but we were only able to see part of it.

Because of the high volume of tourists — the campground was full even in early November — private vehicles are now banned from the north end of the park. Instead, the Park Service runs shuttle buses. The catch? No dogs allowed on the buses. Since we had Teddy with us, that meant we couldn’t go, so we were limited to the southern quarter or so of the park.

Even so, we got to see some nice scenery and took the one hike where dogs are allowed. Maybe some day we can come back sans pooch.

 

Rocky scenery in a Utah state park

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Our base for exploring Bryce Canyon and Escalante was Kodachrome Basin State Park, which lies between the two.

The park was named by the National Geographic Society because of the green foliage and red rocks. The Society got permission from Kodak to use the name.

On our last day we decided to explore the park itself. It proves again that it’s hard to beat Utah when it comes to rocks.