Fun and Not-So-Fun Times

It’s been a week of crazy ups and downs, primarily caused by weather, which restricted our camping choices in very unfavorable ways.

Our RV park site in Vicksburg was not fun.  Located ten feet off US 61, it was loud!  The soggy conditions created by the previous week’s 5″ of rain sure didn’t help matters.  We could feel the Fireball sinking into the mud, although it had been level when we set up.  We wandered around town for one day on our bikes, touring the Coca Cola Museum (Coke was first bottled there).  It was pretty lame.  No ice cream.  No floats.20150324_130934 There are many pleasant sights in town, but it sure didn’t have a prosperous feel.20150324_124845At night, we were kept awake all night long by roaring traffic.  We were grouchy and unsettled, so we decided to cut our visit short by a day.  (Part of our unhappiness was the premature announcement that we have trailer brakes.  Turns out we have trailer BRAKE.  The brakes on the side where the new bearing and shoes were installed don’t work.)  Don’t even get me started on this topic….Vicksburg National Military Park was a must to see before leaving the area, so we decided to pack up, tour the Park, then leave from there. 20150325_110152I had really mixed feelings about my Vicksburg experience.  First of all, the Visitor Center was wonderful.  The video presentation at any National Park or Monument is always our first stop – we love the big overview that we get from watching the film. The personal element of the Civil War battlefield films is exceptionally good.  Excerpts from actual letters are read while re-enactments are shown on the screen.  The eloquence of the letters is always moving.  Vicksburg was very different than other Civil War Parks we have visited.  This was more than a battle between soldiers – the siege lasted more than six weeks, causing townfolk to retreat to caves for safety.  Confederate troops were near starving as supply lines on the Mississippi were cut off.    20150325_120053Armed with a brochure and our 20 minutes worth of video input, John and I set off on our bicycles to tour the 20 mile scenic drive through the Battlefield.  Cycling along any National Park scenic drive is an excellent way to see the area, and absorb the site. 20150325_120537 Perhaps it’s not for everybody, but we sure can appreciate the physical nuances of the geography better on a bike than we could in a car.  While we are wandering around, examining artifacts and looking for the trenches dug by the Union Army, we are passed by many cars.  Most people don’t get out to read the plaques or look around.  Vicksburg, check!  What’s next on the Bucket List?20150325_112156No blow by blow description here, but I do have to describe the sad feelings that overcame us here.  The grandiose monuments are from the Union states, Illinois and Wisconsin in particular.20150325_11302320150325_11351820150325_115139 Michigan’s monument features a woman with a large gear in her hand to symbolize industrial strength.  There is signage to the effect that some of the Confederate states took longer to return to prosperity than their Union counterparts, thus, their battlefield monuments are smaller, and less grand.  No kidding.  General Grant’s headquarters area features a huge statue of Grant on a horse.  The Sherman Circle is devoid of statuary.  It seems very lopsided.  Fair?  Correct?  To the victors go the spoils of war?

One area that we did enjoy exploring was the USS Cairo (Care-o) Museum.  The Cairo was one of seven ironclads built for the Union by one shipbuilder during a 100 day period, at a cost of about $100,000 each.20150324_144454 All we lost in battle.  The Cairo is the only one which has been recovered.  It was not discovered until 1960, then raised, and installed here a few years later.

At Vicksburg Battlefield Cemetery, the remains of 17,000 Union soldiers (of which 13,000 are unnamed), are buried, as well as soldiers from the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. 20150324_15134120150324_151526 Most Confederate soldiers killed in the Siege of Vicksburg are buried in another Vicksburg cemetery.

Several hours after beginning our tour of Vicksburg, we hit the road, intending to camp at Warfield County Park, about 100 miles away.  Too bad for us – this park was closed.  Underwater!  We were directed by a couple of helpful gentlemen to check out nearby Lake Chicot State Park, about 20 miles away.  Sure, why not?  We plugged the info into Google Maps (our go-to source for directions), and headed out.  We shortly thereafter found ourselves driving along a rutted road on top of a levee, surrounded by cattle, who didn’t seem to understand why we were driving thru their territory.  It was awful, and yet a bit funny. We knew it was going to have a bad ending…..when we finally got to an area where the Google voice told us to ‘turn left to our destination’, it was a downhill trek into a gigantic swamp.  Perhaps there really was a State Park and a campground there, but there is NO WAY that we could have plowed our way down there, and forded all that water to find it.  John verrrrry carefully turned the Fireball around on the narrow levee “road”.  When we got back to the Highway, we pulled out all maps, phones, and camping resources to find a home for the night.  Everything is full (Spring Break), or closed (flood).  The only spot we can find is the Pecan Grove RV Park.

Another spot on a very busy major US Highway.  We are directed to pick any spot we want – “the driest ones are over there….”  As we’re setting up, there’s an old Dodge Caravan driving through the park with the horn blaring.  One of the doors has a sign on it like you’d see from a pizza delivery joint.  Here’s how this conversation went…

Me:  Are you trying to find a particular campsite for a delivery?

Cranky 90-year old African American (woman) driver:  What?  I’m just trying to sell YOU some tamales and pies!

Me:  Tamales?  I love tamales.  How much are they?

C90YOAAWD: $12 a dozen

Me:  Can’t use a dozen, but I’d take four.

C90YOAAWD:  I can sell you six or nine.

Me:  I’ll take six.

C90YOAAWD:  How about nine?

Me:  Can’t use them.  Sorry.  Forget it.

C90YOAAWD:  Why are you giving me such a hard time?

She hauls herself out of the minivan, and opens up the back, where she has a huge stockpot full of tamales (in bundles of 3!  I could have had just 3!!!).  Wraps up six in foil.  I give her $7.  We’re done.  For the record, they were awful.  We ate a couple of them, and threw the rest away.  Bummer.  We love tamales.

Next morning, we decide to bust for Little Rock, AR.  We hadn’t planned to arrive there until Friday, but we call an are able to get our campsite at Maumelle Campground (a Corps of Engineers Park) a day early.  Pulling in, it’s Ahhhh…….a real campground.20150327_091520 Trees.  Picnic Tables.  Fire rings.  A river.  Kids on bikes.  We’re going to be here for five days.  Already, the pressure of the last hideous week begins to dissolve.

Downside?  It’s freezing here (40s), and STILL RAINING!  Our arrival day is Thursday – it doesn’t stop raining until noonish on Saturday.  Long story short – this post is putting even me to sleep.

Clinton Presidential Library.  Beautiful, and interesting, but not as inspirational as the LBJ Library. To me, it just seemed to lack the charm of the LBJ.  20150328_11431020150328_121618 Clinton did sign the Family Leave Act into law, and also signed the law that made COBRA health benefits available to workers changing jobs.  NAFTA came into being during the Clinton Administration, as well as major strides in the Middle East peace process.  Most of everything was lost by the scandal which ensued from the Starr investigations into Whitewater and everything else Clinton.  The enormous Library is well worth a visit – it’s the largest, and most well-attended of all Presidential Libraries.20150328_12552720150328_12565020150328_122504We wandered over to the State Capitol.20150328_14330020150328_143440And the old State Capitol.20150328_134734Around downtown.20150328_13405720150328_13285220150328_135727The above quote was in a special bicycling exhibit in the old State Capitol.

The Central High School National Historic Site was a must-see.  Central High was where school desegregation came to a head in 1957.  Nine African American students were denied entrance to the school in defiance of federal law.  Federal Marshals were called in to escort the kids to school, along streets lined with opposing State National Guards troops and townspeople.20150328_160338 The photos in the museum are chilling, and the audio is shameful.  It’s chilling to think that this disgraceful episode happened so (relatively) recently.  We met a fellow camper here (with a T@B, no less!) who graduated from Central High.  Her father was actually a Senior there in 1957.  Every day is a history lesson of some kind or another.

Everything we have seen here revolves around the Arkansas River.  Perhaps it’s not as wide or dramatic as the Mississippi, but it’s certainly impressive.  Our campground is along its banks, it rolls right thru the center of downtown Little Rock, and there’s a bike trail that covers the 15 mile distance from end to end.  One of the most impressive features is the Big Dam Bridge, which spans the river.20150329_13175220150329_131822 This is the longest, largest bridge ever built solely for pedestrian/bicycle traffic.  Wow!  We pedaled into downtown on a sunny Sunday – one of the first nice days in the area.  We saw hundreds of cyclists and walkers along the way.  The biggest Community Garden I’ve ever seen was also along the path – there must have been 200 plots.  Some were as large as 30 x 30.  Lots of people out digging and planning.  I did stop several times to try to photograph this amazing area, but was unable to get a photo of anything that didn’t just look like dirt and fences. But, it was a fantastic area.

We cycled today (Monday) up to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.  What a gorgeous spot to hike and bike.  The historic focus of the Park is on the Trail of Tears, the paths taken through Arkansas by the Native Americans who were relocated under federal order in the 1830s from their homelands in the Southwest to areas in the Southeast.  All these routes passed through Arkansas, either along the river or land.  There are amazing scenic views,IMG_1321-001IMG_1318 trails, and a quarry open for swimming in the summer. IMG_1316-001 It was worth all the huffing and puffing we had to do on our bikes to get up there.

We head out Tuesday for TN.  That will be our last camp before Evansville, where we’ll hang out with John’s brother for a few days before finally going back to Grand Rapids.  Until Little Rock, we were more than ready to go home.  Now, we’ve had a couple days of great weather, a sterling campground, and a bit of cycling and sightseeing to buoy our spirits.  Home doesn’t sound quite so sweet anymore.