From East to West – The Road Trip Days, Part 1

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Memphis to Oklahoma

From New Orleans in Louisiana to Mesa, Arizona with various detours has taken us about 2,500 miles across this vast continent. Very little time has been spare for such matters as blogging so I’ve got rather a lot to fill you in with now, from my room in Flagstaff while the other four members of Team Dean sleep quietly around me.

We bounced into Memphis and it was sooo cool! Sadly the Civil Rights Museum was just closing when we arrived but they have a fantastic interpretation display outside the incredibly persevered Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s a truly humbling experience and we used it as an opportunity to discuss race issues and inequality with Alfie… a little beyond him I know but good to introduce young in my view… lest we forget.

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Standing in front of the Lorraine Motel is a humbling experience. An opportunity to reflect on our history, mistakes and hope for the future.

If you’re going to visit Graceland then check into the Days Inn across the street. It’s cheap and totally what you would expect from a hotel next door to Elvis’ place. With a guitar shaped pool and tacky memorabilia everywhere you get the chance to meet all the other real life pilgrims making their way to this iconic, bordering on ironic, place.

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The guitar pool at Days Inn, Memphis. It was freezing but Alfie braved it and jumped in.

Graceland is unexplainable and quite honestly I don’t want to attempt it as you need to visit this place for yourself. We aren’t particular fans of Elvis, which admittedly resulted in us feeling somewhat like frauds or fakes amongst the silver haired worshippers, who needed to don their reading glasses every time we changed the number on our audio tour gadgets. The children were under stricked instructions not to ask who Elvis was whilst there. We had tested them repeatedly with the various Elvis pictures in the hotel room the night before but alas, by the morning they had forgotten and we were nervous of being caught out as intruders.

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Graceland, surprisingly understated and homely.

Graceland tickets

Tickets to Graceland… keepers for the scrap book!

It really didn’t matter though. That place is spectacular! The house is uber cool with it’s mirrored ceilinged TV room, the Jungle room and the humble kitchen and sitting room. It’s a home. And it’s a reflection of the man, undoubtedly an interesting character regardless of personal favour for his music. If you do find yourself making the journey one day then definitely get the ticket to the aeroplane and car museum too… They were so fun. His private jet, bigger than many a house with it’s bedroom, dinning room, bathrooms, sitting rooms, all complete with gold plated seat belt buckles is like a dream, it doesn’t seem real, except you can walk through it and touch it and it is real. The car museum is a super fun time machine housing the most spectacular vintage vehicles from pink Cadillacs to toy snow mobiles altered to run on grass, Ferrari’s to a John Deere tractor – That man enjoyed his toys!

Graceland

Inside Graceland

Elvis cars and plane

Elvis’s toys. His plane, Lisa-Marie and a few of his cars

We had really hoped to visit the Sun Studios but sadly children under 6 aren’t allowed in so it was off the agenda for us and by lunchtime we were crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas. A quick flick through the Rough Guide I’m increasingly relying on these days and we were detouring off the interstate down to a town called Hot Springs to visit the Fordyce Bathhouse, a Victorian spa. It was pretty fascinating to see the old tubs and it’s been impressively persevered. The town was a quirky place, long past it’s hey day when the rich and famous flocked there for it’s waters. It reminded me very much of Matlock Baths in Derbyshire, in as much as it was a Victorian holiday town struggling to maintain it’s tourism, encouraging the motorcyclists and hippies who naturally came for it’s surrounding beauty… I liked it! I didn’t like the revolting meal we attempted to eat at a little café there, ergh… shudder. That’s the last time I order Gumbo outside of New Orleans!

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The gym at the spa reminded me of my days at a convent school with much of the same Victorian equipment, probably still in use now!

We decided to press on after dinner and drive as far as we could. With a film on for the kids and full tummies we made it past Fort Smith and stopped further down interstate ready for an early start the next day.

The early start didn’t seem to happen quite right though. We got up early enough and realised that we had paid as much for a room with no wifi or breakfast as we had the night before for both plus board – a rookie mistake we won’t make again. I scouted out the gas station opposite for sustainable and to improve the mood of the children but alas it was poor pickings. We packed up and headed for the Interstate, hopeful that the next junction or so would offer more appealing options. It did. We found a fantastic little diner, kitted out in true Route 66 funky glory… and then waited for what seemed like forever for the chef to cook a couple of eggs and some slices of toast! Man it took ages… by the time we set off again it was mid morning and we felt frustrated, vowing only to stay places where breakfast can be swiftly dealt with in our own time frame.

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No breakfast served here!

Pressing on to Wednesday’s detour we headed North of the interstate, now in the state of Oklahoma. This beautiful dive took us closer to the Great Plains and we arrived at Woolaroc after lunch. There was a fun play park for the kids to burn some energy and there was what must surely be the most impressive museum and art gallery in this region of the States. The paintings and sculptures were utterly captivating and despite Patrick’s best efforts to ruin this little excursion (I’m sure they have an organised rota for their turns at being utter monsters) Alfie, Rob and I learned lots about the Native American history in the region from the fascinating artefacts and accompanying interpretation. If you are even vaguely near this place then detour to it.

Artefacts from Woolaroc

From top left, An Indian headdress, Stone axes, a fire drill and shrunken heads – warrior trophies!

We left after ice lollies and pressed South again to the interstate, stopping my a creek to get the kids into pyjama’s and making a cup of tea on the stove so as to drive on later and make some miles up around Oklahoma City. We made it to the edge of the city to a room with Wifi and breakfast. I did a couple of hours of work and slept well.

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