Letters From a Bus
July 2007: Homeward Bound
3rd entry for July
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We Visit Memphis, St. Louis and Kansas City

Kansas City, KS, Day One at Cottonwood RV Campground

Monday, July 23, 2007 — We've lived for 69 days in our bus.

Eighteen days in Red Bay was very boring.  Monday night Charles installed a shaved down kitchen cupboard door plus five extra directional lights for reading and deskwork.  On Tuesday we had so much sawdust we decided to spend the day vacuuming, dusting and mopping.  We finally got everything finished and escaped small town southern life on Wednesday July eighteenth.  (I shouldn’t complain.  All but two days were free because we were there for repair services.  We spent money on custom work but we saved money on daily maintenance.)

Above: Charles puts in a small reading light under the cabinet over my passenger chair so I can see to read. Right: With the kitchen slide in, we can still get at the food in our kitchen cupboard by opening the door on the right.

We decided to not repeat our former mistakes of overly long driving days.  We planned shorter increments on our homeward bound journey.  I am embarrassed to confess that I was curious to see Graceland and thought perhaps we could stop in Memphis to visit this famous tourist icon.  The trip from Red Bay was only 150 miles and it was an easy drive.  We arrived about 1:00 PM.

We stayed at T. O Fuller State Park in the southwest portion of Memphis about eight miles from Graceland.  Built by the CCC, it is a very pretty park with trees and lawns and generous size campsites.  After the gravel gray of the Allegro Campground we were simply pleased to be in park-like surroundings.  I couldn’t get over the abundance of green.  In fact, we were so excited about it that we decided to shop for groceries and buy charcoal to BBQ steaks at the grill and sit at the picnic table provided by the camp.

We set out to find Graceland and bought advance tickets for nine the next morning.  Then we decided to explore and we headed for Beale St. in downtown Memphis.  Nearby we ran into the riverfront parks and scenic boulevards along the Mississippi River.  We parked at the Visitor’s Center and walked about.  As usual it was terribly hot but it was wonderful to see the scenes of the river and the city skyline.  I think I was just excited to be near a big city.  Oh, the possibilities!

At the Memphis Visitor's Center standing on the Riverwalk. Left: Looking northwest toward the Mississippi River. Right: Looking east toward the downtown and Beale St. The monorail is going to Mud Island. 7/18/07
Driving along the Riverwalk we stop to look south at the riverboats and then back at the bridge beyond the Visitor's Center. 7/18/07
Further south at the Tom Lee Memorial, we stop to look northward up the river. 7/18/07
The Tom Lee Memorial as seen towards the river and on the bluffs above the river. The riverfront park is named after Lee who used his small boat to save 32 people from drowning May 8, 1925, after their excursion steamer the M.E. Norman sank in the Mississippi River. Lee could not swim. Above: One of the houses on the bluff overlooking the river. 7/18/07

Throughout the south we have been surprised that we cannot easily find grocery stores or places to stop and eat breakfast.  Our location near Graceland was in an area that seemed very poor.  We drove for miles on several major streets and never found anything more than gas station fast food groceries.  Finally we found a Piggly Wiggly but we were in for more surprises — no steaks such as a T-bone to be had.  Only the poorest cuts of meat were available and nothing better than Wonder Bread in the bakery section.  I did find a loaf of prepared garlic bread.

It was late and we were tired when we got back to the bus but Dennis started charcoal and I started baked potatoes and peas I bought from my Red Bay farmer.  A second look at them told me they must be fresh black-eyed peas.  I boiled them in water the same way I would regular peas and they seemed to turn out OK.  I brought out some leftover guacamole and chips and the heated garlic bread to Dennis at the picnic table.  We sat and ate these snacks while the coals got hot.  We were in shade under trees but at 6:00 PM it was still 92º and I felt not only hot but also moist and itchy.  In this condition I constantly suspect some bug has got me and I am very scratchy.  I began to wish we hadn’t planned to eat outside at the picnic table.  Apparently Dennis was thinking the same thing.  When I got up to go inside to finish preparations he grabbed our food and brought it inside.  He finished cooking on the camp BBQ but we ate in non-itchy coolness inside the bus.  Well, that’s the Tiffin motto:  “Roughing it Smoothly.”  We did.

Above: Dennis snacks in our T.O. Fuller State Campground, Memphis, TN while he waits for coals to heat up. Below Left: Site #24 was in a nice, shady, secluded corner. (We are hooked up but the back bedroom slide is not out.) Below Right: There are wide lawns in front of the campsite. Tall trees are like islands in the middle of these lawns.

Our visit to Graceland the next morning turned out to be much more than I anticipated.  Picking up our tickets was very irritating.  People could buy a new ticket faster than the reserved tickets could be processed.  So I started out being very annoyed as we were loaded on the tour bus and carted across the street to the Graceland mansion.  But once the tour started I became fascinated with all that we saw in this old home (built in the thirties).  We were given headsets and tape players and they were very well arranged.  We could program them with numbers from signs at each display so that we could individually hear about each area.  You get sucked in.  There was more and more and more.  You could go at your own pace.  We were there about an hour and a half.  I began to feel amazed and then stunned.  Finally we arrived at the little cemetery where Elvis is buried with his parents and grandmother.  I came away feeling that the spirit of the man overcame the material.  There were so many relics — but who Elvis was and what he accomplished overpowered this enormous collection.  Lisa Marie and her people did a good job.  I was very glad we went.

Left to right from top: Graceland with bus arriving, front lawn, side lawn, Awards Hall, side of house, front paddock, Elsa, back paddock, pool & cemetery, cemetery, & above Elvis's tombstone. (No flash photos were allowed & I couldn't get my flash turned off so I didn't get any interior shots. I snuck in one in the Awards Hall.)
We came back to the bus to rest in the heat of the afternoon.  But it was still in the low nineties when we left to go see nearby Chucalissa located inside the park.  It is an archeological museum.  The grounds hold the remains of a Mississipian Indian village — the Chucalissa who were Choctaw.  The people built mounds where the leader lived and this was elevated with a new layer of soil each time a leader died.  We climbed and walked all about.  I was surprised that I was able to be out in the hot sun, without shade, for about an hour.  I must be getting acclimated.  I couldn’t have done that two months ago.
Left to right from top: Chucalissa entrance, path to village grounds, garden of beans, squash and corn, mud/stick wall, steps to mound where leaders lived, view towards the garden from on top of the mound, trees and grass on village grounds, Chucalissa boy practicing stickball. (You use two small Lacrosse-like baskets to catch the ball and you try to throw the ball against the pole.) http://www.choctaw.org/culture/stickball.htm

In the evening we ventured out to find a restaurant in downtown Memphis.  I had a list of restaurants with quick descriptions.  I chose one that advertised down-home country cooking with pork chops, catfish and fresh vegetables.  The Marmalade Restaurant and Lounge offers Southern-style dining with live music but I knew we would be too early for that.  We were tired and needed to make an early start the next morning.  Of course there wasn’t a soul in the place when we arrived and we were escorted into a dark restaurant with a small stage and two TVs playing betting games.  Dennis ordered salad and pork chops with a baked potato and salad.  I ordered catfish with French fries and coleslaw together with turnip greens and black-eyed peas.  (Our waitress gave me a recipe for the latter.)  She put on a DVD of the “Soul Comes Home” concert, celebrating the grand opening of the Stax (Records) Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis.  It was recorded in 2003 at the historic Orpheum Theater in Memphis.  We ate in lonely splendor but the food was delicious and we enjoyed our private concert with the likes of Isaac Hayes, Mavis Staples, and Al Green.

I liked Memphis very much but I was not sorry to head north.  Our state park was pretty and quiet. The lawns and trees were beautiful. But I was getting very tired of two months of southern heat and humidity.  The abundance of insects is unbelievable.  I had to comb the dogs at the steps of the bus every time I took them out.  We always discovered at least two or three ticks on each of them.  I saw a butterfly with black wings tipped with white that I’ve never seen before.  And we saw a pitifully homely critter trapped in the light of a lamppost.  Dennis thought it might be a potato bug; he certainly looked like a potato.

On Friday we drove 315 miles north along the west side of the Mississippi River to St. Louis.  We didn’t leave until 10:30 AM so it was a long day.  We pulled into St. Louis RV Park at 6:00 PM.  It’s the only game in town — the only RV Park in the city.  Naturally, being a city park it is expensive and crowded — but it is convenient to the downtown.  We were squeezed in and there was a bad slope — both lateral and frontal.  Dennis put down the jacks and they registered a warning: excessive slope.  So he pulled them up and with trepidation we put out three slides.  We left the kitchen slide in.  For the next two days we wobbled like drunken soldiers but it was better than risking the collapse of an overburdened, slanting jack. 

St Louis RV Park: On the left is an example of how our neighbor handled the problem of slope. On the right is our view of the camp. Notice the smudge upper left that is a chip in the windshield made by a rock while we were driving.

After getting situated, we drove up to "The Hill" a district in St. Louis that looks like a renovated old industrial neighborhood that now offers many shops and restaurants — kind of like a district in San Francisco.  Instead of 87 degrees (as it was in Memphis at night) it was low seventies with a wonderful, cool breeze.  We walked around and then actually chose to sit outside at an Italian-Spanish restaurant where we ordered Tapa dishes for dinner.  From our table we had a view of the quarter moon. I felt like I was back in civilization.

At last, decent weather — Saturday was absolutely beautiful.  We drove downtown and found the garage for the Riverfront Gateway Arch.  It got warm but there was always a delightful, cool breeze off the Mississippi River.  We spent three wonderful hours walking all around this park and admiring the beautiful silver arch from all angles.  This Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is absolutely inspiring.  It makes your heart soar when you look at it.  I absolutely loved it. 

We never went down below to see the museum or go up 630 feet in the elevator.  There were long lines and actually — I was in love with being outside.  After months of hiding indoors in an A/C environment, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy walking around outdoors.  We walked the entire park.  The paths and trees and ponds are all designed to reinforce the shape of the arch.  We walked down the steps to the river and had a snack of Rangoon Crab and Pork Shiskabob washed down with lemonade while we sat on a shady bench watching the people.  (Next time we will do the arch museum and go out on a riverboat.)  Later we walked to the old courthouse, now a museum and looked at their displays.  We saw a movie about the “infamous” Dred Scott case decided there. It made me realize that state courts and supreme courts have gone wrong before and yet eventually our society rectifies these mistakes and recognizes basic human rights. It's a soothing thought.

Just above left is a view of the courthouse as seen from the arch. Just above right is a view of the arch as seen from the courthouse steps. Far left we are crossing the street to the courthouse. I liked the reflection in the glass facade building. Left is the interior rotunda of the courthouse.

The arch is flanked on either side by a loop (arch) walkway with lawns, trees and ponds. The approach is gradual as you are teased by glimpses of the distant arch through the trees.

The large photo with the sun just behind the zenith of the arch was taken at 11:18 AM on 7/21/07.

On Sunday we finally got on I-70 W and began our westward journey home.  It took us five hours to drive about 270 miles across the state of Missouri to Kansas City.  We are staying west of Kansas City in Bonner Springs, KS at the Cottonwood RV Campground.  I thought Missouri was a beautiful state.  It seemed like tree heaven — a place where trees have arrived to live in the perfect environment.  The trees are beautiful and abundant and varied.  The rivers are awesome.  Towards Kansas the land leveled out and we began to see those big fields of corn and distant horizons.

Here’s what I’ve found out.  You can admire scenery and truly believe it is beautiful.  But for some reason it doesn’t touch your heart.  Myself, I like wide-open spaces and distant vistas.  Here, I feel like I’ve come home to the west.  I love the prairies.  Our campground is open and spacious with white gravel and green lawns.  We are surrounded by a rise towards the sky and a dip towards a creek — trimmed with cottonwood trees, of course.  It has a clean, pared down look.  No overflowing woods and vines.  It is hot, but not so moist as the south and my spirit reaches out to blue skies and puffy white clouds.  I love Kansas.  I want to throw my arms up into that sky.  I wish I could ride a horse and simply head out towards that emptiness.  There I could lose the noise in my head.  There I might become a poet.

Oh well.  Maybe not.  I’d probably spend the entire time worrying about stepping on a rattlesnake.

Elsa Walton, Cottonwood RV Campground, Bonner Springs, KS, Monday, July 23, 2007

Cottonwood RV Campground, Bonner Springs, KS as seen from the hill above and facing our bus and car. A rainstorm is brewing. 07/22/07
Elsa Walton, Cottonwood RV Campground, Bonner Springs, KS, Monday, July 23, 2007