More Roadside Attractions–Graceland to Boone

April 26th, 2016


Enough of Graceland.   I’m heading where it’s warm and sunny and that means Florida and Georgia and Southern Appalachia.  Driving south through Alabama is interesting.


I pass this building for about half an hour and wonder what purpose this huge building serves……it’s a Toyota manufacturing plant–and I’m driving a Toyota!  Cosmic!  My car was likely built here–in fact, I own three gas guzzling Toyotas (1990 LandCrusher, 2007 FJ Cruiser, and this 2015 Super-Sequoia with leather and cameras….but you know, they build the best cars & trucks, period!


This is Flamingo–at the very end of the road in Florida’s Everglades.  It’s 42 miles from the park entrance but is worth the visit.  I rate this the second best campground in the country that I’ve visited;  Spearfish SD City RV Park is the #1 so far.  This campground is spacious, has electric and water (no septic or cable) and, believe it or not,  three bars of ATT reception!   There I run into some Airstream rally participants bound for the Florida Keys and guess what, I’ve never been to one of these (and will likely not attend again), but I did join 174 other Airstreams on Big Pine Key.  It was quite eventful with a swap-meet where I made $60 bucks, a breakfast that would put any three star hotel chain’s continental breakfast to shame and finishing with a macaroni salad dinner (with steak & ham–but only one helping!).  I didn’t take any pictures.  But the evening entertainment was the best I’ve heard in a long time and originally from Alaska!  They are the Redhead Express (four sisters) and the Walker Boys (three brothers = 7 kids in this family) and immensely talented.  I bought every CD they sold and am glad I did.

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Returning from the Florida Keys I take SR-27 up the center past the east shore of Lake Okeechobee–a beautiful drive through sugar plantations and quaint towns.  It reminded me of the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland Australia, without the Tablelands.  However, it’s the agriculture here and the infrastructure of roads that has ‘plugged up’ the “River of Grass” which flows down through Everglades Park.  The Florida Department of Transportation is ameliorating this issue by putting in culverts under both I-75 and S-41 which have essentially dammed (damned?) this flow…..

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At the same time, they’re raising these roads with coral “gravel” berms by the megatons because of……global warming!  Our precious tax dollars at work here–trillions.  This is the true cost of industrialization and I’ll bet in one or two decades we’ll also regret gouging all this coral up and piling it here.  Well, the bugs are so bad here, I’m moving back north to Melbourne (Florida) and Jekyll Island Georgia before cutting in to the Appalachian Mountain Range.



The Blue Ridge Parkway is a long scenic roadway stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains in the south to the northern border of Shenandoah National Park for a full 469 miles.  It is winding and hilly and for a purpose–to follow the ridge lines of Appalachia and expose the ‘smoky’ views seen in the first post above.  My trailer has careened and careered for half of this Parkway so far.   Let’s pull over to some gateway communities surrounding Great Smoky National Park……


When I first visited Gatlinburg about 20 years ago, it was…..well, tacky as hell but smaller.  Today it is even tackier and also bigger and more contiguous with Seviereville, then Pigeon Forge, and finally Gatlinburg.  It is a mind-numbing, endless strip-mall, stretching a good 30+ miles and getting progressively worse over time.  Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge and believe it or not, they approached me to design their adventure-land addition about 7 years ago.  When I went to visit, it was $55 just to park!  I immediately left.


Tacky, tackier, tackiest……Pigeon Forge demands another superlative.


No comment……you want to see more?  Look here on Google search.  I don’t want to post these here as there are too many and further, my server probably won’t let me post this as it exceeds First Amendment protections.  Imagine 30 or more miles of this!   Sadly, the town of Sevierville is the Sevier County seat and has a wonderful old town, the King Family Library and lots of history.  Lost on this strip mall.


I’m still reeling from my Elvis experience (previous post) so didn’t attend this Museum either.  Gatlinburg has it all–and crowded right up the National Park boundary.   Let’s look at some of the earlier architecture…..

John Cable Mill

This is the John Cable Mill built in the early 1870s and still is functional and attractive.  This was a generation of practicality and simplicity (and taste).  So much so, that I based our poster design on this mill for the 75 anniversary of Great Smoky National Park.


The penstock to the mill is simply designed, can be repaired easily, and accommodate varying amounts of flow.  The low flow rate shown here was enough to drive the mill.


This ingenious flood-gate ensures the waterwheel will turn at low volumes. I’ve been contemplating a similar system in Alaska and now I know how to do it!  I’m still stumped about getting coins to fund my project though.


This is the grist mill and flour was being milled as I watched–I bought a bag of corn flour and wheat flour–organic, fresh, and only ten bucks!


Finally, I wander north to Boone, North Carolina–land of LGBT warfare.  I check each bathroom carefully before entering–so far no problems.  I initially intended to spend one night here at the Flintlock Campground, but ended up staying a week!  The folks here are very friendly, have a 7th day free, it is the home of Appalachian State Teachers College (23,000 friendly students–I enjoyed meeting many of them), the hub of the Mast Stores (seen across the street), an employee owned outdoor focused general store chain–which carries everything.  This week they had a sale on Carhartts and Filson and this is why Ranger Doug hung around so long!  That and the peach cobbler & ice cream they serve here for breakfast.  I just might become a Tar Heel……stay tuned.

Graceland & Garbage

March 26th, 2016

Graceland Banner

Next stop on my tour is………Graceland!  I’m so close driving through Memphis that this is one place I can’t resist.  Since I just spent $33 on a hot bath in Hot Springs Arkansas, I’m ready to get fleeced again!  But, let’s camp first; I find this campground right across the street….!


Everything in Memphis is about Elvis.  In August, they have an Elvis look-alike show and I’m told it’s well worth the trip.  I’m going to start growing my hair out now…..


The Elvis Campground is the second worst that I’ve camped in in my 7 months on the road. The first is Royal Crest in Los Alamos NM.  Elvis Campground escaped the worst simply because it’s level.   As a parking lot, I would rate this poor; and it cost me more than getting into Graceland!    The ravine behind my trailer is full of garbage and if that’s not enough, a big noisy Caterpillar fills it with more garbage early each morning, burying the creek in the process.  The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is still at it!


There are five ways to enjoy your stay at Graceland–and I pick the cheapest and still get slickered–$34.75 with my ‘senior citizen with two broken leg’ discount…..and I have to wait an hour for the tour!  650,000 people visit Graceland each year–$26 million….every year!  Elvis was no fool, and I’m sure lives on somewhere and collects this without raising a finger, or his voice for that matter.  Me?  I hold the record for the fastest Graceland Tour at 23 minutes flat…..and I couldn’t wait to get out of there…..


This is the waiting room……totally tacky!


And just when you can’t take any more….there is MORE!  Yes, those are indeed Pink Elvis Thimbles.  On the shelf in little plastic wrappers below the pink stemware.  Who collects this stuff?


Finally, I get inside Graceland–which by today’s standards is a pretty ordinary house–it does sit on about 13.8 acres and has some horses still.  And Elvis owned four pianos, including this Steinway.  A little class in a sea of tackiness.


This yellow & black room with a porcelain monkey is where he relaxed with three TVs.  Bring on the TV dinners!


Pass me the aspirin–I’m getting a headache!


But, we’re not done yet… is a red waterfall in the Jungle Room complete with green pile carpet and dragon chairs.  It’s beyond words;  truly a toss-up between this and my campsite…..  Read more critiques here.


But you’ve got to give the guy credit–his wardrobe was spectacular!  And he did win a few awards–like the most ever of any musician over all time……  This guy could sell the sizzle!  Move over Mozart!


I want to give credit to Mom and Pop Presley–Elvis was born here in this house in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935.  Seriously, after visiting Graceland, I just had to see this house so I drove 78 miles out of my way to Tupelo.    This house is 14′ X 28′ and built by Mr. Presley Sr. himself.  Like his mentor, Liberace, Elvis followed a stillborn twin–called a twinless twin.  My salute to the parents!


Well, I’m now an Elvis fan–and am convinced he’s still alive…..


….so don’t let this fool you!


Big Bend, the Rio Grande, and Chinese Trinkets

March 5th, 2016


After Balmorhea Springs State park (where I get a great soak, albeit in 40F weather), I head south again through Fort Davis where there is this Snake Museum.  I don’t want to pay to see a rattlesnake–I stepped on one once and that was enough.

Alpine Mural

Alpine, Texas is the gateway community to Big Bend National Park and it is a very nice town–full of art galleries and many fine murals, like this one.  Lawrence Sullivan Ross, a Confederate General founded a Sul Ross university which adds a nice dimension to this town.  This is my base-camp.

Lost Alaskan RV

And how could I pass up this place.  I check in to site B-12 and later move to B-11.  These campgrounds have rules!  Full hookups, too!

WPA Post Office

What really attracts me to this town are the murals, and here is one done by the WPA that still resides in the old post office building in the center of town.

Mexican Maiden

Here’s a contemporary building mural by Stylle Read known as”Big Brewster” which is one of at least six in Alpine.  Here is a link to the rest.

Holland Hotel

The major street through town is West Holland Avenue which boasts a beautiful old hotel, not surprisingly called the Holland Hotel.  Even more coincidentally, it was built by a John R. Holland.  He had a son and a daughter, Crystal, who was murdered there in 1916 along with another person, one of three deaths in the hotel’s history.  It’s claimed to be haunted.  It’s a beauty with a great steak restaurant, but no grand piano….

Mr. Holland

Here’s John and a couple other cowboys in front of the hotel about 1915.

Alpine House

I notice this backyard as I walk around town–great place where many people take pride in their community!  Well, it’s off to Big Bend National Park where I’ve two talks to give…..

Hacienda Cabins

Big Bend is quite a beautiful place with the Chisos Basin hidden just below Casa Grande Peak.  These cabins were built by the CCC, of course and were the basis of our Big Bend WPA style poster.

The Window

If one turns around 180 degrees, this is “the window” looking down several thousand feet to the Chihuahua Desert.  The CCC cabins and this “window” are the basis for this design and Brian Maebius, my computer guru, pretty much nailed this one the first time around.  Here is our competition…..

Impact Poster

This is put out by Impact Photographics who bought out the “Retro Ranger” brand several years ago.  The Retro Ranger was photoshopping all my designs so I politely asked him to cease & desist, which he did, then sold this “brand” to Impact.  Now, I’m not afraid of competition, in fact I welcome it because the more they publish, the better we look.   And it makes a better marketplace for the visitor to our National Parks.  However, what I do object to is…..


….when the competition lifts the Department of the Interior seal off my Department of the Interior poster, commissioned by the DOI itself, and sanctioned by the Secretary of the Interior, herself.  We worked closely with the DOI and DOI Museum to craft this silkscreened print of the 75th anniversary of the DOI Building, and then Big Bend park approves this Chinese lithograph at a roaring $30.  Sorry, but the NPS cannot approve the use of a DOI seal without permission, and neither could I.  I think the NPS has an obligation to educate their visitors and I’m going public with this.  Grrrrr…


This is another one of my pet peeves, off-shore printing of what I call “trinkets” which usually are magnet, patches and stickers.  The bookstores are filling up with this stuff, every store is beginning to look the same and most of it comes from only one source…..

Made in China 1

Here’s another one…..only $3.95!  Everything I do is Made in America–period.  When I came out with a red, white and blue banner “Made in America” Impact put up this page on their website within a week.  I’m not going to comment on the content of this page, but I will anyway:   with a careful read, one could possible realize that there is a huge mark-up on these cheap products.  I challenge Impact to dump offshore trinkets and get down to quality products.

Made in China 2

This is blatent.  The NPS and their cooperating associations can do better for the visitors.  BTW, I gave two talks, one at Chisos Basin Campground and one at Rio Grande Village–and packed the amphitheaters!  For those of you who are new to my site, I talk about the early park history of their poster series, made by WPA-CCC.  You can preview it here.

Rio Grande

Well, back to the Park with this reflection of Mexico in the Rio Grande.


I return to my base camp in Alpine but visit Terlingua enroute.  It’s an old Cinnabar mining area which became a ghost town and is now inhabited by a hippie colony and other artists.  It’s a hoot!  For the next month I’m Amtraking from Austin to Spokane to attend our annual NPS Bookstore Tradeshow–and guess what I’ll be talking about?   Stand by!!!