"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Alabama Shoals, Part Three: Tuscumbia

The Shoals is an area in northwestern Alabama named for the the shape and texture of the Tennessee River as it passed through the area. In order to make the river navigable, dams and locks were built, so that now there is a wide river and a series of lakes that are popular for sailing and fishing. 

A cluster of four towns make up the residential area here: Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. On one lovely afternoon I took a little artist's holiday by myself to explore and ended up spending most of my time in Tuscumbia, known mostly for Ivy Green, birthplace of Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller's birthplace
It's a small, quaint home, typical of the well-kept places we've seen throughout the area. Tucked away in a side structure, I found the video of a dramatization of Helen Keller speaking to a convention of the Lion's Club to be the most interesting part of the visit. Her speech was passionate and bold, as she asked for the Lion's Club support for blind deaf children. Although this was a dramatization, it must reflect the remarkable strength of the woman she was.  

The downtown of Tuscumbia itself seems to be suspended somewhere between collapse and revitalization like so many towns we've seen across the country. I'd say its leaning more toward revitalization right now. The county courthouse is spectacular (sorry no photo), and there is a large attractive local bookstore on the main corner that seems to be the downtown hotspot.

Best of all, from my perspective, is Spring Park, named for the Big Spring around which the town's history and development centered. 

Cold Water Falls
A sign claims that these are the largest man-made stone water falls known. The spring fills a large pond inhabited by fish, turtles and lots of waterfowl. 

It runs out through a dam, into Spring Creek...

under a covered bridge...

and a swinging bridge,

carving interesting caves and shelves in the limestone as it flows away.

In addition to the beautiful water features, the park is equipped with trails, picnic tables and shelters, playgrounds, an amusement park and a children's train that circumvents the whole shebang.  Oh, and the Claunch Cafe where I stopped for a little bit of refreshment along the way.

I think that Southerners really "get" cake. This is the slice of Claunch's unique Hibiscus Cake. Definitely great homemade cake.

That wraps up our week in The Shoals. There's more here to see and do, like the Coon Dog Cemetery, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Muscle Shoals music scene, so I hope you'll come see it for yourself sometime. 

Alabama Shoals, Part Two: Florence

I am loving Alabama! As I've owned before, I am a Northerner. Every time I come south I'm surprised by how beautiful it is. Many Northerner's like Rick and me have a lot of baggage when it comes to the south and we just have to get over it. We were inundated in school with images of poverty, flat cotton fields, little shacks and other horrors. (Neil Young didn't help.) I offer my apologies. 

Our first stop in Muscle Shoals was the Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River. We looked out across Wilson Lake, read about the TVA and drove across the dam into Florence. The town of Florence is a great example of the lovely towns we've encountered here. It's a college town (University of North Alabama), and so it clearly benefits from the influx of people and money brought by the college. The downtown was about five blocks of interesting shops and restaurants.  But more than that, like other areas of Alabama we've visited, there's a pride of place. People seem to be committed to making their homes and towns beautiful.  Thanks Alabama.

We chose to have lunch at Trowbridge's, a longtime local favorite right out everyone's memory of the good ole' days. Think Andy Griffith.

Ham salad sandwich and ice tea

We sat at the counter. The service was fast and no nonsense, but friendly. The prices were from another decade, and the food itself was too. Remember when lunch looked like this? Small plates, small sandwich, small ice cream sundae.

The counter and the menu

For dessert, Rick had a chocolate ice cream soda, which is really hard to find in this day and age. I had Trowbridge's famous orange pineapple ice cream in a hot fudge sundae. Yum. We both left happy.

Oops! Where'd that cherry go?

Trowbridge's Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop, Court St., Florence

We went looking for the Visitor's Center and found the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House. Another one! We didn't choose to take the tour. It looked like the other Usonian homes we've seen, like Kentuck Knob, but maybe more modest. This one is unusual in that it's in a residential neighborhood.  We just stopped long enough to take a few outside pictures.

We finally found the Visitor's Center and what a surprise it was! It was like a high-end museum devoted to all things Florence and the surrounding area. 

Check out the architecture and the floor art representing the river and the shoals that the area is named for.

Lee, the helpful and friendly woman hosting the center that day, directed us on to our next stop, Tom's Wall, or as Tom calls it, The Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall.

Rick and Lee at the Florence Visitor's Center

Tom greeted us at his driveway and welcomed us in, inviting us to join him on a few plastic chairs so he could give us a little talk.

Tom Hendrix

He told us the story of his great grandmother, Te-lah-nay, a member of the Yuchi tribe, who along with thousands of other Native Americas was displaced and relocated to Oklahoma during what has come to be called the Trail of Tears.  After arriving there, she made the remarkable choice to turn around and return, walking all the way by herself back to her home on "The Singing River." This wall is his tribute to her brave five year journey, during which she was in constant danger of being caught, returned or killed.

Tom built this wall by himself, placing "a rock for every step she took." He estimates that he's lifted eight million pounds of stone. In some places it's five feet hight and 27 feet wide.

"This is a sacred women's place" says Tom. 

The wall is shaped into sitting areas for individuals and groups at various places along the walk, including one near the entrance shaped like a womb.

People have come from all over the world to see Tom's Wall, and some send back special rocks to add to his wall. Tom seems happy to tell stories about every rock.

Tom and his wife live in a small house next to the wall. He charges no admission but does sell stone sculptures he's created to help cover the cost of moth balls to keep the copper heads away.  Large donations he passes on to a charity for Native Americas girls. 

It was a soulful kind of visit with Tom and his creation. People like Tom who devote their lives to their passion make life more meaningful for everyone. We headed back home on the beautiful Natchez Trace with our hearts warmed.

The Natchez Trace

(Just have to finish with this plaque from the Florence Visitor's Center. I know it's a favorite among full-timers.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Alabama Shoals Part One: Alloys Park Campground

We've been parked near Muscle Shoals for a week, at the Colbert County Alloys Park Campground. It's a beautiful and interesting area and I plan on writing more about it, but I just wanted to give a quick, happy shout out to the place that was our home for the week. 

Early morning on Wilson Lake 

It's a small park right on Wilson Lake, with a marina for small boats and docks for fishing.  We spent a good deal of time sitting on the docks watching the fish jump. It felt just as peaceful as it looks.

Alloys Park marina

It was off season for camping so no reservations were needed. There are about 20 full hook-up back-in sites and a manager on site. We only saw a few other people - fisherman and hunters.

Alloys Park Campground
Only the two handicapped sites are paved, the rest are narrow and uneven, but manageable. There are also a few partial hookup and tent sites in the woods. Not every site has a picnic table, but there are some scattered around the park for everyone to use. There are two clean, basic private bathrooms with hot showers. We used the campground free wi-fi and found it pretty good.  No laundry.

Our site at Alloys Campground

And here's something you don't see at campgrounds very often. Ever, I could say, but we actually saw several scattered around the area. The county must have mandated storm shelters in the community.

Storm shelter!

Honey and I were most pleased with the trails that wandered through fields, forest and down into the "holler." They are very relaxed around here about dogs, so we walked off leash most of the time.  That is, I walked and Honey ran. We took nice long walk/runs several times a day.

Walking the trails with Honey

There are very comfy bench swings scattered around the park, along the trails and by the water. Very sweet. The whole place felt sweet.

Walking the trail
Yes, "Sweet Home Alabama."  (Thank you Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

More about The Shoals in a bit...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Warming up to Thanksgiving

In this life there are so many things, great and small, to be grateful for, and the approaching holidays have inspired me to think about them more often. Here are just a few of the things I've found myself feeling grateful for this past week.

The Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in Little Rock.

We stayed at the Downtown Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock, and this was the view from our window.  It was just a hop, skip and a jump to the bridge and across the Arkansas River to the Clinton Presidential Park. It made the city seem so much more accessible and friendly. The light show changed all night.

Dog parks.

Every day I'm grateful for dog parks. We frequented two nice ones in Little Rock: McArthur Park (in town and grassy) and Burns Park (across the river in North Little Rock and woodsy).  Then we discovered a spectacular one in Memphis: Shelby Farms Park, which was the dog park to beat all dog parks. One hundred acres!! On the day we visited that worked out to about 1 acre per dog. About eight ponds for swimming, long grass for rolling in, shade for cooling off and many other happy dogs and people to play with.

Gus's Fried Chicken in Memphis.

I am not a fried chicken person. I can go for years without even thinking about it. But when we hit Memphis, I couldn't help but think of Gus's. That's World Famous Gus's. For good reason. We ate at the original location a few years ago for the first time. This time I tried another location, but got the same great chicken. They are small places, tightly packed, friendly, busy, sometimes a little loud. They only serve chicken with a few sides. The chicken is crispy, perfectly cooked and moist inside, and just a bit spicy, so it has a kick. You gotta try it.

RV parks with walking trails. 

Lately this has become my favorite feature when selecting an RV Park, but it's really hard to discern before you get there. Lots of parks say they have walking trails, but that can mean anything, like saying they have a pet area and it's the size of a 3x5 card. But we've found some parks with serious walking trials, like Tom Sawyer's in West Memphis.  (Honey and I saw a fox last night during our walk on the trails.) It's great when the trails are mowed and pass through a variety of landscapes. A couple of other parks with great walking trails are Catherine's Landing in Hot Springs and The Nugget RV Park in St. Regis Montana.

Catherine's Landing's Trail

Free Radio

Remember when all television and radio used to be free?  Boy it's been a long time since I watched free TV. But I listen to free radio all the time. I love the local stations for the community news and weather (especially fires, flooding and tornadoes), what's happening (rodeos, farmer's markets and football games), what's important (like corn, soy bean and pork belly prices), and what kind of music they like (country, rap or mariachi). Thank you free radio.

What were you feeling grateful for this week?