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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Can Anyone Find A Decent Campground In Memphis?

Memphis, TN

The Thrill Is Never Gone in Memphis

  If you are expecting an Airstream related post, you can stop reading now. Despite the title, this post is not about an Airstream visit. I just returned from a week in Memphis for work. While much of the week was dedicated to work related activities, I had the opportunity to explore some of the restaurants and sites in this unique city. This post is will read a little like the Memphis version of Supersize Me with a little tourism and campground scouting mixed in.

    First of all, the campground situation in Memphis leaves a little to be desired. Since my family will be swinging by Memphis on a Mississippi Delta Tour in the Airstream later this year, I took the opportunity to review the campground options. Armed with my All Stays app, I looked at four contenders. The challenge is to find something close to downtown. Such a place does not exist. 

     First I checked out two parks near Graceland. If you have not had the pleasure, the area surrounding Graceland has the charm of the American side of Niagara Falls mixed with the culture of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Not my cup of tea or most people that read this blog for that matter I suppose. But people do love them some Elvis so Graceland is a big attraction. I have visited before and did not want to spend the time or money on a solo visit. 

     The Elvis Presley Boulevard RV Park is the kind of place that almost kept me from buying an RV. This place is not delightfully tacky. It is just trashy, hilly and surrounded by run down businesses. It is close to Graceland but there is no good reason to stay near Graceland. You can just drive to Graceland from a nicer area if you must. My recommenation would be to stay just about anywhere else in Memphis. After spending a week in Memphis, which can be gritty in some areas, the Graceland area was particularly appalling.

     If you insist on staying in the area, the best camping option is the Graceland RV Park and Campground. It is behind the Heartbreak Hotel. It looks like a standard private park with tight spacing and full hookups. The sites looked level but I just did a drive-by and will probably never return. Memphis is so charming everywhere but Graceland.

    I did check out T.O. Fuller State Park on the south side of Memphis. It is about fifteen minutes from Graceland and far away from anything else I was interested in. The campground itself was decent with nice bathrooms and wooded sites. The park is just located adjacent to a commercial industrial looking area. My biggest gripe is that there is nothing here that screams Memphis. How about something on the Mississippi River?

     Which leads me to me last campground scouting location, the Tom Sawyer Mississippi River RV Park in Arkansas. It is right on the river and about ten or so minutes to downtown Memphis without traffic. This is about as good as it is going to get. They have riverfront sites. Classy and charming are not words I would use to describe this place but it is serviceable for a launching pad and you can watch the barges roll by on the big river. This might be a winner unless I give in to the charms of Yogi Bear. In the final analysis, Memphis is a great destination for a variety of reasons but has few good campground options. If anyone has a better recommendation, I am all ears.

I did meet one Airstream owner while scouting the park. He had a nice Mississippi River view.
    The food of Memphis is justifiably famous. Memphis style southern cuisine is not food for the health conscious. I had to run a good bit to mitigate the effects. It seems every place I visit in the south claims they have the best fried chicken from Nashville to Savannah. I am of the opinion that most fried chicken is good. Even the Colonel a.k.a. Norm McDonald can produce a decent bird. Having said that, I do have to admit that Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is the winner for me. It is crispy on the outside with some heat. Beneath that crunchy exterior is a tender and juicy meet just waiting to clog those arteries. It is like eating proper croissant in Paris. First you get that crunch and then the tender softness inside. What a great start for my first meal in Memphis on this trip.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

     Oh and what have we here across the street? Why it is the Memphis institution know as Gibson's Donuts. They have everything from the classics like glazed and old fashioned crullers to more modern trends like s'mores and bacon topped maple donuts. Gibson's is worth a visit if you are in the area.

    There is a sizable Mexican population in Memphis. I had the carne asada fries and a shrimp taco that was divine at Elena's Taco Shop in East Memphis. This place is just what I like. It is next to a gas station in a no frills location and the line is out the door.

     If you ask a local about the best barbecue joint in Memphis, a lengthy debate will follow. Memphis barbecue is all about the ribs. Many locals recommend skipping Rendezvous but I disagree. Go for the experience. It is an institution in a downtown Memphis alley steps from the Peabody Hotel and the famous ducks. They claim to have invented the dry rub. With a soundtrack playing Ray Charles, Patsy Cline and Al Green, I loved every minute of it. I've been there before and I will definitely take the kids on my Airstream trip.

The ribs at Rendezvous
     There are so many great barbecue joints in Memphis that I had to pace myself. I would say the best ribs is a toss up between the BBQ Shop or Central BBQ. They both just fell off the bone. You must try another Memphis health food called BBQ Nachos. Central BBQ's version was delicious but make sure you get a half order. It can feed my entire family. The locals also recommend the burger at Top's Barbecue. I agree and who would have thought to order a burger at a barbecue joint?

   The two best restaurants I tried outside of the places mentioned above were a Louisiana style restaurant called Second Line and Hog and Hominy. Both places were perfect for cocktails, beer and sophisticated southern dining in a casual setting. The Besh BBQ shrimp and Oyster Po'Boy at Second Line are just things I cannot get at home. Everything and Hog and Hominy looked good. I opted for the Naples style pizzas which they are justifiably famous for.

    One more note on the food front. While visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, I saw that I was near Rizzo's Diner. Go there and order the Lobster Pronto Pup. Put it in your mouth. It is basically a gourmet lobster corn dog. I do not enjoy corn dogs but this is among the best things I have ever eaten. 

The Lobster Pronto Pup
     There are a number of must do attractions in Memphis including Graceland. I had a short window and visited the Lorraine Motel where Doctor Martin Luther King was assassinated outside room 306. I was moved to tears reading the famous words from his prophetic Mountaintop speech.

     On a lighter note, you should take a stroll through the grand Peabody Hotel. I picked up a couple of rubber duckies for Lucy although I missed the famous ducks in the fountain. They had retired for the evening.

The fountain in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel

    Memphis loves neon and bright lights. There are cool signs wherever you look.

    They have plenty of neon in the mammoth Bass Pro Shop compound inside the pyramid.

    The one sight that I would recommend the most is the Sun Studios Building. This is where Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded many of their early and iconic albums. Artists like BB King, U2 and countless others recorded in this studio. The 45 minute tour is a must for any music fan. The blues that originated from the Mississippi Delta are indelibly woven into the cultural fabric of Memphis and all of the artists mentioned above.

     I wouldn't kiss the microphone like many die hard Elvis fans do. I was more impressed that a failed appliance salesman named Johnny Cash recorded Walk the Line here in addition to so many other hits.

The famous Million Dollar Quartet consisting of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins

    After a week away in Memphis I was so happy to return home to my family and plan our visit together next summer. I do not like leaving my family. I prefer the view from a vista view window than any old hotel. I look forward to my return to Memphis.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Currently Wandering In My Inglenook

Trout Manor
Centerville, Ohio

     Last week, Melizza and I had the pleasure of hosting the Curren family for dinner in our home. We met Sam and Jess through our respective blogs and on Instagram. They are a full-time traveling family with three kids, Rachel, Andrew and Cara. The mutual Airstream ownership brought us together but we have much more in common than that. You can check out their inspiring blog here. The Currens are one of a growing number of families that have figured out how to work in a mobile manner. This enables them to spend more time together as a family. It was a pleasure hanging out with them and their wonderful children.
    We have had a few very brief meetings in the past year including one in Dead Horse Point State Park last Spring and another in Ludington, Michigan this fall. Our schedules have not matched up well and I hope to spend more time together in the future. Our first encounter was little more than a photo op in Arizona.
    Suburban life can be difficult when your primary goal is spending time together as a family. The Curren family saw first hand how difficult it was for my family to make time for a dinner. We had to navigate all of our activities to prioritize some time together. I admire full-time travelers because they have made a concious choice to live a different lifestyle. Such a choice is not without its sacrifices. Most notably I would guess is the lack of privacy and space. I think it is safe to say that the Curren kids are thriving in their environment. The Curren kids and Trout kids do not match up based on age but they quickly paired up based on interests.
     The card game crew was comprised of Ethan, Andrew, Lucy and Rachel.

Jack and Care formed the Lego crew. I think Jack enjoyed showing Cara his Parisian Lego set.

    We had a nice dinner and retired to the Inglenook for a chat about travel. They giggled every time I said Inglenook. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an inglenook is a small recess that adjoins a fireplace. I droned on about all the places they should visit on the east coast. They still have not made it to Maine and I was singing her praises.
 All of my Airstream blogging friends are a talkative outgoing bunch. Without the Internet, we would never have met. I cannot wait to take the Troutstream out and hang with the Curren family in the future. Our Airstream happened to be in the driveway. Cara walked in and said that my Airstream was weird. It all depends on your perspective. I think the Inglenook is weirder than the Airstream. Godspeed in your future travels Curren family. 

Andrew and Ethan hanging in the weird Airstream

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Mohican State Park
Loudonville, Ohio

    Since the day we purchased the Airstream, I have been searching for a destination that is easy to reach yet still worth escaping to for a weekend. It only took six years to discover that such a place exists in my home state. The mission seems so simple. Find a place within three hours so I can work on a Friday and be there by the evening. I want a pristine setting. I want activities for the entire family. Mountain biking and kayaking should be on the menu. Also, I would like to avoid albino white trash that frequent many a Midwestern campground. The options for those criteria in Ohio are rather limited. 

     Mohican State Park in central Ohio is the destination I have been looking for all along. I can get there via interstate driving in less than three hours. Mohican has the best mountain biking in the state. The Clear Fork of the Mohican River that cuts a gorge through the park is clear and scenic. It is one of the few rivers that supports a brown trout population year round. There are numerous hiking options. The campground is nestled in a valley surrounding by two ridges. It has been upgraded recently and is the best I have seen in my home state. They even have full hookup sites along the river. Plus, Mohican is close to Holmes County and the largest Amish population in the world. Finally, we discovered Malabar Farm where we cannot wait to return in the Spring. This discovery will make the winter slumber a little more hopeful.

     The end of the camping season is near for us. I am about to winterize the Airstream. I really wanted to squeeze in one more weekend of camping with our friends. My plans to check out Mohican State Park were contingent on the weather. I watched the weather forecast all weekend and made the decision to proceed by Wednesday. 

   I was accompanied by our friends Phil and Kim. This is our third trip with them this year and we cherish our time with them as we have moved out of the old neighborhood. The Cricket trailer Airstream duo was at it again. Camping with them is easy as everyone gets along and we all share laughs and enjoy the simple pleasures afforded by camping. 

    Since the time changed, everyone arrived in darkness. Those skies in Mohican are dark despite being about an hour from Columbus and Cleveland. It is only fifteen miles from the interstate but a world away. Despite having a long day at work, we lit a fire and quickly melted into our chairs to relax. 

    In the morning, we explored the campground. I was very impressed. The campsites are well spaced. They have been repaved recently and the water and electric hookups look new. The crystal clear river flowed right along our site. In the summer, I imagine that this river is full of kayaks, canoes and inner tubes. The weather was a bit too cold for that so we all embarked on a four mile out and back hike along the Clear Fork of the Mohican. 

Maggie enjoying the freedom of untethered hiking

Some stubborn oak leaves clinging to the thin branches.
     Mohican State Park is over 1100 acres with about five miles of the meandering river cutting through the center. It is surrounded by Mohican Memorial State Forest and another 4,525 acres. The gorge is the deepest in Ohio at three hundred feet and over one thousand feet wide at one point. The Clearfork Gorge is notable for its massive hemlocks and strands of old growth white pine. The area was frequented by Johnny Appleseed in the 1800's and the park was created in 1949. 

The Commissary? What is this NBC?

Wagons for firewood is a nice touch

     One of our diversions on Saturday was a visit to the Amish Country in nearby Holmes County. This county is home to over 40,000 Amish. They are descended from Swiss and German Anabaptists who rejected Martin Luther's reforms and choose to live a simple life based on their interpretation of the Bible. They do not drive cars and they do not use electricity. The Amish in Pennsylvania are perhaps more famous but this is the heart of the Amish world. The setting is pristine with rolling hills and their signature black horse drawn buggies gliding by. There are the requisite bakeries, cheese shops and restaurants are scattered throughout the county. We chose to visit the town of Charm, Ohio. It is just off the main highway and is home to the popular Hershbergers Market and the Guggisberg Cheese Factory. This area definitely warrants a scenic drive. I cannot believe this is all within two hours from where I live. It is like a different planet from the topography to the culture.    

  It is against the Amish beliefs to pose for a picture. I asked this gentlemen if it was all right to take a photograph of his buggy. He was happy to talk to me and allowed me to shoot away.

    We also encountered these corn shocks along the Ohio Amish Byway. The Amish still do things the "old way" and this is an example of that. Corn is not only used for grain, but the stalk and leaves are utilized for feed for horses, cattle and sheep. The stalks are cut one at a time and stacked in shocks to dry. They look like teepees of gold and they are a magnificent example of pastoral beauty.

     This early November weekend was punctuated by warm sunny days and cold clear nights. Since it gets dark around six, the fires start early and get hot through the evening. The simple pleasure of sitting around the hot glowing coals is a memory I will cherish forever. It just never gets old for me. Melizza made some Texas chili to warm us up. Maggie jumped up on a chair and entertained us by attempting to hold her head up and stay awake before surrendering to a well deserved slumber.

    Like all great weekends, Sunday comes too quickly. Phil and I planned to get on our mountain bikes but the frosty morning dictated otherwise. No worries. We are happy hanging out with our family and we will definitely be back. We are already making plans for a Spring trip.

This kids piling on my bed to watch a movie

   Before we head south for home, we visited Malabar Farm State Park. This unique park is about ten miles from Mohican State Park in the aptly named Pleasant Valley. This state park is set on the 500 acres plus farm that was once owned by Pulitzer Prize winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield. He grew up in nearby Mansfield, Ohio in the early nineteenth century. He attended Cornell and Columbia before serving in World War I. After the Great War, he became a famous author and a Hollywood writer. Louis was a world traveler living in France between the wars before returning home. He bought three farms comprising over 1000 acres from 1939 to 1941 and spent his last twenty years here. He built a magnificent 32 room home in the native Western Reserve architectural style. It was here that he developed a technique known as conservation farming. He used his fame to advocate for conservation and was one of the first to reject pesticides. Mr. Bromfield was ahead of his time. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Baccall were married here. This park has a number of attractions including house tours, farm tours, hiking and bridle trails, and a campground. We will put this on the list of future places to stay. The future looks bright for Buckeye State camping.

Ganesh is prominently displayed above the entrance

     We wanted to stay and watch the Thanksgiving hearth cooking demonstration but we had to get home so Lucy could play in her piano recital. It was back to reality quickly.

    We returned home with some edible souvenirs from Amish country. Now for the winterizing. Don't worry, we have many adventures planned ahead. The Curren family also know by their blog "Currently Wandering" is visiting our home on Monday night. I may tailgate at a football game. We are also in negotiations with our kids to get away for Thanksgiving. They want to stay home. Can you believe that?