Archive | December 2013

Music City

NASHVILLE!

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A place I’ve never been, and always wanted to go – but I almost forgot to plan it into the trip!  Good thing I didn’t, because in many ways it was the highlight of the vacation.

Historic and modern, Nashville is full of striking architecture

Historic and modern, Nashville is full of striking architecture

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you may remember, the object of this journey was to see mountains, and I had decided to spend Monday afternoon in Nashville on my way back home.  At the last minute, I re-arranged the itinerary, putting me in the Music City on Thursday and Friday instead – all the better for music appreciation.

In all, I was in, I think, six different music venues, and heard more bands play than that, which right there made it all worth it – living as I do in an area where you’re hard pressed to find one band playing on a Friday night!  I highly recommend both Roberts’ Western World on Broadway

Robert's Western World is a classic dive honky-tonk on Broadway, still specializing in PBR and hotdogs, and the classic country offerings on their small stage add to the ambience.  We came here first, tried a couple other spots, and then came back for their foot-tapping sounds and unpretentious style.

Robert’s Western World is a classic dive honky-tonk on Broadway, still specializing in PBR and hotdogs, and the classic country offerings on their small stage add to the ambience. We came here first, tried a couple other spots, and then came back for their foot-tapping sounds and unpretentious style.

and the Grand Ole Opry, if you want the classic country experience.  If you want more modern country, or don’t like country at all, the city still has plenty to offer.  Nashville is without doubt a musical destination, its tunes suiting its geography, nestled between the hip towns of the south-east, the old-time Appalachians, the deep south, and the rural Midwest.  I barely scratched the surface, and look forward to going back to hear more!

Langhorne Slim and the Law was one of the smaller, not-really-country bands that I checked out, in this case in an upstairs bar packed full of college students.

Langhorne Slim and the Law was one of the smaller, not-really-country bands that I checked out, in this case in an upstairs bar packed full of college students.

The Grand Ole Opry live radio performance was a wonderful experience - even better than I expected it to be!  We saw about ten acts in two hours, and they each included some personal anecdotes of their musical career.  Act more quickly than I did, and you won't wind up with this obstructed view...

The Grand Ole Opry live radio performance was a wonderful experience – even better than I expected it to be! We saw about ten acts in two hours, and they each included some personal anecdotes of their musical career. Lady Antebellum “headlined,” but I loved the oldest performers the best! Act more quickly than I did, and you won’t wind up with this obstructed view…

There is plenty to do in Nashville if you don’t want to listen to live tunes (but… why would you go there if you don’t like music?).  Historic buildings, sports teams, a lovely river, shopping, plenty of bars, barbecue joints (or hot chicken – that’s a big thing down there).  The downtown area is very walk-able; the touristy area is really only a few blocks square, but outside of that are some fun shops and restaurants, too.  Looking at all of the offerings, I was struck that it would be a fun place to visit with children, though in mid-October we saw more bachelorette parties, family reunions, and anniversaries.  However, remember that I was only there for 36 hours – and everything I saw had to do with music!

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The Johnny Cash Museum had only opened months before we went, and although it was well-done, I didn’t feel that it was worth the hype… or the price of admission.  If  you’ve read or heard much about Johnny Cash (heck, even liner notes would be enough), you’re not going to learn too much here.  I did think it was neat to see his IMG_1402hand-written letters, his official papers, and his stage costumes.  They also went a little more in-depth on his later, less-public life, which was interesting.  There were multiple kiosks with mini screens and headphones, so that you could watch videos of some of his stage or television appearances.  We got in there in the morning, before there were many others inside, and within a half hour it had gotten too crowded to be comfortable, which leads me to believe that it would not be any fun at a busier time of year.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

 

The Country Music Hall of Fame has been on my list for some time, and the museum attached to it is really amazing.  It takes the visitor from the very beginnings of “country” music, with folks coming out of the hills singing harmonies, dancing to jug bands, or strumming true folk songs on guitars, though the modern day with its diversity of sub-genres.   It does a great job of balancing the evolving music, the social forces that popularized or altered it, the distinctive showmanship of the genre, and the values espoused by its performers IMG_1416(whether the gold-plated automobiles or their pious devotion).  It combines text, videos and recordings, glass-case displays, and beautiful architecture.  My only critique is that there is not much that is interactive, so kids may get bored before you do.  The ticket is good all day, so if I had it to do over again, I would go in the morning for an hour or so, then walk around and eat lunch, and come back to digest the rest.  As it was, it was tough to take it all in at once, and I almost missed checking out the Hall itself.

IMG_1423Though the city was busy for the weekend, I found crowds to be mostly manageable, in the middle of October.  It is possible that I wouldn’t want to be there in a weekend in a more popular travel season.  Another lesson learned was to make my hotel reservations online as soon as I found something I wanted.  Waiting only made it too late to reserve the place I wanted online, and when I got there in person I had to pay almost twice as much for the same room.  On a positive note, I did make sure to get tickets to some shows, so I had some entertainment planned out, and I recommend that, as well.  I can’t wait to get back to Nashville again, and would love to hear your thoughts on not-to-miss sights and sounds in town!

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Mammoth Cave

I found myself winding through the hill country south of Louisville as the sun began to set.  There was no need to get off onto side roads – the scenery was amazing from the highway (and the same was true on the trip back north through Lexington).  I was having trouble deciphering the Kentucky State Park campground information, so decided to spend the night at Mammoth Cave National Park.  After a sub-freezing night among the oaks in the campground, I decided to wake up early, pack up quickly, and get in line for the first cave tour of the day.  The second accidental detour of the trip was another wonderful experience!

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The park was busier than I would have expected for a weekday in October, and the tour I was hoping to take sold out with the customer in front of me.  After chatting with the very helpful park staff, I decided on the “Historic” tour, which was also enjoyable.  After my limited experience, I would recommend that you not visit the park as I did!  Plan to spend two full days, and include some above-ground hikes and maybe two different cave tours, one each day.  It really is an amazing natural wonder, and worth a little bit more attention!

The lobby at the park was lovely - a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture.  The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

The lobby at the park was lovely – a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture. The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

Mammoth Cave, unlike many of the other “show caves,” is largely a “dead,” or dry cave.  That is, in most of the cave there are no showy stalactites and stalagmites, no pretty colors with minerals trapped in the calcite, or water dripping into pools.  In fact, as the Historic tour showcases, the cave was dry enough to have had many uses throughout history.  The cave was carved as a channel of the Green River passed underground, eating away at the limestone in the process.  Over millennia, the above-ground river carved a deeper and deeper passage through its valley, and the altitude of the underground portion of the river decreased accordingly.  This created several layers of passages, connected by vertical tunnels, and in the lowest of these, the river continues to flow today (in the cave, they call it the River Styx).   As a result, Mammoth Cave is, with 365 miles of known passages, twice as long as any other cave in the world!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

It is possible to take a hike through the oak- and maple-dominated upland to the point where the River Styx comes out of the ground and re-joins the main Green.  I wish I would have taken that hike, as well as one to areas of the park which contain older-growth forest.  If you go, spend more time than I did, and tell me all about what I missed!

Something Great in the Hoosier State (after all)

I left northern Wisconsin after a half-day of work, hoping to arrive in northern Indiana before making camp for the night.  I picked a spot on the map that was both far enough from the Chicagoland area to mean I was really on vacation, and that had a little campground symbol.  This place was Tippecanoe River State Park, and it turned out to be just far enough out of urbanity that my eyes had trouble staying open by the time I got there.  It also turned out to be a pretty cool stopover.

Large oaks in an open woods

Large oaks in an open woods

 

Arriving in the middle of the night, this state park did not seem very promising, from an “experiencing nature” perspective.  Although a Tuesday evening in October, the campground was quite busy.  Busy with large RV’s, generators running because temperatures were near freezing, and decorated for Halloween.  Apparently there is some sort of annual competition for the best Halloween decorations at this park.  And by “decorations” they apparently mean copious lighted objects, string lights, flashing lights, and other light-type apparati in the orange-and-purple spectrum.  Think your neighborhood’s obnoxious Christmas decorations… in October… in a campground.  Not that appealing for those of us in a tent, but so be it.

By morning light, though, the party lites lost their luster (and got turned off), and there was time for a quick walk to stretch the legs before getting back in the vehicle and driving south.  Turned out to be not so quick, partly because the trail system was a little bit confusing, and partly because it was so darn

Uh...what?

Uh…what?

cool.  The park had a variety of ecosystems, from floodplain forests along the Tippecanoe, to a wetland impoundment, upland white oak woods, grassland, etc.  Most of my hike meandered through the oak woods, and even into a (very) small section of “barrens.”  A few white pines grew here and there in the area, at the southern end of their range, and white oaks grew alongside post oaks near the northern end of their range.  The barrens had many of the same trees and wildflowers that we see in sandy soils of central and northern Wisconsin – neat to see, a few hundred miles to the south.  From a land management perspective, it was immediately apparent that the park staff were doing an excellent job of maintaining an open woods, and keeping invasive plants under control.  Go Hoosiers! (Might be the first time I’ve said that).

Barrens habitat and changing fall colors... several weeks behind northern WI!

Barrens habitat and changing fall colors… several weeks behind northern WI!

Wetland at Tippecanoe.  They had drawn down the impoundment, so only shorebirds were using the mudflats... but I was a little too late in the year for shorebirds!

Wetland at Tippecanoe. They had drawn down the impoundment, so only shorebirds were using the mudflats… but I was a little too late in the year for shorebirds!

If walking around a labyrinthine trail system in deep sand looking at trees isn’t your bag, I’ve heard from a friend that the Battle of Tippecanoe historic site is also in that area.  I missed it in the middle of the night, but if I had it to do over again, I would want to stop there.  Check it out and let me know how it is!