Road Trip IX, Days 17-22, Dallas to North Georgia: Crossing the South While Reading U.S. History

If I had titled this post, “The Confederates Actually Won,” I wonder how many of my white readers would be shocked?

I’m a Southerner born and bred—a Tarheel, as many of y’all know. But by true Southern standards, I’m also not. My mom was born and raised in LA, my dad born in Germany and raised in a weird immigrant/Quaker/Jewish/freethinking mishmash in Philadelphia and LA. They created their own mishmash of Quaker education/ back-to-the-land farm life/ world travel for me to grow up in. So…not REALLY a Southerner.

Our first night in one of the original 7 states of the Confederacy: Texas…in the wonderfully-named Possum Kingdom State Park

Except when I’m not in the South. Starting with college, up north, that’s when the nostalgia kicked in–and living now in the northwest, it still kicks. I find myself longing for the soul food my mom never cooked; when I speak to a fellow Southerner, my vowels lengthen on words like, “I’m fine.”

And that’s not even to mention the great passion The Mate and I share for the Carolina Tarheels.

But now we’re here, crossing the Lower South on our way to NC. And I’m reading These Truths by Jill Lepore.

Even thicker than it looks.

Hold that thought for a sec. First I have to give a shout-out to Dallas, or rather, to the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, where we spent three days with friends. This part of Texas is really into Mardi Gras.

Masked dinner! Not pictured: dinner (jambalaya, cheese grits & greens, etc…)

Maybe it always was, maybe the influx of New Orleans refugees from Hurricane Katrina played a role, but whatever–laissez les bon temps roulez!

Really fun parade, despite near-freezing temps

I was touched and heartened by the mix of races and ethnicities out celebrating together.

“Old” Texas lives…

…with “New” Texas!

And don’t forget Pomeranian Texas! (These guys were part of a whole group of “Recycled Poms”!!)

With my friend, I also walked the Fun Run (note to self: Fun Runs really are fun when you’re not racing! Who knew?). These adorable girls spontaneously danced in front of the start line when their favorite song came on…

They had great moves!

And then there was this little guy, along the course:

Why, indeed? Love it!!!

But the day after we left oh-so-cool Oak Cliff, we found ourselves in Vicksburg. Not often drawn to historical attractions on our road trips, we decided to pay our respects to the Vicksburg National Military Park–site of the Union’s 18-month campaign to capture this all-important center of control over the Mississippi River.

Monument to fallen Confederate soldiers–both sides have many monuments, but I only captured this one’s image

In the past, such a reminder of the viciousness of the Civil War (nearly 4,000 men died on these hills and vales, with thousands more wounded, captured or missing) would just reawaken all the complexity of my feelings about being Southern. As I’ve written in the past, I’m very conflicted. One of my songs tries to express that conflict:

If my old neighbors have their way, I’ll be burning down in Hell

But just ’cause I’m a sinner–it’s nothing personal.

They hate everything I stand for, but I know who they are

So don’t you ridicule their accent when they talk about hellfire.

But, as I mentioned, I’ve been reading Jill Lepore’s book. Let’s get back to that, shall we? It’s a comprehensive history of this country. I have a Master’s in U.S. History, and I’ve taught it to teenagers. These Truths both reminded me of things I knew, and taught me things I didn’t.

Things I knew: 

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!–ruled in Dred Scott, 1857, that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

–The Radical Republicans’ compromise with the ex-Confederates to end Reconstruction left millions of Southern Blacks at the mercy of Southern Whites..who showed none. (Radical Republicans were NORTHERNERS.)

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!– in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional.

–Following the Great Migration of Black Southerners to the North and West to escape Southern terrorism, NORTHERN real estate laws and other restrictions trapped them into segregated neighborhoods

Things I didn’t know, or at least didn’t know enough:

–The People’s Party (the most successful third party in US history), “rested on a deep and abiding commitment to exclude from full citizenship anyone from or descended from anyone from Africa or Asia.” (p. 343)

–“By one estimate, someone in the South was hanged or burned alive every four days” in the first few years of the 20th century (p. 369)

–The 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg included none of the Black soldiers who had fought there. (p. 389)

–The enlightened Woodrow Wilson? “…like other Progressives, Wilson not only failed to offer an remedy of racial inequality; he endorsed it…’Mr. Wilson bears the discreditable distinction of being the first President of the United States, since Emancipation, who openly condoned and vindicated prejudice against the Negro.'” (James Weldon Johnson, quoted on p. 389)

.Given that the entire country ended up committing itself, legally, to the values the Confederacy fought for, Lepore concludes, “the Confederacy had lost the war, but it had won the peace.” (p. 360)

LOOKING AT OUR COUNTRY TODAY, I CAN’T HELP BUT AGREE. 

But then we spent a day and a night in Alabama, at Oak Mountain State Park, near Birmingham.

Lake Tranquility, with blooming maple

Can’t get more Southern than that. We rented a cabin.

You can just barely make out our cabin & car in the trees.

It came with our very own ducks on the doorstep.

Got any bread you’re not using?

We went for a hike. The winter woods were starkly beautiful.

Steep ridges!

The rocks were craggy.

Me trying to show how steep the drop is

The crags were rocky.

You get the idea.

And my soul was full. Because, as my song goes,

It’s another song about the South, y’all–

trying to sort my feelings out, once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?
That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

if she’s my ol’ Mama, I’m a teenager in flight:

do I want to hug her neck, or slap her face?

I am a Southerner, even if I’m not. I get it. People love their culture. That Confederate statue, above? When you zero in on it, you see the soldiers’ suffering. You understand.

Notice the dead man at lower right. Not too glorious.

I hate the white supremacy the South stood for, and I hate that a lot of the South still stands for that. But I also know that our WHOLE COUNTRY stands for exactly the same–de facto. So I guess it’s my whole country I want to hug and slap at the same time.

 

 

 

Road Trip VII, Days 5-9, Dallas to Asheville: Graffiti and Growth

A study in contrasts: that’s what these past few road days have meant. Not the red desert west vs. leafy green east contrast; we left that behind in Palo Duro. Dallas, a few hours to the east, is firmly in the “east” quadrant, climatically speaking: they have humidity. Kudzu. Oaks and maples.

And tacos. OMG, the tacos! Sorry. Sorry. Not food-blogging today.

No, the contrasts we’ve been exposed to are cultural. Our Dallas friend David is a developer who focuses on turning blighted sections of his city into vibrant small-business centers. Most of his lessees are folks whom banks give short shrift: minorities, women, ex-cons. So when David gives us a bicycle tour through Dallas, we see it through his eyes–a fascinating lesson in demographic history.

Elvis played here once…

The most fascinating section of Dallas, to me, was what David called the “free-range graffiti place”–a blighted area whose owners apparently allow graffiti artists to roam freely and practice their skills.

Some definitely more talented than others…but the combined effect is breathtaking.

It does kinda bug me when the punk taggers have to mess up the good stuff.

I got to watch this one young artist beginning an ambitious project. His girlfriend must have a lot of patience.

 

He’s got his work cut out for him.

Leaving Texas, we drove rapidly through Arkansas and Tennessee, trying to stay ahead of a winter storm. So no pictures from those states, sorry. But on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, we stopped for a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that’s where the contrast came in.

The Mate thinks the winter woods look desolate, but I love the way they let me see the mountain’s bone structure!

That hike was a testament to what happens when you take a piece of land and put it out of the reach of human shaping. Authorized in 1926, Great Smoky is the first national park in the east, and by far the largest.

Rhodie thickets: what the word “impenetrable” was designed for

When I walk in those mountains, I feel a sense of ageless resilience. They’ve been inhabited for centuries, and–at least in the park–they don’t give a shit about demographic history.

Why, hello, Spring!

Seems to me, when the legally-protected woods are “bare-ass nekkid” and the mountain’s showing off its bones, Nature is its own graffiti artist, free to roam.

So nice to see the mountainside just plain dripping instead of dripping with icicles. 🙂

We’re headed now to my hometown, Durham, to watch a little basketball and eat a little BBQ. So this blog might suddenly veer from philosophy to fanaticism (GO Tarheels!!!). But never fear–all it’ll take to bring me back to myself is a walk in those bare-nekkid woods.

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)

Road Trip VI, Days 16-19, Scottsdale to Dallas: A Texas-Sized Apology

This is NOT the post I was planning on, until last night. The Mate and I have spent the bulk of these past few days hiking and biking in our favorite Texan discovery: Caprock Canyons State Park. Last year we only had time for a day hike, so this time we were thrilled to have nearly three days here. I was planning to talk about the park’s bison herd, and to post lost of pictures like this:

"Do not approach wild bison," the brochure says. Ummm...

“Do not approach wild bison,” the brochure says. Ummm…

And this:

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma'am. Please, after you...

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma’am. Please, after you…

Or some of the park’s beautiful red scenery:

No, "Texas scenery" is not an oxymoron.

No, “Texas scenery” is not an oxymoron.

In between photos, I was planning on inserting as many snarky comments about Texas as possible, like: “Someone must’ve picked up Texas and shook it, ’cause all the scenery ran down into these canyons.” If you’ve read any of my Road Trip posts from the past five years, you know I love to hate on Texas–its in-your-face attitude, its giant vehicles and lack of carpool lanes, not to mention recycling bins…and don’t get me started on its senators.

But guess what, Texas: something happened, and I owe you an apology.

On our second night of camping, we were to be joined by our friends from Dallas. These dear folks were willing to drive five hours through Friday traffic to meet us at our campsite in the evening and go hiking next day.

When they didn’t show up on time, we thought, “Oh well, traffic,” and got dinner started. (We were out of cell phone range.) But when they arrived in one of those Texas-sized pickups, followed by a state trooper, we turned off the stove. What happened?

Turns out they’d hit a deer, out in the middle of Texas nowhere. The deer died instantly (and mercifully). This is what happened to their little VW:

I still can't believe neither of them was hurt.

I still can’t believe neither of them was hurt.

As they were standing on the roadside, in shock, assessing the damage, a truck drove by, did a U-turn, and stopped to help. The driver was an EMT, and even though our friends were (blessedly) unhurt, I found this very reassuring. This guy insisted on escorting them to the nearest town, Turkey, Texas, 10 miles away. That’s about as far as the now-radiatorless VW could limp.

That guy got our friends as far as a garage, closed for the night. But as they were standing there, discussing their options–motel? None in sight; Rental car? Seriously? This is Turkey, Texas–an old guy stepped out of the convenience store across the street and overheard them. He invited them in to recover, and had them leave their poor mashed car on his driveway. Then he insisted on driving them the remaining ten miles to the park, then escorting them to our campsite. He left them with his phone number in case they needed help the next day.

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

I know, I know. Good Samaritans come in all shapes and sizes. But the fact that this one came in the guise of someone with whom our friends likely shared NOTHING in common politically was especially poignant to us. A bunch of sweet, helpful Texans. Thanks, universe. I needed that.

 

 

Road Trip V, Days 38-41, June Lake, CA to Tacoma (aka Almost Home!): Top Four Reasons to Road-Trip

1. Discover America. More specifically, discover hidden treasures no one ever thought of telling you about. Here are some of our faves from this trip.

Caprock Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo, TX. (In a previous post I mis-labeled it as Capstone.) can’t wait to come back with more time!

I'm coming back!

I’m coming back!

Secret Canyon near Page, AZ. Nothing like as crowded as its famous cousin, Antelope Canyon, but just as breathtaking.

More, more!

More, more!

June Lake, CA. It’s the cute, low-rent version of Mammoth Lakes, which caters to skiers and hikers. We loved its understated beauty and lack of Starbucks.

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Mono Lake. This one’s a bit more famous, having been saved by activists in the 1990s after thirsty LA had drained it down to a dustbowl. But The Mate and I had never taken the time to get off the highway and explore its incredible “forest” of tufa formations.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

Bizz Johnson Bike Trail, Susanville, CA. Susanville?! What the heck is there to do in Susanville? Ride this amazing rail-trail, that’s what: 16 miles through a wild canyon, complete with multiple river crossings, huge Ponderosa pines, flowers, and even some tunnels!

Best bike path yet!

Best bike path yet!

LaPine State Park, just south of Bend, OR. Here the Deschutes River is serene, and you can wind along its banks without having someone blow past you on a $2,000 mountain bike like they do in Bend.

Would've loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We're not that tough.

Would’ve loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We’re not that tough.

2. Renew ties with family members and old friends you might not otherwise see. Last year we visited with a newly-met cousin in Indiana. This year we checked in with some other cousins whose twins are 18 months old–such a precious, fleeting age! We potlucked with friends we made back in 1981 when I took time out from college to be an intern at a little mountain school. And, of course, we got together with our Tarheel Tribe to act like idiots, watching basketball and eating BBQ.

3. Get closer with your traveling partner. My Mate and I joke that any couple contemplating marriage ought to be sent on a 6-week road trip to find out if they’re truly compatible. I call our annual road trip “marriage glue.”

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

4. Fall back in love with where you live. I have enjoyed every single day of Road Trip V. But on our penultimate day, as I visited a waterfall in the Columbia Gorge, within sight of my home state, just the smell of wet fir trees was enough to choke me up.

Ahhhh...welcome back to Ecotopia!

Ahhhh…welcome back to Ecotopia!

Those are my reasons. If you have others, I’d love to hear them. But for now, travel-blogger Gretchen turns back into regular ol’ blog-about-whatever Gretchen…until next year!

Road Trip V, Days 29-31, Dallas to Flagstaff: News Flash, Scenic Texas NOT An Oxymoron!

Texas, I owe you an apology. You know you’re my favorite love-to-hate state. You’ve heard me say that someone must have picked you up and shook you so that all your scenery ran down into one corner, down at Big Bend. Oh, you pretend you don’t give a gosh durn, Texas, but I know I’ve hurt your feelings.

No scenery in Texas? I stand corrected. The Mate and I have discovered Capstone Canyon. It’s a lil’ ol’ state park about 90 miles south of Amarillo. For hikers and bikers and campers like us, it’s a lil’ ol’ slice of joy.

Crumbly red rock striated like glittery bacon with stripes of quartz:

imagePeople-imitating red hoodoos like something you’d see in Arches National Park:

image

Slickrock a la 127 Hours:

image

Balancing white capstones fallen from the canyon rim like giant clamshells dropped by giant seagulls:

image

And…bison?!

image

Yes, bison. Wandering around free. Capstone is apparently home to the Official Texas State Bison Herd. (Note to other western states: do YOU have a bison herd? Why not? Talking to YOU, Colorado!)

Now add to these images a perfect blue sky, 75 degrees with a cooling breeze, the honey scent of blooming mesquite and the buzz of happy bees, and…scene. Bucolic western scene. Within a stone’s throw of Amarillo! Texas, please accept my apology.

How The Mate and I wished we had planned to camp in Capstone Canyon! But we had only paid a day fee, and changing our minds would have meant driving all the way back to the entrance. Plus we wanted to make some miles that night to get us closer to Grand Canyon. Plus there were, ahem…some basketball games we wanted to watch. But we will be back to spend a couple of nights, weather permitting, and I can’t wait.

Leaving the scenic area, Red Rover climbed up out of the rolling redness and suddenly–boom, there we were back on the North Texas plains, and let me tell you, they are PLAIN. As in plain ugly. But now The Mate and I know their pretty little secret: beneath that flat brownness lies a curvy red heart.

If only more Texans knew about it! No one we know has ever heard of Capstone, or its more famous cousin Palo Duro Canyon. On the other hand…maybe it’s better this way. Bison don’t really enjoy company.

Road Trip V, Days 6-8, Bishop to Albuquerque: A Desert Buffet

Foodies, sorry–that’s “desert” with one “s.” You’ll have to try someone else’s blog for the caloric kind. I’m writing about dirt today.

We just spent a day and a night in Death Valley, where the dirt looks like this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

and this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

We were hoping for wildflowers, but a heat wave a couple of weeks ago seems to have sped them through their cycle too fast. We enjoyed a few glimpses of yellow and purple, but most of the color came from…dirt.

The cool thing about America’s deserts, though, is that they come in infinite variety. You may be familiar with the red-rock areas like Arches and Grand Canyon; we are, which is one reason we didn’t route ourselves that way this year.

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

 

Instead we found ourselves discovering little patches of Amazing, like the tiny tip of Nevada where we saw Joshua Trees and wild burros,

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

or the western edge of New Mexico, where the earth seems to have neglected to clean up the results of a brief spell of vomit:

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Of course, this being the weirdest US weather year in recent history, everything we saw while pulling into Albuquerque was covered in snow, and I was too chilled to stop and take pictures. But I think I’ve made my point for now, which is that we Americans are SO lucky!! We don’t have our just deserts–we have a whole glorious smorgasbord of sand and dirt and rock to choose from.

So the next time you feel deserted? Think about it–is that really such a bad thing to be?