The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was the last national park on our trip, so when we left there we put our hiking boots away, said farewell to the fabulous scenery of the south-west, and headed back towards Sarasota – more than 2,000 miles away. We planned three major stops at cities along the way.
We’d visited Santa Fe before, but the adobe-style buildings are beautiful, so we wanted to see it again. It occurred to us that this was the first city we’d looked around since we were in San Antonio – exactly four weeks previously!
Several of the places we visited were familiar from previous trips: the Plaza, the cathedral, the Loretto chapel with the ‘miraculous’ unsupported staircase. We also visited the State Capitol, and a winery (although surprisingly most of the wine was much too sweet for our taste).
We enjoyed walking down Canyon Road, which has nothing but art shops, one after the other on both sides of the road. The sculptures are fascinating, and many are attractively arranged outdoors, so you can enjoy them without being tempted (or badgered) to buy. In the evening we had dinner at the (aptly if unoriginally named) Pink Adobe, sitting at a table in their atmospheric patio.
We’d never been to Oklahoma City before (indeed, Oklahoma was one of the few states we’d never visited before). While there we walked through the small but attractive Botanical Gardens, and had a quick look at the State Capitol (not the most beautiful, but unique in having an oil well just outside).
The main tourist area is Bricktown, which has shops, restaurants, a baseball park and a canal where you can get boat rides. It sounded good, but we were disappointed. It seemed that they are trying to emulate the riverwalk in San Antonio, but they certainly haven’t succeeded yet. There are relatively few shops and restaurants along the canal, and several of those were closed. The boat trip was not wildly exciting, and we got angry because we had been assured that boats ran every 10-15minutes – in fact, it was more like once an hour!
For us, the most interesting part (highlight does not seem quite the right word) of Oklahoma City was the National Memorial Park and Museum. The park is a beautifully designed memorial to those who died in the bombing of 1995. There are several elements, the most moving of which is the Field of Chairs: an empty chair for each person who died, including smaller ones for the children. In the museum (nothing like a traditional museum) you are taken through the events of that dreadful day, and its aftermath. Shining through the darkness were reports of the amazing response from people near and far who provided help and support in so many ways.
We’d been to Tennessee several times before, but never to Memphis. Indeed, as we discovered, Memphis is barely in Tennessee – it sits in the very south-west corner, between Arkansas and Mississippi. We went on a river trip there, although there was not a great deal to see (as the guide himself said, you don’t go to the Mississippi for scenery).
During our short time in the city, we were able to sample some of the things that make Memphis famous. The most obvious, of course, is music. In Beale Street (reminiscent of New Orleans), we could eat, drink and watch the crowds strolling up and down, while blues music (which has its origins there) can be heard in every bar.
But of course, the most famous musical resident of Memphis was Elvis Presley, so we had to visit his mansion, Graceland, which is just outside the city. The house itself is not as large as you might expect, but there are a number of associated exhibitions, some very well done, others frankly tacky.
Elvis was not the only famous person to die in Memphis. Later the same day, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which is built around the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. You can see the room where he stayed, and the balcony where he was shot. But the museum itself is extraordinarily well done and an extremely powerful reminder of the terrible things that happened not so very long ago, and the bravery of those who fought injustice at great personal risk.
Back to Sarasota
From Memphis it was another 870 miles – two days driving – back to Sarasota. Since our route took us by Tupelo, 100 miles south of Memphis, we stopped briefly to see the two-room house where Elvis Presley was born in 1935: compare and contrast with Graceland! Otherwise, we stopped only for meals, shopping and overnight camping.
We arrived back in Sarasota at 6.40 pm on Saturday 26th July. We’d been away 39 days and 38 nights; during that time we’d driven 8,046 miles across 13 states. We’d camped 25 nights in 23 campsites, and stayed 13 nights in 11 motels/hotels. We’d visited eight national parks, 11 national monuments, five state parks and five cities (not including all the places where we stopped briefly, or just stayed overnight). We’d taken literally thousands of photos. All in all, a great trip!