Let the Weather Choose Travel Routes on Roadtrips

Sometimes its better to drive west in order to go east; you'll find beautiful weather, new sights, and new adventures.

Making our way back from New Orleans to Nashville, the sky turned gray and then black. Then the black clouds started swirling. Black swirling skies are a bad sign in the southeast, usually meaning tornadoes. Rather than drive northeast on the Natchez Trace, and along the storm path, we drove west over the Mississippi River into Louisiana, headed north into Arkansas, jumped back over the river into Mississippi, and then straight north to Memphis.

This turned out to be fast, scenic, a new adventure, and an eye-opening drive (but that's a different blog topic altogether). We’d never driven through Mississippi before, just a short drive along the gulf coast after Katrina. The road we took, mostly state Highway 1 North along the river was a two lane road in great shape. There was very little traffic, mostly semis, but it wasn’t congested at all.

The scenery was beautiful, driving up through the rich farmlands of the Mississippi River floodplain. The crops were mostly corn, but a few of the fields had golden wheat growing which was beautiful in the sunlight. The rain from the night before left standing water in many of the fields, which made lessons for Tom about floodplains and farming more relevant.

We didn't want to abandon the Trace
While we really enjoyed the Natchez Trace Parkway, and were actually sad to get off of it in favor or “regular” roads, this rural route provided a pathway to Memphis which helped to wrap up a few loose ends of our educational journey with the kids. Because our destination was New Orleans, the Mississippi River played a big part in how we framed some lessons for Tom. But the Natchez Trace doesn’t follow the river, it begins there. And it exists because of the river. Driving along the river allowed us to a see the farmlands we’d talked about and the shape of the river, and its floodplain. It also allowed us to follow Elvis from his home in Tupelo (which we visited on the Trace) to his home in Memphis and Sun Recoding studio, where Johnny Cash and Elvis recorded.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road! part 3

Day 2: Clear skies and smooth sailing. Tupelo got hit the night before with a tornado, but it's all blown over now and the sun is out for a beautiful day of driving in Mississippi. We took the Trace to Jackson and cut south to New Orleans.

A George Jones video of the Natchez Trace in Mississippi:

Tips for traveling with Kids Number One Bajillion: Origami!

Tinsley and Tom visited the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts a few weeks ago. They didn't blog about it, but I'll cover it quickly: There was (and will continue to be until mid June) an origami exhibit that they found fascinating.

Home they came with origami paper and a booklet. Later that night, the table was covered with i-ching wheels (which are fun to call itching wheels), star boxes, and jumping frogs. It only took a couple of days for them to master (at least from a novice's perspective) the crane.

Last weekend we had a long drive to help the City of Belfast, Maine celebrate my grandfather's 100th birthday party. Origami was a wonderful way to keep Tom busy in the backseat. As with many back seat activities, one must be aware of motion sickness. When we got to the Hotel room, I tried my hand at origami, making a paper cup. My motivation is to find a design that could be folded using a bigger piece of butcher's paper into a "Horking Cup" which is my funny way of saying barf bag.

Eat Lunch Here -- French Camp on the aNatchez Trace

The Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is America's sandwich.
Probably the best version of the BLT is along the Natchez Trace Parkway -- it comes as a triple-decker with home made garlic Tabasco mayo.

French Camp on the Natchez Trace Parkway, mile 180.7, Mississippi.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road, part 2

I'm kind of a pushover. I love almost any good road I'm driving on. The Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route in western Montana is a fantastic road, the Road through Smoky Mountain National Park is a great road, but the Natchez Trace Parkway is really a great road. I don't think I say that because I'm smitten. I think it's the truth. Tinsley will back me up on it. She keeps finding reasons to love it too.

Maybe it's just that the kids were behaving exceptionally well (see Tips forRoadtripping with Kids tip #1 Start 'em Early and Often). They're either totally beaten down and resigned to the fact thet they're going to spend 50% of their lives in the back seat, or they like it. These days, it seems like they like it.

The first 50 - 100 miles are a little windy, but after that, it's nothing but gentle curves, gradual inclines, nice road surface, ZERO LITTER... This would make a fantastic bike ride.

We worked up some stuff for Tom to study before we left because we're pulling him from school to do this. One of the things is a two page map spread of the road and the Mississippi river. I added a bunch of text about the river -- how it works, what grows in and around it, why shrimp in New Orleans are jumbo and consequently, what an oxymoron is (I'll post that stuff soon). Tinsley laid out the page and made my words fit. At the Mississippi Arts Center, she picked up a copy of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. Within the first three pages, he verified all of the things that I had written and she acted so amazed. I guess she thinks I have an active imagination.

Anyway, here's a good tip: If you're driving the Trace (or exploring anywhere in Mississippi River country, buy and read Twain's book before you go (during the trip is OK, but not quite as good). Twain is such a wonderful describer of things and people that it really helps to make the trip fun and interesting for parents and kids alike.

Here's another tip: keep a running tab of animals that you see. We saw tons of turkeys (literally). Which maybe isn't such a surprise. But we also saw a lot of other animals too. Guess which is the strangest animal we saw.

Here's a hint: we saw it in Alabama.
OK, here's another hint: It's not native to Alabama.
Give up?

C'mon, don't give up, it's native to some other continent and it begins with a "C"
Guess what it is.

Nope, guess again.

OK, I'll tell you. It was a camel.

We saw a camel in Alabama.

So when we saw the Zebra, it was a little less surprising. The Zebra may have been more surprising, had we seen it first, but after seeing a camel in Alabama, how could you b e surprised by a striped horse?

We spent the night in Tupelo, Mississippi after visiting Elvis's birthplace and driving by the Tupelo National Battlefield (which is right next to the side of the highway and can be photographed from the car at a stop sign. Probably not worth too much effort, but Tupelo is a great little city, the Hilton Garden Inn is a wonderful place to stay, and the Starbuck's in Tupelo was great (this was where I bought the great country cd).

LL Bean -- A Great Pit Stop

America's most famous outdoor store makes a great 24 hour destination for family travelers. Fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping gear galore. As well as just about anything else a Maine traveler could need...

We're in New Orleans right now. Last week we were in Belfast, Maine helping the city of Belfast celebrate my Grandfather's 100th birthday. They named him Citizen of the Century, which is quite an honor.

On the way home, we stopped in to LL Bean's store. We normally avoid Freeport to keep out of the traffic, but it really is a cool store worth visiting every so often. When I was a kid, my Mom would stop there every time we drove to Belfast. "It's open 24 hours kids, no matter what time you stop there, they'll be open!" I don't know if she was just trying to get us excited about it or if she was genuinely excited about that, but that's what she'd say. Every time. And we'd stop.

The store was renovated since those days, now there's an indoor fish pond, aquarium, and climbing rocks for testing out the boots. And there's a big kids section. All in all it's a pretty cool stop for kids, as long as they understand it's a store, not a playground.

And when you're in Freeport, buy an ice cream at Derosiers, just a wee bit south on RT 1 from LL Bean.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road, part 1

Smooth, scenic, sparsely populated with traffic, tons of history, interesting educational exhibits, bathrooms everywhere you could even hope for, picnic areas, campgrounds, and one heck of a great place to stop for lunch. Oh yeah, and it rains money when you drive the Trace. Well, not money, but sometimes it rains.

This road is one of America’s best backroads, Five stars, four thumbs up (out of four thumbs), and any other accolades that we can give to a road.

We began in Nashville, TN. Music City. Home of the Grand Ol’ Opry. We put AM650 WSM on the radio and headed into the storm that had caused a tornado in Tupelo the night before. We learned that Eddy Arnold had died the previous night, so WSM was playing almost exclusively Eddy Arnold. The rain wasn’t continuously torrential, it was intermittent. We were able to stop along the road to learn about American (and pre-American) history. We spent the night in Tupelo after seeing Elvis’s birthplace.

At a Starbucks in Tupelo, I bought a CD -- Classic American Country. I’ve always been suspicious of cds sold in Starbucks, but the mix is really pretty good. I should have bought the cd in Nashville because it covered exactly the right music to put the scenery through the window into context. As it turned out, that was the day Eddy Arnold died, and Eddy had the first song on the cd -- Cattle Call. Other greats ate George Jones, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty. Our only complaints were that Roger Miller’s song wasn’t the best choice of Roger Miller songs, and there was no Dolly Parton. C’mon, no Dolly?

An Amazing Adventure

We're on the Natchez Trace Parkway today and tomorrow, heading to New Orleans. We stopped at the state line signs between Tennessee and Alabama and met a man taking pictures, just like I was. I guess people that take pictures of state line signs are just naturally drawn to conversation.

Turns out he's supporting a bike rider who's going from Baton Rouge, LA to St Paul, MN. How cool is that?
(pretty cool)

I told him if he had a web site, I'd link to him here.
Here's a journal of his ride:

and here's a site about what he's doing and why:

Happy pedaling, Mick!

Buy Ice Cream Here--Derosiers Market

First Winner of a big Thumbs Up: Derosiers Market in Freeport, Maine. I've been getting ice cream here at Derosiers since I was about five years old. My Dad just kept stopping there. Guess what I'm doing every time I drive through Freeport?

Yup, stopping for ice cream at Derosiers.

This most recent trip, the gal scooping the scoops was smart enough to downsize the kid's scoop sizes, and nice enough to only charge us for one scoop. Because they were small scoops.

And she was a teenager! What gives?

This Gas Staion "Doesn't Have a Bathroom"

Gas stations that won't let little kids use the bathroom have always irritated me. Especially after I fill up the tank with $45 worth of gas. It just seems like a basic hospitality issue.

"Restrooms are for customers only" is fine. But after you fill the tank, and unstrap your three year old from the kid seat, and they walk in having to pee really bad and the man (or lady as in the most recent case) says something like "No, we don't have a bathroom." Right. Like the employees pee out back. Can't they just let one little girl pee?

That bothers me.

Doesn't it always work out that when one tank is empty, the other is full? So it seems like common decency that "service" providers recognize this and accommodate their customers with full-service. Please let us pee!

We at Familyroadtrippers.com have started a Google map of these types of gas stations. I think anyone can contribute to the map (at least I checked a box that seemed to allow it), let's, as a family of family travelers, revolt against these un-feeling hoarders of relief. It's in the name of our kids, not us; heck, we can hold it, right? At least till we get out back.

So here's the first entry on the map of shame: Mort's Grocery in Spofford, New Hampshire:

If you're unable to add to this map, add your stations of shame to the comments section, and I'll add them to the map.

Thank You for Your Road Trip Support!

More than 10,000 Page Visits!
I hate these silly kinds of blog posts, but I'm sorry, I can't help it. We hit our ten thousandth page view since we started this blog, a year and a half ago.

Right now, we're averaging over a thousand visits per month. More than 1,500 last month, a little over 1,000 in March, and over 800 in both January and February.

Thanks for your interest. We've got some great stuff coming in the next few weeks: we're currently in the middle of a mini road trip and I'll begin a list of gas stations that won't let your 3 year old daughter use the bathroon (please add to out list as this is really a public service) and a super pumped up information barrage of Natchez Trace Trail info.

In the meantime, sorry for the self serving entry, but thanks for visiting.