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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Memphis Detour

Mississippi River from the vantage point of the new Big River Crossing.

We enjoy a little inland detour now and then.  Our current detour began after we became confident that Hurricane Matthew presented no threat to our boat in the Chesapeake, neither by wind nor water surge. With Northern Star safely docked at Hartge (pro. HAR’chee) Yacht Harbor in Galesville, MD, we drove our Subaru Outback loaded with everything we’d need for a two-week-long “detour” inland.  
Jax with Northern Star beyond

The resident Border Collie, Jax occupied our backseat, while an assortment of boat projects that could be worked on while visiting family were stowed farther in the back.  Two boxes of nonessential odds ’n ends carefully culled from the innards of our sailboat also came with us. Those two boxes have now been successfully offloaded onto unsuspecting family members in Memphis where they will be stored while we continue our sojourn on the water.  (Thanks Natalie and Joe for buying a house with a big attic.)
Jax riding to Memphis in the backseat

The bulk of the drive from the Chesapeake to Memphis is within the state of Tennessee. We made it as far as Knoxville, TN on our first day with the weather system that had contributed to Hurricane Matthew hovering over our left shoulders. Knoxville is situated in the Smoky Mountains part of the Appalachians and was showing off her autumn colors for our arrival on October 9th.  But leaving the Smoky Mountains behind found us on the Cumberland Plateau and then on to the northern rim of the Delta which is Memphis, still sporting green leaves on the trees.
Fried catfish, coleslaw and collard greens

Memphis is fabulous in October!  Warm sunny days perfect to enjoy the outdoors without that ghastly heat and humidity of summer.  Almost makes a sailor think about putting down roots in Memphis.  When I think of Memphis, I think of majestic trees and food to die for!  Barbecue, fried catfish, hush puppies, tamales, shrimp and grits, greens and fried green tomatoes!  All good!  And the desserts! Caramel cake, coconut cake, key lime pie—why are these not staples on dessert menus in the North is what I wanna know?  
Beale Street

For those who have never visited Memphis, there are of course, those standard sights that everyone knows about.  Beale Street comes alive nightly with music; Sun Records is nearby, known as the place where Rock 'n Roll was born.  There, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins became known as the Million Dollar Quartet.  The Rock and Soul Museum is at hand as well as the Gibson Guitar factory. 
Elvis' grave at Graceland

Elvis’ home, Graceland is on the south side of Memphis as you head toward the Mississippi state line.  My husband, having grown up in Greenville, MS, recalled his family driving past Graceland on the way to buy school clothes each fall. “Everybody knew that Elvis lived there.  Nobody bothered him. There were no souvenir shops back then, no tours—just a nice wooded neighborhood on the edge of Memphis.”  Today it is a tourists’ mecca.  
Glass elevator carries guests to the top of the Pyramid

The Memphis pyramid, originally home to the Grizzlies and the U. of Memphis basketball teams sat empty for several years but has now become a Bass Pro wonderland complete with a cedar swamp. Walkways allow close-up photos of giant catfish, enormous Alligator Gar, Needle Nose Gar, and of course, alligators. The pyramid has also become a destination wedding venue, if you can believe that.  A 4-star boutique hotel, the Big Cypress Lodge, lines the outside walls of the pyramid with each room's balcony overlooking the cedar swamp.  After Bass Pro closes up shop for the evening, the subtly illuminated cedar swamp belongs to the hotel guests. Tourists are obligated to visit the Bass Pro pyramid at least once.
A 240# Alligator Gar

If you have the good fortune to visit Memphis before Halloween, you might want to take a tour of the Elmwood Cemetery (est. 1852) which I can highly recommend.  Thousands upon thousands of people take the guided tours to hear some of the cemetery residents (miraculously come to life) tell the stories of their colorful lives above ground.  My favorite was the flirtatious and plucky woman who became a spy for the Confederacy and in her old age moved to Grenwich Village, New York to act in several silent films.  What a woman she was! 
Elmwood Cemetery "living" residents

Memphis has some awesome outdoor spaces that must be seen to be appreciated fully.  Overton Park covers 342 acres within Memphis Midtown and is home to an enormous and very creatively designed zoo, as well as the Brooks Museum.  The Green Line is a biker and pedestrian’s paradise with miles of paved lanes and unpaved trails along both sides of the Wolf River, all of which is now part of Shelby Farms Park.  
Memphis Zoo at Overton Park

The 4,500 acres which comprise Shelby Farms Park was originally the site of Shelby County Penal Farm.  Since 1964, the city has struggled to fashion a new and different future for the land and that vision is now being realized. Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest in the country, more than five times the size of Central Park and has something for everyone.  There are several lakes with various rental watercraft, restaurants for both fine dining and for hiking families, many miles of trails for biking, in-line skating, horseback riding and jumping, zip lining, skate park, woodland discovery park, a dog park with its’ own lakes for swimming dogs and even a buffalo herd! 

Dog park at Shelby Farms Park
As of this past weekend, there is another addition to the City which will certainly become a “must-do” event for all future visitors to Memphis.  One of the old railroad bridges crossing the Mississippi River has been repurposed as a pedestrian and biking bridge.  
The Mississippi from the Big River Crossing

We walked that Big River Crossing bridge last Sunday, from Memphis, Tennessee to a point south of West Memphis, Arkansas.  Just us and several thousand other walkers and bikers crossed the Mississippi last Sunday.  To see the enormous barges churning upriver directly below us was novel to say the least, and the Memphis skyline off to our right….fan-TAS-tic!!  

Arkansas side of the Big River Crossing
Our detour is coming to an end.  Tomorrow we head back to our home on the water, Northern Star.  We say our goodbyes to family here—bittersweet farewells for which we are thankful, because those are possible only when one leaves behind people that are loved.  I have not written about our times with family here—but I assure you, those have been the most important part of our detour inland.  Sometimes when people go off to sea, well-wishers say “Fair Winds and Following Seas.”  I’m offering this wish to all who read this, “May All Your Farewells be the Bittersweet Kind.”

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