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Wanting to travel a little of the road less travelled...

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Dec 19th, 2012, 08:34 PM
  #1
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Wanting to travel a little of the road less travelled...

Hi

I'm going to be travelling to the southern states in late April and early May/2013. This trip will be around 3 weeks in length. In a nutshell, we'll be landing in Dallas and renting a car there. We'll then be making a big loop including San Antonio - east to New Orleans - north to Memphis - then back to Dallas.

Now here's the thing, the big cities aren't the issues, i think i have enough information about them - we're really interested in travelling off the beaten path a little bit. We don't mind travelling two-lane highways or even gravel roads. We want to get a true "feel" of that area and in my experience, visiting small towns and out of the way places is one great way to do that. We want to see the hills of Texas, the bayous of Louisiana, the backroads of Mississippi and as much as possible in between. We want to eat rural food and listen to some good old down home music - country, blues, zydeco... We love taking pictures of old farms and buildings and scenery that hasn't been seen on a million postcards.

Can anyone out there give us some advice and tips? I realize that seeing the "showcase" places are important, and we'll be doing that, but i'd love some advice on seeing some of the sights on the roads less travelled.

Thank you for any advice/opinions that you have to offer...
(i'll be posting this under each of the three states mentioned)
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Dec 20th, 2012, 02:45 AM
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Well, you will certainly need to stay on the two lane highways and drive through the centers of towns. Many intercity (not interstate routes) now bypass town centers, but there is always a business route to take you through the heart of things.

Be aware that mechanized agriculture and urbanization has seriously depopulated some areas that were thriving fifty years ago. The countryside may be wilder than it was a generation or two ago, the towns somewhat grim.

That being said, never miss a local museum if you find one open. Great resources for local information on what to see are the staff of the local public library, and they will have clean toilets as well! Wifi is pretty universal in public libraries so you can keep up with your email and home news.

The American version (or rather 'versions') of the UK full cooked breakfast is ubiquitous in this region, though the content varies. It is cheap, usually terrible for the heart, and delicious. You can ask locally or be guided by the number of cars and trucks parked outside a cafe. These places tend to be local gathering spots as well, and eavesdropping will be fascinating.

Similar spots are good for lunch. You will meet various options for BBQ (not likely to be ribs), fried fish and hushpuppies, Cajun, Tex Mex or even Mexican, and what is known as "meat and three", a serving of meat and portions of three vegetables or salads, some of which will seem quite odd. Like Tuscans in Italy, people in the South add pork to many otherwise vegetable dishes and tend to cook them a very long time. Watch for home made pies or cobblers, usually noted on the menu or on a card on the counter. In Mississippi you will find bait shop cafes, combinations of gas stations, general stores with sporting goods and cafes, all in one. They survive on local trade so are inclined to be good.

All these delights mean you don't eat the free breakfast at your motel, which will be packaged thousands of miles away to be eaten amongst out of towners like yourself, and you never, ever eat lunch at a fast food franchise. There is real food somewhere nearby, though I should say that most people eat lunch at noon in rural communities and the best choices will be gone by 1.

Dinner is tougher, especially in small towns. Partly this is cultural since the main meal of the day in the South and Southwest was eaten at noon. Librarians are your friends in finding dinners, especially if you are looking for places that suit their modest salaries.

You will see a great deal of road kill on the highways and byways, dead wildlife killed by automobiles, and you will see the buzzards circling overhead or gathered on the corpse. This area teems -- absolutely teems -- with wildlife, from wild pigs (boars, really) through ubiquitous armadilloes to deer. They all love to come out at night and stand in the middle of the road, waiting to be run over. It is not a part of the country where driving in the dark is a good idea. Similarly, it is full of poisonous snakes, not perhaps as full as Bill Bryson's Australia, but more than you want to encounter. Be especially careful walking in rocky terrain or stepping over logs or fallen wood.

One last point is that religion is very, very important in this part of the country. The population, whatever their ethnicity, has a huge variety of churches of various denominations, some old, some new. It is by no mean unusual for someone to go to Sunday School and church on Sunday morning, and return for a second service in the evening followed by a Bible study service on Wednesday evening. Attending one of these services could be an interesting cultural experience even if you are not a believer.

I could go on twice as long, but this is general advice. I suppose the last piece of advice I could give is that people will be warily friendly but they are no more likely to be pleased by criticism from outsiders than say, Scots are likely to be pleased by criticism from the English. This area of the country has come a very long way in the past two generations. You are far more likely to see interracial groups eating lunch together than in similar sized towns in the North. Observe, ask questions, share information about your home when asked. Keep criticism to yourself.

Have fun!
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Dec 20th, 2012, 04:54 AM
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See if you can find a very old book called " Blue Highways". it talks about the kind of roads you seek.

Do take the Natchez Trace Parkway on part of your trip.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 07:26 AM
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Agree about "Blue Highways", which is still in print and available from Amazon. Perhaps even better is John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley in Search of America", also in print and available through Amazon. If you have time, of course, see if your local bookstore can order it.

Disagree about the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I drove too many times while living in Jackson, MS, and doing my dissertation in Nashville, TN. It was direct but almost infinitely boring route with pine trees and low speed limits. It may be different between Jackson and Natchez.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 07:33 AM
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I can also recommend "Around About America" by Erskine Caldwell and "Vagabonding in the USA" (1983) by Ed Buryn, both on Amazon. Buryn was one of the great hippie travelers. His older "Vagabonding in America" was better but they want $55 for it on Amazon, and that is a lot of money.

Caldwell was a southerner writing early in the period of change I mentioned above, though he was a southerner without blinders. Buryn makes travel anywhere a revelatory experience.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 08:32 AM
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We just returned from a 4000-mile road trip in Texas and Louisiana. One of our biggest surprises was the beauty of Big Bend NP and the drive on Highway 170 between Presidio and the park. This part of Texas has much to offer including Balmorhea State Park, Fort Davis, McDonald Observatory, Marfa, Alpine, and Terlingua.

Disagree about the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I drove too many times while living in Jackson, MS, and doing my dissertation in Nashville, TN. It was direct but almost infinitely boring route with pine trees and low speed limits.

I was glad to read this. It is my reaction to the Natchez Trace Parkway which I have been reluctant to share because I didn't want to throw cold water on the enthusiasm of others.

HTtY
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Dec 20th, 2012, 08:38 AM
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Hi, you need to do some thorough search on the internet on some travel sites as they would give you the appropriate descriptions of all the places and other details as well.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 08:52 AM
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Wow... I only posted this last night and am happily thrilled with the response and advice so far! I certainly hear you about being observant but friendly and conversational but not critical. I think if you knew me, it wouldn't be a concern. Your advice about finding places to eat is much appreciated. I've found that very often the most interesting conversations can be struck in places where the food is good - good food tends to make people feel friendly it seems somehow. Well there, and I've struck up many conversations in the hours sitting outside on a bench waiting for my wife to finish shopping - haha. Plus, I want to learn what a hushpuppy is! Up here, that used to be a type of shoe!

Attending a church service is actually a great idea. Even as a child, I always enjoyed listening to a choir singing those good old gospel tunes. Is there a denomination where that is more likely to be seen?

And I hear what you're saying about the loss of the "small family farm". The same is true up here also. Although sometimes, if you become lost enough on some back road somewhere, you come across places that haven't changed much in the last 50 years or so - those are the places I enjoy seeing the most.

That's one vote for the Natchez Trace Parkway and one against - interesting...

Maybe I'm being naive, but are there any small towns in either southern Texas, Louisiana or Mississippi that have managed to retain the same feel over the past 40 years or so? Those kinds of places interest us a lot.

"Travels With Charlie..." I've read more than once (Steinbeck is my all-time favourite writer), but I will definitely be checking out the other titles mentioned.

Thank you both so much for your advice and input! It has truly warmed my heart on this cold Alberta December day (it's about -10F here today with around 6 inches of snow). I'm so looking forward to travelling the south, hearing music from the places it was born, eating the food, seeing the cradle of the civil war, seeing in 3D the sights that I've only ever seen in 2D and mostly just meeting people and hearing what they have to say about any old thing at all...

again, thank you... it's very much appreciated...
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Dec 20th, 2012, 09:01 AM
  #9
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Happytrailstoyou and Tanusilvester...

Thanks so much for your input. That's now 2 votes against and 1 vote for the Natchez Trace Parkway.

"Big Bend NP and the drive on Highway 170 between Presidio and the park. This part of Texas has much to offer including Balmorhea State Park, Fort Davis, McDonald Observatory, Marfa, Alpine, and Terlingua." - I'm unfamiliar with all of these names and will definitely be researching these places. Thank you!

I've definitely been researching via the internet and this site is just one of the tools I'm using. I have to say though, after only one day, this forum has helped immensely and is already beginning to reshape our originally planned trip. Hard to beat real people talknig to real people...

thank you both so much!
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Dec 20th, 2012, 12:12 PM
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Some thoughts . . For the trip from Dallas to San Antonio, Go west from DFW on I-20 and then take US 281 south thru a string of smaller Texas Hill Country towns. This avoids I-35 which is both boreing and congested.

From San Antonio, take as much of US 90 as possible east to Houston. Much of it is also I-10, but enough is still there to get a feel for central Texas communities.

You can find excellent BBQ "joints" particlarly, Luling City Market.

From Houston to New Orleans, take US 90 again at Lafayatte La. thru Morgan City and enter New Orleans thru the back door. You will see the nitty gritty of Lousiana and find many great places to eat excellent seafood.

From New Orleans, you can take I55 and get off the beatten path as much as you wish to Memphis as you have time for!

Enjoy the trip and the great food along the way!
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Dec 20th, 2012, 01:55 PM
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thanks so much, Rich! Great backroad tips. I'm marking all of these suggestions on googlemaps as they come in - and "nitty gritty" is what we want to see. Those are the parts that seem more "real" somehow. And for our money, it's hard to beat some of those small towns. Maybe it's because we're both simple country people. We will definitely be hitting the typical tourist spots, but it's just as rewarding to us to see the other side of things also.

Lookin' forward to eating bbq at one of those roadside joints!

Again, thank you!!
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Dec 20th, 2012, 02:12 PM
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I vote FOR the Natchez Trace Pkwy. We took it from Jackson to Natchez. Yes, it is mostly just pine trees and a slow speed limit but there are a few stops for Indian mounds and the like. It is peaceful and if you never take it, you'll never know. I personally won't go on it a second time but everyone should do it once IMHO.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 02:13 PM
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The Big Bend region is out of your way, southwest of Dallas and San Antonio, about 7 hours from San Antonio. If you can spare a few days, it's very much worth your time, especially for someone that wants to travel back roads and go through small towns. It would be quite a contrast from the wetter/greener areas that you're already planning on visiting.

I'm going there for my 4th visit next month, I have plenty of suggestions if you think you have the time to make it over there.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 03:15 PM
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If you want to travel the small roads through the hill country of Texas en route to San Antonio, google Wimberley, Fredricksburg, and Gruene. Wimberley is lovely and has a thriving arts community as well as an incredible Saturday Market. Fredericksburg has strong German roots, isn't exactly small but isn't big either, and gives you a different Texas feel. Gruene (pronounced Green) is fabulous and you won't want to miss the Grist Mill restaurant, where often live music is played.

I could not tell you how to get to Luckenbach, my Dad always drove, but it is a fun stop if you were ever a Willie Nelson fan, or really like any kind of live music Through hill country you can drive a road called the Devil's backbone that gives you great vistas.

When you drive Houston to New Orleans, probably on I-10, stop at Winnie TX to go to Al-T's for gumbo. Alternatively, as you leave Houston you could drive to Galveston, take the ferry across to the Bolivar peninsula and drive that way. It will also loop you up to Winnie to join up with 10 again.

If you have any interest in the above I can try to come back with more details.
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Dec 21st, 2012, 08:46 AM
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Hershey/Wherearewe/Toucan2

Thank you all for your input! So we're now at 2 votes for and 2 against the Natchez Trace Parkway... what to do, what to do? It's interesting to hear people's opinions about this stretch of road - especially considering the fact that every guide i've read on the area says to definitely drive it! Not sure if this is a commentary on the road or on travel guides - hence, why "real people" opinions are so important to me.

Big Bend State Park - man, i took a look at some pics from the area and did a little reading - it looks spectacular! Reminds me of some of the sights we saw in Arizona and New Mexico during a trip we took a few years ago. I would love to hear more about the area if you feel so inclined, Wherearewe. I'm seriously considering rerouting our trip a little to accomodate this area.

Toucan2, thanks for your advice.I think it's advice that we will follow. This route sounds right down our alley. I'd be very interested in any further details that you or anyone has to offer.

Tell me if i'm crazy... i've outlined our general route (above on my very first post). Given that we'll likely spend a few days in San Antonio and a few days in New Orleans and Memphis (i know these cities deserve more time, but we truly are more comfortable in the smaller towns and driving the countryside), I've given us 19 days to make this giant loop. Is that totally unrealistic or do you think it can reasonably be done? I'd really appreciate people's thoughts and ideas about this...

thanking you in advance...
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Dec 21st, 2012, 08:51 AM
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i just feel the need to add one more little post... i want to say how blown away i am by all the responses and input i've been getting - i've been pleasantly surprised. All of this info is going to help shape our trip, making it as enjoyable as possible. We appreciate it soooo much. THIS is why we love coming down into the US to explore and meet folks - folks like you... thank you thank you thank you...
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Dec 21st, 2012, 11:40 AM
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Youo can't "reroute our trip a little" to go to Big Bend. You go there or you go to New Orleans or Memphis. You don't have enough time to do both.

There is only about 70 miles difference from Dallas to Big Bend as from Calgary to Vancouver. Would you suggest that someone going to Waterton Lakes, Calgary, Banff, Jasper and Edmonton take in Vancouver on the same trip? Sure, people do it, but they spend a lot of time in their cars.

Make a special trip to Big Bend. Friends are there right now, and we will let you know what they enjoy.

You can get the flavor of the country in between by watching the movie Giant or No Country for Old Men. It is very different from where you were planning to go.
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Dec 21st, 2012, 12:31 PM
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Ackislander...
Lol, i hear you... and thanks... as you say, perhaps Big Bend is a destination for another time. It's hard to be in the same part of the world and turn my back on the opportunity to see a place as beautiful as this, but i know that you are right. It's never wise to be "destination greedy". I do thank you for turning me onto this place though. I've never heard of it until you brought it to my attention. You've been a great help!
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Dec 21st, 2012, 12:46 PM
  #19
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Another vote for the Natchez Trace. I grew up in Mississippi and lived right on the Trace. The Trace can get a little boring, if you drive on it all the time, but as a one time trip it is a beautiful and relaxing drive. Stop by my former home town, Kosciusko MS-you can walk around the square, visit the shops and find a restaurant for lunch. There is a nice visitor's center right at the Kosciusko exit from the Trace where you can get lots of info on the area.
Hope you have a great trip in the South.
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Dec 21st, 2012, 01:05 PM
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thanks nig! and i think you may be right, i'm leaning towards driving it - i may never pass that way again, afterall... Kosciuko, huh? I'm putting it on my list. Seeing that you grew up there, any other "gems" we should be setting our sights on? I haven't had much feedback yet, regarding Mississippi.
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