Monday, April 28, 2014

Trip Photos

If you have an interest in checking out more photos from the trip, I've added them to my Flickr feed and created a new collection that contains all my photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's a Wrap

Well, our road trip to the South is complete.  It was a great time, particularly nice to be able to spend it with my parents and Carol.

In the end we did over 2000 miles of driving. Hitting (or at least touching) the following states - Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.  By far and away our two favorites were Tennessee and Kentucky.

For me, the top moments / stops were:
  1. Our power day of Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
  2. Beale Street in Memphis and listening to blues at BB King's and Jerry Lee Lewis' bars.
  3. Shiloh National Battlefield.
  4. Touring the Buffalo Trace and Woodford Distilleries.
  5. Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
  6. Independence Missouri and Harry Truman's home.
I'll update this posting some time tomorrow with a link to where all of the pictures can be found.

Long Ride Back to Kansas City

Saturday was the start of our long trek home.  An eight hour drive from Lexington to Kansas City.  St. Louis is just about right in the middle, so we stopped there for lunch and a look at the Arch.  Time was not on our side here.  With a lot of driving left to go, St. Louis was more of a drive by than anything else:

Mom and Dad enjoying a very sunny day:

Lexington, KY

We spent Friday night in Lexington.  I don't have a lot to pass along regarding Lexington.  It seems like a relatively clean, safe, friendly town.  We arrived at around 6pm and went out for dinner at a place named Willie's Locally Owned.  I was a little confused as to why a Kentucky place serving barbeque would serve only Kansas City style ribs.  The ribs were definitely good, I was hoping for something a little more local than what we got here.

We chose this place both for the food and because it offered live music.  This guy below was a very talented one man show named Derek Spencer:

And here's the final act of the night - Paper Bridges:

Frankfort, KY

Carol, my Dad, and I spent most of Friday visiting distilleries.  Mom spent that time shopping and exploring downtown Frankfort, capital of Kentucky.  After picking Mom up at the end of the day, we made a quick drive above town to the cemetery to visit Daniel Boone's grave:

When you turn around 180 degrees from Daniel Boone's grave, you look down upon the Kentucky River and Frankfort.  A couple seperate shots and a panorama:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bourbon Country

If you ever get the chance to visit the area around Frankfort Kentucky, visiting some of the local bourbon distilleries is very much worth it.  To give you some perspective, these are just some of the distilleries that exist between Louisville and Lexington - Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Heaven Hill.

Buffalo Trace:

Since we were based out of Frankfort today we first targeted Buffalo Trace, which is right there in town.  The history of this distillery is pretty interesting.  I had no idea that these guys bottled so many brands, including Pappy Van Winkle.  Some interesting facts about Buffalo Trace:

1. Distillation has been going on in this site since at least 1773.
2. The distillery remained open during the prohibition era, as a legal distillery.
3. The existing iteration of the business is responsible for such labels as Blanton's, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg, Van Winkle, and others.
4. The roof was taken off one of the warehouses by a tornado a few years ago.  No barrels were lost.  Those barrels were later bottled as a special edition tornado bourbon.

We took the Trace Tour (there are others you can take), which gives you an overview of the distillery process, warehousing, and bottling.  At the tasting we got to sample Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, and some of the Vodka that they've been making.  All very excellent.  I can see a big future for the Bourbon Cream in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some shots from around Buffalo Trace:

First, the building that got hit by the tornado is on the right:

Each time these guys roll out a new x-millionth barrel, they place it in this tiny rickhouse:

With barrels weighing 500 pounds when full, they obviously aren't easily moved around.  Here's the rail system that these guys use to roll barrels between different rickhouses (ricks are what they call the wood rails that the barrels are kept on in the houses - thus rickhouse).

Four Roses:

Later in the day, we took a quick drive down to Four Roses.  This is much more of a pure production site.  We didn't bother with the tour and moved on down the road to Woodford.

Woodford Reserve:

Next stop was Woodford Reserve, home of Distillers Select and Double Oaked.  We took a similar tour to the one at Buffalo Trace; however, got to see some of the fermentation process as well.  Here's our budding bourbon aficionado beside a bubbling mixture of corn, rye, barley, water and yeast:

Again, similar setup of rickhouses and rails for moving barrels around.  The fermentation house is on the left here:

Inside the rickhouse that you see above:

The post tour tasting.  Carol scoring an A by beating most of the class to the bottom of her samples:

Overall Impressions:

I really enjoyed Buffalo Trace.  The place has a great vibe, friendly people, and most of all seems to be a very innovative distillery.  These guys are constantly playing around with different aging tactics, formulations, etc.  As bourbons age in their barrels, they're carefully matching different barrels to the flavor profiles of their brands and reacting accordingly.

When you go to Woodford or Four Roses, they're much more production line type facilities.  Four Roses makes 3 bourbons, Woodford 2.  Four Roses actually distill 10 different mashbills; however, they all get blended to create their 3 different labels.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rolling on to Kentucky

We left Nashville around noon today and headed north to Kentucky.

Our primary goal for the day was to visit the Mammoth Caves and possibly visit a distillery or two along the way up to Frankfort.  Unfortunately we didn't find enough time to get to the bourbon.  That'll have to wait for tomorrow.

As far as size goes, Mammoth Caves is impressive.  Certainly not the most beautiful though.  If you're looking for beautiful caves, I'd highly recommend Horn Lake Caves Provincial Park on Vancouver Island.  We visited Horn Lake last year during our yearly family visit to Qualicum beach.  The Horn Lake caves offer you the chance to see some very interesting calcite formations, very close up.  You see the odd interesting formation at Mammoth, certainly nothing that compares to Horn Lake.

Regardless, here are some pictures from Mammoth caves:

The following column-like formations were the most interesting thing that we saw at Mammoth:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nashville vs Memphis

We've now visited the two cities that we most wanted to see during our time here, Memphis and Nashville.

For being only a 3 hour drive away from each other they have very different feels.  Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee.  Nashville is second largest.  That seems to be where the similarities end.  To me, it feels like Memphis is a big city that's trying everything it can do to be a small town.  Nashville is a relatively small city that's doing just about all it can to be a big town.

For example, within their downtown core, Nashville has recently built a giant convention center, hockey arena, country music hall of fame, and symphony hall with even more big development on the way.  They're doing everything they can here to build a bigger and bigger city.  From a tourism perspective, Nashville tries to milk every cent out of you that they can, whether it be the cost of downtown hotels or admission fees to museums.  Memphis on the other hand seems to be trying to minimize development.

There's also a certain laid back, easiness to Memphis that you don't find in Nashville.

Granted, these are my personal observations after only 2 days in each city.  So maybe I'm reading things wrong.  The bottom line for me is that I enjoyed Memphis more than Nashville.


I don't have a ton to report back on about Nashville.  We took it a little easier here, exploring downtown and getting some laundry done.

Day 1 we went downtown for dinner and caught some live music.

Day 2 we visited the Johnny Cash and Country Music Hall of Fame museums.  Both are quite good.  We were also lucky enough to catch up with Carol's childhood friend Wilson Ochoa who is the Music Curator for the Nashville Symphony.  Wilson gave us a tour of the facility he works in, plus some of the adjacent area, and joined us for dinner on Wednesday night.

Here are some shots from inside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center where Wilson works:

Carol and Wilson out front of the hall:

The view of the Cumberland River:

Deep thought waiting for dinner to arrive:


We spent the remainder of Tuesday driving to Chattanooga.  We then spent Wednesday morning driving up to Lookout Mountain to visit the civil war site at the top of the Mountain.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time summarizing all that went on in Chattanooga during the Civil War.

The bottom line here is that the Union again won the day, this time after U. S. Grant showed up on the scene to break the Confederate siege of the the town.  The Union was then able to drive the Confederates off of nearby Missionary Ridge and effectively give Grant the ability to run all the way to Atlanta.  This was a major win after the Union's recent loss in nearby Chickamauga.

Here's a shot from Lookout Mountain, looking down upon Chattanooga and the Tennessee river:

We didn't spend enough time in Chattanooga to get a real good feel for the town, I will say that it most definitely has a different vibe than other places like Memphis and Missouri.  Even though its a relatively small city, Chattanooga has a young, healthy feel to it.  Certainly not something (health in particular) that you can say about Missouri, northern Mississippi, or Western Tennessee.  It would have been nice to spend more time in Chattanooga; however, we wanted to be able to spend two full days in Nashville, so we headed north.

The Battle of Shiloh

After spending Monday morning in Corinth, we drove north to Shiloh.  Based on the Civil War sites we've seen so far, Shiloh National Battlefield is on a whole different level.  The Park Service has gone to an incredible level to mark out exactly who (down to the division) was fighting where on what day, in what direction and against who.  For us, it was a little bit of informational overload.  I could see how someone who is really in to the Civil War, especially battlefield tactics could spend a few days on this site, particularly if you wanted to walk yourself step by step through the two days of action that occurred here.

Shiloh was fought over two days, April 6th and 7th of 1862.  This battle was of critical importance to the Union.  First, on a bigger scale, the war was not going well for the Union.  They were losing to General Lee in the east and were suffering other big loses in the west.  Secondly, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were in the process of establishing themselves as the guys to drive the Union to victory, failure here may have had broad reaching impact on their leadership of the Union armies in the west and their eventual rise to ultimate leadership of the entire Union forces.  Finally, the Union had a bigger plan in the west, namely driving south to Corinth to take control of the Confederate army's railway capability.  The Union had to have this win.

Day 1 was highly successful for the the Confederates. They had gotten a jump on Grant's forces when the Union inadvertently engaged with them.  The Union was supposed to wait for the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell and his men before attacking.  Instead the Union was engaged with less than their potential force.  By the end of day 1 Southern general Albert Johnston had driven the Union back in to the Tennessee River. 

Late in the day they captured Union General Benjamin Prentiss and his remaining men in an area known as the Hornet's Nest.  This area is large depression in the landscape where Confederate general Ruggles was able to concentrate a large number of guns and blast Prentiss and his men in to submission:

These pictures below show the line that the Union backed up to at the end of day 1.  You can see just how much work has gone in to replicating battle positions in this park:

For the Confederates, the successes of day 1 came at a large cost.  General Johnston had been hit by a bullet behind his knee.  The impact severed an artery and he bled to death.  The Confederates had just lost the man deemed by many to be their strongest general and their man responsible for the entire western part of the war. 

To make things worse, his replacement, General Beauregard preempted the start of day 2's fighting to send a telegram to Confederate President Jefferson Davis alerting him of the South's "Complete Victory".  Meanwhile, Union Generals Buell and Wallace's men had arrived.  The Union was able to use their new found man power to their advantage, routing the Confederates out of Shiloh and back to Corinth.  Apparently Beauregard was unaware of the first rule of software releases - never send out a proclamation of project success until at least a week or two after the go-live date.

What just a day earlier was so promising for the South, quickly became a giant loss in their efforts on the western front.

Here are a few more photos from Shiloh:

This is the Confederate monument:

This is a reproduction of the church that stood in Shiloh at the time of the battle.  Same spot and same design, just a newer building:

Finally, this is Bloody Pond.  A spot where Confederate and Union soldiers alike bathed wounds and got water during the battle:

Corinth, Mississippi

First thing Monday morning we packed up and headed out of Memphis towards Corinth, Mississippi.  Corinth is located right in the northeast corner of Mississippi.

In 1862 / 1863 the Union was carefully focused on eliminating the South's rail transportation capabilities.  That meant taking control of key southern transportation hubs like Corinth and Chattanooga.  Corinth was key in that it marked the junction of the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads.  The Union knew that if they could control this town, they could greatly reduce the Confederacy's ability to move soldiers and supplies to where they would be needed most.  This is why the Union ferried troops up the Tennessee River and attacked Shiloh and it's why they continued on south to Corinth.  Here are a couple shots of the junction point:

The battles for Corinth happened shortly after the battle of Shiloh.  After losing at Shiloh (more on that in another post), Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard retreated south to Corinth establishing a series of gun batteries around the town.  Meanwhile Union General Halleck approached from the north, much like Ninja Cat.  This battle was known as the Siege of Corinth.  Halleck slowly and methodically advanced, dug trenches, then repeated over and over.  Meanwhile Beauregard was engaged in a "secret" retreat from the city, taking his men and equipment south to Tupelo.  When Halleck finally arrived in town, it had been abandoned.

Subsequently, the Union established a large operation in Corinth.  This included a large farm operated mainly by escaped slaves.  The Union also employed (i.e. dollar paying jobs) these same slaves in building a new set of gun batteries closer to the town, such that they were in a better position to defend the South's expected return.

In October 1862 the Confederates tried to retake Corinth.  General Earl van Dorn, who was earlier involved in the battles for Missouri, led the Confederate attack.  Van Dorn's men made a giant push in to Corinth, even taking a couple of the Union's gun batteries and getting in to the town itself; however, the Union was able to push back with reinforcements and what remained of their well placed artillery, crushing the Confederates and holding the town.  Here's a shot taken at the US Park Service's interpretive center, which is located on the site of the Robinett Battery, one of the batteries that were taken by the Confederates when they attempted to retake the town:

In an effort to consolidate their forces at Memphis, the Union would eventually walk away from Corinth themselves.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

National Civil Rights Museum

When I spoke to my boss' boss before this trip, he suggested that it was well worth our while to take the time to visit the National Civil Rights Museum.

I have to say, this is one of the most compelling, well done history museums I've ever visited.  What really gets your attention from the start on this is that the museum is housed inside the motel where MLK was assassinated.  This is it, the old Lorraine Motel:

Over on the left of this picture, you can see a wreath, that commemorates the exact spot where MLK was gunned down.  Here's a closer look from the front of the hotel:

Going through the museum, there's an incredible amount of informative, well presented history of the American civil rights movement.  Apparently we were lucky enough to be here in Memphis right after it was re-opened following a major renovation.  The bottom line here is that to try to capture it all in pictures, or a write-up would be impossible.  You could literally spend days going through all the detail that's available in this museum.  It's incredibly well done and very humbling.

As a person of western/eastern European roots, I have to say that it's a little uncomfortable, at least self reflective to walk through this museum.  Personally, me nor my ancestors had anything to do with the slave trade.  However, as you make your way through this museum, it's hard not to feel at least a little awkward reading about the history of oppression in America and the role of western European countries in the atrocities of slavery.

Add to that the reality of the situation of standing beside a white guy wearing an Ole Miss sweatshirt while standing in the vicinity of the Ole Miss riot section of the museum.  For those who aren't aware of what America went through when James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, I strongly suggest that you watch the 30 for 30 documentary that ESPN produced.  It just kinda makes you shake your head trying to reconcile what the guy was thinking as he got dressed this morning, knowing that he was going to visit this museum.

Moving on to our reality, I really like how this picture of Carol with a sculpture of Rosa Parks brings home the mood of the afternoon.  When you walk on to the front of this bus, a simulated audio clip of the bus driver barks at you to move to the back of the bus.  Obviously, it's nothing like the real fear of the actual event, but it at least makes you think:

Finally, here's an interesting pledge from the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights that we could all get some benefit from considering and living up to on a daily basis:


If you're in Memphis, it's kinda a given that you're going to fall into the tourist trap and visit Graceland.

Despite my dad insisting that that he's a Beach Boys fan, and thus not in to Elvis, we dragged him along kicking and screaming anyway ;-)

I didn't take any pictures simply because there were people everywhere, and I'm sure a ton of pictures that are easy to find on google images.  The tour does give you some better insight into Elvis, his spirituality, and some of the backstage of his life.  The people who run this place obviously have a brand to protect and they do a pretty good job of doing so.

Regardless, no regrets about visiting Graceland.


We arrived in Memphis late Saturday afternoon.  We're staying downtown, which is great.

Memphis has a very walkable downtown.  Plus an electric trolley that goes up and down main street, which makes it even easier to get around.  Last night we walked from our hotel, down toward Beale to have some dinner and get to know the town.  What you get here is a well planned, safe, fun experience.  Living and/or working in downtown Memphis looks to be a ton of fun.  Here's a look at the Main Street trolley:

Our plan for dinner was to try to find a barbeque place that our flight attendant from our San Fran to Kansas City flight had recommended.  It took us a bit of sleuthing to figure out where the "barbeque place down an alley, near the hotel where the ducks walk in to the lobby" was.  The hotel being the Peabody, the barbeque place being Charles Vergos' Rendezvous:

This place is an absolute zoo.  People stream in and out of here.  The wait time for a table was around 45 minutes, so we put our names in and went down the street to the Flying Saucer to get a drink.  The food here is fantastic.  I'm not the biggest fan of dry style ribs (with rub and in this case quite spicy, but no sauce ever added), but these were pretty well done, certainly the best bbq we've had on our trip so far.

After dinner we walked down to Jerry Lee Lewis' bar on Beale street.  I don't know how they handle things other nights of the week, but last night they'd shut the Beale Street area down and turned it in to a Bourbon Street-like experience.  There were people, music and drinks everywhere.  Anyway, lots of fun to finish off the night and Carol rubbing my lucky, bbq stuffed belly:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wilson's Creek Battlefield

So far, Wilson's Creek has been the best civil war site we've visited.  The battlefield is a little west of Springfield, MO.

This battle was the continuation of what occurred at Carthage.  General Lyon marched his army on to Wilson's Creek with the intent of aggressively finishing the Confederate militia.  Unfortunately for him, some poor battlefield communication and lack of ammunition when his army needed it most resulted in him paying with his life.

The National Parks Service has done a great job with this park.  The visitor center, movie, library, and driving tour are first class.  For me, the highlight was the preserved Ray house, which was used as a makeshift hospital following the battle.  It's pretty amazing to stand on the porch of this house that was there during the civil war and look at the Wire Road (transport and telegraph south to Arkansas).  The Wire Road was the reason that this battle came together where it did.  The photo below is looking straight down the Wire Road:

Below is the bed (inside the Ray house) where Lyon's body was placed after the battle:

At the end of the day, all the action in this battle happened at and around Bloody Hill.  Here's a couple pictures of the hill:

The first comes from a re-creation of the structure that State Militia leader Sterling Price planned his tactics.  Bloody Hill is in the background:

Here's a shot of Wilson's Creek:

Just to the northeast of this shot of the creek, the Confederates set up their guns where they could control any movement of the Union off of Bloody Mountain:

And here are some shots of the artillery from Bloody Hill itself:

Lyon ended up meeting his demise a hundred or so yards down the hill from where these guns are placed.