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5 Surprising Guests to the Hot Springs in Arkansas

ARKANSAS - PART II

sunny 50 °F

The Hot Springs in Arkansas have been attracting an unusual cast of characters for centuries. This naturally flowing, super-heated water has been used through the generations for a variety of reasons making Hot Springs, Arkansas a hangout for an unusual cast of characters. Below is a list of 5 visitors that you may not expect to visit this national park in the middle of Arkansas.

Visitor 1 — Native Americans

Even before this area was discovered by explorers and settled by Europeans, the Native Americans were lounging in the hot streams flowing out of the mountain. Ever since the hot springs were found, people have been using them for therapeutic and medicinal purposes. The water that comes out of the springs fell as rain 4,000 years ago and seeped deeper and deeper into ground beneath the mountains. The water is naturally heated by pressure and earth's temperature before eventually being pushed back up through unique rock formations. And this is not just a little amount of water, we are talking 750,000 gallons of water a day!

Here is a view of the Ouachita Mountains and one of the naturally flowing hot springs that goes through the city (notice the steam!).

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Visitor 2 — The Sick

I guess sick people will try anything to get better! In the 1800s people believed that hot water would treat skin and blood diseases. Listen to some of these bizarre treatments that people endured:

  • Alternating between lounging in a 150° F hot spring pool to produce perspiration (which was thought to be an effective way to fight disease) and a cold-water stream. While sitting in the hot spring, people also drank the hot water.
  • Sitting in a wooden cabin built over the streams to breathe in the steam to treat respiratory illnesses for hours at a time
  • Enclosing oneself in a "vapor cabinet" (a box that you sat in that secured tightly around the neck) that heated up to 130° F

Eventually the government stepped in and limited some of the more crazy therapies by limiting baths to 20 minutes and showers to 90 seconds (but this may have been to conserve water since the park was becoming more and more popular). The average prescription for hot water therapy was a 3 week session, but people could stay for years.

Today there are still 2 bathhouses that still offer therapies. There are also water fountains throughout the park where you can drink the hot spring water. I drank from one of the fountains, and it tasted good (except it was hot!). They also have taps where you can fill up containers with the mineral water. I saw several cars lined up filling 5 gallon containers full of water.

Here is a picture of a vapor cabinet, a therapy shower and bath, and drinking from the water fountain.

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Visitor 3 — Major League Baseball

Starting in 1886, Major League Baseball teams starting their spring training in warmer climates. When the Chicago White Stockings chose Hot Springs as their training location, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Browns (Cardinals), Philadelphia Phillies, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Highlanders (Yankees) soon followed. Most teams continued this practice through the 1920s, and some continued to send pitchers/catchers through the 1940s. Babe Ruth was one of the many baseball players that loved visiting the hot springs.

Hot Springs was rising in popularity not only with Major League Baseball, but also with the general population. Hot Springs grew and grew, and the bathhouses became much more organized. The national park staff enclosed the streams beneath a street, and Bathhouse Row was created. 9 Bathhouses still sit on Bathhouse Row that runs along the Central Avenue. The park also collected, cooled, and distributed the hot spring water so that the individual bath houses didn't have to collect and cool their own water.

Here are some pictures of me and Jason out front of the bathhouses, a view from the walkway that lines the back of Bathhouse Row, and a view of the underground hot spring.

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Visitor 4 — Gangsters (including Al Capone)

Professional Athletes and the Sick weren't the only ones attracted to the therapeutic hot springs, criminals also flocked to Hot Springs. As far back as the 1880s, gangs were paying police to collect gambling debts. By 1920, ten full sized casino houses (along with smaller venues) and a dog/horse track could be found in Hot Springs. The Hot Springs was reported as a favored retreat by Al Capone.

The lavish lifestyles of professional athletes and gangsters eventually found their way into the bath houses. Everything in the bath houses was made of marble, statues decorated the individual rooms, and ornate stained glass decorated the ceilings. I thought it was very impressive, and invoked an image of Roman Bathhouses where the wealthy would hang out.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that the gambling was forcefully shut down (although there is still a racetrack).

Here are some pictures from the male bathroom (notice the naked women on the ceiling).

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Visitor 5 — Armed Services (Army & Navy)

During World War II, the army considered 20 cities as a redeployment area before selecting Hot Springs. Soldiers were granted a 21-day furlough in the city and received discounted rates at the bathhouses. Soldiers received physical and dental treatment before being deployed. In 1944, the army had taken over most of the hotels since the Army and Navy Hospital couldn't house all the soldiers.

The Army and Navy Hospital still sits behind Bathhouse Row and looks over the town of Hot Springs.

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Visitor 6 — Me and Jason!

We enjoyed our trip to Hot Springs, but it would have been nice to have a little more time so we could have experienced the bath services firsthand!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 08:39 Archived in USA Tagged mountains museum national_park Comments (0)

President Clinton and Little Rock — Woo Pig Sooie!

STATE 29 - ARKANSAS

overcast 50 °F

I'm visiting the final state in the South to see the 42nd President of the U.S. and to try and find a razorback. I'm off to Arkansas!

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Upon arriving in Little Rock, Jason and I started exploring the city at the "little rock." The city was named for a small rock outcropping that served as a landmark while traveling up the Arkansas river and was commonly used as a crossing point to get over the river. "Little rock" wasn't really anything to see, but there was a nice waterfront trail that led to some informative signs about the city. While I read the signs, Jason studied the Native American carvings.

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The waterfront tourist signs and statues were only able to keep our attention briefly, another sign had caught our eye. We saw our first sign of a razorback in the area! The trail took us over the river which offered a nice view of downtown (you can see some of the hotels, like the brick Peabody, and a couple of the taller buildings).

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After crossing the river into North Little Rock, it didn't take long for us to find the razorback. It was huge! In fact, it was over 300 ft long and weighed over 1,500 tons! As you probably guessed, this wasn't the same razorback as the University of Arkansas mascot. In fact, this razorback wasn't even alive. This razorback was the USS Razorback, a submarine built and deployed in the Pacific during World War II. Despite finding its final resting place in Arkansas, the Razorback was named after a species of whale, not a hog. Before boarding the ship, Jason and I played with some of its weapons.

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While I read the memorial for the submarine veterans, Jason sat in one of the deck guns and pretended to shoot enemy aircraft. Both of us were eager to head below deck.

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It was tight moving around in the sub. The ceilings were low and had plenty of objects that could knock your head. The first room we entered was the very rear of the ship which contained bunks and torpedoes. Our guide told us that the bunks always had someone sleeping in them (as soon as someone woke up, they switched places with someone on a different shift). Some of the bunks were under the torpedoes, only allowing about 8 inches of space. I couldn't imagine sleeping pressed against a torpedo as the ship bounced through the water!

Moving from section to section, we had to crawl through the bulkheads (yet another place you could bump your head). The next section we entered contained the controls for steering the submarine. It would be weird to have to drive a ship like this without being able to see (the periscope was in a totally different section of the boat!). There was only 8 people in our tour group, and we barely fit into any space. The typical crew was 80 sailors, but they could have up to 145 on the boat!

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You may have noticed that the controls and signs in the sub are in a foreign language. In 1970 the sub was sold to Turkey, who then used it for another 30 years.

We kept moving forward in the boat, passing the engineering room with the engines (which you can kind of see in the back of the picture of the guide). The sub was diesel powered, which meant that it had to stay near the surface to supply the engines with fresh air. The ship also contained tons and tons of lead batteries to power its systems when it went into a deep dive. Let me put this into perspective, as a sailor you slept in a room with 20 other guys hanging 16 inches above and below you with 2 locomotive-size diesel engines producing deafening noise, running in a metal tube that captured leaking exhaust, producing copious amounts of heat, and are sitting on top of tons of lead batteries. Oh, and everyone is smoking to pass the time. Who is ready to serve on a submarine?

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The guide is holding the emblem of the submarine that contained its kill record and rescue record (I forget how to actually interpret the symbols). We moved out of engineering and onto the bridge. We could look out of the periscope, look at maps, and see the communication equipment. There still wasn't much space, but it looked like a much better work environment than engineering. After walking through another set of bunks we entered the kitchen.

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The best part of living on the sub was the food. Two full time cooks were on staff and cooked nearly all day. The sailors ate very well, and rotated in and out of the small kitchen. There were pictures of the crew in the kitchen, and again I was surprised at the number of people smoking. You would think that fresh air would be at a premium on the boat, especially in the kitchen. We left the kitchen and walked through the captain's quarters and finally into the front torpedo section. This section was similar to the rear torpedo section, except the front had twice as many torpedoes and launching tubes.

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We left the sub and gulped down the fresh air. I had only been on the sub for about an hour, but it felt great to be back above deck. Jason and I had casually decided to take the tour, but it ended up being an incredible experience (granted we are two engineers that enjoy learning about this stuff).

Leaving the sub at the edge of the river, we walked back across the bridge to checkout the rest of downtown. The downtown area was easily walkable, and a lot of people were moving around (I think due to the boat show in the convention center). Several bars and restaurants lined the main drag, but our next destination was the Old State House Museum.

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The museum was interesting and had a lot of information about the people who settled in the area. Several exhibits explored the civil rights and how the Civil War affected the area. The most interesting exhibits had a lot of artifacts from the Civil War. The exhibit also detailed the veterans of the civil war, and how Little Rock hosted some type of Confederate Convention in the mid 20th century. Firstly, I was shocked that cities still held conventions for the Civil War 70 years after it ended (there were pictures of how the town went all out for the event). Secondly, I was astounded that still living veterans attending these events! The last Civil War veteran died in the 1950s. The last widow of a Civil War vet died in 2004!

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We left the museum and headed to grab a bite to eat. We passed the Peabody just before the traditional March of the Ducks and decided to "duck" in and watch. I had seen the ducks at the Memphis Peabody hotel, but Jason had never experienced it before. And you haven't lived until you see a herd of people stand around to watch ducks ride an elevator!

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For those that don't know, the Peabody hotel keeps several live ducks in the fountain in its lobby. Every morning the ducks come down from their rooftop enclosure via the elevator and jump in the fountain. Every evening, the ducks do this in the reverse. Each "march" brings in a crowd of people. A PA announcement came over the hotel speakers letting us know the marching of the ducks was getting ready to begin. The "duck conductor" gave us a well rehearsed speech on the history of the duck march, and then coerced the ducks to walk the red carpet to the elevator.

So far I had learned that Arkansawyers seem to enjoy mentioning the Razorbacks at every opportunity, holding festivals to celebrate the Confederacy history, and watching ducks. But we hadn't seen or heard much of their favorite son, Ex-governor and US President Bill Clinton, until now.

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Jason and I decided to get a quick view of the rest of downtown by riding the tram. The tram pretty much retraced the areas we had already been, but it was nice to get off our feet for a little bit. The best part of the ride was talking to the tram conductor. He was a true ambassador to Arkansas, discussing policies of Walmart (which is headquartered in Arkansas), mentioned the Razorbacks, tried to convince that we should always buy "Made In America" products, and talked about Bill Clinton at length. Despite a staunch republican, this tram conductor spoke of Clinton as if he could turn lead to gold. For the rest of our time in Arkansas, this would be a reoccurring theme. Here is a picture of our tram going over the river with downtown in the background.

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That night, each bar seemed to have some reference to Bill Clinton. We also happened to catch our second razorback sighting.

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The next morning we set off to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library (which was really just a museum to all things Bill Clinton). The bottom floor had display after display demonstrating Clinton's successes in gun protection, job creation, balancing the budget, etc. The displays were very nicely done, but each made it seem like our nation was on the verge of collapsing before he took the top office. And not a single display mentioned Monica Lewinsky or his impeachment. We moved on to some of the other floors to escape the Clinton dogma.

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The next floor described the life of Clinton. Clinton's childhood and college years were pretty inspiring. Clinton was portrayed as always having an interest in politics and being active in the community while still finding time to follow his passion of music. A picture of Hilary and Bill in college was particularly amusing, Bill was sporting a full beard and shaggy hair while Hilary had on "John Lennon" sunglasses. Here is a picture of Bill in high school in his band uniform and one of him with the Razorback pig call.

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The top floor of the museum was the most interesting. The top floor contained a gallery of all the gifts Bill Clinton received from countries around the world when he was president. Some of the things were just bizarre. The coolest rooms were the recreation of the Oval Office when Clinton occupied it and the Cabinet Room. Each president can decorate the Oval Office however they see fit, and most put knick-knacks or items of personal significance in the room. Clinton displayed busts of the presidents that he particularly admired and a collection of pins from across the 50 states.

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The recreation of the room is exact, down to the carpet and the presidential seal on the ceiling.

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The cabinet room allowed us to see where each member of the cabinet sat during their meetings. I took a picture in the Commander in Chief's chair!

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Our Little Rock trip was a success. We saw a Razorback, we learned something new about Arkansas, and we got to know our 42nd President on a more personal level. We are leaving the city now and heading to the Hot Springs for some rest and relaxation!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical Comments (0)

Racing Around Indy

STATE 28 - INDIANA

overcast 45 °F

Indianapolis is a great city. I had planned on traveling up to Indy to take part in the Superbowl festivities, but an even bigger event popped up—Brian is getting married! Megan, Greg, and I drove up to Indianapolis to visit with 4 awesome cousins and watch Brian tie the knot!

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Last time I was in Indianapolis, my cousins took me all over the city. We went to a Pacers game (Indianapolis NBA Team), a Colts game (Indianapolis NFL Team), and even an Ice game (Indianapolis Minor League Hockey)! Despite all that, this trip to Indy would prove to be even more hectic.

One sports complex that I didn't get to see on my last trip was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. On our first day back in Indianapolis, we headed over to see the track and the Hall of Fame Museum.

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We first went into the Hall of Fame Museum. The largest portion of the museum was a collection of cars that had won or participated in the Indy 500 or Brickyard 400. NASCAR cars, IndyCars (open wheeled race cars), funny cars, motorcycles, and land-speed record vehicles were just some of the vehicles located in the show room (some from the early 1900s). Memorabilia and timing equipment lined the walls. A trophy case showed medals and trophies from past races.

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The museum was interesting (especially how they used to keep track of race times using mechanical equipment), but the best part of visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was driving around the track! Unfortunately we couldn't take our own car, or even drive ourselves, but we did get to ride the full 2.5 miles around the track.

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As you can see we were in a bus traveling about 30 miles per hour. Indycars travel around the same loop at around 230 mph, which is a lap every 40 seconds (it took us over 5 minutes for a single lap)! Even at our much slower pace, driving down the straightaway towards the finish line was exciting. The stands towered over the racetrack and I pictured them being filled with screaming fans. This picture shows us getting read to cross the finish line (you can barely see the famous Pagoda on the left).

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track used to be made entirely from bricks (hence the nickname Brickyard). Early races were different than they are today, as each car carried two participants, one driver and one mechanic. We learned at the Ford Museum in Dearborn that Henry Ford raced some of his first cars at the Indy 500. Over time, sections of the bumpy brick were paved over with smoother asphalt. In fact, only 3 feet of the original 2.5 miles of brick are still exposed which is located at the finish line.

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My cousins have crazy stories about attending the Indy 500 and about how the entire area around the race track is a giant party on race weekend (my uncle had to have his spleen removed after being hit by a motorcycle in college). The parking lots were empty on the cold, rainy, winter afternoon, but we decided to get the party started and head downtown to check out the Indianapolis night life.

We stopped to eat at Steak-n-Shake, a diner that serves the "original steakburger". People in Indianapolis are crazy for Steak-n-Shake (which is headquartered there). The burger was delicious, but my milkshake was even better.

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Indianapolis is relatively flat (just like Chicago), so it easy to see the sights while driving around, like Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play and home of the 2012 Superbowl). Indianapolis was also a planned city, which means all the streets were laid out in a grid, and in a city as huge as Indy, you get stopped at plenty of stoplights that give you ample time to take in these sights.

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We had a blast in downtown (the bars don't close until 3 in Indianapolis!), but unfortunately I didn't bring my camera out with me. I also forgot my camera to Brian's wedding, which was a beautiful ceremony in the Indianapolis Historical Center. Since it was a military ceremony, Brian and Courtney walked through the Arch of Sabres (a cool thing to see). Unfortunately I will have to trust my memory with the images of these events instead of saving them here!

Our final day in Indianapolis was New Year's Eve. It was also the first game between the Ohio State (ranked #2 in the country) and Indiana
basketball teams. Despite a million things to do before the party that night, we all took a long break to watch Hoosier basketball. Just like back home in North Carolina, basketball is king in Indiana. The Hoosier fans were intense and passionate, and later they were ecstatic when the Hoosiers won!

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That night, fueled from the adrenaline of the big basketball win, we had a blast at the New Year's party. Power hour, beer pong, minute-to-win-it challenges, and flip cup kept the party lively. This Indy experience was unique to New Years 2012, it's unlikely you'd be able to repeat it (although I'm sure my cousins would love to try!).

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In craziness only rivaled by the Indy 500 party, a royal rumble broke out (I guess that's what happens when you have a wrestling coach, former wrestlers, and plenty of others fortified by alcohol in close proximity). Even Megan got in on the action. Thankfully everyone's spleen remained intact.

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Our trip to Indy was a lot of fun, the trip home was not. It was tough to resist the temptation drive the 11 hour trip back home at an IndyCar speed of 230mph!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:54 Archived in USA Tagged museum professional_sports Comments (0)

Motor City, USA

STATE 26 - MICHIGAN

overcast 25 °F

Michigan is a state filled with lakes and natural beauty. It has more coastline than any state (other than Alaska) and touches 4 of the Great Lakes. Michigan is the 11th largest state (approximately the size of Wyoming, and largest east of the Mississippi River). Although Michigan is the 8th most populated state, over half of that population lives in a single metro area. This metro area is not known for its natural beauty, but rather for being the car capital of the world. The home to General Motors and Ford, Megan and I are headed to Detroit!

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Fittingly, we are not entering Detroit by plane, bus, or boat, but by automobile. Southern Michigan looks exactly like Northern Ohio, farms surrounded by corn fields. But it wasn't long before we passed signs that we were entering Motown.

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The fields slowly transitioned into factories and clouds of steam. We passed the plant that builds the Ford Mustang and the Mazda 6 and another factory that stamps the panels for Ford cars. The oil refinery tried to distract us (unsuccessfully) from the eyesore of pipes and dirty buildings by painting the natural gas containers in patriotic colors or as a giant basketball.

My friends who grew up in Detroit warned me several times that I need to be careful going around downtown (they stared at me in wide-eyed horror when I said I would walk from the casino to Ford Field, a distance of a few blocks). One friend even said that red lights are optional when driving around downtown ("if you feel threatened at a red light, just go through it and get the heck out of there!"). With manufacturing covering up any natural beauty and constant warnings about safety, I was pleasantly surprised when we entered downtown.

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Even the gray skies of a Midwest winter couldn't cover up the history that exuded everywhere in this city. The classic architecture of older skyscrapers standing next to their flashy neighbors told the story of a once-prosperous city with a rich history reinventing itself. Despite stopping at several red lights, no one ever approached me (in fact, no one was really even in the streets since it was so cold out). We parked in the parking deck of the Greektown Casino (it was free parking) and made our way down to the street level.

Now, as I have already mentioned, I talked to several Detroiters in preparation for this trip. I was told explicitly to not try to walk around downtown, but use the public rail system called the People Mover (jokingly called the "Mugger Mover"). Since I didn't see any hooligans running rampant through the streets, I figured it was safe to leave the parking deck and walk across the street to the People Mover station. We paid our dollar to get on and started our tour around the city. While I consulted the city map to get my bearings, we took in the sights of downtown Detroit from the warmth of the rail car. Very few people could be seen on the streets below on this late Friday afternoon, and only a handful of cars were driving around. Downtown looked reasonably clean for such a large city, and the area next to the Tiger's baseball stadium and Ford Field looked a little more lively. The stop we wanted to get off was only 200 yards away from where we originally boarded, so after completing an entire circuit we got off at the jewel of the Detroit skyline, the Renaissance Center (home of General Motors).

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Megan and I walked around the Renaissance Center to reach the shoreline of the Detroit River. We could see the city of Windsor, Canada just on the other side of the river. The sun was starting to set, and it was very cold. We stopped for a quick picture before continuing our walk along the waterfront. In the picture below, Canada is on the left side of the river and Detroit is to the right.

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At the end of the walkway along the river, we stopped at Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Red Wings (Detroit's Professional Hockey Team). Before the Hurricanes moved to Raleigh, I was a big time Red Wings fan, so it was pretty cool to see the arena (the building itself wasn't really much to look at otherwise).

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We wandered into the plaza park between Joe Louis Arena and the Renaissance Center. We continued moving through downtown back towards the Greektown area (where we had parked). It was a little early for dinner, but we were both starving and figured we could beat the dinner rush by grabbing an early bite to eat.

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Greektown is a historical downtown area that features many Greek Restaurants, deserteries, and the Greektown Casino. Originally a Greek neighborhood, the area is now more of a commercial area, but the city and neighborhood took steps to preserve the Greek atmosphere.

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Greek restaurants lined both sides of the street, so I patiently waited (while my stomach growled impatiently) for Megan to check all the menus before finally selecting one. The restaurant, New Parthenon, was authentically decorated and we had a very attentive Greek waiter. We ordered the flamed cheese for an appetizer, which our waiter exuberantly shouted "Opa!" when he lit it on fire, and then a Greek platter that had nearly everything (hummus, pita, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, and lamb shank to just name a few). Great service, great food, and it was surprisingly inexpensive!

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After dinner we walked to a cafe to get some Greek desserts. Baklava, sweet rolls, and all types of cakes filled the cases. It was tough to choose just one, so we got multiple desserts to make sure we didn't miss out on anything!

Megan had never been to Canada, and being this close, she couldn't resist the urge to cross the border. After our desserts, we walked back to the car and headed towards the Great White North.

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We paid a toll on the American side of the tunnel, went under the Detroit River, and arrived at the traffic jam entering Canada. Cars slowly divided into lanes to cross the border. I picked the wrong lane, as the lanes on either side were passing three cars through for every one in our lane. As we pulled up to the Canadian border guard, I put on my cheeriest face and prepared for a pleasant conversation (all the Canadians I know are extremely nice and easy going). This guy was not nice or easy going. Here is how the conversation went:

Guard (before I had even stopped the car): "License plate number."
Me: "Hold on one second, I have to look it up." (it was a rental)
Guard (after waiting impatiently for 5 seconds): "Come on, give me the license plate number."
Me: [license plate number]
Guard: "Why are you driving up from Cleveland?"
Me (slightly confused): "Huh? I've never been to Cleveland, we are driving in from Detroit." (no duh)
Guard: "Who is the car registered to?"
Me: "I'm not sure." (and once I realized this was the WRONG thing to say, quickly added) "Enterprise, I guess."
Guard (now furiously tapping away at his terminal): "Why are you bring a rental into Canada?"
Me: "I got a rental after I flew into town."
Guard: Where are you headed?
Me: "I'm not sure, we are going to grab a bite to eat."
Guard (raising his voice and asking incredulously): "You don't know where you are going?!?"
Me (now realizing I just made another big mistake, I strained to remember the name of the bar we were headed to)
Megan (sarcastically): "We are headed to Danny's," (the name of the all male strip club), "do you like it?"
Me (cutting Megan off): "Sunny's, we are going to Sunny's".
Guard: "Place must not be very good, I've lived here all my life and never heard of it."

At this point Megan was frustrated with this guy's attitude, I was trying to stay polite to the guard and hush Megan, and the guard asked a few more questions before reluctantly handing our passports back. Leaving the guard behind us, we traveled 45 minutes into Canada (I had wanted to find a neighborhood bar far from the border so that Megan could get a real Canadian experience, not just drunken American 19 year-olds).

We pulled up to the tiny neighborhood bar and found two seats at the bar (there was only 25 seats total in the entire place). We were easily the youngest people there by 20 years, and I'm sure the only non-regulars in the place. The bartender took our drink order, and then immediately identified us as Americans. After finding out we were from South Carolina (he didn't understand that there is actually a North Carolina), he asked some friendly questions about the States. A veteran bar-fly sitting next to Megan (who had obviously has quite a few before we arrived), began talking her ear off. Canadian NHL Hockey, working in Alberta (western Canadian Province), Hurricanes hockey, CFL Superbowl, and more hockey were his favorite topics. At the encouragement of her new friend, Megan ordered poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds), a Canadian specialty. As Megan drank more beers, more and more people became interested in the conversation. I had to fight off people wanting to buy us beers (no way I was crossing the border drunk after the experience earlier), and Megan ended up getting her food on the house. When it finally time to go, Megan and a herd of Canadians fought me to stay longer by bribing me with more free beer.

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As we headed back to the border crossing, Detroit's skyline shone across the river. It was pretty impressive.

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After going under the river and emerging on the American side, I was the only car in sight. I slowly headed towards one of the crossing booths, and right before entering the booth I realized that it was closed. I swerved to what I thought was an open lane, and then a series of really quick, bright flashes went off (the kind when you run a red light). My heart dropped as I realized I had probably just tried to run the border and snipers were locking targets on my car. A puzzled guard leaned out of the booth and motioned for me to pull forward. Swerving to switch lanes at the last second, stopping 20 feet before I was supposed to—so much for not looking drunk. The American guard gave me grief about the rental car and asked to search the trunk, but I guess I was more prepared this time to be interrogated. Thankfully we were allowed back into the country and headed to my friend Chris's parents' house for the night.

The next morning, we awoke to find our car dusted in snow and completely frosted over. One more reason for living in the South (or at least having a garage).

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Megan and I drove out of Detroit and headed south to Dearborn, the site of The Rouge, a gigantic Ford manufacturing plant. We were going to the Ford Museum, a massive museum with rooms and rooms of collections. The first thing we see coming in the door? One of the most recognizable automobiles in the world—the weinermobile.

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The first section of the museum we walked through focused on Henry Ford's engine that was used in farming equipment. Giant combines and harvesters stood next to displays showing how Ford's engines helped power Michigan's agriculture. The coolest part? I got sit behind the wheel of the harvester!

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The museum had displays on life in America during the 20th century demonstrating what is was like to grow up in each decade (you could practice hiding under your desk for bomb raids, listen to a radio broadcast of War of the Worlds (that people originally thought was real), dance in an 80s music video, or watch a nickel movie with WWII updates). The museum also had hundreds of cars, including the car JFK was shot in (bringing back memories of investigating the JFK assassination conspiracy in Texas), the bus Rosa Parks rode on when she was arrested (which was cool since Megan and I had just walked the bus route in Montgomery), and the original Ford car.

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There were additional sections of the museum focusing on aircraft, train engines, and humongous steam engines. Most of the sections had displays where you could sit in the aircraft or walk though the train. A new section of the museum was about to open, "Driving Across America", which featured row after row of old cars. And no roadtrip through America is complete without a stop at McDonalds.

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The museum was cool, but it focused more on history and cultural education than Ford and his company. That all changed once we boarded the bus to go into The Rouge and view the manufacturing facility.

Ford tried three times to start a car company, partnering with the Dodge brothers in one failed venture and leaving the future Cadillac Motor Company in another. On the fourth try, Ford finally made his mark. As we learned in history class, he created the assembly line, paid his employees more than the national average, and implemented vertical integration of production (meaning he took raw materials all the way to finished product). The Rouge is the crowning achievement of all those innovations. A river was built to allow raw materials to be dumped next to the manufacturing plant. Iron ore was forged into steel on site, as well as raw materials being turned into glass. The place is massive, and it is still in use today.

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The tour guide spent a large chunk of time talking about the environmentally friendly innovations at The Rouge. Bee hives next to orchards between buildings, a living roof, porous concrete that filters rain water, and modified wetlands surrounding the complex have been added to present you with an image of an environmentally friendly company. As great as these innovations may be, I still couldn't see the beauty of the Michigan wilderness around the endless factories and smoke stacks.

However, the tour did allow you to walk through the factory where they build F-150s, and it was incredible. The basic frames enter at one end, and a completed car drives out the other (just like in Ford's original assembly line). Everyone had a very specific job, and the cars never stopped moving on the assembly line. One guy put speakers in, while another attached the steering wheel. One guy's job was to open and close every tailgate to make sure it was attached correctly. While the jobs may be boring, it was pretty efficient.

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After taking a loop around the factory, we left the Ford Museum and The Rouge. Our trip through Michigan was over and it was time to move on. We continued South, leaving Michigan the same way we entered—in our automobile through fields and farmlands.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:48 Archived in USA Tagged museum local_food travel_trouble Comments (0)

The Most Southern Place on Earth - Mississippi

STATE 25 - MISSISSIPPI

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Mississippi is the Most Southern Place on Earth. Well, geographically it is not the most southern on the Earth, or even the most southern in the US. But according to James C. Cobb, a former president of the Southern Historical Association, due to its unique racial, cultural, and economic history, no place is more southern. Megan and I were headed down to Mississippi to rub elbows with the locals and attend a down-South wedding!

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It should come as no surprise that the Mississippi lies in the Mississippi River Valley (the Mississippi River runs along the length of Mississippi's western border). The Mississippi River has greatly influenced much of Mississippian culture, from antebellum times to current day. The state of Mississippi is relatively flat, so when the river floods, its effects can be far reaching. Megan and I decided to stretch our legs after a long ride in the car and experience the Mississippi River runoff first hand by taking a hike through the floodplain.

It was a hot, muggy morning despite being late September. My shirt was sticking to my back and it was barely 9am, good thing we were hitting the trail before it got even warmer. Megan and I checked in at the front desk and told the ranger we were going on the river trail. Upon hearing our trail choice, the ranger looked up and said, "you watch out now, I heard the mosquitoes are real bad right now." I didn't give the warning much thought. Back home in North Carolina you have to deal with mosquitoes every second of every day during the non-winter months. Mosquitoes may be a nuisance, but they aren't going to keep me from taking a hike. We said good bye to the ranger and started off on the trail.

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The trail was dominated by wooden walkways. The river runoff trail could get pretty soggy, and large portions of the trail wound through marsh land. We descended lower and lower into the valley until we reached the bottom of the valley and the marshlands extended off in every direction. There was very little direct sunlight beneath the canopy of the trees, no wind at all, and the water seemed completely stagnant.

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As I followed Megan on the trail, I noticed her shadow looked really weird. It seemed be vibrating and inconsistent. Suddenly it hit me, it wasn't Megan's shadow I was seeing, it was the thousands and thousands of mosquitoes following her! I tried to keep from panicking, but I realized that if we stopped moving, we would end up having an incredibly itchy weekend. It was just about then that Megan wanted me to stop to take the picture above. It took a lot of convincing, but I agreed to a single picture, but I was going to keep moving until the last possible second to keep the mosquitoes from landing on me. Unfortunately Megan caught my "mosquito dance" on video.

After the picture, Megan and I took off at a sprint back to the visitor's center. Once making it safely back inside, we slapped each other silly to kill the mosquitoes that were sucking us dry. My smug North Carolinian pride took a big hit as I realized that I couldn't handle the onslaught of Mississippian mosquitoes.

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The visitor's center was pretty cool. It was like a mini-zoo displaying all the types of wildlife that could be found in the Mississippi River run-offs. Terrariums filled with turtles, alligators, and snakes filled one humid room, while another had over 25 aquariums recreating the different environments of the river and forested ponds.

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I've seen plenty of turtles, bass, bluegill, catfish, and minnows before, but the museum made them seem exotic in the beautiful and realistic aquariums. As we exited the aquariums, we entered a large room filled with stuffed versions of the mammals that call Mississippi home. Megan and I posed as the different animals. I chose to mimic the boar and the bat, while Megan did her best two-headed snake impression (the snake was actually alive!).

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Megan and I left the trails and museum to grab some lunch. We headed to downtown Jackson to grab a bit to eat at the Mayflower, the restaurant from the movie The Help. The local Jackson residents we had met the night before had warned us about walking around downtown (apparently the area was full of crime and was dangerous). However, just as it was walking around downtown Montgomery, it seemed as if we had the entirety of downtown to ourselves. The security person guarding the building that we parked in front of (who watched us suspiciously as we consulted the map to get our bearings) was the ONLY person we saw while downtown. No cars, no one walking around, nothing. Even the restaurant we had planned on eating at was closed because the owner was a wedding.

Side note: Notice how weird the roads look. The were almost a pink color and seemed to be made from paved gravel instead of asphalt.

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We walked from the middle of downtown uphill to the Old Capital building and home of the war memorials. The Old Capital (the state capital building from 1839 to 1903, including when Mississippi helped form the Confederate States of America) was located in a beautiful area overlooking downtown. The following picture features the War Memorial that sits to the left of the Old Capital building.

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When Jackson was founded, the entire area was a giant swamp (not too dissimilar from the area we had hiked through that morning). I guess that's why the capital building was placed on the highest point downtown. Looking the other direction, you could see the Jackson skyline (I didn't have the best vantage point when taking the picture).

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We walked through the War Memorial. There was an area that housed the Mississippi soldiers that died in battle, as well as a number of sculptures and inscriptions honoring the soldiers. Since we were the only people there, the entire area felt very serene.

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Of course it wouldn't be a southern state capital if didn't also include a memorial to the Confederate soldiers, which was located on the other side of the Old Capital building. Standing at the heart of the memorial was a life-size statue of Jefferson Davis.

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From the site of the old capital, we walked down to the new capital building. Squirrels were everywhere and clucked loudly at us as we walked by. After taking a short rest on the benches in front of the capital, we made our way back to the car.

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That night we met up with our friends at a Mississippi restaurant, Cock of the Walk, overlooking the river. The restaurant only served two things, fried catfish or fried chicken. You could also order sides of fried onions, turnip greens, fried pickles, and cornbread. Everything is served on tin plates, and beer is served in tin pitchers. We ordered multiples of everything, it was delicious!

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The next morning Megan and I headed out to the Mississippi Ag Museum to get a feel for "the real Mississippi". The Ag Museum was actually a collection of buildings. The largest building was a museum with displays on Mississippi agriculture, but other buildings held special classes and displays. Adjacent to the museum was a collection of historic Mississippi homes and buildings that had been relocated here. We decided the check out the main museum first and work our way outside.

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Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a very realistic looking Mississippi man.

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The man sat outside a replica of s simple house, and I guess he was supposed to represent a native of Mississippi. He was incredibly lifelike, and it wasn't until I got up close that I realized that he wasn't real. He was also pretty creepy, take a look at his eyes.

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Escaping the gaze of the Mississippi man, we entered the first display. Row and rows of different types of axes filled several walls, showcasing the various tools of the woodworkers (or the types of weapons used by the creepers represented by the man guarding the entrance).

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Reminiscent of the dinner from the night before, the museum had a display on catfish farming. Mississippi farms more catfish than anywhere else in the country. When you eat catfish, it was probably grown in Mississippi.

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The next portion of the museum focused on the cotton roots of Mississippi. At the time of the civil war, Mississippi was the 5th wealthiest state in the country due to its cotton production. Even after the war, cotton remained king. They had an old cotton gin and examples of the textiles that were produced by Mississippi.

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The best part of the museum, other than the axes and freaks, was the music that was constantly playing in the background. The upbeat, banjo-pluckin' tunes prompted Megan and I to have a hillbilly dance-off! Who do you say won?

After the dance-off, Megan and I made our way outside. After exploring the big city of Jackson, it was time to walk through Small Town Mississippi!

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The Ag Museum had actually moved buildings from historic sites around the state to create a little town. Several old houses (most of them log cabins), an old church, farm buildings, an old schoolhouse, and a trading post were just some of the buildings that made up this little town. Animals grazed in the pastures and rested in the barn. As you walked through the old homes sensors would detect as you entered each room which started an audio tour. Everything was kept was authentic as possible and was very well done.

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You could also walk into the largest (working) cotton gin in the world. It was massive! It was steam powered and even included a vacuum sucker that could pull cotton out of wagons. You had to walk up a flight of stairs to see the main compartment. As hot as it was already inside the room, I wouldn't want to be there when they fired up the cotton gin.

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Between the agriculture tour and the relaxed attitude of its residents (not to mention the delicious down-home cooking), Mississippi reminded me of life in North Carolina (although I would agree with James C. Cobb in that the Deep South is a different type of southern). Megan and I started to make our way out of the Ag Museum, but not before one last hillbilly dance in the town garden.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:08 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum marshes historical local_food Comments (2)

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