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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lets take a break from bad news, and talk about my favorite places to visit Stateside.....

Links: A.Welcome to Savannah, Georgia.
           B. Welcome to Big Bend Country, Texas.
           C. Highway to America's past...the Colonial Parkway.

I have to ask my regular visitors for a bit of patience.  Occasionally, more or less to keep me from burning out on current events, I enjoy writing about pleasant subjects.  I have traveled a great deal in my life, a fact for much I am very fortunate.  I have written in this blog about some of the places I've visited internationally, but I don't recall discussing my favorite locations in the United States.  I've never been to Hawaii or Alaska, and I'm very anxious to visit both.  In fact, I've probably covered more of the African continent than I have my own country.  But I have experienced some marvelous places stateside, and I would like to share my memories with you.

I first visited Savannah, Georgia in the mid 90's, just prior to the explosion of the best-selling book by John Berendt, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".  The book is billed as non-fiction, but a quick investigation of some of the vents and persons described within make it apparent that the events in "Midnight" fall somewhere in that cloudy area between literary truth and fantasy.  The book tells the story of Jim Williams, a wealthy Savannah art and antique collector, and historic home restorer.  Williams is responsible for saving many of Savannah's most historic and treasured homes from the wrecking ball.  In 1981, when Williams was in his mid 50's, he shot and killed a young male hustler names Danny Hansford inside his restored priceless Mansion, Mercer House.  Williams, who was one of Hansford's more regular and prolific customers, claimed self-defense, but the District Attorney of Chatham County was determined to convict Williams of first degree murder.  The case took on a life of its own because of three hung-juries.  Finally, in 1990, Williams was acquitted.  He died a few months later of a heart attack, in the same room in which Hansford was shot.  Berendt, and author from New York, recreated the event and decorated the story with a cast of real-life Savannah characters, who act as a perfect introduction to the unique, charming and yet absurd nature of the town of Savannah.  I discovered Savannah before the book took the country by storm, and I was quick to notice that folks in Savannah really do follow their own road map, so to speak.  The community is much smaller than the population figures let on, and everyone's business is anyone's business.  And Savannah is forgiving of just about anything, except bad manners.  The town is absolutely lovely, especially the older section that hugs the river bank and the handful of Spanish Moss-covered cemeteries that edge Savannah in the east.  You will experience town square (sometimes referred to as "parks") after town square, filled with fountains and flowers and guarded by the most stunning, gorgeous collection of southern mansions that you can imagine.  You will find museums and art galleries galore in the older residential area, and for tourists, the riverside is the perfect place for shopping, sea food, or just enjoying the sights of the river.  Being a history fanatic, I enjoyed visited Civil War-era Fort Jackson and Fort Pulaski.  For anyone looking for a unique tourist destination, I can't recommend Savannah more highly.  Tybee Island, with beautiful beaches and wildlife in abundance, is just down the road, and you will have no trouble finding a hotel in your price range.  I do advise you to read the book first, though.  And don't be surprised if you run into a ghost or two or three while in Savannah...they're everywhere.

I'm a proud Texan, and I can say with complete sincerity that there is no part of the great Lone Star State that I don't love.  But I'm allowed to love some places more than others, and I'm head over heels for west Texas.  This includes the Big Bend National Park, but I'm going to focus on what can be found outside the Park's boundaries.  First and foremost, west Texas is desolate.  It can be lonely at times, and you will have countless opportunities to look as far as the eye can see and find no sign of people.  West Texas has its chair of scenery, including range after range of hills, buffeted by open valleys full of tumbleweeds and cactus. Other parts of west Texas are covered in grassland, which allows for the success of a number of large ranches in the area.  Aside from cotton and hay (and maybe onions), I can't imagine what can grow for human consumption, but livestock on the plans are a very familiar sight.  Where is west Texas?  Folks will certainly argue this with me, but for my purposes, it begins at Ozona (down to Del Rio) and stretches as far as Marfa (and Ojinaga). For me, west Texas is the Marfa lights and the stories of "Giant", and Marathon and the famous, haunted Gage Hotel.  My favorite town is Alpine (there's a story somewhere but I can't quite recall it, besides, you can Wiki just as easy as I can), and when I'm in the area I make my home at the Holland Hotel, across the street from the train depot (the management thoughtfully provides earplugs for the guests).  I like Alpine because regardless of its moniker, to me it feels like a real Texas town.  People are friendly, and they usually aren't transplants.  Also, Alpine is perfectly situated to visit the McDonald Observatory and the U.S. Cavalry Barracks and Museum at Ft. Davis.  Let me tell you, the views around Ft. Davis are second only to the views in the Big Bend State Park.  Marfa is a fun little town, home to the famous "Marfa Lights" (actually, you have to drive a ways east, towards Alpine, before you reach the comfortable, well-thought Marfa Lights Viewing Area).  What are the Lights?  Who knows.  Documented since the 1870's, the Lights will pop up out of nowhere just after sunset.  Sometimes they stay in one place and flicker out, and other times they race from one side of the horizon to the other.  Many researchers, including a funded project from Texas Tech University, have been unable to provide a satisfactory explanation.  And there is no guarantee that they will appear on any given night, that's why its best to plan for a two-night stay in Marfa.  I prefer to stay in Alpine, home of Sul Ross University, and drive the thirty minutes to the viewing area, than staying in Marfa, which has become a bit too commercial and "California" for my tastes.  But if you do find yourself in this neck of the woods, don't forget to spend at least one night in the Gage Hotel in Marathon.  its a wonderful place, comfortable and staffed by the friendliest folks you can imagine.  One thing the Holland and the Gage Hotels have in common is a bar that is usually visited in the evenings by a variety of local cowmen and cowboys.  The stories that they tell........

I don't have as much to say about the Colonial National Historic Parkway, because basically its just a stretch of highway in far eastern Virginia.  The location that I find the most bewitching is between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  If you happen to be there at just the right time of year (Spring and early Fall), you will be amazed at the beauty of the trees that decorate the sides of the highway.  They reach as far as you can see, as you are sitting in your car, and it reminds one a bit of old New England.  As you leave Williamsburg and get closer to Yorktown, the road begins to turn a bit here and there, and you start to feel like you are entering tunnels made up of the actual trees themselves.  Just before you arrive at Yorktown, the road pops out and hugs the bank of the York river for a mile or so.  Its a wonderful place to truly appreciate nature.  Also, I highly recommend a visit to both Williamsburg and Yorktown.  I especially enjoy Yorktown, because I never see any tourists!  A stroll down to the town from the battlefield, with a view across the York River to Gloucester Point, will remind you of what it must have been like in 1789.  The Yorktown Battlefield Military Park is a quiet, relaxing place to contemplate a time when the hill overlooking Yorktown and the York River wasn't so peaceful.  Its been over twenty years since I've driven the Colonial National Historic Parkway from Williamsburg to Yorktown, but it sits in my mind, as clear as yesterday.

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