Great Places – Southern States (Deep South) USA

     For this entry, I have included the following states in the category Deep South, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. These are states which have somewhat similar characteristics, especially their southern drawl. Several of them border the Gulf of Mexico, while others include some "mountainous region."  Here are the sights that I consider the best in the entire region. Look for the photo album of these attractions shortly.
    1. New Orleans, Louisiana
          New Orleans is certainly noted for its Mardi Gras celebration, one of the best known in the world, but its French Quarter is a wonderful experience any time of the year. After all, New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and great music can be found at almost any time of the day or night. The architecture is interesting, because of the wrought iron balconies, many draped with flowers during the spring and summertime, the pastel-colored buildings and the beautiful courtyards showcasing the lovely 19th century houses. Preservation Hall offers a glimpse of vintage New Orleans’ jazz nightly. This is the place where many famous jazz artists were discovered or honed their craft.
         Bourbon Street at night is blocked off from traffic and people party every evening till the wee hours (visitors can even buy alcoholic drinks from street vendors).
         Jackson Square, a beautiful park in front of the distinctive St Louis Cathedral is an ideal place for relaxing or taking pictures. The nearby, colonnaded French Market has several shops and restaurants, some with live music.
         A Mississippi River Cruise is obligatory when visiting New Orleans, LA, Minneapolis, MN, or some of the other major cities along the river.
         From New Orleans, an interesting paddle wheel cruise takes the visitor upriver by a number of plantation houses and to the site of the Battle of New Orleans which took place in 1815. Boats leave from the Riverwalk area, off Canal Street. Trips are of varying lengths and leave at various times during the day.
         New Orleans is also noted for its cuisine, and visitors to the area should definitely sample alligator, crayfish, catfish (a few of the local favorites) as well as jambalaya and cajun preparations.
         The St Charles Avenue Streetcar takes visitors through New Orleans’ garden district, with its beautiful and regal homes, characteristic of the deep South.
         Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area and the city has not completely recovered, but the hope of everyone is that the city will rise again to its former status as the “party capitol“ of the country.
    2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
         Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border, offers accessible wilderness and wildlife viewing to travelers in the populous eastern part of the US. Because of this fact, it is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Park roads allow access to most of the major sights, but, to truly experience the wilderness, the visitor should sample the many trails. On the roads, similar to the situation encountered in Yellowstone, expect traffic delays when wildlife is spotted, especially bears.
         The major areas of the park include Newfound Gap Road, which bisects the park from north to south. This route connects the Oconaluftee Visitor Center with the Sugarlands Visitor Center and travels through Newfound Gap, a major pass through the mountains. The road also allows access to Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains and the third highest east of the Mississippi. Cades Cove, a beautiful valley in the western part of the park, contains numerous historical buildings and is a fantastic wildlife-viewing area. The road through Cades Cove is a one-way 18 km (11-mile) loop, so traffic jams are common and can be a bit frustrating.
         Within Smoky Mountains National Park, take the Roaring Brook Motor Nature Trail for an interesting, educational tour. It’s a 10 km (6-mile) one-way trip.
         The Laurel Falls Trail is a 4 km (2.5 mile) hike along a paved path to one of the Smoky Mountains many waterfalls and well worth the exertion.
     3. Memphis, Tennessee
          Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee is the birthplace of the “Blues,” soulful jazz first written by its founder, W.C. Handy. Not far from Beale Street is where “Rock and Roll” truly emerged, thanks to the collaboration between Elvis Presley and Sun Studio. Thus much of the city is imbued with music. Plan to experience some of this musical heritage in one or more of the various establishments throughout the city.
          Memphis is also, unfortunately, the location of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, an event commemorated by a sculpture called “The Mountain Top” at Civic Center Plaza.
          Those interested in the struggle for equality waged by Black Americans, epitomized by Martin Luther King, can travel southeast of Memphis to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to visit other "battlefields" and reminders of the sometimes gruesome and repugnant practices of the early days of this struggle.
          Of course, the most important attraction in Memphis is Elvis Presley’s Graceland, his 14-acre estate in town. The complex, which includes the mansion and a number of museums, as well as an entertainment facility, has become a pilgrimage site for Elvis’ many fans, as well as a curiosity for others who visit the Memphis area. Separate admissions to the various venues are available or the Platinum Tour pass can be purchased which includes admission to all areas of the estate.
          For a different kind of activity, drive, walk, or take the monorail to Mud Island Park, and stroll its Riverwalk, a scale model of the Lower Mississippi that extends for many blocks. A Mississippi Cruise may also be in order, and is available from Riverside Drive.
          Another important aspect of life in Memphis revolves around food, particularly Barbecued Ribs, and there is no better place to try ribs than here. The ongoing controversy revolves around “wet” versus “dry” ribs. Visitors should try both and decide for themselves.
     4. Nashville, Tennessee
          The Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee, is the nation’s longest-running radio program. The original venue, in downtown Nashville, has been abandoned in favor of a 4,400 seat auditorium on the grounds of Opryland (now the Gaylord Opryland), just outside the city. Tickets are available in advance.
          Because of its extensive musical heritage, the city of Nashville is known as “Music City USA” and anyone with a desire to become a recording artist has probably spent some time here. In particular, it is the center of Country Music for not only the USA but the whole world.
          Opryland was a major theme park for many years, with thrill rides and other activities focusing on music in general. It went out of business for a while but has reopened and attracts many visitors each year.
          Nashville is also the northern terminus for the Natchez Trace Parkway which began its life as an Indian trail, then a pioneer trail during the period of westward expansion in the United States. Now it has evolved into a historic drive from Natchez, Mississippi to just south of Nashville, Tennessee, a total distance of almost 720 kilometers (450 miles). Along the route are numerous historical points of interest. The Visitor Center in Tupelo, Mississippi offers information and displays.
          Also in the vicinity is The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s estate, which has been restored as a museum to the colorful chief executive and general.
     5. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
          Hot Springs National Park, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, preserves an area of the Ouachita Mountains in the western part of the state. The park itself is surrounded by a city so that many of the roads within the park are dual purpose. The area was known to Native Americans, who believed that the thermal waters were beneficial and was discovered by tourists in the 1800’s. Some of the original bathhouses still stand in an area known as Bathhouse Row. There are also mountain roads within the park which access viewpoints, such as Hot Springs Mountain Observation Tower. Many other activities, such as, hiking, horse-back riding, as well as boat rides on Lake Hamilton, are also available in the park.


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