Traveling the Mississippi
Following the Mississippi River South on Highway 65, we come, of course, to Memphis, Tennessee. In the neighboring town of West Memphis, Arkansas, we stopped at our favorite RV park in the area. It is called “Tom Sawyers RV Park“. The sites are large and comfortable and right on the banks of the Mississippi. Watching the barges run up and down the river is worth the stay all by itself.
The first time we pulled into the park, we landed near a pretty Tiffin rig and struck up a conversation with the owners. “Are you going into town?” they asked. “Well maybe,” we replied, “but we don’t know what to see. What areas are safe for travelers?” You see, we had been told by people that traveled here 20 years ago, that Memphis was not a safe place. Better to pass it by.
Don’t Offend the Locals!
Little did I know we were talking to die-hard Memphians! “Well let me tell you!” she said. It turns out that these locals were part of the social fabric of Memphis, and knew all the best places. They were parked in the Tom Sawyers RV Park to get the bugs out of their new rig before they started traveling. For an entire day, they drove us around one of the most beautiful cities in the country, telling us historical tidbits and showing us the homes and the sites of Memphis. We went to a great, hole-in-the-wall barbecue place, that only the locals know, for an amazing meal. What a day!
Beale Street, Where Music is King
Now that we had a clue, we were ready to try it on our own. The most obvious spot to explore is Beale Street.
Beale Street, of course, is where Blues and Jazz took off. Later, Soul and Rock would also claim Beale Street as their birthplace. If you visit Memphis be sure to see the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. These are really fun and give a great framework to visit the rest of the city.
During the decades that the South was highly segregated, Beale Street was a thriving marketplace for black entrepreneurs. Grocery stores, hairdressers, banks, and bars were owned by blacks and frequented by blacks.
This was where they experimented with their own music styles of Jazz, Blues, and Soul. Over time, other musicians were attracted by the energy of this hopping place. The rest, as they say, is history.
Make sure you walk down Beale Street late in the afternoon and evening. Live music kicks up everywhere. Great restaurants and bars host upcoming musicians in the jazz, soul, blues, rock traditions. Be prepared for an audible feast, and great food too.
Don’t forget Graceland! You can tour Elvis Presley’s home and grounds. This is an extensive tour, so set aside plenty of time.
So here’s what I know. First, Talk to your RV Park neighbors, sometimes they are tour guides in disguise! Next lesson, don’t necessarily trust what people tell you about a town. It’s always good to be safe and aware of your surroundings, but we would have missed a lot of fun, if we had skipped Memphis, Tennessee!