New Mexico to Georgia via Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama

21st September - 2nd October 2008

After heading south out of Colorado on the Interstate, we decided to cut across New Mexico on our preferred back roads.    It was here that Harvey got another chance to try his hand at a spot of cattle herding.    After following the cattle we'd encountered along the road for a couple of miles, at painfully slow cattle strolling speed, a friendly cowboy kindly parted the sea of steer and Harvey cautiously picked his way to the front of the herd and open road.

Harvey - the cowherd

View from Capulin Volcano

Our brief visit to north-eastern New Mexico gave us the chance to call at another National Park.   Capulin Mountain lay in a large area of volcanic activity which was very sparsely populated.    We were able to drive right up to the volcano's crater and walk the mile long trail around the rim.    Views from the top were stunning, mostly for the vastness of empty space in the surrounding area.

We headed to Clayton Lake State Park for the night.   Keen for a spot of angling, the fisherman called up the ranger to ask about the purchase of the appropriate state fishing license.

No, we were informed, the State Park did not sell fishing licenses.   The nearest license agent was in the next town, twelve miles away and was not open on Sundays.    Of course, nobody would ever want to spend a quiet Sunday fishing!    

Luckily the State Park did have another attraction to keep us entertained.    On the far side of the lake, during building of the dam, construction workers had uncovered an extensive area of dinosaur tracks hidden beneath the mud.    This, naturally, had caused chaos with the dam construction plans but did give the area an amazing new tourist attraction.    Walking alongside the tracks of long extinct behemoths was quite an eerie sensation.  Even the claw marks and tracks where the creatures had dragged their huge tails, were clearly visible.   Unfortunately the boardwalk in the viewing area was in poor repair and we learned that the park was awaiting funding to make repairs.    It would have been a real shame if the tracks were to be lost more quickly than necessary due to lack of funding.

Dinosaur footprint and Sunset at Clayton Lake SP, NM.

The next day took us on a brief detour through a tiny corner of Texas (well we had to didn't we) and into the Oklahoma panhandle.    We'd heard that Oklahoma was flat, that roads were straight and went on for ever.   The road description proved correct but we were surprised to find the land was not entirely flat and was actually a continuous flow of rolling undulations.   The other surprise was that we were still at relatively high altitude.  Constant bombardment by unfortunate grasshoppers forced us to keep the side windows closed in the strong westerly wind.    By late afternoon we'd covered around three hundred miles and camped at Boiling Spring State Park near the town of Woodward.


Crossing the corner of Texas

After another long day of driving across Oklahoma, we reached Spavinaw state park, a beautiful secluded riverside park below a reservoir which supplied water to the city of Tulsa.    Spotting large fish lazing in the river, Phil set off in pursuit, hoping that a trout might show some interest in his collection of flies.   It turned out that the fish were neither trout, nor remotely interested, rather they were carp and lacking in appetite for flies.


Oklahoma Panhandle Highway through grasshopper spattered windscree

New day, new state...we were into Arkansas.    We decided to head into the city of Fayetteville, in search of tourist information, following road signs.    Once we arrived in the heart of the bustling college town, the signs naturally disappeared and we had to make do with a lunch stop at Wal-mart instead, then driving on uninformed.

We spent a tranquil weekend at Bull Shoals state park, right on the banks of the White River, famed for its fishing.    The fishing turned out to be a little tricky however.    The water flow in the river was controlled by the dam a little higher upstream.    After a period of heavy rain, water was rushing downstream at a rate of some knots. 


The local fishing method seemed to be to motor a powerboat as close to the dam as possible, cut the engine and drift downstream at around five or six knots with the current, dragging a length of chain from the bow to slow progress to a speed where you may just have a chance of catching a fish.    Without a powerboat, however, fishing the river was pretty tricky but undeterred our team fisherman set off to try almost his entire collection of rods and lures.    With each different method he tried, Phil managed to land a fish with a lot of perseverance and patience.
A passing snake in the river decided not to use the patience method to catch his meal, however.  Phil turned around to see his catch protruding from its fanged mouth, as the snake tried to swallow his hard-won trout.   Not amused, he decided not to put up a fight for the fish!

On our last day in Bull Shoals a friendly park ranger, on establishing our nationality, insisted that we get in touch with the most famous Welshman in those parts and made a phone call to put us in touch.    We arranged to meet up with fly-fishing guide extraordinaire, Davy Wootton, the following day as we were passing his house near the town of Flippin (yes really).   

Phil tries to hook a White River fish as they fly by.

Davy and partner Theresa (T-Bird) kindly invited us in for a chat, demonstrated their fly-tying talents and gave us not only delicious home-laid eggs but also pointers on good fishing spots in Arkansas.   Turned out that Davy was from the Pontypool area only a few miles from our Phil's home in Wales and they several common friends and acquaintances !   Small world.   T-Bird had the most amazing fingernails and yet still managed an excellent job of fly-tying!   We parted hoping we'd get the chance to fish together on our next visit to Arkansas, a state which was far exceeding our expectations with its pretty countryside and friendly residents.


Welsh boys Phil and Davy.

The next Arkansas destination was our first Corps of Engineers campsite on the banks of the Little Red River at the town of Heber Springs.  An unsuccessful evenings fishing led Phil to take local advice the following morning.   Just what was that bait with which the locals were having luck?    It turned out that the favourite food of the local trout in the river, raised at the neighbouring fish hatchery was in fact marshmallows.   Skeptical we tried our luck with some of these sticky sweets, donated by other anglers and sure enough, the trout had a sweet tooth and we had fish for dinner! 

After checking out of the campground, we headed to Lake Poinsett state park and after settling into our beautiful lakeside camp site, we inflated our trusty canoe and took to the water.    The lake was alleged to be a good source of apparently tasty Crappie.   We never did get to taste them for ourselves but we met some friendly fellow anglers afloat and did land a few Blue Gills and Bream.

Sweet-toothed fish for dinner.

Our last stop in Arkansas would be Lake Dunn, where despite new Crappie lures and hours of paddling, we still failed in our search for the elusive Crappie, landing instead only a bass and several Blue Gills.    There was another adventure on the beach however, when Christine stepped on a "mosquito landmine".   One misstep and she was surrounded by an angry swarm of mosquitoes disturbed from their home!
Early next morning we were crossing the great Mississippi river into the city of Memphis.   Again we made the mistake of following signs for Tourist Information.    This time we ended up in a somewhat dodgy neighbourhood but lived to tell the tale, despite a few hairy moments when the lights turned red.    

Finally we were at the home of "The King", Graceland.   All was highly organised and we enjoyed a tour of the mansion itself, the Elvis museums and his private planes.   It was definitely a visit worth making even for those only with a mild interest in "The King".   Plenty of other visitors were dressed Elvis-style and many brought flower tribute for his grave in the mansion's garden.   His spirit lives on.........

Crossing the mighty Mississippi eastward bound

Elvis' front room, wardrobe and private plane

Our route from Graceland took us south into the state of Mississippi, where we camped at the JP Coleman State Park on Pickwick Lake.    The following day took us through a section of Alabama and back into Tennessee.    We were certainly ticking off those states on our route map!    Of course all the states deserved a far longer visit sometime in the future.

Back in Tennessee, we crossed our outbound route and our loop-trip became more of a figure eight as we headed back to Georgia for the last part of our journey.

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