USA branch FAQ
Replies: 279 - Last Post: Apr 16, 2013 10:54 PM Last Post By: nutraxfornerves
Sep 12, 2010 8:09 AM
270Auto insurance for visitors.
Several people have said that they were able to get insurance through Progressive. They had to wait until they got to the US to see an agent in person, rather than getting the insurance online.
A recent poster mentioned this one, a company that specializes in insurance for non-residents:
The auto insurance company is Sunrise Worldwide. You must be a non-resident, non citizen of the US or Canada, and have 2 years driving experience. They cover only purchased cars, not rentals. No rates posted, but they will give you an online estimate.
Jan 5, 2011 11:51 AM
271A Guide to Cheap Buses in the Northeast
The NYTimes ran an article giving info on the cheap buses (Chinatown buses and others) that serve major cities in the Northeast. It gives advice on getting $1 fares, and on which lines had the best service. See the article here.
Jan 22, 2011 10:44 AM
272Oregon’s Old West, A Few Hours From Portland
- Day 1: Portland to Fossil
- Day 2 through Day 4: In and around Wheeler County
- Day 5: Fossil to Portland
- See the section at the end: “Fitting the Oregon Old West Into Your Trip”
- Wheels. You cannot do this by bus, or by hitching. You’ll need a car, or a motorcycle and the skill to ride it on unpaved roads.
- An Oregon atlas that shows unpaved roads. Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas is a good one. Easily obtained either from Amazon or at the R.E.I. store in Portland.
- Watch out for wildlife. Deer are common in the late afternoon and later, including in downtown Fossil. Do not think you can go the speed limit after dark! Cougars are on the comeback, and are most active at dusk. Rattlesnakes live here, especially near rocks and water. Watch where you step, and keep your ears open.
- Don’t count on cellular service. It’s spotty in Wheeler County, and mostly unavailable. If you can't be untethered for a few days, maybe this isn't the trip for you. Word is that Verizon works better than the others. AT&T, my carrier, worked in about four or five spots, and I do mean “spots.”
- "No Trespassing" signs apply to you, too. The property owners in Wheeler County are usually pretty good folks, but they don't care for people who go onto their land without asking.
- It’s customary to wave hello at the driver of an oncoming vehicle on the back roads.
- Watch your gas gauge! The station is Fossil is the only gas in the county. And since your cellphone probably won't work, and there aren't a whole lot of people around (to put it mildly), you really don't want to run out. Especially after dark, when the rattlers come out to warm themselves on the pavement and the cougars are stalking deer and maybe you.
Two More Things
- If you wind up loving the place as much as I do, Glimpses of Wheeler County's Past is an entertaining collection of vignettes, written by the locals. You can get it at the Amazon link, or through Powell's in Portland, or maybe at the Fossil Mercantile.
- If for some reason you get intrigued by all of this, a word or two of caution. First off, there isn't a single good restaurant in the county, and in fact I haven't been in a good one between Bend, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. (Yup, one thing you can do in Boise is get a good meal.) Second, it's lonely country with no roadside amusements bizarre or conventional, so be prepared to make your own entertainment. It's not a theme park out there. If you need to be amused, look elsewhere.
What Is "The Old West," and Where Is It?
Mention the Old West, or cowboy country, and most people will think of Montana, Wyoming, or Texas. Or Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, or Nevada. I’ve been to those places, and wouldn’t want to put ‘em down. But if you’re hankerin’ for big skies, soaring rimrock, excursions by horseback, wide-open spaces, deserted ghost towns, rodeos, pickup trucks everywhere, pointed boots, Marlboro hats, ammo and food sold together at the local store, and nights illuminated by nothing but starlight, I’d like to suggest a place that’s a lot easier to get to than the places most people have heard of.
Wheeler County, Oregon is a half-day from Portland by the scenic route, or three hours if you’re in a hurry. But it feels a lot farther away, both in space and in time. After a couple hundred thousand miles on the American road, I thought I’d seen it all. But nope, I hadn’t been here. This place is something very special. And, because so few people know about it, you’ll see next to none of the cheesy Old West Inc. tourist crap that has contaminated so much of the American West. I’ve done my best with the pictures linked within this post, but photos don’t begin to do it justice. You have to get out there and see it for yourself. I think you’ll be happy you did.
Ingredients: Start With Nobody Around
For most people, Oregon is the hip big city – Portland – and the beautiful coastline. Others will mention the Cascade Mountains, and maybe that part of Columbia River Gorge within 50 miles or so of Portland. Some will think of Crater Lake, and a few others of Ashland, the home of the Shakespeare Festival, or of Eugene, a university town whose weekly Saturday Market is something of a throwback to the old hippie days, or of Bend, a ski town that attracted a lot of California land speculators before the real estate bubble burst a few years ago.
Much less attention is paid to Oregon east of the Cascades, which contains 4% of its people and half of its land. It’s a whole lot of territory, and most who live there inhabit a dozen or so small cities along two main highways, Interstate 84 and U.S. 97. Go only a few miles off those beaten paths, and people are far outnumbered by cows, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and deer. That's where you'll find the Old West of Eastern Oregon, a breathtaking and iconic landscape made famous by no one.
This land was settled by the pioneers who rode in between 1840 and 1890, first on the Oregon Trail and then on the transcontinental railroads, fleeing disease, personal failure, and economic depression in the East and Midwest. Their way had been paved by European traders and trappers who, beginning in the early 1700s, brought themselves and their smallpox, measles, syphilis, guns, and whisky to the Pacific Northwest. By the time Lewis and Clark camped near The Dalles in 1805, more than half of a population of 100,000 natives had been lost to European diseases. By 1880, a few thousand survivors were safely confined to reservations, and the whites were in control.
Conquest and removal of the native population is what the Old West was all about, in Oregon and everywhere else. You won’t find a much fresher and unaffected take on it than in Eastern Oregon. And I haven’t seen a more spectacular collection of iconic Old West scenes than along the roads of Wheeler County, an area the size of Delaware but with a population of only 1,300 or so. If you're one of those people who searches for the loneliest roads, this is a place you're going to want to find.
Original Sin, Contemporary Hypocrisy, and Outstanding Views
One gateway to Oregon’s Old West is The Dalles, a town of 12,000 located on the Columbia River about 85 miles east of Portland. It's a two-hour drive via I-84. In 1960, a federal dam flooded Celilo Falls, once the largest inland salmon fishery in North America. Natives had taken fish there for thousands of years, with some traveling from as far away as the Great Plains to share the catch.
The Dalles dam was one of the final acts of the European conquest of North America. Salmon canneries opened in the 1860s; Columbia dam building began in the 1930s. By the time the Celilo Falls were flooded, not much of the Columbia River salmon fishery remained. The electricity? Some of it was used to make aluminum for Boeing aircraft; some goes to Portland and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest; some goes to California, with no thanks and little awareness from the worldly people of Los Angeles. And then there’s Google. The next time you run an Internet search, think of the Dalles dam. It powers a gigantic Google server farm located a few miles away.
As a town, the Dalles isn't much to write home about. It's the usual American roadside collection of chain motels, big box retailers, and a decaying downtown. But you'll want to stop in the city park to see where the Oregon Trail ended. From there, most of the pioneers took one of a couple routes to their final destination: Portland and the Willamette Valley.
The place to get your first glimpse of Eastern Oregon's empty country is up on the Skyline Rd. behind town, no more than 15 minutes from I-84. After a few miles, the pavement will end and you'll be on a smooth dirt road. Pull over and take a good look around. One of those mountains is Mt. Hood, and the other is Mt. Adams. Those are cherry orchards in the valley, and everything to the south and the east is wheat farms.
A Famous Song
Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
From the Dalles eastward toward Idaho, in a wide swath of land along the Columbia, wheat farmers complain about the weather and grow richer with every passing year. Disdaining federal interference, they conveniently forget that they wouldn't even be there but for massive federal "interference." The U.S. government helped their ancestors steal the land; then paid for their transportation networks; then built the dams that give them cheap water. Damn that government (but not that government's dams). Oh, and now that same horrible government is subsidizing renewable energy, making it possible for the wheat farmers to further pad their wallets by allowing windmills on their land. Beef and hypocrisy, it's what's for dinner. And don’t kid yourself, it always has been.
Toward the Old West
Past the wheat farms, to the southeast, out of the reach of the Columbia River's irrigation, the land begins to change. Wheat turns to bunchgrass, sage, pine, and juniper; soils become rocky, sandy, and largely unyielding; the high basalt plateau tilts and folds. In a couple of hours, you'll be in a very different place. As you make the transition, you'll see this country.
Follow U.S. 30 eastward out of The Dalles, paralleling I-84. In a couple of miles, you'll reach U.S. 197. Take a right, and follow it to Dufur, population 600. You might want to stop to take a picture of Mt. Hood, or to see their pioneer display, or to visit the pleasantly restored Balch Hotel. Continue to Maupin, a town of about 500 located on the Deschutes River. The distance from The Dalles to Maupin is only 40 miles, but even without any stops it'll seem longer because of the changes in the landscape.
Once you cross the bridge at Maupin, U.S. 197 goes to the right. You'll turn left, on Bakeoven Road, and take it all the way to U.S. 97, a distance of about 25 miles. (If you go between July and September, you'll soon realize how the road got its name.) Hang another left at U.S. 97, and in a few miles you'll reach Shaniko, population 27. It was once the wool-trading capital of Oregon; now it’s a souvenir ghost town. Looked pretty hokey to us, so we took a right on Oregon Hwy. 218 and kept going.
In 10 miles or so, you will pass the town of Antelope, population 59. It became famous in the early 1980s when an Indian guru and his followers moved in. They started something called Rajneeshpuram on a ranch near town; needless to say, it didn't end well. The guru went back to India, where he soon died; his main follower went to prison; Rajneeshpuram went bankrupt, and was sold to a Christian group. You might want to find the local post office, which displays this plaque commemorating the events.
From Antelope to Fossil, the seat of Wheeler County, is another 35 miles. You'll pass by what’s left of Clarno, which really is a ghost town. Word to the wise: Real ghost towns don't sell souvenirs. Past Clarno, you don't have to be a geologist to realize that something has changed as you cross the John Day River and drop down toward Fossil. Hey, what's that in the road? Dead rattlesnake? That’s a prairie rattler, the shyest kind. You just about have to be begging to be bitten for one to strike, or so they say. Just to be safe, I’m going to get some Chippewa snake boots, even though I’ve never actually see a live rattler. City guys, we’re hopeless.
Wheeler County: You've Arrived
When you've crossed the John Day River at Clarno, you’ll be only 100 miles from The Dalles and a bit less than 200 from Portland. If you went the way I suggested, made the stops I recommended, and threw in lunch somewhere along the way, you took five or six hours to get here. Which is to say that, if you're coming from Portland, there's no rush. Leave by noon and you'll be fine. Pretty easy to travel a million miles and a hundred years back in time, huh?
First things first: gas, food, and lodging. The town of Fossil, population about 400, has a gas station, a cheap motel that was open last fall, a rental house, a B&B, a general store ("Fossil Mercantile"), a bar and bare-bones restaurant (R.J.'s, tolerable for dinner), and a cafe (Big Timber Family Restaurant -- basic breakfast).
While you're there, you might want to see if the museum is open; dig for fossils behind the high school; visit the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute's field center, and check out the local courthouse. At dusk, and in fact sometimes in mid-day, watch out for deer. They amble around the streets, and word is that they can occasionally get a little aggressive.
If you're going to come to this neck of the woods, I really hope you were able to snag a room at Wilson Ranches Retreat. It's a working 9,500-acre ranch, complete with big skies, horses that you can ride, sunsets on the sage, and the best show in town after dark. So that's what the Milky Way looks like. Who knew?
It's owned and operated by Phil Wilson, a fifth-generation rancher, and his wife, Nancy. You'll stay in a clean, comfortable, modernized 1910 Sears catalog house. Your room comes with one of Nancy's fantastic farm-style breakfasts. And you really ought to take a horseback ride on the back 9,000 acres. Price is right, too. In 2010, room and breakfast for two was $100. One other thing: The Wilsons get guests from all over the world. Book early. One more thing: They've got satellite TV in the living room, but no Internet. RJ's, the bar-restaurant in town, has Wi-Fi.
Wheeler County’s Iconic Western Landscapes
Okay, you spent your first day on horseback at the Wilsons' place. If you had extra time, you wandered down the road in back of their house, marveling at the unnamed canyon about five miles up. Maybe you even went far enough to be blocked by the Taj Mahal gate on the ranch owned by a guy who founded a fencing company in Portland. It was supposed to be solar powered, but he didn't notice that the hills block the light. Oops. Anyway, from here on out, you've got a couple days to see the West the way it used to be.
You'll need to take dirt roads, or you'll miss much of the really good stuff. But those roads are in surprisingly good shape, so you won't need a four-wheel drive vehicle. Just be sure to gas up in Fossil before you go out for the day, because it's the only station in the county. And you might want to stop at the Mercantile and get some sandwiches and soft drinks, because there aren't any roadside 7-Elevens.
Day One: The Ponderosa and Ancient Geology
This will take five or six hours, depending on how long you linger at the paleontological center and the overlook. It will be a spectacular drive through both the Prehistoric West and ranch country (on Parrish Creek/Waterman Rd.), where they easily could have filmed this oldie but goodie.
The ride will take you past Waterman, Oregon, population zero. There used to be a town there, with a post office, a hotel, a livery, a stage coach stop, and a school. Now there is just nothing but an old barn, ready to fall over any day now. Now that, my friends, is a ghost town.
- Oregon Hwy. 19 south from Fossil about 25 miles to Spray, population 100. Turn right on Parrish Creek Rd.
- Parrish Creek Rd. (turns into Waterman Rd., but you won't notice the change), about 20 miles to U.S. 26. Turn left.
- U.S. 26 about 20 miles to Oregon Hwy. 19. Turn right toward Dayville, a town you won't actually reach. Note about this road: Hwy. 26 roughly parallels part of a military road built in the 1800s to haul gold mined mostly in neighboring Grant County to The Dalles, which once had a U.S. Mint.
- U.S. 26 a couple miles to County Rd. 40. Turn right and go to the Mascall Overlook (marked with signs)
- Back to U.S. 26, retracing to the junction of Hwy. 19. Go straight. A few miles on the left is the Thomas Condon Palentology Center.
- Hwy. 19 for 60 miles back to Fossil.
Day Two: The Painted Hills and Spectacular Rimrock
This ride will take anywhere from four to six hours, depending on how much time you spend gasping for breath at the scenery along the way, and maybe taking a short hike at the Painted Hills. Classic music will come to mind. By the way, the directions below will seem more complicated than the route actually is. It's much clearer in the Oregon atlases, and there is good signage on these roads.
- Hwy. 19 for 20 miles to Service Creek, population 2. Turn right on Oregon Hwy. 207.
- Hwy. 207 10 or 15 miles to Girds Creek Rd. (On some maps you might also see this called "South Twickenham Rd." but the highway sign will say Girds Creek.) Turn right.
- Girds Creek Rd. will become "South Twickenham Rd." and later "Twickenham Bridge Creek Cutoff Rd." It's all the same road. It will be about 10 or 15 (incredibly beautiful) miles or so to a bridge across the John Day River. Don't cross that bridge, but keep going straight.
- South Twickenham/Twickenham Bridge Creek Cutoff about 10 or 15 (also phenomenal) miles to a "T" intersection, Bridge Creek Rd. Turn left, and drive a few miles toward the "John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit." Follow the signs to the overlook and the trails. It's well marked.
- After you've seen the Painted Hills, drive back out to Bridge Creek Rd. and turn right. Follow that road (it turns into Burnt Ranch Rd., but you won't notice) to U.S. Hwy. 26. Turn left.
- U.S. 26 a few miles to the town of Mitchell. In 2000 it had a population of 170, but it's been in decline for several decades and is fast becoming a ghost town. Last two times we were there, nothing was open other than the post office.
- After seeing Mitchell, retrace your route on U.S. 26, going back to Hwy. 207. Turn right and drive about 25 miles to Service Creek. The last five miles before Service Creek are spectacular, reminiscent of Zion National Park. When you reach Hwy. 19, turn left. It's about 20 miles back to Fossil
Back to Portland
The quickest way is to take Oregon Hwy. 19 north to Condon; turn left on Oregon Hwy. 206 to U.S. 97; right on U.S. 97 to I-84; left on I-84 West to Portland. Without stops, it's three hours. Below is for those who want to see more. It will take about six hours.
- From Fossil, Black Butte Ln. a few miles to Hoover Creek Rd. Turn right.
- Hoover Creek Rd. a mile or so to Lost Valley Rd. Bear left.
- Lost Valley Road 10 or so miles to Lone Rock Rd.
- Lone Rock Rd. through spectacular lonesome high country, most of which simply cannot be photographically depicted with any accuracy, to Lone Rock, population 24, without a single store of any kind in sight.
- Buttermilk Canyon Rd. for about 20 miles to Hale Ridge Rd., turn in either direction. If you turn right, go a half-mile to Redding Rd. and turn left. If you turn left on Hale Ridge, go a mile and a half to Sumner Rd. and turn right. Either one of these roads takes you to Oregon Hwy. 206. Turn left.
- Oregon Hwy. 206 to U.S. 97, turn right. Go to I-84 West, and drive toward Portland.
- I-84 to U.S. 197. Go south, back toward Dufur. Go into town, and find the Balch Hotel. A few blocks past the hotel, the street will split. Go to the right, on Dufur Market Rd, also known as Dufur Mill Rd. and Dufur Valley Rd., and Camp Baldwin Rd. (They are all the same.)
- Take Dufur Market/Mill/Valley/Camp Baldwin Rd. about 20 miles to Brooks Meadow Rd. Turn left, and proceed a few miles to Oregon Hwy. 35. The views of Mt. Hood are breathtaking. At Hwy. 35, turn right.
- Oregon Hwy. 35 about 40 miles (and more great views) to Hood River, population 6,000. This is a Columbia River town famous for its windsurfing. At this point, strong breezes from the Pacific Ocean cancel out strong westward river currents, enabling windsurfers to surf in place, more or less. Stay in Hood River, or head back to Portland on I-84.
Have a Whole Week? Going to Be There in September?
Instead of returning to Portland on Day Five, catch the Pendleton Roundup, one of the most famous rodeos in the West. Get your tickets well in advance, and try to be there on the final day, 'cause it's the most fun. Let 'er buck! is the motto. East of Pendleton, there is an Oregon Trail Interpretive Park near I-84. It's not as comprehensive as the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, another 90 miles southeast on I-84, but it's still worth seeing.
To get to Pendleton from Fossil, follow the "Back to Portland" directions until Oregon Hwy. 206. But instead of turning left, turn right. Hwy. 206 will join with Oregon Hwy. 207, and you will take 206/207 toward the town of Heppner, population 1,400. Just before you get into town, turn right on Willow Creek Rd. This is an Oregon Scenic Byway, open during the summertime only. Heed the sign; I tried it in April and had to be pulled out of a snowbank by a tow truck. In about 25 miles, you'll hit U.S. 395. Hang a left, and you'll be in Pendleton in an hour or so.
Visiting at a different time? Oregon’s rodeo season starts in April. Spray, the site of a rodeo in late May, is in Wheeler County. Rodeos in Prineville, Madras, The Dalles, Heppner, Condon, and Tygh Valley are within a couple hours of Wheeler County, and others could easily fit into a travel itinerary with a little advance planning. The Pendleton Roundup is the biggest and best, but the small ones are a lot of fun. In fact, a lot of people prefer them because they can get closer to the action.
Fitting the Oregon Old West Into Your Trip
I’ve been to just about every “name brand” tourist destination we’ve got in America, including the Inside Passage of Alaska, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier, to name a few of the places most frequently mentioned on the TT. I’ve driven through Idaho and Montana too many times to count, and stayed at guest (“dude”) ranches in those places. Of all these destinations, only the Grand Canyon stands out as a must-see Western icon that I’d send people to rather than here.
Which is to say this: Consider making Wheeler County your main “out West” destination. It’s an easy detour from a trip up the coast from San Francisco. It’s a much shorter and easier journey than, say, trying to drive all the way to Yellowstone – which, by the way, in my opinion and that of plenty of other Westerners whose views I trust – is not nearly as spectacular.
With that, here are some alternate routes that can replace or supplement the Portland excursion outlined above:
- Seattle: MapQuest has a good, six-hour direct itinerary. Alternatively, you can get a 4-1/4 hour itinerary to The Dalles, and use the directions above for a more scenic approach. Total driving time, not including stops, would be eight hours. With stops, figure 10 hours. If you’re going to Seattle from Fossil, you could take the scenic return to Portland route described earlier, and add 3 more hours on I-205/I-5 to reach Seattle from Portland. Total without stops would be nine or 10 hours. You might want to stop overnight in Portland or Hood River, or perhaps skip Portland (by continuing north on U.S. 97 rather than taking I-84 west at the junction) and stay at Mt. Rainier N.P. if you can get a room there in advance.
- From San Francisco: Take U.S. 101, California Hwy. 128 (at Cloverdale), and California Hwy. 1 north to Mendocino, and stay overnight. From there, take Hwy. 1 back to U.S. 101, and from there use the northward directions through the redwoods in this posting.Spend the night in Gold Beach, Oregon. From there, take U.S. 101 to Bandon. Turn right on Oregon Hwy. 42, and drive to Roseburg via Hwy. 42 and I-5. From Roseburg, take Oregon Hwy. 138 to Crater Lake National Park. Once you’ve seen the rim, retrace your steps back to Hwy. 138 and exit to U.S. 97. Take a left and drive to Bend, and stay the night. From Bend, drive about 80 miles north on U.S. 97 to Shaniko. Turn right onto Oregon Hwy. 218 and drive about 40 miles to Fossil. From San Francisco to Fossil, using the route I’ve just given, is a comfortable 3-1/4 days. If you leave Bend by 9 a.m. or on the fourth day, once you get to Fossil you’ll have time for the “Day One” drive outlined the “Wheeler County’s Iconic Landscapes” section of this post. That would cut a day off of the five-day schedule outlined above.
- Inland from Death Valley: From the national Park, take California Hwys. 190 and 136 to U.S. 395 just south of Lone Pine, California. Turn right on U.S. 395 and drive 730 miles north to Oregon Hwy. 402, at Long Creek, Oregon. Turn left on Hwy. 402 and drive 35 miles to merge with Oregon Hwy. 19 near Kimberly, yet another real ghost town. Drive 45 miles to Fossil. This would take two or three days from Death Valley, depending on your pace. Note: This is one of the great and largely unheralded American drives. Try to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Burns, Oregon, on the way.
HAVE A GREAT TRIP
Jun 13, 2011 9:01 AM
273to get from Newark airport to Manhattan, you can take theAirtrain (monorail) to Newark Liberty International Airport station, where you can get a NJTransit train to Manhattan's Penn Station ($11.55.) - app. 20 minutes. Or, you can also take the Olympia Trails bus, which is about $10, and may take about 1/2 hour.
Oliver | Ganar Dinero
Oct 4, 2011 5:34 AM
Oct 19, 2011 11:11 AM
276I don't know if someone else has mentioned this, but I just discovered that--hallelujah!--the US Embassy in Australia has put up a page that explains the VWP and travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It even covers people who are planning to stay in Canada on a WHV or attend school. They say this about leaving through Mexico
The Embassy has also put up a visa FAQ. The VWP section answers a lot of questions, such as what if I've been to Cuba, can I extend my time, is there a time limit between visits, and even what is a signatory carrier. There are other common questions in the rest of the FAQ. This looks like a good source for quoting officialdom about visa & waiver issues.
Jun 24, 2012 6:30 PM
There's been a significant upsurge, I've noticed, in people asking for advice on seeing the U.S. South. Here's some info that may help clear up confusion and design the trip you're looking for.
First of all, if you say "the South," let's make sure we're talking about the same thing. When an American says that term, he means the old South--the eleven southeastern states that formed the Confederate States of America during the Civil War of 1861-65, plus maybe Kentucky and West Virginia, and minus maybe Texas and Florida. We sometimes get people who have looked at a map, have decided they want to go to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and southern California, and have seen that it is generally closest to the "S" on the map; these people then tell us they are interested in the South. No--that's the Southwest. Different thing entirely.
The South is united by commonalities of culture that extend well beyond the obvious (a long-bygone history of slavery, and a more recent history of otherwise troubled race relations). It has its own food, its own speech, its own music, its own literature, its own pace of life. And yes, its own history. It's those aspects that draw people to visit.
Sometimes you hear the term "deep South." This is the culturally Southernmost states of the South--South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. No, the rest of the south is not called the "Shallow South."
Why isn't Florida included? Often it is, but it's generally felt that Florida--at least the part of Florida you're thinking of--is actually south of the South, if that makes any sense. This is because central and south Florida were settled in the 20th century by people fleeing the harsh winters of the north--Yankee transplants, to use the Southern term for them. Go to Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Beach, and you'll find people talking like they're from Brooklyn; go to Naples or Ft. Myers, and you'll hear a lot of Chicago accents.
Texas is the other special case, bringing together elements of the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West. It's safest to consider Texas its own region--that's what Texans do, for sure. They're quick to remind you that Texas was once an independent country.
Also, for your purposes the interesting parts of Florida and Texas are quite a distance from the interesting parts of the rest of the South. So you're better off saving those two states for another trip.
You'll also sometimes hear the term "border state." Initially, this referred to the slave states that stayed loyal (more or less) to the Union during the Civil War; it's come more generally to refer to the cultural transition zone between north and south. The unofficial border, pre-war, was the Mason-Dixon line (the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, as mapped by the eponymous surveying team). The North has crept south over the years; no one seriously thinks of Maryland or Delaware as southern any more, and Virginia now has some aspects of a border state.
Why are you visiting the South?
Unlike with most other parts of the country, people seem to visit the South with varying ideas of what they want to find when they get there. Maybe you're looking for the ghost of Scarlett O'Hara; maybe it's the ghosts of Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong. Maybe it's the ghost of Robert E. Lee, or of Martin Luther King. If you've read William Faulkner, whose ghost also can be found, you do know that you're chasing ghosts, at least. The thing is, while the modern South is all of those, more truthfully it's none of those.
What I'm trying to say is that this FAQ is better organized by topic rather than by geography. That way you can mix and match. One bit of advice, though: DON'T skip the "mixing" part. You won't have seen the South, really, if you cherry-pick only the music bits, for example.
The Civil War
The watershed event in the history of the South was the American Civil War. With two major exceptions (Antietam and Gettysburg) and a surprisingly large number of minor ones, the battles of the Civil War were fought almost entirely in the South. Remember as you travel around that the Civil War was not thought of as a civil war in the South; from their point of view it was an independence struggle that failed.
All of the battlefields mentioned here can be visited (and are worth seeing).
After some preliminaries at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, the war began in earnest at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina. The Union (northern) strategy for ending the rebellion had two prongs--capture the southern capital of Richmond, Virginia, and cut the transportation links that tied the Atlantic to the interior South. Roughly, these corresponded to an eastern theater and a western theater of the war.
Virginia is littered (almost literally littered) with Civil War battlefields. Besides all the ones around Richmond, notable examples are at Fredricksburg/Chancellorsville, Petersburg, and Manassas. Petersburg is especially interesting if you're from Europe or Australia--what happened at Petersburg was basically WWI-style trench warfare, seen for the first time there.
The western theater is more spread out. The lynchpins of the Southern transportation network were the Mississippi River and the railroads that converged on Chattanooga and Atlanta. The Mississippi finally fell after a long siege at Vicksburg, Mississippi. A major battle was fought at Shiloh, Tennessee; the fate of the western theater was then decided in a series of battles around Chattanooga.
(The grand-daddy of all Civil War sites, of course, is in the north: Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania. But I figured I'd mention it here in case you find yourself really getting into this stuff.)
The Antebellum South
So you've seen Gone With the Wind and you want to find the pre-Civil War South, the South of sipping mint juleps on the veranda at the plantation home in your hoop skirts and seersucker suits. Of course, this fantasy is common enough that there's an industry out there to indulge it.
The best historical preservation is always accomplished by economic stagnation. The railroads made the old Southern port cities of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina sink into relative irrelevance; the once wealthy city of Natchez, Mississippi became a complete backwater when the river stopped being as important. The happy result is that Savannah, Charleston, and Natchez still have that old-South charm. If you're looking for plantation tours, start there.
The old quarter of New Orleans, of course (whose architecture is actually Spanish-influenced, not French) is another example of the same effect--the French Quarter was thought of as a slum during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so it too was preserved. There are good plantation tours from New Orleans, as well.
People often ask whether Charleston or Savannah is better; the answer is Charleston, but an even better answer is, "They're so close together, why not visit both?" If you're headed to New Orleans from Memphis--yes, Natchez is worth the detour.
The music trail
Celtic peoples settled in the Appalachian mountain regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. They brought Irish and Scottish folk traditions with them, which evolved when they arrived. Slaves imported from Africa worked the cotton plantations in the deep South--they brought African music traditions with them. Both these groups of people were dirt poor, and wound up bumping into each other over time. They taught each other what they knew. The results were bluegrass, gospel, blues, jazz, and rock & roll. That's a simplistic version of the story, but this ain't a history lesson.
Nashville is better than Memphis if you're looking for music rather than history. Nashville is not just country music--all those other kinds can be found there. And since the music industry has long had outposts in Nashville, young musicians still move to Nashville to make a career. That means that unlike Memphis, Nashville is still making vital music. Broadway in Nashville is hopping with great stuff; Beale Street in Memphis is pretty much a museum (a museum with good live music, but don't kid yourself that it's not just for the tourists).
Speaking of museums, you want to see the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, which is fantastic (and I don't even like country music), and Sun Studios in Memphis. Also go to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Delta blues is an old style--the rural style, which grew up in the Mississippi delta region of northwestern Mississippi. It's blues closest to its roots. Note, by the way, that it's largely a dead style. If you want innovative modern blues--well, the bluesmen moved north, like so many other African-Americans following the lure of good jobs and good money, during what's since been called the Great Migration. Chicago is now the best blues hotbed in the country.
Jazz is New Orleans, and New Orleans is jazz. Preservation Hall is strictly for the tourists but worth a listen anyway, at least if the line to get in isn't too long. But of course it's also a museum. Want the real thing? You'll hear it pouring out of half the bars and clubs in the city. If you can't find great music in N.O. you simply aren't trying hard enough.
Two more things to mention: You should know about The Crooked Road in southwestern Virginia, which winds through Appalachian scenery and links venues for traditional Appalachian music--notably, the Floyd Country Store, in Floyd, VA. Also, if you find yourself in the Ozarks (the mountains of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas--way off the usual path through the South, but it is part of the region), you may as well go to Branson, Missouri, which is a little hard to explain--just look it up.
Just a list of the good stuff:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.
Among the many other caves in the region, the standout is Luray, in Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia/North Carolina.
Natchez Trace Parkway, running from Nashville to Natchez.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the Outer Banks more generally, is the best seacoast in the region, in my opinion. Also consider Assateague Island, in Virginia and Maryland.
Born on the bayou
CCR weren't, by the way--they were born in Berkeley. But if you're interested in Cajun and Creole culture, after you visit New Orleans, head to Lafayette, Louisiana. That's the heart of Cajun country, and there are several good bayou/swamp tours and whatnot from there. Also, it's your place to get true Cajun food. In New Orleans, you should be aiming for Creole food. Aw, heck--just eat whatever looks good: there's so much good food in New Orleans it's not even funny.
Discrimination against African-Americans has ended in the South (at least officially). This was a result of the efforts of many people (of whom Martin Luther King is only the most famous) during the 1930s through 1970s. If you're interested in this side of the South's history, the best place to start is the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis --it's housed in the motel where King was shot, and is excellent and comprehensive. Other prominent sites are King's church, boyhood home, and grave in Atlanta, and civil rights museums and monuments in the Alabama cities of Birmingham (excellent), Selma (also good), and Montgomery (designed by well-known architect Maya Lin).
These didn't fit elsewhere
...but are worth knowing about:
The history of the South didn't begin in 1861. Go to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson built his classically-proportioned home, Monticello (and the equally classical University of Virginia). It's a UNESCO World Heritage site. For more from the 18th Century, also head to Williamsburg, VA, and nearby Jamestown (the first permanent English settlement in North America) and Yorktown (where the American revolution reached its effective conclusion). If you liked Monticello, also head to Mount Vernon, George Washington's beloved plantation. But maybe that's better treated as a day trip from Washington, DC. One more famous president with a plantation home worth seeing: The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's spread just outside Nashville. Jackson is the guy on the $20 bill, and he's inarguably the most significant President of the era between the founding and the Civil War.
Biltmore House, in Asheville, North Carolina. Huge, palatial mansion, modeled on a French chateau, owned by the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt clan. Equally huge formal gardens surround it. Asheville itself is also noteworthy as a surprisingly eclectic city for its environment--it's kind of like a little piece of California lodged up in the hills. This also makes it a better jumping-off point for the Smokies than (tacky) Gatlinburg is.
The NASA museum in Huntsville, Alabama. Pretty good if you're in the neighborhood, and a great break from all this history.
Whiskey. The Jack Daniels distillery, like it says on the bottle, is in Lynchburg, Tennessee, which ironically is in a county where alcohol consumption is illegal. They have a great tour. If you're interested in distilleries, though, they're thickest on the ground in central Kentucky (and you'll taste a whole bunch of stuff that will make Jack Daniels taste like rotgut by comparison). Take the bourbon tour; base yourself in Bardstown for that.
But you've hardly mentioned Atlanta, the region's largest city. Why?
In a nutshell, Atlanta is the New South, and the whole reason you're here is to see the Old South. If you're looking for modern urban life, yes, by all means, go to Atlanta. And there certainly are things to do in Atlanta--don't think I'm selling it short. But honestly, your time is better spent elsewhere.
Edited by: mrpenney
Oct 17, 2012 7:15 AM
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