Our final stop on our Midwest trip was West Memphis, Arkansas, just across the river from Memphis, Tennessee. Two reasons for stopping there. I had heard a lot about the Tom Sawyer RV campground on many online forums as a great place to stop and relax right on the Mississippi River, and I'm a huge Elvis fan, and have wanted to visit Graceland for many years. Figured it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone.
The drive down from our last stop in Missouri was pretty easy, even if the roads in some places were pretty beat up. We even went through a bridge construction site where the maximum width allowed was 9 feet – 6 inches, and we're 9 feet wide! The end of the drive was a bit disconcerting, as our GPS program took us the shortest route through some of some pretty sketchy parts of West Memphis for about 3 or 4 miles. It was a pretty depressed area to say the least, and made us question our choice of campgrounds.
But it did manage to get us to Tom Sawyer RV campground.
You head down this small, tree-lined road that reminds you that you're now in the South, and you come to a rustic camp office to do your contactless check-in. They have everything waiting for you since you've given them all the payment information they need, so you grab your packet and find your site. Tom Sawyer has a few sites in the trees where some blessed shade can be found, but most of their sites are on a level field divided by an access road. To the right are some sites without trees at all, and to the left are three rows of sites with trees on many sites.
We did not get any trees, even though we stayed to the left.
Nevertheless, we did get a very nice site on the end of a row, so even though we didn't have one of the closer sites to the Big Muddy, we had an unobstructed view of the Mighty Mississippi out our front and kitchen windows.
It's really one of the charms of Tom Sawyer; to be able to park within about 50 yards of the Mississippi and take in the peace and quiet of river camping and enjoy watching water-borne commerce still going on in the form of river barges being “towed” up and down the river every hour of the day.
Might have enjoyed it a bit more if it wasn't so blisteringly hot during the days we stayed there. Many springs, this campground is unavailable due to flooding; it's that low and close to the river bank. But we were high and dry during our visit.
Day 2 was the obligatory visit to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. I've got to say, the folks handling his estate have done a wonderful job of preserving his property and collections, as there is a wing in the museum area across the street from the actual mansion that houses everything from his cars, to his time in the Army, his movies and his Vegas career.
And everything else. Barbara swears Elvis never threw anything away!
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, tickets are limited so that social distancing can be observed, and masks are required while you're on the property. That's the bad news. The good news is that because of this, you have the grounds pretty much to yourselves as they appear to allow only about 6-8 people per group to go through the self-guided tour. You get a tablet and headphones which has John Stamos taking you from room to room, allowing you to spend about as much time as you could ever want to go through the bottom floor of Graceland. No one goes upstairs, as that is off limits because it's where Elvis slept (or maybe he still sleeps there – who knows?).
Anyway, if you've never been there, the outside and grounds are a beautiful oasis just down the road from a pretty seedy part of Memphis, preserved just as it was on the day Elvis died.
The inside is another story. Don't get me wrong; the inside is every bit as opulent as you would imagine someplace Elvis would call home, it's just that Elvis' taste in décor was a bit – garish. The famous Jungle Room, where he recorded many of his later releases, literally looks like a jungle. From the heavy wooden furniture carved with animal motifs to the green carpet on the floor – AND the ceiling. His recreation room down in the basement had three of the biggest tube TV's made at the time on one wall, a pretty good sized bar, and was decorated in midnight blue and gold.
We learned that Elvis was an honorary captain on the Memphis police force, and was known to pull over people occasionally to tell them to drive safely, but also learned he was an absolute menace on the road himself! Col. Tom Parker allegedly refused to let Elvis drive certain vehicles Elvis owned, because he surely figured Elvis would damage them.
No trip to Graceland is complete without being able to sample the foods that Elvis loved, and I was no exception. In the diner on-site they offered a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich with bacon, and gave you your choice of grilled with butter, or Elvis's favorite – bacon grease.
Of course I chose the bacon grease.
And let me tell you, it is pure culinary genius! I've always loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but adding bacon and grilling it? Absolute mouth-watering goodness!
Barbara took the safe route and had the hot dog.
Graceland complete, we headed back for some more relaxin' on the river. Thank you . . . thank you very much . . .
Our trip back to Georgia to pick up our grandsons for our oldest's soon-to-be 11th birthday was uneventful, but it did include a stop at the Georgia-Bama RV park in Heflin, Alabama. Even though it was right off the exit ramp from I-20, there was little noise overnight. Only about a dozen sites, four of which were drive throughs, and they take Passport America (and cash only), but we were also parked right behind the Damned Yankee Steak and Fish restaurant. Let me tell you, the place wasn't much to look at from the outside, but the food was especially well-prepared and presented in a way that would rival some 4-star restaurants. A very tasty end to a long day of travel.
Our Midwest trip complete, we next take on the daunting challenge of keeping a 4 year-old and an 11 year-old entertained in Pigeon Forge without going broke or crazy.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.