Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last Day of the Stamping Trip

It would be another sunny day for my final leg of the trip, with temps in the low 40's to start. Yesterday I rode from Grand Rivers KY to just north of Springfield MO with Steve from the MTF. I had a very enjoyable and relaxed evening with him and his wife and now this morning ate homemade pancakes at Steve's house and made final preparations to get on the road to head south.

With Wilson Creek National Battlefield Park programmed in my GPS I waved goodbye and rode out of Steve's driveway and south to my next stamping destination. I was at this national park two years ago and had the whole park to myself. This time the parking lot was filled nearly to capacity at 9:15 in the morning. A large group was standing outside the visitor center listening to a ranger speak, as I walked up. They were high school students preparing to walk the trails within the park.

As much as I didn't want to, this would have to be a "stamp and run" visit. I would need to cover over 700 miles today, with 2 more national parks to visit along the way. So it was a quick visit and then back onto US 60 east to US 65 south toward Arkansas.

US 65 runs down to Branson and into Arkansas and, even though a state highway designation, provides plenty of good, twisty riding. I would pass through Harrison, AR then south through Searcy County, where the road gets nicely crooked through the Ozarks. Along this route, near Silver Hill, is the Tyler Bend Visitor Center in the Buffalo National River, our nation's first designated National River. It is so beautiful through here! The road into the preserve winds through hardwoods just starting to bud. I can only imagine how beautiful this will be in the summer when the trees are in full leaf, or in the fall when the trees are changing color.

The drive gradually works its way down toward a bluff over the river. As I pulled into the circular drive around the front of the visitor center building, a roadrunner scurried across right in front of me. She was heading for a large cedar near the front entrance. Since I was going very slowly anyway, neither she nor I was in danger of collision and I could get a really good look at her in the sunlight. What a beautiful bird! Her feathers were intricately ticked in shades of brown, tan, and white, and she had a long elegant tail and a beautiful dark crest on the top of her head. While I've seen then along side roadways in the Southwest, never have I gotten such an up-close and lingering view of one before.

I spent a little time at the visitor center looking at and reading the exhibits and talking to the ranger. He seemed really interested in my NPT quest. I asked him about the bird and he knew immediately what I was referring to, saying that she frequents that area and that she may be building a nest or already nesting under that cedar tree.

I finished my visit at Tyler Bend and got back onto US 65 to continue south toward Little Rock. My next stop would be Central High School National Historic Site in Little Rock. So many of my park visits have served to reconstruct the fight for equal protection of the laws. One of the most moving displays was at the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail visitor center, east of Selma. I also visited the Brown vs. Board of Education NHS in Topeka, KS. The entire school building is a designated national park and classrooms appear exactly as they did in 1954. The exibits and bookstore are excellent and the park rangers very knowledgeable.

My exposure to segregation in the '50's came when we moved from California, where I'd lived all my life to that point, to Pensacola FL. I was 11 years old and we went to the local department store to shop for warmer weather clothes. A refrigerated drinking fountain sat next to a non-refrigerated drinking fountain next to the escalator. Signs attached to these fountains read "white" and "colored." I turned the faucet on the non-refrigerated fountain, expecting to see red or blue or maybe green water come bubbling out. Disappointed that the water looked no different, I had to ask my mom what the signs meant.

The displays in the Central High School visitor center were powerful and telling, describing very well the rising crisis in Little Rock. The high school is still a functioning school, so is not open for tours during the school year, but it is a gorgeous, large art deco building set in what was no doubt a beautiful neighborhood at the time.

The visitor center is brand new, just opened in 2007. It used to be housed in the little Mobil gas station across the street. The historical significance of the gas station is that it was occupied by the media during the protests that surrounded the first integration of that school. Today the gas station is beautifully restored to it's early 1950's appearance.

I walked down toward the high school to take some photos, then hopped on the bike and headed toward the freeway which would take me to I-30 south toward Texas. It was about 3:30 PM and I still had 450 miles remaining in my trip toward home this day.

As I rode home to Houston, I used the time to process the results of this trip and to reflect on the wide variety of experiences I'd encountered along the 2,000 miles I'd just ridden. My trip started with a visit to the Acadian Prairie visitor center, where I read about and saw some artifacts of the lifestyles of the forceably displaced Acadian settlers to the area. In Natchez I learned about the lifestyles of a slave-owning plantation owner and of a freedman who became his own boss and a successful business owner. In Vicksburg, at Shiloh, at Wilsons Creek, and at Ft. Donelson I crossed the battle lines that separated blue and gray, as fellow countrymen were divided against each other over the rights of states to rule their own people. I witnessed natural beauty along the Natchez Trace, in the Land Between the Lakes and along the Buffalo National River. And I learned more about the drama and of the bravery exhibited during the earliest days of integration in the South.

It's been a good trip.

2,017 miles, 4 days.

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