We actually did a lot more than collect new counties and visit zoos. After all, we sat in a car for five days! I needed to stop every couple of hours to stretch my legs. Sometimes we timed our layovers to see something interesting and sometimes things had a way of finding us. The open road worked like that.
Crossing the First Border
We began our drive well before sunrise and watched the first rays of light as we approached Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I’ve always hated driving on Interstate 81. It always seems choked with trucks and I wanted to avoid the hassle. Leaving early worked as I expected. We rolled down the valley under clear skies and nothing remarkable happened during the several hours it took to exit the state.
The first border slipped behind us as we passed Bristol and crossed into Tennessee. There we exited at a rest stop, thankful for its existence, and marked the completion of our initial leg. The journey continued onward another couple of hours before we finished our first day at Knoxville. Clouds formed as we toured the Knoxville Zoo in a cold mist. The next morning we drove through freezing fog on the way to Nashville, with an icy shroud covering trees, although conditions improved the rest of the way into Memphis.
Virginia and Tennessee stretched on forever. Only those two states separated Washington, DC from Memphis, a distance of 870 miles (1,400 km). That seemed like an amazingly long distance until we reached Texas later.
The Grand Guitar
I noticed something weird when we pulled over at that first rest stop when we entered Tennessee. A building shaped like a giant guitar (map) stood across the highway. I took a photo of it and I vowed to scour the Internet when I got a chance.
As it turned out, I’d encountered The Grand Guitar, which had its own entry on Roadside America. An entrepreneur named Joe Morrell built this masterpiece shaped like a Martin Dreadnought acoustic guitar in 1983. Inside, he placed a recording studio, a country music radio station, and his collection of musical instruments. The building fell into disarray after his death although the National Register of Historic Places still recognized it in 2014. Rumors of restoration floated around various websites although I saw no signs of that as we gazed upon the dilapidated structure.
Always Time for a Geo-Oddity
We stopped overnight at Forrest City, Arkansas — a little west of Memphis — on Christmas Eve. Only one place seemed to be open for dinner that evening, a Mexican restaurant sharing a lobby with a one-story motel. A chimichanga and a margarita seemed oddly appropriate at that moment.
Christmas morning dawned and we followed a southwestern diagonal through Arkansas. We took a short detour from the interstate as we approached the Texas state line and drove into central Texarkana. There were actually two Texarkanas, cojoined twins on opposite sides of the Texas-Arkansas border. However they so completely intertwined that they appeared as one. We took State Line Avenue where the boundary ran down the middle of the road. Southbound lanes fell on the Texas side and northbound ones in Arkansas.
We reached our goal, the main post office and courthouse shared by the portmanteau cities. (map) Naturally we found no trouble parking directly in front of the building on a holiday. One other group had the same idea so we swapped chances to take photos of our families split by a state border.
Then we pressed onward, driving through a rainy Dallas on our way to Weatherford, Texas where we stopped for the night. Christmas Dinner would be an adventure. Once again we had very few options. The local Waffle House seemed to be the best choice.
Waffle House famously never closes. Not only was the Waffle House in Weatherford open, it was packed with diners and fully staffed for the onslaught. People filled every booth and we felt lucky to find even two empty seats at the counter. I wouldn’t go all the way and call this is our new holiday tradition although we certainly made the best of it. Breakfast for dinner on Christmas? Why not.
Articles in the Cross-Country Series:
- The Plot Thickens
- Weatherford Art Thou?
- County Counting
- Zoos & Brews
- The Eastern Half
- The Western Half
- A Week in Phoenix
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr