For many people, driving through Amarillo means stopping at a quirky display of spray-painted Cadillacs or the restaurant where you get your 72-ounce steak free if you can eat it in one sitting.
I like to think I drilled a little deeper in this oil boom-shaped town, venturing a bit off of Interstate 40 to discover its beautiful downtown architecture and a less touristyTexas Panhandle Cafe.
I’ll definitely come back.
Our lunch spot, Youngblood’s Cafe, was just a few blocks from downtown, It was so inconspicuous on the outside that we passed it by initially, but boy are we glad we turned around.
I bet I’ve eaten in 200 Texas restaurants during the past 35 years from Daingerfield to Pecos, but this has got to be one of the most authentic Texas cafe experiences that I’ve had. To get to our table, we passed by three massive dining rooms with its walls covered in Texas decor (from a longhorn skull painted like the Texas flag to a cactus Christmas tree. We were served by a “sweetie-saying” waitress wearing a T-shirt saying: “I’ve got glitter in my veins and Jesus in my heart.”
The chicken-fried steak came topped with green chili sauce. After lunch, I read this cafe was once at the Amarillo Livestock Auction, one of the largest cattle auctions in the world. The owner was trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and was once executive sous chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, but don’t let that deter you. Our two meals were great and totaled only $20.30 tax included. We would have gotten free banana pudding if we had gotten there earlier.
To walk off a little of that hearty lunch, I took in a few blocks downtown to look at the historic buildings. Amarillo had a building boom right before the Great Depression, and many of those buildings have been restored.
The most iconic of the buildings is an Art Deco high rise built in 1930 as the regional headquarters for Santa Fe Railroad. It now houses county offices. Another landmark building is the old Paramount Theatre, which has been restored with its neon shining bright at night. Two classic Five & Dime buildings are well preserved.
Early afternoon on a late autumn day, the West Texas sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it. I liked the way this bank sign looked surrounded by it.
I only had about 20 minutes, so I didn’t see all of the historic buildings. Just before I left, I found this classic parked outside of a lawyer’s office: A man and his dog and a 1930 Chevrolet pickup.
I’ve heard the food is really good at the bright yellow Big Texan Steak Ranch, the steakhouse with the big steer at front and gaudy billboards and signs pointing the way along the interstate. We may stop some time on our way through.
Who knows maybe I’ll pull over at Cadillac Ranch for a photo op.
But I’m really looking forward to a return trip to see the progress downtown, maybe even checking out Old Route 66 Historic District, a mile-long stretch of art galleries, antique shops and restaurants, along the old Mother Road.
If you grew up in the rural South, you probably have at least one of these country stores tucked away in your memory.
For me it was Hughes Grocery near my grandparents house in Clay County, Mississippi. I remember the red Coca Cola chest cooler, the driveway paved with nearly as many bottle caps as gravel.
For many in Harrison County, Texas, that store is T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store in Jonesville, a curve in a country road just two miles from busy Interstate 20. The store has been around for 170 years, making it the oldest continuously-operating general store in Texas.
After bicycling the hilly roads of East Texas the other day, I stopped in to see if it looked the same as it did when I first visited 32 years ago.
I didn’t need any overalls, Lodge cast iron skillets or Raggedy Ann dolls (three major categories at the store), but I couldn’t pass up the No. 1 seller—hoop Wisconsin cheddar cheese sliced with a 100-year-old cutter.
T.C. Lindsey & Co. General Store is still jam packed with inventory, although the family is keeping it open for the memories rather than for profit.
I also came away with a couple of micro-brewed root beers . There is an extensive selection of vintage soft drinks and as many varieties of Spam as I have seen. Penny (well, nickel) candy. Honey and sorghum molasses from nearby farms. Bulk Spanish peanuts farmed 70 miles up the road in Naples, Texas.
You can get sun bonnets, kerosene lamp supplies and shoes from the 1970s, but many of the items are not for sale such as the rare 1896 wringer washing machine and the last cotton bale ginned in the area in 1973. The store just started taking credit cards a year ago.
It is such an iconic place that movies and TV shows have filmed there, most notably the 1985 TV movie remake of The Long Hot Summerbringing Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd and Ava Gardner to Jonesville. One day, a limousine rolled up with Lady Bird Johnson, who came in to buy Cracker Jacks of all things. Her father ran a similar store in nearby Karnack.
A favorite tale is when an employee showed up for work drunk one day. At that time, coffins were sold upstairs. There was also a sofa upstairs, where the employee passed out. He was placed inside one of the coffins as a prank.
T.C. Lindsey & Co will be celebrating 170 years of operation with a birthday cake and bluegrass band on Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Can’t make that?.Another good time to stop by is Dec. 9 for its annual Christmas Open House from 11 a.m. to 2 pm.
T.C. Lindsey & Co. is located at 2293 FM Road 134, about 26 miles west of Shreveport. Take exit 633 off of Interstate 20.
Tucumcari, New Mexico, the largest town on a monotonous Interstate 40 stretch between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas , is a good place to make a quick trip down memory lane.
You could gas up at the Flying J or Pilot travel stations on the interstate and be on your way, but on a recent trip we took 15 extra minutes to ride along the Historic Route 66 that goes through the edge of town.
Route 66 is called the “Mother Road” because the long route between Chicago and Los Angeles became famous as the one of the original U.S. highways. Built in 1926, it became synonymous with road trips and is immortalized in film and song. Today, pieces of the road remain as an iconic relic of early road tripping.
Most of the motor courts were abandoned after Holiday Inn Express and others opened along the interstate. Some have been restored. Others have become eyesores. One still had a sign hanging out bragging that Clint Eastwood had stayed there as if it was making a last gasp for survival. (Indeed, Rawhide with Eastwood was filmed in Tucumcari until the early 1960s.
The most photogenic is the Blue Swallow Motel, which looks like it is frozen in time with a Hudson automobile out front and rooms remodeled to every detail including vintage magazines and rotary dial telephones. We were driving through on a late afternoon but next time I’d like to pass through when the Blue Swallow and other businesses turn on their neon lights.
Tucumcari is making a decent attempt to draw nostalgia tourism with its Route 66 Museum and an annual festival called Rockabilly on the Route. Its community college also has a well-regarded dinosaur museum.
Maybe I’ll check out the museum on another trip, This time, I only saw the dinosaurs along old Route 66.
When you are traveling across country seeing how many miles you can cover, you don’t usually have time to take the backroads. Sometimes just a small detour — 15 minutes in this case — is enough to quench your curiosity and make the drive more memorable.
With the enticing displays of watermelons at the grocery store, you may not feel the need to drive to a produce stand or farmers market to find a juicy sweet one.
But sometimes you find yourself on a Louisiana country road in July, passing handmade signs advertising hay for sale, fresh farm eggs and, less frequently, melons.
I was on such a road, Highway 4 in Bienville Parish, the other day when I came across all of those signs, including one for Plunkett Farms Watermelons near the General Store of Castor.
It actually advertised watermelons and black Angus, but since I didn’t have the need (or room in our Camry) for the latter, I concentrated on the melons.
Highway 4 is already off of the beaten path, but you have to go even farther –another half mile or so on a dirt road–past the main house, rusted tractors and sycamore trees to get to Plunketts 20-acre watermelon patch.
There I found Ronald Plunkett and his helpers under a canopy shading them from the harsh afternoon sun. The melons weren’t piled up there, but I was invited to ride in a cart to the field to pick the one I wanted.
Plunkett himself goes out early in the morning, hand picks the ripe ones and piles them up at the edge of the field. By the time he opens at 7 a.m., there’s often a line of truck peddlers waiting to buy them. Plunkett’s father began growing watermelons 68 years ago, and the Plunketts have sold to Brookshire’s and Walmart until the vendor rules got too onerous for him. He has another 25 acres of watermelons planted elsewhere.
We were on our way to Jonesboro that day, and I would have loved to have chatted more but I did get to ask Plunkett and his helpers how to pick the perfect watermelon–whether you’re in the field, at a farmers market or at Kroger.
“Look for a brown scar. I don’t know why but that’s how I have the best luck,” said one guy. I did a little research online where one report suggested brown scarring or webbing meant there was more pollination of the flowers that produce the fruit on the watermelon vine. More pollination = more sweetness, many reports say.
Other tips I’ve read about include:
(1) a creamy yellow “field spot”
(2) a brown rather than a green stem and
(3) uniformly shaped, whether round or oval.
I asked Plunkett for his best advice:
“If it’s shiny on the outside, it’s not ripe. It dulls as it ripens,” he said.
Whatever method you use, Plunkett said the least is the thumping.
“You’re not doing anything but making your finger sore.”
Castor is about an hour southeast of Shreveport and 18 miles west of Saline, a town known for its watermelons. Along my drive the other day, I found some other signs. One advertised Saline Watermelons and gave a telephone number. Another house with a patch outside simply had “Melons” painted on a white sheet. Bienville Parish is a colorful slice of rural Louisiana. If you want to learn more, read here or here.
Most summers we make a trek or two over to Mitcham Farms in Ruston, Louisiana for their delicious peaches.
It’s usually in mid-July when the freestone peaches are in their prime. But with this year’s mild winter and lack of chill hours for the trees, Mitcham’s has already exhausted their supply for the season.
Ditto other places I checked–Ed Lester in Coushatta, Frierson Orchards and several orchards in Texas.
No more peaches this year.
So I expanded my research and found Efurd Orchards just south of Pittsburg, Texas. The bad news is that it is an hour and 45 minute-drive from my house. The good news is the Efurds expect to have plenty of peaches through early September, and the drive makes an interesting road trip through the Piney Woods of East Texas.
Efurds is a entertaining destination farm stand with a whole lot more than peaches and preserves. When we were there mid-week, the place was a abuzz with daytrippers and peach questers wandering around the vintage vehicles on the grounds, meandering around the antique artifacts in the open-air market and lining up at the homemade ice cream counter.
Click on any photo to launch photo gallery
Oh, yeah and loading up on peaches. On that day, juicy Red Contenders were ripe; this week, Redskins are expected. Customers not only were buying pecks of peaches, but tomatoes, watermelons, peas and any fruit or vegetable that grows in East Texas.
Owner Greg Efurd and his daughter were busy at the cash register and chatting with customers. They explained that the 20 varieties of peaches they planted allowed them enough diversity to have peaches when many others don’t.
The Efurds have been growing peaches since 1972 and now have about 15,000 trees spread out on 150 acres. They also grow other produce. It’s especially busy in the spring when strawberries are getting ripe and the fall harvest season when the stand is ablaze with pumpkins and colorful mums.
There are several routes to take from Shreveport, each with its own interesting diversion. We exited Interstate 20 onto U.S. Highway 80 east of Marshall and followed state highway 154 through the woods, stopping at the Bear Creek Smokehouse company store to stock up on their local sausages and bacon. We ate hamburgers at Swanner’s, in Gilmer and bought a yellow-meated watermelon at the cute Lineberger Produce on U.S. 271 heading toward Efurds.
Lineberger was selling peaches too. Further up the road we found McPeak Orchards, itself a nice stop with peaches and a good bit of produce.
Click on any photo to launch photo gallery
After Efurd’s, we wandered a few miles north of Pittsburg to get a look at the gargantuan Bo Pilgrim bust, which sits atop a gazebo at the Pilgrim’s poultry distribution center. Pilgrim is Pittsburg’s most famous resident. He once headed the nation’s largest poultry operation. Pilgrim’s is now owned by a Brazilian company but Bo Pilgrim’s presence is seen everywhere in Pittsburg,
Along the way, we passed a few more homespun garden produce stands; some in covered sheds; others spread out on folding tables in the front yard.
Texas isn’t lacking in “trails” to entice road trips. There’s bluebonnet trails, barbecue trails, wine trails, even presidential trails (LBJ, the Bushes and JFK Museum).
But I think we’ve just added our own peach trail to that list.
Efurd’s is on U.S. Highway 271 three miles of south of Pittsburg and is currently open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. While in Pittsburg, you may want to check out some of these places below, although the vineyards and the museum are only open Thursdays and weekends and the hot link place is closed Sundays. Check the websites for specific hours of operation.
Los Pinos Vineyards: One of 19 wineries on the East Texas Piney Woods Wine Trail, this one is just 2.5 miles away from Efurd Orchards on County Road 1334.
Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum: This is actually two museums — Depot Museum with a life-size replica of the Ezekiel Airship, a local flying invention that predated the Wright Brothers’ first flight; and Farmstead Museum, with historic buildings and demonstrations by people dressed in period costumes.
Pittsburg Hot Links: The hot links is a food item peculiar to this slice of East Texas. They are typically served in a bowl with saltines, cheese, onions and pickle slices . The Pittsburg Hot Links restaurant is in downtown Pittsburg.
I love stumbling upon summer produce on the side of the road like I did the other day when I was taking the backroads to a clock repair shop.
Driving down Buncombe Road on the west edge of Shreveport turned out to be a nice adventure.
It all started when I saw the muscadine vines and an “open” sign at On Cloud Wine, which bills itself as “the biggest little winery in Louisiana.” Outside, chickens, geese and ducks were roaming, and there were fresh eggs for sale in the porch refrigerator.
Inside, owner Debbie Keckler was cleaning some equipment used to produce and bottle 16 varieties of wine. One Cloud Winery makes all of the wine onsite with juices from all over the world and the muscadines growing just a few feet away.
Cajun Culade, a sweet muscadine wine, and Bourbon Street Jazz, White Zinfandel, and wine of the month, are just two of the catchy Louisiana-themed names. There’s also lots of cute gift items.
Hours are Monday through Friday 1 to 6 pm and Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm. The tasting bar is open Thursdays through Saturdays.
Next, I came across a truckload of watermelons and a canopy covering fresh vegetables at the intersection of Woolworth and Buncombe roads. Clyde Adams is there most Mondays through Saturdays. Everything he was selling that day came from his farm in nearby Greenwood, except for the red and yellow-meated watermelons that he brought in from DeRidder.
I picked up some squash and my first watermelon of the season, I did not regret it. It’s usually hit or miss when I pick watermelons, but Clyde thumped around and found me a winner.
A few miles down the road, I began seeing Burma-shave style signs announcing what’s upcoming—“cucumbers…raw honey…canning tomatoes…sweet corn 4 u freezer.”
I must have just missed the closing. The gate was locked so I’ll have to go back another time. The stand is called Matthew’s Garden, and it’s regularly open weekdays and Saturday afternoons.
Next to that farm is Mikissick Herb Farm. The McKissicks don’t have a roadside stand but sell fresh produce and essential oils at the Shreveport Farmers Market. I caught up with Marilyn McKissick last Saturday, who said the summer crop is winding down but she’s planting fall tomatoes.
She also said at least one more farmer may occasionally sell produce at the corner of Buncombe and Simpson Road
Along the way I saw Black-eyed Susans blooming, eggs and hay for sale and maybe an old tractor too. When I got to Greenwood, there was also produce for sale at the entrance of a BBQ restaurant, but I had already spent my budget.
So I recommend a summer drive down Buncombe Road. You never know what you might find.
Locating Mt. Driskill, Louisiana’s highest point, is no easy task. For starters, it’s only 535 feet so finding a summit that juts up from the “hills” of eastern Bienville Parish is difficult from the road.
And since it is the third lowest state summit (behind Florida and Delaware), Mt. Driskill is hardly a tourist attraction. Directions aren’t prominent until you get to the trailhead in the parking lot of a church.
On our first attempt, we set out with Google maps. I had directions, but hubby wanted to drive through Ringgold rather than the planned Arcadia, which messed up my navigation. Even my Verizon had pockets of no service as we wandered around Bienville Parish.
We were close, but missed a sneaky turn on Highway 507 as we ran out of daylight. We wound up at Liberty Hill church and cemetery, which I thought might have been the entrance from my last visit to Mt. Driskill in 1986.
But, it wasn’t the right church. Rural churches look a lot alike, particularly in a 30-year-old memory. Since you don’t want to find yourself in those parts with less than a quarter tank of gas, we drove six miles to Bryceland Mall (that’s the real name) to fill up and headed back to Shreveport.
Next week we made a return trip with precise directions I had printed out. That took us to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church and the Mt. Driskill trailhead.
It’s a pleasant hike the mile or so up with only two real inclines that caused much resistance. It would be prettier in the fall with the hardwoods sporting color, but the forestland on this cold January day suited us just fine.
Although finding Mt. Driskill wasn’t easy, once you get there it’s marked well enough so you don’t get lost in the woods. It’s on private property but landowners have granted permission for public use, even giving an alternative route for those who want a longer hike path.
Once at the summit, we found confirmation that this was, indeed, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. There’s a whole organization called Highpointers.org, whose members make it to every high point in every state. Highpointers had placed two benches at the mountaintop to catch the view of the Louisiana forest land and neighboring Mt. Jordan. Learn more here. In fact, the ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers, were spread on top of Mt. Driskill in 2003.
Directions from I-20 in Shreveport
— Take Exit 69 at Arcadia and head south through town
— Turn left on SR 147/Jonesboro Road and continue for 9.3 miles
— Turn right onto SR 507 and continue for 2.7 miles to the Mt Zion Presbyterian Church parking lot
Bienville Parish has a lot of interesting and quirky places. Read here
In Bienville Parish, the individual parts are greater than the sum.
It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.
Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history, geography and character. Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.
My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business. Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.
Arcadia Pit Stops
Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.
On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house. For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.
South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.
Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.
There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.
Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).
Bonnie & Clyde
Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.
That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.
The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.
(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).
The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.
Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers, but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.
While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.
While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women. After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby.
You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.
Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.
I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.
I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.
I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.
But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks. Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.
Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago. The movieThe Helpwas filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.
Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range, another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.
You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.
It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread more typical of a Delta bridal shower.
Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.
When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?
Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.
Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas. You can just about count on 100-degree heat.
Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation, the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill. This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.
Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians. The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.
Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.
Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.
Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.
Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.
I expected the 109-year-old Williams Brothers General Store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, to be a museum with a few token items for sale.
And with its ties to the Manning football family, I expected a little memorabilia. In fact, when we rode up to the store last Friday, you would have thought Archie, Peyton and Eli were all inside signing autographs.
Unfortunately for me, they weren’t. What was happening, besides the annual Neshoba County Fair nearby, was tax-free weekend where families could save a little on their back-to-school purchases.
This store is not simply a relic of the past or a shrine to the Mannings. It is a vibrant business with real customers and real customer service.
In 1907, Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning’s great grandfather (on their mother’s side of the family) opened Williams Brothers General Store.
In the grocery section, it’s a tight squeeze as shopping buggies maneuver around the aisles filled with things you would expect in a Southern store–Bryan cold cuts and Sunflower flour, sorghum molasses and Red Man chewing tobacco.
That part of Williams Brothers General Store is much like it was during the 1930s when it was featured in National Geographic magazine. But today’s merchandise mix includes Spanx and women’s designer clothing, local pottery, horse saddles and tack, and a shoe and boot inventory somewhere between Shoe Department and DSW with more customer service.
There’s someone slicing red rind hoop cheese and another slicing slab bacon to order. Mule collars, country hams and Peyton & Eli’s NFL jerseys hang from the ceiling.
The Manning boys helped at the store when they were teenagers, and their memorabilia is scattered throughout the store, but it’s fairly low key. No Peyton bobbleheads or tacky touristy things for sale–just merchandise everyday people need at reasonable prices.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way