Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma
After Mammoth Cave, we continued south to spend two nights in Tennessee. A day of hiking and caving left us too tired to enjoy the bustling nightlife of Nashville but the following day we were re-energized after driving west to Memphis. We toured Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion, and then had the fortune of seeing the King himself perform a two set show downtown on Beale Street. Elvis came out into the audience and made Sarah’s evening by serenading her, showing that he still had it at 76.
After recuperating from our late night in Memphis, we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas, stopping briefly in Little Rock to make our “Billgrimage” to the interesting but propaganda filled William Clinton Presidential Library (come on, he’s really taking credit for the number of new websites increasing from 130 in 1993 to 27,585,719 in 2001?).
Our plans to make it into Oklahoma City that night were thwarted when lightning appeared just past the Oklahoma state border. We ducked into a Motel 6 where we were holed up under a tornado watch waiting for the warning siren to chase us into the bathtub. The thunder grew louder and lighting knocked out our internet but the siren never went off, no flying cows came crashing through our window, and after awakening to to an undamaged motel we continued on.
While I wanted to check out Oklahoma City’s Cowboy museum, Sarah suggested we see some real cowboys instead and visit the Oklahoma National Stockyards. Just south of downtown OKC a sign welcomed us to the “world’s largest stocker and feeder cattle market”. A flight of stairs took us onto a rickety catwalk over pens and pens of mooing cattle.
Cattle were led into the auction house about eight at a time. We walked past the sign that said “new bidders must register” and observed the process. Inside, bleachers with prospective buyers faced the stage bookended by entry and exit doors. A flat screen TV listed the number of cattle in the lot and the total and average weight. Then the cattle would be let in and quickly chased out while a flurry of back and forth bidding between the buyers and the auctioneer set the price over the course of a minute. I didn’t see much difference between the lots but the processes repeated itself over and over again.
We then visited the Oklahoma City memorial to the 168 people killed when Timothy McVeigh exploded a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. The memorial was very well done featuring two large bronze gates separated by a reflecting pool. One of the gates was labeled 9:01 and the other 9:03 representing the minute before and after the bombing. The building had been replaced with a grassy field of nine rows of empty chairs for each of the victims with smaller chairs representing children.
Across the street was a museum describing the event and its aftermath and honoring the killed. It had live news footage spliced with interviews from survivors pulled from the rubble and parents looking for their children plus a room filled with personal mementos of each of the killed. Both Sarah and I felt it was one of the most powerful museums we had ever seen.