7/10/17 to 7/12/17
Monday 7/10/17 The drive from Nashville to Memphis was 230 miles and it took us around five hours towing the trailer. This time we are staying in a state park. I did some research on the Memphis area and found the T.O. Fuller State Park. I use the website RV Park Reviews and this park is rated a 7.8 out of a 10. It's a 1138 acre park within the southern limits of Memphis. Because it's a state park the fees are pretty low at $18.75 a night. The campground is very nice and had 45 sites. Lots of room between trailers and large wooded sites. The roads are in good condition. Restrooms and showers are clean. They even had a small laundromat and free ice. There is a campground host that stays on site. And park rangers drive through the campgrounds regularly. The state park is large but it's located in a run-down industrial area where we didn't feel safe as we drove through. But once we got to the campground we felt fine. There is a sign near the entrance saying "Campers only beyond this point". So I don't think anybody will be coming in that doesn't belong here. We had a nice pull through site that faced the woods. No sewer connection on site but a dump station on the way out. We are staying here for three nights. Plus it's very close to Graceland.
After we got set up we ran into town for fuel and to check out the area. I'll have to say that Memphis and the surrounding area was not what I expected. Everything seemed run down. There were lots of empty buildings and businesses. The only nice place was Graceland and the Guest House at Graceland. We did some grocery shopping at a local Kroger and noticed a couple of security guards on site. Plus most of the parking lot areas had emergency call boxes. We just got a weird feeling about the whole place.
Tuesday 7/11/17 This morning we headed to Graceland. The whole Elvis/Graceland entertainment complex has recently undergone a huge, $137 million dollar expansion. There are 200,000 square feet of new exhibits, museums and performance space. Plus a new 450 room hotel called The Guest House at Graceland across the street. The new museum includes Presley Motors, an automobile museum. Graceland Soundstage, a multipurpose performance and meeting space. Pop culture exhibits including Mystery Train The Sam Phillips Exhibit. The Elvis the Entertainer career museum and The Country Road to Rock. Plus a 1950s-style diner, a Memphis barbecue restaurant, and souvenir shops. As you walk into the new ticketing building there are lots of options as to what tickets you buy. Prices range from $38.75 for just the mansion tour to $159.00 for the Ultimate VIP Tour. We chose something in the middle, The Elvis Experience Tour. This included the Graceland Mansion Audio-Guided Tour, Access to the new Elvis Presley's Memphis section and Elvis' custom airplanes (for $5 extra of course). We had a scheduled time to see the mansion at 11:30 so we had about an hour and a half to walk around the new museum.
The museum looks like a plaza and has different sections each with a separate theme. I think we picked the right time to visit because the place was almost empty. In fact from some my pictures it looks like nobody is around.
Once it got close to 11:30 we went back to the ticketing office for our shuttle ride over to The Graceland Mansion. They put you in a small theater to watch a short introduction to the mansion, then they give you headphones and an iPad mini to use on the tour. Once loaded into the shuttle they drive you over to Graceland. The mansion itself isn't as big as I thought it would be. I wouldn't really call it a mansion but a big house. (especially after seeing Biltmore) Elvis bought the house in the spring of 1957 when he was just 22. He purchased the home and grounds for just over $100,000. The tour starts on the bottom floor, takes you into the basement, out into the backyard, continues through a building that houses a small museum, past the swimming pool, into his racquetball building and ends at his grave site. The second floor is not open to visitors out of respect for the Presley family and partially to avoid any improper focus on the bathroom which was the site of his death. The iPad has an audio tour that you listen to as you pass through each room and you can also bring up additional pictures throughout the tour.
The iPad and headphones were nice and explained a lot as you moved through the house. It would have been nice to have a little more time but the crowd seems to push you along. The tour took less than an hour. All in all, it was a good tour and I'm glad we got to see it.
Once you pass Elvis's grave site you load back on the shuttle bus and ride back across the street to the museum. Your ticket is good all day so we went back to the museum and spent most of the day there. There are tons of things to see, read and watch. There's a section showing his cars and motorcycles. A section with his costumes. A section about all the movies he was in. A section about his Army days. A section on his career and all his gold records. A section on Elvis as a child. Plus we got to go into his two private planes. And of course, each section exits you through a souvenir shop. Check out the picture of the display of Elvis Sunglasses. Anyone can look like Elvis with a pair of these. We had lunch in Gladys' Diner, which is named after his mother. One thing we didn't see was the Graceland Soundstage A. This is a theater with a large screen where they show some of his movies and concerts. We saved this for last and planned on watching this for the last hour of the day but it was closed for maintenance. There was so much to see that we were there from 10 AM to 4 PM.
We both enjoyed Graceland and the museum. We were expecting to be here for a couple hours but ended up spending the whole day. I'm glad we got here after the major expansion because there's so much more to see. But I'm a little worried about how long this is going to last. I can see the attendance dropping every year. Once people our age start to die off how many of today's kids will even know who Elvis was? Let alone make a trip to Memphis to see where he lived. But for us, I feel the trip to Graceland was worth it.
Wednesday 7/12/17 Today we visited downtown Memphis. If we loved blues music or liked to drink we would have come here at night but since we're don't we drove down around 10 AM. We parked at a lot about a block from Beale Street. Beale Street runs from the Mississippi River to East Street, approximately 1.8 miles. It's a significant location in the city's history, as well as in the history of the blues. Today, the blues clubs, bars, and restaurants that line Beale Street are major tourist attractions. Festivals and outdoor concerts periodically bring large crowds to the street and its surrounding areas. Nothing was happening when we got there and the street was nearly empty. We also wanted to tour Sun Studio in Memphis so we headed there first. Sun Studio is the birthplace of Rock N' Roll. Where artists including Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded throughout the mid-to-late 1950s. Sun Studio was over a mile away from Beale Street so we started walking. It was hot and it wasn't a nice walk. As I said before Memphis has a lot of run-down businesses and abandoned buildings. Once we left Beale Street we really didn't feel the area was safe. But we made it.
Sun Studios is a very small place. They take you on a tour with about 30 people. First, they take you upstairs to a room full of memorabilia and the tour guide explains how Sun Studio got started. He talks about some of the different articles on display and plays some of the original recordings that were recorded here. After about 30 minutes of that, they move you down to the office and recording studio. Here he talks about who recorded here and again plays some original recordings. The tour last about an hour. To me, it was just an OK tour, not something I would have made a special trip to see but a great addition if you're in Memphis to see Graceland. It was kind of nice to see where some of the great country and Rock N' Roll artists got their start. But again, interesting to us but not to younger kids.
Once we were done touring Sun Studios we walked back to Beale Street. We took a different way thinking it might be nicer but it also took us past empty buildings and run down areas. Once back at Beale Street it was lunch time so we ate at Blues City Cafe. A place that Wendy recommended from her trip here a couple years ago. After our lunch, we walked up and down Beale Street stopping at different gift shops and stores. Some of the musicians were starting to set up for the evening. We left around 3 PM and headed back to the campground. In my opinion, Memphis seems to be a dying town. If it wasn't for Graceland and Beale Street I don't think anybody would visit here.
On the way back to the campground we pulled in front of Graceland. One thing you don't get to see on the tour is the front gate and stone wall surrounding the property. The shuttles take you right up to the front door and drop you off. What would a visit to Graceland be without a picture standing in front of the gate? Something I didn't know about "The Wall" is that it has many years of graffiti on it from Elvis' fans. It's customary to write on the wall and no one will stop you.
It was around 4 when we got back to the campground, plenty of time for a hike. T.O. Fuller has a 6-mile Discovery Loop hike that starts right at the campgrounds. Although it was around 90 degrees we decided to do the hike because most of it is in the shade. The trail also passes The Chucalissa Museum which is run by the University of Memphis. It had a short nature trail and a few outside displays. We didn't spend too much time there because we didn't want to run out of daylight on the trail. One bad thing about the trail was the spiders. Spiders are thick in this part of the country and there are spider webs everywhere. They build them all over the woods even across the trails. If the light doesn't hit the web just right they are almost invisible and you walk right into them. Nothing like a spider web in the face. During most of the hike, I was waving my hat up and down in front of me. The trail also passes the visitors center. We stopped in and they had a couple owls in cages that had been hit by cars. Both of them had a bad eye and couldn't survive in the wild anymore.
Memphis was interesting. We really enjoyed Graceland and the Elvis Museum. Also the campground at T.O. Fuller State Park was great. In my opinion, Beale Street and downtown Memphis was nothing special. But it's another place to mark off the bucket list.
Tomorrow we are packing up and heading to Ozark, Arkansas.
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