Tag Archives: Country music

Western road trip: Devil’s Tower and the way to Yellowstone

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There was one more thing we wanted to see before Yellowstone, and that was Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Annoyingly, it was rather closer to Deadwood than we would have liked – meaning we would have to do our sightseeing before our long drive of the day, rather than after (our perfect rhythm for driving days was 2 hours driving, breakfast, @4 hours driving, sightseeing, then a final 1-2 hours driving to our destination).

Happily we were able to make a bit of progress before breakfast, turning up in Sundance WY to a really nice and friendly cafe (Bigby’s on the square – if you get the chance to go, do try their sausage biscuits and gravy!) in time for a good breakfast.

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We could see Devil’s Tower way before we got there – soaring straight up into the blue sky. We were under the impression that it was a giant volcanic plug, but we discovered when we got there that it could also be some other volcanic feature but, because of its age and possible erosion, we might never know for sure. What was clear though was that this area has always been a sacred site for native Americans – personal testimonies of going to the Devil’s Tower for hunting parties were published on plaques around the tower, and prayers and offerings fluttered from trees.

For most of our walk around the base of the ‘tower’ though, we were mainly freaked out by the knowledge that rattle snakes frequented the area. We already knew about this, and had seen the signs warning people not to approach snakes, but we still had the fright of our lives when we actually came face to face with one.

At the time we had no idea whether the snake was venomous or not. All I knew was that as I followed R, I looked to the side of the path and saw, behind a tree trunk, not a foot from R’s feet, the loose coil of a huge, camouflaged snake. Its head rose and it looked quizzically at me. I didn’t quite scream, but R certainly knew I’d seen something. I told him to go ahead – quickly – before telling him (as I backed away) what I could see. I’ve never been that close to a snake without a strong pane of zoo glass between us, and it was almost shocking to realize that they’re just out here, slithering around. Luckily, the snake seemed to just want to cross the path, so we waited for it to do this at its own pace and, as it slid quietly into the grass on the other side, I rushed to rejoin R.

Turns out, it was a bull snake – so not venomous at all. At the time we were too scared to take photos or videos, however, luckily we’re not the only ones to encounter this snake. These Youtube videos from two years ago seem to be of exactly the same snake!

Anyway, we made it around the tower unscathed – with just one more sight of what I think was definitely a rattle snake, curled up on top of a rock a little way away from the path. The views were spectacularly beautiful: a green valley swept down from the trees surrounding the hill, and everything seemed golden in the autumn sunshine. But then it was back to the car and on to our next destination.

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We had changed plans the night before and instead of planning a route to Cody, on the edge of Yellowstone, we’d been attracted by the small town of Greybull and an independent motel there. It was slightly further from the park than Cody, but that would give us more flexibility in terms of breaking for lunch etc. So R drove us back onto I-90 and we drove for about four hours.

Selections from our driving music – nods to what I think of as more trad. country today:

Buffalo WY was a nice little town to break our journey – we stocked up on water and gas (and some much needed fruit), and grabbed sandwiches in a cafe/gift shop.

But the real surprise of the day for me was Bighorn National Forest. It was just so beautiful. I don’t know if it was just that we were driving through it at the ‘golden hour’ – we’ve arrived at so many beautiful places just as evening was coming on, but everything seemed defined: the colours of the hills and trees warm against the sharp shadows of cliffs. Again I felt it had that wild and sacred atmosphere I’d felt at Devil’s Tower. I almost expected to see Native Americans hunting in these hills, and felt again how wrong it had been to take this land away from them. Now, as the owner of our motel informed us, these hills provide recreation and hunting for the people of Greybull and other nearby towns.

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After the bright lights of Deadwood, Greybull seemed very quiet, and small. Our motel backed onto the railroad tracks, across which was very little indeed. And when we walked to find a restaurant, we found that the town petered out pretty quickly. But we found somewhere to eat, then headed to bed early, excited to be heading into Yellowstone the next day.

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Southern Roadtrip – Nashville

When we first arrived in the States and people asked me which American cities I wanted to visit, Nashville was always in my top three. I love live music, I’d got quite into the ABC show ‘Nashville’ which had encouraged me to explore country music, and it just seemed like Nashville would be a cool place to visit.

I chose Midtown as our base for the two nights we would be there. Nashville’s official tourist website advertised the area as full of bars and places to catch live music, as well as being the home of the famous music row, where the recording studios can be found.

Because R had to work we were flying in from different places and meeting at the hotel. I arrived first and so had some time to wander around and check out some bars/restaurants for later. As I walked around Midtown in the afternoon sunshine I was thoroughly glad we’d chosen to stay there. Midtown’s bars and restaurants are clustered around a square of about three or four blocks, so it’s a pretty compact area. Most of the restaurants had outside space, or open frontage, and people were hanging out and generally enjoying themselves. At the end of these streets is Vanderbilt University, which is a beautiful, very green campus. And then there was music row. Not really a row at all, but a few blocks of cute, suburban-looking houses that you wouldn’t know were recording studios except for the signs. It’s a lovely, and peaceful part of Midtown.

Of course, when evening falls, it’s a different story. Nashville is a party-town, and Midtown, with its compact area of bars, restaurants, and reasonably priced chain hotels is a hot spot for bachelor and bachelorette parties – especially, we discovered, on Memorial Day weekend. From very early in the evening there were groups of young people on the streets, looking for a good time. I found a space at the bar of a place called the Corner Pub, which it turned out was usually a college bar, but was quieter that night because school was out. Immediately a couple of things struck me. First, people here were out to get very drunk, and second, you can smoke in bars in Nashville. I’d forgotten how cigarette smoke just completely puts you off eating anything – even though I knew the wings and pickle chips would taste amazing with my laguintas and bourbon, I just couldn’t get over the smell of the cigarette smoke.

But it was a fun bar. For the first time in my life a waitress came over with a shot and told me it was from ‘that guy over there’. I had no idea what to do! As I sat, trying to work it out, I observed as they embarked on a mission to get drunk – they and the rest of the bar. The bar staff decided that every time they rang a bell, certain shots would be on offer, and that’s how I ended up with an untasted jaegermeister sitting in front of me for the rest of the evening. Eventually the guy who’d sent it to me came over and made conversation, so I was able to thank him and explain that I was waiting for my husband. But I think he was probably too drunk to really understand. It was in this bar that I learnt the American rhyme for drinking order: ‘Liquor before beer, in the clear; beer before liquor never sicker.’ Which seemed to me to be the opposite of the English version I was brought up with: ‘Beer before wine, you’ll feel fine; wine before beer, you’ll feel queer’? But that’s all by the by.

When R arrived the evening started properly – we found food and then live music at a great place called The Row, which we discovered the next day also did really great brunch. That evening it was really good, old-fashioned country – the singer, Heidi Jean sang her own songs but also things like the Dixie Chicks to a very appreciative audience.

The next day we set out to see the rest of Nashville. Although it was certainly an experience, we weren’t that struck by Honky Tonk Alley in downtown. Very touristy, it’s just a street of bars with bands and shops selling boots and hats. It didn’t feel at all authentic, and in fact reminded us of Blackpool. We did enjoy the Johnny Cash museum though. It’s a really amazing collection of items owned by Cash, and especially tells the story of his fan club. It also showcases Cash’s art work, and has a video recording of Cash reciting Ragged Old Flag, which was cool. One thing I was slightly disappointed by was that the museum didn’t really explain what place Nashville had in Cash’s story – whereas an article in the hotel’s guide book had done an excellent job of this. But a good alternative context was provided by an exhibition on Cash’s contemporaries like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Most excitingly we saw Perkins’s actual blue suede shoes!

Later in the afternoon we caught a bit of Nashville’s live music festival at Centennial Park.

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This was just perfect. Music, beer and ice cream in the sunshine. Getting the beer was a bit of a performance – we had to queue for the police to see our IDs, then we had to queue to buy tickets, and then we could queue to exchange these for actual beer. But I think this all added to the experience.

We had time between the festival and dinner, so we stopped into a bar for sliders and beer – and got free Koozies!

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Koozies – keeps your beer cool and your hand cozy. These are from Slider House in Nashville.

While at first we found this bar unusually quiet, a guy with a guitar soon arrived on stage and started singing some Johnny Cash.

Then it was time to try Nashville’s speciality of Hot Chicken (more on this another time!) and hit the hay. We had a long day’s drive ahead of us!

Read on: Southern Road Trip – Atlan’a

Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food: