Travel Tuesday: Dixie Road Trip

I’m back from my week away and will most likely have a mega Weekly Run Down next Sunday since I didn’t get it posted today. In my defense, I didn’t get home until 2 AM due to some weird flights.

Although there were no long runs, it was a good, active week. Somehow, despite a ton of sedentary time on a 1,760 mile road trip, I came back weighing less than when I left. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it.

Quest for #50Before50, a 1760 mile journey through the American south Click To Tweet

I’ll recap the conference separately as there’s still a lot to digest from those four days. As I may or may not have mentioned, I decided to tack on a southeast road trip that I originally planned three years ago. Life happened, other trips took precedence and that slipped to the bottom of the plans. And then AAM announced New Orleans for the 2019 conference and with it the week before Memorial Day, I knew I could simultaneously make this trip happen with minimal time off work and solve the “back from a trip, don’t want to travel again so what should I do for Memorial Day?” conundrum

this was actually NOLA, but it set the tone

This won’t be a chronological journey, but more the thoughts that stuck with me. I also really miss a functional Flickr because I took so many photos. Major themes that showed throughout the Wednesday – Sunday trip:

  • flooding
  • Civil Rights
  • Katrina
  • legacy of the Civil War

The latter two showed the most through the two books I was flipping between throughout the week: Chris Rose’s One Dead in Attic which I spotted in bookstores throughout the French Quarter and Tony Horowitz’ Confederates in the Attic, which was a re-read. I actually finished neither due to the conference’s schedule and the insanely long driving days, but nearly finished Rose’s on the plane home Sunday night.

Off the bad I’d say that if you’re going to do this trip, don’t do it in late May. It’s already way too hot and humid especially along the gulf and I found it hard to enjoy sightseeing. I may or may not have melted into a puddle along the Great River Crossing when I walked to Arkansas because I’m that kind of crazy traveler.


I’d been to New Orleans before about 18 years ago, but didn’t have strong memories of it beyond the heat and humidity. It’s also a very different city when visited as an adult conference attendee vs. a young adult with extended family for grandma’s birthday. Was Katrina an element of the difference for a visitor? Not really until I chose to make it one, although there was an eerie element to being in the Convention Center and knowing what happened there. Like 9/11, I was overseas for Katrina so I have a weird distance from it, even though I still remember exactly where I was when we heard it had it & was bad: waiting in the parking lot in Adelaide, Australia for a friend to pick up her VCR/DVD player from being repaired.

he’s about three steps up, and in the river

I knew New Orleans was vulnerably located, but it didn’t hit home just how vulnerable it was until I sat on the steps in Washington Artillery Park/on the back side of the “Moon Walk” aka the levees that protect the French Quarter. That gentleman was about three steps up and was ankle deep in the Mississippi. Although Katrina had significant human failure (more later), there is very little keeping the Mississippi and/or Lake Ponchartrain from taking back this city. And that’s sad.

I really didn’t recall hearing news of the last six months’ floods. It isn’t like the ‘93 floods, which I remember vividly, but rather a season long high water with it being 200+ days long at this stage.  As we drove out to Valcherie, LA on Sunday to see the plantations, the guide mentioned that the Bonnet Carre spillway was opened for the second time this year, the first time in history that it happened. There are plans to open the Morganza spillway for only the third time ever. I could see all of this in action as we drove over Bonnet Carre and got absolutely soaked while visiting Laura. As we drove across the Mississippi there we also saw trees that should have been on land but were submerged. It’s a fragile ecosystem for sure.

Route 552, Port Gibson, MS
Windsor Ruins

I ran into the flooding again in Port Gibson, MS, while trying to get back to the Natchez Trace after visiting the Windsor Ruins. I’m the queen of detours and ooh look, there’s a historical marker! but the level of missing roads was frightening. I also ran into this in Tennessee when I was trying to get from Counce to Shiloh. Getting off the interstate and taking the Trace was among the best decisions I made for this trip, but I was not prepared for the flooding. I had a feeling that Google Maps weren’t going to be the most reliable – they weren’t in South Dakota either – but I’m not sure anything was going to have helped with the recent impairments.

sunset on the Mississippi!

The detours were ultimately worth it. Although I got to Vicksburg way too late to see the battlefield, I got a sunset on the Mississippi! Wow. This was a bucket list item I didn’t even know I had.  The River is such a feature in history and literature it has almost a mythical quality – wonder if I’d feel the same about the Hudson if I hadn’t grown up literally on its shores. You can’t actually see it here, but there were a ton of sandbags on the land side of the museum (the former Yazoo & Mississippi Valley RR Station, turned museum). This is despite the large levees behind it. Speaking of levees, I’ll never forget the first time I heard American Pie. We were driving home from Toronto and about to get off I-87 when it came on. I’m pretty sure that, despite memorizing the lyrics, I had no idea what a levee really was and this trip was the first time I really took notice of them. The one thing I’d change about this trip other than timing was I’d have stayed in Vicksburg and not Jackson. I saw absolutely nothing of Jackson and if I’d stayed in Vicksburg I could have toured the battlefield in the morning. That would have made for a seriously long day though as that day’s drive was already some 360 miles/11 hours.

State Collecting Silliness

don’t mind me, I’m just sitting on the state line between Tennessee and Arkansas!
and standing on a bench between Florida and Alabama

Is it just me, or do road trips bring out our inner silly? While I wanted to explore this region in general, the reason behind the long loop was because I was state collecting. I want to see all fifty states before I turn 50. It’s somewhat fitting that I ended this trip at 39 states. Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama were the new ones on this trip.

I know counting a state means different things to different people. After a philosophical debate – coincidentally four years ago this weekend per FB memories – about whether Oregon counted after I touched the soil but didn’t leave the train station I changed my criteria. In order for a state to “count” I need to spend money and see/do something interesting. I don’t count Utah despite taking the train through it since I didn’t do either of those. This was first a challenge when I drove up to Cheyenne after bailing on Pike’s Peak due to altitude. The railroad museum was free! I finally bought a post card before visiting the state properly in 2017. AZ was similarly questionable – was the purchase at Four Corners in Navajo Nation or AZ? Luckily that was remedied last year for a conference. Montana and Arkansas are currently questionable, but I have plans to return to both.

I’ve seen states in some fun ways but Arkansas is definitely the first I’ve ever walked to. On first encounter anyway. I’ve walked between NY and NJ on a few occasions but NJ never counts in that way as it isn’t new. Walking across the Mississippi was amazing. And hot. There was nothing for sale at that end so I hopped on I-55 and drove to West Memphis for a purchase at the Welcome Center. I actually look forward to returning to see the Clinton Library, Crystal Bridges and Hot Springs.

And why the detour to Florabama when I didn’t need Florida? That’s one of those road trip must sees. It has some fun history, is full of kitsch and honestly, I needed it after Friday’s heavy sightseeing.  If you can’t have fun with state lines, there’s something wrong with the world. Well, lots of things including Alabama, but that’s for another time.

Civil Rights

the balcony where MLK was shot
Oxford’s slavery legacy
as well as its Civil Rights’ struggle

Conjoined and complicated. After my Arkansas sojourn on Thursday, I had an all to brief visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and spent a nice leg stretch exploring Oxford, MS. I was left with a lot of thoughts swirling in my head. It was powerful to stand in front of the spot where Dr. King was shot. They’ve also converted the houses from where James Earl Ray took his shot into the “legacy exhibit”. The museum tells Dr. King’s story well and contextualizes the ongoing fight for Civil Rights, but I felt it a little lacking. I think, like with Auschwitz/Birkenau, less museum and more living history is the divider.

Oxford was a relatively short drive from Memphis and I explored the Ole Miss campus before heading down to the Square. Oxford is, in a word, conflicted. They’re still the Rebels and among the first things you see when you drive on to campus is a large statue to Albert Sidney Johnston. My head was already full of swirling confederate statue thoughts after hearing Mitch Landrieu give the keynote Monday and subsequently buying his book. This was also a major theme in last year’s conference. I think Robert E. Lee had to come down in New Orleans – the man had no tie to the city – but in other places I feel like I shouldn’t have a voice. It’s not my city (I neither vote nor pay taxes) and I’m a white northerner whose family was not in America at the time of the Civil War. Ole Miss has made some amazing progress in interpreting its campus (great article here), but it’s still jarring to see prominent statues here & in the Square. It was powerful (a word I used too often on this trip, along with poignant) to stand near the Lyceum and understand what happened there. I softened the edge of this with some football silliness, visiting Manning Way.

Alabama State Capital
Voting Rights March marker just down from the Capital and nearly opposite Dr. King’s church
Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma

All the recent Alabama news broke on the eve of my trip and I weighed what to do ethically. In the end I opted to change two hotel nights so as not to give the state any of my money via taxes and, if any spending was required, to do so in places of support because the state’s Civil Rights history was too important to skip out on. We need to learn from our history. I got there too late to see the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, but I’d have spent there. In the end I spent zero there

Montgomery was probably one of my favorite stops, and it was one that almost didn’t happen. The plan on the drive south from Shiloh was Birmingham and then Tuskegee, but I hit awful traffic and wouldn’t have made it out there with time to see the history so I skipped Tuskegee. I feel awful but realize that’s probably possible from Georgia and the itinerary for this trip was just too much for the time I had. Instead, I parked in Montgomery and explored Dexter Street, and had a driving tour of some of the other sites including the Freedom Riders memorial at the bus station. I drew the line at visiting things like the First White House of the Confederacy or Beauvoir in Biloxi. There’s learning from history and then there’s a step too much for me personally. To paraphrase Mitch Landrieu, you can remember history without revering it.

I really need to get back when it’s cooler as it was too warm to do more – even the outdoor sites that were accessible after the museums closed. Have you ever been somewhere with such conflicted history / present? How did you handle it?

In some senses, the shift of this night’s hotel to Meridian, MS made for a saner journey as Selma was a halfway point. As had become a theme throughout this trip, I got there too late for the National Parks’ interpretive center but had read some mixed reviews of that anyway. On the eastern side of the Bridge I explored the Civil Rights Park which covers Selma’s long history: lynching, slavery and more. I actually didn’t realize you could walk over the bridge until I drove across it. Luckily, there was a parking spot and I was able to walk back via the small Songs of Selma Park. Powerful, and couldn’t help but hum Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China! Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama! Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space, but when you return, it’s the same old place.  The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace. You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace. Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

A complicated state indeed.

Civil War / War of 1812

Shiloh National Cemetery
Pittsburg Landing/Shiloh

Some people want to  visit Tennessee to see Nashville for music or Memphis for BBQ/Elvis. Me? All about Shiloh. I am my father’s daughter. It’s in a relatively inaccessible part of Tennesee, but the drive wasn’t too hard from Oxford via Tupelo.  I stayed in Counce – near Pickwick Landing State Park, which was beautiful and hit Shiloh early. One of the best things about some of the battlefields turned National Parks is they’re open all hours so you’re not stuck to 9-5 if you don’t need the facilities of the book store/visitor’s center.

Shiloh was absolutely serene. I knew nothing could or would ever compare to Gettysburg, but it was nice to be there without a ton of Civil War tourists. Like Gettysburg, it’s relatively undeveloped in some aspects and you can still “hear the guns”. You can certainly envision the troops’ river arrival.  I wish I could have made it to Corinth to see the rail element, but there just wasn’t time. This was also where I was really feeling the heat — at Gettysburg I drove the tour route but still hopped out at most monuments. Shiloh, not so much.

I hit the bookstore on the way out for my stamp and I got a talker. He had some fun ideas about New York and New Yorkers – mostly coming from The Jeffersons. As I was browsing their books on offer I was pleased to see they stocked Confederates in the Attic, validating the book I planned to read while on this trip.

The dual naming thing always surprises and catches me off guard. Shiloh just sounds more antebellum than Pittsburg Landing, and it’s how I’ve always known it. Never heard of Sharpsburg before Horowitz’ book and I always get confused with Bull Run/Manassas.

I’ll never do a purely Civil War trip, but I love incorporating it into trips, as I remember doing as far back as the mid ’90s when a college visit trip incorporated Bull Run, Fredericksurg and, I think, Antietam. This book by Michael Weeks was a great resource as to what I’d find and helped contextualize Vicksburg, Tupelo and Shiloh. I wondered whether I’d run into Horowitz’ comment that North, East and West are directions but The South is a place. I really didn’t – I saw a few Rebel flags in Alabama but generally felt it more in Charleston and Richmond. It might have been different if I were staying at more local places and time wise nearer to the battle’s dates.

I’ve been talking about Karen Cox’s book Dreaming of Dixie since Charleston (still haven’t read it) and just found Destination Dixie. I was thinking of it as I drove around when I saw signs for Bayou La Batre on Saturday evening as I headed to Biloxi – there are definitely some places I’m really only familiar with thanks to their role in TV and film.  And would someone please tell me how Forrest Gump is twenty five years old?! Have you ever been somewhere you only knew from media?

Chalmette Battlefield and the Beauregard House

This could fit either in this section or the next. I didn’t have any plan to visit the Chalmette Battlefield but I saw a sign for it as I was driving back into New Orleans to visit the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. It got me excited because I’d skipped Fort Morgan on Saturday due to lack of time and had realized I wouldn’t get to Fort Jackson despite being inspired by this post.

As I got off I-10 I saw abandoned roller coasters and realized it was the former Six Flags that was destroyed by Katrina. It’s an eerie site.

Although I visited the Jean Lafitte Visitor Center in the French Quarter and generally knew about the role of New Orleans in river access in both the War of 1812 and Civil War, I was a little fuzzy on the details. The Chalmette Battlefield is small but well preserved and like Shiloh, you can still imagine what went on here if you don’t look to the left and see the industrial elements of St. Bernard’s port. As the ranger said, the only thing different is the levees are a bit higher now.

This was totally a driving tour due to heat, limited time before my flight, but I’m so glad I got there. Something about visiting a site makes the history more real to me.


Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
standing where the levees went

I wasn’t even aware of the aforementioned Lower Ninth Ward Museum until someone I met at last year’s conference tweeted about it. I very much wanted to go, but wasn’t sure I’d have the time. Despite seeing the abandoned Six Flags and the Ranger mentioning the levee, I didn’t realize how close Chalmette was to the Lower Ninth – I was only about ten minutes’ drive from the museum. Nor did I realize until I got to the second half of Chris Rose’s book that Chalmette was decimated by the storm. I know some of this is shaped by my being overseas during and for 10 months after Katrina, but I feel like all we heard was the Lower Ninth Ward.

There are no words to describe the museum – a small five room portion of a house in the Lower Ninth Ward. Some of its back story is here. I realized, even while reading Chris Rose’s book, that so much of what I “knew” about Katrina and the Lower Ninth Ward was wrong, or at least wrongly portrayed by the national media. The museum goes in depth to explore the issues around looting, evacuation, the Danziger Bridge shooting and puts faces to some of the stories. It’s powerful and I’m so glad to hear they’re moving to a larger space to better tell the stories. It’s one we all need to hear.

I would not have stopped alongside the Canal had I not spotted the historic marker. Disaster tourism gives me the willies, and that’s why there are no photos of the Lower Ninth other than the museum and the marker/walls. I feel like the marker gives license, whereas the homes-in various states of fixed and not fourteen years later-are private and not meant for tourist consumption.

Standing beside the Industrial Canal was my last stop in New Orleans, but it wasn’t my first encounter with Katrina. In fact, I made a point of seeking it out in the former of Biloxi’s Katrina Memorial.

To further quote Chris Rose,

“It’s funny, but out there in the Great Elsewhere that is America, New Orleans seems to get most or all of the focus of the national media. As if this whole thing happened only in a place called the Lower 9th Ward. As the memory and images and impact of Katrina fade in the national consciousness, so, too, it seems, does the geographical and emotional scope of its damages, not to mention Rita’s. From the Texas border to Mobile Bay, a huge swath of America took a grenade. And everything changed everywhere.

I had no idea just how many died in Mississippi although I learned some of its impact there when I read The Washington Post’s ten year retrospective.

I know this is the tourism professional in me coming out, but it felt so wrong to only see the waterfront casinos, the French Quarter and think everything is and was fine. It wasn’t. It isn’t.


Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away

context, because this former travel blog evolved into a weight loss and running blog over the last decade. I actually thought of reactivating my Tumblr for this instead, but decided this is not a subject which I can stomach trolls on.


Sixteen years ago I was in Prague in January. I didn’t make it to Poland then and deeply regretted not visiting Auschwitz & Birkenau. When I returned to Prague for a summer abroad program in grad school in 2007, Poland was at the top of the weekend sojourn list. That month also included Berlin and Terezin

Much of that blog is lost to a prior crash, but some remains thanks to the Internet Archive:

Some of it will always remain: the raw authenticity of Birkenau, purchasing & reading Night in Krakow while waiting for the train back to Prague.I started this post a week ago but held it until today and in the mean time. I was walking to a meeting on Tuesday and Tim McGraw’s The Book of John came on my iPod:

The Polaroids are just reminders,
You can’t hold life in a three ring binder

In the days before everything had to be photographed “just right” for social media, it was a lot easier to be present. I knew I had this photo and went looking for it, but I didn’t need it to remember the moment.

still haunting, 12 years later

The original caption on that photo, when uploaded to Facebook several years later:

“It’s wrong to say I loved it, but this trip moved me in so many ways. By far the most powerful view at Birkenau. I could see and feel the ghosts, especially after reading Night.”

Like Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, I believe Auschwitz is a place that everyone should visit. It is the best way to learn from history. I didn’t do the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as I just couldn’t, but finally made it to DC’s in 2014 and visited Yad Vashem in 2009.


On Thursday morning, May 2, a colleague and I attended the preview of Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away, the largest Holocaust exhibit in the US and:

“the first exhibition to feature major loans of artifacts from the former Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, is currently on display in Madrid and has drawn some 600,000 visitors. It will open in New York on May 8 — the date of the Nazi surrender in 1945.”  ~ The Horrors of Auschwitz at a Museum in New York, New York Times.

This exhibit builds in some ways on the museum’s 2014 exhibit, A Town Known as Auschwitz, and, as noted in a review (English) of the Spanish exhibit, seeks to spread Auschwitz’ history to a larger audience.

Auschwitz was more than a death camp, but its German name has become synonymous with hate, fear and death. The exhibit opens today, May 8th, the anniversary of the Nazi surrender. The date that haunted me through the exhibit was that April 30 – the day of Hitler’s suicide – was just a few days before my visit.

They recommended 90m to walk through the exhibit and somehow that wasn’t quite enough. Some of the items on view were expected in terms of what is often found at a Holocaust exhibit or museum: shoes, glasses. luggage left behind by those who were no longer there to use them. The luggage hit me hardest-so many packed as if they would for a short holiday. Seeing the German rail car out front of the museum just brought that home and hard.

I took a few photos, but mostly just took in the information. There is a lot to read and a lot was new to me even as someone who studied the Holocaust. The simplicity of it is what lingers with me a week later.

Powerful words by Charlotte Delbo

Review: Finders Keepers

was: #AAM2018, You’re on Sacred Land AKA the conference blog that was never finished ***.

I think Craig Childs first crossed my radar during my New Mexico trip in 2015. I’ve certainly had House of Rain on my Kindle for some time and as I was sifting through a box of books I got from BookCloseouts in advance of a Memorial Day trip I happened upon Finders Keepers. Since AAM rekindled an interest in the people of the Colorado Plateau, I decided to take it with me. Alas it was a super busy weekend trip and I didn’t get the chance to start it until sitting at LAX for my return flight home. Once I started, I could barely put it down.

What’s the difference between a pothunter and an archaeologist, or a museum curator? That seems to be a primary tenet of Childs’ book, which operates under the question of To whom does the past belong? The book is now somewhat dated (2010) but still extremely relevant and resonant as more and more countries begin to ask for the return of their cultural heritage.

Although it draws significantly from the Native American populations in the southwest due to Childs’ extensive travels in the area, the book also identifies other sources of issues: from well-documented situations such as Marion True and the Getty to the Elgin Marbles and the looting of the museums & other cultural heritage sites in Iraq to lesser known areas such as Guatemala’s Peten. One thing that he didn’t touch on, that I found myself wishing he would was other cultural heritage destruction such as the Bamiyan Buddhas. While that was less archaeology and more acts of war, it isn’t completely dissimilar to the question of what happened in Tibet after Chinese invasion, which he did touch on.

The book is a mix of Childs’ own travels as a younger man where he lived at the intersection of archaeologist and pothunter, historical looks at cases that covered the world, and meetings with members of Native American tribes, museum staff and private collectors.

The Four Corners region was of particular interest to me, as it was really my first interaction with the Native American tribes of the southwest. From the Navajo at Four Corners to the Anasazi I “met” at Mesa Verde.  I didn’t recognize the name San Juan County, but that’s the location of Salmon Ruins, my first introduction to the pueblo people. As horrific as a character he was, I really enjoyed the way Childs recounted the story of Earl Shumway as a lens into pothunters and private collectors. Do they really have a lesser claim because they weren’t working officially on behalf of a museum?

The book doesn’t answer that question, but it leads the reader down the paths to consider the question through the various lenses. As George Johnson noted, and Andrew Vasicek further explored, Childs wasn’t perfect in his own actions and that I believe allowed him to see the good and bad in all the actors involved in dealing with artifacts. Among the high profile and complicated figures he explored was Thomas Hoving, former director of the Met. Hoving admitted his actions weren’t always clean:

“My collecting style was pure piracy, and I got a reputation as a shark,” he wrote, adding that his little black book of “dealers and private collectors, smugglers and fixers” was bigger than anyone else’s. ~ Randy Kennedy

Yet he also shaped the way the Met and many other museums look today. Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? Does anyone know the answer, or will it forever be open for debate?

“Navajo traditions are rife with death taboos and rumors of sorcery-makes sense in the Southwest, where bones are constantly weathering from the ground. The Navajo have learned you don’t touch dead people’s things. They aren’t yours. They just bring trouble. This is the Indiana Jones side of archaeology, the curses and chilling adventure. But in the real world, archaeologists do not believe in curses. They do their jobs.”

Sounds like we could learn a lot from the Navajo.


What made me start thinking about the anasazi and other pueblo people?

The Museum of Northern Arizona‘s new installation Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau, which we stopped at en route to the Grand Canyon on the first day of AAM.

This newly-renovated, long-awaited permanent exhibition displays the story of ten tribes of the Colorado Plateau: Zuni, Acoma, Southern Ute, Southern Paiute, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai and Dilzhe’e Apache, and Diné (Navajo). Through over 350 objects selected by 42 tribal consultants, this exhibition reflects tribal histories, values, and cultures.

The museum’s bookstore was wonderful “trouble”.

I loved that they incorporated so much tribal input, which really set the tone for the conference which highlighted in many ways how we were on sacred, native lands. It’s a difference in perception from the East Coast where we (or at least I?) think of native lands as the contemporary reservations. I really need to adjust that. The Hohoham were honored and mentioned throughout the program, including a moment of silence before one keynote address. I need to read more on them

That was amazing in a conference whose official theme was Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion where the tone was set early with the code of conduct and reinforced on arrival with pronouns available for badge holders. I will-eventually-write up the conference. It was amazing to meet MuseumQueer and many other new friends.

Ball court, Pueblo Grande

The ending of the conference was just as amazing as the beginning as I lucked out and got a ticket for the excursion to the Pueblo Grande Ruin and Mesa Grande Cultural Park. I knew this was a somewhat crazy decision as it was 100+, but I felt like this was a trip I needed to do: much like Mesa Verde, it’s amazing to see the Native American history in situ vs. in a museum.

We stopped first at Pueblo Grande where our tour included a walk around the ruins, ball courts, kiva and other pre-Columbian architecture (and amazing desert plants!) I found their canals to be amazing and was wowed that they still contained water whereas the Salt River is mostly dry. Planning for the Phoenix Metro uncovered some of the Hohokam architecture and while Childs didn’t specifically speak of the Hohokam in this book, he talked about the vital role of salvage archaeology as cities evolve and grow. I’m amazed Pueblo Grande is extant in the shadow of Sky Harbor Airport.

finding shade, Mesa Grande

Compared to Pueblo Grande, which is also home to a small museum, Mesa Grande is much less developed. It’s operated as a site of the Arizona Museum of Natural History and due to the lack of indoor space, it’s only open from October to May. It opened in 2013 after a century-long quest to preserve and interpret the mound which was believed to be a religious center for the Hohokam people. We walked around and over the mound (which felt slightly wrong, to be honest) and while we had an amazing guide, I didn’t take in as much as I did at Pueblo Grande as it was just too hot. I understand why it isn’t open in the Arizona summer.

I look forward to returning to the world of the Hohokam and people of the Colorado Plateau either in person or in another book. Besides Childs’ other books, this is definitely sending me down a rabbit hole of more to read on this topic. Just ordered Hoving’s Making the Mummies Dance, which has been on my wishlist for some time. And I need to read David RobertsLost World of the Old Ones and In Search of the Old Ones.



Fire Inside: Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Memorial, Survivor Tree and Reflecting Pool from site of former Murrah Building
Oklahoma City Memorial, Survivor Tree and Reflecting Pool from site of former Murrah Building

I’m reading The Fire Inside by Steve Delsohn after reading about it in an AskMe that was recently linked in Meta Talk.  I have no interest in becoming a firefighter, but it got me thinking. I knew it was somewhat dated as it didn’t cover 9/11, but it was only when I went to add it to my LibraryThing that I realized it dated to the mid 90s. Unsurprisingly, there was significant attention paid to Oklahoma City.

I was recently thinking about OKC, again when I found the postcard I bought that I was, sadly, using as a bookmark. 2014 was definitely a year of dark tourism for me, which I briefly touched on as it related to Charleston. I subsequently visited the 9/11 Museum before it opened to the public and followed both of those with a visit to the Oklahoma City Memorial during a visit to that city in July.

I haven’t yet read the books I mentioned after the Charleston trip (Kindle versions, people!) but I’m going to read  Marita Sturken’s Tourists of History:Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero when I’m done with the Fire Inside. Clearly OKC is still lurking within my brain.

From ground zero in New York and Katrina’s destructive force in New Orleans to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and the Killing Fields in Cambodia, witnessing places where horrific deaths have occurred has for many become an integral part of experiencing a destination. ~ Michelle Baran

That was true for me, although it took five? visits to OKC before we went downtown. During my first visits in the late 90s, the Memorial wasn’t open. My friend’s husband, stationed at Tinker, told me of being rostered down there for clean up. By the time I went back in 2003, the Memorial was open, but I wasn’t ready. This year, I was. Like the 9/11 Museum, I like that the OKC Memorial is free while the Museum provides additional information/education for those who choose/are able to pay. We spent about 2-3 hours at the Memorial and Museum and it was eye opening. It felt like a pilgrimage.

I cannot believe it has been 20 years. When 9/11 happened, I was an adult and living on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I’d never been to Oklahoma City but Terror in the Heartland stuck with me both as a high school student when it happened and 19 years later when I finally made it to the Museum.

Oddly I feel different about the 9/11 Museum and OKC then I do about Auschwitz and Charleston. I wonder if that’s a matter of them being within my lifetime?

It’s this impact that draws us to dark tourism. It is this impact that leads us to the realization of the sad reality that exists around the world. And it is through this impact that we feel compassion for our fellow human beings. ~ “Dark” Travel as a Way to Pay Tribute

Further Reading:

Overthinking Tourism in the South

“The crowds continue to visit the dead.

They walk through the gates at Auschwitz. They take the boats to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. They hike through battlefields and slave auction sites.” ~ Katia Hetter

First off, Charleston and Savannah are amazing. AMAZING. I am a history nerd and I fell in love with Charleston the first afternoon that we spent walking around. More on that and pictures soon.

However, there were moments that gave me serious pause as we began to plan the trip. The following were often recommended: Charleston’s Old Slave Market, Boone Hall Plantation, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation. All with a dark history. Part of me thought I was over thinking it, until my brother mentioned the same thing while at Boone Hall.

While plantation life wasn’t on the scale of The Holocaust (where I also struggled with the idea of the camps as tourist destinations), it wasn’t rosy either. I especially took issue with one of the Boone Hall guides who made light of the fact that the slaves’ grave markers were gone. It didn’t seem to be something you should laugh about.

I’m still thinking about this three days later and decided to look into slavery and dark/memorial tourism. And I admit, this is where my tourism nerd side came in.

“When memories of the actual events fade, many people still come to memorials looking for answers as to why an awful thing could happen: How could Adolf Hitler have perpetrated the Holocaust? Why did Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge murder its people? Why did Japan attack the United States at Pearl Harbor? It’s a balancing act for memorial sites: How to teach the cruel facts of tragedy to an audience that is often on vacation.” ~Katia Hetter

The Camps bothered me. Hiroshima and Nagasaki bothered me.  Pearl Harbor didn’t, for whatever reason. Nor do battlefields (or Ft. Sumter on this recent trip). But the Plantation? That bothered me.

“Thanatourism” is apparently the buzz word, but I prefer dark tourism. I think thanatourism  hides it too much. It should be uncomfortable. It should make you think. Slave tourism is also apparently known as roots tourism.

As a history person, I think memorials are key. Not as much for those who lived through it (my generation doesn’t need “Never Forget” not to forget 9/11), but for those who didn’t witness it. They’re key to education. But being excited to visit it? That’s harder, yet I was eager to visit Boone Hall. Until seeing the “Slave Street” hit me.

The Institute for Dark Tourism Research is clearly an idea whose time has come. In Europe alone, tourist meccas are dark sites. Sadly, death is part of our heritage. Slavery is a huge part of both African and American history, and the slave castles in West Africa are experiencing growth. Is this good or bad?

In truth? I don’t know. But it’s definitely food for thought. And I have some more homework to do.

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