After a long absence from blogging, I’ve found an interesting topic on which to write at some length. It turns out that over the years, I’ve visited forty-four of the fifty United States! As one of my great loves outside music is traveling, and especially driving, I thought it would be interesting to give my perspective on every state, along with particular memories and stories connected to those places. Apologies to Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Rhode Island...we’ll get there someday.
Going alphabetically, we’ll start in Alabama.
(Photo credit: Sandy Jones PC, Pinterest)
My family actually has some history in Alabama, although it’s not particularly famous or significant. My grandfather on my father’s side was born in Jasper, not all that far up I-22 from Birmingham, and an ancestor or two are buried in a cemetery nearby. Unfortunately I haven’t made it there yet, but it’s on my list.
I didn’t make it to Alabama until fairly recently, as my sister and her husband moved to Huntsville a few years ago. Since then we’ve been over several times, usually heading east from Texas on I-20 (which does, after a couple of days and 850 miles, make it from Sweetwater, TX, where we join it, to Birmingham), heading north on I-65 to the Huntsville area. Huntsville is a really neat small city, very demographically skewed toward rocket scientists and other space-industry folks, and home to one of the coolest museums around. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center has all kinds of exhibits telling the history of the U.S. space program, including a real live Saturn V rocket, one of only three left in the world. Our kids just love this place, and it’s definitely worth multiple visits.
(Photo credit: U.S. Space and Rocket Center)
I’ve traveled north from Huntsville through Nashville, but discussion of that drive will wait until the post on Tennessee. I’ve also driven southeast from Huntsville to Columbus, GA for a conference, which is one of the more surprisingly scenic drives I’ve encountered. From Huntsville, US 431 goes through Guntersville, which must be Alabama’s answer to the Ozarks. Great shops, plenty of lake-related activities, and colorful architecture were in abundance. It didn’t hurt that just as I reached the bridge heading across the lake near Guntersville, an afternoon thunderstorm swept through, making quite a majestic scene.
(Photo credit: Terri D, Trip Advisor)
After Guntersville, one continues along US 431 past Jacksonville and through the Anniston/Oxford area, then moves into some lovely, quiet hill country. I’ve always been partial to rural environments, due to a combination of the location of my childhood and my personality, so surroundings like this are very comforting to me (somewhat odd for a person whose profession is centered in large metropolitan areas).
And yes, on the way back from Columbus I did stop to see Talladega. I actually just saw the parking lot and a bit of the grandstands, but at least I can say I stopped by.
Going back a few years, when Dad’s parents were still with us and living in Daytona Beach, we drove through Mobile a few times on the way there. The bridge on I-10 over Mobile Bay is something to behold...those of you who have driven the Chesapeake Bay bridge will have had a similar experience (more on that when I get to Maryland/Virginia). The Mobile bridge is much less spectacular to look at, but the sheer length of it is surreal, particularly when you’re driving on it. It’s a bit disconcerting to be driving, yet not really be able to see the land you’re headed toward nor the land you came from. Alas, I never did stop to see the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay.
As far as the general experience of driving in Alabama, I’ve never encountered another state with more general and consistent disregard for the speed limit. Sure, drivers in most large cities (DFW, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, etc.) are only limited by the speed of the car in front of them, but it was a bit weird to see that behavior even in rural areas. Practically everyone regularly drove eighty or over, regardless of what was posted. Of course, one just hops on and joins the ride (it is dangerous to do otherwise). I suppose that if one definition of road safety is keeping everyone’s behavior as consistent as possible, “consistently fast” works perfectly fine, as long as nobody tries to buck the trend.