Friday, March 13, 2009

Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Inclined Plane

The steepest inclined plane in the country is located in Johnstown. At least that's the claim, and I believe it. It's something of a moving platform designed to go up a steep hill.

It was a big help to commuters who lived above the valley but worked in it, and it probably still is.

Besides, it's a fine view ... and a history lesson ... at the top. You can see just how the flood waters came down into the valley and wiped the place out more than a century ago.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Johnstown Chiefs

The fans in Johnstown comes out to see their Chiefs ... the toughest team in the Federal, er, East Coast League.

Anyone who has seen the movie "Slap Shot" knows about the Chiefs. Therefore a trip to Johnstown to see them play is a must. This is the Chiefs' building, a classic War Memorial in downtown Johnstown. It's a fine old hockey barn, complete with a 50-50 draw. East Coast Hockey is kind of like Double-A baseball; the players have some skill but not enough to create openings for many scoring chances.

By the way, the movie mentions a statue of a dog that saved the town. It's being repaired, and has been for years. We couldn't find "The Aces" either, the bar in the movie.

Update: Sadly, the team folded fairly soon after this picture was taken. Johnstown no doubt still misses the team.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Johnstown National Flood Memorial

Here's where the Johnstown Flood started. This used to be South Fork Dam, built to create a man-made lake for the magnates of Pennsylvania behind it. It was quite nice until the dam gave way in 1889, sending water down toward Johnstown about 13 miles away. The amount of water was equal to what passes over Niagara Falls in 35 minutes, so you can imagine how much destruction it caused.

If you read David McCullough's book on the Johnstown Flood, you'll want to see for yourself what it looks like.

Kennett Square, Pennsylvania: Longwood Gardens

You don't have to be a garden lover to enjoy Longwood Gardens, probably the most interesting of the facilities of this type that I have visited. The AAA Guide describes it as "the country estate of Pierre S. du Pont," and he obviously knew what to do with his money. There are all sorts of fountains, gardens, lakes, etc. here. The picture above came out in particularly vivid fashion, but I could have selected several others.

Be sure to check out the schedule for the fountain show; Las Vegas would be proud of it (an odd compliment, but appropriate).

Lehighton, Pennsylvania: Country Junction

If you visit one of the rest stops on the Pennsylvania Turnpike extension, you'll find a brochure for "Country Junction," the world's largest country store. It sounded like a good distraction from a long drive, so we got off the Turnpike, drove five miles and took a look.

It's big, all right. But it sure looked like a big hardware store with a few other sections of merchandise to us.

Yes, there is a bit of a playground for the kids. Shown above is an unusual slide, and there's a similar big boat. The store itself does have some other sections besides top soil, such as furniture and candy. We didn't find the petting farm and wildlife exhibit, although we didn't look overly hard.

"Country Junction" certainly looks like a good place for that area's shoppers to fill all of their mulch needs. As for a cute tourist attraction for outsiders, well, there probably are better stops.

Milford, Pennsylvania: The Columns

The Pike County Historical Society keeps its artifacts in this building, which is rather close to the center of town. The building is an old Victorian mansion and quite nice. On the left side, just outside the side door, is an old stagecoach protected by glass.

Why, then, does this site just contain a picture of the outside of the building? A valuable clue is the way the sign in front is framed. You can see the hours of operation, and we showed up when the place was closed. Therefore, we didn't get to see the flag that contains Abraham Lincoln's blood, used the night he was shot and killed in 1865. (Supposedly his head was cradled in the flag after the shooting.) And we didn't get to see Milford's other historical treasures.

Kids, remind your parents that they should find out when a tourist attraction is actually open before going there. You'll save yourself some time. And if you do ever make it here, let us know how the inside is.

Milford, Pennsylvania: Grey Towers

Milford's biggest tourist attraction probably is this, the former estate of Gifford Pinchot and family. Pinchot is remembered as a former Governor of Pennsylvania and the first head of the U.S. Forest Service. In fact, he has a forest named after him just south of Mount St. Helens.

Pinchot bounced in and out of office because of pesky term limit laws, so he spent some of his free time here. The building dates back to 1886, although the furnishings are now done in a 1920's style. Tours of the facility are available for a fee. But if you pressed for time or not interested in paying for the tour, the grounds themselves are free. I particularly liked a unique outdoor dining room table. Think of a table-sized, octagon-shaped swimming pool with floating trays, and you'll get the idea. It makes passing the salt a lot more fun. ("Whee!")

A video of a family sail to South American also can be seen on the grounds. Based on the fact that the family took a huge servant staff and a moving picture photographer with it on a trip in the 1920's, it's fair to guess the Pinchots were pretty well off.

Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania: Kinzua Bridge

A moment of silence, please, for this bridge. This is the famous Kinzua Bridge, checking in at 306 feet high. It was the world's highest railroad bridge at the time it was built in 1882. A railroad used to give rides over the bridge until it was ruled unsafe for such tourist adventures.

The story does not have a happy ending. While state leaders were figuring out what to do with the bridge and whether it was worth fixing, a storm came along and knocked most of it down. Tourists can still see some of the remains sticking out of the ground now.

But I prefer to remember the bridge the way it was when I saw it, shown above, back in 2002.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Liberty Bell

When the United States declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang out in celebration. The 2,000-pound bell already had been in use for almost 25 years at that point. During the Revolutionary War, it was smuggled out to Allentown to avoid capture by the British, but returned to usage after the war.

In 1846, on Washington's birthday, the bell developed a crack so that it could never be used again. However, it became a symbol for liberty around that time. Now the Liberty Bell has its own home, a building on the mall near Independence Hall. Tourists parade by it with regularity now.

By the way, an exact replica of the bell has been made. You can hear how it sounds on

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Independence Hall

This used to be known as the Pennsylvania State House. Now it's Independence Hall. Whatever you call it, it probably is the most famous room in American history. Here representatives of the 13 colonies decided that living under British rule was intolerable, and declared indpendence.

If you take the tour, you quickly get the idea how much guts it took to take that step. No one had ever run off and started a country before. Everyone who signed the Declaration thought they were signing their own death sentence. Yet it worked, and the actions of the men who spent the summer of 1776 in this room still inspire us today.

You'll need a ticket to get in, so stop first thing in the morning of your visit to get one. Security in the area has been heightened since 9/11, so keep that in mind too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania: National Aviary

It's tough to pinpoint exactly when the word "birding" entered out vocabulary. But those who love to see as many different birds as possible should head to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

There are more than 250 birds on display at the facility, two of which are shown here. The aviary does a good job of placing the birds in something resembling natural surroundings, and there are frequent talks about birds for visitors. One included a penguin, who by the way wasn't named Mario Lemieux of Sidney Crosby but probably should have been.

The park-like setting that surrounds the main building is also nice. If you have a couple of free hours, this place is worth the stop.

Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania: Monongahela Incline

You go to Pittsburgh, you have to ride one of the inclines. It's a must.

If only to take a picture like this.

There are two inclines serving Pittsburgh, both offering great views of the city. This one has been around since 1869, and it's the oldest and steepest incline in the country. Besides, it's an easy way for residents to get down the hill that surrounds Pittsburgh -- not as fast as rolling down the hill, but a bit more practical -- and hop on the light-rail transit system.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania: Punxsutawney Phil

The stars come out when we travel, and there's no bigger star in Punxsutawney than Phil. He's the famous groundhog (probably the world's most famous, come to think of it) who comes out and looks for his shadow on February 2. If he sees it, six more weeks of winter are coming.

Phil spends most of his time at the public library with Phyllis, his groundhog pal. He's kept behind glass for all to see. The library is right on the main street of town, while Gobbler's Knob -- where the 2/2 ceremony is held -- is in a park a couple of miles up the hill. By the way, the Chamber of Commerce, located down the street from the library, has several cute souvenirs for sale.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania: Gobbler's Knob

Phil doesn't spend a whole lot of time here -- in fact, one morning a year -- but it's a pretty nice house by groundhog standards. Phil comes up the hill to Gobbler's Knob on Feb. 2, and is pulled out of his temporary house once the television cameras are rolling. If he sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter.

Gobbler's Knob is a nice little park, and worth a quick visit at any time of the year if you want to see how America's most famous silly holiday works. (That's written with great affection for the process.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scranton, Pennsylvania: Lackawanna Coal Mine

Coal mines are nice places to visit, but you wouldn't want to work there. That might be the main lesson of a trip to the Lackawanna Coal Mine, located on the north side of Scranton. This was a working mine for several years; now it's just a good spot for tourists.

A former miner gives the tour of the place, and he spares no details about the dangerous, dirty nature of the work. Tall people can't stand up straight in some of the area, which is why children were useful employees before child labor laws thankfully came along. Replicas of workers and their animal helpers are placed around the mine. It's all pretty well done, and you come out into the sunshine thankful that you had other employment options.

Scranton, Pennsylvania: Steamtown

Your tax dollars at work.

Steamtown National Historic Site is located right in the middle of downtown Scranton. It has a bunch of locomotives and other railroad-related items. After going through it, you'll have learned plenty about the steam engine.

The question is, why does it exist? We already had other railroad historical sites around the country, so there wasn't a crying need for another one. But we did have a Congressman in Northeast Pennsylvania who wanted some federal dollars to help his town. Thus Steamtown. was born. You can read about it in a book called "Adventures in Porkland." Thank you, Congressman Joe McDade.

Steamtown is not an uninteresting place by any means, but it does make you wonder how many more of them are out there.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania: Flight 93 Memorial

Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was put on the American history map for good on September 11, 2001, when a brave group of passengers forced a hijacked plane to crash into the countryside rather than completing an attack. An instant memorial has gone up to honor those on that flight, pending work on a finished project.

The current memorial overlooks the crash site, which is fenced and closed off from the public. Many have come to leave memorabilia as a tribute; it's quite moving in a personal sort of way.

The picture is taken from the memorial at the crash location. The road isn't far from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and it's perhaps 30 minutes from Johnstown. If by chance you are in the relatively immediate area, you definitely should stop.

Wayne, Pennsylvania: Chanticleer

Pass the tea.

Chanticleer is the estate of Adolph Rosengarten Sr., who made his money in pharmaceuticals. There's 30 acres of gardens to explore, all nicely maintained as the picture above shows. There are a couple of other amusing touches, such as the rocks that were carved to look like giant acorns.

This seems like a very nice place to spend a relaxing summer afternoon. Leave the kids home, though -- I would bet they would be bored.

Williamsport, Pennsylvania: Little League Baseball Museum

When you are about 12 years old and playing baseball, this is where you want to play. Williamsport has become known for as the place where Little League began, and its roots are shown in the museum next to the stadium. You can learn that Little League is where batting helmets were essentially invented, or at least brought into common use.

The real action, though, is in the back yard, appropriately enough. The Little League World Series is held here every year, and ESPN is showing more and more games. Here's what the place looks like from the cheap seats, a much better view than the one from behind home plate because of the Central Pennsylvania mountains.

Play ball.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Charleston, South Carolina: Fort Sumter

Lesson number one when it comes to Fort Sumter: it's in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Which means you have to take a boat to it. There's a charge for the boat ride, but admission to the actual fort is free.

For those of you who missed that day in American History class, Fort Sumter is the physical starting point of the Civil War. There were no casualities during the actual battle, although someone was killed while loading a cannon after the North surrendered. There are still some old cannons on the site, and there's a museum. A picture from inside the fort is shown.

By the way, the boat ride starts at the docksite of the USS Yorktown, which certainly is worth a stop if you have the time.

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina: Brookgreen Gardens

Is it a collection of gardens? A sculpture park? A nature preserve?

Brookgreen Gardens actually is all three, which makes it a pretty interesting place to visit.

It's a former planation that includes about 9,000 acres of land. The flowers really are quite nice, and they certainly have a wide assortment for study. It's a great place to relax, and I'd bet there are often painters on the grounds (we saw a few during our visit). One tip -- there is a boat ride that goes in the creeks on the grounds. It is narrated. There's a pretty thin line between relaxing and boring, and the trip made me a little sleepy. You might get lucky when it comes to seeing wildlife, but overall there are better ways to spend your time there.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Badlands received a big boost in land when a volcano blew up in Southern Utah millions of years ago, dumping lots of material throughout the Midwest. Then many years later, a rise in the plate under what is now the eastern part of the U.S. caused rivers in South Dakota to change course. Thus, the Badlands were born.

At least that's what the exhibit at the visitors center said.

The best way to see the major viewpoints is on the Badlands Loop Road, which can easily reached off Interstate 90 in South Dakota. You'll come out of it with an interest in geology.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota: Pinnacles Overlook

Those who enter Badlands National Park from the West, near Wall, come in through the Pinnacles Entrance. Visitors see plenty of meadows, and then see this -- the fascinating mixture of rock and prairie. It's the start of a road that takes a few hours to travel, with the usual roadside stops and gawking.

Badlands is a fascinating place to visit. Just be sure to bring a CD of "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

Badlands National Park, South Dakota: Window Trail

The Window Trail is one of the most visited spots in Badlands. It's near the Northeast Entrance, near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and goes on a boardwalk. What more could you ask for? It leads to an opening in the rocks, leading to this view. As usual, the picture doesn't do it justice.

Belle Fourche, South Dakota: Geographic Center of the United States

Some place has to be the geographic center of the United States, right? Belle Fourche, South Dakota, is it. (Say it like it is Belle Foosh, French for beautiful fork, as in the river.)

If you are wondering how Alaska and Hawaii factors into all of this, the idea is that if you balanced the entire United States on a pin, the pin would stick into Belle Fourche. Visitors are willing to take the geography majors' word for it.

The actual geographic center is well north of town, on an unpaved road in the middle of nowhere. That doesn't exactly promote tourism. So, a display was made for the visitors' center in the middle of town. The marker shown above is outside and down a small hill from the center. While visiting, you can go through a museum on the area's history.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crazy Horse, South Dakota: Crazy Horse Memorial

This is a different sort of tourist attraction -- an unfinished one.

The Crazy Horse Memorial has been under construction for 60 years, at least as of 2008. It's fair to say I'll never see it finished. At least the face is now done.

It's a nice idea to make a tribute to a legendary Native American. A large educational and cultural complex is planned for the area as well. But there are oddities associated with it, not the least of which is the fact that no one has any idea what Crazy Horse actually looked like.

Admission is $10 each, $27 for a carload at of 2008. But, and it's a big but, if you want to down and see the mountain (which admittedly is a construction site) up close, it's another $4 per person. Hmmm.

The rest of the complex has a film on the project's history, some museum exhibit, and plenty of items for sale.

It's a good enough cause, so it's easy to justify an admission ticket as a donation. But it may not be what you were expecting.

Custer, South Dakota: Bedrock City

It's always nice to have a familiar face welcome you at the door. What face is friendlier than Dino the Dinosaur?

Dino's statue is outside the main entrance to Bedrock City, a small "theme park" with a Flintstones theme. There are tributes to Fred, Barney and the gang, and you can even buy a Brontoburger. No word on whether Ann-Margrock will be appearing there soon, though.

Bedrock City is on Custer's main street, right across from some hotels.

Custer State Park, South Dakota: Wildlife Loop Road

The big star of Wildlife Loop Road is the buffalo herd. There are hundreds and hundreds roaming around the park, and about 500 turned up here in their stroll. As you can see, the animals think this is their park and that we're just visiting ... and they are right. So the cars wait for the road to clear.

Other animals often can be viewed on the road. There are a few burros in the park, and they are pretty friendly. Prairie dogs and pronghorns pop up as well.

Custer State Park, South Dakota: Needles Highway

The drive on Needles Highway from south to north gets better and better as you go the 14 miles. Near the northern end, visitors see how the road got its name -- with needle-like rocks sticking up into the sky.

There are a couple of one-lane tunnels through the rock, which are pretty interesting to drive through. Honk first. The views from those hills are pretty terrific too.

Custer State Park, South Dakota: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake might not be the prettiest lake you've ever seen, although it must be at least close. But it might be the most unusual.

It's a man-made lake and used as a reservoir, and it was dropped in with the rock formations of the region. That gives the area an eerie, beautiful quality.

Sylvan Lake is on the northwest end of Needles Highway, and it's definitely worthwhile to stop and take a walk around part of the lakefront trail. There's a lodge and a general store there too if you need reinforcements.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood used to be one of the most famous places in the West, a mining town closely associated with all sorts of, ahem, activity. The HBO series wasn't set here for nothing.

But the gold mine eventually closed, and the town was headed down the road to oblivion. So it reached back to its roots and became one of the first towns in the country to legalize casino gambling (behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City). One of the travel books says there are more jobs in Deadwood than people, and it's easy to believe.

The town is tucked in a small valley that's only a few blocks across (see below in the picture from Mount Mariah Cemetery), and casinos and bars dominate the landscape. If you don't like slot machines, it will only be worth a short stop. But the Old West feeling does come back when walking down Main Street.

Deadwood, South Dakota: Saloon #10

This is where it became bad luck to hold a poker hand of a pair of aces and a pair of eights -- the dead man's hand.

The dead man in question is Wild Bill Hickok, who was gunned down here in 1876. That's the last time he'll sit with his back to the door. By the way, it also was his first. The place is a museum/bar, oddly enough, and the murder is recreated a few times a day for the tourists.

Deadwood, South Dakota: Wild Bill Hickok's Gravesite

"Wild Bill" Hickok (actually James Butler Hickok) is somewhat famous for being famous. He was a spy for the North in the Civil War, and was a U.S. Marshall in Abilene, Kansas in 1871. Hickok became part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in 1873.

Hickok was dramatically killed while playing poker in Deadwood. He's buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery overlooking the town, and is part of our Wild West folklore. The area has been disturbed over the years, so it's pretty well fenced in now.

Deadwood, South Dakota: Calamity Jane's Gravesite

Calamity Jane, better known as Martha Jane Cannary, was about six feet tall. No wonder she found employment as a bullwacker in Dakota Territory. Jane was pretty liberated as the Old West goes, and quickly became quite a well-known character.

Jane became something of a storyteller, and the tales apparently were embellished by the effects of alcohol. She told of a romance with Wild Bill Hickok, even though there was no sign of one. That didn't slow her, though, and when she died at age 53 in 1903 she asked to be buried next to Hickok. And so she was, above Deadwood.

It's tough to get a picture of the grave because of fencing.

Interior, South Dakota: Ranch Store

There isn't much to see when entering the eastern part of Badlands National Park, but a giant prairie dog is there to send you off. (Or, he is there to say hello if you are just entering the park).

There is a prairie dog village just off the parking lot. The souvenir store, which has a variety of items, will sell you food for the dogs.

Thanks to Roadside America for the tip.

Keystone, South Dakota: Mount Rushmore National Memorial


It's one of the most famous mountains in America, and it's more impressive than you'd think in person. For Mount Rushmore is quite a sight.

You know the story, about how Gutzon Borglum had a vision to put four Presidents' faces on a mountain. About 14 years later, he did exactly that.

Visitors walk up the Avenue of Flags for a dramatic entrance, and then start taking pictures quickly when reaching the Grand View Terrace. The shot was taken from there.

You can get up relatively close to the mountain by walking on the Presidential Trail. You can see the sculptor's studio, complete with a model. You can go into the huge gift shop. You can even leave the area, go west on the road, and stop at an overlook to see Washington's profile.

But mostly, you can stand and admire this magnificent work. Nice job, Gutzon.

Oelrichs, South Dakota: Skeletal Metal Rancher Monument

The good folks of Oelrichs, South Dakota, wanted to do something do honor their centennial in 1989. They came up with this unusual statue, to pay tribute to the town's history of ranching.

The display is right on Route 385, the main road through town, so you'll come across it eventually.

Philip, South Dakota: Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

The entrance to this National Park Service facility isn't going to make anyone forget Mount Rushmore. But that's all right.

During the Cold War, the United States had several missile sites in Western South Dakota. They aren't needed now, so they were deactivated. The Park Service took over a couple of the facilities -- a control center and an actual missile complex -- and gives tours to those interested.

Philip is located on the eastern edge of Badlands National Park, and the initial stop is located just off I-90. If you want a tour of the two official complexes, a reservation is needed months ahead of time. They only take a handful of people through per day, so the slots go quickly. A Parks Service employee leads a couple of caravans to the two locations.

However, you can simply stop at the building shown above. There you can see a video about the set-up, and the rangers are ready to answer all of the questions you might have. It's not as good as going into the silo, of course, but it's a pretty good substitute.

The Park Service isn't equipped to handle big crowds here, so it doesn't even put up a sign on the Interstate. So you have to do your homework to discover the place.

Rapid City, South Dakota: City of Presidents Walking Tour

Many cities around the country have discovered the joys of placing statues or artwork on city streets. With Mount Rushmore just up the road (up Mount Rushmore Road, in fact), Rapid City opted to try Presidents as an attraction.

Therefore, when you go for a walk in downtown, you'll see statues of more than 30 of our Chief Executives. They are quite well done. Richard Nixon is pictured. By the way, John Kennedy is said to be the most popular in terms of requests for directions, photos, etc.

An information center is located on Main St. near 7th Street; it has a handy guide to who is where.

Say, isn't that Millard Fillmore?

Rapid City, South Dakota: Dinosaur Park

Terror in the streets!

Well, maybe not. It's just Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.

There is a good-sized hill dividing up South Dakota's second-largest city. The WPA in the 1930's put up some dinosaurs on top of that hill. There are five raptors overlooking the area.

One note: You do have to climb some stairs to get up to the park. Luckily, there are refreshments and souvenirs back in the parking lot on Skyline Drive.

Rapid City, South Dakota: Berlin Wall

What, exactly, is part of the Berlin Wall doing in Rapid City, South Dakota?

It is something of a memorial to the end of the Cold War. The pieces were donated to the city, and the exhibit includes some helpful displays that show, for example, where this piece of the wall (behind and to the left of the sign) was in Berlin.

But why Rapid City? The Cold War was big business for South Dakota. Ellsworth Air Force Base is on the outskirts of town, and there are missile silos scattered throughout the region. This is something of a tribute to the work of the people who contributed to America's defense here.

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Spearfish Canyon has one of America's top scenic byways. Located on the north edge of the Black Hills, it has been named by Bicycling magazine as one of the 50 top bike paths in the country.

It takes about 40 minutes to drive the 20-mile road, that goes from Spearfish to Cheyenne Crossing. Unless, of course, you take more time to enjoy the views.

Wall, South Dakota: Wall Drug

If you have driven in South Dakota in the past 70 years, you've probably seen a sign for Wall Drug. They are relentless, like "South of the Border" on I-95 in the Carolinas. By the time you get to Wall (town's name), you must stop and look around. And they've got you.

Wall Drug started in the 1930's. Business was slow until Dorothy Hustead came up with the idea of offering free ice water to travelers on Route 16A nearby. It worked. The facility has grown from a mere drug store/soda fountain to a square-block-sized shopping mall of sorts.

You can buy drugs at Wall Drugs. You also can buy souvenirs, meals, hats, shoes, jewelry, books, artwork, and boots. Plus, you can pose for pictures with a dinosaur or while riding a jackalope or bronco. You can even pray at the chapel. The front of the facility is shown.

When you do stop in either to and from Badlands National Park, be sure to get your free ice water. They still offer it.

Hermitage, Tennessee: The Hermitage

What did ex-Presidents used to do after they left office? In Andrew Jackson's case, he hung out at a nice mansion outside of Nashville and received guests.

The Hermitage is the description for the Jackson's estate. Interestingly enough, the facility has no connection with the National Parks Service. It was established before 1900, and the curators don't want to give it up. This has two obvious effects -- it's a little pricey for admission, and the tour guides really aren't experts on the subject of Jackson. The tour also includes Jackson's original facility on the grounds, other buildings (including one for slaves), gardens and the Jackson burial site (shown). It's a nice enough place, but I don't see much reason to go back soon. By the way, the country estate is now smack in the middle of suburbia.

Nashville, Tennessee: Gaylord Opryland Resort

This was one of the nicest surprises of a trip to Nashville. We were told that the resort was worth a visit, and it's quite a complex. The hotel has a series of huge atriums that serve as a gathering place, and they are filled with restaurants, boat rides and other attractions. It's worth an hour of your time just to stumble around and gawk.

One tip: parking right at the hotel is pricey. Therefore, park at the adjoining mall and walk a couple of hundred yards to the hotel in order to save $10. The mall is pretty upscale, by the way, if you like that sort of shopping.

Nashville, Tennessee: Grand Olde Opry House

Those who love country music will bow at the entrance; those who don't will go running. Your choice. This is right next to the hotel, so music lovers can easily take advantage of the package deals that are offered. If you've gotten this far you know that anyone who is anyone in country music has played here. One warning to the casual tourist: the owners don't give tours of the Opry House, so you'll have to see a show to get inside the auditorium.

Nashville, Tennessee: Greer Stadium

Welcome to the home of Nashville's AAA baseball team. It's a converted civic facility in a commercial district south of downtown. Therefore, it doesn't exactly feel state-of-the-art, but it's relatively homey.

Plus there's the scoreboard, pictured above. Nashville has done a great job with the Music City U.S.A. image, and it even extends into the scoreboard that looks like a guitar. As of 2005, there was talk of a new stadium along the waterfront downtown, and supposedly a similar scoreboard would be constructed there.

By the way, if you do see a game on "Thirsty Thursdays," when a small beer is only a dollar, be prepared for long lines at the concession stands and at the ATM's.

Nashville, Tennessee: The Parthenon

Bet you didn't know the Parthenon was in Nashville and not Athens. It's in Centennial Park on the west side of town, near Vanderbilt, and it's very impressive. This is the only such replica in the world, and gives an idea of what the Greeks accomplished when they built the original.

Nashville, Tennessee: Ryman Auditorium

This building is famous as the host of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. The Opry moved east after that, and for a while it looked as if the auditorium would close. However, enough fans thought the building was historically significant to save it, and it was renovated in 1994.

Performers still come here today, and you can sense they are thrilled to be on the same stage as all of the great country music stars of the past.

Here's a view from in front of the stage (visitors aren't allowed to actually get on the stage unless they are posing for an overpriced photograph.) Tours are given of the Auditorium, and it's worth the time and money. That's in part because of the exhibits and clippings scattered about, and partly to see the reaction of the other guests. You can tell it's an emotional experience to be there for some, kind of like a baseball fan at Cooperstown.

Nashville, Tennessee: James Polk's Gravesite

When in Nashville, be sure to take a walk around the outside of the state capitol. You might bump into an ex-President, so to speak.

James Polk is buried there, although it's not an overwhelming display. In fact, Andrew Jackson -- who is down the road aways -- gets a bigger tribute. Sorry, Mr. Polk.