1998 Toyota 4runner (manual)
1998 Toyota 4runner (manual)
A road trip from Austin to Memphis is a bucket list trip for any food-loving family. These two great cities offer some of the best BBQ you can find anywhere. What's best is that they cover the BBQ lover's two basic food groups, beef and pork.
Texas is all about beef, and they take their beef BBQ very seriously here. Austin has many great restaurants and places to sample some slow smoked bovine delights. One of the best is Salt Lick BBQ which is located just southwest of Austin in Driftwood, TX. This amazing restaurant cooks up some of the finest Texas BBQ over a large open pit fire which you can smell as soon as you arrive. The restaurant itself is huge, seating hundreds inside and out. There is also an entertainment stage and a separate building next door to handle takeout orders if you prefer. Also on site is a small winery and garden area where you can relax and enjoy the warm Texas sunshine. The service here is great, the food arrives fast and is incredibly delicious.
Of course, there is more great food in Austin than just BBQ. Pinthouse Pizza is a microbrewery that serves up an incredible pie. Don't let the long lines deter you, their pizza is beloved by the locals for a good reason and their beers are awesome too. For burgers, make sure you hit Hopdoddy Burger Bar. The location on South Congress Ave. is right in the middle of the busy shopping/entertainment district which is a great place to visit.
While you're in town, also check out The Bullock Texas State History Museum for an outstanding look at Texas History. Take a hike at Mayfield Park and see if you can spot some of the resident free-ranging peacocks that have called this park home since 1935. Go for a swim in Barton Springs, paddle the Colorado River, or enjoy the surrounding parks.
The trip to Memphis starts by heading north on I-35. This will take you to Dallas where you'll pick up I-20 East to I-635 to I-30 East. Stay on I-30 to Little Rock, AR. There, take I-440 around town where you will pick up I-40 East which will take you to Memphis.
Crater of Diamonds State Park is located off Route 30 in Murfreesboro, AR. This park is famous for its plowed 37.5 acre field where you can scavenge for diamonds. The park is located on top of an old volcano that produced diamonds long ago.
Diamonds can be found by simply searching along the surface dirt, or by digging and sifting through the soil. Tools are not required, but you can bring your own or rent them in the park if you choose to use them. There is a small fee per person per day to hunt for diamonds and any diamonds you find are yours to keep. As of 2020, recent heavy rains in the area have made diamond finding quite good. A teacher found a 2.1 carat diamond in July of 2019 and finding smaller stones is quite common.
The park has an excellent campground with 47 full hookup sites that can accommodate RVs or tents.
If you have visited a lot of national parks, Hot Springs National Park will be a totally different experience. Unlike most parks, which are large areas of land dedicated to a park-like setting, the majority of the activity at Hot Springs occurs on a couple of city blocks. On those blocks stand several hot spring bathhouses that were therapeutic sites for some of the wealthier folks during the late 19th and early 20th century. A couple of the bathhouses are still active and you can pay to use their facilities. The main park visitor's center is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse. There you can take one of the excellent guided ranger tours of the bathhouse or you can explore on your own.
Behind Bathhouse Row is the Promenade. This beautiful paved walking path makes for a great stroll on a warm afternoon. It also gives you access to some of the trailheads which lead up the mountain behind Bathhouse Row as well as views of some of the hot spring features in the area.
The best place to park is the free parking garage on Exchange Street 1 block west of Bathhouse Row. It's a short, easy walk to the visitor's center from there.
A great place to eat is The Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden. It is located on Exchange Street just north of the Parking Garage. They have outstanding pizzas which are served in a beautiful wooded patio environment.
The best place to stay is Catherine's Landing RV Resort. This is a large upscale RV park located right on the river. They have a beautiful pool, splash pad, a huge pavilion/entertainment complex and a lot more.
So you enjoyed some great BBQ beef while in Austin, now it's time to take in a little of the history of the cattle industry in Texas and to get a flavor of how all that great meat gets to your table. There is no better place to do that then at the Fort Worth Stockyards. This place was a hub for the cattle industry in years gone by and has since been transitioned into a historical site which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. While most of the area is now filled with shopping, entertainment, drinking, and dining establishments, it does still hold a twice-daily cattle drives down the main street.
All the shopping and watching the cattle drive may make you hungry for a good steak. One of the best places is the Cattleman's Steak House which has been serving great steaks since 1947. It has the feel of an old school steakhouse and the food and service are great.
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At the end of the journey lies Memphis, a great small Tennessee city on the banks of the Mississippi River. Known as the home of the Blues, Memphis is also the epicenter of Pork BBQ. When it comes to that topic there are two big arguments which come up. Corky's vs. Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, and wet vs dry. Most people associate Memphis BBQ with the dry rub, but wet ribs do have their supporters. Where to buy them though is the tough question.
Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous is the grandaddy. They have been making ribs in their downtown restaurant since 1948. Visiting this place is like walking into the Mecca of swine. Presidents, movie stars, rock stars, and other celebrities have all eaten here. In fact, Elvis Presley used to have their ribs flown to his shows when he was out of town. The average employee has been working here longer then most of us can remember and it shows in the atmosphere, food, and service. They only do dry ribs here, but they do include sauce at the table if you want to wet them down.
Corky's is the new kid on the block. Their restaurants are more modern and they do a brisk takeout business. They are more known for their wet ribs, which are excellent. The only way to decide which is best is to go try them both, which is highly recommended.
Other things to do while in town includes visiting the Peabody Memphis. This is a famous hotel which has a beautiful restaurant/bar area, shopping, and a spa. At 11am and 5pm every day they have the parade of ducks where their five resident ducks parade through the hotel to and from their rooftop outdoor play area. This is definitely a ritual which is unique to Memphis.
Not far from downtown is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. The site contains the motel as it stood on that day along with a museum facility with exhibits dedicated to the history of the civil rights movement in the United States.
There are two great state parks that have good RV or tent camping sites that are convenient to the city. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is on the north side of town and provides a very secluded quite place to stay. T.O. Fuller State Park is on the south side and closer to downtown and Graceland. It is also a very nice park. However it is tucked away in a more urban area and tends to be busier then Meeman-Shelby.