The land of bluegrass has built white plank fences around its legends. And many of the most noted of these horse farms are still open to the public, with winding driveways that leisurely carry you past millionaires munching on grass.
New Orleans, Louisiana, is the god child of France, with graceful iron-lace balconies overlooking the streets of the famed Vieux Carre. Bourbon Street is its nerve center, alive at night with goodtime bars and floor shows, letting the fire of jazz keep it all hot. Royal Street gathers around it a swarm of antique shops. And throughout the French Quarter are quaint galleries and specialty shops, hidden away in the dark doorways of antiquated buildings.
Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi, are both jeweled relics of the antebellum South — once tarnished, but, at last, all aglitter again. Natchez had been a city of wealth and sin. Fortunes were won and lost quickly in a place where, it’s been said, the only thing cheaper than a woman’s body was a man’s life. After the War Between the States, the mansions of Natchez fell into shock and disrepair. The Natchez Garden Club put them back together again. Seventeen of the great and gracious white-columned homes are open for tours. And all have quite a tale to tell.
Vicksburg, like Natchez, was given life by the Mississippi River. But its name is remembered most for the battle it could not win. And now the Vicksburg National Military Park — perhaps the finest in America — is a silent, grim, yet beautiful reminder of that Civil War devastation, and the land is finally at peace with itself.
Hot Springs is, at the same time, a resort city in Arkansas and a National Park as well. The valley of vapors itself has beckoned to visitors since 1541 when the explorer DeSoto discovered those 47 bubbling thermal springs, those pools of healing water. Folks still come for the water, reserving time to soak away their ailments and their cares in one of the fine spa facilities along famous Bathhouse Row.
Gatlinburg is the out-of-the-ordinary gateway to Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the winter season it’s a ski resort. But always it’s a carnival of activity, a midway for the unusual, the unexpected. Antiques, right out of the hills themselves, are packed away in quaint shops. Craftsmen create in wood and clay and cloth. Fine art hangs on gallery walls. And museums range from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to the deeply religious Christus Gardens.
Mickey Mouse headed South long before he reached the age of 50. He wound up with Shamu, the killer whale, for a neighbor. Then a whole circus moved its big striped tent next door. And down the road apiece, there screams the sounds from darkest Africa.
Such is the magic conjured up by the multi-million dollar imagination of theme parks.
Most of the parks throughout the region wind down their week-end extravaganzas by the end of November, then spend a season thinking up new surprises before opening their gates again in April.
Six Flags Over Georgia at Atlanta is the granddaddy of the theme park congregation. It was originally built to spotlight the South’s illustrious history. But, in time, Six Flags has become a thrill-ride spectacular — thanks to the Great American Scream Machine, Great Gasp, and Mindbender, the world’s only triple loop roller coaster.
Nashville’s Opryland is the home of American music, with sections devoted to country, folk, rock, and jazz entertainment, as well as a liberal sprinkling of white-knuckle rides. King’s Dominion, near Richmonds, Virginia, offers a trip around the world — complete with a 33story Eiffel Tower.
Old Country, closer to Williamsburg, Virginia, is a collection of Europeanstyled villages. There’s England in the 1600’s and France in the early 1900’s, with a touch of Colonial Canada and Germany’s Oktoberfest and the Heatherdowns of Scotland. Carowinds sprawls across both North and South Carolina, reflecting the heritage of the states — from frontier forts to the space age.
Now North Carolina’s Beech Mountain, in winter, is one of the South’s most popular ski resorts, built around an Alpine village. But come spring, snow will melt from the Yellow Brick Road that leads up the slopes of Banner Elk’s high country to the Land of Oz. And near Harrison, Arkansas, a ski resort at Marble Falls, too, hides Dogpatch U.S.A., a happy-go-lucky park populated by AÍ Capp’s favorite down home hillbillies.
Stone Mountain, at Atlanta, is, in essence, a portrait of the South in granite. It is the region’s Mount Rushmore, open year around. Upon the face of the great monolith has been carved the likenesses of three Southern legends — Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, all on horseback. And below them ranges a 3,800-acre park.
But the heartland of Florida forever remains the capital of imaginative theme parks whose gates never close regardless of the season.
Walt Disney, obviously, created a world beyond belief, one that’s in a global class by itself. Snow White’s castle overlooks the Magic Kingdom, a park that tends to dwarf all others.
Circus World, also at Orlando, may be the only Big Top in the world where the guests — if they thirst for fame, fortune and heights — can become the performers. Makeup artists turn children into clowns. Elephants are around for riding. And Victor Gaona, an internationallyrespected aerialist, is on hand to supervise you on the trampoline, tight rope, high wire and flying trapeze.
Orlando’s Sea World draws much of its talent, as well as its theme, from the oceans. Sea lions star at basketball or volleyball or bowling. And Shamu, the killer whale, explodes from the water in a performance of might and grace.
Africa envelopes the Tampa veldt. It’s Busch Gardens, the Dark Continent. And in it, you can mingle in the open-air market place of Marrakesh; or test the thrill rides — the Python or Monstrous Mamba — of Stanleyville; or venture into the jungle home of alligators, lion cubs and monkeys at Nairobi; or take a skyride across the Serengeti Plain and watch the giraffe, rhinoceros, and cape buffalo — part of the 3,000 African animals there — roam below you.
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