Tuesday, May 13, 2014

US Hwy 70: My Day With "Delta Joe"

After Happy's school visit in Manila yesterday, I had the pleasure — and privilege! — of spending the rest of the day touring some of the northern Arkansas Delta with a delightful character I've officially nicknamed "Delta Joe."

Joe is a childhood friend — and "indirect relative" — of Allen Moore, and was the catalyst for my visit to Manila. He has a boundless passion for the history and culture of the Delta, and a seemingly endless supply of informative and endearing stories to go with it.

Although Joe considers himself only a "hobbyist" musician, I can tell you that his original songs about the area are charming, heartfelt and quite "professional" in quality. To experience a private concert of his "story-song-story-song" repertoire throughout the day was a real treat, and I hope he someday puts together an audio tour for others to enjoy.

Driving for miles across flat land now aggregated into a few immense commercial farms, Joe helped me to imagine what it was like when homesteaded by hearty settlers who were given 40 acres and a mule. It has always been a poor area, often flooded by the Mississippi River, and ever in danger of tornadoes. Life on the Delta was, is and ever shall be a challenge.

Although east of the infamous Dust Bowl of the 30's, the Delta has a very similar epic of hardship, survival and redemption. Sites of interest are few and far between, so you have to work a bit to find and appreciate them. It's an effort worth your while.

One example is the historic Dyess Colony. The sign tells the story and the remnants of the local movie theater bear witness to it once being a lively little settlement.

Stepping back, you can see the semi-restored administration building and scruffy town square, across which stand the modest city hall and its abandoned neighbor.

There is some talk about — and at least a little action toward — reviving the area as part of a one- or two-day historical/cultural tour out of nearby Memphis. As an explorer I can see the merit, but it will require a long-term commitment of capital development, with no firm promise of financial return.

That said, there are some especially noteworthy local attractions. For one, Dyess is the home of Johnny Cash, whose high school class photo is prominently displayed in the city hall.

Down the road is his boyhood home, one of very few remaining "40-acre" farmhouses after so many have been torn down during land aggregation. It's no Graceland, but it has merit as a landmark.

My day on the Delta was fantastic, made so quite frankly by the generous sharing of time, passion, stories and songs by my new good friend "Delta Joe." If you're ever in the area, let me know and I'll see if I can get him to give you a guided tour. Even better, I hope the area is eventually developed for tourism and Joe is commissioned to provide the soundtrack!

As you can see in the photos, the weather has been a little dynamic and stormy. I plan to push west tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

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