my jaunts: mississippi

with only 18,000 residents, clarksdale, mississippi is the blues capital of the world

with only 18,000 residents, clarksdale, mississippi is the blues capital of the world

mississippi was one of the most memorable places we visited during our road trip of the deep south.  i wasn’t expecting this, as mississippi had never held a particular interest to me. yet here we were, snaking our way south along the mississippi river from memphis to vicksburg, through oxford first, then south through the mighty delta, with stops in clarksdale and yazoo city, before stoping in vicksburg for the night.  each stop was different from the last, but they all had one thing in common: you can only find these places in mississippi.  they are like nowhere else; a visit will surprise you.

downtown yazoo city

downtown yazoo city


oxford is one of those places that you can’t make up.  home of ole miss and southern gentility, it is also the literary home of the south.  we arrived mid-morning after an hour and a half drive from memphis and immediately drove to big bad breakfast for some classic diner eats.  this restaurant is run by the same people who opened city grocery (among others), an oxford staple housed on the town square.  the coffee was excellent and the spicy bacon was even better.  i highly recommend.

big bad breakfast in oxford, mississippi

big bad breakfast in oxford, mississippi

next we drove to the town square, where we visited three book stores: square books, off square books, and square books, jr.  square books is the grandfather of all bookstores in town and sits on a street corner that allows its second-floor porch to wrap leisurely around the building.  inside, the store is crowded with shelves, with books tucked in every possible square inch of space (my favorite kind of book store).  the second floor has a section devoted to local writers, with an entire aisle devoted to faulkner, who modeled his fictional town of yoknapatawpha county on oxford (faulkner’s home, rowan oak, is just south of town and open to the public).  i picked up an american insurrection, a book about james meredith and his fight to be the first black student at ole miss; the book was written by william doyle and was described by the employee as the single most important book written about oxford (bold claim?).  i’ll keep you posted.  we also stopped off at square book’s lifestyle book store, off square books, and their children’s book store, square books, jr., where i purchased the first two books for my son (who was still only the size of a small orange inside of me).

square books in oxford, mississippi

square books in oxford, mississippi – a true literary delight

before heading out of town, we drove through ole miss, seeing the famous grove where chandeliers are hung for football tailgates and fans dress more like they are attending easter church rather than an SEC conference game.  we saw the statue of james meredith, which made me even more eager to read the book i puchased at square books.  the inscription reads “courage,” “perseverance,” “oppportunity,” and “knowledge.”  with that, we waved goodbye, and headed southwest to the delta.

the statue of james meredith walking onto the campus of ole miss

the statue of james meredith walking onto the campus of ole miss

the delta

there is a saying i’ve often heard, to “thank god for mississippi,” because it means there is always a state lower than yours (unless, of course, you live in mississippi) in any type of positive measurement (test scores, graduation rates, health care, etc.).  not a great reflection of this southern state, and surely one that has tarnished its reputation over the years.  as we drove south through the delta, i saw a surprising number of sturdy, nice looking houses, small yet pleasant and all similar looking.  it took me about a hundred miles before i realized they all looked similar due to being government housing.  the people of the delta live and die by the state of the river; one bad year and there’s no money for anyone.  knowing that, and the  frustrating history of its slave-owning plantations, i understood how the blues were created deep in the heart of this fertile ground.

driving south through the mississippi delta

driving south through the mississippi delta

i had read that the drive down route 61 through the delta was one of the most beautiful in the US.  it is selected as a “best of the road” drive in my atlas, and kate spade’s “places to go, people to see” noted it as one of the top 15 scenic routes. however, our drive from a scenic standpoint was slightly disappointing (perhaps overhyped?).  while the open road and low crops lining the road were pleasant, it was not the beautiful horizon i had hoped for; perhaps may was the wrong time of year to drive through and another month with larger crops would be more beautiful.  the draw is definitely the people and towns along the way.


i had read about clarksdale in 36 hours, so we decided to make a stop.  this is the most bizarre town i’ve ever visited – seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with no thriving commerce to speak of, but clarksdale still thrives; not on industry, but on blues.  it is here that blues guitarist robert johnson is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the gift of blues.  a drive into the small town of just under 18,000 reveals a cobblestoned downtown that boasts the delta blues museum, several great restaurants, antiques stores, and cat head, a store filled with local artwork and hundreds of blues albums.  upon entering cat head, we were greeted by the sound of the longing blues, only to turn around and see that the shopkeeper was strumming his own guitar behind the counter – he later turned out, like most people in the south, to be a gifted storyteller, having a colorful story for every  album and photograph inside the store.

cat head delta blues and folk art in downtown clarksdale, mississippi

cat head delta blues and folk art in downtown clarksdale, mississippi

while most people (myself included) know that bbq rules the south’s stomach, i did not know about the importance of hot tamales.  and yes, i live in texas and eat my fair share of this husked delight, but i had no idea that tamales were such a part of the deep south (read more about hot tamales in the south here).  we stopped at hick’s, which was closed for dine-in, but the employee that day insisted we come in, as he directed us away from the drive-thru lane and unlocked the dining room.  if you’re ever passing through, do not pass up the mississippi hot tamale – they are smaller than the texas variety, so order several, and prepare yourself for some heat – these are no joke.

the back alleys of clarksdale, mississippi

the back alleys of clarksdale, mississippi

yazoo city and beyond

we briefly stopped in yazoo city as it is the hometown of my husband’s favorite writer, willie morris.  in his book, “north toward home” he tells his story of growing up in yazoo city and then leaving to become a writer in new york city.  what a change.  we didn’t get out of the car, but yazoo had a colorful and quaint downtown and seemingly a lot of churches (#biblebelt). we headed south again to vicksburg, a civil war town nestled on the banks of the mississippi, but at this point we were too tired to explore either the battle sites or the river.  should you find yourself in southern mississippi, another potential stop is biloxi, a town on the gulf with a shady strip of casinos, and the site of a husband and wife murder that is detailed in the book, mississippi mud, which i picked up at a book store in memphis.  what drama – it reads like fiction and tells the story of the true murders that killed vince sherry (a high-powered judge) and his wife, margaret, who was about to run for mayor.  without giving too much away, the story takes you through the biloxi goverment, hit men hired for murder, and multiple con men serving time in angola prison in louisiana; extremely difficult (and frightening) that this is non-fiction.

scenes from yazoo city

scenes from yazoo city

who should go: lovers of books, blues, and americana
what to read: the golden apples by eudora welty, an american insurrection by william doyle, north toward home by willie morris, mississippi mud by edward humes, practically anything by faulkner
what to listen to: muddy waters, sam cooke, ike turner

the famous grove at ole miss - this time, with no tailgaters

the famous grove at ole miss – this time, with no tailgaters

a southern jaunt: a road trip through the southern united states


last spring, my husband and i traveled through the southern united states on a road trip.  4000 miles, nine states, and 17 cities later, we had seen a part of the country that we had never seen before.  the trip deserves multiple posts, but an overview is also in order.  starting in dallas we headed west to hot springs, arkansas, detoured in little rock for a quick trip to the clinton library, then headed north to memphis for several days.  in memphis, we visited the civil rights museum, which would unknowingly create a lens through which we viewed every city visited henceforth.  truly, truly a gem.  after learning about the roots of rock-n-roll and starting what would be a long study into southern bbq, we headed south into mississippi.

the civil rights museum in memphis, tennessee, at the site where mlk jr. was shot

the civil rights museum in memphis, tennessee, at the site where mlk jr. was shot

in one day, we paused briefly in oxford to visit the south’s literary capital and buy a few books at the fabulous square books store on the square, then headed southwest to clarksdale, the (probably official?) blues capital of the world. a brief description of this unbelievable town will not do it justice, so i will reserve my words for a later post.  snaking further south through the delta, we arrived in yazoo city, home of my husband’s favorite author, willie morris, before heading further south to vicksburg to stay the night.  if you have not previously visited mississippi, and also not visited the delta, it is a must.  if you don’t believe me, anthony bourdain has an episode on the delta that may just change your mind; it is very much like no where else.  it is here where i started reading eudora welty’s, the golden apples, a novel from 1949 about a fictional town in mississippi.  after visiting the civil rights museum in memphis, the book (and our travels) took on a new meaning: the south’s past is troubled and its future is somewhat complicated.  i went ahead and purchased a book about james meredith, ole miss’s first black student who risked his life for equal education, and wondered how that happened only 53 years ago.  who can tell what the next 50 years will hold?

a view of the square in oxford, mississippi as seen from the balcony of square books store

a view of the square in oxford, mississippi as seen from the balcony of square books store

venturing east the next morning, we stopped in tuscaloosa for (more) bbq before a brief stop for croissants and a visit to the oldest baseball stadium in america in birmingham, alabama.  we ended the day with family in atlanta, where the heaviness of the south was refreshingly lifted in the urban city and things seemed to return to normal for a couple of days.  driving into atlanta, we explored inman park (spoiler alert: loved), and lounged in the botanical gardens while reading more welty.

a quick jaunt to the inman park neighborhood of atlanta - very walkable and full of unique shops and restaurants

a quick jaunt to the inman park neighborhood of atlanta – very walkable and full of unique shops and restaurants

following several days of relaxation with family, we headed northeast to charleston, where the south reigned again.  charleston is a lovely city that almost seems fake (similar to the feeling i had when visiting georgetown, dc); it is filled with gorgeous colonial houses, cobblestone streets, and preppy boys donning sea green chino shorts with embroidered lobsters.  the food was amazing, as expected (bourdain’s been here, too), and we had an excellent tour guide in my husband’s lovely aunt.  the sea views were also quite refreshing – there is just nothing like the smell of salt water and the sound of crashing waves.

the picturesque college of charleston

the picturesque college of charleston

at this point, we were about halfway through our jaunt, so decided to head back.  turning westward, we also looked north and several hours later arrived in chapel hill, north carolina.  i do not even know where to begin with north carolina.  it is divine, and by far my favorite state of the trip.  lush, green, hilly, and clean (so clean!), still firmly rooted in the south, but with a bit of yankee sense.  we explored chapel hill, raleigh, and durham with the help of old friends, and then further explored winston-salem with even more friends.  what a fabulous place.  heading west from winston-salem, we entered the much-anticipated blue ridge parkway, the highway that snakes through the appalachian mountains.  this is an absolute must-visit for anyone who lives in the US (no excuses), and i do hope i can return some day for the fall foliage.  we ended our north carolina jaunt with a night in asheville, which is basically the next denver or austin (just wait) and also happened to feature the most amazing restaurant at which i’ve eaten in quite some time: curaté.  if you love spanish tapas, this place is the real deal.  much more on this gem later.

a quick break along the blue ridge parkway to take in the breathtaking views

a quick break along the blue ridge parkway to take in the breathtaking views

it is around this time that we began to tire of our nomadic life (shocker!). while i like to fancy myself an expert traveler, there really is no place like home.  we headed west through the gorgeous appalachians to nashville, where we spent several days exploring all of the hipster locales (i can’t wait to write about our adventures here) and ordering in food at night to rest our weary minds.  one last stop in fayetville and rogers, arkansas to see the absolutely stunning crystal bridges museum before we headed home.  this stop was a last minute decision and we almost nixed it due to our desire to head home,  but it was so close and i had heard such great things about the museum (founded by the walmart heiress, alice walton, from her personal collection), that we ultimately decided to add the extra night.  best decision of the trip.  this is a world class collection in a stunning building in the most unlikely place.  it is also free.  and did i mention stunning?  seriously, so very thrilled this level of art has been brought to middle america; everyone deserves access to the arts and this truly does not disappoint.  go!

inside the stunning crystal bridges museum in bentonville, arkansas

inside the stunning crystal bridges museum in bentonville, arkansas

after 15 days on the road, we headed back to dallas to our happy home.  what did i learn through my time in the south?  it’s complicated.  many places seem to still hold on to their storybook (for some) past, though those places are starting to see the futility of this choice.  while many places have since taken down the confederate flag, it still flies high in others.  the more urban areas have changed dramatically and offer truly exciting experiences with a diverse demographic.  nashville is no longer just for country lovers, and atlanta is much more than a cement-laden sprawling suburbia.  people are returning from the north to take advantage of more affordable costs of living and bringing with them new ideas and commerce that is changing the southern stereotypes.  i have a lot of hope for the south, and can’t wait to see what mississippi and north carolina are going to turn out in the next ten years.  but if you haven’t ever visited, do yourself a favor and plan some time soaking in the southern experience; it will definitely surprise you.

where are some of your favorite places in the south?

the gallery wall at the hatch show print shop, a local nashville institution

the gallery wall at the hatch show print shop, a local nashville institution

travel tips: how to plan your best road trip


this time of year is my “busy season” at work, which doesn’t leave me much time (read: no time) to travel. but i have one busy season tradition that carries me through the long hours and weekends of work: the planning of the post-busy season trip.

last weekend, dallas had the most perfect weather, so my husband and i spread out the blankets in the backyard, played some music, and brought out my atlas to plan our spring road trip.  i’ve been dying to take a road trip across the southern US, and to finally visit some friends and family who live along the way.  planning road trips is one of my most favorite things to do, so i thought i would share some of my tips for planning fantastic road trips:

a perfect saturday: blanket, pug, atlas, and wanderlust

a perfect saturday: blanket, pug, atlas, and wanderlust

1. start with an atlas – looking at an atlas gives me ideas for scenic detours and sites to see that i may have missed.  kate spade’s travel book, places to go, people to see, mentioned that the drive from memphis, tn to vicksburg, ms is stunning, so we looked it up on the atlas.  guess what’s nearby?  yazoo city, home of willie morris, my husband’s favorite author.  note to self: detour to yazoo city on day three.  atlases will also list approximate driving times between cities, which comes in handy while planning number of days on the road.

2. stalk pinterest – set up a board for your road trip locations, and pin away as you research places to see.  map traveled to nashville recently, and i pinned most of the places they went to my tennessee board.  a friend at work recently gave me a magazine article on memphis, so i pinned the places that looked cool to me.  pinterest provides a great way to store ideas from all over the web in one place so you don’t forget.  if you’re looking for ideas on locations, check out my pinterest boards (organized by state and country) and also my road trip board for inspiration.

pinning by state has helped me plan the road trip - so many cool places i've pinned in the past that i had forgotten about!

pinning by state has helped me plan the road trip – so many cool places i’ve pinned in the past that i had forgotten about!

3. create a list on your phone – as you’re planning, you’ll hear suggestions from friends or through media that you’ll want to remember.  keeping a list on your phone will help you remember those tips since you can jot them down when someone suggests a place (that’s how i remembered kate spade’s recommendation for the memphis to vicksburg drive).

4. start reading! – i love themed reading.  i think this started when i read cannery road while visiting monterey, california – it brought so much life and history to the places i was seeing, that i was hooked.  if you’re looking for ideas on what to read during your travels, check out book lust to go by nancy pearl – she recommends books based on your travel destinations (genius).  for our road trip, i’m adding to my list john steinbeck’s travels with charley and william least heat-moon’s roads to quoz: an american mosey.

upcoming road trip reads

upcoming road trip reads

5. check out what the new york times has to say from 36 hours – i wrote an entire post on my love for 36 hours.  check it out and then read it before every trip you ever take (including short business trips).

6. plan your nights – book your hotels, b&b’s, stays with friends, etc. in advance.  start with your budget to understand how much to spend per night, and then see if you have any friends or family along the way that you can stay with (don’t forget to pack hostess gifts, if so).  some of my favorite bookings sites are airbnb and jetsetter.  don’t forget about any hotel points you may have saved up that could give you a free night (or two!) at a national chain.

the stops on our summer road trip - most excited for yazoo city, mississippi and the blue ridge parkway in appalachia

the stops on our summer road trip – most excited for yazoo city, mississippi and the blue ridge parkway in appalachia

7. leave room for improv – as an accountant, i like to plan down to the minute.  this can make for some stressful travel experiences.  one thing i’ve learned is to build in some time to improv, an extra day to go where i want, a half-day to explore a new part of the city, etc.  one time while driving to LA from dallas, we saw a sign on I-40 for the petrified forest.  excuse me?  detour!  we spent a couple of hours looking at the craziest petrified wood (how is this possible?!) before jumping back on the interstate and heading west.

stay tuned for future posts on best road trip apps, and how to pack your car for the best road trip.  for now, fill me in on any of your best tips for planning road trips – i’d love to hear them!

my favorites: best texas swimming holes

thank goodness for summer! time to relax and slow down.

thank goodness for summer! time to relax and slow down. (taken at jacob’s well in wimberley)

and just like that, spring is over.  the temperatures are creeping up, and not cooling off at night.  my husband and i walked to our neighborhood wine night (yes) last week, and i was struck by how quickly jeans season ended.  after years in california with its cool nights, we’re back in texas, where it’s time to shed pants for summer shorts and skirts.

just relaxing at jacob's well in wimberley, texas

just relaxing at jacob’s well in wimberley, texas

so its the perfect time to talk about my favorite texas swimming holes.   i’m much more of a city girl than a nature lover, but california taught me a lot about appreciating nature (maybe it was our proximitiy to griffith park that helped me live at peace with coyotes and that rogue mountain lion), and now i can’t get enough of the perfectly and naturally formed swimming pool, shaded by trees and open to all. there are three that i’ve really enjoyed visiting: two in or near austin and one in far west texas.

the scene at jacob's well in wimberley, texas (the dark circle in the water is the 30-foot well)

the scene at jacob’s well in wimberley, texas (the dark circle in the water is the 30-foot well)

  • jacob’s well, wimberley, texas – just southwest of austin in the beautiful texas hill country lies wimberley, a place i visited a lot growing up and never fully appreciated until i was older.  jacob’s well is a 30-foot deep well in the middle of a shallow creek, surrounded by rock cliffs and shaded by trees.  though the well is deep, the surrounding creek bed only has about two feet of water lined with slippery rocks.  scuba divers used to dive to the bottom of the well, and crawl through a narrow space at the bottom that opened up to another drop-off, estimated to be around 150 feet deep (a couple of deaths caused the city to grate over the drop-off and prohibit scuba diving).  go early as lines can form in the summer, bring a picnic and goggles, and find a warm rock on which to sun bathe while taking a cool dip in the well.
cooling off in austin's barton springs

cooling off in austin’s barton springs

  • barton springs, austin, texas – located in the middle of austin at zilker park, barton springs is an austin favorite.  formed from natural springs from main barton spring, the water is refreshing and sparkling (read: freezing, no matter what time of year), and is where the party’s at.  the city has lined the springs with cement to make it into more of an outdoor pool, and there are plenty of grassy areas or bleachers to set up for the entire day.  the people watching is fantastic (especially if you go outside the gates a bit further down), and remember: topless sunbathing is allowed everywhere in austin.
sun bathing at austin's barton springs, with a token guitar player in the background

sun bathing at austin’s barton springs, with a token guitar player in the background

  • balmorhea springs, balmorhea, texas – so, this one is…remote.  we stumbled upon this gem during a trip to marfa in far west texas, and it is definitely worth a stop.  these springs have the clearest water i’ve ever seen, and are located at balmorhea state park.  for $7, you can enter the springs, swim for awhile, and enjoy the grounds.  there are campgrounds and cabins onsite, and it seems to be a favorite among kids.  this would be a perfect stop during a tour of west texas that could include a couple of nights in marfa, a stop in alpine, a drive through big bend with a stop at terlingua (home of the texas chili festival), and a visit to the mcdonald observatory (see more of my thoughts on that here).
mountains in the background at balmorhea springs

mountains in the background at balmorhea springs

the next step is to find some swimming holes closer to home around dallas – do you have any favorites in your part of the world?

rushing grass-filled stream at balmorhea springs

rushing grass-filled stream at balmorhea springs in west texas

jaunt chats: cleo patterson’s travel journal

cleo patterson's small travel journal of her trip to texas, as found in my garage as i moved in

cleo patterson’s small travel journal of her trip to texas, as found in my garage as i moved in

while moving into our new home last summer, we came across a few items in the garage that were left behind by previous owners.  one such item was a thin, small black leather “memo book.”  upon further inspection, i was so pleasantly surprised to find – hark! – a travel journal from 1940!  how fortuitous!  i sat down this week and reread it, which only further solidified my thoughts that travel journals are a must.  do not leave home without one!

 the journal, written by cleo patterson in the spring of 1940, is titled “my trip to texas.”  an hour with google later, i learned that miss cleo (as i’m calling her), later moved to texas (must have liked that trip!), and passed away in lubbock in the 1990s.

i’ve included below some of my favorite passages from her journal.  i’ll include some more in a second post so you can see how the trip (and not just the voyage) passed..  enjoy!

miss cleo's route from ohio to texas (as depicted on google maps)

miss cleo’s bus route from ohio to texas (as depicted on google maps): (a) columbus, ohio; (b) richmond, indiana; (c) indianapolis, indiana; (d) terra haute, indiana; (e) st. louis, missouri; (f) sullivan, missouri; (g) waynesville, missouri; (h) springfield, missouri; (i) carthage, missouri; (j) joplin, missouri; (k) vinita, oklahoma; (l) tulsa, oklahoma; (m) chandler, oklahoma; (n) oklahoma city, oklahoma; (o) clinton, oklahoma; (p) shamrock, texas; (q) amarillo, texas.

“Saturday, May 18, 1940

I left the office at 12:00 o’clock noon.  Ethel Evers took me to the Bus Station.  Ate lunch there with Sam [believe her son?].  My Bus left at 1:20.  All seats were taken, so I sat with a girl whose name was Eileen and who was from New York State.  She was going to Los Angeles to be married.  She was very interesting to talk to and we rode together all the way to Tulsa, Okla.

 Sunday, May 19

We crossed the Mississippi river about 1:00 o’clock, and it was a most beautiful sight to see the lights from the docks all up and down the river.  We arrived in St. Louis, Mo. at 1:30.  Here we changed busses and received new tickets at the ticket window…We did not have a new bus as we had the first part of our journey, and were very uncomfortable.  I bought a pillow, but even that did not help must.  There were plenty of seats, so I had one to myself and tried to curl up in the seat, but was not able to sleep.  I tied my hair and tried to get some dirt off my face with cream.

Then came the dawn, and we were passing through the Ozark Mountains and it is a sight I shall never forget.  A particularly beautiful spot was when we were going thru a pass called “Devil’s Elbow.”  Our next stop was at Waynesville, Mo. at 6:30 where we drank a cup of coffee.  We were still in the Ozark Mountains.  Waynesville was a very quaint little town and most picturesque.  The drive from Waynesville to Springfield was rolling hills and winding roads.  Very beautiful all the way.  The bus station at Springfield was very beautiful and I was wishing for a picture, but unfortunately my Kodak was stolen.

While crossing Kansas and a small section of Oklahoma, we could see huge mountais of sand and gravel, white and gleaming in the sun.  It was really very beautiful.  I did not learn until I arrived in Texas that this was nothing but slec from the lead mines.

Our next stop was Vinita, Okla.  We had dinner here and it was a most excellent meal.  Here we had to pay sales tax and instead of using stamps they use little tin slugs that reads 1 mill 5 mills, etc. I was quite puzzled as to what they were and thought they were trying to pass me some phony money.

oklahoma city's capitol building sits atop an active oil well

oklahoma city’s capitol building sits atop an active oil well. photo attributed to matthew rutledge,

We left Tulsa at 4:10.  Here I saw my first oil well.  Next we arrived at Oklahoma City at 7:45; There I saw many oil wells which were almost in the Capitol yard.  It was a very interesting sight.  From Oklahoma City to Elk City I had a very interesting companion who pointed out many interesting things and told me many other things of interest about the country.  One thing that impressed me most about this state was the red earth or soil.  It is very beautiful to see the green things growing out of the red soil.  Our next stop was at Clinton, Okla at 10:40, where we had 10 minutes.  There I drank a coca-cola.

Wednesday May 20

Our next stop was at Shamrock, Texas at 12:50.  We had a 10 minute stop.  I got off and walked up and down until time to get on the Bus.  I tried to sleep, but I was afraid I would miss something.  By this time, I was too excited to even think of sleeping.  The moon was showing so bright you could see for miles and miles.  The next and last stop was Amarillo.  As we were nearing the city, we went under an UnderPass that  was all lighted up with hidden lights.  It was a beautiful sight.”

a glimpse into cleo patterson's travel journal of her bus trip from ohio to texas in 1940

a glimpse into cleo patterson’s travel journal of her bus trip from ohio to texas in 1940

i’ll post a few more tidbits next week from miss cleo’s visit to amarillo.  i was so sorry to hear her kodak was stolen – how unfortunate!  so funny to read her accounts of oklahoma, especially the oil wells on the capitol yard (they are still there!), and the red earth.  growing up in oklahoma, we didn’t refer to parts of the state via cities or counties, but rather based on the earth.  tulsa, where i grew up, is green country, due to the rolling hills, higher rainfall, and more lush trees.  in contrast, oklahoma city is red carpet country, which, as miss cleo noted, is named after the thick red earth that spreads for miles and miles.