Little green men, the famous Peabody Hotel, terrific barbecue joints and even a museum dedicated to a legendary silver screen cowboy provided highlights for a recent coast-to-coast motorcycle trip undertaken by a local couple.
Elizabethton resident Jeff Campbell began the trip Sunday, April 14, from Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, S.C., and ended his journey Wednesday, April 17, at Ocean Beach in San Diego, Calif.
Jeff sat down recently for an interview with the Elizabethton STAR to discuss his impressive journey. Although he returned home in late April, memories of the trip have remained very fresh in his mind.
“Outbound, it was a solo trip,” explained Jeff, who rode a motorcycle from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast.
He was joined by Patty Campbell, his fiancée, in San Diego for the return trip home. Jeff and his fiancée both share the same last name.
The couple took a little more time on their trip home. The trip’s total distance was 5,028 miles.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Jeff said.
He’s no stranger to ambitious excursions. One of his more recent ones involved riding a bicycle the length of the famous Natchez Trace.
Jeff rode a Honda VFR 800 for his coast-to-coast journey.
“It’s considered a sport-touring bike,” he said. “It’s designed for longer trips.”
Jeff said that riding a motorcycle is a perfect way to see the country.
“Even in the big, vast expanses, it was never boring,” he said. “That’s the beauty of a motorcycle.”
He said he enjoyed awesome weather for the trip with the exception of his first day of travel.
“That first day was tough,” Jeff said. “It rained from Atlanta all the way across Alabama, but that was the last rain we saw.”
Daytime temperatures for most of the southern route of his trip were rather cool.
His first day of travel took him to Meridian, Miss. On his second day, he reached Abilene, Texas. While in Abilene, Jeff visited Joe Allen’s Barbeque and Catering.
“I got the best smoked turkey at Joe Allen’s,” he said.
On the third day of travel, he managed to reach Willcox, Ariz. The fourth day brought him to San Diego, where he joined his fiancee.
Before the couple headed back east, they took time to tour San Diego. They enjoyed their visit to the famous San Diego Zoo.
Jeff said his fiancée enjoyed seeing the zoo’s pandas, while the meerkats were his favorite animal. They both also loved seeing a baby hippo.
On departing San Diego, they rode toward the Salton Sea, enjoying the scenic terrain along the way.
Their drive to the Salton Sea took them through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest of California’s state parks. After New York’s Adirondack Park, it’s also the second-largest state park in the continental United States.
The Salton Sea, which is predominantly located in California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys, is called America’s Dead Sea because the huge body of water is now essentially dead. Jeff explained that the lack of an outflow and various types of agricultural runoff have contributed to the die-off of the Salton Sea.
Sometimes, his arrival at out-of-the-way motels surprised some people.
“The owner of Ray and Carol’s Motel in Salton City wanted to know how on earth I found them,” Jeff said.
The couple also stopped at Willcox, Ariz., on their way home.
“Willcox was a neat surprise,” Jeff said.
The area around Willcox is known as the wine country of California. Jeff said they stopped at several boutique wineries and even enjoyed some wine tastings.
They also visited the Rex Allen “Arizona Cowboy” Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The museum opened in 1989, and Allen died in 1999.
Allen rose to fame in the era of singing cowboys, and cowgirls, such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Republic Pictures gave Allen a screen test and put him under contract in 1949. From 1950 to 1954, Allen starred as himself in 19 western movies and became one of the Top 10 box office draws of the day.
Campbell said he learned one interesting anecdote about Allen at the museum. RKO Pictures once arranged a publicity stunt by taking a photo of Allen and his horse, Koko, on the eighth floor balcony of a hotel.
“Koko was meant to be Dale Evans’ horse, but he was a stallion and not a gelding,” Campbell said.
Deciding that the horse was too much for Evans, Campbell said the studio paired Koko with Allen.
Evans ended up with her famous horse, Buttermilk.
In some areas of the western United States, temperatures dipped down at night. The morning that Campbell and his fiancée left Willcox, the temperature was 32 degrees.
“We delayed leaving that morning long enough to get some enjoyable riding weather,” he said.
Their next stop was Roswell, N.M., famous for the supposed crash of an alien spacecraft in 1947.
They visited the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, but Campbell said they never spied any little green men. After that “close encounter,” they drove from Roswell to Fort Worth, Texas. They spent the night there, and the following day rode east until they crossed into Tennessee, spending the night at the Vista Inn in downtown Memphis.
The next day, they took time to visit some Memphis sites, including the world-renowned Peabody Hotel.
“I got to talk to the Duckmaster at the Peabody,” Jeff said. “He told me he has been on the job for about 20 years.”
They also spent some time on Beale Street listening to music while in Memphis.
As he does on every trip, Jeff kept a journal to record his experiences.
“I feel very fortunate to have had this wonderful opportunity to see just how vast and truly beautiful this small slice of our country is,” Jeff said. “I loved every mile. It was an awesome trip!”
He’s content — for the moment — to enjoy the memories of this most recent journey.
“I’ve always wanted to do a trip like this,” Campbell said. “I got to share this trip with Patty.
“The timing was just right.”