Tuesday, October 21, 2008

mississippi is BEAUTIFUL

To the Mississippi State Tourism Board or the Parks Dept:

You have a beautiful state, with thousands of photo opportunities for tourists along your many highways and byways. But it's hard to take advantage of those opps from a moving vehicle. Think about building a few more spots for people to pull over to the side of the road...as a matter of fact, consider putting in a shoulder or two. Just a suggestion.

Okay enough with the negativity. I'll take this chance to get people caught up since I haven't posted for a few days. On Sunday, I left NOLA a little before noon, picked up my sporty little red Focus, and headed out of town in I-10 East towards Bay St. Louis, MS, to see my friend Michelle. We met while volunteering in Biloxi a year and a half ago. I got to town while she was still working, so I drove around BSL for a while, took some pictures, and settled in for a beer and some BBQ brisket at Gabby's Bar in Old Towne. Turns out it's just a block or so from where Michelle works (the Buttercup), so she was able to just walk over and meet me. Once we found each other, we headed to her place, where I proceeded to fall asleep while she went to work on another project for a few hours. Apparently, the 45-minute drive and 2 Bud Lights were enough to put me on my ass. I woke up for dinner, which entailed a short walk over to the church that she used to work at (St. Rose) for "Sunday Supper", a community dinner held at (I'm not making this up, I have a photo) the Holy Spirit Center. Anyway, the gumbo dinner was great, the people (esp Jaime, Kathy and Becca) were very nice, and I got to make a centerpiece (or a wall-hanging?) out of construction paper and random pieces of shrubbery.
Michelle will think I'm making this up, but after a week of volunteering and playing in NOLA, this was exactly the type of night I needed.

The next day--Monday, we had breakfast at the Mockingbird Cafe (Jack Johnson on the speaker system...I forgot where I was for a minute). We said a quick goodbye as she left for work, and I hit the road back onto I-10 heading back to LA, then north on I-55 to Jackson, MS. Nothing much happened here, but I did manage to get a decent map from a rest stop and some nice lady outside of Hazlehurst kept me from going the wrong way (bless her heart). I pulled off in Clinton (west of Jackson) on I-20 for gas and barbecue. Thanks to Betty at the Clinton Visitor Center for recommending a place close by. I was a little skeptical at first, since it was in an Exxon station. But it turned out to be great!

I got into Vicksburg around 1:30, checked in at the hotel and then headed over the Vicksburg National Military Park. There's no really good way I can describe it. Other than huge. The driving tour took almost 2 hours. Ever since I studied the Civil War in college, I have wanted to visit some of these battlefields. What I guess struck me most was how quiet it was, even with people walking around all over the place. I took a few photos of some of the state memorials, but I spent most of my time trying to capture the layout of the area with my camera. I wanted to imagine what it was like for the soldiers standing on those fields back in 1863. It was strange reading about the importance of taking the high ground in textbooks, then seeing in reality that 'higher' ground in some cases meant a matter of 50 feet in elevation, through thick forests or over open field.

The cemetery towards the end of the driving tour was the most powerful part, by far. Hillside after hillside of small, white stones overlooking the Mississippi River. You can hear the traffic on the river, boats sounding their horns, and the occasional car going by on the trail. Other than that, nothing. Not even birds. Weird.

I left Vicksburg early this morning (Tuesday) because I wanted to take a route with smaller roads and towns. I went up Old Hwy 3 to Yazoo City (coolest name EVER), then hit state road 49-E to Greenwood. This was an awesome stretch! For those of you unfamiliar with MS, there are many Natural Wildlife Refuges and Wildlife Mgmt Areas in the central and northern parts of the state, so lots of small rivers, marshes and forests. The morning was exactly like it was described in my civil war books. The dew settles onto the fields overnight, and then evaporates as the sun begins to rise. It creates a mist that floats off the grass and leaves like they're on fire. It mingles with the trees in the forests, and at times you can't see anything. But you can hear everything. I imagined sentries nodding off at their posts, and then popping awake after hearing a twig snap. Eerie.

Once everything burned off, it turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive. Greenwood, if you didn't know, is the Cotton Capital of the World. The fields are in full bloom, and it looks like snow. I'll put pictures on as soon as I get back to Seattle.

I hit hwy 82-E and had a funny United Way moment. A radio commercial came on just outside of Winona, and the announcer talked about the organization building 23 homes over the past few years for people who can't afford it (I forget the name). So the announcement is "when you are called upon to give to United Way over the next few months, please give all that you can so that we may continue this Christian mission." :-)

After 82, I hit the Natchez Trace Parkway heading north to Tupelo. This is where I really wanted to have some turnouts on the road! This stretch of the Pkwy was about 75 miles through the Tombigbee National Forest andChickasaw Wildlife Mgmt Area. LOTS of beautiful rivers, forests, and meadows, and hopefully my attempt at photography going 45 mph will turn out to do it justice.

I got to Tupelo around 2, grabbed some lunch at Eli's BBQ Grill on Main Street. The Tupelo National Battlefield Park left lots to be desired, though. It was two cannons and a statue. I thought I'd missed it at first, because I blinked.

I think I'm just going to hang out at the hotel tonight to get some rest (that's who's computer I'm using). I drove 478 miles today, the longest stretch of the trip besides next Saturday heading back to NOLA. Tomorrow, I continue north on Hwy 45 stopping at Brices Crossroads Nat'l Battlefield Site outside of Baldwyn (hopefully they'll have at least 3 cannons), up to Corinth near the TN border, then over to Huntsville, AL on highway 72. I'm staying in Huntsville, and get to visit Space Camp! I'm SO EXCITED!!! Space Camp, BAby!

I don't think I'll have access to a computer again until I get to Birmingham on Thursday night. I'll try to relay the Space Camp adventure at that point. Woo-hoo!


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