Monthly Archives: January 2018

Biloxi on the Mississippi Sound

 

Our original plans after visiting Natchez were to travel north to stay awhile in Vicksburg, tour the Civil War sites and make a few day trips to the Capitol, Jackson.  After Vicksburg, I was also wanting to go a little further north and check out the town of Clarksdale, the birth place of the blues.   We then planned to head to South Alabama.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast was showing freezing temps coming up in Vicksburg and we decided instead we should head down south to the Gulf of Mexico and the city of Biloxi where hopefully it would be warmer.  I was sad though to leave our site on the Mississippi River, one of my favorites so far.

The weather drove us to Biloxi but we were glad after we got there that we changed our plans.  Our time in Biloxi was quite nice – not as warm as we imagined the Gulf to be as the cold spell hit there too, but we donned our warmer clothes and enjoyed the area.  We arrived a few days before Christmas with our Christmas Day celebration uneventful.   We spent the day defrosting our iced up refrigerator and freezer (below), although it actually took only a few hours.  Instead of a traditional holiday feast we ate beans and cornbread which we enjoy eating from time to time and is much easier to fix in a trailer than a turkey, hah, hah.  We could have eaten out for Christmas at one of the casinos in Biloxi since they had Christmas buffets, but we had done a buffet the day before and thought stuffing ourselves was enough.

Biloxi was a city that left a tender place in my heart.  When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005 much of the news coverage focused on the devastation in New Orleans.   However, the city of Biloxi and the Mississippi coast was also ravaged by the storm.  The storm flattened much of the city, destroying many buildings and homes, especially those closer to the coast.  I have to admit that I never gave much thought prior to my visit about Katrina damaging Mississippi.   Visiting today, the destruction is at first not that obvious as much has been rebuilt and in many ways the city looks good.  The casino buildings are new and attractive and the homes across from the waterfront appear to be in great shape.  But in between these homes are pockets of empty land with perhaps a few foundations left as reminders.

While driving around we noticed a number of historic markers on lots with no buildings or homes.  It is very sad to think about all that was lost.  So much hardship here – homes, businesses and even lives lost to the storm.   So, I was impressed to see how the city continued on – rebuilding businesses, homes and improving the waterfront and beach areas.   Living in the shadow of another possible hurricane and destructive storm must be difficult and something I cannot imagine dealing with.

The Biloxi Lighthouse is the city’s symbol of resilience.  It has withstood many storms over the years including Hurricanes Camille and Katrina.   The storm surge from Katrina covered a third of the 64 foot lighthouse toppling many bricks that lined the interior.   Winds from the storm broke many of the windows in the light cupola, destroyed the structure’s electrical system and blew out the door.   The lighthouse was completed in 1848 and was one of the first cast iron lighthouses in the South.  It was manned until 1939 and had several female light keepers, including one that tended the light for 53 years!  In 1939, the Coast Guard took over operation.  It is the only lighthouse in the nation that sits between four lanes of highway traffic.  The lighthouse is open for guided tours.  When we visited, holiday lights adorned the outside.

The lighthouse is located across from the Biloxi Visitors Center.  I have already mentioned in previous posts about my delight in finding welcome centers with this one the best yet and a popular attraction in Biloxi.   Besides offering information, the Center is a museum of sorts with some informative exhibits about Biloxi history and culture.  It was really pretty inside with plenty of holiday decorations and a few fireplaces warming the downstairs.  It was modeled after another home that used to stand on the property and was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

From the second floor porch of the Center you have a view of the lighthouse and Gulf of Mexico.

The visitor center had a variety of sculptures and other art displayed and my favorite exhibit was “Burning Man.”  When I think of Burning Man I always think of the festival in the deserts of Nevada, but in this case the artist created the set of three sculptures in 2014 from driftwood recovered after Katrina.  The wood was set on fire and then textured and shaped by high pressure air and water as it burned.  It symbolizes extreme mental and physical challenges one endures during times of crisis.   I really enjoy sculptures and have never seen one that used burned wood – fascinating!

Casinos are a major draw here for tourists with tourism the major economy.   We have little interest in gambling, but did stop in to the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel to take a look around at the building, see some of the rock and roll memorabilia and eat at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop.   This casino was first constructed in 2005 and scheduled to open on September 1 when a couple of days before the grand opening, Hurricane Katrina hit destroying the building.  After reconstruction it opened in June 2007.  My favorite feature at the hotel is the huge lighted guitar out front.

Although Biloxi is considered to be on the Gulf of Mexico, the city actually sits right next to the Mississippi Sound.  I had to look up what a sound is and saw this definition:  “A narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land.”   The Mississippi Sound separates the Gulf of Mexico from the mainland.  When I first saw the beach I thought, “Where are the waves or ocean current?”  We never saw any waves coming in, the water just quietly lapped the shore.  The reason for this is waves are blocked by a string of barrier islands (Gulf Islands National Seashore) 10 to 12 miles from shore.  These islands which can be reached by boat get the waves.

The beaches here have beautiful white sand and are man-made!  In fact, for 26 miles from Biloxi to the east along the Mississippi Coast is the longest man-made beach in the world!  You could tell that the sand had been smoothed or manicured and in many places it appeared  pretty fresh.  Looked like a lot of work to keep up!

Highway 90, a scenic byway from Biloxi to the small town of Bay St. Louis is a beautiful 29 mile drive all along the coast with continual views of the water on one side and on the other gorgeous old oak trees and lovely homes.   I read that antebellum homes used to line the route but it appears that most have been destroyed by hurricanes and storms.  This drive takes you through several towns and areas to stop and enjoy the coast.  Besides the sandy beach there are a number of small piers or walk ways jutting out onto the water.  The towns along this coast have made an effort to provide an attractive beach scene for visitors.

Below is a picture I really like of an old lighthouse.  It used to belong to a fancy resort hotel with a marina that was destroyed by Katrina, leaving only this structure and a few foundations.  The property is now a stopping point for people to be out near the water.

We enjoyed birding on the beaches as many shorebirds, herons, gulls and other water birds congregate here.   In the picture below I am checking out my bird book, trying to make an identification.  (Mark says “sacred, ever present bird book”).

My favorite was seeing the skimmers.  I had only seen black skimmers once before during a birding trip on the Texas coast and that was years ago.  I think they are so interesting with their remarkable long red and black bills and red feet.  I was hoping to see them again here and at one stop we hit the jackpot – a large flock of skimmers sitting on the shore.

They didn’t like to stay put for long and flew back and forth across the water and over my head several times in a large group going to a spot across the beach and then returning.   It was a magical birding experience – the kind that makes me glad I took up birding as a hobby!  I think I took about a hundred pictures, LOL.

 

When the weather was good we came out late afternoons to the beach to catch the sunsets.  It was nice to be staying in a park right across the street from the shore.

Thanks for following us on this journey!  In my next post I will write a bit more about some places while staying in Biloxi before we ventured on to Alabama.

Natchez, Mississippi – Part 3

Our visit to Longwood was intriguing – the largest octagonal house in the United States at 30,000 square feet and the grandest of the mansions we toured.  To begin with, the house sits outside the city down a long dirt road, so has a more remote, country setting.   On the large property is a carriage house, servants quarters and detached kitchen.

The first time I learned about this mansion was watching the TV show Aerial America.  If you have never heard of the series, Aerial America is on the Smithsonian Channel and they did episodes flying over different states filming some of the highlights.  It is a great way to get some travel ideas or learn more about our country.   Longwood looked pretty dramatic from the air and I hoped some day to visit there.

Building of the house began in 1860 but stopped in 1861 due to Civil War tensions.  The builders were from Philadelphia and when they heard that war had begun, they stopped work and left, leaving their tools.  The owner of the home, Mr. Haller Nutt was a wealthy cotton planter and Union sympathizer but lost his fortune due to the war.   As a result, the mansion was never finished and the family continued to live only on the basement level, the only floor completed out of six stories.  The home became known as “Nutt’s Folly.”  Mr. Nutt and his wife Julia are buried on their property in the Longwood cemetery.

We were not able to take pictures of the furnished basement but the furnishings are original and elaborate as to the time period.   We checked out a few of the home’s porches that feature a number of dramatic columns due to the octagonal building shape.   I think the many columns are one of the home’s best features.  Above is a picture I like that looks out from the front porch.   It is hard to imagine from the outside that the inside would look like this:

The home has an eerie feel to it which we liked.  It was certainly a different experience than the other homes we toured in Natchez.  We were unable to go further than the first floor.  Here is a picture of the upstairs stairway which looks a little precarious.

The next picture is looking up at the unfinished dome from inside. The home was built as an oriental villa and I think the onion shaped dome from the outside is one of the more beautiful aspects of this building.

The first floor still has old tools and equipment laying around from when construction ceased.  It was interesting to see some of the things left behind such as an original piano case (we saw the piano on the basement level), old suitcases, cans, buckets and barrels like the ones pictured below.   This part of the house has been left in an “arrested state of decay” which adds to the unfinished mood of the home.

After visiting Longwood, we had lunch at a historic eatery called “Mammy’s Cupboard.”  This building has been around since 1940 and owned by the same family.  I read that the owner of the property, Mr. Gaude had a gas station here and wanted a roadhouse that would take advantage of the Gone With the Wind film craze at the time.  It has been a popular attraction on the highway south of Natchez for many years.

The skirt serves as the entry and gift shop.  There is also an annex in the back of the skirt for dining.  When the building was repainted in the 1960’s, the skin tone was lightened to make it more “culturally appropriate.”  Only lunch is served here featuring home made daily specials and pies.  We thought the food was pretty good.

Melrose mansion is located outside of Natchez on a very large property.   The construction of the home began in 1841 and for the next eight years, a combination of free and slave labor built the mansion and outbuildings.  Melrose was built in the Greek Revival style which was popular in antebellum homes.

This style features huge columns, balconies, evenly spaced large windows and big center entrances at the front and rear of the home which create a box like style of the mansion.   Here is a closer picture with the columns and front appearing to be made of marble.  Actually, the house was made of brick, stuccoed and painted to look like marble with different shades of beige paint.  One of the later owners painted the columns and front white and the park service restored these areas back to their original tan appearance.

By 1861, there were 25 slaves living on the property.   The slaves here had different duties including cooking and serving the family’s meals, picking up supplies in town, tending gardens, orchards, livestock and keeping the estate in order.  While we waited for our tour to begin, we visited the slave and servant quarters.    There is more ground to cover here than the mansions I visited in town.  Below is a picture of the property with slave quarters in the back.

Other buildings located on the property are the kitchen, dairy, laundry, carriage house and stables.  There are also kitchen and formal gardens.   Melrose has been managed by the National Park Service since 1990 with inside tours given by a ranger.  I took a number of pictures of the many rooms we saw both down and upstairs and here are some rooms with features I found interesting.  In the dining room (below) is a mahogany “punkah” above the table.  It was operated by a slave pulling on a rope, causing the punkah to rock back and forth creating a breeze to keep flies away from the food.  The punkah originated in India.

The drawing room showed off the family’s wealth and the home’s splendor with gold leaf above the window treatments and around the mirror and side table.  I thought the green furnishings were a striking and elegant color.

Below is an example of the netting that was used on the beds to keep away insects such as flies and mosquitos.  This netting looked pretty elaborate.   Yellow fever was deadly in the Antebellum South and was carried by mosquitos.

Below of course is a picture of one of the beautiful bedrooms.  Although not in the picture, the bedrooms had day beds that were used for naps or resting during the day to keep the ornate bed coverings neat during the day.

Jefferson College, established in 1802 and named for Thomas Jefferson who was president at the time, was the first historic college we visited.  It was the first institution of higher learning in the Mississippi Territory and turned out to be interesting in several ways.   This was also the birth place of Mississippi’s statehood in 1817 when the state’s first constitutional convention was held here.   In 1815, a celebration occurred when General Andrew Jackson returned from the victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1863, the school temporarily closed due to the Civil War.  After the war when the school reopened, it dropped its collegiate program but kept the name Jefferson College.  It was operating as a military prep school until it closed in 1964.

There are five main buildings as well as a building housing the visitor center.  The visitor center has exhibits and one of the nicest docents we have met who seemed glad to visit with us, especially since we were the only visitors during the time we were there.   The two largest buildings (above) are the West and East Wings which contained classrooms, offices and living quarters.  Most of the buildings have not been restored except for the bottom floor of the West Wing.  There used to be a building between the West and East wings but it was torn down because it had been built later and was not considered an “original” property.

I love looking at old buildings so this was a great place to visit for me.  There are plans to restore more of the buildings but I am sure the cost which would be huge is a major factor.   Below is a picture of the inside of one of the kitchen buildings with its crumbling brick floor.

Several cisterns that collected rainwater from the buildings’ gutters and downspouts for drinking and bathing are still visible behind the main buildings.   Below is an old fashioned pump on top of one of the cisterns.

There is a nature trail on the property and although we only walked down it a short ways, I was amazed by all the vines covering the ground, bushes and trees next to the trail.   I had seen this other places in Natchez and found out here that it is called, “kudzu.”  It was introduced as a garden plant from Japan in the 1930’s to control erosion.  It thrives in the heat and humidity of Mississippi and is very invasive, even growing over houses, power lines and old cars.  Since it has spread to other parts of the South, it was given a nickname, “The Vine That Ate the South.”  In the picture below, the vines have died back for winter and are therefore not green and lush as usual.

When I suggested to Mark that we visit Jefferson College, he was fine with coming here but not overly enthused.  After looking around the campus a little he commented to the Visitor Center docent that it made him think of a movie he once saw called, “The Horse Soldiers.”  He was shocked when she told him that parts of it were in fact filmed here.  Then his interest in the place greatly increased as he showed me the scene filmed at the college president’s house (below) as well as on the parade grounds in front of the main brick buildings.

The Horse Soldiers was a Civil War Western from 1959 that starred John Wayne.  Other movies and television series have also been filmed here, for example the North and South television mini-series in 1985.  This is the third time in our travels over the years we have come across John Wayne movie locations.  The other two were in Monument Valley in Utah and Katie’s Meadow located in Colorado, a very remote location off a dirt road scenic byway.  Mark always reminds me that Wayne’s real last name was Morrison.

Forks of the Road is a very small park preserved as the location of several markets that bought and sold slaves from the 1830’s until 1863.  Natchez was one of the busiest slave trading towns in the nation.  No buildings or other remnants of the slave trade still remain here.   A small monument of slave irons in cement (below) can be seen and there are numerous sign boards to learn about the slavery trade.

At this spot slave traders who had been banned from the city set up buildings to house and display people for sale.  They were considered show rooms where buyers could view available slaves and purchase those that they wanted.  I was surprised to read that the slaves were dressed up to make them look more desirable with the men in suits and top hats and the women in nice dresses.

Ex-slaves fought for the union in the Civil War in their own regiments.  Mississippi had 18,000 colored troops and Louisiana 24,000.  In 1863, one of these regiments recruited from Natchez occupied the Forks site.  It is ironic that some of those soldiers might have once been slaves bought and sold here!

Did you know that tamales are a Mississippi speciality?  It is a little surprising to find what is thought of as a Mexican staple here in the Deep South.  We found the restaurant,  Fat Mamma’s Tamales while visiting Natchez and ate here twice since the food was tasty, reasonably priced and the restaurant had a great atmosphere.   Interestingly, my favorite item was not the good tamales but of all things, the delicious key lime pie.  In my opinion you can’t beat a great slice of that pie!

Thanks again for reading this post and next time follow us to Biloxi.

P.S. For John – thanks for the tip on Flora-Bama.  Mark and I drove over for a look and it turned out to be a delightful and quirky visit!

I think this may be the first picture of me standing outside of a bar and what a bar!

Natchez, Mississippi – Part 2

The American Queen, largest river boat ever built docks at Natchez on Thursdays.  Passengers can then tour the city at their leisure for the day.  The boat travels the Mississippi River frequently cruising from Memphis to New Orleans for a week or more.  I love paddlewheelers and think it would be great fun to cruise on this one.  Some years ago I was with a group tour along the upper Mississippi River and we got to spend a day on a smaller paddle wheeler.  It was a memorable trip and so relaxing to be on the river.

The main attractions in Natchez are the many mansions.  It was really interesting finding so many in one city.   I decided to tour inside five of them.  It is difficult to see them all due to scheduling as they are only open certain days and times and of course there are other places to visit in this fine city.  One of the mansions I spent time in was Rosalie, built in 1823 by Peter Little, a sawmill owner.   He  named the home for Fort Rosalie that once stood on a hill behind the house.  He and his wife never had children of their own but his wife helped found the Natchez Children’s Home and many of those children found a home at Rosalie.

The Union Army used Rosalie as their headquarters after they occupied Natchez in July 1863.  The general protected the house and belongings and after occupation it was returned intact. The house is now operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution and contains original furnishings.   It is sad as the interior is really beautiful but photographs are not allowed, I wish I could have shared some.

“Our Lady on the Bluff” as Rosalie is known has a commanding view of the Mississippi river.  From here I could also see the American Queen at the dock.

Auburn was another home I toured and it is located away from the downtown area.  It was built in 1812 for the first Attorney General of Mississippi, Mr. Lyman Harding.  The home’s architect wrote at the time that it was “designed to be the most magnificent building in the territory.”

The home was built of brick fired in local kilns and is known for its architectural grandeur.  There are twelve rooms.  This is one of the few houses where photographs were allowed.

When I knocked on the door I was the only one there for a tour. Three volunteers from the group that manages the home greeted me and took turns showing me around.   I thought I would note that touring mansions in Natchez is not cheap.  Most of the homes are at least a $15.00 admission with a few costing even more. It is understandable though that maintaining these historic homes can be expensive with local clubs managing their care.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature in the home is the spiral staircase that rises unsupported to the second story.

The house features many intricate moldings like the doorway above.  Below is a picture from the dining room.

A unique and interesting sight in the town is the William Johnson house, a National Park Site.    Johnson was born a slave in 1809 and emancipated by his owner at the age of eleven.  Mr. Johnson trained as a barber and purchased his first barbershop in Natchez in 1830.  He would eventually own and operate three barbershops and a bath house in the city.  By the 1840’s he had also established himself as a farmer with substantial land holdings.

The most interesting thing about Mr. Johnson was that he kept diaries of his life for 16 years.   In his journals he talked about business affairs, raising his family and free time enjoying hunting and fishing trips.  He also wrote about the citizens of Natchez, sharing gossip and reporting events.  He even wrote about fights in the town like in the entry below:

Fourteen journals dating from 1835 to 1851 were kept in a trunk in the attic of Mr. Johnson’s home for more than 75 years unknown to anyone except his descendants.  In 1938, Louisiana State University purchased the journals from the family and published them in 1951.  Mr. Johnson’s works are considered a rare look into the life of a free person of color through his own words prior to the Civil War.  Although he was free, there were a number of limitations facing him as he did not have the same privileges as a white person.  As a free person of color his status could be taken away if he broke the law or even showed disrespect to a white person.

Mr. Johnson owned 16 slaves, perhaps the most curious aspect of his life given his freed status.   He wrote about his slaves including one that caused him so much trouble he had to sell him to another plantation.  Mr. Johnson’s diaries never mention his thoughts about slavery.   It is believed that he desired to elevate himself in society which at the time measured success by the ownership of land and slaves.

Johnson and his wife Ann had eleven children who they raised in this home and home schooled, since the children could not attend the schools in Natchez.  The family lived in the upstairs of the house while Johnson rented out the first floor for commercial space.  The residence was home to the Johnson family and their descendants for over one hundred and thirty years.  Sadly, Mr. Johnson was shot and killed over a property dispute in 1851.  Today, the downstairs has museum exhibits while the upstairs shows several rooms with furnishings used by the family.  Who would have thought that “hot pink” in the hallway would be an acceptable color during the mid 1800’s, but paint analyses completed in the 1970’s confirms this to be the color that was originally used.

The First Presbyterian Church built in 1830 is a handsome building with an amazing collection in an upstairs chapel – “Natchez in Historic Photographs.”

How these photographs came to be is a remarkable story.  Representing the work of three photographers, the pictures show the daily life of Natchez from the Civil War era to World War II.   It began with Henry Norman, a photographer with a studio who captured life around the town and on the river for 43 years.  When he died in 1913, his son Earl continued to operate the studio and photograph Natchez in the 1920’s and 30’s, passing away in 1951.  In 1960, Dr. Thomas Gandy purchased the Norman negatives from Earl’s widow.  Thousands of the negatives were still in good condition and for the next 10 years, he spent most of his spare time learning to make prints and sharing them with people for identification purposes as well as to provide families with photographs of their relatives.

The collection has been exhibited throughout the country and even internationally.   I think this is the best historic photographic group in one place I have seen.  The pictures are in great condition and the detail in the photos is amazing.  Here is one of my favorites – looks like a group hanging out at the general store.

There are so many (500) hanging in several rooms that it takes awhile to see them all.  Mark and I probably spent an hour and a half.   Here is another one I liked – the sign below the picture notes that perhaps this was the occasion of the weighing of the season’s first bale of cotton.

The collection includes many scenes of riverboats and river life which I really enjoyed.  Below is a picture of a steamboat full of cotton bales.  They really packed them on!

In the picture below, the steamboat Chalmette sank in 1904.

The City Cemetary in Natchez established in 1822 is on 100 acres and is now a popular attraction.   It is one of the largest and most interesting cemeteries I have visited.  Located in a park like setting with huge oaks, there are paved roads throughout the grounds and because it is so large we decided to drive.   It was a bit challenging for us though, because the roads are so narrow that it was difficult manuevering our big truck through the tight passages and turns.

I especially liked the ornamental iron fences around some of the grave sites.

The cemetary is a work of art with marble statuary, fancy monuments, mausoleums and decoratively carved tombstones.  For almost two centuries people of all nations and walks of life have been buried here.

We found one portion of the cemetary dedicated to confederate soldiers.

I will close with a sunset picture from Bluff Park in Natchez, a popular place for capturing evening photos.

Thanks for checking in!  I have one more post to write about Natchez before moving on to the Mississippi coast.

Natchez, Mississippi – A Great City to Walk

Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River was founded in 1716 as Fort Rosalie by the French.  The city was named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans.  In later years Britain and Spain controlled the city.   It flourished in the 1850’s as a cotton and sugarcane growing region and a transportation center.  It became the principal port from which these crops were exported, both upriver to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans where it was shipped to New England, New York and Europe.   Prior to the Civil War, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the United States.  Wealthy cotton planters built their homes in Natchez on a bluff and away from their plantations which were in the lowlands of Mississippi and Louisiana.  Today many antebellum homes remain because unlike other Southern cities, it was spared destruction during the Civil War.   These homes have been drawing visitors for years, especially during the Spring and Fall pilgrimage when many of the homes open their doors for tours.  Above is a picture of Veterans Park with a statue commemorating confederate soldiers from Natchez and Adams County who died in the Civil War.

There is a lot to see in Natchez and one of the best ways in my opinion is to walk it.  The city has devised the greatest walking trails I have seen.  You don’t even need a printed map or directions.  You just follow the color coded arrows embedded in the sidewalks.  Along the way on street corners are sign boards giving information about particular historic homes, neighborhoods or businesses.  It was a lot to read, but helpful!

We started our walk at Bluff Park with a great view of the Mississippi River below.  We walked past a number of antebellum homes on our “blue and green” trails.  For those that love seeing historic homes and mansions, this is the walk for you.  It was especially nice this time of year because so many homes and businesses were decorated for the holidays.  We saw many intriguing sights and in this article I will share some of the highlights.

One of the first mansions on our walk was Choctaw Hall (above) built in 1836 and now functioning as a bed and breakfast with special events and tours.

Myrtle Terrace was built around 1844 and the home of steamboat captain Thomas Leathers.  He was a famous riverboat pilot who worked for more than 50 years on seven different boats with the Natchez name.  He survived a fire on a burning boat as well as other river disasters but was not as fortunate on land when he was struck by a bicyclist in New Orleans and killed.

Stanton Hall is one of the more well known mansions in the city and popular for tours.  In addition, there is a restaurant on site in the carriage house.  We didn’t take the inside tour but did walk around the outside.  It is a very beautiful home with an appealing front porch.

The home was built in 1857 by Frederick Stanton, an Irish immigrant and cotton merchant taking up an entire city block with 11,000 square feet and costing over $83,000 before it was even furnished.  The house featured a Greek Revival style with large Corinthian columns.  During the Civil War it was occupied by Union troops.

The oldest building in Natchez still standing is the King’s Tavern built in 1789.  It has operated as a tavern, stage stop and mail station.  It was interesting to think that this tavern was frequented by slave traders over 200 years ago.  Pony Express riders who carried mail on the Natchez Trace (an important historic road that goes from Natchez up through the state of Mississippi and Tennessee) used the building as a mail station.  It continues to operate as a tavern today serving food and liquor.

This historic brick fire house from 1839 was Mark’s favorite building of our walking tour.  You can see the two big engine doors and pulley in the front.   I wonder what the pulley would have been used for?  I tried to research this old building on the internet but could not find anything about it.

Texada built in 1792 was the first brick house in Mississippi Territory and used as a family home, tavern, hotel and dancing academy.  From 1817 – 1821 Natchez was the capitol of the new state of Mississippi and Texada served as the first capitol building.  One interesting story from the house involves the family bible that was taken by occupying Union soldiers and contained 300 years of family births, marriages and deaths.  Miraculously the family ended up getting the Bible back, as the Union army had not destroyed it.

Magnolia Hall was built in 1858 and is considered the last grand mansion built in Natchez before the Civil War.  This was one of the homes that I toured inside.  It was built for a cotton broker and merchant.  The Natchez Garden Club currently manages the home.  When I was there the outside was being renovated.   It was beautifully decorated for the holidays.   Photos can be taken inside which was nice since in a number of homes no photos are allowed.

No docent tours were being given when I arrived, so I toured on my own.  I usually find it helpful to have someone knowledgeable explain the history and noteworthy furnishings, but it is also quite nice to be able to wander at leisure and take my time without being rushed off to the next room.

Magnolia is known for a costume museum in several upstairs rooms.  The gowns were worn by past pilgrimage queens and kings, reflecting the antebellum style.  In the righthand side of the picture below, you can see the long trains that were worn with the dresses.

In another room you can view gowns worn by children who danced around the maypole during the pilgrimage events.

The Temple B’nai Israel was built in 1904 and houses the oldest Jewish congregation in MIssissippi which began around 1843.  The first Jewish immigrants, mainly from France and Germany in the early 1840’s were drawn by economic opportunity and became successful merchants and businessmen.  One was elected mayor of Natchez in 1882.  Tours of the temple can be taken with prior arrangement but we were not able to see inside this beautiful building.

Glen Auburn was perhaps my favorite of the mansions that we saw.  It was built around 1875 and owned by a merchant.  The home is known for its distinctive mansard roof, a feature I love.

During our walk the streets were quiet and we saw few if anyone out and about.  But we had a special ambassador to welcome us to one of the neighborhoods.  This gorgeous cat came out of nowhere wanting to visit.  As I petted him he got in my lap and made himself comfortable.  So here I sat on a brick wall in a Natchez neighborhood with the most beautiful furry cat on my lap.  He was freshly groomed and had a collar so obviously well taken care of.   When we continued on our way, he followed us for a few blocks.  I felt bad if he was straying too far from home (wherever that was).  If I ever wanted to take a pet home it would maybe be this cat!

We came to St. Mary’s Cathedral built in 1837 and perhaps the most magnificent building in Natchez.  It is huge and a little hard to get a picture of the whole thing.  I read that due to being historically significant, it was elevated to the status of minor basilica.  The church also has a stunning interior with many stained glass windows.

We also walked by the Johnson House, Rosalie Mansion and the Presbyterian Church which I want to talk more about in my next post.   Some places we just had to come back and explore further on a non-walk day.

As always, thanks for stopping by and checking out this post.  If you have any favorite or interesting walks you have done would love to hear about them!

Where We Have Been and Where We Are Headed

Since it is now a new year, I thought I would write a post about our travel plans for the next four months.  But first, a recap of where we have been.  As I write this we are located on the Alabama Coast near Gulf Shores and have now been on the road for four and a half months.  On August 25, 2017 we moved out of our home and into our trailer.  In the past four plus months, we have traveled through 11 states and stayed at 25 different RV parks.  For some reason it seems like we have been gone longer because we have seen so much and stayed so many different places.

Living in such a small space has been a challenge.  Finding room for everything and keeping our belongings organized in a 21 foot trailer takes some work.  I used to think my house in Modesto was small, but it doesn’t seem quite so small any longer!  Sometimes I would like to have more room to spread out and perhaps a comfortable chair or couch to recline on.  It would be great to have more counter space when cooking, a bigger refrigerator and more cabinet space to keep our food stuff.

Perhaps our biggest challenge has been dealing with the weather.  Traveling through the South and especially along the Gulf of Mexico has been much colder than we expected.  We had snow in Louisiana and the owner of the RV park said he hadn’t seen weather like this in 20+ years.

We have had chilly temperatures in Mississippi and Alabama.  During our stay in Mobile, temperatures were below freezing for five nights in a row.  I was glad I brought along my heaviest coat.  Mark is a whiz at knitting hats and he knit this baby alpaca for me during our trip.  (When we left California, he had to trade his wood shop for a set of knitting needles).   I have been taking advantage of his hats and scarves!  This little guy below was a welcome fixture in the trailer.  When it is freezing outside it can be cold inside, especially since we sit near the door.  We have heat and air for our trailer, but having a space heater warming my legs is really comfortable.  We recently replaced “old faithful” for a newer, quieter model.  The funny thing is that it took us several weeks to locate a replacement.  They were sold out of them in five major stores in Mobile after the cold weather hit!  Mark even tried to order one on Amazon and there were none in stock.  When we reached Gulf Shores, Lowes had a model that was just right.

The sacrifice of space and comfort though is definitely worth it to be able to explore our wonderful country.  In each state, city and town we have visited we learned things we didn’t know about the people, their culture and history.  We have seen beautiful scenery in every state we visited.  Being able to hit the road and go from place to place whenever and wherever we want is truly a delight.  It does take time and research to figure out where to go, attractions to visit and the best places to stay, but it is a small amount of work for all the adventures we find in each new place.  Although Mark and I are sometimes a little sad to move on, we usually feel we have seen and done most of what we wanted to and are looking forward to what the next location has to offer.

Our travels have opened our eyes to so many unique places and people.  It is neat to see the pride that people have in their states, cities and towns and how happy they are to show it to visitors.  No matter where we go, I believe we will find much to interest us, even in the out of the way, lesser known and visited places.   The difficulty is not being able to see everything as we can only scratch the surface of what is out there.   This is especially true since we are trying to visit as many states as possible.

From January through April, we will continue our travels through the southeastern part of the U.S.  Here is where we are hoping to travel during the coming months.  It will be interesting to see if we keep with this plan.  There is so much to see, it is easy to get distracted!

January:  We will be staying in Alabama’s Gulf Shores area for another week and then heading January 23 to the Florida Panhandle.

February:  We plan to spend a month in Florida with the first few weeks in the Pensacola, Destin or Panama City areas.  I hear that finding an RV site in Florida in the winter can be tricky as others who are wintering here have reserved their spots months in advance and parks could already be full.   It will be interesting to see where we end up.  As I have probably said before, I don’t like making reservations way in advance because I feel it ties us to a schedule we might not want to keep.  After our stay in the Panhandle, we will head to St. Augustine, Florida on the Atlantic Coast for a few weeks.  Excited to visit the oldest city in the United States!   Around February 20, we hope to move on to Jekyll Island, Georgia for a week stay.  I visited here for a few days some years ago and vowed to return for a longer visit.

March:  We hope to be in Savannah, Georgia a few days before the beginning of March and spend two weeks there.  This is a city I have been wanting to visit for some time!  After leaving around March 13, we will move on to Charleston, South Carolina to spend around 10 days before continuing to North Carolina.  At this point in planning, I am looking at staying in Winston-Salem for a few weeks as it is mid point between the Blue Ridge Parkway and other cities of interest in this state including Raleigh, the Capitol.

April:  This month will find us moving into Virginia and staying in the Richmond or Williamsburg areas.  There are a lot of historic sights including Colonial Williamsburg, the capitol building in Richmond, Montpelier, Jamestown, Yorktown and Monticello.  Around April 20 we will travel into Maryland and hope to stay in the vicinity of Annapolis the Capitol for two weeks.

Although our first four months went pretty close to what we planned, the next four could wind up going in a completely different direction.

We hope you will continue to follow along with us and appreciate your support through our journey.  Just a reminder, that you can subscribe to the blog and then will be notified when new blogs are published.

The Banks of the Mississippi and Cotton Picking

In mid December we left the Lafayette area and traveled northeast to Riverview Park in Vidalia, Louisiana.  Our circuitous route took us over the Mississippi River on one of the most beautiful bridges of our trip, the Audubon Bridge (above) which opened in 2011.  Not too long after crossing the bridge we entered the state of Mississippi, the first time either of us have traveled in this state.  Of course we stopped at a very nice State Welcome Center for more brochures!   Although not advertised, you can stay overnight in your RV at Mississippi Welcome Centers.  They even had a 24 hour security guard with an office on site at the Center we visited.

When we reached the city of Natchez we crossed the river again back into Louisiana and soon arrived to our new camping spot on the banks of the Mississippi.  I was excited to be staying so close to the Mississippi!  My last time seeing this river was when I took a Road Scholar road and boat tour of the upper Mississippi several years ago.  I was also excited to be camping right across the river from Natchez, a historic city I have been wanting to visit for several years.   From our trailer we could easily access a paved trail that ran 1-1/2 miles along the river.  It was a great place for exercise and to watch the river traffic.

We frequently saw tugs pushing barges with their heavy loads.  There were also smaller craft having fun boating the river.  The path went under the bridge that carried traffic over to the state of Mississippi and Natchez.

While walking along we were able to read signs and learn more about the river and the city of Vidalia.  In 1927 the Great Mississippi River Flood inundated the town turning the streets into waterways with many residents evacuated by ferry to Natchez which is built on a hill. The Great Flood was one of the nation’s worst natural disasters and submerged more than 26,000 miles of land in seven states.  At least two months passed before the floodwater completely subsided.  This flood brought attention to the need for a better system of control with levees and floodways.  Below Mark looks out over the river with a view of Natchez on the opposite bank.

“Vidalia, a City on the Move” is now the slogan here.  In 1938 Vidalia was literally moved one mile inland due to flooding issues.  More than 100 buildings were either relocated or demolished and rebuilt in the new Vidalia.   Where this trail now stands, streets and buildings were once located.

Sunsets are one of my favorite things about RVing and we saw some pretty good ones along the Mississippi River.  This was my favorite sunset as the rosy sky was reflected in the water.

One evening while walking the path I took this picture.  I loved the golden reflection of the bridge in the water.

From our site we often heard the sounds of barges moving up or down the river.  If the sound was particularly loud, it usually meant a very large vessel.  Sometimes in the evenings we would hurry from the trailer to the riverbank to see what kind of barge was passing.   Our favorite sighting though, was when the Mississippi Queen Paddle-wheeler, one of the largest on the river today passed by heading down to New Orleans.   Mark caught a picture but it is difficult photographing a moving boat at night!

The day after we arrived I visited Frogmore, an 1800 acre working cotton plantation in Ferriday Louisiana founded in 1815.  This historic plantation has an antebellum house, general store, slave/sharecropper quarters, a church and an original cotton ginning operation.  Cotton is still grown on the plantation and processed in a modern plant down the road.  This is the only historic cotton plantation still operating in the south.

The tour began with a program in the church.  Dressed in period style, we had two singers performing songs typically sung by slave and sharecropping families in the south. The songs were interspersed with narration from Lynette, one of the owners of the property who gave information on slave history, culture, plantation life and sharecropping.  Our small audience was encouraged to sing along and play tambourines.

After leaving the church we toured the slave and sharecropper quarters.  The great thing about this place is that the buildings are originals and not recreations.  Below is a picture of one of the slave quarters.  They were designed to house two families which is the reason for the two doorways and windows.

There are a number of buildings here, but only a few are set up with period furnishings to view such as the one below which shows a typical sharecropper home.

Slaves were furnished with one or two sets of clothing.  Children wore long shirts with no pants.  Below is a picture of typical dress for women and children.

One of my favorite stories from this tour was about the hoecakes.  During breaks in the cotton fields slaves would make a fire.  Using their hoe, they placed a corn cake on the blade and put it in the ashes to bake.

Cotton is harvested in the fall before the danger of frost, so when I visited in mid December the fields were already cleared.  The plantation keeps one large patch of cotton growing so that visitors can experience picking cotton.

Our guide put on one of the long cotton sacks to show us how it was worn over the shoulder and invited us to try one on if we wished.   A slave was expected to pick about 200 pounds of cotton a day on average.  As their sacks filled they were emptied into baskets.

Picking cotton can be rough on the hands if you touch the cotton boll or protective hard case that surrounds the fluffy fibers.  Children make good cotton pickers because their small hands fit more easily between the bolls and the fibers.  I love touching the soft cotton.  Below is a picture of a boll with sharp pointy edges.

At the end of the day, the cotton picked from each slave is weighed at the overseers cabin to assess productivity.

Below is a picture of an overseers cabin with typical period furnishings.

We toured the historic cotton gin which still stands on the property and houses the original machinery from the 1800’s.

In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which greatly improved the cotton growing industry.  Before the gin, cotton seeds had to be separated from the fiber by hand.  Whitney’s hand cranked model (below) separated the cotton seeds using a wooden cylinder surrounded by rows of slender spikes.

This gin also has steam powered machines used to process larger quantities of cotton from beginning to baling.  Our tour guide Lynette showed us how each were once used.

After the cotton was cleaned it was compressed by a machine into bales.  The cotton bales at Frogmore were taken across the road to a bayou to be transported by boat.

In the 1930’s over 2,200 former slaves were interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration.  The purpose of the project was to record memories of slaves before they passed on and the opportunities were lost.  Guidelines were issued for interviewing and recording answers.  Books were compiled for each state.  I bought the Louisiana edition which had been edited by Frogmore’s owner at the general store.

This book includes 42 interviews of former slaves in Louisiana.  During interviews, most of the slaves were in their 80’s or 90’s with some over 100.  There were slaves that did not know their exact age as it had never been recorded.  This was a remarkable book to read and the memories that they retained after so many years was pretty incredible.  Their stories differed as slaves had a variety of experiences depending on where they lived, worked and the treatment they received from their masters, mistresses and overseers.

Visiting this plantation was a great prelude to our visits later in Natchez.   At one time, Natchez was one of the wealthiest cities in America boasting large homes and mansions built by plantation owners.

Thanks again for reading!   I will be doing more posts soon about exploring Natchez.  For the next post though I will talk about our travel plans for the coming four months as well as a look back at our first four months.

A Scenic Byway, Rip Van Winkle, Ginger Cakes and Racing Planes

Traveling scenic byways are a great way to see some of the best of a state.  In Louisiana, the Old Spanish Trail goes through Cajun country passing lovely small towns, bayous, sugarcane fields and old plantation homes.  We traveled sections of this byway on a few different days.  One of the first towns we visited was St. Martinville, settled in 1765 and one of Louisiana’s oldest cities.  The town became noteworthy after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the famous poem “Evangeline” in 1897.  The poem is about two Acadian exiles and lovers forced from their home in Nova Scotia and then separated.   The Evangeline Oak became the site of the meeting place of these lovers after many years.  Although the story is fictional, it illuminated the plight of the Acadians who were forced to leave their homeland in Canada and find other places to live.

The town has a beautiful church, St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church founded by a group of Acadian exiles.  The current structure was built in 1836.  Early property owners had to pay an annual rent to this congregation, a type of feudal system.

I find the cemeteries in Louisiana to be interesting.  Grave plots are above ground due to the high water table as seen in the St. Martinville graveyard above.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site preserves the grounds of a former cattle ranch and sugar plantation.  The Olivier Plantation home built in 1815 was owned by a wealthy Creole family.   Creoles are French descendants or of mixed European and African descent.  Because of their mixed heritage, the home reflects Creole, Caribbean and French influences.  A common practice was to have the kitchen in a separate building from the main residence to lessen the heat and food odors in the home.  It would be neat to have a plantation like this and live among big oaks like these below.

The park has an Acadian farmstead with longhorn cattle and gardens.  Loofah vines were growing all over the porch railings of this adorable furnished cabin from the early 19th century.  Years ago I once thought of growing loofah in my backyard garden and drying the sponges.  Seeing them here made me wish I had given it a try.

In another Acadian cabin on the property the roof is steeply pitched.  I learned that while living in Canada, the Acadians built their roofs in this style to keep the snow off.  They continued the style even after moving to this much warmer climate.  It was common for the cabins to have a ladder on the front porch leading to a loft for additional sleeping, usually younger males.

The Rip Van Winkle Gardens and Jefferson Mansion are a highlight when visiting southern Louisiana.  Mr. Jefferson was a renowned stage and silent film actor who played Rip Van Winkle, a character from the short story by Washington Irving.  Set in the Catskills mountains of New York, Rip was the fellow who fell asleep and woke up 20 years later finding the world had changed.   I decided to read the story since I had heard of Rip Van Winkle but couldn’t remember the details.

The mansion was built in 1870 as a winter retreat for Mr. Jefferson and is in a beautiful setting on a small hill surrounded by oaks, lawns and gardens.  Below I am standing by the Cleveland Oak which was named for President Grover Cleveland who liked to take naps under this 350 year old oak tree when he came to visit Jefferson.

While I toured the house with a guide, Mark took advantage of relaxing in a rocker on the large front porch.

The house and gardens located on an ancient salt deposit next to Lake Peigneur have an interesting history.  In 1980, an oil company accidentally drilled into the salt mine under the lake creating a hole and gigantic whirlpool so powerful that it sucked all the waters of the lake into the salt caverns.  A very large portion of the gardens also disappeared.  The gardens were restored but the property size was reduced from an original 65 acres to 25!  A home on the property was also destroyed and today you can still see the home’s chimney sticking up in the lake as a reminder of the disaster.

Probably the prettiest place we have eaten on our trip is Cafe Jefferson which has a wonderful view to the outside of the oaks, gardens and Lake Peigneur.  The food was delicious as well.  We enjoyed gumbo, eggplant with seafood casserole and bread pudding for dessert.  Below was our view.

The sub tropical gardens are designed with Asian inspired statuary.  The many plants include Camellias, bamboo, palms and hibiscus with peacocks roaming the area.

I really enjoyed seeing the banana plants as they brought back fond memories of my more tropical trips.  If I ever lived in a warm, frost free environment I am sure I would plant a banana plant or two!

On another day we hit the scenic byway again for further exploring.  This time we began with a visit to Le Jeune’s Bakery in the small town of Jeannerette.  I have already talked about Jeannerette in a previous post since the rice mill and sugar factory we visited are located there.  Le Jeune’s is known for their French bread which they have been baking since 1884.  The bakery has been in the same family for five generations using the same recipes.  The bakery lets people know when the bread is ready by turning on a red light above the store front.  In the picture below you can see the red light next to the sign.

When we visited, the bakery in front looked closed up.  We walked around to the side and found an entrance into a work room, not the typical bakery shop entrance we were expecting.  As we stood around awkwardly waiting for someone to help us the lone baker eventually came out to see what we wanted.  In addition to the French bread ginger cakes are popular.  Luckily there was a rack of fresh out of the oven ginger cakes cooling right there and we got two warm ones to go.

As I got into the truck clutching a loaf of warm French bread and ginger cakes, a woman appeared out of nowhere and tapped on the passenger window.  She said she saw me taking a picture of the front of the bakery and was the owner.  She asked if I would come back in, sign the guest book and let her show me around.  I went inside and she gave me a tour of the old fashioned office and baking area with flour mixing machines, tables and ovens, including the original oven (below) that is no longer used.

She talked about how rare it was to find a bakery baking original French bread here in Louisiana.  I asked about the ginger cakes and she said she couldn’t recall their origin, we have just “always made them.”  Mark came in from the truck munching on his ginger cake and said, “the ginger cakes are amazing, you better get more, four more!”  We left with a few more and continued our drive.

We headed to another interesting and unusual museum – the Wedell Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum located in Patterson.  The museum covers Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams who formed an air service and were also involved in air racing.  The museum has a number of small planes.   The golden age of air racing was during the early 1930’s.  In 1933, Jimmie broke the world speed record becoming the first pilot to exceed 300 mph.  The picture above is the plane that he flew.  Unfortunately he died of a plane crash in 1934.   Since it was during the Great Depression, the pilots served as heroes with the promise of an exciting new industry.

The museum has a great venue (above) where you can watch on several big screens the 1932 Cleveland National Air Races.

The other half of the museum (above) details cypress logging in Louisiana which was a major industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s until the trees were almost wiped out.  It is estimated that many trees over 1,000 and even 2,000 years old were cut down.  Cypress wood is much desired because of its durability and resistance to rot and insects.  The museum has a number of historic machines used in the logging industry.  Although I have little mechanical understanding (none Mark says) it was interesting to learn about how the trees were cut and transported on the waterways.  Below is a picture of a typical cypress log harvested in the early 1900’s and estimated to be 300 years old.

The Bateau boat pictured below was very versatile on the swamps and bayous.  Besides transportation, they were used for moss picking, fishing and to round up cypress timber for the steamboats to tow to the sawmills.

Although there have been friendly people in most places we have traveled, the people in Louisiana really stand out.  People like the owner of Le Jeune Bakery were so interested to share their culture and history and find out about our own travels.  We found friendly people that worked at our RV park, rangers and docents at parks and museums and people attending the music venues.  We even met one very friendly couple at the popular Mama’s Chicken while Mark was ordering deep fried Oreos.  We wound up visiting until the restaurant was closing.  We found Louisianans to be cheerful, fun loving and easy to talk to.  Some of the best people we have encountered so far!

Thanks for traveling on a scenic byway with us.  Are there any favorite byways you have traveled on?  We would love to hear from you!

Baton Rouge – Exploring Louisiana’s Capital

Staying in the Lafayette area was a great central location to see a variety of places.  Baton Rouge was only about an hour away and I didn’t want to miss seeing the capital city and the capitol building.

Our first stop in Baton Rouge was the old state capitol.  The building is 160 years old and built in the gothic style to look like a castle.  It housed the Louisiana State Legislature until the current capitol was built in 1932.  The building is now the Museum of Political History.  Although the museum has some interesting exhibits, I thought the best part was how beautiful the interior is.  I loved the spiral staircase and colorful stained glass dome.

The second floor had several meeting rooms that were decorated very nicely for Christmas.  The gothic architecture was wonderful here.

The museum has an interesting exhibit on Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana governor from 1928 – 1932 and later a senator.  He worked to modernize the state by building roads, bridges and providing better education to children.  His platform was “Share the Wealth” and he saw himself as the champion of the common man.   Interestingly, he was seen as a colorful figure and to some even a dictator because of his extreme methods.

We next visited the current state capitol building which was completed in 14 months at a cost of $5,000,000.  This building was the dream of Governor Long who pushed to have it built during an unusual time – the Great Depression.  Unfortunately he was murdered in this building three years later in 1935.  He is buried on the capitol grounds and his statue faces the capitol.  Below is a picture of me in front of the impressive tombstone and statue.

This state capitol is the tallest at 450 feet and to me it has a more modern  appearance than most of the other capitols I have visited.  The capitol of Nebraska which we visited several months ago has a similar modern style with tall tower.  Visitors can go to the 27th floor for views of the city and the Mississippi River.  There are 48 steps outside leading up to the first floor representing the 48 states that existed in the 1930’s when the Capitol was built.  Hawaii and Alaska were added later and share the top step.  It was neat to see this impressive building, but it didn’t grab me the way some of the others I have visited.

Memorial Hall on the main floor is a stunning room and was beautifully decorated for Christmas with a number of Christmas trees.  Eleven flags that have flown over all or parts of Louisiana hang from the balcony.  I learned that this building has served as a movie set on many occasions.

In a hallway outside the Governor’s office Huey Long was shot while serving as senator.  A bulls-eye marks the spot on the floor and a display case shows memorabilia from the incident including news articles and photos.  Investigations in 1935 and 1992 determined that he was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss who was believed to be against Mr. Long. The pistol that was used to shoot him is on display in the old State Capitol.  There has been much debate over the years as to how Huey was murdered and some believe that Dr. Weiss was not the murderer, but that one of Huey’s bodyguards accidentally shot him while Huey and Dr. Weiss were arguing.

A bullet hole is still visible in a marble column (below) and there are patches on the wall where bullets hit.

After seeing the capitol building, we went to the nearby Capitol Park Museum which is the Louisiana State Museum.  In the picture below, the capitol is reflected in the museum’s pool.

This museum is large and even after two hours I still didn’t have time to see much of the upper floor.  The museum showcases the major highlights of Louisiana:  Early explorers, battles, the Mississippi River, important industries like oil, agricultural products, musicians, authors, Mardi Gras costumes, sports and civil rights to name some of the exhibits.

Above is a picture of an original Civil War era submarine that was discovered in 1878 near New Orleans.  The origins and identity of the sub remain a mystery.  Only a few Civil War submarines have ever been recovered so this one is special.  This was one of our favorite exhibits.  The sub seemed so small and confining I can’t imagine the claustrophobia!  Some of the museum’s exhibits were full size like the two row sugarcane harvester, below.

Another full size exhibit is this 50-foot wooden shrimp trawler, significant since shrimping is a vital part of the state’s seafood industry and important to Louisiana’s Cajun culture.

The museum had some somber exhibits on slavery, an unfortunate reality of life at that time due to many cotton and sugar plantations.   Below is a picture of two actual jail doors used on slave pens at a plantation.

We finished up our day along the Mississippi River which runs by the city.  There is a walk way along the river to admire the views.  It was a great place to watch the river barges, bridge and sunset.   Below, Mark sits and takes in the view.

Thanks for checking in with us!

Enjoying Louisiana’s Beautiful Outdoors

I went on my first swamp tour almost five years ago at Honey Island near New Orleans.   I thought the swamp was so interesting and the boat ride lots of fun.  I loved seeing the cypress trees growing right in the dark water and all the hanging moss and dark mysterious places.   The alligators and wild pigs were lured to the boat with hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks so we were able to see them close up.  For our recent trip I was really looking forward to spending more time exploring Louisiana’s scenic places, especially the swamps.  Above is a picture of my trip with Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours on Lake Martin.

We spent a few peaceful hours boating around the swampy lake, weaving in and out of the trees and seeing so much beautiful scenery.  This tour was even more lovely than my first one at Honey Island.   In many places the water was carpeted with duckweed, a light green plant that covers the swamp and is rich in nutrients.  There was lots of Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees.  This is not a true moss but an epiphyte that takes nutrients from the air and debris that collects on the trees or plants.   Historically moss was an important “crop” for settlers in Louisiana.  They gathered it in low bottomed boats and after drying, used it to stuff mattresses and pillows.  It was also mixed with mud and used in building homes.

Our friendly guide told us stories about the swamp.   One of the more interesting facts I recall is that insect repellant is not needed here because the Tupelo Gum trees secrete toxins into the water that mosquitos hate.  I researched further to see if this was in fact the case and found mixed opinions.    Mosquitos are a common pest while exploring in Louisiana and Mark and I had to fight them off a few times while walking around swampy areas.  Since it was late fall and cooler, the mosquitos are probably less active than spring and summer.  Someone jokingly stated, the mosquito is the state bird of Lousiana.

We saw more alligators on this trip than I was expecting since alligators tend to be less visible in the cooler months.  Most of the ones we saw were resting on fallen logs but some were also swimming about.  I got some good close ups with my long lens.  No marshmallows or hot dogs were used to lure these gators which is certainly healthier for them and they didn’t have to perform any silly antics like leaping out of the water for a treat.

The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America.  Most alligators average between eight and twelve feet long but a few have been found to reach 15 feet or more.  An alligator was reportedly found measuring 19 feet and weighing over 2,000 pounds, but this was many, many years ago and no photograph was taken for verification.

I read on the Smithsonian page that an alligator’s teeth are replaced when they wear down and that an alligator can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.  The alligator lives about 50 years in the wild.  After they are four feet long, they are safe from predators except humans and occasionally other alligators.

We saw a variety of bird life including my favorite the Anhinga – an unusual and attractive looking bird with a long neck that I first saw in South Texas years ago during a birding trip.  Perhaps when my parents, Bob and Judy read this they will remember how we used to joke, “Beware the evil eye of the Anhinga.”  This was one of the birds I was looking forward to seeing and I got some good views of them.

The Bald Cypress is the state tree of Louisiana and is very common in swamps and bayous.  Although this tree is a part of the evergreen family, it loses its needles in the fall giving it a “bald”appearance, hence the name. I thought the cypress needles with their rusty fall colors were quite pretty.

Lake Martin is a hunter’s paradise for ducks and geese during hunting season and we boated around a few of the hunting blinds.  They were designed so that hunters could boat into a “carport” and easily climb into the blind.   There were many decoys around the blinds.  (Sorry for my crooked picture)

We visited several state parks during our stay in Louisiana.  Our first visit was to Chicot Lake State Park and the Louisiana Arboretum.  The Arboretum was a great place for a hike to learn about the many trees that can be found in this state.

I was amazed by the variety of trees such as maples, sycamores, beeches, magnolias and hickories.  Way too many trees for me to identity and remember.  Luckily some of them were signed for identification.  It was here that I finally saw a bird I have been wanting to see for years – the red-headed woodpecker!

An interesting discovery for a Californian is that the Bald Cypress is related to the Redwood family of trees.  I find this fascinating because the trees grow in totally different habitats and don’t look that much alike, especially the trunks.  A cypress tree is often surrounded by nobby protrusions sprouting from the ground called “knees,” see above.   Their exact function is unknown but one scientific theory is that they assist in anchoring or supporting the tree in soft, muddy soil and reduce erosion.

After hiking around we drove to get a look at Lake Chicot which is popular for canoeing, fishing and camping.  Since the lake has a mostly marshy shoreline and interior, access is limited except by boat.  We drove to one area where the road crosses over the lake.  In picture below, Mark watches the late afternoon light on the trees.

In the picture below, I tried to capture the beautiful reflections of the bald cypress at sunset.

Another day Mark and I visited Palmetto Island State Park, a place I really wanted to see because I love these little palms.  I first saw the dwarf palmetto in southeastern Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp during another trip.  It was an interesting sight to see so many dwarf palms growing under tall pine trees.  Actually, I love palms of any size or type.

We had the park almost to ourselves the day we visited.  We only ran into one other friendly couple from Arkansas.  We enjoyed exploring a few of the trails through the forest.

One of the trails became a little too primitive for us, so when it looked like we might need a machete to continue, we decided to turn back.   In the picture below, Mark fights his way through, ha, ha.

Our favorite wildlife sighting was this very large Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Nephilia) also known as a banana spider that had created a web stretching across the trail and was right in the middle of it.  Mark almost walked into it but caught himself just in time.  These spiders are noted for the impressive webs they weave and are found in warmer regions of the world.  It is probably the biggest web and spider we have ever seen.

Not sure how anxious I would be to launch one of those canoes in the picture below.

After our visit to Palmetto Island we drove to Cypremort Point State Park on the Gulf.  It was Mark’s first time to see the Gulf of Mexico.  This is one of only three locations on the Louisiana Gulf that can be reached by car.

The park consists of a half mile stretch of man made beach with a picnic area and opportunities for water sports and fishing.  The water was dark with a muddy look so not sure how inviting it is for swimming.  The views though were nice and we enjoyed the sunset.

In the picture below I am at the pier watching the boats come in for the night.

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