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.