This will be a quick post as I have to get back on the road again. I had decided that since this will be roughly my fourth time driving across the US, I would switch it up a bit and head south. This was also an attempt to gain warmer sleeping-outside temperatures, which at 75+ degrees I definitely got in the Southeast.
I had a bunch of fun in Mississippi, checking out the Delta Blues Trail which starts in the town of Clarksdale, the town where Muddy Waters was born, and follows Route 61 south from there. I had heard about a great little museum in Clarksdale as well as a blues bar that Morgan Freeman was part owner of called the Ground Zero Blues Club. I’m glad I did a bit of research because I never would have braved that part of town if I wasn’t looking for something. I felt like I was very safe, at least wandering around at 11 in the morning, but it was quite rundown-kind of stuck in history. Every-other store had something to do with the Blues and they all seemed to be in some state of disrepair which added to the depth and character. You really got a feeling in that place, and I would love to spend an evening there sometime because I expect it really comes alive in a great way.
Anyway the museum was really a gem, featuring stories, instruments, records and paraphernalia from dozens of important blues artists of the past, and even had relocated a part of the house Muddy Waters grew up in just out of town. For lunch I steeled myself to go into the Blues bar, and it was not what I expected. Outside it looks like a dive and my alarm bell went off-one of the first pieces of adult advice that I remember my Mom giving me was to avoid bars with no windows. But inside it felt huge, friendly, and even a bit of what it was-a tourist stop. I ordered my first ever catfish sandwich which must have weighed 2 pounds. I think catfish is a kind of a mushy, flavorless fish, but I still enjoyed it.
Then I continued south through the Delta. Some of the interesting (to me) things I saw included:
-Lots of Donut Shops, which usually seemed to also sell hot tamales?
-Also lots of snow-ball or sno-come stands in gas station lots
-One drainage ditch with over 100 turtles!
-Armadillos! (Road kill, but still exciting to me)
-An actual crew of incarcerated men doing roadwork wearing black and white striped outfits!
-Crop dusters! They are tiny planes that zip low over fields “dusting” them with fertilizers, etc. They also make the air taste like Miracle-Grow.
-Bugs so big that I ducked when they hit the windshield.
I stopped in Vicksburg to drive through the historic downtown and visit the National Battlefield there, which has a great auto tour of the area that withstood a 42 day siege before the confederates surrendered to the union there, which was the beginning of the end for the southern army since it effectively split their forces in two: East and West of the Mississippi River.
Then on through Port Gibson, whose motto is “too beautiful to burn.” It was spared by the Union army for that reason, and I wish I could have stopped and walked around. I slept that night in Natchez which also has a beautiful historic downtown and many antebellum mansions around the area. Apparently Vicksburg and Natchez still have bad blood between them because Natchez surrendered early and had their town spared, while Vicksburg held out for 6 weeks and was largely ruined. I haven’t confirmed that fact but it seems plausible.
And a few interesting things in southern Mississippi:
-At least 2 blocks of Natchez still run their historic gas streetlights with gas!
-There is a saloon called “Under the Hill” where Mark Twain liked to pass time.
-Jim Bowie of Bowie knife fame (think of a big knife like Crocodile Dundee has) had his big fight just below the bluff, when he defended himself against three other brawling men with a butcher knife that he had taken to carrying around for just that purpose.
-Longwood, the largest octagonal building in the country,was only partially finished inside since the craftsmen were from Philadelphia and fled when the war broke out. The family of ten were forced to live in the only finished storie-the basement- until 1897.
I also tried the entire time to find “southern” food that I haven’t had before. Good okra escaped me, but I did manage to get some fried pickles, and had a crawfish étouffée stuffed spud, which was delicious. This paragraph and photo is just for you, Robin!
To wrap up my Mississippi jaunt I just had to find a cypress grove. And I succeeded. I had forgotten how much I love swamps. I mean there are plenty of things not to like about them-the bugs, the muckiness, the…alligators. But the smell of a healthy swamp is the most deep, earthen, freshest air I have ever smelled. I don’t think any other ecosystem is so strikingly dead and yet so abundantly alive at the same time. I’ve always thought I should love the ocean for it’s cyclical nature, but it’s inherent violence throws me off. It’s swamps that most remind me of childhood and make me feel glad to be alive.