About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Natchez, Mississippi

Friday, September 16th
This morning I said my sorrowful goodbye to Chris, who I stayed with the past few days as I got my blog all caught up about Louisiana.  We have so many wonderful memories to choose from now, and I can't wait 'til he comes to Minnesota to visit someday.

I headed into Mississippi (the sign reading, "Security Provided" on the interstate sign for the Welcome Center gave me a chill they need security?  Yikes), to the beautiful town of Natchez, 85 miles north of Baton Rouge.  "Perched on the highest bluff north of the Gulf of Mexico, Natchez is the oldest settlement on the entire Mississippi river – older by two years than New Orleans."

Coming into Natchez

"In 1798, she became the first capital of the Mississippi Territory, and the first capital of the state of Mississippi in 1817. Her vast natural resources have yielded massive fortunes, and coupled with an exceptional quality of life and growing industrial complex,
Natchez has embraced and preserved the influences of Native American, European, Southern, and African American cultures – all of which have given her a timeless and unique blend of charm, grace, romance, mystery, and adventure.  She is known as one of the most desirable small cities in the United States, an international destination glistening with Southern charm and grace for almost 300 years."

Quite the Visitor Reception Center

There's also a very dark history the town certainly wouldn't want you to know, like the fact that "it was home to four white supremacist terrorist groups during the 1960s, and the center for the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, also including the Mississippi White Caps and the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, founded in May 1963 by nine residents of Natchez. Another such group was the Cottonmouth Moccasin Gang, who murdered Natchez resident Ben Chester White as part of a plot to draw Martin Luther King to Natchez in order to assassinate him. The three klansmen were arrested and charged with the murder, but in all three cases, despite overwhelming evidence and, in Jones's case, a confession, either the charges were dismissed or the defendants acquitted by all-white juries."

A Peek Inside the William Johnson House

I arrived at around 10:30am, and stopped into the the Visitor Reception Center.  Wow, what a place!  It was huge for a visitor's center, with lots of museum exhibits on the town's long history, and I checked out the 20-minute film to give me some background as well (though it cost $2 - I've been to many visitor centers now, and this is the only one that has charged a fee).  There were several staffed booths to ask for information, and like many times, they sent me off with a whole bag of brochures and magazines when all I practically asked was where the bathroom was, lol.

"Natchez in Historic Photographs" Exhibit

After I got the scoop, my first stop was the William Johnson House (stopping in awe, to take a few photos of beautiful buildings on the way), operated by the National Park Service.  The first floor is a museum housed In William's old barbershop space, with information and artifacts about this "Barber of Natchez," a man who kept a diary of what life was like as a freed slave (who ironically turned around and owned 16 of his own), something of a rarity to get a first-hand, detailed account.  Continuing out the back door of the museum and to the upstairs, I got to see his his family's living space, furnished with many of the Johnson family’s original pieces.

"Natchez in Historic Photographs" Exhibit

Next I viewed the "Natchez in Historic Photographs" exhibit (inside First Presbyterian Church), "nearly 100 years of Natchez history captured in more than 500 photographs!  This was a special treat; I was able to get a true sense of what life was like for residents back in the day (oh, and the clothes they wore, lol).

I toured the grounds of Melrose (free - only a charge if you take a tour of the interior), "a cotton kingdown estate."  This 1800s Greek revival-style mansion represents the height of Southern prosperity and the 'Cotton Kingdom.'  Guided tours of the home give visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the pre-Civil War American South and help them understand the roles that slaves played in an estate setting. Sitting today on 80 lush acres maintained by the National Park Service, the home stands as a well-preserved piece of America's history.  I actually just went to see the gardens (which weren't anything special as I found out), but seeing the slave cabins first-hand and the exploring the exhibits inside them, it was worth the trip over there.

"Ahh, What a Beautiful Place to Raise Slaves..." :/

I gained even more perspective on the town with a visit to Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.  "Natchez, Mississippi may be best known for its antebellum mansions, but the human history of the area goes back several thousands of years. The story of Natchez takes place in AD 700-1730 with the indigenous mound-building cultures, that built hundreds, or possibly thousands of elaborate earthworks (mounds) along the Mississippi River and tributaries."

"During the period that the Natchez occupied the Grand Village, the French explored the region and began to make settlements. Relations between the French and the Natchez were cordial at first, but deteriorated as various disagreements and episodes of violence arose in 1716 and again in 1723. In 1729, a pro-English element within the tribe led the Natchez to attack the French colonial platations and military garrison at Fort Rosalie. The French retaliated in such force that the Natchez were forced to abandon their homeland."

"The Grand Village" of the Natchez Indians

The Grand Village was small, and their information markers were in rough shape, but you can still see a couple of the mounds, see a recreated hut, learn a lot about their very interesting culture and beliefs, and it's free of charge!

I drove over to Jefferson Military College next (also free of charge).  "Jefferson College was an all-male military college in Washington, Mississippi. It was the first educational institution of higher learning in Mississippi, (chartered in 1802), and was the second oldest military school in the nation (after West Point, New York, also chartered earlier in 1802).  Although originally conceived as a college, after years of initial financial difficulties it opened its doors on January 7, 1811, as a preparatory school, with fifteen students. Funds from Congress, the Legislature, and private citizens led the way to new prosperity, and by 1817 Jefferson College had become a full-fledged college; ten-year-old Jefferson Davis attended in 1818."

Spider Lilly at Jefferson Military College

"Due to falling enrollment and financial difficulties associated with negative public attitudes towards the Vietnam War, the last classes were held in 1964. The historic campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 25, 1970, and designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1985."  My self-guided tour of the grounds included a glimpse inside Prospere Hall (old dormitory now houses the museum exhibits), West Wing (first floor is old dining hall and admin offices) and the kitchens.  There's a handful of other buildings you can take view the exteriors of.

"That's What She Said"

I ended my day with a self-driving tour of the towns most extravagant antebellum homes, some dating as far back as the late 1700's - the pride of Natchez.  They all offer tours of the interiors ($10-20 each), but I was content with seeing the exteriors, as I've already toured magnificent estates on my trip, such as the 164,000 square foot "The Breakers" mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.  The names of the homes I saw (in order) were Melrose, Monmouth, Linden, Auburn, Longwood (my favorite), Dunleith, Fair Oaks, Magnolia Hall, Rosalie, The House on Ellicott Hill, Stanton Hall, and The Towers (with a couple of other fancy buildings here and there).  PHEW!

Well, that wrapped it up for the day (and that didn't even include walking around Downtown!)

Auburn Estate

One of the most terrifying experiences to date was camping at Natchez State Park!  The park itself is great, but I will think twice before camping alone in the primitive campground again.  I got there at around 7pm or so, and got my new tent all set up just before it turned pitch black outside.  Now there is only 8 sites in this campground total, and I was the only one there.  I grabbed some necessities and put them in the tent, and about 30 minutes into reading my travel book I heard a noise.  Not just a noise - footsteps.  Heavy footsteps that didn't sound like an animal, but sounded exactly like someone approaching my tent - the same exact sound I made when I was walking around there, only heavier, louder (like someone wearing boots).  

Stanton Hall

When the sound came right up alongside my tent (with nothing but a thin piece of fabric between us), it stopped.  I was wondering WHO was there, not what, since I have heard many animals outside my tent before, and haven't really thought twice.  I said, "Hello?"  "Helloooo???"  No answer.  No sounds.  I made some noise to let it know I was going through my things (hopefully it would think I was getting a weapon) and I heard a couple of footsteps away from my tent.  A couple of moments later, with my finger poised on the ALARM button on my car's key fob, and with my headlamp on it's brightest setting, I opened the tent flap, looked in back of the tent - and nothing.  Not even a set of tracks.  I got into my car and looked grabbed my sharpest knife, just as my Chris (from Louisiana) called me.  I explained what happened as I returned to my tent, still very worked up and creeped out.  

"Hello? ... Hello???"

As I recounted the events to him, it was clear I should go elsewhere, avoiding the possibility of it coming back with more, or a weapon.  Chris stayed on the phone with me the whole time while I packed up my tent.  I gave him another call when after setting up my tent at the other campground (near two big RVs for comfort) a couple miles away, and confirmed I was okay, and then [hours later], fell asleep :) 

Saturday, September 16th
Luckily I woke up this morning, hooray!  I don't know what would've happened had I stayed at the other site last night, and I don't really want to think about it.  Hopefully the move was unnecessary - but better safe than sorry :) 

Can You Tell Me the Way to Frodo's House?

I got the hell out of the state park as fast as possible, lol, then headed to the visitor center to brush my teeth, etc.  I left my car in the parking lot, while I explored all of beautiful Downtown (a sweet smell like tangerine wafted through the air as I walked under the trees hovering over the sidewalk) on foot.

I started with the Natchez Under-The-Hill District, "the rowdiest and most notorious landing on the Mississippi River. The area was filled with saloons, gambling dens, and houses of ill repute. From around 1785 until about 1820 Natchez Under-the-Hill was the departure point for frontiersmen headed home to Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Western Pennsylvania. It was their last chance to "whoop it up" a little before the long hard dangerous trek home along the Natchez trace." 

"Isle of Capri" Riverboat Casino on the Mississippi River

Then I strolled up and down all the residential and commercial-mixed streets 'til I could walk no more (or take the heat), and on such an ideal, sunny Saturday morning, there were plenty of other walkers (mostly residents) as well.  I soon noticed the remarkable friendliness of the townspeople, which was lacking yesterday evening.  They even gave a little hello honk as they passed by each other in their vehicles.  This is one of the things I love about small towns.  The only honking you hear in cities is the hurried road-rage kind.

The Rough Side of Town

Rankin (that's the actual name, lol!) and Martin Luther King Streets were pretty sketchy, but I wanted to see the good and the bad for the true experience.  These streets have old historic homes like the rest of Downtown, but they're all run-down to the point of nearly being condemned (broken and semi-boarded windows, etc).  I was actually put into a sort of awkward and potentially dangerous situation for a few moments when a homeless-seeming man started asking me questions and didn't want me to leave - I said I had to go and hurriedly walked away as he continued calling down the street at me to come back.

Wow, and Some Paint

As I headed north toward the Mississippi River the homes became much more maintained, with well-manicured landscaping to match.  Other highlights included the awe-inspiring interiors of its historic churches, such as the Gothic Revival-style St. Mary's Cathedral and the now Greek Revival-style Trinity Episcopal Church, which "includes two rare art-glass windows designed and installed by the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany!"  So much for giving to the poor!

The Landscaping's Not Bad, Either ;)

With a strong sense of of the town under my belt, I headed 250 miles southeast, to the small town of Gautier (pronounced G0-shay), which sits on the Gulf of Mexico, and just east of the Alabama border.  "It's one of many cities affected by Hurricane Katrina. Homes built on the water were completely destroyed, occasionally leaving an intact slab. In a few cases the slabs were cracked in half. One home in particular was built on pylons 13 feet (4 m) above sea level and had the floor ripped out from underneath. Despite the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, the historic home of Fernando Upton Gautier remains intact and open for business."  On a separate note, I couldn't help but see a hilarious sign reading "Just in: Short dresses and homecoming tuxes" as I entered town, LOL.

He Took Me to the Alley for Some Tea and Mugging...

After feeling far-removed from Bigfoot, lol, or whatever came upon my tent last night, I set up camp at one of the three primitive campgrounds in Shepard State Park, then went to McDonald's to work on my blog.  There, the unthinkable happened - I was charged for tap water!  It was only 27 cents, but I was still taken aback.  I have been to many a McDonald's on my trip (for the free WiFi), and never has this happened until now.  C'mon people, this isn't Europe, lol!  I was informed they changed their policy to prevent loitering, more specifically, a homeless-appearing man was coming in on a daily basis ordering only tap water, to sit for hours in the air-conditioning.  This policy change obviously needs rethinking, because it doesn't even work, as I actually had to turn away a beggar that hounded me for several minutes.  They should hang a "No Loitering" sign in the window and ask these types of people to come back when they could afford to purchase something.

Welcome.  Please Remove Your Clothes.

Dusty, the young manager, was very pleasant and hospitable, providing better service than even many sit-down restaurants, as he came buy to check on my water several times.  He took a lot of interest in my trip (and shared his story as well), and gave me many recommendations on local must-sees.  He even gave me a free McFlurry that he said he accidentally messed up, and came outside when I was leaving, to say goodbye!  Wish I could've had more time to talk with him - what a genuinely friendly person!  I really started to feel the southern warmth and hospitality :)  I just wish he hadn't told me about his girlfriend's relayed, swear-it's-true sighting of a sasquatch that she and her friend say they no-doubt spotted one night on the side of a back-country road!  I did NOT need to hear that :/  I just thought of the one from the movie, "Harry & The Hendersons" as I went to bed in my tent :)

I'll Have Whatever They're Driving - In Sepia Please, and a Diet Coke

The next morning I saw a very old, beautifully preserved/restored automobile making its way down the main drag alongside me, as I passed by the huge port in Pescagoula, a historic ship-building town with World War II roots.

And into Alabama I go!

Gautier & Pescagoula

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