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|
|A Peek Inside the William Johnson House|
|"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|
|"Ahh, What a Beautiful Place to Raise Slaves..." :/|
|"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!
|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!
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).
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!