Thursday, November 29, 2018

Natchez, Mississippi

We left Jimmie Dee SP on November 16. We were headed to Gulfport, Mississippi, but did not want to do the entire 300+ miles in one day, so I looked for a good place to stop. Almost directly in the middle was Natchez SP. We did not have reservations, but it looked like they had plenty of availability for the weekend. So, we did something we rarely do, we traveled to a new park on a Friday. As luck would have it they had a nice spot for us even though it was fairly full. It seems that it was hunting season and they were allowing people to hunt in the park. OK, no hiking here.

I was only slightly aware of Natchez. I had heard about a nice collection of Antebellum homes and that was about it. Well, did I have a lot to learn. Natchez was a thriving city in the early 1800's. Cotton farming in the near by delta was fueling a booming economy. The rich plantation owners built huge mansions. By the 1850's, Natchez was the home to over half of the millionaires in the US. The farms and mansions were fueled by slave labor. Natchez was surprisingly against the secession of the south, so when the northern armies captured and occupied Natchez, they left most of the beautiful homes intact. Natchez has over 1000 buildings on the National Register of Historic places.

We headed out of the park and before we made it a mile, I saw signs for the Natchez Trace. Natchez is the southern terminus of the Trace. This ancient roadway runs over 400 miles from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee. I have driven part so this scenic parkway before, but this was the first time in years. This roadway was originally used by the Natchez and other Indian tribes from this area as a trade route north. Before we went too far on the road we came to a sign for Emerald Mound.

This was an ancient city dating back to the 1300's. I was blown away by the size of the area that had been cleared and mounded to be used by these ancient people for rituals and sport. They built a huge mound that is over 8 acres and about 100 feet high, by hand.

We did stop along the trace to take a walk on a section of the original road that was bypassed when they built the new beautiful winding parkway. After that history lesson, we drove down the trace to the end and then headed into the city of Natchez.  The National Park Service has a historical park on the grounds of Melrose. Melrose is one of the mansions dating back to the 1840's. We decided that would be a good place to start.

The history of Melrose is very interesting. I think that is what is cool about each of the houses. Each has it's own story to tell. This estate was built from insane money made in the cotton business. They held between 10 and 25 slaves to run the estate. I was very conflicted while touring the house and grounds.

Our tour guide. This tour was only $10 each. Some of the other homes were much more.

Men's parlor

The large device above the table is a fan. A rope would be pulled over by the fireplace by a slave.

Much of the furnishings are original from the house. In that time, when you sold the house, most of the furnishings stayed with the house. 

I liked the house, but loved the grounds. I walked around the barns and slave quarters and imagined what life would be like for all of those people. In the slave quarters there was an awesome exhibit that included interviews of former slaves done around the turn of the 20th century. A real lesson in American history. 

I loved the beautiful trees.

Carriage house with original carriages. 
We then decided to go to the old downtown area and do a walking tour. 

The downtown streets are interesting, but do not date back as far and the cities like Charleston, SC that we visited last winter. 

They have beautiful churches:

Catholic cathedral
First Presbyterian Church
We walked to the banks of the Mississippi river. That is why this city is located here. They used the river the ship the cotton all over the world.

Barge fighting the current up river.
We walked down and back up a very steep hill to the waters edge. This is an area called "Under-the-Hill". This was the rough area on the docks where they loaded the barges and bought and sold slaves. It has now been turned into a restaurant and bar district.

We walked by a number of other beautiful homes.

After the steep climb from the rivers edge, we both deserved a nice dinner. We stopped at a local bistro and enjoyed a good dinner. The food was only average, but we engaged in conversation with a couple of local gentlemen that were involved in tours of the mansions. That conversation made the dinner memorable.

We made it back to the park after dark and knew we had only scratched the surface of what there is to do and see in Natchez. It really is a "must do" if you are traveling in the area.

The next day, we were headed to Gulfport. I was more than excited! I will write all about the next chapter in our sailing adventure in my next entry.

Friday, November 23, 2018

This is Our Way to Travel

We have been living in our trailer for almost 6 years now. We have been retired and traveling much of the last 5 years. In that time we have found a pace and a type of travel that we find very enjoyable. When I say that we can't wait to get back on the road, what I am really saying is that we can't wait to get back in OUR travel mode. Our travel mode consists of moving every 3 to 5 days and moving no more than 150 miles. We like to find an almost empty park on a lake and we would like to pay less than $20 per night. Now, is that too much to ask?

If you look back at our sites in Russellville, Arkansas and Lake Texoma, Oklahoma, they were both COE parks that we paid $15 per night in Russellville and $14 at Lake Texoma.

We left Lake Texoma on Sunday November 11 and headed East. We are now moving in the direction of the gulf coast. We have a plan to charter a boat and do some sailing in Gulfport, Mississippi and we were eager to get south. Our first stop was in Southern Arkansas on Millwood Lake. We found an out of the way COE park called Cottonshed Park. The place was mostly empty and we got a huge site right on the lake. The price was $15 per night and had good Cell and OTA TV reception.

Although it was cold and rainy while we were there, it was perfect weather to enjoy the peace and quiet of this beautiful lake. The wildlife was active and the humans were not.

Nice fishing bridge that connects the two areas of the campground. You can see our trailer, just to the left of the bridge.
I went for my daily walks around the park checking out the local inhabitants. I saw a number of ducks and other water fowl. As you can tell by the pictures on my front page of this blog, I love bald eagles. I did see one in a perch up in a pine tree. I only had my phone with me, so the picture is not very good, but at least I have proof.  

I was able to watch him fly away, but was unable to get that image. We ended up staying three days and saw one night get down to 27 degrees. We agreed that is too cold and it was time to head further south. We were hoping to totally avoid freezing temps this year, but the unseasonably cold weather caught us. 

We did have one nice sunset while we were at Millwood Lake
Our next stop was about 180 miles away in Louisiana. We selected Jimmie Davis SP on Caney Creek Reservoir. We like Louisiana State Parks. The are usually nice, affordable and have laundry's that used to be free. In this case the washer was 75 cents and the dryer was free, so Kim took time to get our laundry caught up. We again had a nice site on the lake and paid $21 per night. Good Cell and OTA TV at this location also. 

Here we are again parked by a lake. Just the way we like it. 
I did a lot of hiking at the SP. Kim even joined me for one of them. The lake was beautiful and they had a complimentary boat dock for the park guests. 

We had some awesome sunset while we were in Louisiana.

This shot was taken at our site. Not bad...

Mom, this Blue Heron shot is for you. 

It felt so good to get back to nature and to have no commitments. We both enjoyed the quiet week. 

Next up was a bit of a surprise to both of us. We thought that Natchez, Mississippi would be just another stop on the road, boy were we wrong. In my next entry, I will write about our visit to Natchez. We really liked this town.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Two Special Birthdays

We left Old Post park in Russellville, Arkansas on October 6. We drove about 275 miles to Lake Texoma, Oklahoma. We tried one COE park, but it was closed due to flooding. We ended up staying at Johnson Creek COE park. This park is about 8 miles due west of Durant, Oklahoma. We were right on the lake in an excellent site. Most of the sites in our loop were available, so it was very quiet. At $14 a night for 30 amp it was a great deal.

Nice sunset shot with our home on wheels.
The main reason that we went almost 500 miles out of our way, was to celebrate two very special birthdays. My awesome wife, Kim was turning 60 on November 7 and her mother Phyllis was turning 80 on November 9. Kim's parents have a nice piece of property about 20 miles east of Durant, so this site would be our base camp for the celebrations. We were going to stay at their property, but there had been significant rain before we arrived and while we were there, so we stayed at the lake with the awesome view and just drove over to the property.

Richie and Phyllis took both Kim and I out to dinner to celebrate Kim's birthday. She received this great card from her aunt Kay. We are doing our best to live our life to the fullest while we can.

Next up was Phyllis's birthday. We took them to Whataburger. Yes, Whataburger is what she wanted, so we were happy to go along. We love Whataburger, and will make sure to visit one when we are in the south.
Phyllis and Richie
On Saturday the 10th we were lucky enough to get both of Kim's brothers, Rick and Greg, to join us at the property. Rick's wife, Donna and two kids, Jason and Laura also joined us. It was fun riding around the property on 4 wheelers and checking our all of the hunting blinds they have built.

Kim and Phyllis and Rick and Greg
Jason and Laura

I think the cake says it all! It was a fun time and it was great to celebrate the milestones. 

Now it was time for us to move along down to the coast. We had about 550 miles to do in about a week. That is a lot of driving for us. In my next entry, I will show you some of the most beautiful camp sites we have ever stayed in.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Family Time in Arkansas

We are now on the road and it feels great! We left the ranch on November 2nd as planned. It is a rainy and cold day, so I have decided that today is a good day to get writing in this blog. We are now in southern Arkansas on a beautiful lake, but before I write about this place, I need to go back a couple of weeks.

Before we left Missouri, we needed some time with our grand kids. Jake, Isabella, William and Amelia were available to come out to the ranch for the weekend before we left. It was a beautiful weekend with sunny skies and the fall colors at their peak. We just enjoyed our time riding around the ranch in the mule and exploring by foot.

Kim, Amelia, Isabella and Will in the mule.
The kids checking out the little cabin

My favorite time in the Ozarks
We have a very interesting feature at the ranch that we call the "Lava Rocks". This is a solid sheet of rock that goes on for a few hundred yards in the bed of wet weather creek. In these pictures, the kids are hunting tadpoles in the pools of water left by recent rain.

Jake does not do pictures, so this is the best we got. We will miss these guys.
On November 2nd, we drove about 260 miles to get to Russellville, Arkansas. Yes, we did take the long way. We stayed at a park we have stayed at many times before. We normally like to go to new places, but Old Post Park is a great COE park that is just a short distance from our son, Michael and DIL Audrey's house. We were able to get Connor and Cameron to spend one night with us. We then watched a soccer game and went for walks around the park. It was a great time.

Connor chasing geese in the park
Cameron got in on the fun also.
I did not take any good pictures of Michael and his family, but there are some recent shots in my last blog entry, when we went to their house about a month prior to this visit. 

We were in luck on this trip. Our good friends, Dick and Cathy were in Russellville while we were there. We always have a blast when we get together with these two. This time was special because we had them play tour guide for us to their home town area. We spent much of the time looking at RV parks. I wanted to see all of our options for future trips to this area. 

We did make one stop that turned into a very cool experience. Dick does some web site development and did some work with Subiaco Abbey, which is not far from Russellville. We pulled in to have a quick look around. While we were doing that, a man came up and asked if we had any questions. He turned out to be a key management person for the Abbey and school. He was on his way home, but he stopped and took us on a private tour of the buildings and met some of the Benedictine Monks. It was an awesome experience. 

The Abbey sits up on a high hill. It was established in 1878 and at one time was totally self sufficient including power and water. It is a cattle ranch and has an amazing wood working facility.

The Church and School

Kim and I in front of the rose bushes. The grounds are beautiful. 
One of our favorite things while we are at Old Post Park is the barges that come by on the Arkansas River. They stop just up the river to go through the locks on their way up to Tulsa.

Look how long that barge is.

Almost all of the way in the lock. He actually has to split the barge in two to make it through. 
We had a blast in Russellville, but after 4 days it was time to move further south. We had two significant birthdays to celebrate in the coming days. I will write all about the party in my next entry.