After just over 2 months in south Alabama it was ready to start our journey back north, this year along the west side of the Mississippi River up to Minnesota. However, we still had a couple of months before really heading north as we wait for spring. We still had southern Mississippi and Louisiana to check out so we started out by heading west. Our first stop this year was a state park about halfway between Biloxi and New Orleans on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi. Since most of the trip was along I-10 it was an easy pull of about 2.5 hours. As we neared the coast south of I-10 it became very foggy, so even though the state park was right on the beach, we could barely see any water on the way in. In fact, it stayed foggy through most of the week, so we did not get to see much of the Gulf at all. Buccaneer State Park is a very nice park with water slides and wave pool during the summer. The campground is also large with over 200 RV sites, all with full hookups. They have done a great job reconstructing the park since it was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. All of the bathrooms are brand new and built 8 feet above the ground. Since I had not backed in the RV in over 2 months, I was a little concerned that I would remember how to do it, but it went smoothly and we were quickly set up in our new site for the week.
On Tuesday the weather continued to be foggy with intermittent rain all day, so we spent our first day checking out the local casino in Bay St. Louis, Hollywood Casino. While not the most impressive casino we have been to, it had plenty of slot machines in our price range to keep us busy. My low opinion of the casino comes mostly from my experience at the first slot machine I played. I broke even on the machine, which meant I had about $5 in the machine and it refused to print out my ticket. I waited at the machine for at least 15 minutes while Kal walked around looking for someone to assist me. It turns out that during the middle of the week, they only have one attendant dealing with these problems and she had a list a mile long already. So for the next half hour Kal and I traded off standing at this machine while the other went to play. Waiting nearly an hour to get assistance sure put a bad taste in my mouth, so even though we came close to breaking even for the day, I was not enjoying myself. After getting a bite to eat for lunch and going to the store, we headed back the 5 miles to our campsite.
The weather forecast for Wednesday was continued fog, but looked like it could be our best chance to get out and explore. So we headed into New Orleans to check out the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. We really should have done our homework, since it turned out this National Park is actually 6 separate sites extending from just east of New Orleans in Chalmette to nearly an hour west of New Orleans in Eunice. There was no way we were going to see all of it in the one day we had planned for New Orleans. We drove the Interstate across the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain in very dense fog and through the heavy city traffic to Chalmette. The Chalmette Battlefield is the location of the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812 against Great Britain. By visiting this battlefield we have now seen all the sites within the US from the War of 1812. This war began with the US trying to capture Montreal and parts of Canada along the Great Lakes, but were unsuccessful in 1812. The sites of these battles in Canada we did not visit, however, we have now seen all of the other sites. Last summer we visited the location of the Battle of Fort Dearborn along Lake Michigan and the previous summer was the Battles of River Raisin in Michigan, Fort Mackinac in Lake Huron and the site commemorating the victory of Admiral Perry against the British Navy at Put-In-Bay in Lake Erie during 1813. Way back before we had the RV, we visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore which was attacked from sea in 1814 following the sacking of Washington D.C. With the end of the Napoleanic War, the British were able to send more of their ships and armies to blockade American ports and invade the Gulf Coast which was still mainly controlled by Spain and the Creek Indians. At the time the Creek Indians were embroiled in Civil War which had to be dealt with before General Andrew Jackson could bring forces to oppose the British, thus was the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama which we have visited multiple times over the years. General Jackson moved on to New Orleans to protect this vital port on the Mississippi River. On January 8, 1815, General Jackson faced off against the British after the actual signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December that ended the war at Villere Plantation, 5 miles east of New Orleans. Jackson’s command consisted of 4700 men of which only 1100 were regular soldiers and sailors. The remainder of his force was made up of untrained militia from surrounding states, citizens of New Orleans, and even a small force of Jean Lafitte’s pirates. They faced a over 8,000 well-trained, battle hardened British soldiers fresh from the war against Napoleon. Over the past week the Americans had constructed earthworks along the Rodriquez Canal that was 8 feet deep and 15 feet wide and stretched from the east bank of the Mississippi River to an impenetrable cypress swamp. The Americans also had a cannon emplacement on the west bank of the river which was targeted by a British force who were to capture these cannons and turn them onto the American position as the first stage of the battle. However, the British force was seriously delayed with crossing the muddy Mississippi and captured the position only after the battle was over. The British attacked in a two prong attack, one along the bank of the river and the other along the edge of the swamp. Over the next 30 minutes both prongs approached the canal, but were unable to get over the breastworks under the withering fire from the cannons across the river and along the breastworks. The Americans were able to drive off the British winning a huge victory against superior forces. The British withdrew and soon after boarded their ships for home with the end of the war. This victory not only propelled Andrew Jackson to the Presidency, but was also celebrated every year throughout the country with parades and parties to rival the July 4th celebrations until the Civil War. Today the battlefield is not much to see, although the mostly filled in canal is still visible and they have rebuilt about half of the barricade to the river. After spending the morning touring the museum and battlefield, we ate lunch and set out for another site in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
For the afternoon we headed through the heart of New Orleans to a location south of the city known an Barataria Preserve, which is the location of Jean Lafitte’s Baratarians, the center of the smuggling operations carried out by Jean Lafitte’s pirates both before and after the war. This 24,000 acres of marsh, swamps, and bottomland hardwoods was a perfect place for Jean Lafitte to conduct his illegal operations. Today there is a nice Visitor Center and miles of hiking trails. The main attraction are 2 miles of boardwalks through the marsh beginning at the Visitor Center. Since this distance is one way, we hiked about half of the boardwalk before calling it a day. Besides the numerous cypress, tupelo, and palmetto we also saw one small alligator sunning next to the boardwalk. A pleasant hike along a very easy trail. After leaving we had to contend with the rush hour traffic getting back through New Orleans which meant it took over an hour to get north of the city. Just to mention the rest of the National Park, there is a Visitor Center in the French Quarter of the city, but since both of us have been to the French Quarter in the past for a professional conference, we decided not to try and park the truck. The other three locations of the park are related to the Acadian Culture and are well west of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. As this is another hour away from our campsite, they are too far for us to get to. We will consider trying to get to them this fall when we come back south.
Thursday proved to be another decent day, although there was rain in the forecast for both Thursday and Friday. Since it would be mostly indoors, we decided to check out the nearby NASA Stennis Space Center. The space center itself is closed to the general public, however, they have the INFINITY Space Center next to the rest stop along I-10. This is a hands-on science museum, primarily for kids, the highlights the environmental operations of NASA, NOAA, USGS, and other government agencies, as well as, NASA space program. Since we were there during the middle of the week, we had the place to ourselves and had a ball messing with all the hands-on exhibits without any kids to deal with!! You can also pay for a bus tour of the Stennis Space Center, which we did and really enjoyed. Since there was just one other old couple with us, our tour guide could tailor his presentation to those already familiar with the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. The tour started with driving past older buildings now being used by NOAA, USGS, and the US Navy for other programs before heading out to the rocket test sites. Of those of you old enough to remember the Apollo program you probably remember the Marshall Space Flight Center where the tested the huge Saturn V rockets. This was renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988. They still use the site to test all the rockets used in the Space Shuttle and future programs by NASA and other private companies such as SpaceX. We were allowed to exit the bus for a short stop to take pictures of the test sites in the distance. On the way back our tour guide talked about plans to begin the process of returning to the moon to establish a permanent manned base this year. Initially the base will be a refueling station where they convert moon ice to hydrogen and oxygen to power the rockets to return to earth. I had not realized this program was to begin this year and intend to look into.
As predicted the weather on Friday was very wet beginning with the ever present fog and finally rain in the afternoon. Therefore we spent the day in the campground. On Saturday we took advantage of the beautiful afternoon to attend an annual parade in Bay St. Louis. Every year the Budweiser Clydesdale’s are featured in the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. As a lead up to this they hold small parades along the Gulf Coast beginning in Mobile. On Saturday they were at Bay St. Louis, so we went to take a look. Before the parade started we were able to get close to the horses as they prepared for the parade and then found a place along the parade route. Outside of Clydesdales the parade was nothing more than a local marching band, some dance clubs, and some antique cars, but it was still a lot of fun. It turns out that they actually haul cases of Budweiser beer to deliver at some of the local pubs along the parade route. We did not realize this prior to the parade since it would have been neat to watch them actually deliver cases of beer from the wagon. As expected, these horses are magnificent and BIG!
Sunday was windy and cool with fog again in the morning. I decided to take advantage of the location and headed over to their Disc Golf course. It is an 18 hole course of moderate length with very few challenging fairways. Most of them are along the road and in the open with only a couple traveling through a corridor of trees. The wind off the Gulf was challenging, however, messing around with a lot of my shots. However, I had a reasonable good round of disc golf and enjoyed a couple of hours away from the RV.