March, 2019 – Jackson, Mississippi

The trip from Birmingham to Jackson was another long pull for us being over 4 hours in length.  However, the entire trip was along Interstate 20 so there were plenty of rest areas to break up the trip.  We pulled into Springridge Mobile Home Estate and RV Park in the middle of the afternoon to a surprise as we were followed by two police cars.  Once it was obvious they were not looking for us, as they immediately went into the office, we decided to stay out of the way until they were finished.  It turned out there was an erroneous call to 911 from a long term resident who saw things when he was not on his meds.  This is one of the reasons we prefer to stay in state parks and federal campgrounds where all the campers are not living there.  This was our first time staying in a mobile home park so near a large city like Jackson, Mississippi and I will avoid it in the future.  The RV part of the estates was nice, if you like staying in an asphalt parking lot.  At least they had bushes in planters between the sites, but even then each site was barely wide enough for the RV.  At least it was a pull-through site with full hookups that was reasonably level.  The bathrooms were nice and clean, once you got into them.  There was a keypad requiring a three step process to unlock the door.  First you had to “wake-up” the keypad by completely covering the device.  Then you had to hit the randomly lit numbers to wake up the entire keypad.  Only then could you enter the 4 digit code and the unlock button to get into the bathroom!!  There are instructions posted outside the door, but frankly they did not make any sense until you got lucky and figured out the sequence the first time.  I was ready to give up the first time before I got lucky and it was not until the next time that I finally figured out the sequence of events!!  In any case, we choose the location due to its proximity to the Natchez Trace Parkway that was our focus for the week.  It was also very close to stores and restaurants which was a plus, although the proximity of I-20 was a constant roar outside the RV.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was nice and cool so we headed north to pick up where we left off from the Natchez Trace Parkway two years ago.  Back two years ago we had traveled the northern half of the parkway from south of Tupelo to the terminus in Nashville.  We traveled north from Jackson to where we left off about 70 miles which is halfway to Tupelo.  As we discovered two years ago, the parkway is a GREAT way to see the state and every state should have one.  It is a limited access highway with no commercial vehicles (large trucks) and literally no traffic.  Since it is limited access there are no billboards, businesses, or houses along the road.  It is just you and nature.  You travel along looking at the woods with stops every few miles for a short walk or reading a sign about the history along the trace.  It is a great way to spend a beautiful winter day and we were looking forward to it after the busy two weeks in Birmingham.  We started out walking a short trail that wound up from Hurricane Creek into the upland pine forest with interpretive signs about the changing habitats.  From there it was a leisurely trip back south to Jackson.  There were other short walks through the woods and long the edge of a cypress/tupelo swamp and a very nice overlook of the reservoir on the Pearl River.  Many of the stops were just a single sign about a stand along the trace that served as inns and taverns for travelers back in the very early 1800s.  We also learned about the Choctaw Indians that lived there at the time and saw the oldest Indian mound in the region.  While they parkway does not exactly follow the old Natchez Trace as it winds around, there were a couple of stops where you could see evidence of the old trace, especially when it created a sunken road that is still there today.

The weather on Wednesday was supposed to be rain, although it did not happen until after dark.  Believing it was going to be bad weather, we decided to postpone our exploration of the Natchez Trace and headed west to a casino on the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Riverwalk Casino.  As this was about halfway between Auburn and College Station in Texas when William was in college, we had stopped multiple times to take a break in the trip at one of the casinos.  Therefore, we opted this time to visit one further from the Interstate that we had not visited before.  Riverwalk is a smaller casino then Ameristar and the other casinos in Vicksburg, but still offered all we were looking for.  After over 2 hours of playing, I managed to score some big pay offs before Kal lost her money, so we came out just a few dollars short of where we started.

On Thursday it did storm, so we stayed close to the RV.  This was also the second day of SEC Basketball tournament, which was Auburn’s first game against Missouri.  Especially since we were only 5 minutes from an Applebee’s we headed over there to watch the game.  Auburn played very well and won so we planned on repeating the experience on Friday.

Friday was cooler then I like, however, the weather was clear so we started off the day by continuing our exploration of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This time we traveled south along the Trace to a point about halfway to Natchez before turning around and hitting all the stops on our way north.  Our first stop of the day was therefore at the best example of the sunken trace along the parkway.  A short trail takes you down into the trace which you can then walk up with walls soaring over 20 feet above you.   It was an amazing experience.  The next stop was the Grindstone Ford where the trace crossed the Bayou Pierre.  The Bayou Pierre is a massive wetlands of interlacing streams and swamps that marked the “end of civilization” for the Kentuks traveling north after selling their goods and raft at Natchez.  The path is along a slightly sunken trace to the area of the ford, which is no longer identifiable, if it ever really was.  The trail simply degenerates into the wetlands.  Also at this location is another Indian Mound, Mangum Mound, that dates back to the Mississippian culture.  For lunch we ate at the location of the lost town of Rocky Springs that grew into a thriving farming town due to the trace and the presence of the spring.  The lowering water table has dried up the spring and the town had also disappeared.  It lasted until after the Civil War, which devastated this region in 1863 with the Vicksburg Campaign that was followed by a yellow fever outbreak and the devastation caused by the boll weevil on the cotton crops.  It was difficult to figure out where the buildings of the town original were due to the severe erosion in the area from poor farming practices.  Along with the usual stops for old stands and shifting boundaries of the Choctaw Nation as it shrunk over time, the other notable stop was the Battle of Raymond, which occurred in April of 1863 as part of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.  After attempting to capture Vicksburg from the north and east, Grant changed his strategy to travel south through Louisiana, crossing the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg and swing back to the northeast.  Raymond was the last of a series of small battles against the Confederates as he moved northeast through Mississippi, paralleling much of the old trace.  Raymond was the closest battle to the trace and following this victory, Grant decided he need to remove the Confederate threat in Jackson before continuing to Vicksburg.  We will certainly find out much more when we visit the Vicksburg National Military Park later.

Since we only explored 45 miles of the parkway, we were done in plenty of time to catch the next Auburn game at Applebees against South Carolina.  Once again we played very well and won the game, so it looks like there will be another trip to Applebees for the next game on Saturday.

Originally our plans were to visit Vicksburg on Saturday, however, we decided to postpone this trip for a couple of weeks so we could catch the next basketball game.  Instead we did laundry and cleaned the RV before heading to Applebees to watch Auburn take on Florida, who had upset LSU on Friday.  This upset must have taken a lot out of Florida, as we easily beat them to put us into the finals.  Tennessee also upset Kentucky on Saturday, so we would meet them in the finals.

Sunday was all about basketball as Auburn had reached the SEC finals for the first time in a very long time.  Our opponent was Tennessee, who we had just beaten in the last game of the regular season on senior night in Auburn.  Tennessee had also just beaten Kentucky, so we hoped they would be as worn out as I know Auburn was after three games in three days.  For the fourth day in a row we found our favorite seats at the bar in Applebees and enjoyed another VERY good game.  Auburn beat Tennessee and won the SEC tournament!!  We went back to the RV to catch the NCAA bracket show to see if it made any difference in Auburn’s seeding.  Before the SEC tournament, Auburn was expected to get a 5 seed and that is exactly what they got.  Their first game would be against New Mexico State early in the afternoon on Thursday.  I sure hope there is an Applebee’s close to where we will be staying near Natchez next week.

 

March, 2019 – Birmingham, Alabama

It was certainly not our plan to return to Birmingham on our way to Minnesota for the summer, however, with the passing of Kal’s father our plans were quickly changed.  We pulled the RV east from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Birmingham to assist with all the details of settling the estate.  The trip itself was uneventful since it was all along I-59, although long being nearly 4 hours in length.  We pulled into an old KOA campground south of Birmingham in Pelham, Birmingham South RV Park.  This location was extremely convenient as it was less than 10 mile south of I-459 and about 20 minutes from Kal’s parents house when the traffic was not slowed to a crawl.

Campsite

It was a good idea to have two weeks as it took nearly that long to deal with all the details of the estate.  Except for the funeral on Saturday and taking Sunday off, we were busy every day.  Kal’s brother, Phil, had already dealt with the funeral home to arrange for her father’s cremation, so we picked it up from there.  Over the next two weeks we found and met with a lawyer, found and met with a CPA about the back taxes, obtained the death certificates and got them sent to the the VA and State Farm for the life insurance policies, planned the funeral, and went through all the documents collected over the years.  We were able to determine that her father had not filled income taxes since 2011 do a good bit of my time was spent in going through bank records to recreate his federal and state income tax burden since then.  We have requested all the income documents from the federal government to make sure there are no surprises and are still waiting for those to come in to finish his taxes.  Other then that we left after two weeks with just a few details for Phil to complete.  All in all it was a very busy two weeks that would have taken months to take care of if we had not been able to devote full time to it.

The funeral was on Saturday, which meant we had family visiting from all over.  Jenny drove up from Florida, William flew to Asheville and came along with Nikki and Chris.  We all met at the house Friday afternoon and all the grandchildren were able to spend the evening together at the local bowling alley.  They had a great time now that they are all old enough to go without parental oversight.  This also gave time for the parents to visit and remember their missing mom and dad.  We met Nikki, Chris, William, and Jared for breakfast before coming back to the RV to get ready for the funeral on Saturday.  The funeral was a small affair with immediate family and friends and was very nice.  We sang hymns, heard some good stories, and heart felt words from the grandchildren.  After the ceremony, we retired back to the house for an afternoon of food and socializing one more time as a family.  Most of my memories of Kal’s parents center around these family gatherings for holidays throughout the years and it was great to have the experience one more time in Birmingham.  You may note that there was not a burial ceremony since this will occur later in Liberal, Kansas.  Plans are to gather again in early June in Kansas, so our plans are to be in Kansas City so we can assist getting Kal’s aunt and uncle to Liberal for the burial.

February, 2019 – Hattiesburg, Mississippi

We traveled north from the Gulf Coast to another Mississippi State Park, just south of Hattiesburg: Paul B. Johnson State Park.  The weather on Monday was wet most of the trip, although the rain held off until we were packed up and it had mostly ended before we stopped at our new location.  However, this meant the ground was soggy and we had to be careful in backing up the RV.  Our first problem came when we arrived and could not figure out how to check in.  Unlike most state parks there was no entrance booth, so we followed the signs for the campground around to the other side of Gieger Lake.  As we passed the park headquarters with RVs visible ahead, we decided we had better stop and ask at the offices.  It was a good we did, as this was the how you checked in.  It would be nice if they put up a sign for first timers in the park!  We had to stop on the road as Kal was not going to pull into their parking lot which would have required backing out.  In any case, we got checked in and found our site with no problem.  However, then we had a problem.  All of the sites are very narrow and with the recent rain it did not look to be a good idea to be off the asphalt.  Unlike most of the sites, our site was not angled to make it easy to back into and there was a large pine tree forcing me to come in at right angles.  In addition, there was a pole and ditch on the other side of the road limiting my ability to get the truck back around in front of the RV.  Initially I made the turn into the site in good shape but was unable to get the truck swung around enough to keep the RV wheels on the asphalt.  After trying four times to move the RV over about a foot without enough room to pull forward far enough, I was ready to give up.  Kal convinced me to pull completely out of the site and start over.  This time I did a better job in following the asphalt into the site and put it right on the mark the first time.  By now it had stopped raining and we were able to get set up for the week.

Campsite

We did not have any plans for the week except for a hike and possibly a round of disc golf in the park.  It was a good thing we had nothing planned as they would have been discarded.  On Wednesday, Kal’s dad fell and hit his head necessitating an ambulance to the hospital.  As far as we know he never regained consciousness, as he also had a stroke.  We don’t know which came first and he passed away on Friday.  All week we waited to see if we need to travel to Birmingham which was only a 3.5 hour drive.  I extended our stay at Paul Johnson State Park for another week, delaying our trip west, as we waited to find out when we would need to travel to Birmingham.  Kal and her brothers worked with the funeral home and began planning a funeral for the following Saturday.  Unfortunately, Kal’s brother in Birmingham was overloaded with everything and they decided to delay the funeral a week so we could move to Birmingham for two weeks to take the pressure off.  Except for numerous phone calls we stayed around the campground and did little else until we headed to Birmingham.

On Thursday of the second week, we did decide to get away for a day and drove south to Gulfport to Island View Casino.  We were not terribly impressed with the casino, especially since the very first slot machine I played refused to print out a ticket.  After waiting patiently for over 15 minutes for someone to come by, Kal went out in search of someone to help.  She did find someone only to find out she had a list a mile long of machines with problems and would get to us when she could.  This took nearly another hour before it was our turn, all the while one of us having to stay by the slot machine.  Thankfully, we were there together, so someone could go play a bit while the other stayed at the machine.  This experience kind of soured our experience even though we came close to breaking even for the day.  After a quick late lunch at a local Pizza Hut, we headed back to the campground for the rest of the week.