April, 2019 – Little Rock, Arkansas

We traveled northwest along the Arkansas River, through Pine Bluff, to about half way to Little Rock, to our next location along the Arkansas River at Tar Camp Corps of Engineers campground.  Since nearly all of the trip was along the four lane US65 and I-529, it was an easy and quick trip.  When we pulled into Tar Camp we were pleasantly surprised.  Nearly all of the sites back up onto a great view of the Arkansas River and we had one of these sites.  I would argue that they have the sites angled backward as we had to find get turned around before backing the RV into the site.  Of course, this also meant that we would not have to get turned around to leave next Monday, so maybe I’m wrong.  In any case, it was very easy to back the RV into the site and we quickly got set up.  The sites were especially nice since the picnic tables came with a nice cover over them, which made for a great place during the rains later in the week.  We also enjoyed watching the many barges moving up and down the river all week.

With rain forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, we took advance of the great cool weather on Tuesday and went to the explore Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park.  As the crow flies, the park is less than 15 miles from the campground, except it is on the other side of the Arkansas River.  We had to travel all the way into Little Rock before being able to cross the river and travel back to the state park.  Thus this 15 mile journey took all of an hour.  As you probably guess, the Toltec Mounds have nothing to do with the Toltec Culture in Mexico.  It was misnamed back in the late 1800s by the owners of the property and the name has stuck.  While not as impressive as many of the ancient Native American sites we have seen in our travels, a lot of this is due to past farming practices.  Of the 18 mounds that were there originally, only about 5-6 remain today.  In addition, the ten foot high earthen embankment that surrounded the complex on three sides is mostly gone to the plow.  The two largest mounds, which are abut 40 feet high, of course still remain and are still the focal point of the complex.  In terms of size, this is one of the largest in the country and certainly the largest in Arkansas.  Like all of the other complexes we have visited, this one is primarily for ceremonial and religious purposes as there is little evidence that very many people actually lived on the site.  The embankment, which is somewhat unique, is believed to mark the edge of the sacred area as opposed to any defensive use.  There were likely hundreds of small farming communities scattered all around the area that congregated at this location for ceremonies multiple times of the year.  There is also strong evidence that the mounds themselves were placed to create sight lines for astronomical events such as the summer or winter solstice, likely to time these events.  There are two hiking trails, the shorter of which is paved and travels to and around the main Mound A.  We elected to take the longer unpaved trail that cover the entire complex, as well as, the major mounds.  Both trails have numbered stops along them, with along with the brochure you get at the Visitor Center, provides a lot of good detailed information about their culture, mound building, and archeological work over the years.  It was another fascinating look into the ancient Native American culture dating from 650 to 1150 A.D.  It still amazes me that this spans 500 years as compared to our society that dates to just over 200 years!  The most interesting thing we saw, however, was not the mounds themselves.  Rather it was their Native American garden where they are attempting to identify the plants cultivated or gathered and to plant the wild natives to these plants that still exist today.  One of the seeds they are working with is similar in size to rice, but they don’t know what it is.  They call it SeedX.  Unfortunately, in early spring very few of these plants are identifiable or may not even be planted yet.  Still it was fascinating to see the wide variety of plants they grew or gathered to make up a large part of their diet.

As predicted, Wednesday was cloudy and threatened rain so I spent the day working on our reservations for the next month through Missouri.  However, it never rained that day, although it threatened most of the afternoon.  The rain finally came overnight with a vengeance.  We probably got between 3-4 inches of rain, however, Little Rock recorded over 5 inches and had quite a bit of flash flooding.  We worried about what this would do to the Arkansas River that we were so close to, however, we never detected any significant rise in the water level although the current certainly got a lot faster over the next couple of days.  I guess the COE flood control is effective!  It continued to rain off and on all day on Thursday, so we just spent another day in the campground where Kal enjoyed watching TV since we were so close to Little Rock.

Friday was our day to head into Little Rock to explore two interesting locations.  The first was Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.  This is the only site of the National Park Service that is still a functioning school.  When it was built back in the 1930s, it was the largest and most grand high school in the country and it is still a beautiful building.  However, in 1957 it became a focal point for the desegregation of the public schools.  The Supreme Court had ruled school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v Topeka Board of Education and like all public schools, especially in the south, Central High School had to integrate black students.  Their plan was to do this slowly over time, beginning with 9 black students in the fall of 1957.  Segregationists in Little Rock were not going to allow this to happen so they planned protests and violence to prevent it.  In support of this, the Governor called out the National Guard to bar entrance to these students, which lasted for about 2 weeks with the image of armed guards at the school making the national news every night.  President Eisenhower tried to defuse the situation, however, he eventually sent in the 101st Airborne Division and federalized the Arkansas National Guard, effectively taking them out of control of the Governor.  For about a month they protected the 9 African-American students, however, by the end of October, they were on their own.  The stories of their physical and emotional abuse that year are horrifying, but the problems were only starting.  Over the summer the Governor signed a series of acts challenging the federal government’s rights to interfere in the education system in the state, which is identified in the Constitution as belonging to the state.  His plan was to close the 4 public high schools in Little Rock and have them reopen as private schools, thus continuing segregation.  There was even a referendum that passed in support of the plan.  In May of 1959, 44 teachers were fired for refusing to sign a pledge in support of the plan along with most of the high school administrators.  This year is known as the lost year since all of the high schools were closed.  This set off the white citizens in Little Rock who blamed the African-American community for the closings and the year was marked with a lot of violence.  Over the summer of 1959, three of the most segregationists on the school board got replaced by more moderate members who reinstated the fired teachers and opened up the schools in the fall of 1959 with the now 8 African-American students included.  One had been expelled back in 1957 for retaliating against the abuse and had transferred to a high school in New York City.  This did not end the abuse in the high school, but was the first step in finally integrating the schools in Little Rock and marked an important chapter in our history.  Since the high school is still functioning, tours are only conducted when school is not in session and you have to have reservations far in advance.  Thus, all we could do was check out the great exhibits in the Visitor Center and take pictures of the high school from across the street.  Thus it took only about an hour to see all we were allowed to see, still it was an interesting story that I remember from my childhood attending high school when integration and cross busing was still a problem leading to riots in the 60s.

HighSchool1

Since we still had most of the day available to us we drove over to explore the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.  At first glance, it does not appear as nice as some of the other Presidential Museums we have visited since it did not have the extensive grounds associated with it.  It is a mostly glass structure overlooking the Arkansas River and downtown Little Rock.  However, once we got inside the building, I had to revise my opinion.  It is actually a beautiful building and houses a LOT of information.  There is not much to see on the first floor, except the Presidential Limousine, since it primarily a space for large functions such as the luncheon that was going on.  The second floor, however, will blow you away.  Starting with the excellent video narrated by President Clinton, there is a mock-up of the Cabinet Room and a host of exhibits.  The exhibits are all about the accomplishments of his Administration.  These range from the economy, education, environment, foreign policy, and many other subjects.  While most of the information was a review of things I already knew about, it was still amazing how many good things he accomplished.  Besides all of the regulations and bills designed to reclaim, protect, and enhance our natural environment, many of which Trump has now gotten rid of, his most noteworthy accomplishment was the economy.  He led our country from massive deficits during the lengthy recession of the 1990, to a balanced budget, and even a massive surplus.  In addition to trying to pay off some of the mounting debt, his first priority was the saving of Social Security, which I am now VERY grateful for.  Now that the Federal Government has “borrowed” most of the Social Security “excess” and the Republicans under President Trump want to privatize in order to “save” it once again, I am quite scared about its future.  I should mention the third floor of the museum, which includes a mock-up of the Oval Office and exhibits of a sample of the international gifts he received while being President.  While I enjoyed all the information about his Presidential accomplishments, where I spent over 2 hours looking at, I was disappointed there was little information about his early life, his accomplishments while Governor of Arkansas, or his numerous accomplishments since leaving office.  When we explored other Presidential Libraries I enjoyed the parts outside of their years as President as it was information I was not already familiar with.

There really was not a whole lot else we wanted to visit in the area, so we spent the weekend relaxing in the campground where I tried to get caught up on this blog.  I did manage to get all of the writing done, but as you have noticed, we did not have a good internet connection all week.  I was unable to upload the many pictures to the pages and blogs, so you were all inundated with multiple blogs a the beginning of this week.  Such is the life on the road.  Sometimes you have good internet and sometimes you have good TV reception, and sometimes you even have both.  Although there are also those times when you don’t have either, especially when we like to stay far away from large cities in isolated areas.

 

April, 2019 – Dumas, Arkansas

I really don’t like traveling with the RV in the rain, but that was what we had to do on Monday.  We waited until almost noon for it to stop raining and was able to close up the RV before it started raining again.  I don’t like closing up the slides when they are wet as this puts moisture into the RV, but we had no choice.  It rained most of the way to the north to our new location along the Arkansas River near Dumas, Pendleton Bend Park, a Corps of Engineers campground.  Thankfully, the trip itself was short, just over an hour, so we still got in before 2 pm.  It is a small campground of only about 30 sites, but they all had water and electric hookups.  I had to be careful backing the RV into the site as the ground was mushy and the paved pad was very narrow.  I could not pull the truck very far forward due to the wet ground across from the site, so it took a couple of times to get the truck back in front of the RV without putting it into the mush.  We got in with no problem and were able to get set up in a light rain.

Campsite

The rain over the weekend was finally done Monday night, so Tuesday was clear and cool.  So we decided to head across the river to the Arkansas Post National Memorial. I did not know anything about this memorial, but I suspected it was an old trading post that dated back to the 1700s on the Arkansas River.  I was partly correct, but way short of the importance of the site.  It has a rich and long history dating back to the French in 1686 when it became the first European trading post and settlement west of the Mississippi River in the lower Mississippi region.  Over the years the French traded with the Quapaw Indians who were a peaceful tribe, unlike the aggressive Chickasaw over in Mississippi.  The actual location of this trading post is thought to be about 5 miles downriver of the memorial, but as we found out the Arkansas Post was moved multiple times.  In 1749 it was moved about 25 miles upriver to a bluff that was less prone to flooding and farther away from the Chickasaw.  After the French and Indian War began with Britain, the French moved the post back downriver close to where the memorial is today to protect their interests along the Mississippi.  After the French and Indian War the entire Louisiana territory was ceded to the Spanish who took over the post building Fort Carlos, again near the present day memorial.  However, in 1779, the Spanish once again moved the fort back to the Red Bluff to get away from the flooding.  By the time it was purchased by the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it was once again back at the memorial.  By 1819 the Arkansas Post was the commercial center for the region and became politically important as the first territorial capital.  This lasted until 1821 when the territorial capital was moved to Little Rock and thus began the decline of the Arkansas Post.  In the 1830s it continues to thrive as a center for cotton production and a major river port, but by the 1840s the boom subsides and the town declines.  During the Civil War, the Confederacy builds an earthen fort, Fort Hindman, at Arkansas Post to defend the river approach to Little Rock.  In January, 1863, General McClernand brings over 30,000 soldiers upriver along with Admiral Porter’s gunboat and on January 11 force the fort to surrender.  The Union army continues south on the west side of the Mississippi River to join in the siege of Vicksburg.  Since the fort and most of the town were destroyed in the gun battle, its future was bleak and in fact it never recovered.  Along with the declining river traffic and railroads bypassing the town, it was doomed and to top it all off the Arkansas River changes course in 1912 leaving the Arkansas Post a half mile from the river.

For such a rich history, there is almost nothing left for a visitor to see.  They have a nice, small Visitor Center with an excellent video about this history and some nice exhibits displaying colonial period artifacts.  Outside the Visitor Center there are some interpretive signs, of which talks about Fort Carlos, which is believed to be downriver of the remains of the town and currently underwater.  Even though the Arkansas River no longer flows by the site, it created an ox-bow lake and the rise in the water level by the dams on the river have flooded the location of not only Fort Carlos, but also Fort Hindman, a short distance upriver.  Archeologists have located the town streets and most of the buildings in the final version of the Arkansas Post and there is a nice paved walk through what remains of the town with interpretive signs about the houses or businesses that once stood there.  Other than this, there is not much to see.  There is also a nice paved Nature Trail that goes to a point where you are suppose to be able to see the Arkansas River a half mile away and around the shores of Bayou Post.  It was a beautiful day and a very pleasant walk.

After this hike we drove up to the closest location to Fort Hindman where they have some interpretive signs about the Civil War battle.  From here stretches a line of Confederate trenches and rifle pits that the 5500 Confederate soldiers attempted to defend the fort against the 13,000 Union soldiers.  We then drove to the picnic area for lunch before stopping and taking a short trail to a point where you could still see the remnants of the Confederate trench.  Again, not really much to see after 150 years.  I really enjoyed learning about the Arkansas Post and the two short hikes were nice, but there is really very little to see at the site since it was completely abandoned after being nearly destroyed in the Civil War.

Wednesday was another nice day and since rain was back in the forecast for Thursday and Friday, we headed north to the White River National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a huge refuge covering over 160,000 acres along nearly 60 miles of the White River.  Since it’s primary purpose is the preservation of the bottomland hardwood ecosystem for migratory birds and other wildlife, you can imagine the condition of the refuge after all the heavy rains of the past couple of weeks.  As we suspected, few of the roads were open on the refuge and we restricted ourselves to just those trails at the Visitor Center near St. Charles, Arkansas.  The Visitor Center itself is very nice and worth the visit with its many exhibits about the history, culture, purpose, and wildlife habitats on the refuge.  There is also a long boardwalk behind the Visitor Center over a flowing bayou where we saw a number of gar swimming around.  The boardwalk exists onto a gravel hiking trail that circles a spit of land leading to the White River.  However, this path was underwater beginning at the end of the boardwalk and in fact, it was obvious from the debris on the boardwalk that it was recently underwater itself.  Therefore, the hike was cut short and we were forced to look for an alternative.

KalOnBoardwalk

We drove back towards AR 1 and stopped at their Upland Trail, which was about a mile loop trail through a rare upland forest at the refuge.  At least it was not likely to be flooded and in fact it was a nice walk through the woods, with only a short piece through a wetlands spanned by a boardwalk.  In fact, the entire hike was a surprise because the entire trail was paved!  This was certainly unusual for a wildlife refuge.  Since we only had a couple of short hikes, it was still early enough to head back to the RV for lunch and a quiet afternoon.

KalOnTrail

As predicted, Thursday was threatening rain all day with showers late in the afternoon, so we spent part of the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV.  Kal managed to find a nice laundry in Dumas, so it worked out well since we had not done laundry in nearly two weeks.  Friday it literally rained all day, so we spent the day at the campsite where I got started on making reservations taking us north into Missouri.  The weekend was not much better, although it did not rain all day like on Friday, so we just spent the days relaxing in the RV.

April, 2019 – Lake Village, Arkansas

Our trip north into Arkansas was short as we traveled to Lake Chicot State Park just north of the state line.  This is a nice state park on the banks of Lake Chicot which is the largest oxbow lake in North America, formed by the Mississippi River thousands of years ago.  It is also part of the Trail of Tears as this was the location the Choctaw Indians were made to cross the Mississippi to begin the long trek to Oklahoma.  We were one of the few visitors to the park the entire week, so we had a very large area with nobody else within shouting distance.  I was able to back the RV into the paved site with no problem and we got set up for the week.

We had no plans for the week, so Kal got on the internet and found there were two WWII Japanese American Internment Camps nearby, which was a surprise to both of us as we had thought these were all on the west coast.  Come to find out these two camps were the only internment camps east of Colorado and each housed about 8000 Japanese Americans.  Only about a third of this population were Issei, native born Japanese and most of them were over 50 years old.  The other two-thirds were Nisei, American born citizens of the US and most were under 20 years old.  Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and businesses following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and moved to internment camps, two of which were in Arkansas.  The main reasons for choosing this location was train access and government ownership of the land due to foreclosing on small family farms during the Depression.  The museum for both of these camps is located in the old train station in McGeehee, Arkansas since it is in between the two camps and along US 65.  Although the museum is small they have done an excellent job of creating some unique exhibits about the life in the two camps and is well worth the visit.  Living conditions in the camp were cramped with a single family housed in small rooms within a wooden barracks and tar paper roofs.  Meals, showers, and recreational facilities were communal which was the most difficult aspect of their lives.  Besides the fences and guard towers surrounding the camp, the people were able to self govern, cook, and maintain gardens.  Ironically, the living conditions within the camp were better then the economically depressed living conditions of the people outside the camp.  They at least had running water, fresh food, hospital, and schools within the camp.  While we already were familiar with the injustice of these internment camps, it was an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of the people affected.

After spending about an hour and a half in the museum we proceeded to find the Rohwer Internment Camp.  Without directions it took us a while to find as we thought it would be just outside of McGeehee.  After we finally consulted our Road Atlas and found the town of Rohwer, we quickly located the site of the Internment Camp.  Of course, the site itself is once again agricultural fields, however, they have preserved the small cemetery and you can see the smokestack of the hospital waste disposal in the distance.  There were a few deaths of the older internees, however, the main feature of the cemetery are the monuments constructed after the war.  One in particular that commemorates the contributions of Japanese American units in the European theater is in the form of a stylized tank that is striking.  There are also a series of interpretive signs looking out into the field that give information about the living conditions.  These were especially interesting since they also include a number of audio recordings of the memories of a young boy that spent nearly a year in the camp.  They were the memories of George Takai who we have known for years as Sulu on the original Star Trek series.  I am glad we found the location of the camp and could pay our respects.

The rest of the week we spent in the campground, partly there were no other state parks or historical sites within an hour, partly due to some wet weather, and mostly to work on Kal’s father income taxes.   We found out from the IRS that we were not allowed access to his income records unless Kal could prove she had a right to them as the Executor of the estate.  Since we did not want to spend the money on probating his will, this was not formalized so we were stuck with the records we could find.  Since we felt nearly certain that we had found all of them based on his bank records, we decided to proceed with filling out the federal and state tax forms since 2012.  While this did not really take all that long we managed to spend four days doing it.

The only other activity during the week was to travel into Lake Village to the local Mexican restaurant, La Tarraza.  We got there at the start of the Auburn basketball game against Virginia in the Final Four, which was the whole reason in going.  When we got there we were just about the only patrons in the restaurant, so we got to know the bartender fairly well.  We set at the bar with a TV tuned to the game right in front of us and enjoyed a nice meal while watching the game.  The game itself was GREAT and close throughout.  Virginia prided itself in its defense and slow offense which led to low scoring games and this was no different.  Unfortunately we did not hit our 3-point shots consistently enough to force Virginia out of their style, but we also kept them from running away with the game either.  It was a close game throughout with neither team building any more than about a 10 point advantage.  When we got down 10 points late in the second half, we figured the game was over.  However, Auburn came back and not only tied the score but had a two possession advantage with a minute to go!  Virginia got it down to 1 point and Auburn’s Harper missed one of his free throws giving us only a 2 point advantage.  I point this out since Harper never misses free throws at the end of a game.  There was now less than 20 seconds and we had a 2 point lead.  The referees had not called fouls all game, so Auburn had three fouls to give.  Therefore, we guarded them very close bringing the ball up and fouled them three times.  Virginia was down to a desperation 3 pointer that they missed at the buzzer, however, the refs called a ridiculous foul on the shot.   Understand they had not called much more obvious fouls all game and generally refs do not call fouls on the final shot of a game unless it is obvious.  In addition, it turns out they missed an obvious double dribble call while Virginia was trying to get the ball up the court previously. It was obvious on replay, however, neither of us caught it during the game.  In any case, Virginia made all 3 of their free throws and Auburn lost the game by 1 point.  I certainly do not blame Virginia as they played a great, fair game.  As far as I am concerned Auburn beat another number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and proved to everyone they are one of the best teams in the nation.  Think about it, they beat Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia!!  I am very proud of our team and look forward to next year.

March, 2019 – Delhi, Louisiana

Our trip back to the north was back along highways we had already traveled to Vicksburg and then west along I-20 into Louisiana.  Our destination was Poverty Point Reservoir State Park in extreme northeast Louisiana.  Due to our side trip to Birmingham the rest of Louisiana will have to wait until fall.  We pulled into the state park in early afternoon and found a very lovely state park.  I don’t know if this is indicative of the state parks in Louisiana, but we were impressed.  The park had a new feeling to it, even though within the campground there were a lot of mature trees.  In any case the park is very well maintained and one of the best we have stayed in.  There was plenty of room to back the RV into the site, which was paved, and we were quickly set up for the week.  The first thing we noticed was a sign near the campsite that warned about black bear.  We the proximity of the Mississippi River and the many wetlands and wildlife areas they have the largest population of threatened Louisiana black bear in the region.  Thankfully, we did not see any bear all week, but we took the warning seriously.

Campsite

The weather was suppose to be great for most of the week, so we got an early start on Tuesday and drove once again to Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Our goal for the day was to explore the Vicksburg National Military Park, the site of the Civil War engagement.  Over 40 years ago, Kal and I visited the park as part of our honeymoon trip to Birmingham on our way to Graduate School in Virginia.  We both have fond memories of the park and were looking forward to seeing it again.  Except for some of the huge state memorials, our memories do not do the site justice.  First, a little historical background.  Back in summer of 1862, the Union had already captured New Orleans and Baton Rouge on the Mississippi.  They also had taken Memphis and all points to the north.  This left the stronghold of Vicksburg as the last major obstacle to controlling the entire Mississippi River and cutting the Confederacy in two.  Taking Vicksburg was not going to be an easy task as it was situated on a high bluff overlooking the river and the surrounding terrain.  In addition, the Confederacy had cannon positions along the river and more than 6 miles of defensive structures surrounding the city.  At that time, the Mississippi River made a turn to the northeast before turning south along the bluffs giving the Confederate batteries a lot of time to fire upon any Union gunboats or shipping.  Generals Grant and Sherman made a couple of attempts to attack Vicksburg from Memphis without success.  He even attempted to dig a canal cutting off the bend in the river to bypass Vicksburg entirely, again without success.  It is interesting to note that about 20 years later the Mississippi did the job for him so today it bypasses most of Vicksburg.   By the winter of 1862-1863 he was frustrated and decided on a new very bold tactic.  He led his 40,000 troops through the sparsely populated wetlands of Louisiana deep into Confederate territory to cross the river south of Vicksburg.  In April, he ordered Porter to bring his gunboats and transports south running the gauntlet at Vicksburg, which he successfully pulled off losing only a single ship.  After crossing over into Mississippi, Grant began moving north through enemy territory.  He easily won small battles at Port Gibson and Raymond, which we learned about previously on the Natchez Trace.  These battles convinced Grant that he could not leave Jackson to his rear, so he headed northeast to first scatter the Confederate troops under General Johnston in Jackson before proceeding to Vicksburg.  There were again a couple of battles with the Confederates from Vicksburg at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge before they retreated within the defenses of Vicksburg.  Wanting a quick victory before they could shore up their defenses, Grant ordered a frontal attack on May 19 and an all out assault on May 22.  However, both attempts failed with heavy Union losses, so Grant decided he had no choice but a siege.  For the next 40 days they cut off all supplies into the city and kept up a barrage of cannon fire from both the river and on land.  The townspeople had to hide in makeshift caves they dug wherever they could.  On July 4, 1863 General Pemberton surrendered the city of Vicksburg and Grant had his hard won victory.  The Confederacy was cut in two and along with the victory over Lee’s army at Gettysburg, was the turning point of the Civil War.

As has become normal for us, we started at the Visitor Center where we saw a nice video about the siege along with some great exhibits and bought a copy of the driving tour CD.  Unlike a normal battlefield where you would follow the battle across the terrain, this was primarily a siege.  Therefore, the driving tour is basically along both the Union line and Confederate line that extended around the city.  Most of the stops along the tour point out the placement of cannon, the redan, redoubts, and forts of the Confederate defense, and the zig-zag trenches the Union dug to approach these defensive positions.  You will also see monuments of all sizes from small monuments showing specific troop positions to huge, ornate state monuments everywhere you look.  The highlight of the day, however, had nothing to do with the siege itself.  At the location of the Vicksburg National Cemetery is the remains of the USS Cairo.  This was one of the city-class gunboats of the Union that was sunk on the Yazoo River in December of 1862.  It was sunk using electronically detonated torpedo or mine and surprisingly nobody was injured.  Over the years it was covered up with mud and silt at the bottom of the Yazoo River, until it was discovered in 1956.  Since it was almost completely covered, it survived virtually intact with all the artifacts protected as well.  In 1965 they finally were able to lift the gunboat in three pieces and begin the recovery effort.  In 1980 this was finally completed and the museum was opened and it is amazing.  They have restored the entire skeleton of the gunboat for display outside the museum, along with restored sections of the iron clad hull to give you a sense of what it would have looked like.  You get to walk through the boat seeing all the interior spaces with many interpretive signs.  Inside the museum are a small portion of the artifacts recovered form the boat and they are also amazing.  Obviously, this was not there when we visited 40 years ago and we were literally blown away!!

After our GPS took us to two Pizza Huts in Vicksburg that were closed, we finally found one that was still open.  We had a good dinner and headed back to the campgrounds.  On the way we stopped at the first exit in Louisiana to check out a small remnant of Grant’s Canal.  Over the winter of 1862-1863 Grant attempted to bypass Vicksburg by creating a canal across the narrow strip of land where the Mississippi turns northeast before turning south to pass under Vicksburg.  He saw the effort as much to keep the soldiers busy as any real chance of success and of course the Confederacy wasn’t going to just let him do it.  They placed cannon across the river from where the canal would exit, which turned out to be unnecessary since the river rose suddenly destroying the dam and flooding the canal before it was completed.

Wednesday was another fine day, so we headed a bit to the north to Poverty Point State Historic Site.  This site is also a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This site has earned this designation because of its unique nature.  It dates back to the Late Archaic Period around 1700 to 1100 BC which is a thousand years before the mound builders of the Mississppian Culture.  It has long been believed that the hunter-gatherer Indian cultures of this time period did not build permanent structures or lived in large villages.  However, this site runs counter to this belief as it consists of some amazing structures.  The first thing you notice is Mound A which is over 70 feet tall and 705 X 660 feet at the base.  It is a T-shaped mound which could be in the shaped of a bird without a head.  There are also lesser mounds to both the north and south of this main mound.  While these mounds are impressive, the real outstanding feature are the six C-shaped ridges that circle from what was the bank of the Arkansas River at the time, back around to a present day bayou.  Today these ridges are from 0.3 to 6 feet in height with a gulley running between them.  Obviously they were significantly taller originally but erosion and 150 years of agriculture have reduced their size.  From the ground they can be difficult to make out and our photos cannot do them justice, however, from the air they are obvious.  To explore the area we decided to take the 2.5 mile hiking trail that circles all around the area with numbered stops and a brochure giving more detailed information.  From archeological evidence and artifacts the ridges were lived on with different areas of the ridges for different functions in the community.  Although there is a large plaza in front of the ridges that was also leveled, I would argue these ridges served a more practical purpose then the ceremonial aspect everyone talks about.  In my opinion, they are nothing more than flood control.  I suspect heavy rains would cause minor flooding, for which they built small platforms for their homes.  Over time this became more organized since these gulleys between the ridges would serve as drains, thus the homes on the ridges would be more stable.  In any case, we enjoyed the hike during a warm spring day.

Thursday was likely to be our last clear day with rain forecasted for the weekend, so we headed out again to explore the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.  We were interested in visiting this refuge as it is the largest protected bottomland hardwood habitat in the Mississippi Delta region.  I expected to see a lot of old-growth bottomland hardwood forests, however, I was to be disappointed.  The Visitor Center only had a few exhibits of native animals and a quarter mile boardwalk.  The boardwalk went over a cypress swamp and a slough ending at an observation tower over some cleared land.  Of course, we were there at the wrong time of day to see anything from the observation tower.  There is also a 7 mile driving loop that you would think would lead to some old-growth hardwoods, however, it simple looped through the open area we could see from the tower.  All we saw on the drive was a herd of feral hogs crossing the road.

KalOnBoardwalk

At the end of the drive we decided to try out another trail to an ox-bow lake that was likely to be too wet from all the recent rains.  However, a side trail took as to a wildlife blind overlooking the edge of the lake that made the entire trip worthwhile.  As we approached the blind we could see a number of white egrets in the trees and come to find out it was a rookery.  There were at least 50 egrets in this one location sitting on nests in the trees.  Upon closer examination we saw some of them actually had chicks already.  We spent nearly an hour watching them and taking as many pictures as possible until Kal’s batteries died on her camera. The pictures I could take with my camera are simply not good enough.  While we understand these rookeries are not that rare, it was the first active rookery we have ever seen.

EgretRookery

As predicted, Friday looked like rain all day so we spent some of the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV.  In the evening it was time to see if Auburn could continue in the NCAA tournament.  After beating Kansas, Auburn was next facing number 1 seed, North Carolina.  Like Auburn, North Carolina was a fast paced team that liked to disrupt their opponent with stifling defense and multiple steals.  Although the experts thought Auburn was nuts thinking they would play the same game against North Carolina, that is exactly what we set out to do.  In the first half, we did not hit our 3-point shots, however, we managed to stay with them and even had a small lead at half time.  In the second half, it got a lot better for both our offense and defense and we ended up beating one of the best teams in the nation by 17 points.  They only bad thing is that Okeke, the Auburn star of this game, hurt his knee at the end of the game and was out for the season.  Unfortunately, Kentucky also won their game, so they would be next.

By Saturday, it was raining again, so we decided to drive to Vicksburg to another casino before spending the evening watching basketball.  We went to the Lucky Lady Casino, which is another moderately sized casino along the banks of the Mississippi River.  While it was small, we found a number of slot machines that we have not seen for a long time, so we had a good time for the next couple of hours.  After a quick lunch we headed back to the campgrounds for an evening of basketball.

Our only plans for Sunday was to beat Kentucky for the first time this year.  They had already beaten us twice this year and we did not face them in the SEC tournament as they had already lost to Tennessee.  They have been the dominant team in the conference the entire time I was at Auburn and every year I wanted nothing more than to beat them.  Now we were going to face them in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.  I expected a real battle if we were going to have a chance to beat them, especially without Okeke’s presence on rebounding.  It was a real battle the entire game with the tension building.  Neither team was able to hit their 3-pointers, so it was a defensive battle that we managed to hold our own.  At the very end of the game Kentucky hit a difficult shot sending the game into overtime.  By this point I was not able to sit down and Kal was pacing around the island in the RV!!  We were both scared about overtime as Kentucky had just come back and had the momentum.  However, the overtime was all Auburn and we easily put Kentucky away!!  AUBURN was in the FINAL FOUR for the first time in their history!!!!!!!!!!!   This was after beating three of the top premier programs in the nation.  What a celebration there was at Toomer’s Corner that night.  If we don’t win another game, Auburn has already made our dreams as long time basketball fans a reality.

 

March, 2019 – Natchez, Mississippi

After the last two trips of over 4 hours, it was nice to be back on schedule with a trip of only a couple of hours.  In order to explore the rest of the Natchez Trace we had to travel southwest to Natchez, Mississippi which was the beginning of the Trace.  To get there we had a choice of either heading over to Vicksburg and then south along 4-lane US 61 or we could travel most of the way along the Natchez Trace Parkway itself.  We decided to travel on the Parkway, which is a great way to travel.  Sure, the speed limit is only 50 mph and it is a two lane road, however, there is very little traffic with no stops and I prefer looking at woods and fields than homes, businesses, and towns.  So we drove south on the Parkway along the same route we had traveled just a few days before.  Once we intersected US 61 we left the Parkway and drove on south to Natchez State Park which is less than 10 miles north of Natchez.  The road into the park is very rough and we were worried there would be no place to turn around if we needed to, especially when there was no entrance booth and the sign for the campground was different than the direction to the office.  We followed the sign for the campground another half mile before we saw some RVs and began to feel better.  We found our reserved site and it had a card on the post with our name on it.  It was easy enough to back the RV into the site which had a nice concrete pad.  It was a full hookup site, however, the sewer hookup was at the extreme back which meant I would have to use the extension on the sewer hose in order to reach it.  Since the extension is a chore to install, we decided to wait until we left and could back up the RV enough to reach.  We could not do this before, since in doing so stuck the back end of the RV into the road leading out of the campground area.  This is obviously an older state park in need of some care, but everything worked well enough and we were set for the week.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was perfect, so we headed back to where we left the Natchez Trace Parkway to explore the final 40 miles.  Along the way we took advantage of a short hike through the hardwood-pine forest that was in the process of changing from a loblolly pine to hardwood forest with interpretive signs showing examples of this change, which needed to be updated as the pine trees had already died from southern pine beetle.  Another stop was an excellent example of the loess soils which are wind blown silt that was deposited following the ice age.  It is highly erodable which has created some deep ravines due to poor farming practices when the entire area was growing cotton.  There was even a restored historic stand that would have been great to visit if they were not working on the road at the entrance making it impossible to visit.  The highlight, however, was Emerald Mound.  If you are interested in seeing prime examples of the mounds constructed by the Mississippian culture, this needs to be on your list.  This is an 8 acre ceremonial mound with two of the eight mounds on top of the level mound still there.  The mound was built between 1200 and 1650 and is a very large mound.  In fact, it is the second largest mound in existence after the mound at Cahokia.  The last stop was also interesting as it was the location of the Elizabeth Female Academy founded in 1818.  It was the first school for women in the state of Mississippi and was, at the time, located at the first capital of Mississippi in Washington, just 6 miles from Natchez.  It only took a couple of hours to explore the rest of the Natchez Trace Parkway leaving plenty of time to go to Walmart and return to the RV for lunch and the afternoon.

Wednesday was another beautiful day, so we headed into Natchez to explore the Natchez National Historical Park.  Natchez has a very rich history beginning with thousands of years of occupation by Native Americans ending with the Natchez Indians.  The French built Fort Rosalie in 1716 to protect their trading post and this fort was an important site along the Mississippi River and used by the French, British, and Spanish over the next 80 years as Natchez changed hands.  Today the site is one of the three units of the National Historical Park, although there is literally nothing left except for the entrance ramp as the rest is now part of the river.  By the late 1700s, Natchez was a major shipping port on the river and the beginning of the Natchez Trace where farmers from Ohio and Kentucky would float their goods on rafts to either Natchez or New Orleans and then hike back home.  By the early 1800s, the Natchez District was the center of the cotton boom that became the economic engine that created more millionaires than any other city in the United States at the time.  Prior to the Civil War, these cotton plantations were dependent upon the use of slave labor, mostly being bought and moved from the Upper South.  These millionaires built many large mansions, both at their plantations and within and around Natchez.  One of these is the main location of the National Historical Park, Melrose.  John McMurran was a very successful lawyer in Natchez in the mid-1820s.  He married Mary Turner, the daughter of an old southern family, and began his climb up in the Southern aristocracy.  Since Natchez was just a 15 minute buggy ride away, they decided that Melrose would be their home to raise their family, using other family homes for entertaining.  This made Melrose different than the more common plantation mansion as there was no large areas dedicated to entertaining on the ground floor.  This Greek-Revival style mansion was considered at the time to be one of the finest in Natchez and sits in the center of an 80 acre manicured area.  The other amazing thing about Melrose is that most of the furnishings are original, even though it was sold in 1865 to George Davis and again to John Callon in 1976.  Both of these subsequent owners bought the home fully furnished and were more concerned with preservation than remodeling.  In the case of Davis, this was because they lived in New York for the next 40 years leaving it to caretakers to maintain the property.  For Callon, he was interested in renting the bedrooms as a Bed and Breakfast and to be used as a retreat by the Callon Petroleum Company.  This also extended to all the outbuildings which included a kitchen, dairy, barn, stable, and slave quarters.  Thus when the National Park purchased the property in 1990 it came with most of the original furnishings and outbuildings intact.  The final unit of the National Historical Park is in downtown Natchez at the home of William Johnson.  This modest home gives a good comparison with the extravagance at Melrose, as it was the home of a successful freed slave prior to the Civil War.  Johnson owned three barbershops in town and was well regarded by the white citizens.  The amazing part of his story is that he maintained a daily diary of his life which gives just about our only insight into the life of a freed slave prior to the Civil War.  A truly fascinating story.

Thursday was the start of March Madness and Auburn was one of the two first games on Thursday facing New Mexico State.  Since this game was not being shown on CBS, we had to find another location to watch the game.  We asked our tour guide from the day before for local restaurants with TV sets that would be showing the game, since there was not an Applebees or Buffalo Wild Wings in town.  She recommended a couple of locations and we choose to go to Hot Mama’s Tamales on Canal Street.  It was an excellent choice as we ran into 4 other Auburn fans who were visiting Natchez as part of a bus tour.  We had a great lunch of the best tamales I have ever had and watched Auburn try to lose to New Mexico State in the final seconds.  They had a solid 15 point lead in the middle of the second half and then went cold allowing NM State to catch up.  NM State had two good chances to beat Auburn in the final seconds, missing both attempts, so Auburn escaped to the next round.  After lunch we went back to the campsite to watch more basketball the rest of the afternoon.

Friday morning we decided to drive back into Natchez to the Magnolia Bluffs Casino on the Mississippi River.  In fact, they were having to pump water off the road leading down off the bluff and half of the first floor of the parking garage was underwater as the Mississippi River was in minor flood stage.  We enjoyed the morning playing slots in the casino and came close to breaking even.  We hurried back to the RV for the afternoon to do what we could to root for the SEC in the NCAA tournament.

KalAtCasino

Saturday was another day full of basketball ending with Auburn playing Kansas for the last game of the day.  Since it was not going to be over until after 11:00, we decided to try and stream the game on Kal’s Ipad.  We had a strong signal and were able to watch the entire game with few interruptions with Kal scolding the reception.  After the close call with New Mexico State we only hoped Auburn would stay with Kansas and somehow make it to the Sweet 16 of the tournament.  Granted this was not the best Kansas team who limped their way into the tournament with a 4 seed against our 5 seed.  Auburn came out hot hitting their first two 3 pointers and proceeded to have a perfect first half outscoring Kansas by 2-1 and had more than a 20 point lead at halftime.  During the second half they easily answered any scoring Kansas could generate with our great defense and we won the game easily.  We made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985 and out next opponent would be number 1 seed, North Carolina.  It was fun watching the joy on Charles Barkley’s face as his Auburn Tigers got to play both Kansas and North Carolina in the same tournament.

Sunday was spent once again watching what games we could on CBS and enjoying the sense that we finally made the Sweet 16 over the expectations of all the sport pundits!!