Posted by: glenswatman | April 18, 2008

200804-1- April 1-15 USA Tex Al Mis



TUESDAY 1 APRIL 2008 – Heading out of Houston
we fill up on gas for the first time back in the States and the cheapest we can
find is $3.14 (£1.57) US gallon.  It’s a
drizzly but hot and humid day as we head up the interstate along with lots of
16 wheelers (articulated trucks).  Once
we turn off towards Louisiana the road gets a little quieter, the drizzle stops
and it turns into a pleasant day.  Turn
off at the western end of Ba Steinhagen Lake to reach Campers Cove.  According to Don Wrights Free Campgrounds
you can camp here for free.  There’s an
attractive area beside the lake with a few picnic shelters but the land
surrounding them is very boggy so we park right beside the road.  Our afternoon walk takes us through the gate
blocking the road and along to the campsite proper, now being upgraded and
attracting a fee so we are happy it’s not yet open.  There’s a huge problem with a non-native weed in the lake to the
extent that anyone removing a boat must clean the propellers as it is easily
transferred, in spite of that the lake is still not inviting enough for a swim.



WEDNESDAY 2 APRIL – It’s not long before we
cross into LOUISIANA, our first visit to this State.  The road is generally flat and straight and traversing the forest
it is very boggy on either side.  Cross
many “bayous” en route to Alexandria. 
Again the road signs seem poor, in fact without a map showing you a road
number and direction it would be nigh on impossible to navigate in America as
that is often all they show you.  Detour
in Pineville to Wal-Mart for a lunch stop and shop to take advantage of the
fact that the state tax here is lower than the neighbouring states.  Leaving the store we manage to get lost but
decide to re track along a new route. 
Where the 84 rejoins the 28 that we should have been on we spot at Corp
of Engineering recreation area.  It’s at
the confluence of two rivers and other than mentioning a charge for using the
boat ramps there is nothing to indicate a fee for us nor prohibiting overnight
camping.  With a truck parking area just
up the road we are happy to give it a shot. 
Other than a bit of road noise it’s a great spot and once again we have
our water view.




THURSDAY 3 APRIL – Our first interesting
sighting are a load of prisoners in black and white striped uniforms cleaning
up the roadside watched over by a gun touting sheriff.  The small town of Ferriday is famous as the
birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousins Jimmy Lee Swaggart and Mickey
Gilley.  The Delta Music Museum
chronicles their rise to fame and others who have a connection with the Delta
music region including some we have heard of – Fats Domino, Percy Sledge and
Conway Twitty.  Learn that “You are my
sunshine” was written and performed by the singing senator, Jimmie Davis (who
lived in 3 centuries 1899-2000) and is about his horse.  The nearby bridge takes us over the
Mississippi river into the state of MISSISSIPPI at Natchez.  On our left is the huge visitor centre with
a car park where you can stay overnight in a motorhome.  When we inquire about driving the Natchez
Trace we are also told of free camping places en route so yes we like
Mississippi. We spend the afternoon exploring the town and admiring numerous
impressive antebellum and Greek revival style mansions.  Stanton Hall 1857 is claimed to be the most
magnificent and palatial antebellum residence in America.  Returning via the river we are immediately
met with signs of just how high it is. 
The Island of Capri casino boat is in the process of being moved
upstream as the river has already spilled over onto the road where it is
moored.  It’s a huge operation, as it
won’t move under its own steam and has to be dragged carefully with lots of
pulleys as many things are attached to shore lines.  After an afternoon snooze Steve goes back down to check on
progress and explore the casino.  He
returns and tells me the casino is not great and that they are talking of the
ship having to be moved again as the rivers predicted peak has not been
reached.  To move the ship any further
they will have to saw off railings along the embankment.  This is the highest they have ever known the
river to be and the snowmelt from the north has still not kicked in. 



FRIDAY 4 APRIL – On the outskirts of Natchez
we check out Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.  The visitor’s centre is very basic and the site has a small
traditional granary and a couple of mounds that used to have ceremonial
buildings upon them so pretty boring. 
Pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway that runs all the way to
Nashville.  It roughly follows the old
trading routes and is not used by trucks or through traffic.  The narrow road is bordered by high trees
and with spring flowers on the verges is most attractive.  There’s almost no traffic so driving is a
real pleasure.  Any points of interest
are marked along the way and you can seem many sections of the old trace.  Emerald Mound may be the second biggest in
the States but with nothing but a flat grassy bank to see it fails to impress
us.  Detour into Port Gibson, spared by
Gen. Ulysses S Grant when he said it was “too beautiful to burn”.  Church Street is full of attractive mansions
and churches.  Back on the trace we stop
to look at the sunken trace, a really pretty spot where numerous tracks join
but rain stops us exploring further.  In
fact the heavens open up and as we head onwards we can see that a huge storm
must have passed through as debris covers the road.  We pull onto Rocky Springs camping area and are amazed to find
that not only is it full but people are doubling and tripling up on sites.  The campground host finds us a spot and
explains that these are unusual conditions; the road 10 miles ahead is closed
as trees were blown down in the storm. 
In fact last night a tornado touched down just north of here and there
is warning of another storm and possible tornado tonight.  Apparently the drill is that we have a bag
packed with torch, vital medicines and important papers.  Should we hear a noise like an express train
bearing down on us we grab the bag, run for the nearest toilet block and lie
down on the floor and try to cover our heads. 
As it happens we just get lots of heavy blustering rainstorms passing
through.  One of the biggest downsides
of this camping area is that most people run generators and they are permitted
from 6am until 10pm. 



SATURDAY 5 APRIL – ¼ to 7 the first generator
kicks off but it’s no big deal as we have had little sleep anyway due to the
heavy rain.  By the time we get up the
campsite is buzzing with motors running. 
Steve is really ready for a day off driving so although our idea of a
couple of days quiet bush camping and doing some hikes is off we will still
stay.   It remains a dry but dull day so
in the afternoon we walk up the nearby road to the site of the Rocky Springs
Township.  We walk up toward the church
and Steve says it looks like it’s a “Pasta and Pizza hut”.  I’m mystified until I see the church sign
saying “Pastor: E Piazza”.  The cemetery
behind could be quite spooky at night as all the trees have stuff dangling from
them.  Most of the tombs are from the
era when yellow fever killed off many of the villagers.  Return along the old trace track and find
one of the bridges has collapsed but Steve manages to scramble down the bank to
the remains and help me across.



SUNDAY 6 APRIL – This morning the generators
begin at 6.30am.  We find it hard to
understand why people would attempt to free camp in such a beautiful peaceful
setting only to disturb the peace.  Why
not have solar panels and in any case what do they need to use that
necessitates running their generators for such prolonged periods?  Luckily when Steve walks the campsite loop
he finds us a better spot on a site only big enough for one van and with a
greater distance to our neighbours. 
It’s higher up, much more open and by late morning hot enough for us to
sit out sunbathing.  There’s little
noise and it’s like another world to our former gloomy noisy spot.   We hear on the news that Jackson is still
under a state of emergency after the storms and schools and many other
businesses will be closed tomorrow. 
Good reason for us to hang on here for another day.  A large Monaco motorhome pulls up next to
us.  Doug & Tricia are from Alberta
and regularly buy the large luxurious motorhomes in America then take them back
and sell them in Canada often getting more than their money back.  They help out by giving us tips should we
decide to sell ours up there.  Would
love to chat longer as we have lots in common but they have just had a long
day’s drive and need to plan for another tomorrow.



MONDAY 7 APRIL – Anther glorious day once it
gets going, admittedly it was such a cold start that I had to let the heating
run through its cycle once.  Spend the
morning catching up on all those “when we are parked up” jobs and make good
progress.  Discover a hundred and one uses
for some 3M Scotch 130C linerless rubber splicing tape given to us by one of
our hosts.  It’s a black stretch sticky
tape that is great for padding things to stop them rattling and also down the
sides of the windows where the blinds clank. 
Once it cools down in the evening we walk the loop and count 36 RV’s, 33
of which are from Quebec. 



TUESDAY 8 APRIL – During our short drive to
Vicksburg we see lots of tree debris around and many trunks that have obviously
been cut to clear the road.  Our first
tourist attraction is the Vicksburg National Military Park, $8 admission
covered by our pass.  After a brief
overview film at the visitor centre we set out to tour the battlefield area
where many Union and Confederate skirmishes took place during the civil
war.  It’s an amazing 16 miles drive
with a monument every few yards, in fact more of them in this park than any
other in the States.  Each State has it’s
own enormous memorial, each troop has one plus all the famous military people
have their own often with a bust on top. 
The battlefield areas are also marked with signs indicated the position
of the troops.  We’re amazed to drop
down a hill and see a huge white cover over the USS Cairo.  This iron-clad ship was sunk in the river and
after 100 years it was salvaged and eventually brought here.  The museum holds many of the things found on
board and then you can walk onto the remains of the ship to explore, terrific.  Opposite is the main military cemetery but
it looks boring and can only be explored on foot.  Complete the circuit passing many more magnificent statues.  Outside the park we pick up the blue
Vicksburg tourist trail taking us past some interesting buildings including the
magnificent courthouse.  Down by the
river Steve begins checking out the casinos and at the far end of town The
Ameristar has sports TV’s.  He’s
delighted to watch his Liverpool match and get the free drinks whilst I sit in
the car park using the Internet. 
Retreat to the nearby Wal*Mart for the night. 



WEDNESDAY 9 APRIL – Drive back into the centre
of Vicksburg to explore the old town. 
Biedenharn Coca-Cola museum, $3, tells the history of how the drink was
first bottled here in 1894.  One of the
original soda fountains is on display and they also have commemorative bottles
from Charles and Diana’s wedding and a Harry Potter special.  A few doors along the Corner Drug Store is
displaying an amazing array of civil war artefacts as well as old-fashioned
medicines.  Down at the waterfront there
is a row of interesting murals, mainly historical on the levee wall.  There’s a gap in the wall and walking
through takes you straight to the river as it has already risen above the road.  In fact they are beginning to fill in the
gaps in anticipation of higher floodwater. 
The Childrens Park opposite also holds some interesting artwork.  China Buffet provides us with another
excellent buffet.  We can’t help but
laugh when we see a man walking round the buffet having a telephone
conversation with someone asking what they want from the buffet.  Looking around the restaurant we spot a
rather large lady sitting at the table phoning her order in to him!  It’s a short drive to Jackson, the state
capital, where we find good parking behind the art museum.  Walking around we see many impressive
buildings and explore inside the Capitol. 
Stumble upon a huge glass cabinet holding 1c coins.  It’s a “Memorial to the Missing” holding over
50 million pennies, each one representing an aborted baby.  Once again the local Wal*Mart near the lake
provides a handy overnight stop.



THURSDAY 10 APRIL – Spend a long time
deliberating on our journey plan as another huge storm and tornadoes are
heading this way from Dallas.  Knowing
how often storms change course and the weather forecast is wrong we finally
decide to carry on with our planned journey along the Natchez Trace.  Gas prices are climbing rapidly, showed the cheapest in
Jackson at $3.05 yesterday and this morning it is up to $3.19.  We travel along the spillway road around the
end of the huge Ross Barnett Reservoir and then have difficulties getting back
onto the Trace.  Our map shows the roads
meeting it but it’s actually on a bridge above us with no access.  After many failed attempts we retrace our
steps back to the main freeway to join. 
Our first stop is at Cypress Swamp a fantastic example of a submerged
forest with a 20-minute walk around. 
Steve stops for a wee and glances down to see something moving – he’s
peeing on a snake and one that is about a metre long black with yellow stripes
running down it’s body.  It’s definitely
p…..d off and makes a hasty retreat as does Steve.  Reach the Jeff Busby campground where the sites are rather
strange.  Most are sloping and others
seem like a narrow side road with space for 3 or 4 motorhomes but not room to
pass.  We spot a wide section of road
with space for one motorhome but a cyclist is already camped below.  Rick is very happy for us to park there once
he knows we don’t run a generator!  He
comes in for a hot drink and tells us he is a fellow “Couchsufer” and has been
down in New Orleans doing volunteer work. 
He has built a bike from parts of others for $25 and is now cycling home
to Wisconsin.  There are still storm
warnings for this area but the worst should by pass us. We’ve bought some roof
drainage spouts and Steve put these on in the hope that it will divert the
dripping water a bit further away from us and not disturb our sleep so
much!  It’s a very hot and humid day and
much nice out in the fresh air so we make the hike up the road to Little
Mountain, the highest point in the state at a mere 603 feet.  Return along the walking trail then I carry
on to the gas station where I am surprised to find Bill on his laptop making
use of the free wi-fi.  All evening we
watch TV and pick up the storm warnings and fee happy once our county is no
longer shown.  Others are not so luck
and some come under storm warning, flood warning and flash flood alert.  We hear a sudden crack and crash and join
Rick at the far side of our van with our torches.  A small branch of a nearby tree has just fallen and exploded on
the ground.  Although not a huge branch
it would certainly have done some damage had it landed on us but where else can
we go as the whole area is a forest? 
Settle down for the night and it’s really peaceful until the early hours
when the rain starts.



FRIDAY 11 APRIL – The storm seems to have
passed and it’s a pleasant morning. 
Rick joins us for breakfast but is heading off today hoping to put in
his daily 50 miles.  A ranger drives
through the campground announcing “tornado watch” and advises us to be on alert
until 4pm and to go to the gas station for shelter – now a gas station with
lots of underground fuel doesn’t sound the safest place to us?  A couple of lady cyclists roll up.  It’s Betsy & Cathy whom we met at Cypress
Swamp yesterday.  They want to camp in
the spot that Rick has vacated but we invite them in for a hot drink
first.  Lucky we did as the heavens open
up.  They have had a month in New
Orleans doing voluntary work and are now cycling back to New Hampshire.  They play cards so a game of “Oh Hell”
follows and by the time we finish after 2pm it has brightened up.  Make the most of the fine spell to walk
around and chat to fellow campers.  I
learn that our Quebec neighbour speaks good English and he’s just left a beach
in Mexico near Escondido with cheap camping and nudity on the beach.  Meanwhile Steve chats to Don form Nova
Scotia who is a writer.  Further round
we are stopped and invited to join Heinz and Ollie, ex Germans who now live in
Ontario.  Heinz is very funny and
entertains us with many jokes.  Their
neighbour Brenda is also there.  She
lives in Ontario but emigrated from England, is now a priest and her car number
plates are “Rev Who”.  Heinz is a very
funny man and entertains us with many jokes. In the evening we invited Cathy
and Betsy in and teach them Bush Rummy. 



SATURDAY 12 APRIL – The girls have left by the
time we get up.  It’s somewhat cooler
but at least the threat of storms seems to have passed.  I make use of the Internet in the morning.  It gets cooler as the day progresses and is
positively chilly by evening.



SUNDAY 13 APRIL – For the first time in months
we put the central heating on in the morning and the porridge comes out for
breakfast.  En route we stop to chat to
Betsy & Cathy who are finding it hard going with the cold crosswinds.  They tell us they played Bush Rummy last
night so maybe the Aussie game is going to be taking off here as well!  Continue to Tupelo where we stop at the
visitor centre to watch the film about the Natchez Trace.  We are leaving the Trace here, having only
come this far to visit Tupelo, Elvis’s birthplace.  Driving around town we can see the hardware store where he bought
his first guitar.  He went there with
his Mum Gladys to buy a bicycle but saw a gun and wanted that instead but his
Mum compromised on a guitar.  Pass the
fairground area where he played his first main concert and Johnnie’s drive in
where he used to buy cheeseburgers. 
However the centrepiece is his birthplace and museum, $7 (£3.50).  His Dad Vernon borrowed $180 to build the
two-room frame house in East Tupelo and this is where Elvis and his stillborn
brother were born.  3 years later,
whilst his Dad was in prison, the loan could not be repaid and they had to move
out.  When Elvis returned in 1957 to do
a concert at the fairgrounds he donated the proceeds to the town of Tupelo to
start a park in the East Tupelo.  They
bought 15 acres, which included the house where he was born.  After he died the site was developed further
and you can now stroll through the small museum of memorabilia donated by his
lifelong friend Janelle McComb.   You
can wander through the 2-room house and look at memorial features in the garden
including a Memorial Chapel.  Not as
impressive as Graceland but still worth the visit as Steve is a big Elvis
fan.  Wal Mart at the nearby town of
Amory becomes our overnight stop.



MONDAY 14 APRIL – We soon cross into ALABAMA
and it’s an easy journey to Tuscaloosa. 
The visitor centre is housed in the impressive “Jemison Van De Graff
Mansion”, an Italianate house from 1859 with octagonal cupola.  It was the first house in Tuscaloosa to have
a fully plumbed bathroom and even had a gas plant for illumination.  We wander a few of the rooms with antique
furniture before heading off on the walking trail.  It’s a 2-mile trail taking us past noteworthy buildings but with
the exception of a couple of nice mansions there is nothing outstanding.  It’s mid afternoon so we settle onto the
local Wal*Mart for the night.  There’s a
big shopping centre opposite and I decide to walk over and take a look.  Now it’s only across the other side of a
dual carriageway but there are no facilities for pedestrians and I get many
strange looks.  Reckon an American would
have driven over!  The shopping centre
is not popular and there is hardly anybody in it but on the plus size the
stores are preparing to close down and there are plenty of bargains to be had.



TUESDAY 15 APRIL – It’s a very pleasant drive
across the state and the rest area kindly provides a free dump station.  At Prattville we stop at the huge Bass
Leisure store in hope of buying a camping book.  The store is almost like a theme park with fishing and hunting
souvenirs adorning the walls and ceiling. 
We’ve got a host lined up and he lives in Wetumpka up a narrow street
that winds its way up and over many hills on the edge of the mountains.  At the dead end of the road we are very
lucky to get a level parking spot on the edge of the turning circle.  Ed arrives back around 10pm and comes in to
chat to us.  He’s in his 40’s but back
at school doing an English degree and his travels are limited because he has a
5-year-old son who lives with his ex but he is still keen to get inspiration
from us.



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