M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I: Port Gibson, Lorman, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Leland

Oh the perils of post-visit posting. When one has departed a particular climate/culture zone, it's very hard to recreate the experience of the place. And Mississippi is definitely such a place.

First, there's the kudzu that covers trees, poles, solitary brick chimneys from long-ago plantations--basically anything that doesn't move--and turns these things into eerie, green monsters.

Then there's the heat. Stifling, sticky, liquid air, even at 6:30 in the morning, when we went for our walks. Thank goodness we were staying in one of the most interesting campgrounds ever: Grand Gulf Military Park. Yes, a military park. The grounds were actually a Civil War battlefield--rifle entrenchments and other earthworks were all around. Cannons, ammunition magazines, and other paraphernalia of war abounded, as did historical buildings and machinery. Here's just a small sampling. Hard to believe that a two-mile walk from the RV yields so much treasure. Highly recommend this park--they even have laundry facilities--all for the princely sum of $20.

This is just fun: a one-man submarine used during Prohibition to take bootleg liquor across the river ;-)

An antebellum Catholic church:

The cemetery at dawn:

On top of the heat and the unusual greenery (the proprietor of our favorite restaurant says that Mississippi has more shades of green than any other state, and I believe he's right), there's the fact that the "War Between the States" is so very present and so very glorified here. I wish I had taken photos of some of the battlefield signs. You'd have thought that the Confederacy had actually won from the way they were written. The South does indeed have plans to rise again, I believe, and this helps me understand how/why the state's rights issue from the 1800's is still so alive today.

Now, on to the good stuff. Food and friendly people. I don't think that there was a person in Vicksburg who didn't say, "How y'all doin'?" as we walked past. Every time.

These folks also know good food and they're happy to share it. We stopped at one Roadfood find in Jackson, MS (no photos and a mixed bag, food-wise. Terrible entrees, but great biscuits and pie: The Elite Restaurant). But the highlight truly was the Old Country Store in Lorman, MS, one of Alton Brown's Great River Road recommendations for "the best fried chicken in the country." A bold claim. And also a true one. Outstanding. The secret? Never-frozen, always fresh chicken, frequently changed oil, and, I think, lots of love. We didn't get serenaded by Mr. D, but he did put our "business" card (the cards we give out to folks we meet on the road) on the wall of fame. Check it out: Old Country Store. If you are within a 100 miles of this place--maybe traveling on I-10 to the south--you MUST detour to visit this place. Unbelievable. The building doesn't even look as if it should still be standing and Mr. D is one of a kind and the chicken....

Then we met ANOTHER character after lunch. We stopped at the Rosswood Plantation (near Lorman) for a tour. Turns out it's a working B&B and the owners give a $10 tour. Wife had gone to Jackson for the day, husband was having a nap, so the housekeeper/cook sat us down in the parlor, turned on the window A/C for us, and popped in a video that had been made about the place till the man of the house could join us. Well, in he came: 85 years old, with a cane and two artificial knees, and his 125-pound Rhodesian ridgeback Simba guarding him (and checking us out).

This fellow regaled us with stories of his life in the home as well as the original owners (he's done lots of research) and showed us artifacts (part of a cannonball that destroyed the original kitchen in 1863) and copies of the original owner's journal and receipt books from running his cotton plantation. Really fascinating. But we had thought we'd just stick our heads in for a quick tour. No such thing in the South. We got a full-on 2-hour tour. But it really was pretty interesting and it sure was one-of-a-kind. These folks had rescued this completely dilapidated place in 1975. It was so well-built that the foundation was good and everything inside was still plumb and level (the 12-foot high pocket doors glide with ease to this day), but there was basically no roof and no paint and barely any plumbing or electricity. After 220 gallons of white paint and years of upgrading the systems, it's a pretty place, but I hear the kudzu coming....

Then there's the really cute little town of Port Gibson, near our campground. If we could've found one street without low-hanging trees (we took a few branches with us in the awning!), we would've parked and walked around. Lovely, lovely Church Street was just filled with every Christian denomination plus a Jewish Temple. Here's our favorite--the Presbyterian Church's steeple points the way to heaven. (Taken from cab window.)

Here's the temple (photo borrowed from a Port Gibson web site):

We also visited Natchez for a "windshield tour" (too hot to walk around, but lovely, lovely architecture--no photos ;-(

Then we started making our way north to Memphis and visited Vicksburg way too quickly. Just a few photos from here. We clearly need to go back and visit the Vicksburg National Park for the several-hour driving tour of the major Civil War battle. We just didn't have time. Here's a cannon-eye view of the mighty Mississippi and one of the ubiquitous riverboat casinos.

And we did take a 15-minute tour of the first place to ever bottle Coca-Cola--an old 1890s soda fountain and now museum. Resisted the ice cream soda....

After Vicksburg, we had to miss some Alton Brown-recommended tamale places (yes, the Delta is famous for their Southern brand of tamales), but we didn't miss Leland, MS, birthplace of Jim Henson. We picknicked next to the river where Kermit was born and then I went to "stick my head" into the exhibit while Lisa walked Nick in the 100-degree heat. The plan was to take quick turns. Well, I forgot where I was. Over 30 minutes later I emerge to find Lisa and Nick in the A/C. I could not extricate myself from the tour that the most gracious hostess insisted on providing me. Just couldn't. But it was interesting ;-) She even insisted on taking my picture with Kermit. Time just moves at a different pace in the heat, I think.

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