3-09-2014 Crossing Mississippi: Do you remember Hattiesburg?

4AM in Natchez State Park Mississippi  50F with fog and a high predicted of 72F

If you remember what happened in Hattiesburg, you are better than I am. 

Santa Rosa Island on the morning we are leavingWe left Fort Pickens by 7:30 in spite of the spring forward time change.  Even with a stop at the dump station, we were on the road by 8, wondering at the lack of traffic in Pensacola on the interstate.  Oh.  Yes!  It is Sunday morning AND the first day of Daylight Savings Time and everyone is still sleeping.  I don’t hate the time change, it has been going on forever and is one of those things that lends a little shift to the daily routine. Still, the first week in March does seem a bit early since winter isn’t even officially over.

I have been following the weather rather diligently for all routes north and west for the last couple of weeks, hoping for a shift from freezing rain and icy roads that have plagued the South all the way to coastal Texas.  For a time there, as Nicki and Jimmy know well, there was no way west that was free of difficulty.

Pensacola morning traffic on I-10Missouri is notorious for dramatic weather shifts, and this week is no exception.  For the next day or so, the temps will be in the 70’s, and then on Tuesday night it is dropping to a high of 40F and a low in the high 20’s with snow.  Yup, I am heading for Missouri.  I studied many possible routes, many possible plans, and finally, with the historic river city of Natchez in our back yard tonight, we decided to delay an extra day and travel north toward Missouri AFTER the snow.  With a little bit of luck, Missouri will refrain from doing its Missouri thing and not snow within hours of the 70 degree prediction.

So many ways to cross Mississippi.  I read so many blogs that talk about routes and cities and things to do along the way.  Sometimes Mo asks me, “So can you decide to go somewhere you haven’t read about on a blog?”  Her question brought me up short.  Hmmmm…have I only a sense of adventure if someone has already clued me in on what is to come?  What if Lewis and Clark had felt that way.

Mobile on a Sunday morningIn response to her question, I routed us in completely unfamiliar territory directly northwest across the state of Mississippi, traveling north on I-10 only long enough to get from Pensacola through Mobile Alabama.  So very much to see and do in Mobile Bay, (as I knew from reading blogs) but this time around we only passed through.

Our destination for the day was Natchez, and with several RV parks that I found on Passport America either completely full or very far from our route, we decided to give the Natchez WalMart a try.  A phone call confirmed parking overnight was OK, and for a time we thought we were settled into evening plans.  That was before Hattiesburg.

visitor centerSituated about half way across the state, Hattiesburg has an excellent website, with an excellent writer and web designer extolling the delights of the city and its several historic districts.  Ok then…let’s explore Hattiesburg, go for some city self guided drives and check out the architecture!  I completely neglected to consider the fact that it was Sunday, and especially here in the Bible Belt of Mississippi nothing was open, including the beautiful Visitor Center.  Unlike some centers we have visited on the weekends, there were no brochures left outside for travelers and we were on our own.

Hattiesburg_062Our entry into town was a bit sketchy, with no formal plan, we simply followed the google map directions and ended up on what is called “Old 49”.  This particular part of Hattiesburg is a bit different, a bit like the south of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.  The road was rough with big potholes, the houses were overgrown and run down and the few people walking around appeared nearly destitute.  Hmmm…beautiful Hattiesburg?  Where is it?

We finally found an empty parking lot and Mo pulled over so we could try to figure out where to go.  As we were parked, a young woman in extremely tattered clothing  (I am pretty sure it wasn’t a fashion statement), came up to the rig and banged on the window, hollering “wha yodon hay yo?!”  Ok then.  I asked her to repeat herself and she did, but I can’t even spell much less understand what she was saying.  Instead I asked where the Visitor Center was and she pointed in what turned out to be the complete opposite direction of where we actually found it.

leftover from the tornado more than a year agoOther folks in that part of town seemed less than happy about some white women from Oregon in a motorhome wandering through their neighborhoods, and as we passed the local WalMart, I had some second thoughts about camping at the WalMart in Natchez.

After wandering a bit and finding the closed Visitor Center on the “other side of the tracks”, we parked the MoHo in the nice empty parking lot, reviewed the website locations for the historic areas of town, and prepared to go searching for interesting architecture and history. 

Before leaving, however, I turned on the internet and started looking up more options for possible camping areas near Natchez.  A few misses, including no COE parks for a hundred miles, but suddenly Bingo…Natchez State Park showed up not far from our planned entry to the Natchez Trace.  A quick call and an easy reservation for a spot for the night was a bit of a relief.

trying to find the historic route with a closed visitor centerWandering back toward town with a better idea of our possible destinations, we found some of the old neighborhoods and historic homes. One gem of the community is the African American Military History Museum, located downtown.  We never did find the museum, but Mo read that it was actually closed after the tornado….tornado????

It was then that we knew why the name Hattiesburg sounded familiar.  Just over a year ago, Hattiesburg was the town we all saw on the news, devastated by a category 4 hurricane on February 10, 2013. The damage was extensive, including many buildings at the University of Southern Mississippi located on the west side of town.

leftover from the tornado more than a year agoWhat we saw, however, on the east side of town was more disturbing.  Old neighborhoods, obviously poor black neighborhoods, were devastated as well, and a year later, many are still in disrepair.  The sadness and emptiness was palpable as we wandered through the area.  Feeling a bit like stalkers, we drove a couple of the streets before trying to be respectful of the tragedy there by leaving.

A bit more driving took us past some interesting old homes in several neighborhoods, but the experience would have been greatly enhanced I am sure with help from information at the visitor center.  If you want to see Hattiesburg, don’t do it on a Sunday. 

downtown HattiesburgWe left town traveling north on Highway 49 and then northwest on Highway 84 all the way to Natchez.  I am not sure I have driven such an empty highway since we were in Alaska!  The beautifully surfaced four lane divided highway was nearly completely devoid of vehicles, much less any kind of RV’s.  Choosing the route on the map, I had expected the road to be some kind of meandering back way through small towns and slow zones, but instead it was fast and beautiful.  So much better than my original plan to travel west on I-10 all the way to Baton Rouge and then north along the Mississippi River.

1-03-09-2014 Hattiesburg Mississippi1

1-03-09-2014 Hattiesburg MississippiOur gorgeous drive was getting a bit long when we exited 84 and entered Highway 61 north.  Without a map any better than the official AAA map of Mississippi, and without the iPad fired up, we had only a general idea of where to find the Natchez State Park.  The directions were clear, but instead of waiting for the state park sign to appear, we saw Natchez Trace and ended up on the Natchez Trace Parkway. 

unbelieveable wide open non traffic day crossing MississippiMind you, this is one gorgeous road, but I was completely turned around, and driving into the sun should have been a clue.  Lucky for us, the parkway exited in a few miles back in Natchez and we only lost 45 minutes or so before retracing our route and waiting for the real exit to Natchez State Park.

The city of Natchez has a colorful history, one that we want to explore, so hopefully we can get another night here at this “interesting” state park for exploring the town today and continuing on our trek north on the Natchez Trace tomorrow.  At the moment, I have no photos of this state park, but  in spite of the hilly location in a draw, the site is on a level concrete pad and there is power and water.

There are a few nice motorhomes here, but there were also a few guys working on very old vehicles, and neither one of the campers who welcomed us to the camping area had teeth. We did sleep fairly well, until I woke at 3am at least.natchez

Another day ahead, and another new place to explore, including the infamous “Natchez Under the Hill”. Hoping for some good luck as we continue our explorations without benefit of other blog writer’s stories.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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