Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Gulf State Park: Entertainment At Its Best

The sparkle of the white sandy beaches have welcomed us back to one of our favorite "homes" ... Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Their campground has large full hook-up sites and is surrounded by bike paths that quickly lead us to their pristine beach on the Gulf of Mexico. We are once again spending the month of November enjoying biking and beach time with our RV buddies, Joanne and Gary.

The beauty of this area seems to grow more special each year. As we bike over the new pedestrian bridge, we see so many improvements to a park that was devastated in the past by hurricanes and oil spills. Yes, for us, a visit to Gulf State Park is the:


Our entertainment came in the form of:

wild gopher tortoise searches,

... and even wilder pickle ball moves.

Entertaining activities like biking, volleyball, beach walking and pickle ball were fueled by:

ice cream near the bike path,

... a "bush wacker" along the beach,

... and a "chili" dinner beside a warm fire.

New ideas were entertained:

... during walks along the beach,

... at Big Beach Brewery's
trivia night,

... and while just hanging out
with a friend.

The Best Entertainment Anyone Can Have:

... is found in the smiles of the
wonderful "beach bums" we call "friends".

Until next time ... be entertained by all the fun people around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Understanding the Past in Natchez, Mississippi

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards"
Soran Kierkagaard

As we have made our way south along the Mississippi River, we have come to realize how the history of our country has been greatly influenced by Old Man River.

I was intrigued when I heard about Natchez, a southern Mississippi town that had avoided destruction from the Civil War conflict. As a result, a stroll around Natchez today offers an extensive look into Antebellum architecture and lifestyle. Sounds like a very cool city for a "history nerd" like myself.

Because no major battles were fought in it during the Civil War, Antebellum Natchez was preserved to become a mecca for lovers of huge plantation homes and plenty of history.

Somebody is not quite as enthused as me,
hope I can find something more up his alley ...

And we did as we took a tour of the
Charboneau Distillery ... Cheers!

The history of the city of Natchez is closely tied into the history of the Natchez Trace, a trading route used by Native Americans and early settlers.

We took a day to drive a little ways up the Trace, stopping at various sights along the way. Although the Trace is supposedly a "bike friendly" roadway, we had a few close calls during our first visit here in 2015. We decided to cover more history and nature of the 444 mile Trace by car this time around.

Early traders would bring their goods from the north down river by boat, sell their items ... and also sell their wooden boat to be used for lumber. They would then walk the Trace many miles back to their home up north. I'm not thinking that Doug has the same idea.

The Emerald Mounds were formed by Indian tribes as ceremonial and spiritual gathering places. It is amazing to think about how many people were needed and how long it took to build these mystical structures using only the primitive tools of that time period.

It was lunch time as we got to the small town of Port Gibson. Trip Advisor stated that Rosie's Cafe was the #1 restaurant in town. Since there was a steady stream of locals going in and out, we decided to try it out. Doug's burger ... average. Joanne and Gary's golden chicken wings ... underwhelming and over priced. My catfish ... deliciously breaded, spiced and cooked! Lesson learned: When in the South, stick with the local delicacies.

Since we were so close, we decided to continue up to Vicksburg to drive through the National Military Park once again. Read about our first visit here. 155 years later, the scars of the Civil War are still evident in this southern town along the Mississippi River. Battles were fought and homes were burned. We read the plaques and saw the monuments in order to remember ... and hopefully understand.

We looked out over the grassy fields and through the forests of trees and tried to imagine the horror of the forty-seven day siege of Vicksburg.

The cannons have since been silenced. Roads, homes and communities have been rebuilt, and hopefully, lessons have been learned and understood.

We stopped at the ghost town of Rocky Springs on the way back down the Natchez Trace Parkway. Once a prosperous town of almost 5000 people, it disappeared by the end of the 19th century when disease, poor farming methods, and natural disasters devastated the community. Only the town church building remains today.

Behind the church, the abandoned town's cemetery revealed the effects that disease and lack of medical care had on some of the youngest members of the community. 

Back across the river in Vidalia, Louisiana, we enjoyed our mornings walking along the river trail next to our "home" at Riverview RV Park

... and driving across the river into Natchez in the afternoons to check out the allure of this historical city.

King's Tavern boasts of being the
oldest structure in town as it appears
in city records as early as 1769.

Notice any ghosts behind the bar?
Local legends swirl about unusual forms
appearing in photos taken in this building.

A monument to the
Confederate soldier stands tall
in one of the city parks.

A walk down Silver Street brings you
to the river and the oldest part of town ...
 Natchez Under-the-Hill.

The saloon and other businesses
there in the 1840's were said to be
frequented by gamblers, river pirates,
and women of ill repute, and that

their "spirits" are still felt at times. 

We, however, found more "spirited"
entertainment while listening to a jazz funk
band at Smoots Grocery Blues Lounge.

In a land where "cotton was king", Natchez became the center of economic prosperity in the Antebellum era (1783-1860). Prior to the Civil War, there were more millionaires in Natchez than in any other city in the United States.

Fortunes were made from growing and selling cotton using the cheap labor of slaves. These fortunes funded the building of extravagant mansions along the high banks overlooking the Mississippi River.

Because the citizens of Natchez were quick to surrender to Union forces in 1862, the city was spared the destruction that Vicksburg and other southern towns suffered. Thus a majority of these Antebellum mansions are still standing as a monument of past glory ... or, as we hope, as a way to understand the past in order to improve our future.

We toured the Melrose Mansion, an 1849 Greek Revival-style home that is now managed the National Parks Service. This home had only three owners before the NPS took it over in 1990. Each time it was sold, all the furnishings and artwork were passed on to the new owners. Since the original owners furnished Melrose with "all that fine taste and a full purse" could provide, it presents a view into the Antebellum way of life that is intriguing to many people. It was "way over the top" for us.

The fine china,

the gold plated chandeliers,

and the velvet covered feather beds
reflected an extravagant lifestyle.

But, we wondered ... at what cost???

At the cost of the enslaved servants
who had to respond to their master's
requests when they heard the bell ring
at any moment night or day.

At the cost of a 10-year-old slave boy
standing for hours pulling the rope attached
to the "punkah" fan to cool the family
and shoo away the flies while they enjoyed

food that he could only dream of trying.

At the cost of living in the crowded and
primitive conditions of the slave cabins,

... complete with a sixteen-stall
"common" outhouse.

This Antebellum beauty came at a price ...

... the price of lives changed by the injustices of slavery.

So, while many people visit Natchez for the chance to go back in time and relive the lavish lifestyles of the Antebellum era, 

... we couldn't help but think about the other part of the story, the story of slavery. So we went to the site of the Forks in the Road Slave Market, where enslaved Africans were sold into a life of working the cotton plantations in the Deep South. We paused to understand the "not so glorious" story of Natchez's past.

Because, we need to understand all of our past history in order to work together as a society to greet the challenges and the joys of each new day.

Until next time ... let the struggles of the past strengthen each of us ... and enjoy all the adventures in your life!