As we make our way south towards some much needed sun, we take a swing at the Mississippi river and its namesake state. As the river had an important role during the Civil War, it stands to reason that there are some good historical sites here to visit!
Vicksburg National Military Park & Natchez National Historical Park
After Pea Ridge we were not expecting a lot of the Vicksburg National Military Park, but boy were we mistaken! Vicksburg was one of the major battles that decided the Civil War, and the entire battleground around the town is turned into a National Park site. A very cool 16-mile drive (Sven rode his bike) through ups and downs, scattered with cannons, signs to state which side of the war protected what and tons of memorials really tell the story of the fight at Vicksburg. On top of that there is a great movie (the boys were glued to their seats), an extra museum on the warships used on the river and a fun Junior Ranger scavenger hunt. We spent hours here and only left when the park was closing for the day.
To get to the next park, Natchez National Historical site, we took the Natchez Trace Parkway. A 444-mile route along a natural ridge that has been there for thousands of years. We drove the last 90 miles between Jackson and Natchez and boy is that a treat! As it is getting dusk, we have deer all around, and the drive itself is a straight shot of forest, not interrupted by any town, traffic light, or other human intervention. You simply sail through with your cruise control on 50mph and enjoy the scenery. Halfway is a free campsite in the woods where we spend the night.
Natchez is an historical town with multiple sites to explore. We focus our efforts on a plantation residence called Melrose, which is lovely, but unfortunately all the buildings are closed due to Covid which takes away from the charm of it. The audio tour helps to make us imagine a bit more what it must have been like and the stroll along the premises is certainly nice, but does not do it justice. Another marker is the Forks of the Road, a location where back in the day slaves were traded. We leave Natchez with some more knowledge and of course a new badge, and start on our descend towards the coastline.
Warmer weather here we come!
Driving down from the middle of the state of Mississippi, Sven takes a ride on the Longleaf Trace, a 50+ mile bikepath between Prentiss and Hattiesburg. The surroundings are great, with lots of green, hills and trees so a good exercise before stepping into the RV again. We pick him up at Hattiesburg where we do some very necessary shoe shopping for Bo… little boys grow on this journey! Next stop is the Gulf coast down in Mississippi, pushing through the town of Biloxi with its beach boulevard along a bright white stretch of sandy beach.
Of course we head to the Visitor Center of the National Park, as the Gulf Islands in front of the coast are a National Seashore protected by the National Park services. The exhibition shows all the wildlife we can find here, including a good range of alligators… hmmm :-). I guess we will keep our eyes peeled and the boys closeby as we explore this area! Our campspot of choice is a State Park (Shepard) site in the middle of a bayou, where we spend 2 nights. Our spot is right next to the swamp so the boys can practice their ‘can I outrun an alligator if I have to’-routine.
Out on the bayou!
With a day at the state park ahead of us, we figured we take out the kayak and explore all the water around us! It is a beautiful 23 degrees which is perfect for us, much better than the hot and steamy weather this area gets in summer. So we pull out the shorts, put on the swimsuits and off we go! The boat launch is at the state park we are camping in, and takes us first through the swamps (bayou) and then out to ‘the gulf’ (of Mexico that is). The water is somewhat chilly, but the weather itself is great and we paddle along the coast out to a small grassy dirt patch. On the way back we check out some of the pelicans chillin at one of the many docks of massive villas dotting the coastline before we take our round back to the boat launch. The boys are really enjoying the ride and Luc took some time to practice his paddling skills, which was good exercise for him!
In the afternoon, we chill in the campground as it has plenty of things to do. The boys take their bikes to the many trails around and for the first time in weeks we pull out the grill again to do some proper grilling. Topping that off with a fire and some smores, and we are back on track for the summer camping style!
Beach & New Orleans
Having driven by the bright white beach but not actually set foot on it, we take the morning to do just that. The boys pull out their monstertrucks and start building another much needed track, while we relax and enjoy the beautiful weather. We have come to the point where we stop moving east, but turn around facing west again, making our way back towards Houston, Texas. The plan is to fly out to Mexico from here (Cancun to be exact) and spend a few weeks in Central America before flying back to the US again. We did not want to risk getting stuck in Mexico with the RV so this is our plan B.
The afternoon is blocked for the city of New Orleans, and we dive straight into a music performance on the back lawn of the jazz museum. The music is fantastic, and there are even National Park rangers part of the band (the drummer and singer), which made it even more special. Goes to show that those National Park people can do anything – did we mention we are a fan? Anywho, we enjoy an hour-long concert and then walk into the French Quarter to explore. The historical exhibition and a stroll along Bourbon Street gives us a good flavor of the place, but true flavor is of course enjoyed through a proper serving of New Orleans beignets! Bellies full and covered in powder sugar we find our spot for the night – Faubourg Brewery, a Harvest Host.
More Louisiana Bayous
The entire south of the state of Louisiana is covered in wetlands and swamps, so-called bayous. As we make our way northbound the plan was to visit a range of National Park sites that together combine the history of this region: Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve. Unfortunately due to Covid, most of the visitor centers are closed so the only place we can properly visit is the Acadian Culture Centre in Lafayette. Fortunately it proves to be a very fun on, explaining about the Acadian history of the region, better know as the origin of CAJUN! Funnily enough, we had a very tropical and exotic idea to it, but the origin turns out to lie in very white French descendants of those who traveled to Canada centuries ago!
The road through the bayous is by far one of the worst roads we have seen in the US (and we have seen plenty of those unfortunately), even though it is planned to be a proper Interstate connector. We wonder if we can sue the state for RV damages? As suing seems to be the one thing you should do at least once in your live here according to the 100s of billboards with lawyers on them! We drive on to Alexandrie for some groceries and gas, and find a spot up north in the Kisatchie National Forest.
As the 11th of November is Veterans day and thus any National Park site is closed for the day, we spend a day chilling in the forest. It rained heavily overnight so we leave the bikes on the RV and do some homework (Luc pulled out his math book for the first time and got immediately frustrated… joy :-)), play games and read books. We hear some hunting nearby but beyond that we are in a super quiet spot. A local, new friend Ken, comes to see us late in the afternoon and points out a MTB trail to Sven he then joins him to, so Sven still gets a bit of 2-wheel time! Good that he was there, so he could share MTB etiquette in hunting season with Sven (basically you yell ‘bikers coming through’ and try to wear colorful clothes). Superkind of him to do so, another prime example of US hospitality :-).
Next week: From TEX to MEX