Sunday, June 8, 2003
I had no idea just how geographically snobbish Mississippians could be until the mother of a college friend from the Gulf Coast smugly remarked, "Sooo, you're from the hill country." Now, I grew up in Tupelo, only six hours from her family's ancestral home, but you would have thought I had just hobbled out from behind a still with a corncob pipe clenched in my teeth and a moonshine jug slung over my shoulder. But I was happy to forgive her indiscretion when I was served my first mint julep complete on her grandmother's silver with fresh mint sprigs from the garden while I watched the sun sink into the Gulf from her front-porch swing.
My lack of pre-college travel in the state, coupled with the media's homogenized view of the South led me to believe that my fellow Mississippians couldn't be all that different from us "Hill People." But that visit made me realize I didn't really know my home state at all.
Since then I've been determined to explore our great state with the same sense of discovery and excitement I used to reserve solely for trips abroad or for tourist hot spots elsewhere in the United States. I have not been disappointed with what I've found. Any free weekend or afternoon our family hits the road. We love finding the quirky, and kitschy local color that makes our great state so wonderfully diverse and fascinating. But we also gravitate to historic tourist spots or "anything old" as my 6-year-old says, like the Manship House or the Vicksburg Military Park.
Within two hours of Jackson we've climbed to the top of Emerald Mound near Natchez at sunset or listened bug-eyed to ghost stories in "haunted" mansions in Vicksburg. My husband and I have picnicked at the Casey Jones Railroad Museum in Vaughn and sipped wine under Windsor ruins near Port Gibson. My husband and his buddies go on camping and canoe trips down the Black Creek south of Hattiesburg or the Chunky near Meridian. And, of course, no central Mississippi road trip is complete without a visit to the only petrified forest in the eastern U.S. located right there in Flora and the "World's Largest Cactus Plantation" in Edwards.
You won't need your passport this summer, because we've got it all right here in the Magnolia State. We hope to share with you some fun and easy road trip ideas that give you more than a lighter wallet and a sunburn.
For a great get-back-to-nature camping or day trip, you can't beat Rocky Springs National Park. I was completely smitten the first time my husband took us to his old Boy Scout stomping ground, which has long been known as a secret getaway for many a nature-loving Jacksonian. It's just 45 minutes from Jackson down I-20 to the Natchez Trace Parkway exit west of Clinton. There are not many places where you can hike the "sunken" Trace to a 200-year-old ghost town or camp under the stars while donkeys bray in the distance on a nearby farm. (Donkey braying is preferable to coyote yipping, but either sound will get your attention at 2 a.m.)
For those who like their camping with a little civilization on the side, Rocky Springs is the spot for you. There are 22 campsites and two unassuming bathroom facilities on either side of the campground loop. Even with the odd RV and occasional biker reunion, you're still isolated enough on the Trace to feel like you're in the "middle of nowhere."
And it is a great place to take the kids. There is a crystal clear "rocky" creek to wade in. At a small wooden ampitheater, the park ranger on duty gives fun and informational talks about the Indians that lived in the area and shows off some artifacts.
If you want to keep moving, you can forgo the lecture and hit the 2.5-mile trail to Owens Creek Waterfall, which is now more of a trickle of water over a stone cliff that creates an impressive "cave" that you can actually walk under. You can also hike down the beautiful, bluff-lined Old Trace designated with a marker that reads, "Walk down the shaded trail and leave your prints in the dust, not for others to see, but for the road to remember."
An equally eerie but exciting Twilight Zone experience can be found at the now-vacant town of Rocky Springs located at the end of the Old Trace trial. Settled in 1790 but devastated by yellow fever in 1878 and the boll weevil in the 1900s, all that is left today is the 166-year-old Methodist Church that overlooks the old town site that once was a community of 2,616.
You meander along a trail that leads you past the site of the town's post office where now only a rusted-out safe lies half buried. You press the button at a display located below the bluff of the church and hear a Morgan Freeman-like voice solemnly asking something like, "Old Church that sits there on the hill, where are your people?"
You get spooked just enough to hike back to your camp for s?mores and that cooler of iced beverages you've been saving for the end of the day.
Mimi Holland-Lilly is a frequent columnist for the Jackson Free Press. She?d love to hear your road-trip and outdoor-adventure suggestions. Write [e-mail missing].
photo: Knol Aust
Mimi, you had to do it! You gave one of my favorite escapes away! :) I too love the area around Rocky Springs. Personally, my favorite time to visit is right after a heavy spring downpour. Owen's falls come alive! ...And don't believe that one waterfall is all there is. We have hiked the woods west of the falls and found at least four(4) other falls that are as peaceful and entertaining. But, to find them is no easy task and leads you up and down large, wooded hills. So, lace those hiking boots and visit after a day or two of heavy rain; you won't regret it! Click here to see some pics I took when hiking around Owen's Creek!
- Knol Aust
Knol, Thanks for the pictures of the falls, they are beautiful! I would love to get some directions to hike to those other falls, but I bet the trails may be a bit hairy for small children. I did have some reservations about telling the world about Rocky Springs but I thought It was such a shame that Jackson folks that have lived here all their lives don't even know about it. Can you imagine? Anyway, I'll be sure and take your tip and drive down after a rain. Thanks for writing. MIMI
Mimi, getting to the other falls is no easy task. The easiest way to find them is after a heavy rain because you can track them by the sound of the falling water. Most of them are NW from the main fall (the one you describe as having a cavern under the falls). If you cross the fall on the top path and continue to follow the path around to a few benches and picnic tables, you are on your way. Simply continue down the hill. You'll find another creek system near the foot of the hill. Follow the creek upstream and it will lead you to more falls. Actually, if you follow nearly any of the creek systems in that area, you'll find a series of falls. But be warned, wear some good boots and keep your bearings (especially if you aren't a forest child). The area is extremely hilly and rugged and can be thickly wooded in some parts. Also, there are many more great hiking areas on the Northern Trace near the Tennessee line. The hills are amazingly steep and the views are as breath-taking as the walk! I can feel a road trip in my future! ;)
- Knol Aust
Mim, Tell 'em about Cat Island. It's heaven on earth. cbd