Bayous, biker bars and battlefields. Welcome to the Deep South
As we set off from Pensacola heading west along the gulf coast, Alabama passed in a flash. It seemed a mere notion for no sooner had we been welcomed, we were bid to “come on back y’all” and since they asked so nicely, I’m sure we will.
Our first stop was the home and presidential library of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi. Like many of the early American leaders he was a polarizing man who rose to the presidency of the Confederacy. Whether or not he deserved his appointment is a subject of debate amongst historians. The fact that he claimed ownership of over 100 slaves made me go right off the chap ……………. Back at the camper I roused Finley from his afternoon siesta and we took a pleasant walk around the grounds.
We moved on to our stop for the night in the rear parking lot of the Fort Bayou Brewing Company. I know, I know, it’s first class all the way with this crew. In actual fact it was an excellent stopover. There was a large field next door for Finley to run around and chase his Frisbee after which I undertook the serious business of tasting all the local beers. I took to my task diligently and after a pleasant meal and entirely too many beers, I tottered back to the camper and an easy slumber with dreams of Sunday afternoon cricket on the village green with a pint of ale, ah those were the days.
The next day we went across the border to Slidell, LA and were just in time to witness one of the Slidell Mardi Gras parades. I learned that this is a very serious business and the Krewes, yes that’s how they spell it, practice long and hard and compete against each other for status. Anyway as you can imagine there was a lot of noise from the brass bands and the inebriated revelers. We were thrown lots of beads which I wore but Finley shunned. We stayed just long enough to get a feel for it before heading to a dog park and the ubiquitous frisbee chase.
As if the parade was not bizarre enough the night’s accommodation was at the largest biker bar in Louisiana called High Octane which describes Finley perfectly so I had him pose in front for an Instagram pic. Later I ventured into the bar but it was not really my scene though I did receive instruction on how to properly eat crawfish. There are nuggets to be found every where.
After two nights of revelry it was time for a little culture so we headed north and back into Mississippi to the historic town of Natchez on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. Thanks to the cotton boom, at one point there were more millionaires in Natchez than anywhere else in America. They built grand Antebellum mansions on the bluffs above the river and local commerce thrived. A not so distinguished fact is that Natchez was also the second largest slave trading town, second only to New Orleans. Guess who was a local resident? Yes, none other than Mr. Jefferson Davis Esq. These days the town and some of the mansions are looking a wee bit shabby but there has been a recent trend of restoration to the downtown area which will hopefully preserve the history here.
We spent several days in the area touring the town, driving along the leafy Natchez Trace Parkway, visiting Indian ruins and even hiking some of the original Natchez Trace Trail. It was amazing to think that traders from Tennessee would bring their wares down the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers to Natchez, sell everything including their boats as they could not sail them home against the current and would simply walk the 450 miles back to Nashville along the Natchez Trace Trail. Now that’s a hike! Amazing really.
We stayed with the historic theme as we moved north to the town of Vicksburg and the Vicksburg Military Park. This was my first visit to a civil war battlefield and it was really quite something. After the flat lowland and coastal area that we have been in for the last 6 weeks I was surprised to see how hilly the terrain was and it was easy to see why the battle and then siege lasted so long. The Confederate defenders had the advantage of the higher ground and made the Union army pay a heavy price in the early days of the conflict. What’s really nice is that you can walk anywhere in the park and Finley seemed to understand this perfectly as he bolted out of the truck. We walked over hill and dale, I looked down the sights of the cannons that are in place all over the park and it became clear how effective they could be and how difficult would be the task of overpowering them. I learned later that day that the thug Putin had invaded Ukraine and I’ve written a short blog post about it. I felt rather subdued and sad as we drove on to our stop for the evening at the Patch of Heaven farm. I sat outside that evening under the stars and thought with gratitude of all the wars and all the lives lost so that we may enjoy our freedom but an uneasiness settled upon me.
Our final stop in the Deep South was Landry Vineyards in Monroe Louisiana. This was a marvelous place to hang our hat for the night. I think Finley would be the perfect vineyard dog as he will run, bark and generally terrorize any birds that land or fly over vineyard airspace. He does this non stop, for hours on end. Vineyard managers, forget scarecrows get a Heeler! After Finley zonked out in bed I walked over to the tasting room where I was entertained by the lovely Jennalee who gave me the rundown on the Winery’s history and we tasted many of their wines. Northern Louisiana is not the first place that comes to mind for growing wine grapes. As you can imagine it’s a bit hot and sultry for serious grape growing so the Landry’s built a winery but purchase grapes for other parts of the country, primarily California and Washington State. The grapes arrive in temperature controlled trucks and are vinified in the winery. The results were really quite good.
Well dear reader that’s all for amble through the Deep South, it was quite an eye opener but onward we must go, the Lone Star State awaits.