Florence, MS

Visited February 16 – 23, 2017 

From Greensboro, AL, we headed northwest to Columbus, MS because we wanted to connect with a park service friend who we hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  Phil now works for the US Army Corps of Engineers, maintaining several parks in the eastern part of the state.  We hadn’t camped in any COE parks yet, but heard they are great and looked forward to finding one or more along our future routes.  Phil met us at Cracker Barrel, which is perfect for RV parking, and we had a great visit over a great meal!  Plugging these mini-reunions into our trip continues to be so doable and such a highlight for us. 🙂

We turned southwest toward Florence and had another item on our task list before we arrived…to dump our tanks.  It’s a necessity when we go from one driveway surfing gig and to another. 🙂  Usually, it’s not a problem to find a campground or gas station with these facilities at a nominal price, but sometimes it’s hit or miss.  We had a few misses that day before we hit on a KOA campground that was less than a mile off our route.  What a great campground that is, right on a beautiful lake, with its own waterpark.  Being February it was nearly empty, but come May it will be a happening place!Our friends in Florence, Joe and Pam, have a driveway that could fit five of our rigs end to end!  No kidding, it’s that long!  Joe guided us down to his garage/shop to get us hooked up and Tom began another case of shop and tool envy, and another list of projects to tackle. 😉   We headed over to their friends’ house, David and Susan, who treated us to happy hour and then to the fabulous buffet at the local landmark Berry’s Seafood restaurant.  You can’t miss this place as it sits under a 60-foot lighted cross!  The food and service is southern and super—so much food, so many choices, and we tried most of them.  What a fun and full evening we had!

The rest of our week was filled with visiting, eating Joe & Pam’s fabulous home cooking around their family table, and playing a great game they taught us, Mexican Train dominoes.  We were instant fans of the game and bought our own set soon after!  Tom got his projects done, with Joe’s help and tools.  We got to worship together and afterwards they treated us to another local landmark restaurant, Jerry’s Catfish House.  You can’t miss this place either; it’s an igloo-shaped building, yep, an igloo, and there are usually long lines out the door because the menu, especially the catfish, is so popular!

Of course, we also spent a couple days sightseeing.  One day Joe took us to Vicksburg National Military Park where we did the 16-mile audio cd driving tour.  It was great to go at our own pace and immerse ourselves in the history there–the battle sites, memorials, monuments, and stories.  Just like Gettysburg, it’s all very emotional and sobering, and not to be missed if you are in the area.

We were especially impressed with the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum.  The Cairo was sunk by a torpedo in 1862, and rediscovered almost a hundred years later in 1960.  It was a long and laborious effort to raise the salvageable parts and then transport, rebuild and restore them.  The National Park Service partially reconstructed the Cairo on a concrete foundation and built a museum around it to house the treasure trove of artifacts recovered.  It’s a fascinating story and exhibit.

After our tour, we headed to the Vicksburg waterfront and found a great restaurant for lunch, Rusty’s Riverfront Grill.  Right across the street is another cool museum we just had to explore, the Lower Mississippi River Museum and the M/V (Motor Vessel) Mississippi IV, a US Army Corps of Engineers workboat that has been given new life as a museum.  We all agreed this free museum was a bonus addition to our day in Vicksburg.

Tom and I took another day to explore south and west toward historic, 300-year-old Natchez (rhymes with MATches).  We drove the southernmost 80 miles of the scenic 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway and stopped at all the historic markers and to walk a section of the original Trace which was first walked by the native Kaintuck Indians and European settlers.  We came upon bridge ruins and a small cemetery with a handful of graves.  All but one died too young, either in infancy or in their 30s, such a hard life.

We explored the town of Port Gibson which was the site of a few Civil War battles.  They say that many of the historic buildings survived because General Grant proclaimed the city too beautiful to be burned!  Several miles outside of town are the Windsor Ruins, definitely worth the drive.  Left standing are 23 full and five partial columns of the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion ever built in the state. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire in 1890.  The descendants donated the property in 1974 and it has been maintained by the state as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.  There are no facilities but we enjoyed our picnic lunch and wandering the grounds and, of course, Tom took a hundred pics! 🙂

We continued to the end (or beginning) of the Natchez Trace in the city of Natchez and toured the historic grounds, gardens, and outbuildings of the 1848 Melrose estate, part of the Natchez National Historical Park.  They say it’s one of the most intact antebellum estates in the South.  We ended our day of exploring at Bluff Park overlooking the mighty Mississippi River.  It’s a linear park for strolling and taking in the great views up and down the river!

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