It turns out 20 miles as represented on the map takes a lot longer in real life than when you calculate it in your mind. The drive was on a dark and windy road and took longer than expected. I hoped the GPS was sending us in the right direction because I lost service on my phone. Finally, signs confirming I was close and the park showed up in my headlights. A short-lived sense of relief as Rocky Springs looked deserted and the welcome board provided no instruction on camping. This is my only option so I pull down the drive seeing a large RV on the side of the road. A hallo of bright light is up a slight hill and I learn its coming from a campsite, the crowd yelled acknowledgement as I drive by to what I hope are open spots.
After passing the other campers, I had my choice of the remaining spots and could have parked in the road if I wished as it was just me and Mabel down on this end. The bathhouse looked abandoned and there were zero lights, we were in the dark except for the stars. Backing in was a joy as I couldn’t see in the dark but tried to help matters with a flashlight at the end of the pad. It worked, kind of, we were parked, but the pad slanted slightly backwards. Camp was set so I took Mabel for a walk, past the campers who looked to be having a good time. My flashlight beam caught a deer at the side of the road on our way to the park’s entrance and thankfully Mable missed it. I looked again at the board and left just as clueless as when I drove up. No customary pay envelopes or Iron Ranger to deposit them in and there wasn’t a board with the multitude of rules you usually find for a government park.
As we walked back I decided to ask my fellow campers about the park’s payment process and I am glad I stopped. The pre-trip Ron would have walked by, probably a wave but zero interaction. It’s not that I am rude, or at least I don’t think so, its just that I…. don’t really know. In this case I was glad I stopped for what is up to this point my most interesting night of the trip.
There were six total in their twenty’s; two guys and four girls, all except one from Mississippi, the other from New Jersey. One of the couples was married for about three years, the other were dating, with the two remaining friends of the group. I ask if they know about the payment process and they think its free to camp here because of the lack of services. They like Mabel who seems a bit stand offish and I am invited to sit around the campfire. I accept their invitation and double down by also taking a red solo sup with Jack & Coke, the pre-trip Ron is gone, at least for now.
We do the customary introductions and I tell them my story, Mabel getting lots of attention. It’s always that way. They were accomplished campers with one of the guys working at his family’s outdoor store in Jackson. The group was slightly surprised when I said I liked Montgomery, a remark about welcome to southern racism, and asked if I went to Jackson. I told them we missed it along with Birmingham as I made my way west. (I didn’t have a plan for Birmingham and didn’t want to leave Mabel in the car as I toured the museums so passed it by on the highway.) The campers were all college educated and seemed pretty sharp so this was a good chance to get a younger perspective on life in Mississippi.
I heard on the radio a while back that the camper’s generation were not getting married at the rate of heir predecessors so I asked the only married couple their thoughts. He told me there are still big church weddings, theirs was considered small at around 200 people, lots of relatives were invited. But the South is changing in this respect, just not as fast as the rest of the country. Isn’t that true about the South, past and present. I think of the Civil Rights movement and the slow pace of change and now the holding on to heritage. Is it resistance or contemplation? Maybe it’s in their DNA, they move on issues when they feel it has been properly thought through. I ask them quickly about the statues and they don’t think Jackson will take them down and I couldn’t really gauge their thoughts on the matter.
We talk about the poverty I saw and they mentioned it is worse in the Delta. “How do we include these people in the economy, how do we give them a chance to make their lives better?” I ask. “Do they even want to change, are they capable, or deserve it?” I continue. One of the campers responded, “You need to come to grips with your own humanity and then help your neighbor. Start local.” It’s a good answer, one that can be acted upon and not just a good thought in someone’s mind. I think about it and wonder if it applies to the panhandlers I see at the stop signs, are they all scam artists or really down on their luck? If I hand over some cash will it be used for their good or what I perceive as bad? Why do I feel uncomfortable and look away when I pull up next to one of these individuals at a stop sign? I it because I wonder how I would feel if it was me? It’s time to go, my drink was done and I don’t want to become “that guy” who overstayed his welcome. I do ask if they feel Minnesotans are considered Yankees. “No” one replied, “I don’t know enough about them to classify.” I thanked them again for allowing me to share their fire and we are off to bed.
We headed back up to Vicksburg to tour the battlefield after we looked at the town. Sheri was happy to hear from me, I worry about not checking in after the Lake George incident. Thanks to neighbors Ryan and Michelle because my Cracker Barrel feast was a gift from them before I left. My waitress wasn’t the best and they don’t have WIFI. I guess the favor conversation over text messages. At the park, I decided to buy the year-long US Parks admission pass for $80 and figure I will use it a lot when I get out West. The welcome center has a number of displays and also runs a movie about the battle. I didn’t realize it was a siege by the North and the South held out for so long. The battlefield is marked with each unit’s location and the battle lines that separated them. The state monuments line the road and I find Minnesota and Wisconsin, both large and respectful.
At the end of the car tour is a partially restored iron-clad ship, The USS Cairo, that exploded on the river. The engineering is amazing and it would have been so cool to see this ship in action. There was a lot to the Battle of Vicksburg and it deserves more space than what I am giving it. Please look at the history, it is very interesting.
The hurricane has prevented me from following Steinbeck’s route through lower Louisiana so I decide to stay North and follow HWY 20 to Shreveport and stay at the KOA. I am disappointed because the racism at the school integration outside New Orleans was a pivotal part of his trip and I would like to see it for myself. But this is trivial compared to what the people of Houston are experiencing. I feel out of touch as compared with Hurricane Katrina as I haven’t seen much news. What I have seen looks bad though. One friend from the Air Force is in Houston and I send her a Facebook message, hoping she says she is all right.
We cross over the bridge into Louisiana and I look for HWY 80, a smaller road that I hope gives me some local flavor. It was a nice road at first, large farms and lots of trees. Farm equipment creating dust as they are harvesting the corn and cotton. But it turns ugly, the road bumpy and the camper bouncing around behind me, I can only imagine what’s happening to the interior. I cringe each time the camper strains against the hitch. Its like they stripped the top half off the road and never came back to repave it. We soon come to a detour at Delhi, Tim McGraw’s hometown, and I am glad to get back to the Interstate. It’s a very small town but I am thinking the detour prevented me from seeing most of it. If not… well… it was a very small town. Thanks Tim and Delhi for getting me back on track, I probably would have continued 80 in search of something interesting.
Football is big in Louisiana. I listened to a High School football scrimmage on the radio as I travelled West on IS 20. It was a scrimmage and the announcers were as excited as if it was the Superbowl. Eventually the Saints pregame was found on another station and they were as excited as if it was the Superbowl. I hear reports about Houston and it is bad, lots of rain and flooding with many homes lost.
This part of the trip was all about the destination and I was going to make Shreveport in time for dinner. To me, Louisiana was travelling through the southern part and seeing New Orleans and then continuing through SE Texas and up to Austin. Now that my plans had changed I couldn’t wrap my head around looking for places of interest in Northern Louisiana. Maybe I missed out by staying on the Interstate but I was also behind and my mind was set on friends and family in Texas.
I stayed two nights at the KOA with a trip to Walmart the most exciting part. I was too far away from the Casinos and they really aren’t my thing anyway. So, I stayed around camp, used the pool, and did a little writing. I kept my eye on the storm and what it was doing to Central Texas finally getting the all clear from Stacey, my sister-in-law. I did speak to one neighbor at the campground. He and his wife were moving to Florida from Utah. The drinking laws in Utah were “complicated and stupid” he told me with a Budweiser in his hand, hard to know where you can and can’t have a beer. I don’t know enough about them to argue so I couldn’t add to the conversation. Maybe it has something to do with the Mormons, if I remember they were there first.
My thoughts are with those in Houston and I hope they can quickly get their lives in order.