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The Most Southern Place on Earth - Mississippi

STATE 25 - MISSISSIPPI

sunny 90 °F

Mississippi is the Most Southern Place on Earth. Well, geographically it is not the most southern on the Earth, or even the most southern in the US. But according to James C. Cobb, a former president of the Southern Historical Association, due to its unique racial, cultural, and economic history, no place is more southern. Megan and I were headed down to Mississippi to rub elbows with the locals and attend a down-South wedding!

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It should come as no surprise that the Mississippi lies in the Mississippi River Valley (the Mississippi River runs along the length of Mississippi's western border). The Mississippi River has greatly influenced much of Mississippian culture, from antebellum times to current day. The state of Mississippi is relatively flat, so when the river floods, its effects can be far reaching. Megan and I decided to stretch our legs after a long ride in the car and experience the Mississippi River runoff first hand by taking a hike through the floodplain.

It was a hot, muggy morning despite being late September. My shirt was sticking to my back and it was barely 9am, good thing we were hitting the trail before it got even warmer. Megan and I checked in at the front desk and told the ranger we were going on the river trail. Upon hearing our trail choice, the ranger looked up and said, "you watch out now, I heard the mosquitoes are real bad right now." I didn't give the warning much thought. Back home in North Carolina you have to deal with mosquitoes every second of every day during the non-winter months. Mosquitoes may be a nuisance, but they aren't going to keep me from taking a hike. We said good bye to the ranger and started off on the trail.

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The trail was dominated by wooden walkways. The river runoff trail could get pretty soggy, and large portions of the trail wound through marsh land. We descended lower and lower into the valley until we reached the bottom of the valley and the marshlands extended off in every direction. There was very little direct sunlight beneath the canopy of the trees, no wind at all, and the water seemed completely stagnant.

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As I followed Megan on the trail, I noticed her shadow looked really weird. It seemed be vibrating and inconsistent. Suddenly it hit me, it wasn't Megan's shadow I was seeing, it was the thousands and thousands of mosquitoes following her! I tried to keep from panicking, but I realized that if we stopped moving, we would end up having an incredibly itchy weekend. It was just about then that Megan wanted me to stop to take the picture above. It took a lot of convincing, but I agreed to a single picture, but I was going to keep moving until the last possible second to keep the mosquitoes from landing on me. Unfortunately Megan caught my "mosquito dance" on video.

After the picture, Megan and I took off at a sprint back to the visitor's center. Once making it safely back inside, we slapped each other silly to kill the mosquitoes that were sucking us dry. My smug North Carolinian pride took a big hit as I realized that I couldn't handle the onslaught of Mississippian mosquitoes.

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The visitor's center was pretty cool. It was like a mini-zoo displaying all the types of wildlife that could be found in the Mississippi River run-offs. Terrariums filled with turtles, alligators, and snakes filled one humid room, while another had over 25 aquariums recreating the different environments of the river and forested ponds.

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I've seen plenty of turtles, bass, bluegill, catfish, and minnows before, but the museum made them seem exotic in the beautiful and realistic aquariums. As we exited the aquariums, we entered a large room filled with stuffed versions of the mammals that call Mississippi home. Megan and I posed as the different animals. I chose to mimic the boar and the bat, while Megan did her best two-headed snake impression (the snake was actually alive!).

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Megan and I left the trails and museum to grab some lunch. We headed to downtown Jackson to grab a bit to eat at the Mayflower, the restaurant from the movie The Help. The local Jackson residents we had met the night before had warned us about walking around downtown (apparently the area was full of crime and was dangerous). However, just as it was walking around downtown Montgomery, it seemed as if we had the entirety of downtown to ourselves. The security person guarding the building that we parked in front of (who watched us suspiciously as we consulted the map to get our bearings) was the ONLY person we saw while downtown. No cars, no one walking around, nothing. Even the restaurant we had planned on eating at was closed because the owner was a wedding.

Side note: Notice how weird the roads look. The were almost a pink color and seemed to be made from paved gravel instead of asphalt.

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We walked from the middle of downtown uphill to the Old Capital building and home of the war memorials. The Old Capital (the state capital building from 1839 to 1903, including when Mississippi helped form the Confederate States of America) was located in a beautiful area overlooking downtown. The following picture features the War Memorial that sits to the left of the Old Capital building.

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When Jackson was founded, the entire area was a giant swamp (not too dissimilar from the area we had hiked through that morning). I guess that's why the capital building was placed on the highest point downtown. Looking the other direction, you could see the Jackson skyline (I didn't have the best vantage point when taking the picture).

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We walked through the War Memorial. There was an area that housed the Mississippi soldiers that died in battle, as well as a number of sculptures and inscriptions honoring the soldiers. Since we were the only people there, the entire area felt very serene.

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Of course it wouldn't be a southern state capital if didn't also include a memorial to the Confederate soldiers, which was located on the other side of the Old Capital building. Standing at the heart of the memorial was a life-size statue of Jefferson Davis.

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From the site of the old capital, we walked down to the new capital building. Squirrels were everywhere and clucked loudly at us as we walked by. After taking a short rest on the benches in front of the capital, we made our way back to the car.

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That night we met up with our friends at a Mississippi restaurant, Cock of the Walk, overlooking the river. The restaurant only served two things, fried catfish or fried chicken. You could also order sides of fried onions, turnip greens, fried pickles, and cornbread. Everything is served on tin plates, and beer is served in tin pitchers. We ordered multiples of everything, it was delicious!

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The next morning Megan and I headed out to the Mississippi Ag Museum to get a feel for "the real Mississippi". The Ag Museum was actually a collection of buildings. The largest building was a museum with displays on Mississippi agriculture, but other buildings held special classes and displays. Adjacent to the museum was a collection of historic Mississippi homes and buildings that had been relocated here. We decided the check out the main museum first and work our way outside.

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Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a very realistic looking Mississippi man.

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The man sat outside a replica of s simple house, and I guess he was supposed to represent a native of Mississippi. He was incredibly lifelike, and it wasn't until I got up close that I realized that he wasn't real. He was also pretty creepy, take a look at his eyes.

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Escaping the gaze of the Mississippi man, we entered the first display. Row and rows of different types of axes filled several walls, showcasing the various tools of the woodworkers (or the types of weapons used by the creepers represented by the man guarding the entrance).

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Reminiscent of the dinner from the night before, the museum had a display on catfish farming. Mississippi farms more catfish than anywhere else in the country. When you eat catfish, it was probably grown in Mississippi.

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The next portion of the museum focused on the cotton roots of Mississippi. At the time of the civil war, Mississippi was the 5th wealthiest state in the country due to its cotton production. Even after the war, cotton remained king. They had an old cotton gin and examples of the textiles that were produced by Mississippi.

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The best part of the museum, other than the axes and freaks, was the music that was constantly playing in the background. The upbeat, banjo-pluckin' tunes prompted Megan and I to have a hillbilly dance-off! Who do you say won?

After the dance-off, Megan and I made our way outside. After exploring the big city of Jackson, it was time to walk through Small Town Mississippi!

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The Ag Museum had actually moved buildings from historic sites around the state to create a little town. Several old houses (most of them log cabins), an old church, farm buildings, an old schoolhouse, and a trading post were just some of the buildings that made up this little town. Animals grazed in the pastures and rested in the barn. As you walked through the old homes sensors would detect as you entered each room which started an audio tour. Everything was kept was authentic as possible and was very well done.

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You could also walk into the largest (working) cotton gin in the world. It was massive! It was steam powered and even included a vacuum sucker that could pull cotton out of wagons. You had to walk up a flight of stairs to see the main compartment. As hot as it was already inside the room, I wouldn't want to be there when they fired up the cotton gin.

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Between the agriculture tour and the relaxed attitude of its residents (not to mention the delicious down-home cooking), Mississippi reminded me of life in North Carolina (although I would agree with James C. Cobb in that the Deep South is a different type of southern). Megan and I started to make our way out of the Ag Museum, but not before one last hillbilly dance in the town garden.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:08 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum marshes historical local_food Comments (2)

Gator Huntin' In the Bayou

LOUISIANA - PART II

sunny 95 °F

After 3 days and 2 nights on Bourbon Street, it was time to get out of the Big Easy and head south to the bayou.

We boarded a bus outside our hotel and drove 45 minutes south of New Orleans. We passed the levies and drove to the end of the highway. The gulf was still another 20 miles away, but I got the feeling that not too many people lived in that direction. The heat was overbearing, and the humidity felt like a lead weight on your chest. Spanish moss hung from trees and marshy water was visible in every direction. We had arrived in gator country.

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Finding our fanboat at the dock, we boarded and plopped on the protective headphones (when the fan blades get turning, it is pretty loud). We pushed off and slowly made our way out to one of the main channels. Once we hit larger water, the guide punched the engine, and we buzzed across the water.

We used the channel lines made by the oil companies to access deeper into the bayou. The first area we arrived in looked like a giant, grassy field. The water was only 1 or 2 feet deep here and large mounds of dirt floated everywhere. The grass was light enough that it could grow on the floating dirt, but no trees could be supported here. The guide said that it felt like walking on a water bed, and it was pretty likely you would fall through. It was a little eerie seeing the grass constantly shift and move out of the way for the boat. Since the boat didn't have any parts that went into the water, we could move pretty easily through the super shallow water. Just as we were turning around to leave the first area, we spotted our first gator.

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Surprisingly, we used very different bait than the last time I went gator hunting. When attracting crocodiles in Australia, we used chicken and red meat. In Louisiana, the gators like a sweeter treat, marshmallows. Here's a video of the gator viciously attacking the bait.

Alright, so the attack is a little anticlimactic. Marshmallows don't require much stealth or viciousness. Raw meat bait would cause the gators to attack the food much more aggressively (as we saw in Australia). An aggressive gator could spell trouble, as I was only separated from them by a little chain (instead of the steel enclosed box we used in Australia). Apparently the sound of the marshmallow hitting the water gets the gator's attention, and the contrast in color between the green of the water and the white of the marshmallow make it easy to spot. The gators aren't the only things that enjoy marshmallows, a bird came in and snatched one away too.

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We moved on to some smaller channels, slowly scooting up and down looking for the bigger gators. It was amazing how well our boat was able to navigate the twisted and narrow channels, our guide was obviously an expert fanboat operator (fanboats can not go in reverse and have to be moving to turn). Here's how it looked in the channels.

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We saw a couple of baby gators swimming eagerly out to the boat, so we pulled one aboard.

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This little guy got more than he bargained for when he got too close. Everyone aboard held the gator (except Freddie) and posed for a couple pictures. Our guide talked a little bit about the gators and how they live in the channels before releasing the little guy back into the water (in the previous video, you can hear his N'awlins accent).

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We moved deeper into the channels towards an old oil connector. The guide knew several gators frequented this area because it was more open than the narrow channels. Sure enough, as soon as we made it into the area, two big gators came right up to the boat.

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I thought the boat was about to tip over as we all crowded to the side to see the big guys. The larger gators like marshmallows just as much as the smaller ones.

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As guys tend to do, we have to keep pushing the envelope. No longer just satisfied with being a foot away from a 12 foot gator, our guide decided to start messing with him by trying to grab the gator.

He eventually grabbed hold of the biggest gator.

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We headed back towards the dock, but took a detour through the lake. The lake was enormous. Balls of dirt floated in the water, but much less frequently than in the area we first stopped. The fanboat skimmed over the water as we drove around at full throttle. After doing a large loop, we went back into the narrower channels.

Just before we got back to the dock, we passed a raised cemetery. The cemeteries are often raised due to the high water table, which would push the air filled coffins out of the soggy ground (eventually the coffins would flood and sink back into the ground). It was still a cool thing to see. This cemetery was only accessible by boat as the original pathway was washed out in one of the passing hurricanes.

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We exited the boat, said thanks to our guide, and then boarded the bus to head back into New Orleans. Leaving in the same manner as we arrived (in style), we called the limo to shuttle us to the airport. It was rush hour traffic, so we took a detour through some of the neighborhoods that had been affected by hurricane Katrina several years ago. 4 out of 5 houses were boarded up and in total disrepair, but then you passed a house that looked in great shape. The driver explained that a lot of people took the money from the government and moved away, while some actually used the money to rebuild their destroyed houses. Our driver proudly boasted that he had used his money to buy a new truck and moved in with his sister. It left me with mixed feelings about donating to the Katrina relief fund.

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Arriving at the airport, our trip to Louisiana was over, but it had been a great time.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:54 Archived in USA Tagged animals boats marshes tour Comments (0)

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