Taking a Break and Escalating Readership Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Current Location: Farmington, NM Wally-docking  Predicted low of 15F didn’t materialize and it is now 32F

Albuquerque_004The last few days have been spectacular, with several stories waiting in the wings to be published.  We visited with a very long time friend now living in Albuquerque, traveled the Jemez Mountain Scenic Byway, visited Jemez Springs, the Valles Caldera, and managed to slip into Bandelier National Monument for some magical hikes. 

Albuquerque_013On our way north and west, we took the time to ramble down the dirt road to Chaco Canyon, called officially Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and treasured some walkabouts on that sacred land. I am writing as I explore, but won’t be posting for a bit.  I need a break.

Albuquerque_001_01I am not going to use the “T” word here, or name the famous “route” post that triggered all the controversy. When I wrote my personal impressions about the place and our visit, it was just that, personal, as all my blog posts are.  I have said repeatedly that I never claim to be any kind of professional travel blogger. My blog isn’t a travel blog, it is a personal journal that I share. I don’t have ads so I don’t need readership to help support my lifestyle, so there is really no need to promote myself in any way.Albuquerque_048

I do put up the blog posts on Facebook so friends who don’t have Google can find them, and on Google because there are other folks who find the blog in that way.  What I didn’t think about, however, is that many people have key words and phrases programmed into Google that will alert them whenever those words or phrases show up anywhere.  Sobering.  I know whatever I write publicly is public, and I still stand by what I wrote. It was my impression, and my personal feelings.  I am entitled to them.Albuquerque_063

What I didn’t know was that the “T” word and the “famous numbered route” word has hundreds of thousands of devoted and passionate fans around the world.  I completely understand the desire of the owner of the historic restored motel in that town to “set the record straight”.  He did so quite eloquently, but the slams I received from so many people certainly didn’t make me want to jump in and become part of that world wide community.  I honor their passion.  If you are interested in this entire thing, much of it is on the previous post, and another very huge part of it is on Facebook.Chaco Canyon_001

I decided that I will just let the whole thing “die a natural death”, advice from a good friend.  My readership escalated from friends, family, and a few fellow RV bloggers to literally thousands of hits in a day and that isn’t something I want or desire.  Just managing and reading the comments was overwhelming.  I don’t know how people like RV Sue, Nina, Rick, and Al manage to do it.  And no, I am NOT linking to one single thing in this post.

We are fine, we are continuing our route home toward Oregon, traveling through Page Arizona, hiking Antelope Canyon, and then points west and then north on an as yet undecided route.  It will be good to get home.  Friends who are up close will hear from me, but I probably won’t be posting to the blog for a bit of time till things settle down and all those passionate folks find me completely boring.

Chaco Canyon_039

3-18-2014 Albuquerque to Chaco Canyon and on to Farmington

Current (March 23): boondocking near Virgin, UT  Clear, Breezy, and 73 degrees F at 7PM

Chaco Canyon_053We have laughed at ourselves a bit, wondering why we felt so compelled to barrel west from Florida.  This morning, looking at our calendar and the map, it was obvious that we could have lingered a bit more.  Now we will do the lingering, now that we are back West, and close enough to home that we can get there easily. 

Chaco Canyon_001Although our next major stop will be Page, Arizona, around 444 miles, there is no need to speed our way west.  Instead we will travel the side roads, avoiding the interstate once again.  This morning dawned a bit less windy than the day before, but we were still happy to stay away from the high speeds required on the interstate and ambled north from our camp at Kirtland AFB toward Highway 550 and Farmington.

Not far from Albuquerque is the small roadside town of Bernalillo, lying low along the Rio Grande.  Once an historic route, marking the pathway of Coronado as he searched for the “cities of gold”, I-25 now bypasses the community at breakneck pace.  On another trip perhaps, it might have been fun to explore a bit, with a charming small town atmosphere that seemed to be strong and healthy. We did see a large sign for the Visitor Center at a local café that was encouraging. It was early morning, and we had barely started, so stopping just wasn’t in the cards this time.

Chaco Canyon_080Not long ago I read a great book, “House of Rain, Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest”, by Craig Childs.  Somehow in all my reading about the southwest and its culture, I had missed this author. Since then I have sucked up as many of his titles as I can fit on the Kindle, he is a great writer, especially for long winter nights when I am tucked away at home dreaming of canyon travels. This book is Craig’s own well informed hypothesis about what may have happened to the Anasazi Cultures, and Chaco Culture specifically. I read the book last year, wondering then why I had never managed to get to Chaco, in spite of traveling extensively in other parts of the Colorado Plateau and hunting down ancient kivas, pictographs, petroglyphs,and granaries in untold canyons.

Once again, the spontaneous choice of route led us to another treasure.  Looking on the map, I saw with astonishment that Chaco Culture National Historic Park was just a short jaunt from the highway.  Well, I suppose 21 miles each way, with several of those miles being dirt road isn’t exactly short, but is definitely short when compared to the distance from home and the fact that we might never travel this way again.

Chaco Canyon_039There is a small campground at Chaco Culture NHP, but the last four miles of the road are especially rough, and there was no way we would take the MoHo there.  We did see a few small van type campers, and one adventurous owner of a 24 foot View tipping and bouncing and bumping along on the way back out.  Nah…we were content to drive in with the Tracker and enjoy the park for a day trip. 

Of course, after being there, I realized that a day trip is only one way to experience Chaco, and a much better experience, a deeper immersion into the archaeological wonder that is there would take days or weeks.  I would love to camp there in a tent and experience the night sky, wander where the ancients wandered, and try to feel the place more deeply than I could in a single afternoon.

map to chacoChaco Canyon_014We turned from Highway 550 at the well signed marker for the park, traveled 6 miles on paved road before finding a large level gravel parking area where we felt it would be safe to leave the MoHo.  Since the park is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, there is no camping anywhere off the highway.  When you reach the parking lot area, turn right, (west), and the road is paved for another 4 miles before continuing west with  8.5 miles of reasonably smooth dirt (not washboard gravel) road.  The last 4 miles are not easy.  Even in the baby car the road was rough, going through a couple of washes that would be impassable if there had been rain.

Chaco Canyon_027Once at the park boundary, however, the road is paved, with a 9 mile loop road that meanders past several of the ruins.  As usual, we stopped at the visitor center, checked out the movie, the displays, and the maps and embarked on the loop road. I learned at the Visitor Center, that Chaco Culture is one of only 21 World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO in the United States.  It is interesting to go to the World Heritage Site website and read about how and why places are chosen.  Of the 21 sites in the United States, 8 are cultural sites and 13 are natural sites, with only one natural site, The Everglades, listed as a World Heritage Site in danger.

Chaco Canyon_055There are Anasazi ruins throughout the southwest, I have visited many, but nothing quite prepared me for the power and immensity of Chaco Canyon.  From the mid 800’s to the 1100’s, Chaco was the center of trade and commerce that extended throughout the southwest.  The artifacts excavated at Chaco in the early part of this century are still being deciphered, but include shells from the Pacific, great macaw feather capes from Mexico, gorgeous black on white pottery, and great stores of turquoise.Chaco Canyon_057

What is left today are the remains of several huge Great Houses, some with as many as 600 rooms, up to three stories high, exhibiting magnificent architectural detail and construction.  In addition, the ruins suggest a deep understanding of astronomy.  Over 400 miles of prehistoric roadway that connect the Great Houses to outlying communities are known.  It was Craig Child’s story of his journey along one of these ancient roads the I most enjoyed.

Chaco Canyon_063As with archeology in all places, the theories are simply educated guesses as to the reasons that Chaco bloomed, how it was used, why it was left behind.  The Hopi, the Pueblo Culture, the Navajo all claim Chaco is part of their ancestry, and their stories handed down through the centuries include stories of what Chaco was for their people.

Walking through the intricate maze of rooms, and standing at the edge of the Great Kiva’s, it was easy to imagine being in Chaco at the height of its glory.  Some suggest that very few people actually lived in the Great Houses, and that they were used for temporary housing for people from many cultures gathering for ceremony and trade.

Time seemed to stop as we walked the trails, read the signs, looked for petroglyphs on the canyon walls.  Our visit to Bandelier the previous day had been only a tiny taste of what Chaco was.  I had skipped Chaco in the past, thinking, oh..the rock isn’t red there, the canyons look boring, that part of New Mexico is dull…and all sorts of other reasons for not going out of my way to find Chaco Canyon.

One of the most delightful aspects of visiting Chaco, was the Pueblo Bonito trail, where we were able to wander through the rooms and corridors, amazed at the intricacy of the masonry walls and their incredible beauty after 1,000 years.

As evening approached, and we finally forced ourselves to leave, both of us were so happy that we hadn’t let that dirt road warning keep us from coming to this magical place.

Chaco Canyon_052Initially I called several campgrounds in the vicinity of Farmington, our destination for the night, including one in the town of Bloomfield, one in Aztec, and Mom and Pop’s RV in Farmington.  It was a Tuesday, it was windy, and yet it seems that at least one of those campgrounds would answer the phone or return my message.  By the time we got to Farmington, it was getting close to dark, and I still had no word as to availability, so we looked at each other and said, “Is there a WalMart in Farmington?”

Chaco Canyon_078Sure enough with a look at AllStays.com, we found an “ask to park” Walmart symbol and it was right on our route.  Before long we were settled in among a few other RV’s and several big rigs taking a break for a night’s rest at the back of the parking lot.  Happy for a place to be, we even put out the slide without any problems and settled in just in time for nightfall.

These are the original logs, preserved in the dry desert air for more than a millennium.

Not long after we were settled in, I got a message from Pop, from Mom and Pop’s RV campground in Farmington, saying he had a pull through spot waiting for us and that they had been out to dinner.  I called him back and he was extremely nice, even after I told him I wouldn’t need the space and was parked at WalMart.  His parting words were, “That is great, just so you are safe and not having to drive when you are worn out.” Pretty nice RV park owner, I would say, and if I am through Farmington again, I’ll definitely check his place out.

We laughed about how good it felt to simply park and sleep, how quiet and safe it seemed, how the noise from the idling big rigs seemed to be low enough to not trouble us.  The low temperature for the night was to be between 15 and 20 degrees, but that never actually materialized, and we barely dropped below freezing.

I slept like a rock, falling asleep with images and dreams of what Chaco must have been like 1,000 years ago.


Tucumcari Tonight

Current Location: Kirtland AFB FamCamp Albuquerque, NM clear full moon tonight and 32 degrees F before tomorrow’s high of 70F

As we drove the last miles through Texas, ever watchful of the stormy skies, it was with a bit of relief that we felt the landscape begin the gentle rise into New Mexico.  The predicted winds were pushing us from behind, not unmanageable or difficult and when we reached the New Mexico visitor center at the state line, the skies were deep blue.Tucumcari visit-019

While Mo walked Abby in the dusty brown grass, I gathered an armload of maps and brochures about visiting New Mexico.  I had picked Tucumcari as a spot on the map that happened to be in the right location with a Passport America park, with no clue of its cultural attractions.  What a surprise to read all the glossy brochures and find out that we had a lot to see and do in Tucumcari.  I was especially excited to realize that we were on a well preserved stretch of Highway 66, known by some as the “Mother Road.”

Tucumcari visit-015Tucumcari visit-017Tucumcari visit-014We read about the Route 66 Photo Museum, the famous murals of Tucumcari, the old time diners and motel fronts, lit up with neon after dark.  Exiting the interstate east of town, we followed the empty dusty route of the old highway.  I reminisced about my own connections to Highway 66 as a kid in the San Gabriel Valley.  Huntington Drive was just a mile or so from where I lived, Route 66, and as a ten year old I would look down that highway and daydream about how far I could travel on that road.

Tucumcari visit-021Route 66 was established in 1926,and for the next 50 years became part of the American dream of automobile travel. The lore of the Mother Road is buried deep in the psyche of every motorcyclist that I know, along with Highway 49 and Highway 1 in California and the road to Sturgis in South Dakota. If you are a biker, I’ll bet you know about Tucumcari.Tucumcari visit-064

The reality of the town was a bit of a shock after the glossy descriptions in the brochures.  Somehow I was imagining a Disneyesque version of the old diners, with black and white checkered floors and red plastic chairs.  I especially looked forward to a real milkshake.  Instead, every single diner was closed.  Not one place in town was open for a meal, much less a real milkshake.  The streets were very nearly empty.  The old motels were mostly empty.Tucumcari visit-056

Our campground was a bit dicey, at least at first it seemed so.  Our biker dude manager showed us to the dusty site, and made sure that we had the phone number to call security if we needed it. The small office was so thick with cigarette smoke that I could barely stand to be in there for the few minutes it took to verify our reservation.  Cash only, and no receipt.  For a flat $20 we were extremely happy to have a place to settle in for the evening, and we even had working television!Tucumcari visit-010

Once settled, with the winds and dust rising dramatically, we followed the Mural Map to find some of the most amazing and artistic murals I have ever seen.  Most of them were painted by Doug and Sharon Quarles, two artists who were once part of the city and who left in 2009.  The murals were fantastic, but the town was incredibly sad.

Tucumcari visit-039As we drove around finding the murals, I kept feeling as though I had fallen into a Doomsday movie where the world has ended and no one is left.  Tumbleweeds in the old movie theater entrance and boarded up windows everywhere we turned were haunting.  We drove street after street, with row after row of dilapidated houses, not a sign of a well kept neighborhood anywhere.Tucumcari visit-061

It was the emptiness of the streets that was so haunting.  The old depot building had been remodeled, and was listed as a joint project of the city of Tucumcari and the Youth Conservation Corps, but we couldn’t find out anything about its history.

Tucumcari visit-045Nothing, and I mean not a thing was open.  The Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center was closed, the History Museum was closed, the Depot was closed, and as I said, the few small diners and all three of the ice cream shops were closed.  Remember, this was on a sunny Saturday afternoon! 

Tucumcari visit-042Tucumcari visit-044A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook how much she loved Tucumcari, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a different place in the summertime and all the closures were simply seasonal. 

Tucumcari visit-047Once back home, with the winds howling at over 45 miles per hour and the wild dust of the high prairies swirling around and making visibility very low, we decided that driving back down Main Street after dark to see the neon wasn’t in the cards.  Maybe Tucumcari on a hot summer night when riding a motorcycle is a whole different experience.  I probably won’t ever find out.Tucumcari visit-080

In spite of the winds, we slept well, and woke to gorgeous sunny skies and temperatures in the low 30’s, no frost.  We took our time leaving, and wound our way out of town on the old Route 66 road that parallels the interstate for most of the way.  The road was a bit rough, and at one point it passed under the freeway through a narrow passage so filled with tumbleweeds that we had to get out and rake them out of the way. Historic Route 55 needs a bit of care

A few miles west of Tucumcari we drove through the old ghost towns of Montoya, Newkirk, and Cuervo. As I walked the old streets of these towns I kept wondering if I was seeing a vision of what our civilization was going to look like someday.  Would all our towns and cities turn to this?  These small communities once had thriving businesses, motels and as stations and restaurants, all supported by the travelers on the highway. 

Tucumcari visit-099Highway 66 for decades served thousands of people migrating west during the Dust Bowl days of the 30’s, and later families traveling by car on long vacations interspersed with motel stays and picnics.  Interstate 40 changed everything.  Travelers went farther and faster, and the new highway bypassed many of the small towns along the way.  What is left are Love’s and Pilot’s and Flying J’s and generic restaurants with cardboard food. A way of life is gone.Tucumcari visit-100

After wandering the old ghost towns a bit, we entered the modern world once again on I-40 west.  The road was smooth, the truck traffic heavy, the pace at 70mph plus.  Climbing inexorably toward the Rockies the elevation rose and suddenly we were blinded by something white and fluffy along the road.Tucumcari visit-117

Have we been in the South that long?  Mo at first thought there had been some kind of debris blown around and couldn’t figure it out.  Oh.  snow.  It was snow.  I had seen the snow on the radar last night and as we were buffeted about by the winds, I had been happy to be far away from the snow.  I guess were weren’t as far away as I thought.  This afternoon the temperature was 39 degrees in the brilliant sunshine.Tucumcari visit-120

Once down the hill into the broad valley of Albuquerque, the temperatures rose to the mid-60’s again, and the snow was a light dusting on the distant mountains.  We settled into Kirtland AFB Family Camp without any difficulty, even though the camp office is closed until Monday morning.  Instructions on the office door were clear and found a great site in the newer part of the camp with full hookups.Tucumcari visit-124

We will stay here for a couple of days, doing some exploring north of town, and visiting with friends before continuing west.  Sunny skies, warm days and cold nights, no rain and no snow are on the radar for the time being, so we are  in luck.


3-14-2014 Bookin’West through Tornado Alley

Current Location: Foss State Park, Oklahoma: still dark at 7am and 41 F

Yes, yes, I know.  I still haven’t written about the Natchez Trace, Vicksburg, and Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Way too many thoughts and photos of these amazing visits to manage, so the writing will have to come later.

Johnny_006_01We had good reasons for moving northward as we traveled west.  We watched the weather diligently and prayed that the Polar Plunge events that have plagued this part of the country all winter would let up enough for us to make it to Joplin without mishap.  My son John, and his wife Shannon, live near Joplin and I don’t get to see them often.  They are in the busy time of life with a high school kid and a couple of daughters and grandkids that need them.  Both are working, and not at the kinds of jobs that give much time for play.  Every time I see John, I wish that I hadn’t waited so long to get back to Missouri.  I am so glad I didn’t miss it this time.  Thank you, Weather Gods.

Johnny_001After some truly wonderful family time, and sharing morning coffee with John while we packed up, Mo and I headed southwest.  When leaving Joplin, there are options, some including tolls.  Looking at the map, we decided the $19.50 total cost of the tolls was less than the cost of the fuel avoiding them and within minutes of our campground in Carthage, we were on I-44 heading toward Tulsa.

I can’t believe I didn’t take a single shot of the campground, The Big Red Barn RV Park, in Carthage.  I guess because it was actually simply another privately owned campground, quite nice but still only a place to park.  Actually it was also a place to do laundry, wash the rig and the baby car at the nearby car wash with a big RV bay, shop for some essentials, and plan for the time with John and Shannon.

We also learned something new at this particular campground.  In spite of its flat screen status, and its fancy Sony Wega Gate programs, our MoHo TV is NOT digital.  This park has digital-only cable television and we couldn’t get a signal.  Sigh.  For the first time in a month or more we thought there might be a bit of TV in our life after family visits, but it was not to be.  Researching on the internet, I found out that there is no way to tell if your TV is digital or analog, but if it was purchased before 2008, it will be analog.  Ok then. 

Johnny_005_01Satellite signals and most cable signals are broadcast in both digital and analog bandwidths, and we knew that local broadcasts were digital only.  Mo tried to install a digital converter to our antenna but various roof thingies didn’t allow the space for the thing to retract, so we know that we don’t get digital signals from local broadcasts.  However, with all the tv hookups we have had over the months of travel since the digital thing happened, we had no clue our tv wasn’t digital.

With family time the priority, TV watching would have been minimal anyway, but it was a good thing to discover.  Most parks have a dual signal, but if your park specifically states, digital TV’s only, pay attention.

Johnny_024Friday morning we were on the road by 8:20, knowing that we had another 358 mile day ahead of us.  Our destination was Foss State Park, nestled into the low brown hills surrounding a lake/reservoir that is the largest in western Oklahoma.  We camped here long ago in December of 2007, on our route east in the baby MoHo.  It was a sweet little find back then, and we decided that once again, the pleasant, quiet park, eight miles off the interstate on a decent paved road, would be a good overnight stop.

I-44 is a direct, fast, and for the most part smooth route across most of Oklahoma, circling both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It is part of the Oklahoma Turnpike System, which at first I found very frustrating, because all the routes are named but the turnpike website doesn’t have a decent map of the routes and the names so it can be easily figured out.  Frustrating, but we did manage to get across the state on the system.

I am sure that there is a lot to see in Oklahoma.  We have visited the memorial and the museum at Oklahoma City and didn’t need to stop there again.  I am sure Tulsa might have been interesting, if we had time to meander and research, but we didn’t choose to stop.

Evelyn Braden and Avon Bradon 1927 Tulsa OKTulsa, Oklahoma is tucked away in my own family history in an almost mythical way.  My mother was born when my grandmother was barely 15, in Palestine, Arkansas, as small a town as you can imagine.  Nine months later, my grandmother left my mother with her mother and ran away to Tulsa.  It was 1926.  Times were hard even then, though the Depression had yet to come in full force.  My grandmother searched for work, and finding none, resorted to being a photographer’s model.  My most treasured photograph of her was taken in Tulsa, and for the time it was a bit risque. 

If I had more time, perhaps I could have wandered the streets of old downtown Tulsa and found the locations of my old photos of my grandmother with the husband she married in Tulsa.  They played cards, gambled, danced, and partied during the heyday of the late 20’s and I have some pretty cool photos of the “Duke and Duchess” as their friends called them, sitting on the running boards of their old Packard.

Instead, we traveled at close to the speed limit all day, and I could find not one thing in the brown low flats and hills of Oklahoma to inspire me to pick up the camera even once. With crazy winter ice storms, and a late spring, Oklahoma is still simply many shades of brown, and windy, and the skies are a bit blue, but with a murkiness to them that wasn’t particularly inspiring.route to tucumcari

I suppose I could have photographed the traffic jam around construction in Tulsa, or managed some kind of creative treatment of the leafless cottonwoods along the highway.  Instead, I navigated, and found our campground, and with the great, fast road, we landed just a little before 4pm, with plenty of time for me to make our favorite Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana soup for supper.

directions to Foss Lake SPWe took a nice walk along the trail toward the lake before supper, but even then I wasn’t inspired to take any photos.  After so much verdant green and vivid blues and gorgeous architecture, I can’t get excited about the simple brown landscape.  Of course it is lovely in its own way.  Another time I might have a great time shooting photos of this place.  Maybe I am just a bit tired of processing photos, and needed some down time from the camera.

Foss State Park is as quiet a place as you will find anywhere, and we slept well.  Today we will cross the Panhandle of Texas with the same focus and determination.  Our goal is to get west of the infamous Tornado Alley.  No matter what kinds of lovely sights are here, I have no desire to linger.  There are high winds and thunderstorms predicted through Amarillo, and as the sky lightens this morning, I can see some interesting cloud formations building.

Tonight we will rest in Tucumcari, at the New Mexico border.  Searching weather pages, I found that the possibility of tornados in Tucumcari is close to zero.  A good number, unlike the moderate to high rating for the landscape we will cross in the panhandle of Texas.  

Johnny_013_01After dinner last night, Mo and I reviewed our jello plans for returning west, and completely shifted our focus.  We were trying to decide if we could stay north on the 40 rather than dropping back down to the 10, and instead decided that we will go north from the 40 when we leave Albuquerque and wander west toward the Four Corners region.  Weather predictions seem to be in our favor, and once again we have a chance to explore new country rather than following the same tired interstate routes that can get so repetitive.  

I am beside myself excited about this plan for more than one reason.  The Colorado Plateau is one of my favorite places in the world, and Antelope Canyon near Page is on my bucket list.  I have artwork in my home depicting that famous ray of light, and if things go the way we are planning, before long I will have my very own photos of light and shadow in the world famous slit in the earth.

Bet I don’t have a problem picking up the camera then!


2-10-2014 Natchez Jewel, Part 2

Carthage, Missouri: Big Red Barn RV Park: Clear and 46F going down to 30F tonight

Natchez_019_01There was so much to see in Natchez, and with Abby along, our plan was to return to the campground, take a bit of rest, and then drive back to town to explore more at our leisure, then possibly drive back to town again for the 8PM performance.  Common sense won out, and once back home and moved to our lovely new campsite, we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, the silence and the birds.

Laurie mentioned so many things about Mississippi that we will not have the opportunity to experience on this trip.  I only managed to see her comment on the phone while we were driving around town, because unlike the screaming fast Verizon reception up at Loop A, here in B we have not a lick of internet and not a bar of telephone either. 

downtown NatchezI would love to experience Mississippi food, but we had the third helping of our fabulous fish from our McGuire’s dinner in Pensacola waiting for last night’s supper and eating out with the dog along isn’t always easy. 

Looking at our map, I can see that we are only touching a very small portion of southern Mississippi before we travel north along 80 miles of the Trace towards Vicksburg.  The rest of this beautiful state, and its great food and the Mississippi Blues Trail will have to wait for another visit. 

Even the side trip to Natchez and the Trace were a bonus, however, because for a time we thought the weather was going to keep us south on our same route along I-10 through Louisiana that we have traveled a few times.  Still listening to the critter calls as I write, I am so glad we didn’t have to do that.

trail depotWe left for town early enough to spend some time exploring more of Natchez before dark.  Especially delightful are the town trails, numbered 1 to 5, with colored markers imbedded in the sidewalks and plaques showing photos and stories of the history of town in that particular place.  With darkness falling and our performance time approaching, we didn’t have time to walk much of that trail system, something I would highly recommend doing if you are in Natchez.

We did find the road leading to the City Cemetery, north of town along the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  With 300 years of history and 300 years of burials, this cemetery was among the largest I have ever seen.  It is worth a visit of its own, and needs much more than the 45 minutes or so we spent exploring.  After much wandering on extremely narrow roads, I finally found the “angel” just in time for sunset.

Natchez_015_01There is an event in November called “Angels on the Bluff” where guides lead groups from grave to grave where local actors, dressed in period costumes, tell stories about the lives and deaths of some of the people buried there. Again, it shows how proud the local people are of their historic town and its stories.

under-the-hill-trolley-blue-catWe walked to the bluff overlooking the river and the bridge and the lights just beginning to twinkle in the “Under-the-Hill” area along Silver Street.  Earlier in the day as we explored the town by car, we drove down the hill and wished for time and a place to park to walk along the river and read about the colorful history of this area of town.

This area was one of the first settlements on the Mississippi River, and was a wild and rowdy place.  Taverns, gambling halls, and brothels lined the streets.  The river traffic was dominated in the early 18th century by boatmen with keelboats who would brings their good downriver and then return on foot via the Natchez Trace.  Of course, after their long river run, and before their long trek back to Kentucky and places north, they felt entitled to play.

Natchez_040So much more time is needed to explore all the facets of this small but amazing historical place on the Mississippi River.

When I was searching the internet for information about the city, I found gorgeous images of magnolias in full bloom, wisteria vines dripping with purple blossoms, soft green leaves and grass, flowers everywhere, dogwoods in pink and white glory.  I am not sure if the season is just terribly late due to the Polar Vortex winter we have had, or if we were just too early.  If I were to visit Natchez again, I would come in April to experience the glory of spring in this old southern town.

 I especially would have liked more time to explore the beautiful cathedral and some of the many centuries old churches that are in the city.  We drove by a huge Baptist church several times that was established in the very early 1800’s.

Natchez_028_01The performance of the Historical Tableaux was…interesting? fun? fascinating? I can’t find a word.  It is put on twice a year during the fall and spring Pilgrimage by more than 300 volunteers, mainly the women of the garden clubs and their families.  Instead of the slick theater performance I somehow expected, it was more like a small down home high school play. 

Being only the third performance of the season, we were treated to some glitches where a few people forgot their lines and the violin player who may have needed a bit more practice.

Natchez_033_01The portrayal was an incredibly romanticized version of  Natchez History, but still fascinating, with tableaux from the first Na-Chee Indians, through the French, Spanish, English, and American times to the Civil War.  In addition to a lovely black ballet dancer, there was one lone black man in the performance, and something tells me that his part of the show was added in later years to try to represent at least something related to the African American experience in Natchez. 

Natchez_058_01The orator made a single sentence comment about how the plantations that made Natchez wealthy also made life for some people hard.  So hard that they sang songs that would become the roots of the only true American music.  Then the lone black man represented in this version of Natchez history sang, “Old Man River”.  Best performance of the night, in my opinion.

We were treated to lots of kids in silks and satins dancing the maypole, and many women dressed in the great hoop skirts of the time that looked lovely until I started seeing twirling lampshades.  The final tableaux depicted the Confederate boys going to war, with the Confederate flag and Rebel yell resounding through the auditorium.  At the end, the rebel flag was lowered as they raised the American flag and we all stood to sing the National Anthem.  The tableaux is a unique Natchez experience.Natchez_048_01

On a different note: as I continue to read about the South, and slavery, I have discovered a subtle shift in language, and with a bit of research, discovered that it is deliberate.  It is the shift from a noun – “slave”, to using an adjective – “enslaved” people.  Using the adjective doesn’t take away from the personhood of the human being discussed, it merely shows their condition. 

I don’t always pay attention to being politically correct, but in this case, I think I will. Hmm….”Twelve Years an Enslaved Person”? I haven’t seen the movie yet, but just writing the title makes it extremely clear how powerful words can be. 

We are on our way north to Missouri, and our route will take us out of Mississippi into Arkansas this evening.  We are looking forward to our short time on the Natchez Trace and a visit to Vicksburg along the way.  I can see how Mississippi could be a destination rather than an afterthought, but unlike full-timers who can linger, we are part timers who are on our way home.Natchez_083

Next: Our little piece of the Natchez Trace, and feeling the Civil War at Vicksburg