Friday, July 26, 2013

Las Vegas, NM to Stinnett Tx, via Route 66 and the Old West

Dilia Church
Wrapping up in the Las VegasNew Mexico area, we headed south on I-25 for just a few miles, then picked up Highway 84 to just west of  Santa Rosa. This is a stretch of Pre-1937 Route 66 in New Mexico before it was straightened out, cutting off this northern loop that used to go through Santa Fe.

Along the way to Santa Rosa you'll pass through a couple of spots in the road. Like Apache Springs with just a few scattered houses and some ruins off the side of the road, and Dilia which shows a little more life, but still a small ranching/farming community.  We experienced beautiful landscapes as we continued down in elevation, full of "nothingness" but gorgeous at the same time.

After a small jaunt on I-40, we veered back onto the Mother Road at Santa Rosa,
Sun N Sand in Santa Rosa
the City of Natural Lakes. Founded in 1865, the town began as nothing more than a large Spanish Rancho, and was called Aqua Negro Chiquita. Sometime around 1890, it took a new name honoring a chapel built by Don Celso Baco who named it for his wife and Saint Rose of Lima, the first canonized Saint of the "New World." Today, this popular town along America's Mother Road still provides area attractions through nearby lakes and streams, as well as plenty of photo ops through town of some of it's decades old and still operating Route 66 Icons.

Old Motor Court in Newkirk
Between  Santa Rosa and Tucumcari is what we refer to as a ghost town stretch of Route 66 that includes Cuervo, Newkirk and Montoya.  These small towns got their start from Ranching and Railroad and for a time they were bustling with activity from the many travelers of Route 66.  Today they are a shell of their former self with very few residents.  The buildings tell of a time before the interstate when these small communities were important stops. Read more about this stretch HERE.

Blue Swallow Motel 
After the ghost town stretch you'll find plenty more photo ops and some tasty choices in Tucumcari. Heading east into town you will first come to the New Mexico Route 66 Museum, dedicated to exploring the states 604 miles of original Mother Road.  Up and down 66 through town you'll find icon after icon, like the famous Blue Swallow Motel, or Del's Restaurant (mighty tasty mexican food by the way..loved our lunch here). Once nicknamed "Six Shooter Siding", this town started around 1901 with the railroad and quickly became a bit rowdy with saloons, gamblers, dance hall girls and the like. Today travelers can get a great feel for the 1940's and 50's era of the Mother Road as many of the businesses have done a great job keeping up the Neon, and others have been painted with Route 66 themes.

This would be all of the Mother Road on this segment of the trip though, as we cut north on Highway 54 for an overnight stay in Logan, just outside of Utte State Park, on our way to more old west history in the Texas Panhandle.  (Stayed at Arrowhead RV Park on the east edge of town.  Under new ownership for about a month, this was an alright stop for the night with full hookups, but was mostly long term campers working in the area. A little TLC, which the owner is in the process of giving, will go a long way here. Paid $15 (tax included) with our Passport membership). 

Logan to Stinnett and Hutchinson County History

At one time this bar was a bank
Not too far down the road from Logan on Highway 54 we came into Nara Visa, a ghost town lovers delight. This early 1900's town was built on the railroad, and started off as Narvaez, but English speaking settlers managed to mangle the name until it became Nara Visa. What is now just a small town with an open post office and Motel on the western end used to be home to several churches, eight saloons, dance halls, stores, and more.  What used to be the bank, turned into a bar and looks like something we've seen in a movie, but couldn't find anything in our immediate research.

This was a gem of photo ops for Kathy and I, but unfortunately for "me", my camera decided it was time to
There were quite a few old vehicles on
property along the highway in Nara Visa.
retire, so Kathy got all the fun.  We also heard from a reader on our Facebook page that the bank (now closed bar), which was the First National Bank of Nara Visa, was at one time the most robbed bank in the United States, including, according to our reader, by the Pretty Boy Floyd gang.

After some quality time in Nara Visa, we pushed onto the Texas Panhandle for Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, which used to be the Old West town of Tascosa.  This was once a rival to Dodge City for cattle markets, and was the capital of 10 counties. The post office was established in 1878, and by the 1880's it was already a rough town, famously known for a gun fight in 1886 at the Jenkins Saloon between two panhandle ranch factions that left four dead.  You can visit their graves at the Boot Hill cemetery on the way into town.

Once in Cal Farley's Boys Ranch you need to check into the main office, then walk across the street to the Julian Bivins Museum, housed in the original courthouse.  It, and the old school house are the only two original structures remaining from Tascosa, which died as a town after the railroad built 50 miles north of town.  By the 1930's the town was dead and Cal Farley's Boys Ranch was built on the site in 1938.

From Cal Farley's we headed onto our destination for the next couple of days, Hutchinson County seat Stinnett Texas.

For Legends' 10th Anniversary, Kathy wanted to pay tribute to her roots in the Texas Panhandle, as it was her Grandmother Irene Foster which gave her the "history bug" as a child.  Hutchinson county has a pretty interesting history, especially with the oil industry.  Like the wild and wooley town of Borger just a few miles down the road from Stinnett that was once so corrupt that the Governor of Texas had to send in the Texas Rangers. You can read our full story on Borger HERE.

Stinnett wasn't always the county seat. The extinct town of Plemons held that honor for several years after getting it's start in the late 1800's.  Hutchinson county is also home to Adobe Walls, the first trading post in this region established back in 1843.  Just a marker in a field now, Adobe Walls also has the grave of William Billy Dixon, famous scout, buffalo hunter and Indian Fighter.  Dixon was involved with the second "Battle of Adobe Walls", and is credited with being a hero two days into the battle, when a bullet from his Sharps buffalo rifle knocked an Indian off his horse nearly a mile away (perhaps exaggerated. Dixon himself never claimed credit for his "long shot."

Irene Womble Foster, the
inspiration for Legends Of America.
Kathy's great grandfather William Carson Womble settled in the area around 1902 and was good friends with Dixon up until Dixon's death in 1915.  Womble would go on to become a county commissioner and played an important role in building the new county courthouse in Stinnett in the 1930's, which has his name engraved in the cornerstone of the building.  Later, Kathy's grandfather Ben Foster (who married Irene Womble whom Kathy dedicates Legends Of America too) became the mechanical engineer for the courthouse.  He and Irene would live in the basement apartment at the building for years, raising their children there.  We took a tour of the courthouse so Kathy could relive childhood memories of playing in the halls.  Heard a lot of "tales" from her on this trip about life at the courthouse, from sneaking into the library, to her mom, Wanda, climbing out on the upper floors ledge as a child and actually walking around the building.

Kathy's written extensive history on Hutchinson County, it's towns and people which you can see HERE. Be sure to visit the link for Extinct Towns, Ghost Towns and Company Camps to see more about Plemons and other places that used to be part of the rich history here.

You can see our trip in photos via our Facebook photo album HERE.

(We stayed a couple of nights by the city park in Stinnett in a small (3 or 4 space) RV parking area.  Full hookups, and it was "Free" for 3 nights, then $10 per night after [no long term campers].  We think it's great promotion for a city to do this, and loved the fact we could take advantage of it.  The only thing we would suggest is that the city perform the same care with the RV area that they do with the park, as it was full of good ol' Texas stickers and hardly any grass)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Clayton to Las Vegas and Ghosts In Between

Ruins of a building near Clayton
Saturday morning we got an early start out of Clayton to head for a couple of days in the Las Vegas, NM area.  Still following the Santa Fe Trail for the most part, we had plans of venturing off the main route to see a possible ghost town or two, and found a couple of nice surprises along the way, including the remnants of an old stone building not too far out on the road to Springer.  Sitting alone on the landscape, one could only imagine how long it's been sitting here.

Not wanting to risk too long of a stretch without fuel stops, we
decided to stop at a "spot in the road" called Gladstone, and the Gladstone Mercantile. This old store's been here since the 1940's, and when we stopped, the smell of smoked brisket was enough to put us in a trance, luring us to linger here beyond just getting gas.  Very cool place, which has been in the current owners family for about 18 years.  You'll find some antiques, home made vittles, snacks and more in this store, and the owner has done a great job of "cleaning up" the place from its former years. By the way, that was some good brisket!

We didn't want to take the typical route through Springer, and instead veered off highway 56 onto 39 headed for the town of Roy through the Kiowa National Grassland. We were pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected ghost town along the way.

Vintage photo from Mills, NM
Mills New Mexico sits about 26 miles southeast of Springer, and 11 miles northwest of Roy, and like many ghost towns, was once a bustling community with three stores, five hotels, a theater, dance hall, four doctors, a hospital, a barber shop, a bank, two saloons, three churches , a school, and more. Established in the 1890's, it sputtered at first before taking off in the early 1900's. By 1913 there were around 3,000 residents, but you couldn't tell that today.

Mills New Mexico today
With a few falling down buildings and stone foundations, this railroad town is a shell of its former self and sits off the main road. We parked on the highway and walked in, not knowing for sure whether we could get the trailer in tow turned around in town. Much to our surprise we spied a couple of vehicles sitting in front of what appeared to be one of only a couple intact buildings, and one of them was pulling out and coming our way. It was the Postal delivery gal, and that building she just left was the Post Office, which is STILL active. Apparently there's still enough going on around the area that the Post Office, established in 1898, still delivers.  She encouraged us to talk to the Postmaster, who opens the office on Saturday's (lucky for us), so after a few photos of the town, Kathy went in while the dogs and I stayed outside taking in the landscape.

Had a run in with the law while Kathy was jawing with the Postmaster.  Highway Patrol stopped at our
Kaydee dog applies for guard duty in
Mills, NM.
"abandoned" vehicle, saw me walking on the dirt road in town and headed in to check on us. Very nice officer, who gave me a verbal warning about making sure to get completely outside the white line.  As I was walking back to move the trailer over more, he went on in to make sure I hadn't robbed the Post Office.  By the time I was walking back, I could see Kathy and the officer had already made fast friends.  He had some interesting takes on how this area of New Mexico was used by Native Americans to raid wagon trains, and how outlaw riffraff took advantage of the terrain to escape the law. With canyons nearby, it was easy to imagine what he was talking about.  Mills Canyon nearby provides areas for camping and more, so this is a worthwhile destination for the outdoorsman as well as the ghost town lover.

Roy, NM
On down the road, the town of Roy isn't near as 'ghosty' as we thought it would be, and is still active with several businesses open. However, stopping here and walking along the main business district, there are plenty of signs this town has seen its better days.  Two old movie theaters appear to sit empty, though one seemed to be partially used by an antique store.  You can tell there are some residents that really care about keeping up some of these buildings though, and it had a nice "feel", with friendly folk.  Still full from the brisket back in Gladstone, we passed on the local cafe that seemed to be a popular spot.

Turning onto highway 120, we headed for more Santa Fe Trail, passing through the town of Wagon Mound.
Wagon Mound
Wagon Mound is also an important landmark along the trail, as the Mound that sits by the town looks like a covered wagon being pulled by oxen.  One of the best known landmarks on the Santa Fe Trail, it was the last major landmark on the Cimarron route.  Near here in 1850, a small party of men with the express mail wagon were attacked and killed by Jicarilla Apaches.  Another reminder of just how dangerous westward expansion was for pioneers.

At Wagon Mound we hopped on I-25 and headed south for Las Vegas, and our destination for the day at Storrie Lake State Park just outside of town (Nice place to park your RV, or even a tent, with various levels of sites, including some partial enclosures.  No wifi, but we were able to use our ATT data to an extent. Verizon apparently covers this area much better. Clean park, friendly folk. We paid $14 a night with electric and water. Dump station on site.)

Santa Fe Trail, Native American, Civil War, Spanish Mission and even Route 66 history all in a day!

Downtown Las Vegas, NM
Leaving the trailer behind, Sunday we started out exploring Las Vegas. Known to be more wicked than Dodge City during the days of the Old West, Las Vegas features more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Established by a Spanish land grant in 1835, this was also the last Spanish colony established in North America and originally called Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes (our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the Spanish settlers whose roots went back to the early 1600's. In the beginning, the settlement doubled as a fort, designed to be battened down for attacks by the Apache Indians.

When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, it was the biggest city between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri.  During the notorious days of Las Vegas’ history the town was called home or visited by the likes of Doc Holliday, Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, Wyatt Earp, Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim, Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler, Vicente Silva and his gang, and Belle Sidons (alias Monte Verde).

La Castenada Hotel from the tracks
While in Las Vegas, be sure to visit the Las Vegas City Museum and Rough Riders Memorial, as well as several picturesque historic districts including the Bridge Street and Plaza areas, where there is a designated Santa Fe Trail site. The La Castenada Hotel is a must see landmark of Las Vegas' post-Santa Fe Trail era.  The 1898 building, once housing one of the famous Harvey House Hotels, faces the railroad tracks in the 500 block of Railroad Avenue.  Marked as Private Property and closed today, you can still take in the beauty of the architecture.  Across the street you'll find the Rawlins building, which was once the residence for the Harvey Girls who staffed the hotel's dining room.

Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas NM
The historic Plaza Hotel, built in 1882, is still operating today and was once the center for commerce in a young New Mexico.  It was renovated in the early 1980's, but keeps it's charm as the Belle of the Southwest.  It's also said to be haunted by one of its former owners, Byron T. Mills, who has been seen in room 310..... BOO!

This stop along the Santa Fe Trail is a great destination for history lovers and we could easily see why early westward travelers would consider Las Vegas a welcome site after 600 miles across Kansas.

Puebloan Ruins
After Vegas we headed down I-25 to Pecos National Historic Park. The Pecos Valley has seen continuous human culture for over 10,000 years, including Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, and settlers traveling the Santa Fe Trail.  Stopping at the visitors center, you are given a guide to lead you through a mile and a quarter trail that takes you to Pueblo ruins and an old Spanish Mission.

Spanish Mission at Pecos National
Historic Park
Along the hike you will see Kivas, which are large pits that you can actually climb down into.  Puebloan peoples considered these social and ceremonial places located between the underworld where people had their origin, and the world above where they live now. Back at the Visitors center you will be invited to watch a film about the Park and history of the area.  Overall, we thought this to be a great stop for the price of admission ($3 per person as of this writing).

While at the visitors center, be sure to ask about the Glorieta Civil War Battlefield, which is another section of the park.  A new experience for us was the fact that they had to give you directions to the Battlefield, and a combination for the lock on the gate, with specific instructions on
Glorieta Civil War Battle Field
how to unlock and lock it.  It was worth the seven and a half mile drive from the visitors center to the battlefield though.  This two and a quarter mile looped hiking trail (listed as moderately strenuous) will take you through 14 interpretive trail stops, teaching about "The Gettysburg of the West".  It was here in the spring of 1862 that Union troops thwarted Confederate plans to expand westward. After losing the Battle of Glorieta, Confederates never again attempted action in the West.  Worried about the trail?  There's an accessible trail just over a half mile that cuts through the middle of the loop, allowing visitors to "bail out" so to speak.

Kozlowski Trading Post & Stage Stop
On your way from the visitors center to the battle field you will run into Kozlowski Trading Post and Stage Stop on the Santa Fe Trail just off the road.  While there is an historic marker there and original buildings, we had the impression this building was closed to the public. Never the less, it was a good photo op.

We literally stumbled out of the Battlefield and onto Route 66.  Yes, Route 66 once had an alignment (before 1937) that ventured up from Santa Rosa to just south of Las Vegas, then over to Santa Fe and back down to its later
An old business on Rt 66 near Rowe
alignment.  We just happened upon the section on what is now Highway 50, and decided to follow the original road back toward Las Vegas as a way to end our day trip.  We only found a couple of markers along the way, so we had to "guess" a bit on how to follow. In short, we took 50 to Pecos, then 63 til it turned into "Old Las Vegas Highway" at Rowe.  Once on that road, it pretty much follows I-25 until you reach Highway 84 south of Las Vegas, where it veers off to Santa Rosa.

It was a great day for our Summer 13 Adventure, and an great way for us to wrap up our Santa Fe Trail history.  Next blog we leave Las Vegas, travel the old pre 37 alignment of 66 to more Mother Road, headed for Tucumcari, then more Old West history in the Texas Panhandle.

Don't forget to follow us in pictures via our Facebook photo album To New Mexico & Texas.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

On the Road to the Santa Fe Trail

Kathy and I decided for our Summer trip this year we would escape the hot humid conditions on the Lake of the Ozarks and head for the hot dry conditions of Southwest Kansas, Northeast New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. So we loaded up the mobile motel and hit the road for some Santa Fe Trail, bits of Old West History and a little Route 66.

Our first primary destination was Elkhart Kansas, on the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail, but that's over 500 miles, so we pressed through to Kingman Kansas west of Wichita for quick overnight stay in an RV Parking Lot behind an Alco (overpriced at $20, and with 'pay' wifi on top).  Although we didn't make any stops of note the first day (since we've been there done that quite a bit), we knew there where a few stops before Elkhart that beckoned us on our second day.  Including some interesting Kansas Ghost Towns.  So after passing along and near the old Cannonball Stage Route that ran between Kingman and Greensburg, we made our first stop in Kingsdown.

Looking down Main Street in Kingsdown, Ks
Funny how towns get their names.  We happened upon a local named Phil who was quite helpful with a little bit of history for this town of about 25 souls.  Established back in the late 1800's as a railroad town, it got its name during a card game when one of the players had a winning hand of four kings and proclaimed "kings down" as he laid out his cards.  We'll be writing up some history soon on this railroad stop for sure.

Still heading west on 54 we passed through Bloom, another Kansas ghost town that we had stopped at last November. Settled by the Vanderslice family in the early 1880's, they called the area Bloomburg, after their Pennsylvania home town, but that was shorted to Bloom by 1885 when the Post Office was established. This town saw it's Post Office close more than once, and the population peaked in the 1930's with a couple of hundred residents, but would decline from there to just a few residents now.  The Post Office closed for good in 1992. Read more about the ups and downs of Bloom HERE.

Tunnel at the Dalton Gang Hideout
Meade is a must stop for Old West lovers, as it has the Dalton Gang Hideout Museum.  Neat little off the road place that used to be the home of one of the Dalton sisters.  A tunnel was discovered from the house to the barn, and legend has it the gang used the tunnel to go undetected by local law enforcement.  Worth a stop to see the museum and explore the tunnel for yourself.  Read more about the Dalton Gang HERE.

Old Mercantile/Store in Woods, Ks
We pushed west, veering off highway 54 onto 160, then south on 83 to highway 51, where not too far you run into the ghost town of Woods. The only remaining original building appears to be a store that dates back to the early 1900's.  This was one of those picture opportunities that may not be there in the next few years. Woods is on 51 about 13 miles east of Hugoton, and shouldn't be confused with Woodsdale, which was involved with the now infamous Stevens County War.

Cimarron National Grassland north of Elkhart
West of Hugoton you enter a portion of the Cimarron National Grassland.  This is where you can really get a feel for what early travelers dealt with.  A beautiful landscape, but one that is desolate, and deadly during the days of the Santa Fe Trail.  After reaching our RV Campground in Elkhart (Prairie RV, great little stop next to Car Wash and worth the $20, includes free wifi), and visiting with one of Kathy's old childhood friends from Ulysses, we geared ourselves up for our first big day of exploring.

The Cimarron Branch of the Santa Fe Trail

Middle Cimarron Spring
Our morning began with a short trip north of Elkhart on state 27, where we would meet up with the Santa Fe Trail along the Cimarron River.  Just after crossing the river, we hooked left onto road 600 and traveled only about a mile before reaching Middle Cimarron Spring.  This was a reliable water source for travelers in the Cimarron Valley, which made it a major stopping point and campsite. Although we see tree's here now, the interpretive sign indicates that travelers on the Santa Fe Trail likely only experienced brush and desolate landscape, which made the spring an oasis on their journey. By the way, the water pump later installed at the spring still works, and the refreshment was nice and cold.

Point of Rocks on the Santa Fe Trail near
 Elkhart, Ks
Another half mile up the road brings you to Point of Rocks. This site was a lookout along the Cimarron Valley for both Indians and traders, with one branch of the Trail running between the rock and the river. This landmark is still surrounded by grasslands, where wagon ruts can still be seen.  Down below was the Point of Rocks Ranch, where travelers would stay the night.  It was swept away by flood in 1914. Today it's hard to imagine that much water, considering the Cimarron River here is dry. This was a great stop to really take in the landscape.

Here's a few from the top of Point of Rocks. 

Looking West on Point of Rocks one can only imagine what
Santa Fe Trail travelers must of thought of this landscape. 

A view south on Point of Rocks

Zoomed view south reveals Eklhart on the horizon. Yes,
you can see for miles and miles and miles. 

After our venture to Point of Rocks and snapping up photos of original portions of the Santa Fe Trail, we headed back into Elkhart, hooked up the mobile motel and headed south into Oklahoma.  Although we couldn't follow the trail direct into New Mexico, we wanted to move on toward Clayton, with at least one ghost town stop along the way.

Wheeless, Oklahoma Store?
Not being ones for "direct" routes, we veered off at Boise City, Ok  on State 325, then what appears to be county roads to the ghost town of Wheeless.  Maps tell us this is a dirt road, however it's paved now. Wheeless was established in 1907 and became "un-incorporated" by 1963.  Not too far from here are the ruins of Camp Nichols on the Santa Fe Trail, but that wasn't in the cards for us today, since we were hauling the trailer.

This area of the Oklahoma Panhandle was some of the hardest hit
Abandoned home on the edge
 of Wheeless
areas during the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. We haven't found a lot about the town itself, but it was apparently a farming community like many others in this part of No Mans Land, which is a strip of land, measuring some 35 miles wide by 168 miles long, that was not included in any state until Oklahoma in 1907, and therefore left without any law and order. For years, it was a haven for outlaws, like William Coe, and Kiowa War Chief Satanta, all before Wheeless was established.

Today only a few buildings remain, including what appears to be an active church.  The abandoned school playground is testament to days long gone before litigation ended the fun of metal slides and merry go rounds on chains.
This playground sits lonely in Wheeless, Ok.

After Wheeless we made our way over to New Mexico and back into more Santa Fe Trail territory along highway 406.  This included McNees Crossing of Corrumpa Creek, a natural rock crossing still visible today and named for a young trader killed by Indians here in 1828.  This site still looks a lot like it did during the days of the trail.

Rabbit Ears Landmark on the Santa Fe Trail
After traveling on past Rabbit Ears, which are two peaks that were used as an important landmark along the Santa Fe Trail, we reach our final destination of the day, Clayton New Mexico.  Here in Clayton you can take in the historic downtown district that includes the still active Eklund Hotel and Restaurant established in 1905.  The town it self dates back to 1887,  and was a stop along the Cimmaron branch of the trail, as well as an important livestock shipping center for herds from the Texas Panhandle and the Pecos River. (Stayed at the KOA in Clayton.  Not bad, but probably on the lower end of KOA's we've stayed at. Wifi sporadic, a bit run down, but has on site store. Standard KOA pricing, and since we only have Passport, cost us $34)

We're heading toward Las Vegas New Mexico, and will eventually wind up in the Texas Panhandle for some more Old West history over the next week.

See our Facebook Photo Album for this journey HERE

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Natchez to Home via New Orleans

First, a little whine with my cheese....

I had this blog 98% complete last week, but during the final touches the technical gods, as they have done since the beginning of the year, decided to continue my punishment and wiped out every single letter of my writing.  Is it because I still cling to Windows XP?  Could it be that my refusal to accept fancy flash web building and videos that start automatically (and annoy the heck of me) has somehow put me at odds with technology who is now on a full court blitz to make my life miserable?  Or could it be that it's simply time to stop using Google's Blogger for our blog?  The jury is still out on that last question, but something tells me there is a better platform that would have let me go back to a previous draft of this blog entry.  Of course, that has nothing to do with the hardware and software failures we've dealt with since the beginning of the year, and most definitely is not why 'you' came I'll gulp the last of my whine and move on.

Askew Landing to Natchez 

Water Mill at Grand Gulf
We said goodbye to our friends as Askew Landing and headed back south, through Vicksburg, to Grand Gulf Military Park.  Just outside of Port Gibson, this was an excellent stop and we found the small admission fee to be well worth it. Grand Gulf was once a bustling river port town in the first half of the 19th Century, and it's European history dates back to the late 1700's when the Spanish issued land grants to settlers in the area. Located very near the Mississippi River, the Big Black River flowed into the Mississippi at this point offering easy access to river trade. As the area began to flourish, three land owners decided to lay out a new town on their property in 1828, and named for a large whirlpool which formed as the Mississippi River struck a great rock formation just north of the town site.

Old Church around Grand Gulf
A series of disasters, including yellow fever, would plague the town, and by the time the Civil War came knocking, the population had decreased from over a thousand to less than 200.  Grand Gulf Military Park was officially opened in 1962. Dedicated to preserving the memory of the town as well as the Battle of Grand Gulf, the park features a museum, a number of historic buildings that date to the era of Grand Gulf's heydays, a cemetery, and the Civil War sites of Fort Cobun and Fort Wade.

A tour through the 400 acre park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provides visitors a peek at the past through displays in the museum, buildings and equipment on the grounds, and numerous historical markers. Visitors can tour the park by either driving or walking. The best place to start is in the museum, which provides information on the tour and features historical items, artifacts and photographs from the old town of Grand Gulf and the Civil War. It also features a campground, which accommodates both tents and RV's, picnic areas, a pavilion for large group events, hiking trails, and an observation tower.

Read more about the history of this once thriving port city in our article Grand Gulf - A Bustling Port Along the River.

Other new articles related to this area - 
Rodney - From Prominence to Ghost Town
Bruinsburg to Port Gibson in the Vicksburg Campaign
Windsor Ruins - A Silent Sentinel to the Magnificent South

Inside Mount Locust
Leaving Grand Gulf, we hooked back up to the Natchez Trace at Port Gibson for our final stretch of the historic road to Natchez.  Trying to beat yet more rain, which we dealt with most of the trip, we concentrated our efforts on just a couple of stops, one of which is Mount Locust. The only remaining inn, or "stand" on the Parkway, Mount Locust allows you to see what the "Kaintucks" may have experienced at the road side stands. It is open year round (mile post 15.5), except for December 25, and rangers are available from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm to share information on the historic structure.

While your here you can walk along some of the original Trace, used for centuries by Native American's and early European settlers.  The "stand" has been restored to it's original 1820 appearance, and while we were there, the National Park Service was building a new visitors information center on site.  Be sure to walk behind the "inn" to the slave cemetery hidden in the trees just a short walk away.

After Mount Locust, and just off the trace (mile post 10.3), we headed for Emerald Mound, the second largest Indian Temple Mound in the United States. It was built and used between 1300 and 1600 A.D. by the forerunners of the Natchez Indians. These Indians used a natural hill as a base, which they reshaped by trimming the top and filling the sides to form a great primary platform, 770 feet long, 435 feet wide and 35 feet high. At the west end still stands a 30 foot secondary mound once topped by a ceremonial structure. Exit the Natchez Trace Parkway at Mississippi Highway 553 and go west one mile.

Emerald Mound
We didn't do the Church Hill Loop Route side trip, but it would be worth your time to explore.  At the same exit to Emerald Mound, Highway 553 bears to the right (road to Emerald Mound goes straight). The rural community of Church Hill is located at the intersection of Mississippi Highway 553 and Church Hill Road. The area is named after Christ Church which sits atop a terraced hill. Built in about 1790, the building's design was copied from the old country church buildings of England. Across the intersection is a wooden country store built around 1837. The store bears the name Wagners Grocery on the upper header of the store. The store, which also housed the post office, was closed in the late 1990's. Antebellum plantations line both sides of Highway 553. The Church Hill Loop is 22 miles long - 12 miles along Mississippi Highway 553 and 10 miles along the Natchez Trace Parkway from milepost 10.3 to milepost 20.

Grand Village of the Natchez
Our final stop on our tour of the Natchez Trace Parkway was actually after exiting the Trace in Natchez.  The Grand Village of the Natchez was the tribes main ceremonial center starting around 1682. The early French inhabitants of the area described the ceremonial mounds built by the Natchez Indians on the banks of St. Catherine Creek as the "the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians." In 1729, after several disagreements and acts of violence, the Indians provoked war with the French and were subsequently destroyed as a people. The 128-acre Grand Village site features a museum, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and three ceremonial mounds. From the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, turn onto U.S. Highway 61 South (Seargent S. Prentiss Drive); turn left onto Jefferson Davis Boulevard. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians will be on your right.

For more information on the original road, and the Natchez Trace National Parkway, including sites by mile post, see our article Natchez Trace - Traveled For Thousands of Years

Also enjoy our Vicksburg, MS Area photo gallery

The City of Natchez

A view of Natchez from Louisiana
We pulled across the Mississippi River to an RV Park just across from Natchez in Vadalia Louisiana for our next stay.  (RV Campground/Park reviews at the end of this article).  If you're into American History at all, and love old Antebellum homes of the south, you'll want to spend a minimum of 2 days here, if not more. Named for the Natchez Indian Tribe, the city was established by French colonists in 1716, making it one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley.

Don't miss the incredible Natchez Visitors Center at the head of the Mississippi River Bridge on Highway 84. The facility is the Mississippi Welcome Center, home to local offices of the National Park Service, the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.  A must stop before you go touring, and a one stop shop for tickets to tour the antebellum homes.

Kathy thinks Crawfish are too
much work.
We had the opportunity to stop in at the Under the Hill Saloon before kicking off our tour of the rest of the city and had a great time with Beth and the crew, who even introduced us to the art of eating "mud bugs" they had brought in from a local eatery. Built in the late 1700's or early 1800's, the buildings exact date of construction was lost in a courthouse fire. But history shows it has been used as a brothel, bar, warehouse and general merchandise store.

Back in the 1800's, Natchez was divided into two classes. The town on the bluff which was orderly and respectful,where life and property were safe. And then there was Natchez Under-the-Hill, the lower part of town along the busy river bank. Home to every vice imaginable, it had a rough and tumble time during the busy years of flatboats and steamboats. The historic building that is now the Under the Hill Saloon still speaks of a time filled with cheap whiskey, illicit love and gambling. The Saloon holds the distinction of being the only business still operating 'under-the-hill' that portrays the early days of frontier saloon life. This is a great stop to quench your thirst.

Rosalie Mansion, Natchez
Natchez served as the capital of the Mississippi Territory and State until being replaced by Jackson in 1822, and was a pivotal center for trade and commerce. The city was originally built by African slaves brought by the French, which were the first Africans in what would become Mississippi. Known for their cultivation, these Africans of the Bambara tribe would greatly contribute to the economic growth of the region.

In the mid 1800's, the city was home to a collection of wealthy Southern planters who grew large crops of cotton and sugar cane, leading to Natchez becoming the principal port for the export of these crops. The fortunes earned by the wealthy lead to the building of many large mansions, most of which escaped the destruction of the Civil War due to the city's quick surrender to Union forces in May of 1862.  Many of these homes are open to tours, some even serving as a bed a breakfast.  We will most definitely be writing more about Natchez soon.

Natchez to the Gulf Coast

We headed south out of Natchez to our next destination on the coast, crossing into Louisiana on Highway 61  before going back east to Bay St. Louis on I-12 out of Baton Rouge. Highlights for us from this stretch include Port Hudson and St. Francisville.

Myrtle Plantation, St. Francisville
St. Francisville, established in 1809, has a number of buildings from that period that have survived.  Spain claimed the area around St. Francisville for a time before it was annexed by the state of Louisiana in 1810. And Jewish immigrants played a big role in commerce in the late 1800's that helped the town survive the lean years after the war. This is a great town for those wanting to see restored plantations and Victorian homes.

We made a quick stop at Myrtles Plantation for some picture opportunities.  Built in 1796 by General David Bradford, it was originally called Laurel Grove. The property has changed hands several times since and currently features a full service restaurant, Bed and Breakfast, guided history and mystery tours and more.  Said to be one of America's most haunted homes, the plantation has been featured on several television shows, including Unsolved Mysteries in 2002, where the production crew is said to have experienced technical difficulties while trying to film.

Display at Port Hudson
A few more miles down highway 61, Port Hudson State Historic Site in Louisiana preserves the Civil War history here as Confederates used the bluffs near the small town as river batteries in their effort to contain Federal troops after the fall of New Orleans.  The siege of Port Hudson in May of 1863 saw 30,000 Union troops against less than 7,000 Confederates in some of the bloodiest and most severe fighting of the Civil War.

As the siege continued for weeks, Confederate finally surrendered in early July after 48 days of battle. The siege of Port Hudson was the longest in American military history.  Now a National Historic Landmark as well as a State Historic Site, they hold annual re-enactments the last full weekend in March.  There's a small admission fee to the park, with a museum at the visitors center and several hiking trails. Nice stop for a day trip or on your way to other destinations.

Bay St Louis Area

Mr Riley & Ms Kaydee were missing
the 14 inches of snow back home. NOT
After a short rainy night  in Hammond, LA, we pushed on to our next long term RV Park stay near Bay Saint Louis, MS. (RV Park reviews at end of this article) Bay Saint Louis, Waveland and other nearby towns along the coast have a feel of "newness".  It was here that the eye of Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August of 2005, devastating the entire region. We could see, even seven plus years later, many empty lots along the coast that were surely once occupied by historic homes.

This area was claimed for France in 1699, but also has Native American roots dating back thousands of years.  As far as more recent history, after the Civil War the town and area became a resort for Northerners seeking warmer climates, and the town and surrounding areas flourished. However disasters have plagued the region over the years.  Large fires in the early 1900's claimed many historic homes, churches, stores and the Opera House.  Then Hurricane Camille rolled ashore in 1969, killing hundred and destroying thousands of homes and businesses. But the worst was yet to come with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Thirty-eight foot waves pounded Bay Saint Louis, destroying beach front mansions and homes that dated back to 1787.  In fact, out of over 500 homes listed on the National Historic Register in the Beach Boulevard district, all but 16 were wiped out and the remaining severely damaged.

This Oak carved into an Angle Tree
to commemorate 3 survivors who clung
to it during Katrina.
One of our stops was at the Cypress Cafe, located in the historic Bay St. Louis Mississippi City Hall. It was here on August 17, 1928, when the city jail was located on the bottom floor, that prisoner Silas Richardson, arrested for car theft, shot his way to freedom. In the process, he killed John Dambrino who was there to pick up the keys to the stolen vehicle, and seriously wounded Chief of Police Mark Oliver. It was suspected that someone handed Richardson a gun through the bars of his cell at the back of the building.

Richardson hid in a nearby swamp before hopping a freight train to New Orleans, but came back to Bay St. Louis in late August to get his clothes. Spotted by a neighbor of his parents, he was captured, found guilty in September and after losing appeals, was hung early May of 1929. It was first hanging in 20 years, and the last hanging ever in Hancock County.

Bay St. Louis old City Hall, now
Cypress Cafe
While we were at the Cypress Cafe, owner Holly Lemoine-Raymond gave us a tour, showing us where the cells were in the back, along with where the shooting took place. The building is allegedly haunted, but Holly seemed to have some reservations about the "ghostly" aspect. Here staff however told us of unexplained occurrences like a side door that you can only open from inside, opening and slamming on its own. Some allege it's John Dambrino, the shooting victim who is buried a block away in an historic cemetery. Regardless of what you believe, this was a great stop for a delicious lunch and history in historic downtown Bay St. Louis.

The town is also home to St. Stanislaus College, founded by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1854 and the oldest educational institution on the Gulf Coast. In 1923, the school became a college preparatory school.  We had a great time in this area, and the residents have done a wonderful job in their continuing efforts to rebuild.  It was definitely a "leisure" stop for us that included some much needed beach time. Other highlights of our stay included the beautiful drive along the coast to Biloxi and Gulf Port.  Well worth your time, especially if your inland folks like us.

Here is our photo gallery for Natchez and our trip to the Gulf

Wrapping up our Winter History Tour with New Orleans & Southern Louisiana

After a wonderful stay just outside of Bay Saint Louis, we moved back west on Highway 90 to one of our ultimate destinations, the Big Easy.  Along the way we stopped by Chalmette Battlefield, part of Jean Lafitte National Park.  It was here that the famous Battle of New Orleans took place in January of 1815, the last major battle of the War of 1812, and one that is considered as the greatest American land victory of the war.  It also didn't have to happen, since the Treaty of Ghent was signed just days before in late December of 1814.

Battle of New Orleans
This Battlefield features a small driving tour (free of charge) as well as a visitors center.  Nice stop for history buffs, but our primary focus was to see more of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter. There is too much history here to simply blog about, but in short, La Nouvelle-Orleans was founded in May of 1718 by the French Mississippi Company.  During the American Revolution it was an important port city for smuggling aid to rebels, transporting them up the Mississippi River.  During the 1700's the city transitioned from French control to Spanish control, which they held until 1801, when it reverted back to the French, before finally being sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  In the early 1800's, the Haitian Revolution sent thousands of refugees to the area, adding to the extremely diverse cultures of Spanish, French, Creoles, Irish, Germans and African free men and slaves.

Bourbon Street
The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city, which used to be centered here. Also known as Vieux Carre (French for Old Square), most of the present day buildings were built under Spanish rule after the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, and another fire in 1794 destroyed most of the French architecture. You should plan at least 2 full days, if not more, to explore the French Quarter, and other day or two to explore the rest of the city.  We managed to find an RV Park not to far away provided shuttle service to and from the French Quarter daily, so without the hassle of trying to find parking, etc, we thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the historic streets.  You'll find entertainers scattered about, playing music, juggling and overall entertaining tourists for tips.

St. Louis Cathederal
Be sure not to miss Jackson Square, formerly known as Place d'Armes, which is an open park at the center of the French Quarter.  After the Battle of New Orleans it was named after the victorious Andrew Jackson. Just across the street, opposite of the river front, is the 18th century St. Louis Cathedral flanked by the old city hall (now a museum) where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, and the Presbytere, built to house Roman Catholic priests, and later acting as a courthouse in the 1800's and museum in the 1900's.  Today the square is a gathering place for artists, tarot card readers, fortune tellers and street performers.

We also took time to ride the trolley lines through portions of the area to see the old antebellum homes, although looking back we would have explored that differently.  Overall though, you will not be disappointed with a visit to New Orleans and it's rich history of culture. We were there weeks after Mardi Gras yet Bourbon Street and the entire area was alive with people the Sunday we explored the French Quarter, so no worries about missing any of the action the rest of the year. We will return and spend more time for sure.
New York City's Calypso Tumblers
 perform at Jackson Square
After New Orleans we began our trek home, touring more of Southern Louisiana.  Highlights for us included Avery Island near New Iberia, Arcadian Village in Lafayette and this historic city of Natchitoches.

Tabasco Country Store
We parked a couple of nights at New Iberia and spent a day at Avery Island.  The home of Tabasco Sauce, this 'island' has quite an interesting history. One of five salt domes islands that area along the Louisiana coast, it is surrounded by low lying swamps and marshes.  It was named for the Avery family that settled here in the 1830's.  In 1868, Edmund Mclhenny founded his company and began manufacturing Tabasco brand pepper sauce, which is still produced there today. Take a tour of the plant, and be sure to visit the Tabasco Store.

Swore he was fake, til the damn thing
took off and scared the..well, you know
After you've had your fill of sauce, cross the road to Jungle Gardens and Bird City. This is a natural paradise created and managed by the Avery/Mclhenny family's since the late 1800's, and features exotic plants, crocodiles, bamboo and other wildlife.  The bird sanctuary was established in 1895 as a way to preserve egrets who were being slaughtered for their feathers. After raising a handful in captivity, Edward Mclhenny released them to mirgrate across the Gulf of Mexico and the following spring they returned with more egrets. This migration continues today where you can witness thousands coming back to roost. There's a small admission fee to the island and additional charge for Jungle Gardens, but well worth the price. Plan a full day for Avery Island.

Arcadian Village
Our next stay was with an old childhood friend of Kathy's in Lake Charles. On the way from New Iberia, we stopped at the Arcadian Village in Lafayette.  Created in the 1970's as a way to improve tourism, this  "village" has two other purposes; preserve early Arcadian heritage and benefit the LARC (Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens).  They transformed 10 acres of farmland into a shaded community complete with a bayou running through it.  Seven of the 11 buildings area authentic homes of the 19th Century, and all tell the story of Arcadian life.  The admission fee was worth the price as we explored the many buildings in this 'historic' setting.

Kathy and I capture our happy moment
in front of the medicine cabinet at
Arcadian Village.
Our final stretch, after a couple of wonderful days with Kathy's friend Ann in Lake Charles, found us in Natchitoches, Louisiana's oldest town, established in 1714. You may recognize it as the setting for the movie "Steel Magnolias", and it's steeped in Native American and French history.  Becoming part of the United States in 1812, the area never  lost it's mix of Indian, French, Creole, African American and Anglo cultures. We spent a day around the city exploring the Cane River National Heritage Area, which includes many old Plantations open to tours daily.  Plan a couple of days at least in this historic city, one to enjoy the Plantations and another to enjoy the historic downtown.

We'll be writing more about Southern Louisiana in the months to come.  It was a great adventure to wrap up our six week history tour.  Although we had some setbacks due to RV problems in Mississippi that prevented us from seeing all we had planned to see, our trip did manage to teach us some valuable lessons; like shorter more frequent blogs are better (if you've made it this far you will probably agree), find a more reliable internet method other than RV Parks wifi and ATT's network, don't count on the weather to cooperate, and pretty much just go with the flow.  I'm sure there's more lessons, but overall Kathy and I were very happy that we managed to live in tight quarters for six weeks with two dogs and still want to do it again.

Here is our photo gallery for Southern Louisiana, including New Orleans

RV Park/Campground Reviews

River View RV Park & Resort - Vadalia, LA
Good location, nice view of the river, very accommodating and friendly staff, some sites need better leveling as we had several inches of water at our front door after a heavy rain. WI-FI is non-existent, unless you're in the clubhouse, I guess. We were parked right in front and still couldn't get it. Excepted Passport during the week. We gave this one 7 out of 10

Bay Hideaway RV Park and Campground - Bay Saint Louis, MS
We can see why this RV Park is rated one of the best in the South. Great location just a few miles from the Gulf Coast. Very active with guests with planned outings and activities. Very clean and great Wi-Fi throughout the park during off peak hours. Although we stayed for only a few days (at passport rates during the week), there are several snow birds that come back year after year. Highly recommend this RV Park. While we did not use the shower/bathroom facilities, we did use their laundry, which was clean. We gave this one 8 out 10.

Jude Travel Park - New Orleans, LA
If you are wanting to get close to the French Quarter without paying through the nose, this is a great RV Park. They offer shuttle service to and from the French Quarter from morning to around 10pm. Great WiFi and Cable TV. The RV Park is very tight though, and while they are pet friendly, there's not a lot of places to take your dog, other than your own area and up and down the single road in/out. Would recommend to those wanting to spend quality time exploring New Orleans. We marked "do not know" on family friendly simply because of the tight space. Did not accept Passport. We rated this park 6 out of 10.

Chases RV Park - New Iberia, LA
Friendly staff and good RV Park. Great Wi-Fi close to the office, and just off highway 90 and 83 interchange. Did not use bathrooms while here, so don't know about them. Spacious and it appears to have some long term residents. Great place to stay to explore New Iberia and Avery Island which are close by. Did not accept Passport. We rated this one 7 out of 10.

(Note: We use RV Park Reviews. Traveling in a 22' Travel Trailer. All electric 30 amp or more unless otherwise noted).