Like so many days before, we had hoped to ride this day. The forecast was for cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-50s by noon. Sounded promising. We woke to thick, dense fog. And then the rain returned. And it was not in the 50s. OK, we can adapt. If it doesn’t clear, we’ll just hang at the hotel until near check-out time, make another quick stop at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, then tour by car on the Trace until we can check into our campsite (yes, you read that correctly–campsite).
The day had one more addition for us. When I went to pull the car under the porte-cochère, I noticed that the front passenger side tire has become very low. It had been looking a little low, but now it was very low. I gave thanks that this was happening (a) in a town and (b) when we had lots of time on our hands. As I packed the car, Maureen located a nearby tire store and we made our way there. The staff at the tire store were extremely friendly–just like everyone else in Natchez (I am not kidding, people in Natchez are super-friendly and it never seems fake)–when we asked them to fix the tire and go ahead and change the oil since we were there and waiting anyway. It did take about an hour (during which we were subjected to another customer’s choice of a soap opera, sigh), but ended up costing only $26! Apparently the oil change was on sale and the tire was covered under my road hazard warranty, which I did not expect, but I guess the network of providers is wider than I knew (I was in their computer…)
Relieved, we made our stop at the reception center and then did another mini driving tour around Natchez. We stopped first at St. Mary’s Basilica, the only basilica in Mississippi. No indoor photos were allowed, as they were holding Lenten adoration of the Holy Sacrament, but the church is quite different from most of what we saw in Europe (despite the mostly Austrian and very beautiful stained-glass windows). Much of the interior is white, with blue and gold highlights, and is very ornate in a manner consistent with this region of the U.S. The Stations of the Cross were particularly interesting. They were three-dimensional carvings, almost like dioramas, that really made the scenes come alive.
Next, we drove by the Natchez Under-the-Hill area. During the nineteenth-century heyday of Natchez, this was where the riff-raff hung out–the rough part of town. The end of the steamboat era also led to the end of the under-the-hill area, but it has made a recent “comeback” thanks to riverboat gaming.
Finally, we stopped by the Forks of the Road Historical Site. This was the center of the very active slave trade in Natchez. The evil that men are capable of doing to one another is beyond my comprehension.
First was the Elizabeth Female Academy site, which may have been where the first degrees were conferred on women in the U.S. Less controversial is the fact that noted naturalist John James Audubon taught there, as well as at nearby Jefferson College. You may note that the sign below says you can learn more by following the path. In fact, you can just see the ruins.
Next, was the Old Trace Exhibit, across from some well-preserved sections of the trail actually traveled by Kain-tucks. These most famous users of the Natchez Trace were boatmen and farmers from the Ohio valley who floated their wares down the Missisippi on rafts and then returned by land.
Almost to the campground, we visited the Emerald Mound. A Native American ceremonial site, it reminded me more of the Acropolis in Athens and Mayan sites in Mexico than the Miamisburg Mound in Ohio. It was built by the Mississippians, who later gave rise to tribes including the Choctaw and Chickasaw. We hiked to the top and enjoyed the eerie, fog-enhanced views.
It was after 2:30, so we decided it was close enough to the 4 pm check-in time to try to get camp set up during a break in the rain. We drove to Natchez State Park and, sure enough, could head right for our camp site. The camp ground was pretty wet throughout, but we found a (hopefully) decent place to put the tent. We had only erected it once before, in the basement of our Grape St. house, so we needed the instructions. Fortunately, it was straightforward. Getting the air mattress in the tent after it was inflated (which has to be done near the car due to the power requirements of the pump)–not so much. We did get it in, but will have to think about improved solutions to this problem.
By this point, Rebbe was trembling from the cold and damp. We decided to take a little drive to warm us all up. Not much was seen. We were pretty far back in the woods…
I’m happy to report that my Palm Harbor practice paid off and I was able to get the camp stove started on the first try! Dinner was eaten in the car, though, since there were no remotely dry surfaces to be found outside.