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Archive for Mississippi

Biking New Orleans, LA to Biloxi, MS

This is the story of a hastily thrown-together cycling trip from New Orleans, LA to Biloxi, MS on April 26th, 2011, the Monday after Easter. As usual, I underestimated the amount of time it would take to pack for such a trip, a mistake that results in little sleep – maybe four hours! My day begins long before dawn – 5:00 AM. I stuff everything on my checklist into two large panniers, kiss my wife, and roll out.

View NOLA to Biloxi by Bike in a larger map

Yellow indicates main route. Orange and blue mark last-minute changes to the plan. Click, double-click, and drag the map to interact or open the larger map.

As a cyclist, the thing that troubled me the most about my route from New Orleans to Biloxi was the crossing of the Industrial Canal into New Orleans East, a hindrance that would make or break me within the first half hour. After much deliberation on the subject, I decided to take the route that was longest yet safest – the Seabrook Bridge near Lake Pontchartrain. This turned out to be very easy, and I had a good laugh upon reaching the other side. Still, I was quite relieved to be in New Orleans East. Then, the wild dogs showed up!


Seabrook Bridge - easy crossing for a bike


From the Seabrook Bridge


From the Seabrook Bridge


From the Seabrook Bridge

The first wild dog attack happened on Franklin Avenue, before crossing into the East. Three tiny but menacing pups pounced onto the road. With a bloodthirsty look in their eyes, these small Ewok-like creatures nipped at my ankles for no less than six blocks.

Wild dog encounter number two was thankfully only a very scary close call. In New Orleans East I passed an Autozone store and took a left onto Morrison Ave. I remember exchanging morning greetings with a gentleman hanging out outside of the Autozone. Moments later, I lifted my head to survey the road and I spotted a pack of four extremely large pitbulls trotting towards me! Had these dogs been lifting weights? These could have been the nicest dogs in the world, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I turned the bike around and headed back towards the Autozone. The gentleman was still standing outside. I warned him about the wild pack of dogs, and he started for the store. I attempted to make a block around the problem, but only ran into dead ends. I had to try Morrison again. I carefully made my way back to the Autozone where the man, still outside, assured me that the dogs had gone into a neighborhood, “You’re all clear!” Well, that’s good for me but bad for someone else in that neighborhood. How do the folks out here deal with these wild dogs roaming their streets? I continued up Morrison, but not until after I had crossed the canal median. The pack had moved on.

About a half an hour later, on Hwy 90, a very large mutt came screaming across an abandoned lot, charged right up to me, and nipped at my heals very briefly. Luckily, he was not interested in my very loud yelling. My heart was pounding, and I stopped to gather myself. I thought very seriously about calling it quits. I thought about buying a can of mace. Then, I thought about how I was wasting time, and I simply kept going.


Vietnamese-owned shops in New Orleans East


Venetian Isles from Jerry and Charlotte's deck (thanks for the coffee)

As I continued east on Hwy 90, I passed over several bridges. Some of the bridges were small, leaving little room for a cyclist. Luckily, these small bridges were typically also short in length, so I simply waited for traffic to pass and quickly crossed.


Hwy 90 bridge crossing at Chef Menteur Pass

Pictured below is Fort Macomb at Chef Pass. The purpose of the fortress was to protect the Chef Menteur Pass which connected Lake Pontchartrain to Lake Borgne and consequently, the Gulf of Mexico. This stronghold was built in 1822, garrisoned by the Confederate States of America in January of 1861, and then retaken by Union forces the next year. The following is from the Fort Macomb Wikipedia entry:

In 1867 the barracks caught fire, after which the fort was largely abandoned. It was decommissioned in 1871. The fort and its land are now owned by the State of Louisiana. While some efforts were made to open it to limited tourism in the late 20th century, the decaying condition of the fort was judged too hazardous for public visits. The similar but better preserved Fort Pike some 10 miles (16 km) away at the Rigolets has been the regional example of a coastal fort open to visitors. A portion of the fort’s old moat has been turned into a canal as part of a small marina. Unfortunately, the wakes from incoming and outgoing boats is wearing away the outer wall of the fort and accelerating the structural damage.


Fort Macomb, as seen from the Chef Menteur Pass bridge

Saint Catherine’s Island/Petites Coquilles (see images below) is a spit of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Saint Catherine on Hwy 90. On this narrow tract, sometimes less than 800 feet wide, many new post-Katrina fishing camps and homes are under construction. * Side-note: This also happens to be where 1950’s blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield met her untimely end on June 29, 1967, as her vehicle struck the back of a stopped tractor-trailer.


new post-Katrina construction


bridge crossing Rigolets Pass



Fort Pike (pictured below) is located at the northeast corner of Saint Catherine’s Island/Petites Coquilles, just before the Rigolets Pass. Like Fort Macomb, Pike was constructed to protect the water routes into New Orleans.


Fort Pike from the Rigolets Pass Bridge

The following is from the official Fort Pike website:

Begun in 1819 and completed in 1826, Fort Pike was named for the explorer and soldier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) whose name is also attached to Pike’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains. Fort Pike is the first of the Third System fortifications, a group of brick and masonry structures built between 1816 and 1867. The fort was designed to withstand attack from land or sea.

The original armament of Fort Pike consisted of 32-pounder and 24-pounder cannons; the exact number of each type is unknown. At various times the fort held other types of cannons. The wartime garrison was approximately 400 men; in peacetime it varied between one and 80 soldiers. Fort Pike’s role in the military affairs of the United States prior to the Civil War varied considerably. During the Seminole Wars in the 1830s, Fort Pike served as a staging area for many troops en route to Florida, and also as a collection point for hundreds of Seminole prisoners and their black slaves who were being transported to Oklahoma. Cannons were removed from some of the casemates to convert them to cells. At one point in this conflict, only 66 soldiers guarded 253 Indian and black prisoners.

Similarly, during the Mexican War in the 1840s, Fort Pike was a stopover for soldiers bound for Texas and Mexico. In between these wars, Fort Pike was largely abandoned and left in the care of a single ordnance sergeant.

In 1861, the silence of Fort Pike was broken. Before the actual start of the Civil War, the Louisiana militia captured the fort. Confederates held it until the Union forces took New Orleans in 1862, whereupon the Confederates evacuated Fort Pike. Union forces then reoccupied the fort, using it as a base for raids along the Gulf coast and Lake Pontchartrain area and as a protective outpost for New Orleans. The Union also used Fort Pike as a training center, where former slaves were taught to use heavy artillery. These troops became part of the United States Colored Troops, who played an important role in the outcome of many battles, including the siege at Port Hudson. Yet, in spite of all this activity, not a single cannonball was ever fired in battle from Fort Pike.

Fort Pike was again left to the care of an ordnance sergeant from 1871 until it was officially abandoned in 1890. In 1972 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an honorary designation for significant historic sites.


Fort Pike with Rigolets Pass in the foreground and Lake Saint Catherine in the background

The trip continues east into Mississippi, towards Pearlington. The terrain gets very swampy resulting in many more small bridge crossings. Also, I noticed a trend as I passed through places with “Island” in the name: Prevost Island, Weems Island, Honey Island, Desert Island, and Brown’s Island. After the trip, I looked up these locations on a map. To my surprise, not a single one is an actual island, simply low-lying marsh riddled with bayous and canals.


Islands? Click to elarge.


Just past Pearlington, MS, at trip mile #45, I turned off of Hwy 90 onto Lower Bay Road. This stretch was gorgeous with smooth roads, heavily wooded forest on both sides, and no cars in sight. The route meandered down into Bay St. Louis, where I ravenously tore into chicken and biscuits at Kent and Sue’s Quick stop.


Kent and Sue's Quick stop - Bay St. Louis, MS

In Bay St. Louis, MS, I paused on Lakeshore Drive, just before the train tracks, to take a photograph of Lakeshore Baptist Church. The church steeple stood oddly on the ground beside it. A very nice woman, tending to her garden across the street from the church, explained that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed the original church, and all that was left was the steeple. The building pictured below is a temporary home for the congregation, and when construction on the new church is complete, they will place the old steeple back on top. The woman across the street asked where I had biked from, and I briefly explained my trip. She unflinchingly offered me a bottle of water, as if we’d known each other for years. Some might say, “It’s just a bottle of water”, but I was stunned by her trust and generosity. I had pointed my bicycle east, left the comfort of my home, biked 60+ miles into a still-devastated community, and I was being offered free water. Maybe I was feeling the effects of an extended cycling trip, but this simple offering touched me deeply.


Lakeshore Baptist Church

The images below are depictions of the Lakeshore Baptist Church before/after Hurricane Katrina, images are from the website Rebuild Lakeshore: a ministry of Lakeshore Baptist Church


And finally, at approximately trip mile #62, I reached the beach near the Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis. The remainder of my trip would be spent biking the wide beach sidewalks – all the way to Biloxi (with the exception of the Bay St. Louis Bridge). With the winds steady at 10mph and gusting to over 20mph, sand quickly found it’s way into everything: water bottle, shoes, eyes, pants, gears, phone, and camera. With the probability of 40 more miles of this sandblasting, I decided to change into long pants.


beach near the Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis


Following the beach in Bay St. Louis was easy at first, and then I ran into a bit of ongoing construction. Crews are still working on the road, seawall, and sidewalk. With that said, the road is open, and the path is also navigable by bike. The beach road leads all the way up to the brand new Bay St. Louis Bridge. Another victim of Hurricane Katrina, the Bay St. Louis Bridge is an example of how to make the best out of a bad situation. In short, Bay St. Louis rebuilt the bridge, but they widened it significantly, adding a protected, separate ten foot wide lane for pedestrians, turning this two-mile stretch of concrete into a park. Every tenth of a mile, a marker reports how far you’ve traveled. This is accompanied by permanent artwork depicting local sea life. I was fully impressed. Louisiana, take notes.


Bay St. Louis Bridge or the Leo W. Seal, Jr. Memorial Bridge


mile marker and art work / each marker has a different scene


Bay St. Louis Bridge - cyclist's dream!


Bay St. Louis Bridge - cyclist's dream!


more Katrina-related ruins in Pass Christian, MS


Shaggy's in Long Beach, MS, where I had some very tasty fried catfish strips for second lunch.


from Shaggy's back porch


Gulfport, MS water tower


Union Pacific / Water Tower / School Carnival

If you were to pick up a Long Beach/Gulfport/Biloxi paper, or tune in to local talk radio, you might notice that “sand” is currently a buzzword in the region. Here’s what I learned. The sand on the Mississippi coastline is not Mississippi sand – it’s Florida sand. We’re talking over 30 miles of beach, from Pass Christian to Biloxi alone, covered in Florida sand – that’s a lot of sand! Now imagine that you’re a taxpayer in Mississippi, and you’re being told that clean, white sandy beaches attract exponentially more tourists than naturally occurring, not so shiny Mississippi beaches, like the ones that I remember seeing here as a kid – which were quite an improvement over Louisiana beaches. The taxpayers are sold on white sand as an investment for tourism, and sand is brought in from Florida. But then something happens in the spring. The wind blows, and the sands move onto the road. Quagmire initiated.

Sand on Hwy 90 is a problem. Cars don’t handle sand well. Wheels slip, cars turn without warning, brakes become less reliable, and air systems clog. Secondly, the sand must be removed from the road, which means that construction crews working around the clock, block entire sections of a very busy, sand-covered highway. Thirdly, the sand being scooped up off the road can not simply go back on the beach, not with all those toxic car chemicals, so the sand is loaded into trucks and dumped into a Mississippi landfill. This Florida sand has quite a life cycle, right? By the way, we’re talking about a lot of wasted sand. One Gulfport news story reports up to 6,000 yards of sand hauled off per day. While I don’t quite understand why anyone would want to measure sand by the yard, I do know that it sounds like tons.

In my humble opinion, I wonder why there is so much sand on the beach. In some of the images below, you will notice stairs that lead from the sidewalk by the road, down to the beach. In many cases, these stairs are completely covered. Why so much sand? Engineers are attempting to plant dunes and erect special fences to block some of the runaway sand. Hopefully, something proves useful. Until then, maybe Mississippi should hold off on the importing of sand and shift that cash to something more useful, like pumping in pretty Florida water. Good luck, Mississippi!


Florida sand in Mississippi


Here, you can see the stairs.


Here, no stairs, but the'ye down there.


Crews work to remove sand from the road.


Too much sand!


Bird sanctuary


Day one ended at the home of friends Jinger and Dave in Gulfport, MS. It was so nice to see them again and tons of fun to get some time with the little ones. Also, I was super excited when Jinger cooked up black eyed peas, smothered greens, and okra for dinner. Shock and awe!


Friends Jinger and Dave, with their kids Henry and Ruby.


Henry and Ruby

On day two, my dream of taking a boat out to Ship Island was crushed by inclement weather – thanks again, wind. Instead, I cruised up the beach to Biloxi to see what I could find.


Many of the area trees were killed by Katrina, so they became a sculptor's blank canvas.


I bet they didn't care what color the sand was.


Beau Rivage


Mary Mahoney's, one of the oldest restaurants in the country - circa 1737!


I had lunch here, at the Ole Biloxi Schooner.


Interesting interpretation of a Catfish Po-boy at the Ole Biloxi Schooner - fish was great, but the bread was hard.


"Antique & Streetrods For Sale"


Deer Island; about 600 feet from shore - I really wanted to swim out there.


Katrina Memorial


Carved and painted oak


A home in Biloxi. Notice the Katrina-related sign on the upper right reading, "water line".


Highway 90 bridge leading to Ocean Springs - maybe next time.

I recorded a conversation with Coach Holmes of Tallassee, Alabama (now residing in Biloxi) as he discussed his career in football – both as a player and as a coach. The Edgewater Plaza Shopping Center in Biloxi, MS was a little noisy, but the stories are worth it. To hear this story and others please subscribe to the Slices of America Podcast.

Tunica Falls, MS

Another New Year presents itself, and she’s escorted by the same old companions: hissing fireworks, the unfathomable lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, gaudy street parades, steaming cabbage with black-eyed peas, and of course those delicate pledges-to-oneself that we call New Year’s resolutions. All of these timeless traditions constitute the norm on New Year’s Day. The question is, does January 1st still have room for new traditions? In this brief day trip, my friend Dane and I travel to south Mississippi to hike the bluffs, creek beds, and primitive paths of the Clark Creek Natural Area ( also known as Tunica Falls ), and if all goes to plan we may even establish a new tradition for the new year – a walk in the woods.

Dane picked me up early, just as the sun was coming up on a cold new year’s day. We stopped at McDonalds in Metairie for a couple of bacon, egg, and cheese McGriddles then motored about 130 miles up the river, through Baton Rouge, just over the Louisiana/Mississippi border to Pond, Mississippi. Dane took a left onto Pond Rd, crossed a cattle guard, and passed the 100+ year-old general store. His Ford Ranger rolled to a stop at the trailhead parking lot.

And so we began, from the get-go, to hike uphill. Out of shape, my legs and lungs were immediately exhausted by the first few hills on the trail, and one after another, the hills just kept on coming. The Clark Creek Natural Area, on 700 acres of rolling land in Wilkinson County, boasts 50 waterfalls ranging from 10-30 feet in height. The landscape is less indicative of Louisiana/Mississippi. It’s closer to what you would find in the foothills of Appalachia. If you were to blindfold me and drop me out of a plane into the Clark Creek Natural Area, I might think that I were in Arkansas or Georgia, but in fact I would be three miles from the Mississippi River, 30 miles from Baton Rouge.

For a while, we stuck to the established trail. Curious signs only confused us and soon we found ourselves whacking through brush, not because we were lost, but because it was so much more interesting to make our own trail. We came upon another confusing trail marker. The sign made little to no sense, and we came to a decision. We were no longer going to follow the signs. Instead, we would descend down into the dry creek bed and follow it around the park. We veered down a steep grade, hanging onto tree trunks as gravity did most of the work for us, like Plinko chips on the Price is Right, only I’d like to think that we had more control over our tumbling fates. We bounced from tree to tree, sliding down the clay and mud to a drop-off of 30+ feet. Dane led the way as we found the best location to descend to the mostly dry creek bed below.

After taking a lot of photos, we started along the creek bed. I enjoyed the quiet splendor as the water-worn rocks and pebbles crunched under my feet. The few leaves left after winter rustled in the wind. After much more exploring and picture taking, we decided it was time to head back. I checked the GPS to confirm our direction, and we cut through the brush past another waterfall, right back onto the path. On the way out, we made a pit-stop at the 130 year-old general store in Pond. Dane struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter. She was a little reserved at first, but once Dane got her talking, there was no stopping her.

Tunica Falls is certainly worth the 2 1/2 hour drive from New Orleans. We were back by evening’s twilight, and even though I was locked out of my own house (wrong key), I can honestly say that sitting there in the cold – waiting for my wife to get back from working in her studio – it was all worth it. A walk in the woods on New Year’s Day may become a tradition yet.