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.