Day Seven – August 9, 2004
Jackson, MS to Memphis, TN
One week away from home and I’m still having a great time on vacation. We woke up on day seven in Jackson, MS, still 995 miles way from home (according to my GPS, anyway). Interestingly, Jackson, MS was the farthest we got from Brainerd on the entire trip, since the Dallas-Fort Worth area is closer to our house by about 50 to 60 miles. No matter which way you looked at, however, there was still quite a lot of driving to be done before we got back home. Besides that, we hadn’t even begun heading north again once we made it to Jackson. Day seven would be the first day we would start doing that.
There wasn’t really one thing I really wanted to see in Jackson, but thanks to the Mississippi travel guide I had ordered before the trip, as well as this handy travel book about Jackson in our hotel room, I was able to create a list of possible things I wanted to see.
I knew I just had to see the Mississippi State Capitol, so, first thing in the morning after checking out from our hotel, we headed off in the direction of the capitol. It turned out to be an incredibly easy drive, since our hotel was on the same street as the capitol, less than a mile away. There was a slight problem, however, in getting out and getting some pictures of the building. First of all, the visitor’s parking spots must be in a very tricky location, because we could not find the correct place for non-employees to park. Secondly, the day we visited was convict-work day; there were quite a few convicts – complete with “Mississippi State Prison” t-shirts and striped pants – doing landscaping work outside the building. It was obvious the guards overseeing their work did not like us driving around so close to where they were working. Nevertheless, I did manage to get one picture of the capitol; check it out below.
Another place on my list of things to see was the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History, only a matter of blocks away from the current capitol building. This museum is in the site of the old Mississippi capitol building, which was used from 1839 to 1903, until the new capitol was constructed. The old capitol now houses exhibits telling the complete, unabridged, history of Mississippi.
The museum and exhibits were actually very, very interesting. Interesting enough for me to spend more than two hours there, and still wish I would have been able to spend another half hour or so.
After we made the obligatory trip to the gift store, we left to get on the road and out of Jackson. It was already noon, and we had more than 100 miles to cover before getting into Memphis.
Jackson, although it is the largest city in Mississippi at a population of 184,256, really felt much smaller. It’s really got a rural, calm feel to it; a feel that I really liked. The city was also much nicer than I was expecting it to be, especially considering all the negativity that is associated with Mississippi.
I’ll discuss more of my observations about Mississippi living later, but right now I’ll say we left Jackson on a more non-standard (i.e. non-interstate) route. Instead of taking I-55 from Jackson to Memphis, which would have been easy to do, I thought it would be much more interesting to travel a route less traveled.
The route I decided upon – there were a few ways to get from Jackson to Memphis – was U.S. 49. This four-laned divided highway brought us into the very flat, very scenic floodplain of the Mississippi River.
From Jackson to the first mid-sized city we came to, Yazoo City, the landscape was actually a little hilly. Besides that, there were also a lot of trees all over the place. I absolutely loved looking at the scenery in this area, because most of the trees I could see from the road were drastically different than the kind we have in Minnesota. I’m not sure if I saw one of the famed magnolia trees that make Mississippi the Magnolia State, but I did see a lot of interesting trees nonetheless. Besides that, another thing this area of Mississippi had that cannot be found in Minnesota was vine plants. Everything, it seemed, was covered in very, very thick plants that grow as vines. Entire trunks of trees were covered in nothing by leaves from the vine growing up; I even saw a billboard almost completely smothered in vines. It was all a pretty interesting site.
It was easy to see that when we got to Yazoo City, we had entered the very large Mississippi River floodplain, also known as the Mississippi Delta, where the "delta blues" style of music originated. Up until this point, the terrain was hilly, but just before getting to Yazoo City, we went down a very steep hill, never recovering the elevation again until Missouri. All of the land after this point was almost completely flat, and there was definitely a thinning of all the dense forests and trees.
We stayed on U.S. 49 following Yazoo City, and after passing the small town of Belzoni, came up to the bigger city of Indianola. After becoming hooked on Popeye’s the day before, I just had to eat there again. Luckily, Indianola was just the right size to have everybody’s favorites: like Church’s, Sonic, and Popeye’s. This time, I tried their shrimp basket with Cajun rice and pineapple honey dipping sauce. It may not sound the best, but, believe me, it really tasted good. I’m probably going to make it a tradition to go to the Popeye’s in Minneapolis whenever I’m in the area from now on.
In Indianola, we turned west onto U.S. highway 82. We took this road for about 15 miles, before turning onto U.S. highway 278. We traveled on this course for about 60 miles, going through some very rural areas of Mississippi. It was, nonetheless, a very scenic highway, with a very pleasant mixture of dense forests and farmland. Actually, there were all kinds of different farms along this route. I saw cotton, soybean, corn, peanut, pecan, and walnut farms/fields all along this road. The corn growing season, however, had already ended, and many of the corn fields were being mowed over.
We eventually came to the city of Clarksdale and upon finding the local Wal-Mart (picture below), got out and took a little break. I would have liked to have gone inside the store, but, there wasn’t really anything I needed to buy, plus I do have convictions with buying merchandise at Wal-Mart.
Anyway, we then got back on the road, ready to make the 80 mile trip to Memphis. The only populated area of significance here was Tunica, but only because it is where all the Tennesseans go to gamble. Mississippi supports state-run casinos, and Tunica is clearly the place where the majority of them are located. The main street in town was lined – for about 5 miles – with a lovely assortment of trees and shrubs; it was nice to see how some of the money made at the casinos is used.
Not too long after seeing Tunica, we crossed the border into Tennessee. Of course, since Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley, I wanted to try to get to Graceland. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks away from the main gate to his house, but, because it was already evening when we got into Memphis, there was no way we could go on this day. Read tomorrow’s report to find out if I got to see Graceland.
As an end to this day’s report, I’d like to share some observations about Mississippi. Of course, whenever I mentioned I was going to be going through Mississippi on vacation, most people couldn’t believe why I would willingly want to go sightseeing in Mississippi. It seems as if most people would think of Mississippi as the last place they would like to spend a vacation in. It is true, Mississippi continually ranks at the top of the list for unemployment, number of people on welfare, crime, and the bottom of the list in just about all things education. Poverty and destituteness was apparent in just about every community I passed through on this day of our trip (except for Indianola, to a certain extent), but there were still some very nice people living in Mississippi. I guess what I’d like to say is it was definitely a learning experience for me to leave my little bubble in Brainerd, Minnesota, and see first-hand how unfortunate some people in other parts of the country are.
The Mississippi State Capitol
Downtown Jackson scenery
The Yazoo City water tower, with a closed K-Mart in the foreground
A crop duster in the Mississippi floodplain
A Memphis sunset
Welcome to Jackson signs
These stoplights had pulsating strobe lights on them when they were red so motorists would stop
Yazoo City street scene
Another Yazoo City street scene
A train comes through Yazoo City
People loitering under the No Loitering sign at Yazoo City's Amtrak shelter
Yazoo City's Winn Dixie
Clarksdale's Piggly Wiggly
Mississippi floodplain scenery
More floodplain scenery
Welcome to the Volunteer State
Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).
Mail Truck Hijacker
Sonic Drive-In Commercial