As the days begin to grow longer, thoughts of getting out on the back roads of the United States become more frequent. Driving through snowstorms and facing airline delays/cancellations due to winter conditions do not appeal to me, so from November through January I tend to do fewer county collecting trips than in warmer months. In most years, my first trip coincides with the Presidents Day holiday (the 3rd Monday in February for those outside the US). It’s not that I never hit the road in January, it’s just not a yearly event. By the time late February rolls around, I’m eager to add more color to my map of the United States. Winter weather in the northern part of the county can linger into April, so I tend to focus my attention on warmer places saving the mountains and other areas that get plenty of snow for the summer months. This year, I opted to check out parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Despite escaping snow back home, the weather wasn’t exactly ideal for a road trip. Over the course of my four days in the South, the sun only managed to break through the clouds for a few hours one afternoon. The rest of the time, overcast skies were the best I faced. Rain, occasionally heavy, punctuated most stops, though I managed to stay warm and dry behind the wheel of my rental car.
Even with the ever-present rain, I noticed a few interesting places along the way. In Mississippi, all the way from Memphis down to Vicksburg, the state is dotted with the hometowns of some the biggest names in Delta Blues music. For fans of the blues, stopping at the B.B. King museum in Indianola is a must. Or visit Rolling Fork to see the birthplace of Muddy Waters. Then there is the famed Crossroads in Clarksdale where legend had is that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play guitar. Believe what you wish about the story. The place is worth a stop if for nothing else to take a picture.
Some readers may recall I passed through Clarksdale roughly three years ago (see Highway 61 Revisited) and lamented not taking a photograph of the Crossroads. Since I was back in the vicinity, I decided to correct my omission and make a modest detour. I’m impressed by the job Mississippi has done erecting historic markers all along the Mississippi Blues Trail. I’d highly recommend anyone curious do a good bit of research before heading through that part of the county so as not to miss any of the sights. Even for those not well-versed in the blues, there are musicians featured you will have heard of.
Of course, there is some debate as to where the legendary “Devils’ Crossroads” is. Is it in Clarksdale where the town has erected the much-photographed sign? Some suggest the proper place is Rosedale, MS. Others say Memphis or near Hazlehurst, MS. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Just know that if you want to see the Crossroads sign, you’ll need to visit Clarksdale. Speaking of seeing the sights, you’ll never know what you’ll come across on the back roads of America. From time to time, something along the route catches my attention and is worth a photo stop. This time it was the water tower in the town of Transylvania, Louisiana painted with the town’s bat symbol. It nothing else, it made me chuckle.
Of the various Marriott properties, only the Westin in Jackson stood out. In addition to a full-service spa, this property had a very nice restaurant, though the service was somewhat slow even late on a Friday evening. Best of all is the Westin Heavenly bed. That will make for a good night's sleep almost anywhere. The new Fairfield Inn in Batesville, Mississippi is convenient for anyone traveling along I-55. Nice to see a location added between Memphis and Jackson. I won't say there is anything special about the place, but it still feels new (it opened about a year ago). The Courtyard in Vicksburg could use a few updates, but was adequate for a one-night stop.
Over a four day period, I drove just over 2,100 miles and visited 53 county seats in 48 counties. How is that possible? Well, in Mississippi some counties have two county seats. In situations like that, I make sure to visit both. On this trip I stopped in 5 of those counties (I had already visited the others on previous trips). Another milestone is that I completed the remaining counties in Mississippi making the state the 21st one in which I’ve documented visits to every county seat. I also made it back to the one parish in Louisiana where my postcard went missing (the one that was green and is now blue). Unfortunately, the postcard I mailed from Ruston, LA has (so far) failed to arrive so that parish goes from white to green instead of from white to blue. I’m still hoping the postcard eventually arrives, but two weeks on, that is becoming less and less likely. On a positive note, I won’t have to go much out of my way when I return to Louisiana to visit the 9 remaining parishes in the northwest corner of the state. In any case, here are my maps showing my progress.
The next county trip isn’t until the beginning of April when I’m off to Seattle and Portland. This will be my first visit to Washington state (other than connecting at SEA) since I moved away from the area in 2006. Washington and Montana are currently the only states from which I have not yet collected any postcards. It will be nice to change the status of one of those states soon.