After completing the final portion of the Trans America Trail we traveled to Clarksdale to begin our exploration of the Mississippi Delta. Clarksdale is generally considered to be the home of the Delta Blues with an impressive roster of musicians calling Clarksdale their home in their early years (see previous post: Street Art from the Road: OTR 8.0: Part Two: Clarksdale Music and Artat http://www.ontheroadwithmariastephen.net.
Clarksdale boasts live Blues music every day of the year at one or more of the local blues clubs, bars or juke joints. The town itself is a bit hardscrabble but please don’t let that keep you away. Even if you are not a fan of the blues we think you will enjoy the live performances that take place at the various venues in town, all of which are very intimate and, you will hear the real Blues. Typically, you will pay $10 – $15 for a show that will run from two to four hours!
We opted to stay in an apartment above the Ground Zero Blues Club which is convenient-unless you plan on sleeping before midnight. We were in town to hear the Blues, so we figured it was all part of the experience.https://www.groundzerobluesclub.com/
Clarksdale is also home to the Delta Blues Museum. We spent a morning at the museum and learned a lot about the history of the Blues, the musicians and the Blues recording industry. There is a treasure trove of artifacts at the museum including musical instruments and performers’ stage costumes. We highly recommend a visit to the museum when you visit Clarksdale. We don’t have photographs to share with you as they are not allowed in the musuem.
There are several excellent restaurants in town in addition to the customary BBQ. We highly recommend Hooker Grocery & Eatery which is a two minute walk from the museum.https://www.hookergrocer.comP.S. If you like pancakes make sure to try Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes.
Last, but certainly not least, we recommend a visit to Hambone Art & Music. We popped into this gallery for a quick look around and then spent several hours with the owner Stan Street. He is a transplant to Mississippi and was a touring musician before settling here and focusing on his painting.
Stan bought a vacant building and converted it into his gallery in the front, his studio in the rear and his apartment above. He also operates a small bar in the studio and has a stage for musical performances. We really like his artwork and we were amazed to find out that he is largely a self-taught artist.
Greenville – do not, we repeat, do not get your car washed!
We visited Greenville after reading that there is a state park there with a hiking trail along the Mississippi and a 60 foot tall observation tower that provides fantastic views along the Mississippi River. WRONG! The park was turned over to Greenville and the town has not maintained the park other than the small boardwalk when you first enter the park. This was our first disappointment with Greenville.
As we were leaving town we spotted a self service car wash and pulled in to hose the van off – you may have noticed in our photographs the Beast is in perpetual need of a wash. Immediately, a man told me he was an employee and would wash the vehicle – a minute later another man showed up and informed me he was going to help wash the car and then a third man showed up to help wash the car.
At his point we knew we had a problem – none of these guys worked at the car wash and that this was a shake down. We were able to persuade the third manthat he was not going to get paid (although he hung around circling us). At that point, we told the two guys (taking turn hosing off the van) that we were good. The first of the gentlemen demanded $60.00 for the wash. We settled on a more reasonable amount and left town quickly.
Cleveland, or “fear the okra”
We stopped in Cleveland for coffee at Zoe Coffee. We met some nice folks at the coffee shop and learned that the coffee shop is affliated with Zoe Ministries, which focuses on providing clean water, orphan care, widow care, and education to communities in Kenya. https://zoeempowers.org/
Cleveland is also home to Delta State University. The mascot for the athletic teams is the Okra and the school chant is ”Fear the Okra!”. This is the best mascot and chant we have ever encountered! Look for DSU merchandise by the pool this summer. P.S. The men’s baseball team went 32-15 this year and is currently in Florida for the NCAA Division II regional tournament.
Vicksburg, or, it’s all about the war , no wait, it’s really all about the river
Vicksburg, MS is undoubtedly best known as the site of a major Civil War Battle which was a turning point in the war in favor of the Union.We were keen on visiting the Vicksburg National Military Park (VNMP) to gain a better understanding of this historic battle and see the battlefield.
The Mississippi River was a critical supply route for the Confederacy.Vicksburg sits on a bluff high above the eastern side of the riverand was heavily fortified with artillery to stop Union forces from cutting off this essential supply route. The Union forces knew that taking control of the river would seal the defeat of the South.
After several failed Union attempts to take Vicksburg, General U.S. Grant laid seige to Vicksburg. Grant surrounded the city with over 77,000 troops. The 29.000 Confederate troops dug in to defend the city. Confederate attempts to break through the encircled cityand resupply the soldiers and citizens failed. After 47 days, with all food and water supplies exhausted, the troops and citizens surrendered; the mighty Mississippi was under Union control. For additional information: https://www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm
In addition to the battlefield, there is a museum in the park which includes the remains of the Union ironclad gunboat USS Cairo. The Cairo was sunk by Confederate torpedos seven miles north of Vicksburg. It slipped back into the river after being beached and abandoned. Over 100 years later the ironclad was raised, restored and given to the National Park Service. For additional information: https://www.nps.gov/vick/u-s-s-cairo-gunboat.htm
Historic downtown Vicksburg is perched above the river south of the main artillery emplacementsand battlefield. A number of excellent restaurants, rooftop bars and art galleries can be found there. The Jesse Bent Lower Mississippi River Museum, managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is on the waterfront and worth a visit.
The Mississippi River is still a vital supply route for the US economy. The Corps, one of the largest employers in the area, is responsible for commercial navigation, flood risk management and environmental stewardship.
A visit to the museum also includes the opportunity to tour the retiredM/V Mississippi IV. The Mississippi IV was a tow boat used by the Army Corp from 1961 until 1993 when it was retired.
Our endless search for good coffee and tea took us to Highway 61 Coffee House in downtown Vicksburg. Highway 61 is a local coffee house with a cast of characters. We immediately ingratiated ourselves with the owner Daniel Boone – yes! – and his cohorts by making a donation to their poporn machine fund.
When Daniel Boone and his friends are not serving or drinking coffee they are the leaders of a local art movie house and amateur theater company. The popcorn machine that they have been utilizing for the last 14 years (on loan) for movie nights is going to be taken back by the owner.
Our donation to the fund earned us a private guided tour of the Strand Theaterwith Jack Burns – a board member and coffee shop regular. The Strand was a movie theater until it closed in 1963. The building remained vacant for a number of years until the theater group struck a deal with the owner to lease the facility for both live theater performances and screening movies. The interior was renovated by volunteers from the community who were very interested in having an opportunity to see art house movies and community theater. An excellent history of the building can be found at Urban Decay: https://worldofdecay.blogspot.com/2011/04/strand-theatre-vicksburg-mississippi.html Strand Theater: http://www.strandvicksburg.com/
While we might attempt to live on coffee, tea, and wine, we are reasonably certain that as pleasant as that scenario sounds it would not work in the long run. So, we went in search of victuals during our Vicksburg visit and found a gem just outside of downtown. The Tomato Place started as a roadside produce stand and evolved into a restaurant and mercantile in addition to a produce stand- all still sitting roadside in a collection of colorful shacks. The Tomato Place is a must when you visit Vicksburg. For more information: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/mississippi/you-havent-lived-until-youve-tried-the-blt-from-the-tomato-place-in-ms/
Jackson, or hello, art minton
While in Vicksburg we decided to pop over to Jackson to see some minor league baseball. Jackson is home to the Mississippi Braves – the Double A affliliate of the Atlanta Braves. It also gave us the excuse to listen to the Johnny Cash – June Carter Cash version of the song Jackson for the entire ride from Vicksburg to Jackson. “We got married in a fever. Hotter than a peppered sprout. We’ve been talking bout Jackson ever since the fire went out. Oh, we’re going to Jackson.” Dang, that’s goodmusic!!
The Natchez Trace runs just north of Jackson. We have driven the majority of the Traceduring the course of several trips through Mississippi but had never done any biking as part of our travels along the Trace. Jackson provided a great opportunity to do so as the Chischa Fokka Greenway runs parallel to the Trace for a number of miles. It’s a great trail that cuts through Pine stands and farmland as you head north from Jackson.
We enjoyed our brief stay in Jackson with the added bonus of meeting @art.minton. Art is a fellow van adventurer who lives in Jackson and we follow each other on Instagram. He spotted our van while we were leaving Pig and Pint after having just finished dinner—Serendipity—Very cool!
The road to Rodney
We decided to visit Rodney after reading an interesting article in Mississippi Folk Life about efforts by a local organization to preserve the remains of Rodney. The town was once a thriving Mississippi River port city. Migration from Rodney started in earnest after 1870 – Rodney had been bombarded during the Civil War by Union gun boats, enslaved individuals were emancipated and left the cotton plantations and finally, the course of the river shifted two miles west and Rodney was no longer a port city. For an excellent history of Rodney: http://www.mississippifolklife.org/articles/haunted-by-a-ghost-town-the-lure-of-rodney-mississippi
Getting to Rodney takes a bit of work. The only road to Rodney is a bumpy and muddy dirt road affair but you know we never say no to the chance for a bit of mud on the fenders.
We also happened on the Windsor Ruins after departing Rodney. The Ruins was an antebellum Greek Revival Mansion built (by enslaved African-Americans) for a wealthy cotton planter and his wife. Today, 23 of the Corinthian coloumns are still standing. The mansion survived the Civil War (the owner did not) but burned in 1890. It was the largest Greek Revival home in Mississippi. Today it is an historic site and there are plans to complete some restoration of the columns and the grounds. For more information: https://www.mdah.ms.gov/explore-mississippi/windsor-ruins
Natchez —— Steampunk anyone?
Natchez was our final stop before crossing the Mississippi into Louisiana. First stop, as always, was for espresso and tea and our research pointed to Steampunk. There we met Dub Rogers, the owner of this unique establishment. Dub Rogers was born in Mississippi but spent 30 years living and working in NYC in a variety of businesses.
Steampunk represents an amalgamation of Dub’s many interests. The shop and haberdashery sells fine cigars, coffee, tea, chocolate, conservas, mixology gear and hats (see Maria’s newest addition above) of which Dub has endless knowledge. Dub is a great host – and we almost forgot to mention that he personally renovated the handsome space that houses his boutique department store, apartment and patio.
Natchez dates back to 1716 when French traders built a Fort on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi. The French settlement came to an abrupt end when the Natchez Indiansattacked the fort, killing several hundred people and enslaving a number of women and children The surviving French left the territory toute suite.
Future President Andrew Jackson built a trading postnear Natchez in 1789. The trading post traded in African-American slaves. This set the course for Natchez to become a hub for slave trading – one of the most active in the South.
With the wealth accumulated from the slave and cotton trade Natchez became one of the wealthiest cities in America prior to the Civil War. Today many of the lavish antebellum homes are still standing and open for touring. Because Natchez was prized by both sides due to its location, the Union forces did not destroy it when they occupied the city.
You now know where to go for all your caffeine needs in Natchez. Here are a couple of suggestions for dining: Magnolia Grill, located in the Under-the-Hill section of town down on the river (formerly the vice district of town); and Fat Mama’s Tamalesis the spot for excellent tamales.
Our final foray in Natchez was visiting one of the decidely less glamorous antebellum homes in Natchez. The house is named Longwood but also derisively as Nutt’s Folly. Haller Nutt was a wealthy plantation owner who had an octagonal house designed for him and his family. The house, if completed, would have had 32 rooms.
The outbreak of the Civil War ended the construction of the home as Nutt’s financial position tumbled. Even if he had the funds to continue, work would have stopped because the majority of the craftsman completing the finish work were from Philadephia – they returned to the North as soon as the war began.
The family moved into the basement (originally designed for the house slaves). Nutt died in 1864 and his wife and children hung on to the house for many years with the help of friends and several wealthy relatives. The Nutt family sold the home to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez in 1968.
The photograph below shows the fingerprints of one of the enslaved individuals who worked on the construction of the home. The Nutt family owned 800 slaves prior to the demise of the family fortune.
We hope you enjoyed our final installment regarding our Mississippi exploration, thanks for reading.
As we planned a rough itinerary through the Southeast for OTR 8.0 we had not contemplated a visit to Ocean Springs. In fact, we had never heard of Ocean Springs.
However, that was before meeting Cynthia Comsky, the owner of the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, who strongly recommended a visit to the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs. Subsequently, we saw a watercolor exhibit of Anderson’s atthe Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi and knew we needed to visit Ocean Springs and the Walter Anderson Museum.
Much to our delight, the museum met all of our expectations and we found the town itself to be a quaint and friendly destination. In fact, we extended our stay to enjoy the charms of the town and the its friendly inhabitants.
Walter Anderson Museum
”Beware by whom you are called sane.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson
So, of course, our first stop (well, second after coffee – see below on that topic) was the Walter Anderson Museum. The museum is physically attached to the town community center – which is appropriate as its walls are adorned with murals he created (and was paid a meager one dollar). The museum itself is filled with his works as one might expect – however one might not expect to find water colors, oils, wood sculptures, woodblock prints, pencil and ink drawings all by the same artist. His work in each of these mediums is outstanding.
“Last night there was a beautiful sunset. One felt that it had been arranged with taste. So many sunsets seem to be simply wild explosions of color in order to stun people into a state of mute wonder. But this one had variety, vermilion red and purple together, and lilac and gold together against a heavenly clear green turquoise sky. You felt that there would never be bad weather again.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson
“I wonder how long it will be before nature and man accept each other again.”—- Walter Inglis Anderson
The identity of the sitter in the painting above is unknown. She sits slightly askew in her chair with her hands folded delicately in her lap. She gazes off to her right – not making eye contact with the viewer. By positioning his subject in such a way, we first notice the shape that the figure makes, almost reducing her form into a series of S curves against a dark background.
This mural sketch was created for the WPA. This particular scene is a cartoon (or preparatory work) of The Hunt. The closely depicted forms of the hunters, deer, and yellow dog are reminiscent of the cave painting compositions that Anderson saw in France in the 1920s.
“Nature does not like to be anticipated it too often means death, I suppose but loves to surprise; in fact, seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.”—- Walter Inglis Anderson
Walter Anderson loved fairy tales and even described them as being “explosive”- having the ability to inspire life and creativity. Anderson drew, painted, and carved classical images of fairy tales and myths throughout his life. Walter Anderson saw the world as a magical place full of wonder and possibility. Classic tales of mythology populated his daily life on the Gulf Coast. Around his home at Shearwater, Anderson would often carve dead trees into the shapes of nymphs and giants. He read stories to his children and illustrated their lives with fairies and mythic creatures.
Most notably, he created approximately 30 block prints featuring scenes from familiar tales to sell inexpensively to the public. Many of these block prints of myths and fairy tales are displayed here, demonstrating the timeless attraction that these tales have for all.
Bright eyed brew company
Bright EyedBrew Company was a massive bonus – the frosting on our Walter Anderson Museum cake – we did not expect to find a first rate specialtycoffee cafe and roaster in Ocean Springs.
Bright Eyed Brew Company is owned and operated by husband and wife Ryan and Kathryn Reaux. They started the business in 2016 as a part time venture making and selling nitro cold brew from a cart at the local farmers market.Today their cold brew is on tap at a number of restaurants and cafes in the Mississippi Gulf area, and they operate the cafe selling espresso drinks, tea, waffles and, of course, nitro cold brew.
On our first morning in Ocean Springs we stopped at Bright Eyed as the prelude to our museum visit. From the moment we ordered our drinks and sat down in the cafe, local folks began chatting us up – that is what Fika is all about! Three hours later we finally departed for the museum. https://brighteyedbrewco.com/
Once we decided to visit the museum, we needed a place to stay and there were no camping options close by. We found Beatnik online and booked a cabin. The property consists of four cabins and a swimming pool. As you can see from the photographs below they are not rustic cabins.
The Beatnik is cool—Scandinavian style decor, a heated plunge pool and a five minute walk to downtown. Everything is online – registration, door lock combinations, housekeeping requests. What else could a traveler want?https://www.thehotelbeatnik.com/
St JOhn’s Episcopal Church
This lovely church is a two minute walk from the Beatnik. As many of you may recall we visit many churches as we tour – in addition to the spiritual aspect, we find the history and architecture of churches fascinating. We were most fortunate to meet Drew, a retired insurance agent from Jackson and a volunteer at the church. Drew graciously provided us with a tour of the church and we reminisced a bit about the problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (once an underwriter always an underwriter).
St. John’s was built in 1892, and the original church is still standing—which is pretty amazing considering it sits 1000 feet from Biloxi Bay and is a wood frame building. Drew did let us know that the building is to be sprinklered in the near future – this former underwiter is fully supportive of that! https://stjohnsoceansprings.dioms.org/
We think Ocean Springs is a cool little town. If you are an admirer of Walter Anderson and his work, excellent coffee, excellent barbecue (Pleasant’s BBQ) and friendly people, make a point of visiting if you are going to be in the Gulf Region of Mississippi.
Be seeing you!
P.S. If you have been following along at all you probably realize that we have not been publishing our posts in strictly chronological order. We are planning to get back in sync in that regard and we are working to publish a post on the first leg of our journey through Mississippi as we followed the Trans America Trail through Northern Mississippi.
After departing Tulsa we traveled across eastern Oklahoma to spend several days in the Bentonville – Rogers (B-R) area of northwestern Arkansas. The B-R area is, of course, home to the world’s largest retailer – Walmart. As exciting as that is, our desire to visit the area emanated from the opportunity to bike the Razorback Greenway and, most importantly, visit the Onyx Coffee Lab. Having said that, there is plenty to do in the area in addition to biking and drinking coffee and tea. More on that at the end of the post.
Onyx Coffee Lab was founded in 2012 by husband and wife team Andrea and Jon Allen. In the relatively short period of time since founding Onyx they have achieved a world class reputationin the specialty coffee business(with good reason).
As we entered the building for our first visit we were stunned – the space is gorgeous. The size and scale is beyond anything we had ever experienced in regard to specialty coffee.
In this soaring space, Onyx has captured the ultimate coffee experience including the important transition from caffeine to alcohol. Under this one roof there is the cafe, the roastery, a pastry shop, a cocktail bar and a restaurant as well as meeting and event facilities.
Perhaps it goes without saying,but we will say it -everything we ordered was impeccably presented and delicious.
Onyx boasts six roasters at the Rogers HQ location.Many cafe/roasters of necessity have their roastery located in warehouse type facilities away from the cafe. Onyx (with its 30,000 sq ft of space) has placed the roastery out in the open for all to see and enjoy. As you can see in the photograph directly below they have created a bar directly in front of the roastery to allow for viewing the process and interacting with the roasting staff. So cool!
The Bentonville Cafe is close by the town square and is an aesthetically pleasing cafe in its own right. Despite the large amount of seating it can be difficult to find a seat if you arrive during the morning rush – an amalgamation of locals heading to work and tourists in need of that first hit of magic elixir. Regardless, make it a priority to spend time here if you find yourself in Bentonville for any reason. The local folks are friendly and will chat you up gladly.
PPHM is located in Canyon, Texas, approximately 20 miles south of Amarillo. The museum opened to the public in 1933. It was the brainchild of Hattie Anderson, an educator who had moved to Canyon to teach history at the West Texas Normal School (now West Texas A&M University).
Hattie was fascinated by the history of the area and began to enlist the aid of individuals in the area to form a historical society to preserve the history and culture of the Panhandle-Plains. The historical society flourished for thirteen years; the growing collection of artifacts that created the need for more space. The historical society then funded the creation and operation of the museum.
Today the museum continues to prosper and is home to over three million artifacts within the 285,000 square foot complex. The museum provides insight into the past and the present of many facets of the people,culture, history and industry of the Panhandle-Plains. The collection includes galleries devoted to paleontology, archeology, geology, Native American culture, textiles, petroleum extraction and western art. we
We enjoyed the PPHM immensely and strongly recommend devoting at least a half day visit when you visit the Amarillo – Lubbock area of the Panhandle. In addition to the museum this area offers ample outdoor recreational opportunities (Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon – see post: CTSPRINTERLIFE: TOURING THE PANHANDLE). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/6946
OTR had the great fortune to meet Deanna Lowe Craighead, Curator of Art at the PPHM, while visiting another museum in the panhandle. In addition to dialing us in about the Bisttram exhibition, Deanna also provided us with the recommendation to visit the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa ( see post FINE ART TOURIST PHILBROOK MUSEUM OF ART). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/7362 The balance of this post is dedicated to the Bisttram exhibit and a bit of his biography.
Emil Bisttram was born in Nagylak, Hungary (now Nadlac, Romania) in 1895. His family emigrated to New York City in 1906. Bisttram studied art at National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. He also taught art while studying and was known through out his career as an excellent and sought after teacher.
Bisttram visited Taos, New Mexico in 1930. Initially he was overwhelmed by the size and scale of the New Mexico landscape and he struggled to capture the majesty of the environment. Despite that he returned to Taos in 1932 and it remained his home until his death in 1976.
Bisttram evolved from painting New Mexico landscapes and native culture to a decidely abstractionist style. The painting above (Storm Over Taos, 1931) is representative of his early work in New Mexico. The photographs of his paintings below are from the PPHM exhibit (private collection on loan – Ladd Family) and show his progression into abstraction.
Transcendental painting group (TPG)
Bisttram, along with Raymond Jonson, formed the TPG. The TPG was part of the Non-Objective Abstractionist wave of Modernism – which in part emanated from the influx of artists fleeing the increased political disruption ocurring during the 1930s in Europe.
“The Transcendental Painting Group is composed of artists who are concerned with the development and presentation of various types of non-representational painting; painting that finds its source in the creative imagination and does not depend upon the objective approach.” —- TPG Manifesto
While we do not enjoy the work of some popular avant garde abstract artists, in our very humble opinion we think the paintings of the TPG artists and in particular Bisttram are in a different category. The work is clearly non-objective in may regards but relatable and created with a clear design in mind. We would love to know what you think.
Be seeing you!
P.S. Added bonus of visiting the PPHM – the excellent Palace Coffee is a five minute walk from the museum.
If you follow OTR, you know that one of the great pleasures of our travels is the discovery (on our part) of great specialty coffee and tea cafes as well as the opportunity to return to previously visited favorites. Fortunately, there are many excellent specialty coffee cafes and roasters across the country.
We have included just seven of the cafes we visited during OTR 7.0 in this post. We visited another half dozen that are quite good but we wanted to showcase just those cafes that we think are exemplary in every regard.
We are confident that you will enjoy these cafes just as much as we did if you are fortunate enough to visit them during your travels. All of the cafes that are also roasters sell their coffee on-line, so if you won’t be visiting any of these cities in the near future you have the option to enjoy their coffee at home.
We would love to know your thoughts if you have the opportunity to visit any of these cafes.
The Taos Pueblo has been in existence for 1000 years. The first Europeans to arrive in Taos were the Spanish – who initially maintained friendly relations with the Tiwa Indians who inhabited the pueblo.
Afer a relatively short period of peaceful co-existence the Spanish exerted their might and will over the Tiwa, and as they would do many more times in the west, instituted rule over the indians and imposed Catholicism.
While the Town of Taos was incorporated in 1934, the Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by the Tiwa Indians since its founding. The pueblo has about150 residents with another 1750 Tiwa living on pueblo lands.
The Town of Taos is a major tourist destination with a myriad of outdoor recreational activities including alpine skiing at the world class Taos Ski Valley. Taos is also a noted art colony dating back to the migration of eastern artists to Taos Valley and the formation of The Taos Society of Artists in the early 20th century.
Rio grande gorge
The Rio Grande Gorge is atypical of canyons this size in that it is a massive rift in the earth with the river filling the bottom after the formation of the rift. The gorge is 50 miles long and 800 feet deep at its deepest – quite impressive!
The river itself is impressive as well. The Rio Grande is the fourth longest river in North America. The river runs from Colorado through New Mexico (470 miles) and then forms the border between Texas and Mexico until it empties into the Gulf Of Mexico. The total length of the river is between 1800 and 1900 miles.
We hiked along the west rim of the gorge, enjoying the views of the river below, the mountains to the east and west and the Big Horn Sheep dotting the edge of the rim.