While visiting the towns of Marathon and Alpine we met several people that recommended we eat at Bordo if we were going to be in the vicinity of Marfa. We were fortunate that the eatery was open on Sunday from 11:00AM to 3:00PM as were going to be passing through Marfa that day on our way to drive the Pinto Canyon.
Bordo opened in March. It is an Italian market and retaurant serving house made pasta and sandwiches. They bake all of their bread in a brick oven which sits outside on the patio. We had a delicious meal which prepared us well for the adventure ahead. If you plan on visiting Marfa we highly recommend Bordo be on your food itinerary!
We drove south from Marfa for about thirty miles on a ranch road where the pavement ended. We found ourselves sitting at the top of the spectacular Pinto Canyon.
We have wanted to drive the Pinto Canyon since we read an article entitled The Road to Nowhere which chronicles the experience of the author tackling the canyon road. Finding this article was quite fortuitous — otherwise we would never known about the canyon.
The canyon has an interesting history. The first people arrived here around 13,000 years ago. These hunter-gathers were eventually displaced by the Apache that were dominant in the Big Bend.
Texas authorized settlers to buy as much as 5000 acres of land in the ealy 1900s which brought a number of families into the canyon. The combination of drought, the Spanish Influenza (1918), the Mexican American War, the 1929 market crash and the ensuing depression sealed the fate of the settlers and the canyon. A handful of the settlers persevered but the canyon was all but abandoned.
Today the vast majority of the the 15 square mile canyon is owned by one person — a retired CEO — and the canyon is a working cattle ranch (see photo above). We find the fact that one person can own all of this beauty in the middle of the Chinatti Mountains hard to fathom, but we are glad that you can at least traverse the canyon on the road (which is owned by the county).
After making our way down through the canyon we turned west and followed FM 170 to the end of the pavement in Candelaria. The FM winds through the Chihuahuan Desert along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. The 50 mile road from Presidio to Candelaria was not paved until 1985.
At one point Candelaria was an agricultural town — growing crops in the wet areas along the Rio Grande. However, after the Mexican American War the army abandoned their encampment in Candelaria and the farmers had no buyers for their crops and no way to get their product to Presidio 50 miles east on a rough dirt road that often flooded.
Subsequently, the population declined from a high of about 300 to the current population estimated at 75 people. The only non-residential structure that we could see in Candelaria is the Catholic church pictured above. This small settlement is literally at the end of the road and looks and feels very much an off the grid enclave.
At Candelaria we had a decision to make — attempt to cross 40 miles of desert to connect with Route 90 or circle back around on the pavement. Based on the time of the day and the amount of rough road we had already covered we opted for the longer mileage but comfort of the pavement.
As we turned north to head for our hotel we unsurprisingly encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint. We have been through dozens of checkpoints in our travels in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Some of the checkpoints are permanent while others are mobile. The Border Patrol only stops and inspects vehicles heading north as their only purpose is to stop illegal imigrants entering from Mexico.
We think the checkpoints are a bad use of taxpayer money—regardless of your view on immigration—the investment in technology and people to staff these checkpoints is significant. The payback is small as the vast majority of people attempting to enter the country illegally are not hitching rides in the automobiles of U.S. citizens.
Our journey north took us through the town of Valentine. The town’s origins, like may others in this part of Texas, rests with the railroad. Crews from the Southern Pacific Railroad laying track from the West stopped here on 14 Feb 1882 to rest. Subsequently, the town became a layover point for train crews and a cattle shipping point.
With the building of Ranch-to-Market roads livestock began to be shipped by truck and the town’s fortunes along with the population declined. Many abandoned buildings still stand in testament to the past. As you can see the church (below) has been well maintained despite the hard times. The current population is estimated at 134. Why people stay is a mystery but we were not disposed to ask any of the remaining residents.
Valentine does have one big event that draws folks from many points on the compass. Every year on Valentine’s Day there is a festival in town to celebrate the town’s namesake holiday. And, of course, the Post Office does a booming business postmarking Valentine’s Day cards!
By pure chance we happened on the Prada “Installation” which sits on the side of US Route 90 about 1.4 miles north of Valentine. As you may know, Marfa has become an unlikely art hub in the far west reaches of Texas. We have visited Marfa and it is a fun town to visit. There are a number of excellent restaurants and the Paisano is a great hotel. However, the minimalist art of Donald Judd and others does not resonate with us, although it clearly does with others far more knowledgable than us.
The Prada installation pictured above was placed on the side of Route 90 in 2005. On the first night after completion the installation was vandalized. The shoes and purses were stolen and the building was spray painted with the word “Dumb”. Apparently, not everyone agreed with the artists’ description of the work as “pop architectural land art”. While we do not support the vandalism we do not see any meaningful conceptual or artistic value to building a replica of a Prada store on the side of a rural highway.
After our brief contemplation of the merits of the Prada installation, we completed our day’s journey in Van Horn with a stay at the El Capitain. The hotel is a classic Spanish style western hotel. We really enjoy the feel and look of this style hotel (a future post will showcase several of our hotel stays in Texas).
Our next destination is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Pictured below is El Capitain—the first mountain you see in the range as you drive to the park from the south.
Chaco Canyon is a place we have wanted to visit for some time. During our 2020 roadtrip we were unable to get there as a winter storm rendered the roads in impassable. There are two unpaved roads into the park – both are rough, heavily washboarded affairs. From the north, County 7950 is 13 miles from pavement end to CC while Route 57 is 21 miles coming in from the south.
In order to optimize our time at the park we decided to take advantage of the camping opportunity at the Horse Thief Camp. The ranch property is on County 7950 and is the closest option outside the park.
HORSE THIEF RANCH
The ranch is owned by Wayne and Yolanda Beyale, and has been owned by Wayne’s family for many generations. The ranch sits amongst a patchwork of properties owned by the Navajo Nation and various federal agencies. The area that Wayne has set aside for camping provides panoramic views and and very dark skies (we also saw several wild horses).
Wayne is Navajo and graciously shared the history of his family and the ranch. He and his seven siblings spent summers living in a single hogan in the spot where we camped. The outdoor oven they used to bake and cook still stands intact. Two of the photos above show the circle corral where Wayne tamed wild horses that they captured (hence Horse Thief Camp).
Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan Peoples between 900AD and 1150AD. The scale of the great houses and ceromonial sites here is larger than anything else to be found in the Southwestern United States. Within the canyon there are 15 major complexes. The largest of the structures — Bonito Pueblo — contains over 500 rooms!
Chaco Canyon is located in Northwestern New Mexico near the Four Corners. It is very remote — the first record of European people visiting the canyon is not until 1823 when New Mexican governor José Antonio Vizcarra led an expedition through the canyon. At that time this area was still under Mexican rule.
The Chaco Canyon National Monument was formally established on 11 March 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This act preserved the canyon and the structures from any future development or extractive industries. The park was officially designated a national park in 1980 and an additional 12,500 acres was added to bring the park to the current total of 34,000 acres. There are over 4000 archeological sites within the 34,000 acres.
The structures at Chaco provide evidence of a very advanced civilization. The architecture, engineering and construction techniques are quite sophisticated. A number of the Great Houses were five stories tall. The structures were anchored by deep foundations which demonstrate the planning which took place prior to construction. The majority of the Great Houses were built on the north side of the canyon to optimize heat and light from the sun.
There is also evidence that the Chacoans built dams on side canyons to funnel water to the Great Houses and to the fields in order to irrigate crops. Additionally, the remnants of a road system leading away from the canyon in all four directions is still discernable.
Of course, the final question is why this great center was abandoned. And as is usually the case — no one really knows. There are a number of theories ranging from an extended drought, deforestation rendering the canyon unsustainable and political power struggles causing people to flee.
Hiking at chaco
One of the great features at Chaco is the ability to tour the inside of the pueblos and explore the connected rooms, but the canyon rim above also provides a terrific overhead view. So we made the climb up on the Pueblo Alto Trail to see views of the pueblos and the canyon from above.
Pictured are three items we observed along the canyon rim. Starting from the left: a pecked basin — circle carved into the stone by the Chacoans as repositories for offerings; clam shells and shrimp burrows respectively. The clam shells and shrimp burrows testify to the canyon having been an inland sea during the Cretaceous Period (75–80 million years ago).
DEPARTING CHACO CANYON: ROUTE 57
After a full day of touring the pueblos and hiking along the rim of the canyon we set out for the Bisti/Da Nae Zin Wilderness. In orded to reach the Bisti we needed to travel south out of the park on the notorius Route 57. The 57 is a 21 mile stretch of rutted and washboarded dirt that runs through desolate ranch land.
Route 57 is considered impassable when wet. When we left the park there were storms to our east — unfortunately, as we headed south a storm crossed our path and we found ourselves on the muddy and slippery version of the 57 (see video below).
Fortunately, we were able to make it through — only sliding our back end into a ditch once — but we decided not to venture into the Bisti Wliderness as the road conditions there are as treacherous as the 57. In the photos below, we are airing up for our return to paved roads.
We highly recommend a visit to Chaco if you have the appropriate vehicle to handle the conditions and the patience to travel at very slow speeds for an extended period of time.Also, if you are interested in gaining further knowledge about this remarkable civilization we recommend Chaco Culture: A Complete Guide by Gian Mercurio and Maxymilian L. Peschel.
In March of 2020 OTR made our first visit toBBNP. Unfortunately, our timing was bad — the Covid Pandemic had finally made its way to Texas and the park closed the gates. We needed to leave the park after just two days.
BBNP was created in 1944 by Congressional Act and signed by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The deed for the park covered 700,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande. Today, the park encompasses a little over 800,000 acres.
The park is one of the least visited National Parks, although it had its highest visitation in 2021. We can only surmise why this would be when this park offers so much stunning beauty – the Chiso Massive, desert, canyons and dark sky. There are probably several reasons – its remote location in Far West Texas abutting the Mexican border, the heat for much of the year and a lot of terrain accessible only by very rough roads.
Because we were entering the park from the north we decided to immediately drive the backcountry loop out to see the Dagger Yuca Forest. Fortunately, our timing was perfect— the Yucca were blooming.
From Dagger Flats we needed to secure our permits for camping in the backcountry. Backcountry camping in BBNP requires traversing rough 4WD drive roads and means that you will be on your own and in some cases in a very remote area of the park.
For our first night of camping we selected an area deep in the southeastern area of the park which is the desert floor (1700 feet above sea level). We followed the River Road East to its terminus a few miles north of the Rio Grande; the 25 mile journey took about 2.5 hours (slow going but exciting).
Our journey took us past an abandoned (but still toxic) mercury mine and provided phenomenal views of the Chisos Mouontains. Additionally, we encountered a herd of horses that we thought were feral but later learned are horses from Mexico that wandered across the border.
Our camping perch was a short distance from the Mariscal Mountains so we were able to get an early start hiking in the Mariscal Canyon and avoid the afternoon heat where the temperatures reach 95F this time of year.
We also learned that in addition to horses plenty of cattle from Mexico have found there way across the Rio Grande. When we later asked a ranger about the cattle he indicated that there are over 1000 head of cattle from Mexico in the park.
After our hike we retraced our route back east on the River Road until were back on asphalt and then motored north to drive up through the Chisos and into the Chisos Basin.
After taking in the views of the Chisos from the basin we headed back south to our camping spot for night two. We had another great camping spot in the shadow of the Chillicotal Mountain. From our camping area we had a 360 degree view – the views to the south were of mountains across the Rio Grande in Mexico.
Our campsite at Chilicotal was only about four miles from the Pine Canyon trailhead so we again got an early start to be off the trail before the worst of the heat.
After finishing our hike up into the spectacular Spring Canyon we circled up across the northern section of the park to connect with the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The scenic drive connected us to southwestern area of the parkalong the Rio Grande.
The four photos directly above are the of the Rio Grande. The far shore is Mexico. The canyon in the final photo bottom right is Saint Elena. The left canyon wall is Mexico while the right canyon wall is the United States.
After cooling off in the Rio Grande we connected with the MaverickRoad to head north for our final night of camping at a site nearTerlingua Abaya. Terlingua Abayo is an abandoned town on the banks of Terlingua Creek. The town was at one time a thriving agricultural community supplying produce for local ranchers and miners employed by the Quicksilver mines in the area.The town existed from 1900 until around 1930 when the mines ceased operations.
On day four we traveled north on the Maverick Road to exit the park and make our way north for a two day stay in Alpine. Before heading to Alpine we spent part of the day in Terlingua Ghost Town — home to Espresso Y Poco Mas — our coffee hangout from our previous visit to BBNP.
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.
The TAT is a 4200 mile transcontinental route comprised largely of dirt and gravel roads. The trail is the creation of Sam Carrero, an avid off-road motorcyclist with a passion for exploring and tackling challenging terrain.
Sam began the process of mapping out this coast to coast off-pavement adventure in 1984. It took him 12 years to put the route together. The route utilzes only publicly accessible roads and trails, however, it is not intended for standard vehicles or standard motorcycles. Many portions of the route require 4WD and high clearance and significant portions are single lane only at best.
We had a blast driving the Mississippi portion of the TAT. Several nights of rain made some portions of the trail muddy but still passable. The notorious County Road 555 was partially washed out (see video below) and after a driver/navigator consultation we retreated to find a road in better condition and then rejoin the TAT!
The Mississippi portion of the TAT is relatively short at about 300 miles but it provided us with a fun overlanding experience and the opportunity to travel through some very rural areas of Mississippi. The majority of the trail takes the traveler through large swaths of pine forest, some farm land and the occasional cluster of homes and a small church.
This part of Mississippi is known as the Pine Belt. When we think of the timber industry we tend to think about the massive timberlands of the West and forget that Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are still major producers of timber. Timber is the second largest agricultural commodity in Mississippi (poultry is number one).
Another observation from our trip across the state on the trail is that there is significant poverty in rural Mississippi (Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of the fifty states and DC). While we only passed through a small number of rural communities, we saw that people are living in very impoverished circumstances. A number of these small communities appear to be segregated and that the most impoverished of these communities are inhabited by Black residents.
The photos below are from a small town that we crossed through while traversing the state. The town has a population of approximately 448 people and is predominately Black (85%). The poverty rate for Blacks is 52% and for males 60%.
The balance of this post will provide a brief recap of our experiences in the towns we visited that are not along the TAT.
Corinth —- home of the slugburger
Corinth is a handsome town (pop. 14,000) in the northeastern corner of Mississippi and was our jumping off point for the TAT. We had planned on visiting Corinth even before our decision to tackle the TAT. The town is steeped in Civil War history (First Battle of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth) and has 18 structures or locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But alas, the charm and history of Corinth had not driven our desire to visit the town — we must confess it was our (well, honestly, for just one of us) obsession with eating a Northeast Mississippi specialty – the Slugburger. Additionally, we needed to try the Slugburger at Borroum’s Drug Store and Fountain because Borroum’s has the best Slugburger in Corinth. Borroum’s is the oldest drug store in Mississippi and still operated by the same family (the business was started shortly after the end of the Civil War when Jack Borroum arrived after being released from a Union Army prison camp).
What is a Slugburger, you ask? Slugburgers are a mixture of ground pork, soy flour, and spices. The mixture is flattened into a patty and deep fried in vegetable oil. The patty is placed on a hamburger bun with a garnish of mustard, onion, and pickle. Developed during the Great Depression when money and meat were both scarce, slug burgers were made with a mixture of beef and pork, potato flour as an extender, and spices, then fried in animal fat. Mrs. Weeks, credited with creating one of the first, found the “burgers” were a way to make meat go a little farther at the family hamburger stand. Selling for a nickel, sometimes called a slug, the imitation hamburgers became known as Slugburgers.