Saturday, March 15, 2014

On a Roots Tour in the Mississippi Delta

Life-long friends gathered to reconnect and kick-off the "roots tour"!
A high school friend of mine that has long-moved from Memphis came back home last weekend to take her college daughter on a "roots tour". Her daughter, who reminds me so much of my friend at her age, was about to be introduced to her Memphis and Mississippi Delta heritage. Definitely a life-changing event!

Rum Boogie on Beale was at capacity with a great blues band
The weekend started with their visit to the family cemetery, watching the ducks at The Peabody Hotel, and then dinner with friends. Of course we headed to Beale Street after dinner, if only for a little while, because what is a "roots tour" without hearing some real blues on the street that made the blues famous? The rest of the plan was for them to head to Clarksdale to see family and then drive to New Orleans to, well, you know what you do in New Orleans.

I woke up early the day after our dinner and realized I hadn't told her all the great places to visit on her drive down historic U. S. Highway 61 South through the Mississippi Delta to Vicksburg and then on to New Orleans. Quickly, because I was going to make us late to church, I sent a facebook message suggesting places where they could leave the main highway and see the true Delta, the one that I have grown to love over the past three years. I knew they couldn't do everything I suggested, but at least I wanted them to know what they were missing as they traveled south.

Here are some of the places I suggested, and some I sadly left out by mistake:

Blue & White Restaurant, U.S. 61 South, Tunica, MS
The Blue & White Restaurant in Tunica, MS: I can't believe I didn't tell them to stop in this old Pure Oil gas station and get my favorite, the catfish hoagie. The patty melt is good too and I hear the hamburger is their claim to fame. Some day I may try the donut tower! Sit in the lunch counter room and visit with the farmers and town-folk that fill this restaurant up daily.

Fall is my favorite time in the swamp near Tunica
My secret swamp just south of Tunica, MS: now, I couldn't tell them about this one because it is a secret, right? This is my favorite photo op place in the Delta. I love watching the wildlife (deer, ducks, egrets, cormorants, nutria, snakes, eagles and I bet some alligators), as well as the beautiful swamp flowers and cypress trees.

You can stay in original share-cropper shacks or
even grain bins at the Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS
The Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS: My friends actually spent the night here in the Pinetop Perkins shack. They sent me a picture when they checked in and said they loved it! I stayed in a shack once and will definitely aim for a grain-bin room the next time. But I do love this place and it is a must on your trek south out of Memphis.


Ground Zero in Clarksdale, MS: This one I forgot! Of course, it is best visited at night but my husband and I had a couple of beers there one hot summer Saturday afternoon when we had planned to go to a blues festival, but decided heading for the coolness of Ground Zero sounded like a better idea.

McCarty's Pottery, Merigold, MS: Don't expect to pay any less for this Mississippi Delta pottery just because you are at the place where it is made.  And, definitely use your voice-activated GPS as I literally drove around this small town for about 30 minutes before I found it! I bought my brother a replacement sea shell for the one that we chipped at Thanksgiving. McCarty's pottery is best known for their Mississippi River signature that tells you it is genuine.

Po' Monkey's is a short drive
 off HWY 61as you drive into Merigold, MS
Po' Monkey's, Merigold, MS: When driving into Merigold from Clarksdale, take the right at the Mississippi Blues Trail marker, keep to the left, and once on the gravel road keep going until you reach Po' Monkey's. This juke joint is only open to the public on Thursday nights, but worth the drive just to see the signs on the dos and don'ts about coming into the joint. In trying to get a picture once I was a little irritated that a caretaker was washing his car in just that position that was ruining my photo shot. Little did I know it was the owner and I missed my chance to beg my way into Po' Monkey's.

Deer Creek at Anguilla 
Deer Creek, winding throughout the Delta: You can stop by Deer Creek in Leland, MS, where Jim Henson grew up exploring the creek and imagining a life with the frogs (aka, Kermit) and other wildlife and animals along its banks; or in my favorite spot, Anguilla at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway14. Mallards, wood duck, big blue herons, beavers, egrets, turtles, alligators and even kayakers and canoers love Deer Creek. With all the wildlife and the ups and downs of the creek itself, no two visits are the same. A friend of mine from Minnesota and I watched a turtle try to get up on a log for about 5 minutes. We kept thinking he would make it but, alas, he never did. Now that is better than television any day!

Mont Helena sits on a ceremonial
Indian mound between Anguilla and Rolling Fork
Mont Helena, Rolling Fork, MS: Driving south on Highway 61 from Anguilla, look to the right and you will see Mont Helena, an colonial revival home built in 1896 on a ceremonial Indian mound. After an extensive restoration, Mont Helena now hosts private functions, tours, and is the home for the annual "Mont Helena: A Dream Revisited" a locally produced musical re-telling the true love story of the home's family. The play runs weekends in April and early May and tickets sell out in about an hour, reflecting the popularity of the show. Learn more about Mont Helena at www.monthelena.com.

Visit the Onward Store to hear the
Teddy Bear legend and get a good Delta meal
(picture from theonwardstore.com)
Onward Store, Onward, MS: Ever hear of the Teddy Bear? Well, of course you have and just 12 miles south of Rolling Fork on U.S. 61, you can relive the story of President Theodore Roosevelt's famed 1902 Mississippi Delta bear hunt when the President refused to kill a wounded bear tied to a tree in spite of the fact that he desparately wanted to get his bear on this hunt. The media picked up on the story and it quickly spread throughout the US and the "Teddy Bear" was born. In addition to finding souveniers, Delta art, gasoline and a few staples, you can enjoy fine Delta cuisine in the attached restaurant. Visit www.theonwardstore.com for more details.

 Margaret's Grocery, built by her husband the Rev. H. D. Dennis, is located
on Business 61 which is a right-turn before you get into Vicksburg
Out of the Delta: When you get to Vicksburg you are out of the Delta. The Yazoo River and the Mississippi River meet at Vicksburg and some of the worst flooding in the Great Flood of 2011 took place right here. You can read more about my experience in the flood in this blog post . But it is clear as you near Vicksburg that you are no longer in the "flat lands".


The Tomato Place, Vicksburg, MS: As you leave Vicksburg headed south on U. S. 61 toward Natchez, be sure you stop by The Tomato Place. It will be on your right and you are likely to see it only as you pass it. But rest assured there is a place where you can turn back not far past it and I urge you to do so. The Tomato Place is both a farmer's market and a restaurant and even a flea market at times. I had the best BLT ever during tomato season there. They also sell fresh baked goods and even smoothies. Be sure and stop by on your way south. Check it out at http://www.thetomatoplace.com/.

As you leave the Delta and head toward New Orleans, there are many places you should stop by and see.


Port Gibson, MS survived the Civil War
 because Grant thought it was too beautiful to burn


The Windsor Ruins, 10 miles southwest of Port Gibson,
are all that is left of  Mississippi's largest antebellum  mansion
 that burned when a guest left a lighted cigar  on the balcony

Rodney, MS, located near Alcorn State University on Highway 552 W
off Highway 61, is often referred to as a ghost town. Access Rodney Road through the ASU campus
Natchez, MS is home to many antebellum homes open to the public.
Longwood, my favorite, was never finished since the Northern laborers
working on the home left when the Civil War broke out. The family finished
the lower floor and lived there. The upper floors are unfinished and you see them on the tour.

This is where I leave you. I haven't yet made the full trip from Memphis to New Orleans and may not do that anytime soon. But, as you can see, there is so much to see and do in the Delta and then south of the Delta toward Natchez. Take the time to stop and even go a little off the main highway to see what life in this special place is really all about. Trust me, you will never look at Mississippi again the same way. 











2 comments:

  1. Just to let you know that you put Mont Helena on the wrong side of the road. If you are headed south on Hwy 61 from Anguilla to Rolling Fork, Mont Helena is on the right hand side, not the left. It is located on Old Hwy 61, which also runs from Anguilla to Rolling Fork, but it is west of new Hwy 61, which puts it on the right hand side. My family moved to Rolling Fork in 1960 when I was 2 yrs old and I still go home regularly to visit family, so my memory is current and up to date. lol Mont Helena was a big attraction to everyone because it was empty, in disrepair, and said to be haunted. Anyway, just sayin'. Dawn Dykes Petz

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  2. Thank you Dawn! I don't know what I was thinking. I have already corrected it and appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

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