Create a "to do" list, one Mississippi attraction at a time
By Kara Kimbrough
Last week I was perusing one of the few remaining bookstores (don’t get me started on the impracticality of ordering books online without at least holding it in my hands, thumbing through a few pages and deciding for myself if it’s worth buying) in the state and came across two intriguing titles: “100 Things to Do in Mississippi Before You Die” and “100 Things to Do in Coastal Mississippi Before You Die.” Flipping through the books (see what I mean?) I glimpsed several items I’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience.
If you’re planning a last-minute getaway with the family before school starts or simply looking for a fun road trip, here is a list of some of my favorite things to see and do in Mississippi. I realize this list doesn’t come close to covering all the wonderful things in our state, so I’ll mention more in future columns. But here are a few to get you started: 1. Listing “Mississippi Gulf Coast” is simply too broad of a suggestion – after all, there are three counties along the gulf filled with cities and towns filled with shopping, restaurants, excursions and adventures. In short, they are all worthy of a visit in their own right. Narrowing it down just a tad, one of my favorite things to do is drive over the Bay St. Louis Bridge for a birds-eye view of the shimmering water fronting Hancock County. Another good idea is to head west over the Biloxi Bay Bridge for an equally memorable experience leading into Jackson County. Paring things down even further, stopping for a picnic at Jones Park at the intersection of US 49 and 90 in Gulfport is a free, enjoyable thing to do while on the Coast. Sitting under the massive Barkdale Pavililion near the water while cool breezes waft through the pillars creates the illusion of a beach vacation without the time and expense. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a meal. If it's not too terribly hot, walk a few feet to the sand and relax in a beach chair. Similar covered beach pavilions are found along the beach, but this one is my favorite. 2. Vicksburg, filled with history, beauty and of course, the Mighty Mississippi, is the perfect day trip or mini vacation. Simply standing on the banks of the river and taking in all of its magnificent size and splendid is something everyone needs to do at least once. If you’re feeling adventuresome, book a room in one of the Civil War-era bed and breakfasts to hear informative tour guides tell of their use as hospitals (and more...) during the Siege of Vicksburg. The hardwood floors in at least one of the homes still bear faint traces of the bloodstains left by wounded soldiers. According to friends who stayed overnight in one, the detailed war stories told by an entertaining tour guide were so convincing that they slept with a loaded pistol by their bedside to fend off any lingering “visitors." Email me if you’d like the name of this “lively” B & B. A stop by the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum, the origin of the world-famous beverage, and the Old Courthouse Museum containing the first teddy bear will make any visit complete. 3. Natchez is another river city not to miss when traveling around the state. Mesmerizing water vistas are found in the area famous for being the oldest permanent settlement along the Mississippi. Natchez is also filled with antebellum homes and B & Bs, albeit minus blood-stained floors. If you know your history, you’ll remember the Union Army was a little kinder to this city. Fast forward to modern day and you’ll find plenty of antique shops, quaint downtown area and an Indian village, to name just a few things to see and do.
4. Speaking of the Civil War, if you’re a history buff, you'll love researching the history of the 5-year battle in which the state's soldiers played an integral role at Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson. The impressive six-story building contains millions of researchable documents, including detailed information on Confederate soldiers, land rolls dating back centuries, genealogy records and much more. Trained staff are available to assist with research, but there’s also plenty of freedom to browse through mountains of information on your own.
5. You can’t visit MDAH without walking across the street and visiting my favorite building in the state, the Old Capitol Museum. Touring the state’s first legislative chambers and interesting displays of Mississippi history, including the Governors' and First Ladies' gallery, makes for an interesting experience. However, viewing the elaborate architecture and stunning rotunda and newly-restored dome is the crowning touch of any visit to this state treasure. 6. Don’t just drive through the Capitol City and adjacent counties in search of beaches, mountains and attractions in other states. Instead, stop and enjoy the natural beauty, scenic water views and parks near the Barnett Reservoir. The 33,000-acre Reservoir, or “Rez” as it’s called, and 17,000 surrounding acres with 105 miles of shoreline. One of the best spots is scenic Lakeshore Park located on the Rez's southeastern shore in Rankin County. The area is open to the public year-round for picnicking, boating, fishing and swimming in a secure sand-filled water with an adjacent beach. Admission is free Monday through Friday. A $5 parking fee is assessed on Saturday and Sunday at Lakeshore and other parks. Lakeshore Park is located at 1112 North Shore Parkway, Brandon.
6. I’ve mentioned my fondness the Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora on more than one occasion. But just in case you missed it, every Mississippian needs to experience this intriguing, beautiful area filled with archaic trees and stones. After all, where else can you view an area formed 36 million years ago without leaving Mississippi? It sounds like something out of the Stone Age without the long flight to the long flight to Egypt. It's hot this time of year, but the nature trail is shaded and the earth science museum is air-conditioned. The museum is filled with petrified wood samples from Mississippi as well as the other 49 states. Fossils and minerals from around the world, dinosaur footprints, whale bones and other interesting artifacts are also on display. The forest is privately-owned, but open to visitors. Before you go, check out the website for hours and admission fees: mspetrifiedforest.com.
7. Even if you’re not an alumnus, put school loyalties aside and visit the only Presidential Library in Mississippi located on the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville. Believe it or not, the library chronicles the life and presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union Army during the Civil War. Equally surprising is the fact that the university's Mitchell Library contains the nation’s largest privately held research and display material of Abraham Lincoln, a U.S. President who was anything but sympathetic to Mississippi during the war. Historians, scholars and students from around the nation and world visit the museums to study the collections and learn more about the lives of the 16th and 18th presidents. For hours of operation and more, visit the library's website at: usgrantlibrary.org.
8. Looking for an outing with a waterfall involved? Believe it or not, there is a waterfall in Mississippi. Travel to east Mississippi in search of the Chunky River in Lauderdale County and you’ll find the Dunn's Fall's Water Park. The bluffs of the eastern bank of the river extend to amazing heights from which a natural majestic waterfall flows. Visitors can climb winding steps on the steep embankment next to the falls to view the majestic water from below. This natural wonder is located at 6890 Dunn's Falls Rd. In Enterprise. The park is open Wednesday-Saturday and there is an admission fee. Call 601-655-8550 for more information.
There you have it - a few of my “can’t-miss” places guaranteed to provide an interesting, “only in Mississippi” experience not found in a bustling tourist area. I didn’t come close to the list in the “100 Things to Do” books, but at least it’s a start. If you’d like me to visit your favorite place, drop me an email and I’ll add it to the list.
In the meantime, it doesn’t get more “Mississippi” than peach cobbler, especially now when they’re at their peak. Like our state, this a low-maintenance recipe that results in an unforgettable experience.
Old-Fashioned Cobbler 2 cups of sliced peaches or your favorite fruit (if using fresh berries, place them in a bowl with a little water and sprinkle of sugar and refrigerate for one hour before baking) 2 cups of self-rising flour 2 cups of sugar, plus two tablespoons, divided 1 cup milk 2 sticks of butter, room temperature Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in large ovenproof dish and heat in oven until melted and bubbling. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix berries with two tablespoons of sugar and bring to boil. In a separate mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar and milk. Pour batter evenly across baking dish of bubbling butter, then pour berries and juice evenly on top of batter; do not stir.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let cool slightly and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at email@example.com.