No Trace at Trace!

The park map of Trace State Park shows a large lake with three “fingers.” The two isthmi between the  three fingers feature on one the fishing piers and on the other two campgrounds. We were elated when we made our reservation to get a prime spot in the Eagle Ridge Campground looking out over the lake.

Our drive from Grenada was quite lovely. Northern Mississippi is green rolling country. We headed north towards Oxford and then east. I had desperately wanted to visit Square Books, a renowned independent bookseller in Oxford, but Google Earth made it pretty clear that a 48 foot trailer and truck was going to find no haven anywhere near town center. Ah, well, we’ll save that for another day…

Trace State Park sits just west of Tupelo. I was excited to see this city with the beguiling name and we planned to do both sightseeing and hiking. We pulled up to the ranger station at the park gate and got checked in. No mention was made of anything out of the ordinary at the park. I did ask after ticks and the ranger said they were pretty bad.

 

We pulled the trailer along the park roads, found our site which was right across from the comfort station/laundry and backed in. It wasn’t until we were backed in to the site that we noticed one tiny detail which deviated from expectations. The lake had disappeared! There was no lake. Instead there was a vast expanse of brown mud extending in all directions. How do you lose a lake?

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We were completely nonplussed. Rather than a glorious vista, we faced a mud horizon. We sniffed the air which was redolent of a smell redolent of cow manure. I kind of like the earthiness of a sometime whiff of cow manure, but three days of it seemed a bit much.5217 643

The earth around our site was barren and grass-less. The thought of sitting out on the scrabbly dirt staring off over the muddy lake-less expanse was less than attractive. On the positive side, the bath house did look quite nice and the laundry was spotless.

We weren’t too happy as we unhitched. There was cell signal and I hot spotted to go online and see if there were other places to stay. Jim went on-line to find out what happened to the lake.

It seemed that the lake’s dam had been slated for repairs. The contractor had been moving slowly when an inspection revealed an imminent danger of collapse. The lake was immediately drained to avoid flooding downstream. This had all happened six days before. It sure seems like they might have mentioned to those planning a stay that the lake had disappeared. They didn’t even mention it when we checked in. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

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It was quite warm and late in the afternoon. We decided to drive in to Tupelo and poke around. Jim needed to visit a hardware store and we both thought it was time for some barbecue. A trip to the grocery store and a re-stock on our boxed wine was also on the docket. It was forecast to storm that night. We would batten down the hatches, stock up the larder and decide our plans the next day.

Amazingly, after some excellent barbecue and a successful foray into town, life looked rosier. Bishop’s Barbecue had multiple locations and one was right on the way back to the park. It was very good barbecue. I had fried green tomatoes and pulled pork. They looked a little surprised when I asked for a container to take half of it home. From the looks of it, most of their customers belonged to the clean plate club. Meow.

The predicted storm was just a normal boomer and banger. The next morning was sunny and clear. It would get hot later, but a morning hike would be an excellent undertaking. Jim had done some research and found a very nice sounding Rails-to-Trails just west of us.

Rails-to-Trails are pretty dependable hiking locations. The former railroad beds run straight and true, are often elevated and paved. We had walked one when we were in Navarre and could find no hiking trails. This would fit neatly into our tick avoidance program (TAP) and give us some good outdoor exercise.

The Tanglefoot Trail runs just under 44 miles from Houston north to New Albany. We decided to pick up the trail at Pontotoc. The trail was gorgeously maintained. Where we parked there was a lovely rest stop/picnic area. It was so new we half expected to see a hammer still lying around.

We hiked along the trail enjoying the fresh air and sun and feeling quite confident that we were tick free. It felt good to stretch our legs and glimpse bits of Pontotoc as we walked along. It looked like a nice town and we could see the community park with ball fields from the trail.

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Pontotoc means “Land of Hanging Grapes” in the Chickasaw language. After our walk, we drove around Pontotoc. It was a suburb of Tupelo and had nice houses, a modest town square and some small businesses. At this point we had abandoned any thought of changing campgrounds. We spent the end of the day doing laundry at the campground and we drove around the park roads to see other parts of the park. The funny cow manure smell had disappeared after the rain.

One thing about Mississippi that we loved was the ubiquity of public television. Whether it was Natchez, Grenada or the outskirts of Tupelo, PBS came in loud and clear. The same was true for radio broadcasts. We were able to indulge our love of PBS NewsHour and the local radio broadcasts in the morning. For some reason I would not have expected this of Mississippi, but we thought much better of the state for its commitment to this media.

On our final day at Trace State Park, we returned to the Tanglefoot Trail and Pontotoc and hiked in the opposite direction. The weather during this second hike was humid and heavy. The sky was a little overcast and the trail cut through a more urban area. We were glad we had headed south the first day through a less urban part of the trail. It was still a good walk, but not quite as good this second outing.

In the afternoon, we headed in to Tupelo. We had an extremely tasty lunch at the Neon Pig. This butcher cum restaurant and bar was a fun spot. I am not a fan of pictures of food, but I will break my usual practice and share a visual glimpse of the tremendously tasty pork belly sandwich I split with Jim.

We worked off that tasty lunch wandering the streets of Tupelo’s historic district. The old courthouse stood squarely next to its more modern iteration. Many of the historic homes were now law offices. It must be a pretty nice life practicing law in a small city like Tupelo. A short walk from the office to the courthouse, a comfortable living and enough urban sophistication to make life interesting with the great outdoors is a stone’s throw away. Not a bad life.

Our early discomfiture with the disappearing lake had likewise disappeared. We enjoyed seeing both Tupelo and Pontotoc and would be happy to return anytime. With any luck the lake would also have returned and that idyllic campsite with a lake view would be part of the package.

No, Not That Atlanta, The Other Atlanta

We arrived at Atlanta State Park the Saturday before Easter Sunday. The park was alive with families enjoying the special weekend. The Easter Bunny had just presided over an Easter egg hunt and the excitement level was unparalleled. We saw the Easter Bunny zip by in the ranger’s golf cart. It was also quite warm, nay hot, and sunny.

The site we were assigned was very short. Short and uneven. In order to get the Airstream intothe site, we had to hang out in the campground road blocking traffic. This is precisely the kind of situation which Jim finds intolerable. He hates to be in the way or inconveniencing anyone. Of course, this meant we were trying to rush and that only prolonged the process. We needed to deploy the Andersons to level the trailer side to side. We got our signals crossed and had to rework the process. I thought Jim’s head might explode. He was quite literally a very unhappy camper. Finally, we were able to unhitch and get out of everyone’s way.

We were dead tired and hot and unhappy. To re-spark the magic, we got out all of Jim’s Airstream toys. We deployed the awnings and got out the palm tree. From the awnings we hung the strings of lights shaped like flamingos and flip flops. This was their maiden appearance as I had brought them back from my visit east. Of course, the flamingo from the Quilt Museum was on display. Smokey took a bow as did Jim’s replacement balloon from Ruidoso. We were the most festive and happening trailer in the park!

We sat in our chairs under the awning to enjoy the late afternoon and dusk. Jim sipped his beer. I drank my wine. A large red wasp began buzzing around us. Soon swarms of gnats were flying in our faces. We got out the citronella candles and remained steadfast. Just as darkness fell an enormous black beetle crashed into my head with his hard shell. My shriek rang out though the campground. I bounded inside the trailer. That was just one bug too many for me. I hate, hate, hate insects. I hate bugs. I really hate big red wasps and black, hard-shelled beetles that fly. I began to pine for west Texas and its bug-free environment in earnest.

Atlanta State Park has two campground loops. We were on the lake loop. The other loop was deeper into the woods. Rather than place the campsites right next to the lake as is most common, the sites were lined along both sides of the road leading through the campground to the picnic area. This picnic area was a peninsula which jutted out into the lake. The loop was ringed with tables. It was quite lovely. We pondered the democratic choice which had been made to leave the campsites in the woods and the public access picnic area on the prime spot.

 

The next morning we walked the picnic loop and admired Lake Wright Patman. It was a little rainy and the sky was cloudy, but all in all a pretty day. We spent some time cleaning the trailer. Living in a small space, there isn’t much to clean, but it does need fairly frequent attention. Cleaning is also a good way to exert control over one’s environment. It serves dual purposes.

Atlanta park was unusual in its lack of hiking trails. There was one trail which connected the two campgrounds, but it was uninspiring. We were still a little tick-shocked from Mission Tejas. Rather than explore the trail, we decided to see if the ranger had wood for a fire and head in to town.

The ranger actually gifted us with some firewood someone had left behind. We headed to WalMart for some firestarter sticks. When we got out of WalMart, Jim suggested we go to Sonic for burgers. It was already 3 pm and it seemed a little late for a heavy fast food meal. As Jim likes to say, I crushed his soul once again. We returned to the park. All was not harmony and happiness. We hunkered down for another evening dodging bugs.

The next day was humid and somewhat cloudy. At this point we were both ready to leave Atlanta. We were trying hard to be happy and content, but it wasn’t happening. It was time for some serious intervention. In the pantheon of tools to engender happiness on the road, doing laundry ranks at the top—even ahead of trailer cleaning. It was time to do the laundry. We were seriously intent on getting happy.

5217 342Jim had researched and there seemed to be just one laundromat in Atlanta. If it didn’t really exist (not an unusual occurrence) or was awful, we would have to go to Texarkana which was quite a ways away. We drove the twenty minutes back to town. With 34 years of happy matrimony under my belt, I suggested we try Sonic before the laundromat. This girl didn’t survive this long without knowing when to uncrush a soul. We don’t eat fast food very often at all. But Jim had this bee in his bonnet and it seemed the best course of action. It was okay. I don’t think I ever need to eat at Sonic again.

After Sonic, we found the Washateria. It wasn’t the cleanest place, but it had the necessary appliances. Jim and Dakota stayed in the truck and I headed in to get the job done. Doing laundry, even in a less than spotless environment, is good for the soul.

The next morning we were ready to hitch up and get underway. Our next door neighbor wandered by on his way from the bathhouse to his trailer. He was friendly and very interested in our hitch. We have a Pro Pride hitch which has tremendous stabilizing strength. It resists the gusts from wind and passing semi trucks and makes hauling a trailer much safer and easier. Lots of people haul with a simple ball hitch as did our neighbor.

Over time Jim and I have worked out a good process for hitching and un-hitching. By now we had done it many times. We barely need to speak as we work through each step. We each have our own self-assigned tasks. Despite this familiarity, having an audience threw us each into silent performance anxiety. As our neighbor peppered Jim with hitch questions, we performed each task, but without our usual level of concentration.

Once early on in our journey, we had had a near disaster in hitching. We could have totally crashed the Airstream and, even all these months later, we remained battle scarred. After that near disaster, I developed the oft-recommended hitching up checklist. Ever since we were religious in running through the checklist each time we hooked up no matter how confident we felt. Like a pilot preparing to take off down the runway, the checklist was our salvation.

The hitching in front of our kindly observer went well. Jim nailed putting the stinger in the hitch. He hooked his over center, I took the tool and hooked mine. My favorite job is to cross and hook the tow chains, hook the emergency brake release cable and seat the seven pin plug which makes the brake lights work on the trailer. All of that took place. Our satisfied guest wandered off pondering the joys of our Pro-pride Trailer hitch. Jim and I both breathed sighs of deep relief. We went through the hitching up checklist with the fervor of were newly ordained priests performing our first Eucharist.