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Today is June 25, 2017

Outdoors

A journey into history

A journey into history

Jim Baker prepares for one of the many living history programs scheduled each year at Grand Gulf Park. Photo: Tony Kinton

    There is something especially captivating about southwest Mississippi—a peculiar essence, a whisper from the past, the bluffs and hardwoods and stream lowlands and romance.
    Then there is the Mighty River. It twists and roils and delineates its border path separating states. At times placid; at times angry. But always fascinating. It is a thing of legend, luring anyone who is filled with fantasy and wanderlust to come near, to stand and watch and dream and contemplate. I never see it without considering Mark Twain as a youngster doing likewise from the edges of his small world and questioning where those waters came from and where they are going.
    A great many true gems make the region their home. There is Natchez, naturally, a destination that demands exploration. And there is the landscape, accentuated by those mysterious hills and hollows. There are Indian mounds and historical markers and Grant’s March and the terminus of that ancient route known as the Natchez Trace. All quite marvelous.
    Go north from Natchez on Highway 61 a little more than half-way to Vicksburg and there is Port Gibson, an absolute must for visitors to the area. And not far northwest of there is Grand Gulf, once a wealthy town that fell on hard times, including storms, a Yellow Fever epidemic, a terrific steamboat explosion and fire, and whims of monstrous currents from the Mississippi River. And then the war. But even today, the area is inviting. This invitation centers particularly on Grand Gulf Military Park.
    The park is rife with history. Four miles upstream and across the Big River is the spot from which Gen. Grant planned to launch his invasion of Mississippi. Grand Gulf, though crippled by this time, was strategic. Supplies for Confederate support were transported via the Big Black River, the juncture of that stream and the Mississippi only a short distance up from Grand Gulf. Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Bowen had established strong stations in the bluffs some 800 yards from the mouth of Big Black and 100 feet above the river. These must be taken if Grant were to execute his plan. The heart of Bowen’s efforts is where Grand Gulf Military Park now stands. 
    The centerpiece of this park is the museum, located right at the entrance and also housing the primary office. But there is much more. Buildings of various persuasions are there. The sites of forts Cobun and Wade, the structures no longer standing, are clearly visible, rifle pits and passage ways evident. 
    Emplacements that held field pieces and were constructed by Confederate soldiers are there. Sheds behind the museum contain a vast assortment of period equipment: carriages, wagons, fire-fighting implements, tack, tools. The list is long. Even the original jail from Grand Gulf is there.
    Perhaps morbid in a sense but truly remarkable in another is the Grand Gulf Cemetery, stationed high atop a ridge toward the back of the park. Mixed with the obvious loss portrayed by such a facility is the artistry of it all. Unlike modern cemeteries, this one speaks of a time long past. This cemetery is a place for study and thought. Quiet and tucked among cedars and oaks, it is a spot for remembering.
    And not far away from there is an observation tower. Not for the faint of heart, it is built with many decks connected by countless stairs that eventually reach the top. The view from there, however, can be spectacular.
    Then there are campgrounds, two to be specific. One is the lower, the other the upper. As the names suggest, one is at the bottom of the bluff near the park’s entrance, and the other is on the bluff above it all. The regular amenities are available for travel trailers, fifth wheels and motor homes. And a tent will work as well.
    All the locales highlighted to this point are worthy venues, but should I be forced to choose only one as the brightest jewel at Grand Gulf Park, my reflective nature points again to the river. Leave the park gate, cross the main road, and there you will find a park road that leads directly to that big stream. You can actually stand on the banks of the Mississippi River, a task not so easily accomplished along most stretches of Big Muddy. It is permissible to drive there; it is safe to walk there. My favorite, bicycling, is the perfect way to make the half-mile run. But however you go there, go at sunset. You should be greeted by a haunting and uncommon portrait painted by nature itself. Those sunsets are exquisite.
    For more information about Grand Gulf Military Park and its offerings, go to www.grandgulfpark.state.ms.us, or call 601-473-5911. That call will put you in touch with a staff member there, and each is helpful and knowledgeable.

    Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book, “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories,” is now available. Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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