Camping in Natchez, Mississippi - Plantations and Ancient Mounds and Indian Villages
The Engineer had an offshore trip scheduled. I hate being home alone without him. Therefore, it was the perfect time to attempt a solo-parenting camping trip with five kids!
The last time we went camping as a family was two kids ago. It's was a meh experience. But when the Engineer and I backpacked / camped Zion two years, I did some studying up on trail food. I discovered headlamps. I used a JetBoil. In short: I found my groove.
The Engineer tried to talk me out of it, but I was already too invested in my own idea and now I felt I had to prove to myself that I could do it. So, I mapped out a plan for how to make my mini-van home base for two nights. I got three bins that fit flush in the trunk: One for our clothes, one for our books, toys and games, and one for our portable kitchen / pantry. On top of this, I could lay a three-inch thick foam pad for the baby to sleep on. Yes, the baby slept in the trunk. Best idea ever, thank you very much.
Sleeping bags, tent, stroller, five-gallon water jug and bin of necessary (but not luxurious) camping supplies topped off the load. We climbed in the car, said a prayer, and set off!
Destination: Natchez State Park
Distance: 2.5 hour drive
Soundtrack: The Chronicles of Narnia audiobook
We got in with just enough time to spare to set up our campsite. Blue and Green have done multi-day backcountry backpacking trips with the Engineer and they are proficient tent setter-uppers, so I left that duty entirely up to them. I also didn't lift a finger in the fire building department. It took them a few tries, but they eventually got one crackling and I rewarded them with marshmallows.
First thing in the morning, we took off for a hike on one of the park's nature trails. After winding around for about .25 miles, we found an awesome vine that was tangled up with a branch about forty feet up. Tarzan returns!
We drove into Natchez to the visitor center where we could stamp our passport book and read a little bit about the history of the town. The favorite display featured Jim Bowie's sandbar knife fight.
NPS in Natchez has three units: Fort Rosalie (a hill - and even that was closed), the William Johnson House (which we skipped because a three-year old in a house full of antiques is not my idea of an enjoyable hour spent), and the Melrose Estate. At least an estate will involve a fair portion of
outdoor exploration, so I opted for that.
Living where we do, we've visited our fair share of antebellum plantations. The kids know the drill - tour the house briefly, explore the outbuildings and slave quarters, oo-and aah over the manicured lawns and gardens. They weren't particularly stoked about another plantation, but I psyched them up with the promise that they could add a Junior Ranger badge to their collection. But when we arrived, the rangers behind the desk told us they were out of badges, out of Junior Ranger books, that you couldn't actually go into the house and that there were no guided tours.
In my kids' estimation, it was a miserable excuse for a plantation - and it my estimation, the only good thing I can say about it is that the experience prompted good discussion about the merits of private versus public ownership (at least in the case of this particular estate).
Fort Rosalie: Fail
Melrose Estate Score: Fail
Next up: Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. From the online info I gathered, it looked like there was a reproduction Native village and some mounds. The mounds were anemic, the structures were all disassembled for repairs.
Grand Village of the Natchez Indians: Fail
The final stop of the day was Emerald Mounds. Wow. Rising up up out of the virtually flat Mississippi ground was an enormous ceremonial mound, built without the use of iron tools or the wheel - which is a mind-blowing thought. We huffed and puffed our way to the top and the kids zoomed up and down, up and down and I pulled out my book for a peaceful read on what, in that moment, felt like the top of the world.
Emerald Mound: Success
After macaroni and cheese, s'mores, and running around chasing each other with light sticks, I put the two youngest to bed and stayed up for a little while playing cards with the boys, before I finally had it with shooing the Munchkin back to bed that I finally threw in the towel. I have to confess: I pictured that I would spend my evenings in solitude by the glowing embers, reading my 300-page biography of David Livingstone while my children drifted off to sleep peacefully in the tent.
That's not exactly what happened.
The only reading I got done was while laying squeezed between Munchkin's knobby knees and Green's feet, squinting in the dim light of a glow stick barely illuminating the page.
Still, I'd call our first attempt a success. Having this experience under our belt, I feel ready to take on a bigger adventure.
Have you vacationed in Natchez, or are you a local with a favorite spot? I'd love to get in on the must-see-sites that we missed this time around so comment and convince me to come back!