When we made the reservation at our campground in Tupelo, I must have still been feeling the sting from our remote location in Lincoln County. I wasn’t willing to do without amenities like wifi, cable and shopping again just yet. As a result, we strayed from our usual plan of selecting State Parks and picked a Good Sam Park inside the Tupelo city limits – literally right across the street from the mall. The price was right, the online reviews were great, and the place was tiny. It was more of an overnight stop for traveling motor coaches and trailers rather than a nice campground where one would spread out and enjoy nature. Our very narrow spot was up against a concrete retaining wall and all the pads were gravel as opposed to cement or asphalt. I declared our “yard” a grotto for the week, but since it rained most of the time we only built one campfire outside anyway. The upside was the gravel meant NO MUD, a great trade any day of the week.
As far at the City of Tupelo was concerned, we were excited about all the things to do while we visited. Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley, so that was sort of the theme for the week. We found our Elvis CD in the library of our Bose System and let him serenade us during our stay. We got to see the home where he was born, the church where he first sang gospel, the drive-in where he ate, the hardware store where he bought his first guitar (after pitching a fit because his mom would not let him have his first choice of a rifle on his 10th birthday). There was a walking tour downtown marked by brightly colored guitars at each point of interest. The city even has Elvis Presley Lake and Campground on the outskirts of town.
Our campground was also right down the street from the Headquarters of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which has a very nice Visitor’s Center/Museum. We took the dogs over one afternoon and hiked on one of the paths leaving from the facility. Between our campground and the entrance to the Trace there was a row of about 10 or 12 well-spaced abandoned cottages. These 1940’s (ish) brick bungalows were someway connected to the Trace. The roads into the area were blocked off and the landscaping and buildings behind the barricades were in complete disrepair. I couldn’t figure out if these might have once been living quarters for Trace staffers or maybe cottages rented out to guests… They were so charming, it seemed sad that they sat empty instead of being restored and utilized (especially with a healthy economy and so much tourism thriving at the next stop light). My background in historic preservation and community development had me intrigued with this area all week.
Our campground showed a “nature trail” on the site map. Desperate for a place to take a walk, Piper and I set off to see where it went. We discovered it led around the corner through some brush and directly into the parking lot of the mega apartment complex adjacent to us. The dogs and I were hoping for a little bit more scenery on our walks so I started sneaking into the abandoned cottage area behind the “Authorized Personnel Only” signs to get the exercise. Although much prettier, our new walking path was still a bit creepy – just slightly too quiet and still. No matter what time of the morning, day, or evening, I tried not to look up into the windows of the houses as we walked because I half expected to see some ghost or homeless hermit staring back at me.
The only scary story I have about Tupelo has nothing to do with ghosts down the road, but rather our next door neighbor, the white faced horse. On the afternoon we arrived, we noticed two horses in a field that shared a barb-wire fence with the campground. You could tell they liked humans because they were hanging out by the mailboxes waiting for the arriving guests to come over and pet them on the face and say hello. All animals love Mike and Mike gets along with all animals (except the ones he catches or shoots… they probably don’t like him too much). Anyway, Mike would go over to visit the most friendly horse and bring her carrots or apples. Now our dog Piper is a city dog and doesn’t know anything about farm animals or wildlife. When Mike and Piper would go on a walk, he would take Piper to the fence and let him stare at the horse while Mike fed her a treat. Mike and the horse had great visits while Piper stood there trembling with fear and excitement. Since he stopped barking at her after a few times, we thought he was getting better adjusted to this huge farm animal with the white face and crystal clear blue eyes.
One afternoon as we were about to load the dogs into the car, Mike said he was going to take Piper to visit the horse first. He had a carrot he wanted to bring her. Cessna and I decided to walk over with them. Mike and Piper got to the fence, he called her over with a whistle and a flash of the carrot, and she trotted right up to him at the barb wire. After she ate her carrot she leaned down to smell Piper. He was still shaking uncontrollably but even I was starting to relax as I witnessed such a sweet moment – dog and horse making friends nose to nose. I was starting to wish I had brought my phone so I could capture the postcard shot with my camera – but only briefly because it was just then that Piper LUNGED at the horse and tried to bite her on the nose! Hallmark moment over, imminent disaster on tap.
As the horse reared back on two legs the fury in her eyes led me to believe she was trying to figure out if she should trample and kill the human or dog first after she jumped the fence. She made a loud noise with her teeth bared, so maybe she was planning to trample Mike while she bit Piper back at the same time. The barb wire fence seemed at the moment like a tiny delicate string hanging loosely from two wobbly posts. I ran with Cessna to the car wondering what I was going to do in Tupelo for the rest of my life. I was sure Mike was going to be killed, we were obviously going to be kicked out of the campground and I refuse to drive the bus – so that meant I was going to be stuck in northern Mississippi until I had no idea. While I was frantically trying to figure out my future as a homeless widow, Mike had managed to talk the horse back to four legs on the ground and most thankfully still across the fence. She still wasn’t happy, but she was willing to listen to his apology. He started petting her on the face, and she kept trying to turn and bite him when she thought she might have a good angle. He had no more a carrot, so she wasn’t going for the food – she was trying for his upper limb. I kept yelling “get in the car”!
I finally couldn’t take it anymore, so I started the car and was planning on going who knows where when Mike finally got into the passenger seat and explained he couldn’t leave until she knew it was okay again. He was right, she was calm again, and I was still shaking more violently than Piper was… but not from excitement and curiosity. For the rest of the week Mike visited the white faced horse without his dog in tow.
Tupelo is also very close to lots of civil war history. Significant Battles in Tupelo and Brice’s Cross Roads during the summer of 1864 are outlined and commemorated in these nearby National Historic Sites. We had an interesting drive and history lesson as we explored the details of these events one afternoon. The Union Army self-destructed at Brice’s Cross Roads because they carried too much crap across swollen water instead of leaving the wagons and supplies on the far side of the creek. Another subliminal message that we weren’t crazy for liquidating all of our stuff before we started our adventure. Looks like if we decided to carry too much baggage on the journey we would be destined for failure… at least that is one of the personal messages that can be interpreted at the conclusion of this history lesson.
We took a drive over to Oxford on a wet and cold and very windy Sunday. It rained the whole time we were in the car, but the wet stopped just after we made it to the charming university town. The skies were still dark grey and the wind was howling, but at least we didn’t need umbrellas. We walked the dogs around the Ole Miss Campus. I got lost, but Mike knew the way back to the car. They were actually playing a home baseball game on campus against Texas A&M at 1:30 that day, but we didn’t watch because it was too cold and I wanted to visit the Faulkner Home, Rowan Oak. Sorry Aggie friends, we sort of hoped you would play well. We drove back home after we ate a yummy late lunch at an Italian restaurant on the historic Courthouse Square.
The last exciting thing we did in Tupelo was to visit the Automobile Museum they have in downtown. It was very impressive. The 120,000 square foot facility has over 100 cars lined up in chronological order. There is a speaker at each car which you can press and it will give you a brief 5 minute narration of the history and interesting facts related to each car. Every car is an original except for one replica of an 1886 Mercedes Benz. Of course they have a Lincoln that Elvis owned and also one of Liberace’s cars. A real car enthusiast could spend hours or even days there. We made it through in a little over an hour, and then went to explore some local restaurants for happy hour and dinner. Tupelo has lots of live music on Fridays and Saturdays, so we had plenty of options on places to investigate.
Just as we ended our time in Mississippi, the rain ceased. We traveled to northern Alabama on a beautiful blue sky day and started the month of April in The Heart of Dixie.