[a path well traveled]

by walt grayson

The Indian Mounds were always there like the courthouse downtown on Washington Avenue, or church or school or aunts and uncles. They were just in
the background of growing up. I don’t know when I became consciously aware
of them.


The Winterville Mounds are just a few miles north of Greenville on Highway 1. They are within bike riding distance of where I grew up on North Broadway. But it was always more fun to get somebody’s daddy to take a car-load of us out on Sunday afternoon, each with a piece of cardboard large enough to sit on, so we could climb to the top of the big mound and then slide back down. It was a long hike up the steep winding path. But the trip back down was almost instantaneous. My first flight happened on a cardboard flying carpet zipping down the big mound at Winterville.


Since then the mounds have been turned into a state park and sliding is no longer permitted. But I’ve about outgrown that stage of my life, anyway. And I find the museum that is there now a lot more interesting than sliding.


The only set of mounds still in use when European explorers arrived in America is preserved in another Mississippi city. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is on St. Catherine Creek in Natchez. Pretty much what scant information we know about actual mound usage was gleaned from the journals of the French explorers who came upon the Natchez tribe at their Grand Village in the late 1700s.


Another mound once used by the Natchez, which had already been abandoned by the time of the explorers, is huge Emerald Mound north of the city just off of the Natchez Trace. The base mound covers about eight acres and is about forty feet tall. On top, at one end rises a smaller mound and on the other end a taller mound with a large flat field in between.


I proposed one of my “three second” archeological theories about the use of the smaller and larger mounds while I was shooting a television feature at Emerald Mound with some real archeologists. They were debating whether the temple was located on the smaller rise and the priest’s house on the larger, or whether the temple was on the larger and perhaps the chief had his house on the smaller. I told them they had it all wrong. The “visitors” sat on the smaller mound and the “home team” on the larger and they played the game on the field in between. The professionals looked at me about three seconds (hence my “three second” theory) before resuming their previous conversation.


I mentioned the Natchez Trace. The modern roadway running south- west to the northeast across Mississippi ending near Nashville, Tennessee follows trails perhaps begun by Native Americans hunting deer and buffalo. We don’t have buffalo in Mississippi anymore. Although we do have a few places named for where they once roamed. Plenty of deer, however. Enough that you need to be careful around dusk dark driving the Trace.


Speaking of trails, there are a bunch of interesting wilderness hiking trails in the state. One of my favorites is the Clark Creek Natural Area, the other side of Woodville in Wilkinson County way down southwest. On this primitive trail of several miles are at least seven waterfalls. Growing up in the flat Delta, I had no idea that water even ran fast in Mississippi much less fell.


The parking lot at Clark Creek is around 400 feet above sea level. You hike in about a half-mile, dropping about 200 feet at the same time to get to the first waterfall. The second is downstream maybe a hundred yards. And the subsequent waterfalls are on feeder creeks flowing into the main creek from the bluffs above.


It is a steep hike out of Clark Creek. I was loaded down with TV equipment huffing and puffing my way up when I stopped at one of the merciful benches placed along the path, to take my pulse. “One hundred sixty,” I said out loud. An elderly man and his wife were also walking out. He paused and checked his pulse. “Sixty eight,” he remarked. “Sixty eight,” I answered in disbelief. “How do you manage to keep your heart rate so low on such a tough climb?” He patted his chest a couple of times and answered, “Pacemaker.”



Dunn’s Falls on I-59 south of Meridian is another pretty waterfall with a level sidewalk leading to it from the parking lot. And the Owens Creek fall on the Natchez Trace near the Rocky Springs footpath is actually right beside the
parking lot.


Pretty much every national forest and state park in Mississippi has hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, as well as biking trails and horse riding trails. Tishomingo State Park in the northeast even has rock climbing as well as hiking.


And I certainly don’t want to forget our waterways. An avid fishing cousin of mine (who would better know these things than I) told me that no matter where you are in Mississippi you are no more than about twenty minutes away from a good fishing lake. And I might add, some of the BEST fishing lakes in the nation are in Mississippi. Just follow the boat trailers.


And we have some of the most fun canoeing and kayaking streams, too. From the awe inspiring, still-natural Pascagoula River system in the southeast, to places like the fun Okatoma Creek in the central part of the state to a real ride on the Mississippi River with the professional Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale.


Indian Mounds, some of them as old as the pyramids are here. The undeveloped Jaketown Mounds near Belzoni date back 3,500 years. Snap a picture from Highway 7. There are also hiking trails and fishing and hunting places and swamps and bayous and rivers and lakes. I can’t remember when I first became aware of them. But you will never forget them once you visit them.


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