Southern Exposure: A Trip to Remember PDF Print E-mail
Family Travels

Southern Exposure: A Trip to Remember
by Candy Summers

 Last spring Jon’s niece and nephew invited our family to come to Florida so Jon could dedicate their newest blessings to the Lord. Jon was so honored and all of us were delighted, but we knew we couldn’t financially make it happen. The family had kindly offered to pay our expenses, but we couldn’t let them bear such an expense. Immediately, God provided a way by giving Jon oodles of overtime, blessing us with more than we ever expected. Although we hadn’t been able to take a trip for the last ten years, God abundantly blessed us with a trip worth waiting for.
 My mom and dad told us of places to visit and then took us to the AAA Travel Agency to get our TripTiks and tour books. When I was young, family trips were educational adventures. Mom read to us about everything along the way, and my parents both made sure we saw everything we possibly could. We, too, were determined to make this trip a very enjoyable, educational, memorable experience, making the most of God’s gift. Therefore, we read about everything along the way, highlighted our priorities, and mapped out a plan.
 To make the most of our time and cover as many miles as we could, on several occasions we drove through much of the night. We also ate breakfast in our room and ate lunch from our cooler, so we could put that money towards enjoyable evening meals and other attractions.

Vicksburg, Mississippi

 Our first destination was Vicksburg, Mississippi, so the first night we drove south on Hwy. 55 for about 450 miles to Canton, Mississippi. We started our morning off by reading my mom and dad’s card to us, which said that they loved us and were praying for us all along the way for a wonderful experience that the Lord had provided. What a wonderful beginning! Love and prayers know no boundaries.
 Taking Hwy. 55 south to Hwy. 220 south, then Hwy. 20 west to Vicksburg, we spent the day at Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery ($4 per vehicle and $4.50 for the audiotape rental fee). During the Civil War, the Mississippi River between Cairo, Illinois and the Gulf of Mexico was vitally important for transporting both troops and supplies. By late 1862, the Federal forces had captured all the Confederates’ most strategic posts along the river except for Vicksburg. Sitting high on a bluff overlooking the river, Vicksburg was a formidable obstacle.
 President Lincoln called it “the key” and said, “The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.” After several battles, Grant brought Vicksburg under siege, which forced its surrender in July, 1863. The park encompasses 1,700 acres of forts, trenches, and artillery emplacements recreated on actual sites.
 First, we viewed the audiovisual story that explained the siege of Vicksburg. Then when we began our 16-mile self-guided tour through the park, we turned on our rented audiotape that told about each of the 1,260 memorials, monuments, statues, tablets, bronze portraits, and markers honoring the officers and enlisted men who fought there. We often stopped and got out to walk along the trenches, survey the battlefield, and view things more closely. What a sobering experience! Jon and the children also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “My Country Tis of Thee” in the magnificent Illinois Memorial to honor all our valiant countrymen, each fighting for what he believed to be right. We cried.
 Afterwards, we saw the Union gunboat Cairo, sunk just north of Vicksburg in 1862. The first vessel in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated mine, it was salvaged in 1960 along with a vast array of artifacts which were on display. We ended our tour at the Vicksburg Cemetery where 17,000 Union soldiers were buried, of whom nearly 13,000 were unknown. Many of the Confederates were buried in the Vicksburg City Cemetery.

Rosswood Plantation

 Before we left St. Louis, a homeschooling family had given us a monetary gift to be used for something we wouldn’t normally do. Coupled with the money my mom and dad gave us, “For when you think you shouldn’t but would like to; for something you want as a memory,” this allowed us to experience the most fascinating, extravagant, memorable, romantic adventure we’ve ever encountered—a Bed and Breakfast Plantation! While still in Vicksburg, I called what sounded like the best one in the tour book, but I couldn’t get through. I finally called the Natchez Pilgrimage Center to make reservations for us. However, when she found out the ages of our children, she told us that the only plantation that accommodated our ages was Rosswood Plantation, but it was in the country 20 minutes north of Natchez. Undaunted by her discouraging tone, I told her that we would be happy to stay in the country. How providential for us, as we saw later; the one I originally selected was located on a busy street across from a gas station.
 When we finally turned off Hwy. 61 onto an old Mississippi country road lined with bayous along the way, our anticipation grew. As we turned into the drive and started down the long approach to our lodging, our hearts seemed to stand still as we were transported back in time. Before us was a magnificent southern plantation mansion with huge, white pillars, marble statues, and formal gardens, surrounded by stately trees elegantly draped with Spanish moss. Wow, how romantic!
 Not only were children welcome, but also the older owners made a special trip to get their grandchild named Honey Jean so our children would have someone to play with. It was this little redheaded girl who met us at the door and showed us to our upstairs rooms, resplendent with canopied beds and elegant antique furniture. Honey Jean also played with the kids in their beds while Jon and I swung on the porch swing on the second story veranda listening to the peepers sing as the Spanish moss swayed in the gentle breeze. It all seemed like a dream.
 In the morning after a wonderful southern breakfast served in an exquisite dining room, we toured the mansion, learned all about its history, and were read to from the treasured diary of the original owners. Built in 1857, the mansion was a Civil War battle site. Although only 100 acres remain, it is still a working plantation.
 After the tour, the couple extended our stay so the children could swim in their heated pool with Honey Jean. Their hospitality truly made this visit most memorable (800-533-5889, www.rosswood.net).

Natchez, Mississippi and Louisiana

 Getting back on Hwy. 61, we went south “just a piece” to Natchez, Mississippi, the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River. Natchez was a very important river port because of its successful cotton industry. It boasted more millionaires for its population than any other city in America. Considering how many beautiful mansions were destroyed in the Civil War, it is remarkable that Natchez possesses 500 magnificent pre-Civil War antebellum homes within such a small area. They are everywhere. We’ve never seen anything like it and drove up and down the streets and roads to enjoy these enchanting mansions. Many are open daily for tours, and thirty are Bed and Breakfasts. During the Spring (March/April) and the Fall (September/October) Pilgrimages, you can buy passes to tour many of the homes (800-647-6742, www.natchezpilgrimage.com; $24 adult, $12 ages 6-17).
 We also really enjoyed the Confederate Pageant ($12 adult, $6 children) depicting Natchez’ rich southern history. Local performers dressed in elaborate costumes act out scenes of the Old South’s Spanish, French, and British house parties, garden parties, dances, the wedding of Jefferson Davis to Natchez belle Varina Howell, and the Confederate Farewell Ball. It was the perfect farewell as we left Natchez down Hwy. 61 south to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
 The next morning we traveled along the two-lane river road called Plantation Alley that winds along the river’s levee. We passed many beautiful plantations. “Plantation Homes Along the River Road from Baton Rogue to New Orleans” pamphlet is available from Josie Gleason, 2361 Torrey Pine Drive, Baton Rouge, LA  70816, 225-275-7390. It includes mileage, photographs, and historical information about 45 plantations.
 We chose to tour Nottoway, the largest plantation home in the south. In 1849, John Randolph, a prosperous sugar planter, commissioned to have this 53,000 square foot, 64 room mansion built on his 7,000-acre sugar plantation. It took 10 years to complete. He raised eleven children there, and five of his seven girls were married in the 65-foot ballroom. Twenty-two massive cypress columns hold up the porches. They had running water and even a bowling alley in the basement. Thankfully, this magnificent structure was saved during the Civil War by a northern gunboat officer, who after firing the first shot recognized the plantation where he had once been a guest. Nottoway is also a Bed and Breakfast (225-545-2730, www.nottoway.com).
 From here we got on Hwy. 10 and went southeast to New Orleans’ French Quarter for the famous Jazz Brunch served in the renowned The Court of Two Sisters on 613 Rue Royale (504-522-7261, www.courtoftwosisters.com). When I was a child, my mom and dad had brought me to this delightful courtyard for their exquisite buffet. So enchanted and delighted with its romantic surroundings, my mom and dad went home to design a similar New Orleans courtyard and even purchased the same wrought iron patio furniture to fill it.
 I also wanted my children to see the beautiful courtyards and the old brick buildings with iron balconies draped with flowers overlooking the narrow streets, to taste the delicious beignets at Café du Monde, to walk through the handsome garden in Jackson Square Park, to enjoy the sidewalk artists, and to hear all that jazz. Unfortunately however, for all my lovely memories, nothing prepared me for the spiritual oppression, moral decadence, and dirt. Although we took the kids to experience all these wonders, Jon and I couldn’t wait to leave. What a pity!

Mississippi and Alabama

 Traveling northeast on Hwy. 10, we stopped at Gulfport, Mississippi and let the children play on the white sandy beaches. This was the first time they had ever seen a saltwater body of water, so they were thoroughly excited. The only ones on the beach, they ran, skipped, splashed, and yelled sweet praises. Gulfport’s scenic beach boulevard along the coast is lined with pretty homes. This same boulevard took us directly into Biloxi, Mississippi.
 The next morning we visited Beauvoir meaning “Beautiful View” of the Mississippi Sound (800-570-3818, www.beauvoir.org). The historical walking tour of Jefferson Davis’ 51-acre estate included his antebellum home, garden, Civil War museum, and cemetery. The film on Jefferson Davis’ life and the self-guided tour in the Civil War museum were exceptional ($7.50 adult, $4.50 ages 6-16, $3 under 6).
 In the afternoon we boarded the Sailfish for an educational excursion on a shrimping boat and navigated in surrounding calm waters. Once at sea the captain set out his shrimp net. He then identified the local marine life caught, which included shrimp, crabs, flounder, and pufferfish, and presented it for all to inspect. This 70-minute adventure was a fun and unusual experience (800-289-7908, www.gcww.com/sailfish; $10 adult, $6 children).
 Heading northeast on Hwy. 10, we stopped in Mobile, Alabama to see the USS Alabama battleship, which received nine battle stars for its performance during WWII (334-433-2703). From there, we went east on Hwy. 10 and east on Hwy. 98 passing Pensacola, Florida, which looked very clean and pretty. Arriving at Destin, Florida at 7:00 p.m., we went looking for a motel. We were shocked by all the loud kids when we stopped to seek lodging. Not only was there no room at the inn, but also the innkeeper said to get our family out of there for this was Alabama’s spring break and no place for a family. Well, he really didn’t need to encourage us because we were already feeling like fish out of water.

Orlando, Florida

 Heather drove 550 miles, north on Hwy. 331, east on Hwy. 10, south on Hwy. 75, then over to Orlando, Florida to a clean, reasonable room at the Sleep Inn Convention Center on Westwood Boulevard ($49 a room).
 Nicknamed “The City Beautiful,” Orlando is exceptionally clean with palms, oaks, and lovely hotels lining International Drive. One of our favorite restaurants was the Bahama Breeze, which served fruit slushes, jerk spiced dishes, and key lime pie in its very unusual, fascinating Bahaman atmosphere. It was on International Drive as was the Mercado Mediterranean Village and Pointe Orlando for shopping. We also visited many of their beautiful and very unusual hotels.
 The highlight of Orlando was our very pleasurable stay at Sea World; thanks to another homeschooling family who gave us passes ($44 adults, $35 ages 3-9). The famous Shamu killer whale show was wonderful along with the funny Pirate Island show, the Journey to Atlantis water coaster ride, the Wild Arctic (featuring a huge water tank where we viewed polar bears swimming under water), Penguin Encounter, Tropical Reef, Key West Dolphin Fest, Water Ski Show, and much more. This is truly a great family attraction!

Visiting Jon’s Family in Fort Myers, Florida

 From Orlando, we headed southwest on Hwy. 4 and south on Hwy. 75 to Fort Myers, Florida. Gladiola Capital of the world and City of Palms, this pretty city with all its royal palms, gated communities, and 400 miles of quaint canals was best known to us for the wonderful family who lives there. We had arrived at the home of Jon’s sister, his niece, and two nephews and their families. How great it is to be amongst family.
 Dedicating Rebekah and Cassidy to the Lord was such an honor and privilege. The celebration with family and friends was truly a sweet aroma to us and the Lord.
 The family took us to Florida’s most popular islands: Sanibel and Captiva. These internationally renowned paradises are also known for their shells because more shells are washed ashore there than anywhere else in the United States. The beaches are carpeted with shells piled four feet deep in some places.
 The kids loved swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, while I delighted in collecting God’s beautiful creations. I was awed by all the different shapes, colors, and sizes of the shells I saw. They say that there are 275 kinds of shells found on these beaches. I probably collected somewhere around 256 different kinds; Jon thinks it was more like 500. Okay, so I went a little nuts, but they were free. Not exactly, Jon tells me, but he was pretty patient with me. Egrets, spoonbills, ibis, herons, sandpipers, gulls, and pelicans were everywhere. We even saw osprey.
 The family treated us to the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa—wow, what a treat! It was beautiful. They also took us to The Hungry Heron on Sanibel’s Palm Ridge Road. It had the largest menu I’ve ever seen with 251 meals to choose from. Casual dining, great fresh seafood, and quick friendly service made this a family place to dine.
 Another day was spent on Boca Grande Island. Surrounded by azure water and white sugar sand beaches and graced with plenty of palm, oleander, and bougainvillea, this truly is an ocean jewel. Once upon this tiny island, we felt like we had stepped back in time. We visited the pretty Our Lady of Mercy Chapel with its white wall and crushed shell walk, but the highlight was the Gasparilla Inn. Built in 1913, it is one of the nation’s oldest resort hotels and seemed to be frozen in time. This island was very pretty and unusual. Our many thanks to Jon’s family for their warm hospitality and great kindness.

Our Return Trip Home

 Heading north on Hwy. 75, we went through bustling Atlanta, Georgia (avoid during rush hours) to Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia. It is the world’s largest exposed granite (825 feet high), and it also has the world’s largest high relief sculpture depicting President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
 From here we went north on Hwy. 285, northeast on Hwy. 85, north on Hwy. 985, and north on Hwy. 441 through The Great Smoky Mountains to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Knowing this great treasure now belonged to the United Nations overshadowed both days’ trips into the mountains. Because of the noise, congestion, commercialization, and rowdy teens we encountered in Gatlinburg, we probably will never return.
 While there, we traveled the 8-mile loop of the arts and crafts community, stopping at shops, studios, and galleries along the way. This is the largest group of independent artisans in the country who create quilts, woodcarvings, pottery, baskets, jewelry, and much more.
 For dinner, we went to another one of our favorite restaurants, The Park Grill, which is situated only 200 yards from the park entrance. Reminiscent of a majestic national park lodge, this beautiful structure is made of hand-selected, massive, dead, standing spruce trees. Handmade large rocking chairs sit on the front porch. You walk on stone walls that come from old rock fences, which were originally located 30 miles east of Gatlinburg, and you enter through hand-carved doors. A six-foot hand-carved bear welcomes guests. A 56-foot by 13-foot mural depicts Gatlinburg’s early life, animal life, and Mt. Le Conte. Three fireplaces and a waterfall also grace this handsome and very unusual restaurant. The food is excellent, and the children get the same trout, prime rib, and steak for just one-half times the child’s age. It was really great (865-436-2300, www.peddlerparkgrill.com).
 Well, it was worth waiting ten years for such an educational, historic, and interesting trip. We had a wonderful time and made a lot of great memories. If you follow along our path, I truly hope you enjoy yourselves as much as we did.