Before checking out of the Gold Strike Casino Hotel in Tunica, I took one last look at the magnificent view of the Mighty Mississippi from my room. After a delicious breakfast at The Blue and White Restaurant, we topped off our Mazda CX-5 at the gas station next door, and then hit the road down Highway 61 South to Vicksburg. Normally I’d rather be the backup driver on a road trip, but navigating through the Delta taking 61 from Memphis was straightforward and stress free. It’s been many years since I can say I loved driving… Of course having a comfortable vehicle also helps.
Mississippi Blues Trail Markers
It’s interesting how we didn’t play any music or even turn on the radio during our drive down. It was in these very fields that the Mississippi Delta gave birth to a sound that would change popular music forever. I discovered that as the Delta sun rises, and the boundless cotton fields breeze by, the highway sings to you. If you love the blues, the tunes will come to mind. Just don’t get too swept away and close your eyes if you’re driving. That would be bad…
During my drive, I started thinking about Vicksburg born blues legend Willie Dixon. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past July 1st 2015. Here’s a tune of Willie’s that you can listen to while you continue reading… And if you’re looking for more information regarding Willie Dixon, you can click on the link above.
We drove through Lula, Clarksdale, Bobo, Alligator, Shelby, Winstonville, Merigold, Cleveland, Boyle, Shaw and Rolling Fork. While we drove past most of these towns on the way to Vicksburg, we made more stops on our return back north up the Delta.
As you get closer to Vicksburg you’ll notice the terrain start to change from flat road to scenic hills and curves. The landscape would really hit home during our tour of the Vicksburg National Military Park.
First, it was time for lunch.
Walnut Hills Restaurant
We met Bill and Laura Beth from The Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau at The Walnut Hills Restaurant. After getting reacquainted, we all sat down and had the round-table lunch. This was one of those places that is a MUST stop on anyone’s trip to Vicksburg. The assortment of scrumptious plates is presented in front of you on a rotating table top. The selection is vast and incredibly delicious and totally Southern. Selections included items like their world class fried chicken, turnip greens, liver and onions, okra & tomatoes, mashed potatoes and green beans – just to name only a few. For dessert I also tried an amazing peach cobbler. The food, company, atmosphere, staff, along with the warm Southern hospitality was outstanding. I highly suggest you stop by for a visit. It’s food for the soul.
The Old Courthouse Museum
After we left Walnut Hills Restaurant, we made our way to the Old Court House Museum; a breath-taking structure that stands high on a hill overlooking Vicksburg. As you go up and through the entrance columns, you can’t help but notice the amazing architecture. As you make your way inside, you get a surrealistic feeling that you have been transported through time. This was further enhanced when curator Gordon Cotton took us through a brief tour of the museum. Cotton told us amazing stories as they related to the history of the courthouse museum. I could have stayed all day and soaked up all the stories regarding this significant time in American history.
The Civil War artifacts, historical items, the courthouse upstairs and the colorful imagery presented by Gordon Cotton made for a terrific and mind provoking moment. I was captivated by this visit and very grateful for the time we shared together… Please allow several hours to fully take in this phenomenal landmark and architectural portal through time.
After the Old Courthouse we checked into our room at The Ameristar Hotel. The check-in was straightforward and we were in our rooms in matter of minutes. The rooms were elegant, spacious and immaculate. While we didn’t spend much time there, I was confident that a comfortable night’s sleep was in store… The gift the Hotel provided was very sweet and a nice welcoming touch! Thank you so very much!
Vicksburg National Military Park
We only had enough time to change quickly and then meet our tour guide David Maggio. He was going to take my brother and I on a tour of Vicksburg National Military Park and then afterwards a quick tour of historic downtown.
The park memorializes the movement, siege, and defense of Vicksburg in 1863. It includes over 1,340 monuments, markers and plaques, a 16-mile tour road, a restored Union gunboat, and a national cemetery. Our tour guide David Maggio was just fantastic! He was knowledgeable, engaging and extremely helpful in telling some of the stories of the significant events surrounding the times. I was mesmerized by some of the sections of the park that have been left virtually untouched since the civil war. A close-up of the USS Cairo shows the devastating results of the blast it received by two explosions in quick succession. These ripped huge holes in the ship’s hull, and inside of twelve minutes, the ship sank into 36 feet of water; miraculously without any lives lost.
Vicksburg National Military Park is a tour that all visitors to Vicksburg should set some time aside for. Driving through the actual battlegrounds of such a historic moment helps you envision how challenging the terrain was during battle. A tour through here will give any Civil War buff seeing the park for the first time shivers. And perhaps a new appreciation for what we may take for granted today.
Historic Downtown Vicksburg
It was now late afternoon and Mr. Maggio took us on a quick tour of historic downtown. The buildings are clean, scenic and the streets cobble-stoned with beautiful characteristic mansions. You can see why an artist or writer would gravitate towards Vicksburg to get a solid dose of the city’s history, structures, scenic vibe and timeless flavor. It’s absolutely beautiful and has an wonderful combination of retail shops, restaurants, galleries, museums and antique shops. It has managed to sustain its elegance of the past while offering the conveniences of today’s needs.
We also took a drive down Catfish Row to see more of Vicksburg’s history come to life on the Riverfront Murals. Of course I was especially delighted by seeing first hand the murals and blues marker dedicated to Vicksburg born blues legend Willie Dixon. Taking a casual walk you will find cafes and restaurants which offer a variety of dining experiences.
The Wine House
Speaking of dining, it was now getting closer to dinner time. We met up with Bill from the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau for a light dinner at The Wine House; a trendy establishment downtown. There was great food and upbeat cheerful entertainment by Osgood and Blaque. The duo provided a couple of entertaining sets of blues, jazz, classic oldies along with some southern soul. A great way to relax, dine and partake in some conversation -as well as a few laughs along the way. If you see Osgood and Blaque playing make sure you stop in and say hello. They are both entertaining to watch and engaging to talk to. Tell them The Blues Blogger said hello…
Bottleneck Blues Bar at The Ameristar Casino
The evening was winding down, so we went for a night cap at the Bottleneck Blues Bar in the Ameristar Casino. Every Friday and Saturday night the Vicksburg Blues Society presents the Heritage Music Series “best in blues” at this authentic and elegant blues bar. The Vicksburg Blues Society, an affiliate of The Blues Foundation, also participates annually in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The last two years in a row, Mr. Sipp in 2014 and Eddie Cotton in 2015 have won the International Blues Challenge. Unfortunately, I was a day too early to catch Mr. Sipp, but the Throwback Thursday theme featuring The Molly Ringwalds was very entertaining. I was happy that I was able to get a feel for this very vibrant and friendly room. If you’re in Vicksburg on the weekend, the Bottleneck Blues Bar is the place you’ll want to be to catch the best acts in blues in a friendly fashionable setting.
After an absolutely amazing and memorable day, it was now time to call it a night. The sites, sounds, dining, weather and incredible hospitality will hold a life long memory for me. Any trip to the Mississippi Delta should include this historic city in their agenda. You won’t be disappointed…
Make sure you come back and visit The Blues Blogger as up next in my Blues Highway 61 Journey we’ll visit Bentonia, Indianola and then Greenville for The Bridging the Blues sponsored event The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival.
Have you ever traveled to Vicksburg Mississippi? What are some of the moments or events that stood out as you explored this sensational city? Please feel free to share your comments in the area below. I’d love to hear from you…
The Blues Blogger