This day, I left the city behind. Click through for my pictures from Day 2!
First up today, the Horace Wilkinson Bridge, the first of two bridges across the river in Baton Rouge. Counting my ferry ride yesterday, this will be my seventh crossing of the river. I had read on the internet (so it must be true) that this bridge is notorious for daily traffic snags, but shortly after daybreak on this Saturday morning, traffic was light.
Like the other bridges, it towers over the landscape, and just as well since there were few places to get a good picture. This bridge carries Interstate 10 and the lesson I'm learning is that bridges carrying interstate highways are tough to access close up. Like most of the bridges I've crossed so far, this one has a very long approach on each side as a defense against flooding.
Having had more than enough of city traffic the day before, I took the road on the west side of the river and avoided most of Baton Rouge. This is the other "Huey P. Long" bridge. Built in 1940, this is one of the oldest bridges along my route.
This bridge was actually scary. The box girder structure you see in the picture is a railroad bridge that runs in the middle, with road bridges hanging out on either side. It was old and rusty looking and the wasn't much of a barrier between the road and a long drop into the river. It's long, narrow, and clearly in a poor condition.
I crossed the bridge twice so that I could stay on the west side of the river Here in my rear view, a last look at the giant rusty scary Huey P. Long Bridge.
Leaving Baton Rouge, I finally got into some nice miles of clear countryside. My next bridge is 26 miles away. I had elected to stay on the west side of the river for this segment because on a map the river road looked curvy, and it was indeed very nicely curvy in places.
Uh oh... Detours confuse my GPS. Note the sloping hill on the right. That is, of course, the levy and the river is on the other side of it. The River Road really does hug the river!
As it turned out, the detour wasn't bad at all and I was loving the countryside as I worked my way north. This is my favorite kind of road, and many, many miles of it lay ahead. One big difference I see right away is the kinds of houses along the River Road. Back in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, it was mostly old and dilapidated neighborhoods along the river. Now that I'm in the countryside, the houses are considerably nicer and I'm even seeing a few McMansions along the route.
Next up was the John James Audubon Bridge, all shiny and new, it was opened in May 2011. Those two towers are enormous! I've remarked before about how some of these bridges can be seen from miles away, but this bridge puts them to shame.
It's reminiscent to me of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay. This is the beginning of crossings that are farther apart. This bridge is the only crossing between Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Natchez, Mississippi, about 90 river miles, which also means about 90 road miles. I have elected to stay on the west side of the river once again because the roads look to be more fun.
About this time, I started seeing cotton fields. This would be a common sight all the way to the end of my journey in Missouri. Some were still green, but most were ready for harvest.
During this leg I saw a series of flood control devices in the form of locks, basins, and canals. I didn't know anything about it at the time, but researching that night, I discovered quite a history behind it all.
The Old River Control Structure Wikipedia page has more than you'd ever want to know. It all started when a riverboat captain cut a canal to bypass a big bend in the river and save time moving cargo up and down river.
To the west of these structures were very large flood basins. This one connects to another river a few miles west.
The roads through here were all well elevated, the better to survive a flood.
And here, one of the extremely rare opportunities to see the Mississippi River without crossing a bridge or climbing a levy. This is a canal that connects directly to another river a few miles to the west.
And here, a metered post sticking out of the ground to show how high the river is above its flood stage if it gets to this point. I've seen similar posts all over the place in low-lying areas of Missouri and other parts of the midwest. Usually they are marked for a few feet deep. The difference with this one is it starts at 60 feet. 60 feet???
Climbing yet another levy to try and get a look at the river, I'm disappointed due to a solid line of trees between me and the water. I do note that the snazzy asphalt walking/biking track that ran for so many miles along both sides of the river in New Orleans is replaced by a gravel road.
And as more evidence that I'm not in the city any more, a scattering of 9 mm shell casings around the top of the levy. Someone's been up here popping off rounds at who knows what and neglected to pick up their brass.
Have we had a picture of my car yet today? I've been washing it every morning before I start my day's drive, but that doesn't stop me from heading down a gravel road looking for an interesting view of the river.
Eventually, I reached the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge. Connecting Vidalia, Louisiana on the west side with Natchez, Mississippi on the east side, it is the tallest bridge in Mississippi. You might notice that I finally have a terrific view of a bridge. This is thanks to a quite excellently placed Waffle House on a bluff on the east bank overlooking the river.
Yes, that Waffle House has what must be the best view from its parking lot of any Waffle House in the world! Looking upstream, I also get a nice view of the river ahead.
Commerce on the river is everywhere. During the whole trip, I don't think I ever got a view of the river that didn't include barges, docks, or some other form of industry along the banks.
A parting shot of the Natchez Bridge. Does anyone remember Erector Sets? It's a big boy version of that! My inner engineer would love to see something like this being assembled.
Getting a look at the river or a bridge as in the picture above often meant parking a distance away and then walking. Coming back to my car, I'm struck by how small it is. I'm so familiar and comfortable in it that I forget that it's a miget on the road compared to pickup trucks and even ordinary passenger cars. Something else that I tend to forget because I'm so accustomed to it is the attention it gets on the road. Not a day goes by without people giving me a thumbs-up and/or snapping my picture as they drive by.
The map north of Natchez looked extremely promising, and the reality was just as good as the promise. Miles of canopy roads with lots of twists and turns.
The terrain is definitely changing, along with the weather. It's cooler in the morning and noticeably less humid. Where southern Louisiana was flat flat flat, the area north of Natchez is more exciting.
Before long, I was on the Natchez Trace Parkway. It runs fairly close to the river for a while north of Natchez and is a beautiful drive. It's a limited access road, so no trucks or commercial traffic, and the speed limit was actually reasonable most of the way.
Arriving at the Vicksburg Bridge, I found a terrific bluff overlooking the river and the bridge. Vicksburg was a very important battleground area in the Civil War, and much of that was because of the bluffs overlooking the river.
Make that two bridges. This is the Old Vicksburg Bridge. Closed to vehicle travel, it still carries one rail line across the river.
There was a really nice visitor center on the Mississippi side of the river which offered great views of both bridges.
It wasn't so noticeable downstream, but now it's obvious that the river's water level is very low. This is a major problem to commerce on the river. Low water means the barges can't be loaded as heavily and fewer of them can be pushed at once by the tugs. This has caused real economic hardship up and down the river this summer.
Leaving Vicksburg, I travel upriver on the west side towards the next crossing in Greenville, MS. It's about 90 miles away which makes three bridges in a row with almost 100 miles between each. There isn't a "river road" any longer, so I stay as close as I can to the river and work my way north. My tactic is to pick a spot and tell my GPS to take me there then pick a new spot on arrival. Once bonus of this type of travel is finding unexpected pretty spots along the way, like this lake full of Cyprus with a beautiful wood walk built over the water.
And with that, I'll end Day 2. On Day 3, the crossings get even farther apart as I approach Memphis.