Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greyhound Bussing America [Pt.4]

Mobile, AL to New Orleans, LA. Distance: 143 miles (230 Kms)

In which, against all the odds, my luck doesn’t run out…

The story so far: Your intrepid correspondent and traveller has been Greyhound Bussing it from New York City to New Orleans. So far he hasn’t been mugged, scammed, abused, or in anyway had experiences that make for great road trip horror stories. It’s all very tame and straight forward really. This is not what I was expecting at all. Everything is actually going to plan! I am on the ‘home stretch’ – Mobile, Alabama to the Crescent City – with just 4.5 hours left to travel.

Now read on…

Time Shift: Somewhere along the road, I gained another hour in my day. In New York City it is now 2.45PM, but in Mobile it is 1.45PM. I’m not sure of exactly when I gained the hour. Maybe it was on entering Alabama. Of course, I should have paid more attention. Two weeks later, returning by air to New York City via Atlanta I missed my scheduled flight after being bamboozled by time zone changes (see Time Travel…). After lunch, during the layover in Mobile, I stepped outside to check out the weather and it was very hot and humid. Nooo! And I thought I’d left all that behind in New York. Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

At 2.15PM we cross into Mississippi, and before long signage along the highway is pointing to a host of locations prefaced with Singing RiverLook over there… it’s the Singing River Hospital. And there is the Singing River Animal Hospital. If those health choices aren’t enough you could always visit the Singing River Health System. Need to shop? Then hit the Singing River Mall, etc.

As always, The Great Oracle, Google, has the answers:

Image: Pascagoula River, Courtesy of Audubon Mississippi Website...

The Legend of the Singing River

The famous Singing River is known throughout the world for its mysterious music. The singing sounds like a swarm of bees in flight and is best heard in late evenings during late summer and autumn. Barely heard at first, the music seems to grow nearer and louder until it sounds as though it comes directly under foot.

An old legend connects the sound with the mysterious extinction of the Pascagoula Tribe of Indians. Pascagoula means 'bread eaters'. The Pascagoula were a gentle tribe of contented, innocent, and inoffensive people, while on the other hand the Biloxi were a tribe who considered themselves the 'first people' and were enemies of the Pascagoula. Anola, a princess of the Biloxi tribe, was in love with Altama, Chief of the Pascagoula tribe. She was betrothed to a chieftain of her own tribe, but fled with Altama to his people.

The spurned and enraged Biloxi chieftain led his Biloxi braves to war against Altama and the neighboring Pascagoula. The Pascagoula swore they would either save the young chieftain and his bride or perish with them. When thrown into battle the Pascagoula were out-numbered and faced with enslavement by the Biloxi tribe or death. With their women and children leading the way, the Pascagoula joined hands and began to chant a song of death as they walked into the river until the last voice was hushed by the dark, engulfing waters.

Many believe the modern day sound is that of the death song of the Pascagoula tribe. Various hypothetical scientific explanations have been offered for this phenomenon, but none have been proven. [Source: Singing River Website...]

Somewhere off to the left is the Gulf of Mexico. It is now 2.45PM, and I am beginning to feel the effects of the trip. My head feels heavier and keeps losing out to gravity which has the effect of forcing my chin onto my chest! I’m looking forward to that “…nice firm mattress, fine soft pillow, clean fresh sheets and nice warm bed”, I mentioned in Part 2 of this trip report. I’m also hanging out for a hot shower and a real meal – and if I can’t find one of those in New Orleans, I’ve come to the wrong place.

Image: Biloxi, Mississippi. Note bare house foundations at left of image

3.10PM: Biloxi, Mississippi

Driving along the seafront between Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi you can see vast acres of prime seafront land, empty and overgrown with weeds or uncut lawn. Here and there remains of foundations of destroyed homes poke through the grass. Occasionally, whole concrete floor slabs can be seen. Sometimes the only thing that remains are a set of brick steps leading up to doors and entrance halls that are no longer there. The house whose door they once led to having being destroyed when Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf in August 2005. Roads lead nowhere. Derelict homes abound.

I write in my notebook:

There are vacant blocks of land,

Where our houses used to stand.

Torn apart as if by hand of God and thunder.

Right along that eastern shore,

Mother Nature went to war.

When she shredded and she tore the land asunder.

Now they fester there alone,

Full of weeds and over grown.

While we reap what we have sown from our great blunder.

© 2010. Jim Lesses. All Rights Reserved.

New homes, hotels, apartments, and other developments stand out amongst the vacant lots, looking strangely out of place in a sea of green vegetation. ‘For Sale’ signs are everywhere.

At 4.47PM we enter Louisiana, and head down the ‘home straight’ along ‘The Old Spanish Trail’, which leads directly to New Orleans. I’m intrigued by the name and again burn votive offerings to Google, The Great Oracle, but to my amazement, Google returns "About 368,000 results" (in 0.14 seconds, no less) for ‘The Old Spanish Trail’, that links Los Angeles with Santa Fe, Texas, and I am definitely not in Texas.

I can’t believe I have Google stumped, and in a moment of inspiration add the word Mississippi to the search string. Bingo! Yes, folks, it turns out there is another Old Spanish Trail:

Conceived in 1915 as the shortest route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Old Spanish Trail connecting St. Augustine, Florida and San Diego, California, took nearly fifteen years to construct at a cost of more than $80,000.000. Unlike other Southern transcontinental highways that stitched together existing roads across the continent's relatively flat and dry midsection, much of the Old Spanish Trail was forged over formerly impassable swamplands in the Southeast, including five major outlets into the Gulf. [Source: Drive The Old Spanish Trail website...]

My faith in Google restored, I sit awestruck as the I-10 now turns into the longest road bridge I have ever been on, and heads out over the massive expanse of water that is Lake Ponchartrain.

Image: Lake Ponchartrain as seen through speeding bus window

Lake Ponchartrain is not a true lake but an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico. It is…the second-largest saltwater lake in the United States, after the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and the largest lake in Louisiana. It covers an area of 630 square miles (1630 square km) with an average depth of 12 to 14 feet (about 4 meters). [Source: Wikipedia]

Actually, the section of the I-10 that is over water is only about 5 miles long. If you want to see a really long bridge, the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway at a length of 23.87 miles (38.42 km) has to be seen to be believed. I haven’t travelled over the causeway, but if I ever visit New Orleans again, I would love to drive across it. Heck, it would be worth hiring a car for a day just to drive back and forth over the thing.

And then it is all over. At 5.30PM, right on time, we reach New Orleans. After checking into the Park St. Charles Hotel (where I was delighted to see that “…nice firm mattress, fine soft pillow, clean fresh sheets and nice warm bed”), I walked to the French Quarter for a mixed meal of gumbo, jambalaya, refried beans, rice and a couple of cold beers. The gumbo scored ten out of ten, but the jambalaya wasn’t a patch on the one I had in New York City! But that’s another story.

Image: The Paddle Steamer Natchez, New Orleans

So there you have it. According to Google Maps I’ve travelled at total of 1,400 miles, or 2,255 kilometers (give or take a few), and lived to tell the tale.

The big question is, Would I do it all again? The answer is, Yes. In fact, after three nights in New Orleans (which I wrote about here…), I actually considered continuing by bus to Tucson, Arizona (which I’ve also written about). However, I was on a tight schedule, which was getting tighter by the day, and I decided to make the trip to Tucson by plane. After a week in Tucson, I caught busses again to travel up to Flagstaff, Arizona (again without incident), from where I hired a car to visit the Grand Canyon.

After returning the car to Flagstaff, I bussed it back down to Tucson – at which point my luck almost ran out!

But that’s another story, for another day.

Read The Full Greyhound Bussing America Trip Report:
[Part 1] New York City to Philadelphia, PA…
[Part 2] Philadelphia, PA to Raleigh, NC…
[Part 3] Raleigh, NC to Mobile, AL…
[Part 4] Mobile, AL to New Orleans…
[Part 5] Tips and Advice…
[Part 6] A Final Word…


  1. Thanks for writing! I enjoyed the story of your trip. I am actually planning to buy the Greyhound Discovery Pass and travel the month of April...wish me luck :)

  2. Hi Charlena, Thanks for the feedback. I tried to provide as much useful information as I could for other travellers thinking of embarking on an extended bus trip across America. My 2010 trip from New York City to New Orleans was one of the highlights of my visit to the USA that year. I hope your bus trip will prove to be a highlight of your visit.

    Good Luck. Have a safe and exciting journey.


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