I wasn’t sure if I had camping in me anymore. I realized it had been seven years since I had slept outdoors. The last time was Burning Man–but that’s a story for another day. When I asked the husband when the last time he had camped was he said, “It was with you, nine years ago, when we had that horrible time at that folk festival in Texas.” Neither of us could remember when was the last time we had wholesome, family-style camped. Although it had been a while, we both grew up with lots of camping, and knew that we could probably access that wisdom somewhere in our memories, the question was–would it be fun? Answer: Yes!
I had a few criteria. I wanted to camp, hike, swim in clear water (we’ll get back to that), and have the drive be less than three hours each way. An acquaintance of mine, who works for the Louisiana Park Service, recommended the Homochitto National Forest in southwestern Mississippi. And, that’s where we went.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps started reforesting the area, and creating recreation areas, spanning 189,000 acres. It is about 150 miles from New Orleans proper, and it takes two and a half hours to get there. We decided to camp at Clear Springs campground. It turns out that “Clear Springs” is a bit of a misnomer. But, the area is beautiful, and the number of campers is quite limited. We chose to go on weekdays (because we work weekends) and the weather was perfect, and there were very few other people around.
There are two different camping areas. I would recommend the $20/night campground, as opposed to the $7/night “primitive campground.” At first I thought one was for RVs and one for tents, but, no. The primitive campground is far from all the good trails and the lake. It also has no bathrooms anywhere nearby, no running water, no benches, etc. It’s just a numbered space with a fire pit. Spots 1-12 at the other campground are prime.
A word about culture shock…So, as we were driving into the general vicinity of the park, we literally lost count of churches–mostly Baptist. Then, when we approached the park entrance we saw two dismaying signs. One was from the federal government, alerting citizens to their anti-discrimination rights in terms of race and religion. (Never seen that at a park entrance before!) And then another that said, “No alcohol.”–Clutch the pearls.–Then, later, as we were exploring the park, we stumbled upon a lectern and seating that was obviously intended for preachin’ and witnessin’ the gospel. Or, maybe just weddings, we pointed out to each other. Dry weddings. Then, out of nowhere we were approached by an urban-looking guy, around our ages, with meticulously gelled hair, and spotless Ed Hardy sneakers, who had a BMW sports car with a surfboard and a SARCOPHAGUS (?) on top of it, who proceeded to tell us about his cross-country trip from San Francisco, and how he was originally from nearby McComb, Mississippi, and how this park was the best place, ever. We finally pulled ourselves away, and realized we blended in far better than this guy, and maybe we wouldn’t get run out of there, after all. We also came to the conclusion that the “no alcohol” rule seemed to be more for keeping the riff-raff out, and that responsible, discreet, grownups can do what they please.–But, you didn’t hear that from me.
So, Clear Springs is man-made, which I am a little ambivalent about. On the good side: the water is super-deep, which means it stays cool, and doesn’t turn into muddy bathwater by mid-summer. There are also no deadly snakes, so swim, swim, away. (We were the only brave souls swimming this early in the season). Also, there are tons of turtles, as their natural predator–the alligator–was also not invited to the party. Along the water’s edge, there are great, semi-private picnic areas, with lots of space. (We set up a Badminton net and a Bocce Ball court on ours). Also, there are lovely trails for hiking and mountain biking. It is a little manicured, but perhaps that’s the only sort of “roughing it” I have left in me.