Locating Mt. Driskill, Louisiana’s highest point, is no easy task. For starters, it’s only 535 feet so finding a summit that juts up from the “hills” of eastern Bienville Parish is difficult from the road.
And since it is the third lowest state summit (behind Florida and Delaware), Mt. Driskill is hardly a tourist attraction. Directions aren’t prominent until you get to the trailhead in the parking lot of a church.
On our first attempt, we set out with Google maps. I had directions, but hubby wanted to drive through Ringgold rather than the planned Arcadia, which messed up my navigation. Even my Verizon had pockets of no service as we wandered around Bienville Parish.
We were close, but missed a sneaky turn on Highway 507 as we ran out of daylight. We wound up at Liberty Hill church and cemetery, which I thought might have been the entrance from my last visit to Mt. Driskill in 1986.
But, it wasn’t the right church. Rural churches look a lot alike, particularly in a 30-year-old memory. Since you don’t want to find yourself in those parts with less than a quarter tank of gas, we drove six miles to Bryceland Mall (that’s the real name) to fill up and headed back to Shreveport.
Next week we made a return trip with precise directions I had printed out. That took us to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church and the Mt. Driskill trailhead.
It’s a pleasant hike the mile or so up with only two real inclines that caused much resistance. It would be prettier in the fall with the hardwoods sporting color, but the forestland on this cold January day suited us just fine.
Although finding Mt. Driskill wasn’t easy, once you get there it’s marked well enough so you don’t get lost in the woods. It’s on private property but landowners have granted permission for public use, even giving an alternative route for those who want a longer hike path.
Once at the summit, we found confirmation that this was, indeed, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. There’s a whole organization called Highpointers.org, whose members make it to every high point in every state. Highpointers had placed two benches at the mountaintop to catch the view of the Louisiana forest land and neighboring Mt. Jordan. Learn more here. In fact, the ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers, were spread on top of Mt. Driskill in 2003.
Directions from I-20 in Shreveport
— Take Exit 69 at Arcadia and head south through town
— Turn left on SR 147/Jonesboro Road and continue for 9.3 miles
— Turn right onto SR 507 and continue for 2.7 miles to the Mt Zion Presbyterian Church parking lot
Bienville Parish has a lot of interesting and quirky places. Read here
In Bienville Parish, the individual parts are greater than the sum.
It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.
Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history, geography and character. Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.
My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business. Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.
Arcadia Pit Stops
Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.
On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house. For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.
South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.
Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.
There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.
Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).
Bonnie & Clyde
Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.
That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.
The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.
(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).
The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.
Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers, but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.
While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.
While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women. After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby.
You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.
Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.
I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.
I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.
I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.
But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks. Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.
Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago. The movieThe Helpwas filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.
Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range, another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.
You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.
It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread more typical of a Delta bridal shower.
Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.
When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?
Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.
Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas. You can just about count on 100-degree heat.
Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation, the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill. This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.
Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians. The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.
Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.
Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.
Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.
Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.
I expected the 109-year-old Williams Brothers General Store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, to be a museum with a few token items for sale.
And with its ties to the Manning football family, I expected a little memorabilia. In fact, when we rode up to the store last Friday, you would have thought Archie, Peyton and Eli were all inside signing autographs.
Unfortunately for me, they weren’t. What was happening, besides the annual Neshoba County Fair nearby, was tax-free weekend where families could save a little on their back-to-school purchases.
This store is not simply a relic of the past or a shrine to the Mannings. It is a vibrant business with real customers and real customer service.
In 1907, Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning’s great grandfather (on their mother’s side of the family) opened Williams Brothers General Store.
In the grocery section, it’s a tight squeeze as shopping buggies maneuver around the aisles filled with things you would expect in a Southern store–Bryan cold cuts and Sunflower flour, sorghum molasses and Red Man chewing tobacco.
That part of Williams Brothers General Store is much like it was during the 1930s when it was featured in National Geographic magazine. But today’s merchandise mix includes Spanx and women’s designer clothing, local pottery, horse saddles and tack, and a shoe and boot inventory somewhere between Shoe Department and DSW with more customer service.
There’s someone slicing red rind hoop cheese and another slicing slab bacon to order. Mule collars, country hams and Peyton & Eli’s NFL jerseys hang from the ceiling.
The Manning boys helped at the store when they were teenagers, and their memorabilia is scattered throughout the store, but it’s fairly low key. No Peyton bobbleheads or tacky touristy things for sale–just merchandise everyday people need at reasonable prices.
It’s nice to be able to bicycle along the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway path in Bossier City this summer for at least three reasons.
No. 1. Last year, the parkway was unusable in many parts for much of the summer because of Red River flooding.
No. 2: The bicycle/pedestrian bridge opened this year so you can bicycle from CenturyLink Center over the parkway to the path. I wish there was a bridge over the Red River dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians only (there are several in downtown Little Rock spanning the Arkansas River)
No. 3: There have been some beginner bicycling classes meeting on Thursday afternoons at 5:30 at the path’s southernmost pavilion. Today we are learning how to fix flats so if you are in the Shreveport-Bossier City area come join us. It’s free.
I’m also reminded that this time four years ago, I was bicycling on the path when a model White House facade (upper left) was under construction. It was in the exact location of what is now Walker Place Park. The White House facade was for the movie Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman. (Butler had some nice things to say about Shreveport-Bossier City on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Read more here.)
The movie, about a terrorist taking over the White House, was on TNT earlier this week. You still may be able to view it online if you are a cable subscriber. I also found it in the $5 movie bin at Wal-Mart.
You can read about a previous trip I took to The Tomato Place here.
The best way to describe the atmosphere at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg is a cross between Caribbean smoothie bar and Mississippi produce stand.
If you can’t image what that is like, I understand. You are just going to have to go experience The Tomato Place yourself. Owner Luke Hughes was interviewed by some publication, and said it takes four visits to know what this place is about. I just got back from my fourth visit so I guess I know a thing or two.
It is a farm stand selling tomatoes and other produce. Plus, there’s lunch where BLTs are the best sellers. But there’s also such entrees as catfish platters and grilled salmon. And, then there are smoothies—that and the bright colors around the place are where the Caribbean comes in.
My first visit to The Tomato Place last October was a quick stop. I’m not a regular smoothie fan so I passed. Next time, I got a natural plum smoothie and have become hooked. I’ve also had the apple blackberry, and it was great too.
The lunches I had also were wonderful, although I’ll warn you that the service is leisurely. I had a BLT club and pound cake a week ago, and earlier I had chicken salad and the pork skins that are fried on site. They come to the table crackling hot with a cup of The Tomato Place’s signature product, Mississippi Fever, a liquidy pepper jelly.
Tomatoes and watermelons were from Smith County, Mississippi. Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and Lake Providence, Louisiana. If you poke around the nooks and crannies, you will find an eclectic merchandise mix — grits and popcorn, local artwork, jazz CDs and fedoras.
I went outside and got Luke to pose for a picture and was struck by this purple petunia against the faded red painting on a shed. The Tomato Place is a cluster of sheds and shacks
Uncle Si and the folks at Duck Dynasty have been by for a show, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting did an interesting segment on The Tomato Place, which you can view here.
Tomatoes and BLTs are the best sellers, but the smoothies are what I will go back for. I don’t want to ever cross the Mississippi River into my home state without swinging down to The Tomato Place and getting one.
The Tomato Place is on U.S. Highway 61 South, about four miles south of Vicksburg. thetomatoplace.com
We have frequently driven through Jacksonville, Texas, on our way to visit family in Texas and, later, our daughters at Texas A&M in College Station.
We miss going through Jacksonville, where the brown, stoned-fenced football stadium is called the Tomato Bowl. Jacksonville is known for its sweet tomatoes, and there’s a festival the second Saturday in June to celebrate the crop. No worry that you missed it. If you are in Shreveport you can buy Jacksonville tomatoes at the Shreveport Farmers Market.
But in addition to tomatoes, Jacksonville is known as the home of the Texas Basket Company, which has been around since 1919. You’ve seen their bushel and peck baskets with handles at farmer’s markets and supermarket produce sections. Many of our Texas trips included a stop at the Texas Basket Company seconds yard to find bargains. There is also a gift shop. Texas Basket Company is the largest commercial basket manufacturer of its kind in the United States. More here.
I like looking agrarian taking one of those baskets to pick blueberries or just gather tomatoes and cucumbers from my own backyard.
Jacksonville is 115 miles southwest of Shreveport. The Texas Basket Company is at 100 Myrtle Drive just off U.S. 79 as you enter town. The gift shop is closed Sundays.
On my way to pick up a bicycle in Mineola, Texas, last month, I passed Duck Creek Produce on U.S. 69 north of Lindale. The phonetic spelling of vegetables got my attention, and I had to stop.
Apparently, it’s creative marketing that has attracted not only highway passengers but notables such as comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who posted about it on his Facebook page. You can read more about Duck Creek Produce here.
On different days the sign may tout Qcomeburs or Hallopinyos.
In the photo above I was trying to figure out the sign. Does it say “Lois Aggie Onion?” I wondered. No, it was straightforward. The “1015 Aggie Onion” is a super sweet onion developed by a Texas A&M horticulture professor.
We bought some and also picked up a jar of peppers and some jelly. We passed on the tomatoes because we have plenty in our backyard, but they looked good. Much of the produce is grown on a farm right behind the stand.
Owner Jack Roach, who has farmed the area for more than 40 years, didn’t want his picture made. And, frankly I found the “No Change” sign a little off-putting. We made sure we had the exact amount for our purchases.
But judging from the phonetic signs (including this one near the check out — any one item $1), I’d say Farmer Jack must have a friendly side with a sense of humor.
I’m usually a regular at the Shreveport Farmers Market, but sometimes you can’t beat driving to a produce stand in the country, where you can actually see the peach trees that bore the fruit you are buying.
The other day, I drove to Coushatta, about 45 miles south of Shreveport, where I couldn’t stop at one. I went to four farmstands. Well, they all weren’t actually in the town of Coushatta but in the nearby places of Armistead and Ajax.
It had been awhile since I had been to Ed Lester Farms, and I had forgotten how beautiful the setting is – on the west bank of the Red River, shaded by a 300-year-old oak tree flanked by lush caladiums. Classical music played on speakers as people of all types – driving everything from Ford Focuses to Range Rovers — bagged tomatoes and squash. Ed Lester Farms has been written up in Southern Living as one of the best produce stands in the South.
A sign on a trailer bed said “Very New Potatoes.” How new? We were there at 11 am, and much of the produce had been hauled in from the field at 8 am that day. (We didn’t do our part in cooking them that same night, but they still tasted fresh even a week later). You have to go when the produce is fresh as this market’s season only lasts from late May through July.
Ed Lester’s family has been working the rich soil since 1850. The produce stand has been around since 1960.
Anderson Farms is also a big operation and a pretty place as well. They also sell at the Shreveport Farmers Market. You can buy bedding plants and ferns there too. I loved watching young butterflies flutter around in the zinnia patch in front of Anderson’s.
En route between Ed Lester Farms and Andersons, we found M & R Produce at the crossroads of US Hwy 84, US Hwy 371 and Louisiana 1. And we checked it out too. We continued down some country roads (directions and map below) to Anderson’s. After stopping there, we kept going a little farther across I-49 and into Natchitoches Parish, where we discovered Mim’s Snack Shop and Produce.
Mim was out front and pointed to a plum tree a few yards to the west that produced some of the fruit he was selling. There were homegrown tomatoes and other things, even a bargain table. The watermelons were from Florida then, but it was early in the season, and he assured me they would be local in a few weeks. There’s a hot lunch six days a week and barbecue Wednesday-Saturday.
We really enjoyed spending the better part of the day in Coushatta, and I recommend it to you. If you are expecting quaint small town, you need to lower your expectations. Coushatta is like a Mississippi Delta town with poverty and empty storefronts downtown. Sunbeam used to have a plant there that made household irons, but that closed 20 years ago. Haynesville shale natural gas drilling has helped, but, that too, is currently in a slump.
But Coushatta still has agriculture, and It’s worth going there for the farmstands alone. But, there are a few more lures. Here are a couple:
Hamburgers. We stopped at Bailey’s Sandwich Shop downtown. (I guess they have other sandwiches. I did not look at the menu as I did not want to spend all of my Weight Watchers points.) My husband raved about the hamburger and wondered why he had waited 30 years to return there. Yes, it has been around at least that long. Bailey’s dining area is modest – one picnic table under the rusting roof and another one in the sun. We were lucky to secure the shady one as most patrons are locals who get theirs to go. There’s another place not far from Baileys called Shellie’s Sandwich Shop. I ate there a year ago when I wasn’t dieting, and the hamburger was great.
Nichols: Coushatta is one of five locations of Nichols Department Store, a family-owned retailer that has been operating since 1914 and, for that, I think they deserve a round of applause. The other places are in towns that few outside of Louisiana have heard of: Many (corporate headquarters), Leesville, DeQuincy, DeRidder and Winnfield. The merchandise mix is a lot of Bass Pro shop with a little of Hobby Lobby home décor, small town hardware store and a tad Five & Dime. Firearms and a bridal registry. Yeti coolers and off-brand lemon cookies. There is no Wal-Mart in Coushatta, so it is great to see such a well-stocked locally-owned store. My husband bought some ammunition, and I bought a Louisiana-shaped cutting board.
Driving around, there’s a few more stores that grabbed my attention – a locally-owned supermarket, another store called Maxway, and a place downtown called Jolie’s Vintage, which I really wanted to explore but they are not open on Mondays when we were there.
From Shreveport, take I-49. Exit 162 and head northeast toward Coushatta on Hwy 371. You’ll find (1) Ed Lester Farms on the right before reaching town. Turn left from Ed Lester parking lot and head west until you reach the crossroads of Hwy 371, Hwy 84 and LA 1. You’ll find (2) M&R Produce there. Head south on LA 1 for 4.6 miles, then turn right on Catfish Bend Road. Take that for 3.6 miles to Highway 174. Head west on 174 for about two miles and you’ll see (3) Anderson’s Produce on the right. Continue on Hwy 174 past I-49 and (4) Mim’s is on the right.
The pictures are limited because (a) it was getting late on a Saturday, (b) I was tired and, (c) I wanted to honor their resistance to being photographed. But, we enjoyed a jaunt to the Amish community on a recent trip to North Mississippi.
Yes, Mississippi has an Amish community, the only one in the state and one of a few in the Deep South. It is located near the Randolph settlement, about 19 miles west of Pontotoc, which is 22 miles west of Tupelo and a little over a 100 miles southeast of Memphis.
You’ll know you are close when you see highway signs warning you to slow down for horse and buggy. You are really close when you see handmade signs near mailboxes listing items for sale. This strict Amish group does not use automobiles, electricity or modern technology.
Then, as you drive up to a home, women — the men are usually out doing manual labor — will shyly come out and direct you to a nearby shed or their front porch where the handmade items are.
Having last been there more than 15 years ago, I was glad to know they were still selling handmade baskets at affordable prices, and I picked up a couple of nice ones for $30 total. I also got some kudzu soap, and, if we had not already planted our vegetable garden, I would have gotten tomato plants for $3.50 for a six-pack.
They were also selling jams, straw hats, rag rugs, quilts, bread and other goods. My sister has even left some chairs for them to cane. When the work was refinished, she received notification — by snail mail, of course.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way