Mississippi

I first traveled to Mississippi in early 2008 as part of my state welcome sign project.  The circumstances were similar to my visit last month – I was attending a conference in New Orleans (clearly a popular site for conferences) and added some personal time onto the trip in order to indulge in my hobby.  I chose to drive across U.S. Route 90 (instead of Interstate 10) through Mississippi and Alabama en route to my final destination of Pensacola, Florida.  The drive was less hectic than a race along an interstate, and it was a region of the country that I had not visited before.  Sadly, destruction from 2005 Hurricane Katrina was still visible along the road, making the drive an emotional one.

Along the way I captured the Welcome to Mississippi sign.

The minute I saw this sign I loved it.

The sign is simple, yet full of feeling.  The cursive script of the word Mississippi is in itself welcoming, encircling visitors, welcoming them “home”.  The sign features the state flower – a magnolia – and is one of only five state welcome signs to include the state flower.  The sign was large, yet graceful, and I loved everything about it.

On my second visit to the state last month – nearly three years later – my goal was to capture the welcome sign for Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.  I was looking forward to crossing the state border and being welcomed home again by what had become my favorite welcome sign.

Imagine my surprise when I passed this sign on Interstate 55.

Birthplace of America’s Music?

This was not the welcome I expected!

At first I thought perhaps this was simply an alternate version of the Mississippi welcome sign greeting visitors;  many states have different signs at various border crossings.  But when I saw the same sign welcoming visitors when departing Jackson-Evers International Airport on International Airport Road, my heart sank.  Clearly there was something more to this.

After returning home from my trip, I did some research to get to the bottom of the mystery of why my favorite welcome sign had been replaced.

Like  many states, Mississippi spends millions of dollars every year to promote tourism and economic development.  Based on marketing research, the Mississippi Development Authority had come to the conclusion that promoting Mississippi’s musical heritage could translate into tourist dollars.  And so they changed the welcome signs as part of their promotional efforts.

Since I’m not a Mississippi expert – I am simply an admirer of the state’s former welcome sign – I am not in a great position to criticize this change.  But locals are.  I especially like the perspective of Julie Cooper, managing editor of The Natchez Democrat (link to article here: http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/news/2010/mar/17/new-slogan-misses-mississippis-mark/).  She brings up the point that this niche marketing strategy actually excludes 80% of the state.  I guess only time will tell if this will be successful.

Welcome signs change; I accept that.  (I actually embrace it, because it means my project will never end!)  But a first impression can never be changed.  My first impression of Mississippi was on an overcast January day, and a bright blue sign emotionally welcomed me to the state, drawing me in, and I wanted to learn more.

What impression will this new sign leave on visitors?  Likely, more questions than answers.  I am not familiar with the music of Mississippi (and I’m not particularly interested); frankly, the sign left me confused.  It seems to me that those who are well-versed in the harmonic history of the state will already have it on their must-visit list.

I carry my disappointment with me, but my project must go on.  Next up: adventure in Jackson!

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Baton Rouge

With my business in New Orleans complete, I set my sights on the next welcome sign.  Baton Rouge, an easy 80-mile drive to the northwest, was a natural stopping point in my new quest to photograph welcome signs for U.S. state capitals.

Baton Rouge comes from the French and literally means “red stick”.  Records from French explorer Sieur d’Iberville describe large wooden cypress poles topped with heads of sacrificed (bloody) animals and fish that served as the boundaries for native lands when he arrived in the area in 1699.  Generally the red stick settlements referred to areas inhabited by natives that were hostile to the explorers; white stick (baton blanc) settlements were peaceful.

The red stick landmarks no longer exist, and today’s welcome to Baton Rogue is much more subdued.  The sign (below) is situated at the intersection of Sally Ride Drive and Veterans Memorial Boulevard at the exit to Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. 

On the far left is the Louisiana state capitol building, distinctive because it is the tallest in the U.S.  On the far right is the Horace Wilkinson Bridge that carries Interstate 10 across the Mississippi River and connects Baton Rouge with Port Allen, La.  The area in between includes other structures that make up the skyline of Baton Rouge.

The one thing that seems out of place on the sign is the widebody aircraft.  The commercial passenger airlines serving Baton Route Metropolitan Airport today do not operate four-engine planes, but I guess it’s always good to prepared for future upgrades in service… then the sign won’t have to be changed!

After locating the sign, I took a quick trip to downtown Baton Rouge to photograph the unique capitol building.  Along the way I thought I might catch a glimpse of another welcome sign – I’ve learned from experience that airport signs may not be the only welcome to a city.  But the main road leading from the airport to downtown – ironically named Scenic Highway – only offered views of manufacturing activities by Lion Copolymer (synthetic rubber) and Exxon Mobil (petrochemicals and refinery).  Scenic was the last word that I would use to describe the drive to downtown Baton Rouge, and I did not find another welcome sign.

Constructed in the early 1930s, its 34 stories make the Louisiana capitol the tallest building in Baton Rouge.  It is an impressive structure, and I was glad that I had taken the time to visit.

 

The exterior of the building included numerous details, but the one I liked the best was the carving of a pelican, Louisiana’s state bird and one of the state’s most well-known symbols.

I probably only spent one hour in Baton Rouge, just enough time to take my photos.  This was certainly not enough time to explore one of the fastest growing metro areas in the U.S., but my next welcome sign was just hours away, and I had to get on the road to continue my photographic journey…  My trip report will continue throughout this week.

New Orleans

The Big Easy.  Crescent City.   The City that Care Forgot.

With all of these great nicknames, I expected New Orleans to have a distinctive welcome sign.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

My visit to NOLA this week was to attend a conference, but I built in some extra time to search the city for the welcome sign.  This was actually my second attempt to find the Nawlins welcome sign; I came up empty three years ago on another work-related visit.

The only sign I was able to find was this one in the airport.  It greets visitors as they descend into the baggage claim area.  The (boring) visual of the city’s skyline also features a space for (tacky) electronic advertising.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I normally do not photograph welcome signs in airports.  But I snapped this shot upon departure after I came up short in my efforts while scouring the city’s borders.

But all was not lost.  Approaching Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Veterans Boulevard on my way to catch my flight home, not only was I treated to aircraft takeoffs on Runway 1/19, but I found a farewell sign!  This sign almost makes up for the lack of a welcome sign.  It incorporates icons of New Orleans: a fleur-de-lis, a trumpet, and the Mississippi River.  The globe seems out of place, but otherwise it’s an impressive sign.

There was no place to stop along the roadway to snap this shot – did I mention it is adjacent to an active runway? – so I actually took this while driving, with the camera perched precariously on the steering wheel.  After nearly five years of photographing welcome signs, this is the first one that I was forced to take while driving.  (And this shot was my second go-around!)

 

Although it is also nicknamed America’s Most Interesting City, New Orleans turned out to be the least interesting of my visit to the River Region (in terms of welcome signs, that is).  My trip report featuring welcome signs from two state capitals will continue in the coming days.  And an unexpected surprise was waiting for me in Mississippi.

Yucatán

My passport is getting a workout this week.  Just three days after returning from Montréal, I took to the skies once again – this time on a trip to Mexico.  My destination was the beautiful beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula for a girls’ weekend getaway.

Even as I enjoyed the sun, sand and spirits, my thoughts turned toward welcome signs.  Unfortunately, I was not able to capture a photo on this trip.  (There was a sign at the Cancún airport, but I tend to avoid these generic airport welcome signs unless I am visiting an island with limited or no road access.)  Luckily my archive of welcome signs includes one from the same region I was visiting.

These photos were taken three years ago.  At the time, not only was I photographing welcome signs, but I was on a mission to visit the “New” Seven Wonders of the World.  One of these wonders is Chichen Itza, the remains of a Mayan civilization that prospered over 1,000 years ago.

I captured this sign as part of a group tour that coincidentally stopped for a very brief bathroom break at the border to the State of Yucatán.  (The United Mexican States includes 31 states, and the State of Yucatán is one of three that makes up the Yucatán Peninsula.)  I like this sign.  It’s simple yet noticeable, and it includes a pyramid symbol, one of the most recognized features of Chichen Itza.

Since it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I am including a few photos of Chichen Itza.  First featured is El Castillo (The Castle), the central structure of the settlement that is a temple to the Mayan god Kukulcan.

The Tzompantli was the site of human sacrifices.  The Mayans proudly displayed the heads of their dead enemies as a deterrent to future invaders.

Finally, the Group of a Thousand Columns once supported an extensive roof system.  On the day of my visit, a local girl sat pensively among the pillars, perhaps reflecting on the great accomplishments of her ancestors.

My welcome sign project continues… and so does my goal of visiting the New Seven Wonders of the World.  With a bit of luck, I’ll have the final two wrapped up by the end of the year.

Montréal

I spent this past weekend in Montréal, one of my most favorite cities in the world.  Montréal first captured my heart during a visit in 2002 and I never pass up an opportunity to visit.  I love the fact that city incorporates the old with the new.  I love feeling like I am in Europe when I am still in North America.  And I especially love walking along Rue Sainte-Catherine while enjoying a maple-sugar crêpe. 

With nearly four million inhabitants, Montréal ranks as the second-largest city in Canada, and the second-largest French speaking city in the world (second only to Paris).  The city takes its name from Mont Royal, a triple-peaked hill situated in the center of the Island of Montréal.  Mont Royal is a wooded park that provides welcome green space in a bustling urban environment.

I scoured the city for hours searching for the welcome sign.  This was not an easy task given Montréal’s aging infrastructure, massive construction projects and inconvenient road closures.  I almost came up empty until I found this billboard at P.E. Trudeau International Airport.  (As you can tell in the photo, the sun was setting on my last day in Montréal when I took this photo.)

To be honest, the welcome was not what I had expected.  Certainly I was not surprised that it is in French (I would have been surprised if it wasn’t), but I’m not quite sure why there is a heart and a kiss symbol on the sign.  These elements are not particularly representative of Montréal.  At first I thought that this was not an official welcome sign but perhaps an ad of some sort.  But the logo is used on the Tourism Montréal Web site, so it is legitimate.  But I am disappointed that a city with so many unique characteristics has such as banal welcome.

Vancouver & Whistler

Vancouver and Whistler were on the world stage earlier this year when they hosted the XXI Winter Olympic Games.  I had the opportunity to visit these spectacular cities in an Olympic race of my own last week.  Vancouver was host to the World Route Development Forum, the biggest conference of the year in my day job.  During the “Air Service Olympics” I met with 20 airlines over two days, not to mention attending numerous evening receptions and dinners.  I’m happy to report that it was a very productive and successful conference.

Of course, the trip would not have been a complete success if I could not track down the welcome signs.  Vancouver’s sign was conveniently situated on the main route into downtown from the airport, and I spotted it without a problem.  This welcome is in both French and English (although some entrances to the city only include English) and highlights the Olympics.  The shape is simple and the soft blue and green scheme mimics the colors in Vancouver’s breathtaking landscape.  According to a City of Vancouver news release, the base of the sign is made from granite salvaged from old curbs around the city.

After the conference ended, I took a short day trip up to Resort Municipality of Whistler to decompress after weeks of preparation and a whirlwind of activity at the conference.  The welcome sign for Whitlser is typical of a mountain town – simple, wooden and rustic.  The tree symbol at the top of the sign is Whistler’s official logo.

I visited Whistler with my friend and colleague Vicki.  We enjoyed walking through the village and stopped for a photo at the inuksuk statue.  The inuksuk was the official symbol of the 2010 Olympic Games; it is a stone landmark used by natives of the Arctic to help with navigation.  The passerbys who offered to take our photo were friendly, but clearly not talented with the camera as the inuksuk is missing its head!

Colorado

Thirteen years ago this week I moved to Colorado.

It was meant to be a temporary home – just a year or two – before moving on to bigger places (I had my sights set on the East Coast).  And, except for a two-year experiment in the Eastern Time Zone (not quite the East Coast), Colorado has been my home since September 1997.

I distinctly remember navigating the winding hills of Raton Pass in my Mazda Protégé and seeing the welcome sign as I crossed from New Mexico into Colorado.  The welcome signs for Colorado remain the same today.

The word Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish.  Colorado is famous not only for its red rocks, but its blue skies, yellow sunflowers, green forests, purple columbines and orange sunsets.  The state’s motto – Colorful Colorado – reflects this beauty and diversity.

But the welcome sign is dull and lifeless, and doesn’t include any color.  NONE.  Unless you count white as a color that symbolizes the snow that has made Colorado skiing famous throughout the world.  (But I think that’s a stretch.)  In this photo I was at least able to capture some of the colorful landscape, but not all border crossings are as attractive as this one.

Some Colorado border crossings include a farewell to visitors, such as the one below.