First, I would like to apologize for the two-and-a-half weeks that have passed since my last post. My day job has kept me quite busy, and time has gotten away from me.
However, the timing seems appropriate for this posting. Not only does Jackson mark the final chapter of my trip through Louisiana and Mississippi last month, but it is my family name. And Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and reflect on heritage and history. I can think of no better way to celebrate this uniquely American holiday than with a welcome sign.
Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, was named for General Andrew Jackson who later became President of the United States. Home to over 600,000 people, the Jackson-Yazoo City combined statistical area is the largest in Mississippi. Jackson is the only state capital to sit atop a volcano; Jackson Volcano is believed to have been extinct for at least 65 million years.
Capturing Jackson’s welcome sign was quite a challenge. On my only day in Jackson, I awoke to stormy weather across the Mississippi Valley, rain falling in thick vertical sheets that made safe driving almost impossible. My time was limited, and despite the difficult conditions, I was determined to find the welcome sign. My first stop in a city is usually the airport, hoping that there is a sign that greets visitors as they exit the airport in a vehicle. The sign at the exit of Jackson-Evers International Airport was disappointing, to say the least.
In my expert opinion, this is not a welcome sign. It’s a directional sign that includes a welcome as an afterthought. But I stopped during a break in the rain (check out those dark skies!) to snap a photo in case this was the only sign I was able to find.
If I come up empty at an airport, my next strategy is to take a route into town that does not involve an Interstate or major highway. From experience I know that city welcome signs are rarely displayed along the busiest routes. I had about 30 minutes left to find the Jackson sign, so I headed into town. My windshield wipers were on maximum speed as I tried to focus simultaneously on driving through an unfamiliar city and looking for the welcome sign. When I did see it, my heart sank.
As the photo shows, the sign is situated on a bridge spanning the Pearl River. River signs are the MOST DIFFICULT to photograph as there is generally not a safe place to pull over. In order to capture this sign, I had to park a quarter of a mile away in a suspect gravel pull-off. I walked along the narrow sidewalk spanning the bridge with an umbrella in one hand, my other hand tightly gripping my camera, hidden under my jacket for protection. Cars and trucks sped by me along U.S. 80, splashing up mist and water and causing the bridge to sway and shake.
While I was photographing the sign, I kept an eye on my car as best I could. At one point, I noticed two Mississippi Department of Transportation trucks pull into the same gravel area where my rented Jeep Patriot was parked, its hazard lights flashing. A sense of panic washed over me; they probably thought the vehicle needed assistance! The trucks were situated one on each side of the car, and the strip of lights on top of each truck was flashing a blurry yellow pattern through the rain. I started to run back toward my car, balancing my camera and umbrella while waving my arm to indicate the car was mine. As I got closer, I realized the employees weren’t the least bit interested in my car. In fact, they were slowly exiting their vehicles to inspect something along the bridge and didn’t even look up at me when I finally made it back to the car, wet from both the rain and my panicked sweat.
As I sat in my car trying to regroup, I reflected on the sign. The vibrant blue color matches that of the Welcome to Mississippi sign. The small magnolia is the state flower and adds some visual interest to the sign. Overall it’s a simple sign that was not simple to photograph.
With the few extra minutes I had, I continued along the route to downtown Jackson and stopped in front of the Mississippi state capitol building. The structure is similar to many other domed capitol buildings in the U.S. But what made this site unique were the beautiful trees in the park gracefully surrounding the seat of state government. Even the gloomy weather could not dampen the southern hospitality that I felt when photographing the capitol.