There are many different of ways to enjoy the outdoors in South Mississippi and along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.
Some prefer fishing, others hunting; still others get into sailing, canoeing, biking or swimming. Some enjoy the relaxation of sunbathing.
I enjoy hiking and walking, and a vacation never passes in which I’m not trekking through a national or state park, usually of the historical variety.
You definitely don’t need to drive to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia for a good jaunt.
For someone who lives in South Mississippi, a simple but strenuous excursion — backpack optional — can be found on the Tuxachanie Hiking Trail at Howison on U.S. 49, just north of Saucier and south of McHenry.
In a way, this was a return to the Tuxachanie Trail after doing a story on it 12 years ago.
Certainly, I was curious about the damage the trail had absorbed from the relentless winds of Hurricane Katrina two years ago.
This time Tim Isbell provided the photographic record as we hiked eight miles on the trail.
It was the last day of spring and less than 14 hours after South Mississippi enjoyed its best rainfall in months.
Naturally, we expected a wet trail but it was unexpectedly dry in the 93 degree weather coupled with low humidity.
One hundred yards after leaving the parking lot on U.S. 49, the sounds of cars began to diminish. We reached a small bridge which crossed a pond. The bridge is fine but the guardrails are in the process of being restored.
Evidence of Katrina’s effects are still in evidence. Pine trees lay on their sides, with their roots exposed. Some trees have lost all of their bark.
And it became more quiet, except for the chatter of insects. Strangely enough, the bug spray seemed to be unnecessary at mid-day.
A straight trek on the path would take you on a five-mile jaunt to Airey Lake. But the path is taped off because of fallen trees and an alternate and wider course took us in a southeasterly direction, and a slow descent.
As we happily discovered, the trail is mark by white diamonds that are nailed to the trees at intermittent points.
Fourteen different kinds of butterflies can be observed along the hike, and there were warnings at the beginning of the trail about non-lethal and lethal snakes, none of which ever made their presence known.
As we gradually curved in a more easterly direction, we came to a footbridge across some creeks, one of the areas on the trail where there was a lot of water. There was a buildup of leaves, pine cones and tree limbs that somewhat resembled a beaver dam I had seen at Fort Blakeley Park on the eastern shore of Mobile. But we saw no beavers, and it might have been an accumulation of material left after the creek rose.
At the same time, this area looked like the epicenter of wind damage, with many downed trees.
From there we began to head slowly uphill, passing a fancy red bridge. Off to the south, off the trail, a creek wound its way and there were the remains of a footbridge.
We later found another footbridge, over what should have been a very wet area. But it, too, was dry.
While we were close to Airey Lake, having hiked for close to four miles, the heat was also making itself felt. Perhaps starting in the early afternoon was not the best strategy. But the lack of humidity made it an easier hike at that time.
It was time to turn around and head back. That long, slow descent became a long, slow rise on the way back.
We later reached Airey Lake by car, driving back down Highway 67, then turning north when we reached Bethel Road. Airey Lake has a restroom and a picnic area. If you pull out your fishing rod, three kinds of fish can be caught — bass, blue gill and catfish.
If you want to continue to hike, walk along the north of the lake and proceed to P.O.W. Lake. That is where German prisoners of war were held during World War II.
There are two nice hikes from Airey Lake to P.O.W. Lake: an 11-mile hike and a 6-mile hike, both of which keep you in the De Soto National Forest.
In an age when we seem to be wed to our TVs, computers and video games, hiking can provide a sense of discovery. And a good workout as well.