Mississippi’s Coast: A Natural Place to Explore
Coastal Mississippi: Nature, Beauty and So Much More
By Lisa Evans
Coastal Mississippi is not well-known like its neighbor to the west – New Orleans or even its neighbor to the east – Mobile. Coastal Mississippi is an area tucked along the Gulf of Mexico – technically on the Mississippi Sound. This area is noted as being an adult playground of sorts, but it truly is so much more.
- So much more than casino resorts and gaming.
- So much more than sultry heat and hurricanes.
- So much more than sweet tea and controversial politics
Here, there is not only an intricate combination of water, rivers, and bayous but the natural beauty that comes with each. Let’s explore a few of them here.
Pascagoula River Audubon Center
The Pascagoula River is the largest undammed river in the contiguous 48 states. It is often referred to as the “Singing River.” According to legend, the Pascagoula Indian Tribe – a peaceful tribe – walked together into the river to avoid the invading Biloxi tribe. Many say on quiet nights, you can hear them singing their death chant.
A remarkable place to visit along the river is in Moss Point. The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is tucked away in this unassuming city and is a portal to the natural inhabitants of the river basin. Here you will find not only information about the flora and fauna of the area but will see several birds in their natural habitat. The Pascagoula River is host to over 327 species of birds. It is not unusual to see eagles, osprey, egrets, herons or cormorants, just to name a few.
A Unique Ecosystem
The center’s exhibits focus on the unique ecosystem of the river. Education and conservation are key components of their mission. They host numerous programs and events throughout the year for all ages and interests, from the Hummingbird Festival to summer camp for the kids.
One of the best ways to experience the area is by being on the water. The extraordinary experience of being in a kayak on the river and watching the native birds up close is astounding. Kayaking down the inlets of the river may even offer you a glimpse of an alligator if you are so inclined.
Don’t own a kayak? No worries, you can rent one there. If you’d rather take a complete swamp and river tour, that service is available as well. But don’t forget, bring your binoculars and camera, as you won’t want to miss a thing!
Davis Bayou – part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore is the largest national seashore in the U.S., comprised of locations in Mississippi and Florida, and is protected by the National Park Service.
Davis Bayou, located in Ocean Springs, is the only mainland area of the national seashore in Mississippi. Once you turn onto their road, you will be assailed with the peace and tranquility only nature can bring.
Camping is allowed, and there is a boat launch. Those looking to spend a couple of peaceful hours enjoying the sounds and sights of the area will be well pleased.
A visit to Davis Bayou can afford some well-deserved relaxation. There are picnic areas and fishing areas for those who enjoy those pursuits. The William M. Colmer Visitor Center offers exhibits, a bookstore, and short films to educate guests on the area. However, walking the nature trails, over and around the bayous, will offer the best experience.
The Gator Pond is home to – you guessed it – at least one very large alligator. Some days he is elusive and camera-shy, other days he suns himself for all who wish to view. He is – after all – a predator who can do whatever he wishes. There are turtles who enjoy the warmth of the sun, and the loud and deep croak of the bullfrog.
A short walk from the Gator Pond is a bridge over the bayou which affords views of magnificent Ospreys or Bald Eagles as they fly overhead, searching for their next meal. There may be a Mississippi Kite or Red-Tailed Hawk doing the same.
Walking along the trails, you will also find delicate flowers springing up in a totally unexpected place, moss growing in the shade of a huge oak tree, and even an errant mushroom sprouting up out of the mulch that has accumulated on the ground beneath it.
So again, don’t forget your binoculars and camera. Davis Bayou is another of Coastal Mississippi’s natural beauties.
West Ship Island – part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore
West Ship Island is one of the barrier islands located off the Mississippi coast. Others are Cat, East Ship, Horn and Petit Bois and all are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and protected by the National Park Service.
West Ship Island, or normally called just Ship Island, is located 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. It is the only barrier island that is accessible by ferry from either Gulfport or Biloxi.
The remaining islands can be reached using a private boat or by hiring a licensed operator. Ship Island is a wonderful retreat for not only beach lovers, but nature and history buffs alike.
The boat ride takes a bit less than an hour. There is a modest charge to take the ferry, but visitors will be rewarded with views that are breathtakingly lovely and dissolve any worries of the day.
Watch closely on the ride over, as there is likely to be a pod of dolphins frolicking in the water.
Even a hard-working shrimping boat, nets down, gathering his catch of the day can be seen during the season. Once you dock on the island, you will see the remnants of Fort Massachusetts.
Fort Massachusetts has an intriguing history, one that dates to the Civil War. Among other things, it was used as a POW camp and eventually became home to what would become the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards. Taking the tour of the fort, there is a latent sense of the isolation surely felt by those who once inhabited the place.
Two aspects to appreciate are the spiral granite staircases that bring you from ground level up, and the intact canon that remains from the 19th century. Be sure to also watch for the elusive ghost crab, scurrying about the grounds.
After touring the fort, head to the south side of the island to enjoy the deep blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. Always be on the lookout when wading into the water, as a blue crab or four might be burrowing in the sand. Farther out, it’s not unusual to see a stingray gliding effortlessly in the water. Be sure to stay clear of their sharp tail!
While swimming, don’t be surprised to see mullet jump right out of the water, or a school of minnows swimming frantically, trying to escape the mouth of a larger fish right behind them.
Wading out farther may offer a glimpse of an elusive small shark or two. Luckily, they tend to steer clear of the general masses of beachcombers.
Take a moment and walk along the shoreline. Here are many varieties of shorebirds such as seagulls, lesser and greater terns, and herons. In the bright blue sky, there will likely also be ospreys and frigate birds. Be sure to wear sandals as the sand is scorching hot.
Boarding the ferry back to the mainland and reality may bring a sense of loss but remember – there are a great many secrets here in Coastal Mississippi. These three areas are just a sample Be sure to stop by and discover a few more.
Lisa Evans is a freelance travel writer and photographer, currently based in Coastal Mississippi after having relocated from upstate New York several years ago. Lisa is a member of TravMedia and has written for various publications. She maintains a website at WriterLisa.com as well as a social media presence on Instagram at http://instagram.com/mygypsytravel