Peering through the last few feet of shaded brush and trees, I began spotting glimpses of them ahead in the bright sunlight. Splashing in the water. Laughing. Talking over one another as they discovered the cooling waters of Copiah Creek.
Pushing on through the brush, lugging an ice chest and towels, we grown-ups emerged onto a sunny sand and gravel bar. We had arrived, albeit three or four minutes behind the kids, and began a Sunday afternoon of creek walking.
In the thick of the summer, I find backpacking, even hiking with a day pack, too miserable here. Getting a night's sleep in a stuffy tent is next to impossible, but you can lose a gallon of blood to the mosquitoes without one.
Canoeing—even canoe camping with the option of pre-bed time dips in the river—as well as kayaking and trips to the cooler Appalachians are far more pleasant alternatives in July and August. But those require a bit of planning.
Creek walking, by contrast, is a quick getaway. A good, shin-deep creek with clear water and a sandy bottom provides a peaceful retreat and hours of relaxation or exploration for an individual, friends or the entire family.
One of my favorite spots is at the creek running through Rocky Springs Campground on the Natchez Trace, about 30 miles south of town. Drive to the camping area and park near the outdoor amphitheater. You'll find easy access to the creek just on the other side. The water is clear, and the creek has a pleasant enough flow.
Rock hounds will enjoy hunting for fossils. You can stroll up and down the creek, or just sit in the cool waters. (One key to enjoying a wet day in the outdoors is to have a change of dry clothes in the car for the drive back.)
On this day, we visited a friend's land in Copiah County. The land, at this point, is merely a 50-acre overgrown buffer between a county road and the creek. I'm sure the snakes and ticks like it that way, and I kind of hope they get to hold on to it for a while longer.
Fortunately, a recent bush hogging had cleared a path just wide enough for us to sneak a truck in part of the way, reducing our hike in from 20 minutes to two minutes or so.
Copiah Creek is, like many of Mississippi's streams, just a shallow stream in July, ranging at our stop from eight- to 15-feet wide. Across from our sandbar, a fallen log created a slightly deeper swimming hole—maybe three or four feet.
The kids—six in all—ranged from ages 4 to 11. As we dropped our ice chest, towels, bags of sunscreen and snacks, they were already flitting across the stream like water bugs.
With the sun still high enough to bake the sandbar on which we arrived, we immediately set out downstream for some cool shade. The kids were in the lead. Soon enough, we came across the sun-bleached skeleton of an entire cow, perhaps a drowning victim during a flood several months earlier. That, of course, was incredibly cool to the kids, though slightly more disturbing to at least one of the moms.
After about 10 minutes of walking, we'd crossed the creek three or four times—from sandbar to sandbar—and arrived at a little narrows in the creek. Rocks forced the stream into a shoot, complete with little rapids, and the kids took turns bumping along the rocky bottom and then fighting to swim upstream to do it all again.
On the hike back upstream, the kids plopped down and began collecting tadpoles and tiny frogs, giving them brief new homes inside soda bottles. By the end of the day, the kids were skipping rocks, creating "ships" from bark, leaves and logs, and throwing rocks at an innocent, fallen log or into the creek to hear the satisfying "thlup" of a splash.
By dusk, the smaller kids were actually a little chilly, and we left our isolated sandbar for the trail through the brush and back to the truck.
Unpacking the van an hour or so later, I realized we had brought back some friends. We'd forgotten to release the tadpoles and frogs from the empty bottles. The frogs now live in our backyard. The next morning, my son set the tadpoles free in a little urban creek running through our neighborhood.
I hope they enjoy our creek as much as we enjoyed theirs.
Contact JFP outdoors columnist Reed Branson at [e-mail missing]