Camping in De Soto National Park: My Sweaty Weekend in a Mississippi POW Camp

The author being swarmed by bugs while hiking the Black Creek Trail

Crushing.
That’s the best adjective to describe the heat in Mississippi in September. At least that’s how it felt inside of my tent on a steamy Friday evening, as I slapped at mosquitos and focused my mind on conjuring the breeze. It was too warm to be encased in a sleeping bag, so instead I slept on top of mine.  The insulated shell stuck to the sweat that had pooled on the backs of my legs, creating a reservoir of perspiration.

I was camping at an old WWII POW camp in the Black Creek Wilderness area of De Soto National Forest.  Located approximately two hours northeast of New Orleans, De Soto is home to over 518,00 acres of national forest, ranging from longleaf pine savannas to pine flatwoods and longleaf pine forests.  The Black Creek meanders through much of it.  The creek’s caramel color doesn’t make it seem appealing for swimming, but the unusual hue is actually just a result of tannic acid from dying vegetation.

My intention was to hike from the trailhead down the white-sand beach that abuts the creek and eventually cool down with some swimming.  However, these aspirations were crushed by a self-proclaimed “drifter”  hanging out along the trail.

“You’ve got some bug spray, right,” he asked.

“No, actually I forgot it.”

“Well, you’d be crazy to go in there without it,” he said.

And he was right.  The mosquitos swarmed me with such violent enthusiasm that within minutes I was forced to turn back.  I decided to head to town to buy some bug spray and plot my next move.

On the way back, I stopped by the ranger station, where a supremely nice woman gave me a map of the area and its most choice camping spots. One of them, which she didn’t recommend due to its lack of swimming access and potable water, was a former WWII POW camp.  It sounded unique, so I decided to check it out.

Arriving at the POW camp

Ammunition Bunkers @ Desoto POW Camp

From Wiggins, the town at the hub of De Soto, I traveled south for about 15 miles on Highway 49, before eventually pulling into the camp.  According to a few history articles I located, over a dozen POW camps were established in Mississippi for German soldiers captured in North Africa.  The allies had decided to ship the prisoners back to the U.S. because it was cheaper to feed and house them domestically than abroad.  Additionally, they could be used for a source of labor; many of them spent their days picking cotton and doing other manual chores.

There were no signs of the former camp’s infrastructure when I arrived, outside of a few ammunition bunkers. The site looked out over a small lake, where, according to the signs, a sole alligator lived.  There was no one on the grounds except for me, so I set up my tent, made a fire using the abundant pine needles and branches scattered nearby, and munched on trail mix while reading a book.

Eventually, I headed to bed, sweating madly and thinking about the strangeness of camping on land that was once the home of Nazi soldiers. Later, I would read that a group of the POWs actually carved a giant swastika–2o feet by 20 feet– in the ground a few miles in away.  According to one comment thread, the intention was to fill it with gasoline and light it ablaze to signal to German airplanes. Apparently, the landmark is still there.

A stroll down the Tuxachanie Trail

Black Creek in Desoto Park in Mississippi

In the morning, I rustled myself from slumber and  jumped on the southern end of the Tuxachanie Trail.  It was a fairly pleasant stroll, though on a few occasions I unwittingly slammed headfirst into giant spiderwebs.  The trail was teeming with squirrels and birds and I also saw a large black snake, which slithered off the path as I approached.  At numerous intersections, it was possible to view Black Creek and the white-sand beach alongside it.

After an hour or so, I turned around, jumped in my car and headed back to New Orleans.

All and all, I would say that I really enjoyed my day in De Soto and plan on returning and discovering more of the park soon. I’m also somewhat fascinated with the POW history and plan to research it further on my next visit, which will likely occur once fall has arrived and the bugs have subsided.

Do you have a cool camping story you’d like to share?  Send it to Dan@camping-gear-outlet.  If I like it, I’ll publish it on the blog and even send you some free gear.

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