Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.: OLA: Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OLA: Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway

Fall colors at the New Trace
Not only Bill drove. I drove 10% of the Natchez Trace Parkway!

Fall colors at the Old Trace
We were in Tennessee last year, making our way back to the Northwest from our first winter in Florida. We only visited its largest cities: Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. This time around, we passed through in the opposite direction….towards Florida for our second winter! We found the drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina so memorable (and the blog post is one of the most popular) that this year, we chose to drive the Parkway. Besides we wanted to cover Mississippi and it leads there!
Falll colors at the lake in Natchez Trace RV Resort
                                        
The Natchez Trace Parkway (the Old was started in 1801 while the New began in 1930) gently winds among low hills from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, crossing Alabama at its northwestern tip.  This All-American Road, like its sister Blue Ridge, is maintained by the National Park Service, to commemorate the original route following the ’traces’ of bison and other game. In essence, it was the original path of the earliest Americans on the move (much like us)! Parts of the Old Trace is preserved and an added bonus was the fall colors draping its sides (my favorite season!).

them ol' cotton fields back at Donnivan Slough
Improved communications (steam boats, stagecoach lines, and railroads) and the development of ports along nearby rivers made the route obsolete as a means of commerce. As a result, no major population centers were born or developed along it. Thus the Trace and its alignment between Nashville and Natchez come down to us today almost completely undeveloped and unspoiled as an unhurried forest lane, with the exception of the cities of Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi which developed later.

native-American ceremonial mound at the Trace
                                                                       There are many hiking trails in this quiet forest lane. Clear streams, little falls, shallow swamps, gentle meadows, pretty trees, and wild turkey are abundant. At Donivan Slough, I was fascinated by the cotton fields that almost look like acres of pock-marked snow.  Then there were the native-American burial mounds, bigger and higher (though not in special shapes) than the ones we saw at the Mounds National Monument in Iowa.  There was even a grave site of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers.  And near the Northern Terminus at milepost 444, a 155-ft. double arch bridge commands the intersection of the Parkway and Tennessee 100 at Birdsong Hollow.

155-ft. double-arch bridge over Tennessee 100
Tuscumbia, Alabama
Despite being rendered blind and deaf from a high fever at the early age of 19 months, Helen Keller, through the dedication of her beloved teacher Anne Sullivan, was able to graduate from Radcliff, cum laude. She went on to write 14 books and was a sought after inspirational speaker until she died at age 88 in 1968. A moon tree, from a seed carried in the Apollo 14 space flight to the moon, is growing well on the grounds of Ivy Green, her birthplace and childhood home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, a short diversion from the Trace.

Helen Keller's birthplace and childhood home in Alabama
 My mother was the Principal of the Philippine School for the Deaf and the Blind for years, having been sent by the government as its scholar to the Central Institute for the Deaf in Missouri. As a matter of fact, my sister Julie is now Executive Director of a nonprofit school called the Philippine Institute for the Deaf which we founded in her honor.  Thus I was so interested to make the short diversion to the Museum of the First Lady of Courage. She was my mother’s heroine. And my mom was mine!

Elvis Presley's birthplace and boyhood home in Mississippi
Tupelo, Mississippi
Another draw to the Trace is Tupelo, Mississippi which is the birthplace and home of Elvis before he headed for Memphis and stardom. Gospel singing influenced the star’s music so much that the church which he attended as a boy and teenager was relocated to the site of the home and museum, only one block from its original location. We were surprised that the Elvis landmark had so many more visitors than Ivy Green. I guess pop music and rock n’ roll has a wider appeal than rising above one’s handicap! But I enjoyed holding young Elvis’ hand for a photo!

flock of wild turkey fleeing from Bill's camera
We were not able to complete the Trace. But we promised ourselves that when we cross the Gulf States again, plying between California/Arizona and Florida for snow birding, we will complete the southern portion around Jackson, Mississippi most especially to see the unique Windsor Ruins, the patches of red clover, and yellow wildflowers on a river bend!

Jack Daniel’s Distillery 
the natural spring from where Jack Daniels comes from 
Two weeks ago, I wrote that 95% of bourbon-making is in Kentucky. Well, a day when I was not feeling well, Bill went to Lynchburg, Tennessee to tour the only Jack Daniels Distillery. Daniels started working at the general store owned by the man that owned the still when he was only 7 years old. He bought it for $25 when he was only 13!  One morning he went to work early. Not able to remember the combination to the safe, he kicked it in frustration, breaking his big toe.  Gangrene set in and eventually resulted in his death.  (The lesson is: ‘Don’t go to work too early!’ ) The company now has 400 employees in a town of 500 in a dry county in Tennessee!   
13 gravesites of unknown Confederates on the Old Trace
                                                                          Next Stop: Atlanta and Macon, Georgia