Now that I've teased you all long enough about riding on the trace, I figured it's time I actually take you there. After my excitement with the trucks and turkeys, things settled down for us and we enjoyed the rest of our trip without further peril. The weather was great as we spent our next three days meandering down this beautiful road, taking in the awesome sights and learning a little history along the way.
Crossing the Double Arch Bridge within the first few miles of entering the Natchez Trace Parkway, was a great way to start our adventure. It provided a spectacular site and set the tone for the amazing scenery yet to come. As I took the lead, it felt like we entered into a private sanctuary for natures beauty, untouched by 21st Century distractions. No telephone poles... no power lines... no mailboxes and best of all... the absence of trash.
In typical Tennessee fashion, this end of the trace was very hilly and the road a little curvy, allowing for a very playful and relaxing ride. The green grass was groomed and clean cut while providing a colorful contrast to the earthy tones of rock bluffs that lined parts of the roadway. At times, the hills would open up to deliver a sensational view of a valley below, teasing the onlooker with hints of farm life complete with country houses and old barns surrounded by fields of cotton, corn, soy beans and sweet potatoes.
There are several places of historic interest along this scenic parkway and even though we stopped at many of them, I'll highlight just a few of my favorites.
Small brown arrowhead shaped signs along the side of the road would warn the traveler of a... "Historic Site 1/2 mile", so there was ample time to get ready to stop. Each time we came upon one of these historic sites we would be rewarded with a very informative large wooden billboard explaining the significance of that particular area (you can read the sign if you click on the image to make it bigger). These stops provided a pull off with ample parking room so you can spend as much time as you want taking in a waterfall, hiking on a remnant of the original trail, or just reading about the lives of the people who once made this place their home.
Sometimes a little physical activity was required and some hiking was involved to reach the actual "site" area. The sign describing some falls warned of a very steep 900 foot incline to get to them. Going down wasn't bad... it was the coming back up that I thought I'd need some serious oxygen resuscitation! Shew! This picture doesn't do it justice, but take it from me, it's not for the weak of heart. Harley waited at the top for me and when he saw how red my face was when I got back, he said, "I hope you got a good picture!"
Named for Andrew Jackson, the falls are on the intermittent Jackson Branch that empties into the Duck River. As I explored around this area, snapping some pics, I put my hands under some falling water to rinse them off. It was at that moment that I wondered how many other Indian or Pioneer women stood in this very spot and bathed or washed clothing. Very shady and private... hmmm.
THE GORDON HOUSE
This house was built in 1818. John Gordon and his wife Dorathea lived here and ran a ferry that ran across the Duck River. I wished we could've gone inside to have a closer look around but it was all boarded up. A nice brick two story... it appears that the Gordons did pretty well for themselves.
Meriwhether Lewis, (one half of the Lewis and Clark expedition team), evolved from explorer to Governor, but his untimely death still remains a mystery. While traveling along the trace, he stopped at Grinder's Stand, an inn run by the Grinder family. Later that evening, October 11, 1809, he was found with two gunshot wounds, one to the head and one to the chest. He died shortly after sunrise.
MERIWETHER LEWIS MONUMENT
This monument was erected in his honor by the state of Tennessee in 1848. The design is a broken column to represent a life cut short.
Even though much of the trace had been abandoned by the time the Civil War started, soldiers still marched, camped and fought along portions of this old road. This is the site where 13 unknown Confederate soldiers are buried. Who were they?
Did they serve under the daring General Nathan Forest who passed this way in 1864? Or were they guarding the Tupelo Headquarters of J. B. Hood's Army of Tennessee near the end of the war?
Perhaps they died of their wounds, lingering hunger, or sickness in their camps, but their simple grave markers face backwards - towards the trace - so travelers might read and remember.
Mount Locust served as an inn on the trace and is one of the oldest structures still standing.
William Ferguson and his wife Paulina purchased Mt. Locust in 1784 and operated the farm until William's death in 1801. A short time later Paulina married James Chamberlain and continued life on the growing farm.
While we were looking around, absorbing a sense of life in the 1800's, the Park Ranger told us "Grandma Polly" outlived her second husband and raised 11 children in this house.
Can you imagine that? Night, John Boy!
Not every stop rewarded you with actual structure, relics or exhibits. Sometimes, the sign depicting whatever was historic about that particular spot was all there was to see. You had to be satisfied with the revelation that you're standing on the same ground "Sheboss Place" once stood; an inn that once served travelers on the trace. Or just knowing that Hernando de Soto, the Spanish Explorer of the Mississippi River area spent the winter of 1540 -41 there. This in itself is pretty cool. Or... you can do your best Chevy Chase impression with your hands on your hips and say, "Okay then!" and move on.
OLD TRACE ROAD
We took the opportunity to travel back into history ourselves and rode on the "Old Trace Road", a 2.5 mile one way road that follows the original trace route (You'll find this at mile post 375.8 near the Dogwood Mudhole). It was pretty awesome to be riding the Glide on this "old" road and thinking of the others who traveled this same path before me.
Aside from all the enlightenment of the trace's history, riding the Parkway itself was proving to be relaxing and fun. Sometimes, the road carried you into the thickness of the wilderness where the trees would provide a cool dark canopy from the hot summer sun. The temperature would actually drop 5 degrees cooler as soon as you went under this blanket of foliage.
Just when you felt cooled and comfortable, you would burst into a giant field of bright sunshine and wide open space with nothing but tall green grass on both sides of you. This is where you'd see the colorful array of purple, blue, yellow and pink splashed about the area as the wild flowers bloom.
We rounded a nice sweeping curve one time and saw large jagged rocks punched through the earth giving the illusion of giant stone claws... (something prehistorically large perhaps?).
These odd protrusions were on both sides of the road for a half mile or more. Very cool! Seeing this is what makes riding even more rewarding. This was definitely one of my chin dropping, "holy cow" moments.
As we progressed further south, the changes in the Mississippi terrain became more evident with the increasing presence of water. The hills flattened out and all but disappeared while the large prairie like fields slowly turned into wetlands. I could look to either side of me and see the glistening remnants of water, whether it be a fully defined creek, large pond or simply the saturated shine of swamp land.
THE CYPRESS SWAMP
The eerie silence that surrounded these cypress trees made my little hike down the trail a quick one. I was worried about the logs with eyes, so I definitely kept mine peeled. There was a thick blanket of bright green algae laying across the still and murky water, which I'm sure had a lot to do with my heightened itch factor.
This place was very pretty, but it gave me a bad case of the heebie jeebies! I was glad to get back in the wind and blow the bugs off!
I think the biggest gasp factor of all came with the shoreline view of the Ross Barnett Reservoir on the Pearl River that parallels the parkway for 8 miles. I was so taken in by it's prominent size and how close to the asphalt it was in some places that it was very hard to keep my eyes on the road. I thought it was absolutely beautiful!
ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR
We took about a 10 mile detour off the trace and circled around this reservoir before we continued on. I loved looking at the blooming water lilies!
One day we met several other riders heading north. So many in fact that I was getting the feeling we were going the wrong way! That's when I remembered our waitress the night before talking about the "Little Sturgis" Bike Rally. It was that same weekend, in Sturgis, MS, about 40 miles east from where we were. And yes... there was a wave or two.
When we arrived in Natchez, we rode around the historic district and looked at some of the exquisite old mansions. My batteries in our camera were getting really low by now, so I pinched a couple of pics off the American Towns website. Even though I didn't take them myself, I still wanted to show you just a couple of the gorgeous old mansions that grace this historic little town.
LONGWOODSome of the homes are open for tours, but we didn't go into any of them. I'll save that for another day when we come back. I think this trip was extremely gratifying and I would encourage any rider to plan their own ride on the Natchez Trace.
Remember to bring good maps of the surrounding area. There's no commercial business of any kind on the trace and even though exits for towns and communities are well marked, you may have to travel 20 miles or more to reach any business activity. This is very important when planning your gas stops.
It seems our Natchez Trace adventure was coming to an end. All that's left now is to head east toward Alabama and make our way back home to Montgomery. I felt very satisfied with everything so far, but I wanted to prolong our departure from this ancient city for just a little while longer.
So... I went to say hello to an old friend.
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
I always felt a bond with the Mississippi River because it was a big part of my growing up while I lived in Dubuque, Iowa. Standing on the bank, over a thousand miles downstream in Nathchez, MS... I wondered how long it took the water to travel from my home to here?
(There's more to come! I'm working on a slide show to share even more of the trace scenery. Also, while on our adventure, we detoured off the Parkway to visit the Vicksburg Battlefield Military Park and Museum. I'll devote an entire post to it and I hope to have up soon.)