Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tour of the Natchez Trace

Tour of the Natchez Trace - October 15-21, 2011

The last trip of the year was a quick loop east with the primary goal of traveling the 440 mile length of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The original trace was a series of Native American trails which were later used by the European explorers. Thomas Jefferson wanted to have a better connection between the new Mississippi frontier and the settled part of the U.S., so he commissioned a road from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi that followed the old route. In the 1930's construction began on the Parkway along the same route. It is a part of the National Park system.

I took the northern route to Nashville along I-40 most of the way. I paused in Oklahoma City for a few hours to visit the Oklahoma City Zoo which was quite nice. They have several large, natural looking enclosures with a lot of trees. They also have a new, very large elephant exhibit which was nice. It took a couple of hours to walk around the whole thing which was a good break from driving.

Some assorted pictures of the Oklahoma City Zoo.

After camping that night in Fort Smith, Arkansas, I detoured from I-40 and went southeast a bit to get to Hot Springs, Arkansas. This was a nice drive with some heavily forested mountains to go through. At Hot Springs, the goal was to see the Hot Springs National Park.

This Park has two distinctions: it is the smallest National Park at 5,550 acres plus it is the only National Park in the middle of a city. It is located on Central Avenue which is much like the street of the same name in Albuquerque. It wasn't easy to find a spot to park but I eventually got one.

The park itself is mainly a row of old bath houses that operated over the last two hundred years or so. The houses have some examples of "Gilded Age" architecture and the the whole row of them are listed as a National Historic Landmark. One of them is still operating but I didn't make use of it. Another one is the headquarters of the park and allows a tour of the inside.

A few of the bath houses at the park.

A view down Central Avenue from the porch of one of the bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

 Inside the bath house used as the park headquarters.

Back on the road, I headed up I-30 a ways until it intersected with I-40 at Little Rock and then I took I-40 east. The road leads through Memphis and I camped about an hour west of Nashville. The weather was pretty warm with highs in the upper 80's most of the way so I had to run the air conditioner in the camper to stay cool.

The following morning's goal was to find the northern end of the Natchez Trace. I wandered around a bit in southwest Nashville where there was a lot of really nice homes and estates. Finally, I found the road I needed and got onto the trace itself. There are historical markers and scenic overlooks along the way and I stopped at a few of them. The trace heads southwest and crosses into the northwest corner of Alabama and then traverses most of Mississippi.

Following are several pictures of the Trace, itself - not necessarily in order that I saw them.

On the Natchez Trace at last. Just outside of Nashville.

A view from an overlook which shows a family farm in southern Tennessee.

A view overlooking the land in Southern Tennessee.

The Trace where is crosses the Tennessee River.

This view is in Mississippi in the morning - south of Tupelo. There are a lot of leaves that have already fallen from the trees.

This is in Mississippi - tornado damage from April, 2011. It wiped out several miles of forest right along the road.

Before leaving Tennessee, I paused at the site where Meriwether Lewis died (of Lewis and Clark fame). He apparently committed suicide but a few people thought he had been murdered. He is buried there and has a monument as well.

The house that he died in.

I made a detour in Alabama and headed east from the Trace for about 15 miles. There, I found Tuscumbia, Alabama which is the birthplace of Helen Keller and I stopped off at the house where she was born. Her life was made famous by several books and films, most notably, The Miracle Worker. Her image was chosen for the back of Alabama's state quarter.

I wasn't sure if I would like this sort of thing but it turned out to be one of my favorite stops on the trip. The house itself was interesting since it was preserved as it had been in the 1880's when she was born. There was a guided tour of the place and hearing her story was extremely inspirational. It's hard to imagine what life would be like if you were blind and deaf and had no way to communicate.

One interesting thing I learned there came from a piece of furniture in the living room. Standing in front of the fireplace was what looked like a shield on a stand - something a knight might carry into battle. It was used to keep the heat from the fireplace from blasting out into the room which would cause problems. Lady's makeup of the day used a lot beeswax and the gentlemen also used beeswax to curl their mustaches. If the fire's heat was too strong it would melt the beeswax and makeup would get streaks in it. It was considered impolite to comment on someone's streaky face so they had an expression - 'Mind your own beeswax'. I never knew where that saying came from, before.

The front of Helen Keller's birthplace - quite a front yard.

Her bedroom - she had the small bed as a child and her teacher, Anne Sullivan had the larger bed.

This is the famous water pump where she first made the connection between the finger spelling into her palm and the word 'water'.

While I was in the area, I wanted to stop at an oddball site that I had heard of. It is the National Coon Dog Cemetary. It wasn't very large but it was an interesting place to visit. Afterward, I got back on the trace and headed south to Tupelo, Mississipi to spend the night. I couldn't locate a campground, though, so I ended up using my fallback plan of overnighting in a Walmart parking lot (which they let people do). The weather turned cold that evening and the temperature outside got down to near freezing.

The National Coon Dog Cemetery.

Some grave markers were fancy and some were just hand-carved. Quite a few had nothing more than a rock marking the grave.

The next detour came at Jackson. Mississippi where I headed west for about thirty miles to the town of Vicksburg. This is the home of the Vicksburg National Military Park where they commemorate the battle and siege of Vicksburg. This battle was considered one of the major turning points of the Civil war since it was the last part of the Mississippi river that had been controlled by the South. General Grant figured he had to take the town or else he would lose his job so he tried everything from direct assault to tunneling but he couldn't break through. Finally, it was the lack of food and water that led the Southern Lt. General John Pemberton to surrender.

The park itself has a long driving tour along the hills outside of town that shows where all the Union forces were located. It also has a big display of the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad gunboat that was sunk there. It has been recovered and is on display. It is the first boat in history to be sunk by an electrically contolled mine. Confederate soldiers waited in the bushes for a boat to come by and then detonated the mine manually.

There are markers like this for every military group at the location where they were stationed - I don't know if those are regiments or what. There are also numerous monuments built by the individual states - such as the obelisk below. There are 1,325 monuments and markers like this in the park.

There are 144 canons in their original places.

An example of a state monument - in this case, put up by Illinois.

Statue of Ulysses S Grant - this hill was his command headquarters.

 Some of the twenty miles of trenches and earthworks that can still be seen.

The ironclad gunboat USS Cairo


This view shows the place where the mine exploded and broke open the hull.

This is a view from inside looking straight back. The pipes are the steam pipes which drive the paddle wheel that can be seen behind them.

 Part of the Vicksburg National Cemetary - 18,244 soldiers buried there from both sides.

While in Vicksburg I stopped at the Biedenham Coca-Cola Museum which is where Coca-Cola was first bottled. (Vicksburg is also the place where the Mint Julep was invented, according to some people.) The museum was mostly a collection of memorabillia but had a few pieces of old time equipment. Overall it wasn't very exciting.

The Coca-Cola Museum.

The next day I headed back to Jackson to pick up the trace and follow it the rest of the way to Natchez. Natchez, itself, was a pretty place, a typical small town atmosphere with a neat, clean appearance. From there, I headed home, first up to Shreveport, Louisianna, and then on I-20 across Texas. I camped in Arlington, Texas and then made it home by the next evening. Overall, it was a nice trip, but I did a lot of driving.

Total miles driven - 3008
Average gas mileage - 9.6

No comments:

Post a Comment