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“The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.” – Eudora Welty
Like most of our travel this year, driving The Natchez Trace was more than a pleasure trip. It was pilgrimage.
Generations of Jim’s relatives lived along The Trace … Johnsons, Thurmans and Bobo’s. Jim’s people are all in the ground now, or moved on, but we wanted to see the places Jim knew from his childhood and visit his biscuit crumb memories scattered up and down that old long road.
Did his grandmother’s house still stand in Port Gibson?
How about the church where his parents married …
Would he even recognize these places? Was the old family farm – where his uncle B.J. lost his hand – still a farm or had it been developed? Of course the “Ride With Rose” chain of service stations his other one-handed uncle managed must be gone, but were the buildings still there?
Yes, Jim had two one-handed Uncles. His mother’s brother, B.J., lost his right to a corn picker, and his father’s brother, James, lost his left to dynamite. Accidents of youth and inexperience.
When Jim was young, he thought uncles were one-handed men. In high school when I told Jim I was going to Mississippi for the summer to visit my uncle, he joked, “Left or right?”
While driving along The Natchez Trace – an historically treacherous route haunted by genocide, murdering robbers, suicide, civil war, an exiled civilization, witchy kinds of places and other horrors – we happily ambled along picnicking on fried chicken, waving at cyclists and schmoozing with fellow campers who hailed from just about everywhere as we all marveled at the eye-popping spring foliage, beautifully maintained park amenities and roadside historic markers.
The Natchez Trace captures what some call The Real South, and what I call, The Southern Conundrum where Jesus Lives and Elvis Lives, and where one is recently allowed to buy beer at Piggly Wiggly on Sunday during “after church hours.” But, mind you, wine buying on Sunday is strictly forbidden (Hmmm … wonder if football is involved?) but buying Krispy Kreme’s is legal every day and twice on Sunday … Honestly, sometimes I think The South is just a’messin’ with me.
We drove the Trace proper – slow and easy. Peak seasons are March to April and October to November but any section of the highway is a good bet for a relaxing “Sunday drive” any day of the week, any time of year.
It took us five days to drive the entire 440 mile historic wilderness highway from Natchez to Nashville and we would have savored it even longer if not for Stella!!! the nor’easter that changed our plans.
At the beginning of the Trace, the charming city streets of Natchez are very narrow and most are one-way, so it’s best to park at the visitors center (which offers free overnight RV parking with electrical hook-ups) and casually stroll the neighborhood on foot or by bicycle.
Everyone who travels to Natchez is there for the mansions, but when it dropped to 35 degrees overnight we dove into our heated truck seats and hit the road. We do regret leaving the hospitality of Natchez so soon … but we will be back!
Scenic pristine byways and parkways like The Natchez Trace were an innovation of the late 19th century when automobiles were fairly new. The idyllic combination of park and highway were intended to bring the recreational pleasure of walking and driving together – and cycling is now a welcome new addition.
Thank you American women! Many of our national parks are a result of the historic preservation efforts of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). Elizabeth Jones, president of the Holly Springs, Mississippi chapter of the DAR first proposed in 1906 to mark and memorialize the original route of The Natchez Trace. And between 1909 and 1933 fourteen different locations were marked, spurring national interest. Eventually, a route using numerous existing county roads, some city streets and many sections of the historic old Trace – were spliced together and paved to function in the tradition – if not precisely to – the original route.
The Trace is not commercialized and there is no entrance fee to this National Park. We stayed overnight at the campgrounds provided and never even needed a reservation. The camp sites are free (first come, first served) and secure with a two-week stay limit.
Rocky Springs Trail Campground – Our 1st night on the Trace
Jeff Busby Campground – Our 2nd night on the Trace.
Tombigbee State Park – Our 3rd night on the Trace.
Meriwether Lewis Campground – Our 4th and final night on the Trace
Fuel and restaurants were short side-trips away. GPS came in handy for that. Sometimes we were surprised to see how close we were to housing developments and commercial districts in nearby towns. The park service does a great job deflecting traffic and city noise to nurture a sense of wilderness with split-rail fences, historic markers, mile posts, densely forested natural boundaries. It was a pleasing, unhurried adventure, and a truly unique driving experience. There are hundreds of places where you are invited to pull off and view a ruin, a ghost town, a Chickasaw or Chocktaw mound … We never unhitched, and some pull-off sites were too narrow to accommodate a rig our size, but most were just fine.
And, I’m tellin’ you from Natchez to Nashville, the food and drink was slap ya’ mama!
King’s Tavern, the most haunted house in Mississippi,
Great Beer joint and nightclub in tupelo, the Blue Canoe
Prices everywhere are cheap to moderate so we spared ourselves nothing, just enjoyed.
The lost community of Rocky Springs
We stopped by Elvis Presley’s birth place to pay respects to Mama’s old friend.
The Natchez Trace Visitor Center in Tupelo – in the middle of the Trace – was worth the time.
Mile marker 269.4: we walked a short distance to 13 graves of confederate solders.
Donivan Slough has a delightful 20-minute nature walk
One of the highlights is Jackson Falls.
Traffic is mild on The Trace, but motorcycles and cyclists (bicycles) are as common as cars and RV’s
As always, we missed a few things like the Eudora Welty House in Jackson. Next time. But Jim did find most of his memories …
We love The Deep South and though our roots will always stretch toward the natural beauty of the bayou, we’ll be turning the corner now and going in another direction. West! On Historic Route 66!