Natchez Trace Parkway Pt.6: To the End

Our last stretch of the Trace was from David Crockett State Park to the terminus at mile marker 444. David Crocker State Park is a great park for the hike-lovers. There were multiple different hiking routes you could take with trees marked with a designated color dot to help you navigate your way. Even with the color-dotted trees unfortunately, we zigged instead of zagged and took a much longer route than we had originally inteded. We planned on being on a trail for about 30 minutes, but ended up walking for around an hour and a half, and hiked around three and a half miles. Ah well; it was well worth it. We saw some very beautiful Tennessee country and the weather was good, although it did start to chill down once the sun went down.

It’s easy to start imagining yourself in a wooden cabin on a hill, surrounded by thick woods, cup of coffee in hand, and warm fire in the fireplace when hiking through the parks of Tennessee. I don’t know if I could become a complete recluse but if any place makes me want to become a hermit, it’s this area of the country.

DSC00866.JPG

I love some of these photos, but even the photos don’t do the scenery real justice. Sometimes I want to take a snapshot in my mind and keep it there for when I need to get away. I want to crawl inside this memory, feeling, seeing, and smelling all that was, but the colors and the smells and the cool breeze on my face can never truly be replicated.

DSC00860.JPG

DSC00863.JPG

DSC00886.JPG

 

DSC00919.JPG

We realized how far we’d gotten off the path when we ended up on a paved road near the Trail of Tears. I’m glad we did though. We found an informational section about the Trail of Tears, and saw this beautiful site of cows grazing on their evening meal during the sunset (below). There was an artist’s rendition of the Trail of Tears and the people who walked among the worn down path. It invoked one imagining the stark quiet among the trees, even with hundreds crossing this path at one time, only the sounds of shuffling feet in the dried, dead fallen leaves. The absent look in these people’s eyes as they were forced to move from their homes to another part of their country. Everything they knew, changing, and not knowing who these people were, why they were doing this, and if they were capable of other things.

History is sometimes hard to look back on, knowing the harm we caused, but if we don’t look back and learn what we did wrong, and what we can do to never do it again, we will never grow and change. DSC00891.JPG

The next day we took off for our last bit of site seeing on the Trace. We stopped off  at the Meriwether Lewis grave site. There was a tall stone grave with a post explaining Lewis’s death, or the lack of information thereof. A couple of interesting items I discovered while at this site: The first was that Mr. Lewis was very young when he died, around 34 years old. This also meant that this guy was discovering new lands in new parts of the world in his 20s. That’s quite the ambitious guy. What is also interesting about him is that, to this day, his death is considered mysterious. DSC00907.JPG

The grave itself is a depiction of a broken column, a life ended tragically and too soon.  According to the Smithsonian Magazine, he was passing through this area, on his way to Washington D.C. to settle some financial matters, but was found by his traveling companion with a gunshot wound to his head and abdomen. His companions assumed suicide because he had been known to suffer “depressions of the mind”. Perhaps he had some sort of bipolar disorder? Apparently Lewis, a young, innovative explorer, with all of his explorations and discoveries, felt like a failure, as he hadn’t fulfilled his initial goal of creating a successful system of trading posts. These trading posts had started to fail once he’d gotten back home, and he fell into depression and drunkenness.

DSC00908.JPG

But a lot of people don’t believe this story and believe there’s more to be told. One of the biggest question marks, is why did he shoot himself twice? He was an expert marksman, very familiar with guns. Why would he need to shoot himself twice? People that question his suicide have come up with a multitude of theories, anything from an assassination plot, to the innkeeper finding his wife in bed with Lewis. Currently the Smithsonian is working on developing more facts with DNA. Who knows if we’ll ever know the full and true story about him, but any clarification always helps.

DSC00928.JPG

Our next stop was an old tobacco farm, donated to the trace by an old farming family. There was a display of an old barn with real tobacco leaves drying. The tobacco process was much more time consuming than many other farming ventures, as the labor of hanging the tobacco, and the time it took to dry it all took up valuable resources, but it must have paid off because the industry remains today.

DSC00930.JPG

DSC00938.JPG

We took a nice hike at the Duck River Overlook, to catch some great views. We’d planned on going down the Jackson Falls route as well, but the dogs were wearing out so we headed out to the next spot instead.

DSC00940.JPGDSC00950.JPG

The Gordon House was our next stop. It’s one of the few houses left standing from that day and just shy of 200 years old, so understandably, you were not allowed into the home. What’s neat about this home is that its owner, John Gordon, worked closely with General Andrew Jackson. He was away from the home much of the time due to this, so his wife overlooked and supervised much of the construction. Possibly the first woman foreman? Pretty sweet.

You go girl.

She also outlived her husband by about 40 years. DSC00947.JPG

We stopped at a small place to rest, and I was able to capture some wonderful scenery at the bottom of the hill. This is probably one of my favorite photos. I felt transported in time, and placed right into a painting of Courier & Ives.

DSC00951.JPG

Our last “stop” on the trip before its end was the Birdsong Hollow, which is a beautiful double-arched bridge, that actually won a national design award in 1995. We approached the lookout and I noticed a woman with her back to us. She looked serene, like this was a place she came to often, to gain a sense of peace and quiet. Unfortunately, as we were quietly making our way up to observe the bridge, my dog sneezed loudly and scared her. She jumped and looked back, but just laughed and went back to her relaxation.

DSC00958.JPG

Once we crossed the bridge, we had a handful of miles to go until the end of the Trace. I was really hoping for a photo op right at the end, like on roller coasters, when they take a snapshot of you screaming as you’re catapulted down at 60 mph+. No such luck unfortunately. That was just the end.

Our last couple of days on the road were much less eventful We stayed at Meeman-Shelby State park, on the north side of Memphis, but we got there late at night, and left early, so no pictures were taken or hikes walked, so I couldn’t give you much of a review.

We stopped in Little Rock to visit some friends who lived there and ate at a dog-friendly hamburger place called the Purple Cow. The food was good, and it was kind of nice to be able to just order food and eat it, instead of having to cook and clean up on a make-shift kitchen.

We then trekked to White Oak State Park, our last park of the trip. This park was loaded with people, and the vast majority were hunters.

We got some great pictures of fall colors, cranes, and other wildlife, and the camp was full of friendly people, so overall the quick stay was pleasant. This park definitely felt like one that was mostly made for hunters just needing a place to stay, instead of something like Tishomingo, which was made more for recreation and hiking. The bathrooms here were very nice, most likely built within the last 5-10 years, and were heated well (which was good as this was our coldest night of the week).

 

DSC00988.JPG

DSC00992.JPG

DSC01032.JPG

DSC01039.JPG

We got the trailer back to the owner around noon, and were back in Austin by 4pm. We napped in our own bed, which felt amazing, then heading to a concert that evening.

If you are looking for a great, easy going road trip, to reinvigorate your love of the country, I highly recommend it. You can take it slowly, like we did, averaging around 80-100 miles a day, or you can go quicker if you want, but with all the stops and the history, I definitely recommend a nice slow trip through this historic area.

 

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt. 4: Hurricane Creek to Tishomingo

In the last post, I’d mentioned that we stayed at Holmes County State Park in Mississippi, and that it definitely gave off creep vibes. When I walked into the bathroom to shower, it sounded like there was someone sweeping the central part of the building, but when I opened the door to leave, no one was there. Dylan mentioned to me as well that when he went into the bathroom, a toilet fully flushed on it’s own. Creepsville. Add on to the fact that the only other signs of life at this park were two trailers parked nearby but both looked abandoned. More creepsville. Needless to say, we left quickly.

Our first stop was Hurricane Creek. It was a nice educational trail that had posts every 20 feet or so, explaining the different types of vegetation and how even small levels of elevation or water levels change what trees and vegetation grow where.

DSC00622.JPG

What’s great about this trip is that, along the 444 mile path, you don’t just drive from one destination to the other. There is so much to see in between the stops. I took time to think about what this would have looked like as the first explorers, or what it was like even 50 years ago. I imagined this would have been a great destination for families to load up the Buick and spend a week on.

DSC00631 (1).JPG

DSC00632.JPG

I loved how descriptive the signs were. They didn’t just tell you what was ahead, but offered up excitement. “Whole new worlds unfold…” and sentences like this were inscribed in so many of these placards.

DSC00634.JPG

DSC00639.JPG

The Jeff Busby site was also a popular one. It’s one of Mississippi’s highest points at a staggering…..603 feet. But it still boasted a great overlook.DSC00653.JPG

I was excited to see another stop called Pigeon Roost, because, who doesn’t like Pigeons. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down, although I did learn something so I can’t completely discount it. The site was home to a man named Folsom. From the signage, I thought maybe he owned a bunch of Passenger Pigeons (this sounds like the start of a poem; There Once Was a Man Named Folsom, Who Found Pigeons to be Wholesome). I’d assumed this collection of Passenger Pigeons was for a business he had in the area, and obviously enough, all the Pigeons are now dead and the business shut down (stupid telephones).

*I decided to do some research before posting this and I was a bit off. Here’s what Natchez Trace Travel’s site says:

Pigeon Roost Creek is a reminder of the millions of migrating passenger pigeons that once roosted in trees in this area. The species has been completely destroyed. One mile east where the Natchez Trace crossed the creek Nathaniel Folsom of New England and his Choctaw wife had a trading post before 1790. Their son, David, later operated it and accommodated travelers. When the Reverend Thomas Nixon stopped here in 1815, David’s wife prepared suitable nourishment and would have no pay. David Folsom, strong supporter of Christianity and Indian education, was elected chief of the northeast district of the Choctaw Nation in 1826.

So, it looks like it was just a places that Passenger Pigeons liked to hang out, which is too bad because in my head, I had a vision of this man with a booming Passenger Pigeon business. My story is so much cooler.

The next stop was Bynum Mounds. These were mounds created by Native Americans. I don’t really recall a whole lot, because instead of learning about the mounds, we encountered three dogs that took a liking to our car. They seemed harmless; I think they were locals that wandered around looking for tourists to hand out scraps, but since we had our dogs out, I took them over to the displays. I didn’t want them to see the other dogs and get overly excited, so I distracted them by teaching them the differences between summer and winter housing units that were constructed by the Natives, while Dylan hustled the locals out of the area.

We left soon after, and headed to Witches Dance just up the road for some lunch. According to local lore, and Legends of America, Hopewell Indians escaped oppressive Mexico and came up to the Natchez Trace area, carrying bones of their ancestors (these bones supposedly became parts of the Bynum Mounds – maybe that’s why the dogs stick around). During their journey, their leader followed the path of a medicine stick he carried and was led by a white dog along the way. During this same time, after the people settled in to their new found home, witches would gather for nighttime ceremonies and dances, and wherever they danced, grass would die and never regrow. There is a lot of mystery rooted in these stories, but they were believable enough at the time that Andrew Jackson, who traveled the Trace frequently, kept the stories in his journal.

Next stop was the Tupelo National Battlefield. This site is actually in downtown Tupelo, not off the highway like the pamphlet said. We decided to skip this due to the fact it would take us so far off the path.

At a little over the halfway point is the Natchez Trace Visitor Center. It’s the only place on the whole path that has any sort of souvenirs, which is refreshing. We stopped for a bathroom break and Dylan went in to check it out. There were more displays and a few trinkets you could purchase if need be.

DSC00659.JPG

One of my favorite stops was the Confederate grave sites that marked 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers. You walk up a short winding path that leads you up a small hill, where 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers lay. No one really knows the complete story behind the 13 soldiers, but it serves as a reminder to one of the most deadly wars in American history. This area is also one of the few spots where you can walk the original Old Trace. I put myself back in time, in the shoes of soldiers and young explorers, thinking back to the conditions during the Civil War and what it would have been like during those times, walking this quiet, lonely path during a violent and changing time.

DSC00661.JPG

DSC00664.JPG

DSC00666.JPG

We made a couple more small stops, at the Dogwood Valley site to see Dogwood trees, and the Donivan Slough (pronounced “slew”), before heading to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

DSC00672.JPG

DSC00677.JPG

DSC00682.JPG

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway & Jamie L. Whitten Bridge is a waterway that opens a navigable route between the Gulf of Mexico and the Tennessee River, and boasts some great scenery and picture taking opportunities to boot.

DSC00694.JPG

We finished our day, heading about seven miles up the road to Tishomingo State Park. This was a winding, beautiful park that I would love to come back to and spend more time at. This was a big, sprawling park loaded with activities, a pool, hiking trails, a suspension bridge, pioneer house, and more. It was all nicely taken care of, and had some of the nicest bathrooms that we stayed at during our whole trip (something you remember while camping for a week).

DSC00703.JPG

More pictures of Tishomingo to come during the next segment. Until then…

 

Natchez Trace Parkway pt. 3: The Actual Natchez Trace Parkway

We began our journey on day three of our vacation, better known as Monday.

DSC00499.JPG
Sorry for the blurriness. It was taken in a moving car (no I wasn’t driving).

As we started our trip, we decided to hit up one of the first stops, to get us going. It was titled “Old Trace”, and explained what the Natchez Trace Parkway was. The Natchez Trace Parkway doesn’t follow the actual Trace exactly, so there are portions of the drive you can get out and see where the original is/was. History says the deep crevices you find among the Trace were created by all the people who traversed this path over many years. It was walked on so much it created it’s own cavernous path.

DSC00503.JPG

DSC00502.JPG

A frequent stop along the entire Trace were old mounds created by Native Americans. These Emerald Mounds were slightly different than just burial grounds, as they were used as sacred ground for ceremonies as well as burials. DSC00507.JPG

DSC00509.JPG

As we were contemplating the sheer work involved in creating these mounds, and the ceremonies that took place hundreds of years ago, my dog decided to desecrate the area by using it as his own personal bathroom. We did what we could to rectify the situation, picked it up, said a prayer of forgiveness and went on our way.

Another stop for the day was Mount Locust. It was an old inn used to house people as they made their way through the Trace. The history is rich here and I can only imagine the array of people who came through this inn, stayed the night to rest, and told stories over the fire place. Who knows what great adventures these people experienced, exploring new lands, people and animals and experiencing the harshness of nature without any of our conveniences of today.

DSC00521.JPG

DSC00522.JPG

The Sunken Trace was our next stop and it is one of the most visited and photographed exhibits on the Trace. It’s a live example of the path that thousands of people took, to seek out new opportunities and a new life in an unexplored world.

DSC00549.JPG

DSC00541.JPG

The old town of Rocky Springs was our next stop. The town no longer exists, as a combination of Civil War, bad crops and yellow fever eventually wiped out the town. Before this though, it was a thriving town with over 2000 residents. According to the Parks Services, the town included three merchants, four physicians, four teachers, three clergy and 13 artisans, all while being surrounded by farmers. All that’s left now is remnants of the Trace and a church.

DSC00560.JPG

I started walking the path up to the church when an older man started making conversation with me. Normally this would make me very uncomfortable, as I’m an introvert that likes to be left alone, but he was harmless, and started talking about the area and his life. His name was James and he had lived in Jackson most of his life, which was nearby. He came here to go walking and play on the piano inside the church. He said he didn’t believe some of the information the books had on Rocky Springs, that he’d grown up in this area most of his life, and there was no way you could grow cotton here (there was an artist’s painting of Rocky Springs where they were growing fields of cotton.) He had his opinions on this and I let him speak. He could definitely be correct.

I really wanted to head up to the church but he had stopped me at the bottom of the hill, and I didn’t want to be rude and wander off, so I slowly edged toward the hill and he got the idea that I wanted to see the church, so he walked with me to the church and opened the door and showed me inside. I would never have even thought to try to open it, as most old buildings are cordoned off.

DSC00564.JPG
James volunteered to take my picture for me in front of the church
DSC00567.JPG
James playing the piano for the church

DSC00575.JPG

James reminded me to not be so afraid to talk to people. A lot of people are lonely and have stories to tell, and will tell them to anyone who will listen.

We made a few more stops on the way but the last major stop we made was the Cypress Swamp. Cypress trees and the swamps they inhabit are a subject the hubs and I are both fascinated by. They’re beautiful, haunting, mysterious and romantic, all at once. To me, they’re the epitome of Deep South Romanticism.

DSC00583.JPG

DSC00585.JPG

DSC00591.JPG

DSC00593.JPG

We made our way to the next campsite, Holmes County State Park, in the dark unfortunately. It was a creepy setting to say the least and the hubs and I only stayed there long enough to eat, sleep, shower and head out the next morning. I don’t know if you believe in ghosts but I’ve had experiences in my life that would lead to believe there could be a possibility of them among us. This campground was just another tack on the wall. It was a small campground. Besides us, there were only two camper trailers there, but both were tired looking, covered in leaves and green mold, like they’d been there for some time. There was no one around to check us in (we paid online so we already had reservations), so we set up our trailer for the night. When I went into the bathroom, it sounded as if there was someone outside, maybe sweeping up the floors outside the bathroom doors. When I opened the bathroom door, there was no one there. This happened almost every time I went there. For my husband, the story gets even weirder. When he went into the bathroom, the toilet flushed itself. Full on flush, not draining, like there’s a leaky gasket, but full on flush.

DSC00603.JPG
Possible haunted bathroom?

Either way, we slept we left.

Onto the next day’s adventures.

Natchez Trace Parkway pt. 2: Natchez State Park

We slept well in our first night in the trailer. The dogs acted as local heaters and kept us warm throughout the night. We were recommended to bring a mattress pad if we had one to compliment the one already in the trailer, but we didn’t have one, and have slept on dirt floors enough on camping trips that we figured we would be fine with the luxury of a trailer. So far, so good.

One of my favorite parts of camping is eating. I guess one of my favorite things is eating, but combine it with camping, the outdoors, hiking, smells of burning logs, cool and crisp air…it just makes food taste so good. With the built in cooler in the trailer, this made the food options expand from the usual camping food for the whole week. We started the morning with bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos (a staple in TX) and hot coffee. (Did I mention this thing comes with a 4-cup coffee pot too?). Breakfast was glorious. We prepped for the drive and took off to our next stop: Natchez State Park, our last stop before starting the Parkway.

DSC00495DSC00457DSC00460DSC00467DSC00470

This state park was well run, clean, and the bathrooms were warm, so I was happy. There was a cool breeze in the air but it wasn’t too cold, and wood was burning in the air so the smell was reminiscent of an October afternoon in the Minnesota countryside.

We took a hike before dinner, catching glimpses of chipmunks skirting about and seeing the boggy marshes, a precursor to our tour for the next week.

DSC00485

One of our best “investments” was long chains and an anchor for the dogs. Before we only had their leashes, which meant they didn’t have much for room to roam. These chains let them explore their new surroundings each night, keeping us sane so we could prep the trailer and make dinner each night.

Next up…the actual Natchez Trace Parkway….