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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

 

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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. 5: Tishomingo to David Crockett SP

On Wednesday, we only put about 65 miles behind us, but there was plenty to see. Tishomingo State Park was my favorite of all the parks we stayed at. The only real downfall was that our site was so far away from the bathroom/shower area, but only because one was closed for renovations. But, the bathroom that was open was great. It was heated well, which was good because this was the first night that reached into the 30s, and the showers and overall quality of this bathroom was the nicest along our stops. Tishomingo would be a great place to bring a group of people camping. Among other things I’m sure I missed, was a pool, a suspension bridge, volleyball court, lots of hiking trails, and cabins. It was one of those parks you could spend days at and not get bored. DSC00706.JPG

When we initially arrived, there were a few birds hanging out at the lake, which was directly behind us. I noticed right away something odd. There was a Canadian Goose, a Chinese Goose (aka Swan Goose) and a domesticated white duck, all hanging out with each other. Now I’m no bird expert, but I didn’t think these breeds hung out with each other. These three stuck together all evening, until I couldn’t see them anymore. I was compelled to keep taking pictures of them, just because it was something I felt was a rare sight.

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I also spotted a heron, but they’re much shier than geese, so this one took off before I could change my camera to a sport mode/faster shutter speed and capture it taking off.

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In the morning when I woke, a fog had laid itself over the calm water of the lake. The scenery was wonderful and I was surprise with a whole gaggle of geese wandering the lake. The Chinese Goose and the duck were also included in this gang.

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I observed later, when they had come up on land to eat, that it seemed the Chinese Goose was the leader. He/she would honk a few times, and the others would get to eating. It almost seemed as if the Chinese Goose was keeping watch while the others ate, which is interesting because, after doing  a little research, it seems to me this kind of goose is actually domesticated, much like the white duck. I’m guessing he/she must have been abandoned and luckily got picked up by this gaggle, and amazingly rose the ranks.

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I spotted the heron again, but he/she was on the far side of the lake. Luckily I had my bigger lens on me and switched it up quickly. I love the silhouette I got from this shot.

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Once the fog burned off, we took a hike around the lake. The colors here were slightly past prime, but still beautiful.

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There’s something romantic about a suspension bridge like the one at Tishomingo. The bridge somehow is warm and inviting, and yet invokes recollections of childhood innocence lost over years. It reminds me of coming of age movies, the kind you can relate to in some way, whether it be from loves lost, or lessons learned.

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Our first stop of the day, and most disastrous, or embarrassing anyways, was at Cave Spring. It was a small cave that was believed to have once been used by Native Americans as a watering hole.

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The embarrassing part was when I walked down to get a better look at the cave. I was walking down holding the pups, trying to gracefully walk down the path, but with the dogs pulling, and slippery leaves below me, it was more of a half-stumble-but-never-fall walk and was not so graceful. As fortunate as it was that I didn’t fall down the stairs, it was an unfortunate event that the end cap to the dog’s poo bag did fall off without my knowledge and his newly inserted bag roll unfurled down the stairs. I didn’t realize this until Dylan noticed and alerted me. I looked back and saw a bright blue streak of plastic behind me. To add insult to injury, there was a man at the top of the cave, watching every move. Thanks for the heads up, buddy! I stupidly gathered up the bags as best I could and marched back to the car. Dylan found the cap near the entrance and we headed out.

Our next stop was much less embarrassing and actually quite enlightening. We stopped off at the Freedom Hills Overlook. It was a great spot to take a great shot of my dog Arthur. Isn’t he handsome?

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When we first reached the top of the overlook area, which is Alabama’s highest peak at 800 feet, we were a bit underwhelmed. The view wasn’t all the great, mainly because the trees had grown up past our view.

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But as we were standing there, trying to get a couple of shots, we heard a voice behind us. A man called out to us and said, “The view is actually better up here.” So we hiked up through some brush and up a slight hill to what was actually probably the highest peak. The man introduced himself as Dan, a recent transplant to the Muscle Shoals area from Nashville. He was a wandering musician that decided to make his home in Muscle Shoals. We got on the topic of music almost instantly. We talked about great artists that visited this area to record, like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, and The Black Keys. The sound that was created in this small town was unlike anything that had ever been played before and it was the start to popularizing that deep down, dirty bluesy southern sound we all can recognize He mentioned a documentary about Muscle Shoals, so I made a note to jot it down so I could see it when I got home. (It was a great documentary by the way – I didn’t realize that if it wasn’t for Muscle Shoals and Fame Studio, Aretha Franklin probably wouldn’t have existed. I recommend it).muscleshoals

We also started to talk about Canadian bands like The Band (almost completely Canadian anyway), and Gordon Lightfoot. Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh come on. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald??” But think about this. How many times have you listened to an artist on the radio and thought, “there are so many better songs on that album”. Apparently this is the case with Mr. Lightfoot and many of his songs on popular albums never got the recognition they deserved but encompassed the scale of his talents to a much higher degree. He recommended listening to an entire album while smoking pot (he was definitely of the hippy variety), and although I may try it out listing a full album, I’ll abstain from the pot smoking.  Thanks mister hippie man.

We thanked him for the advice, said our goodbyes, and headed on our way to our last stop for the day, which was the John Coffee Memorial Bridge. It’s the Parkway’s longest bridge and crosses the Tennessee River.

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We stayed the night at the David Crockett State Park in Lawerenceburg, Tennessee, which was off the trail about seven or eight miles, but easy to navigate to. Although it was my first time in Tennessee, there was something so reminiscent and connected about Tennessee that I loved, not to mention all the beautiful scenery. It felt like a place I’d want to keep coming back to.

But until then. More of Tennessee and the end of the Trace on the next post…