Natchez Trace Parkway, MS – A Scenic Drive with No Trucks Allowed!

Natchez Trace Parkway

Welcome back to Natchez Trace

Driving along Natchez Trace Parkway, MS

The Trace is perfect for a leisurely drive

Cycling on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

We took a spin on the bikes

Cycling on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Wildflowers lined the road

Motorcycle road tour on on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

A motorcycle group enjoys a morning ride

Bicycle ride to an Indian Mound on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

We take a side road to visit an Indian Mound

Riding my bike on an Indian Mound on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Riding down the side of the Indian Mound

Farms along Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

A barn in the distance

Farms along Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

This split-rail fence had no joinery - the rails were simply

laid on top of each other

Farms along Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Cows in the distance

Wildflowers on on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Bursts of color everywhere

Wildflowers on on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi Wildflowers on on Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

A lone tulip celebrates the


Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

March 20-21, 2009 - We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the sparkling waters

and soft sands of the Emerald Coast and made our way north.

We could have stayed on that beach forever, but we had two problems in the trailer

that needed attention.  From day one our stove had acted up: if you cooked

something for a long time, eventually the burner knob wouldn't turn and you couldn't

adjust the flame.  This meant that it was just about impossible to shift a pot from a

rolling boil to a gentle simmer.

Also, the sliding pocket

door that separated the

main room from the

bedroom had fallen off its

track.  Neither of these

repairs was something

that Mark wanted to

tackle, especially

since the trailer was

still under warranty.

So we decided to

make a trip to the

NuWa factory in

Chanute, Kansas,

where the experts


This change of plans

meant we would

retrace our steps

from last year,

traveling up through Alabama and Mississippi through Arkansas to the

southeast corner of Kansas.  Poking around on the map we were happy

to see that this put the free campground at Rocky Springs on the

Natchez Trace right in our path.

The Natchez Trace is paradise for anyone that likes the simple pleasure

of going for a drive.   It's a place to meander and ponder rather than a

route to get you somewhere.  There aren't a lot of dazzling sights, but

there are endless miles of peaceful scenery with minimal traffic, clean

pavement and sweeping turns.  It is ideal for bikes, motorcycles and cars that aren't in a hurry.

We rolled out our bikes and took a leisurely ride out and back along 15

miles of the Trace south of the campground.  The air was fresh and clear,

flowers sprinkled the edges of the road with vibrant colors, and we

murmured to each other for the umpteen-millionth time, "What a great life!"

The Trace is layered in history, from prehistoric peoples to more

recent Indian cultures to the early settlers to modern America.  The

ancestors of the Natchez Indian tribe lived along the route, and

evidence of their unusual customs has been found in their ancient

burial mounds.  One Indian mound in particular had caught my

attention last year, and we took the little side route off the

Trace to see it once again.

There is not much to see but a small grassy hill topped with

informational plaques.  However, their tales took my breath

away.  Apparently the ancients had a radically different view

of the sanctity of human life than we do today.  When a noble

man died, his slaves were strangled and buried with him.  Far

more shocking, when a parent died, sometimes the surviving

parent killed their children as a sign of respect and grief.

It is easy from our viewpoint at this time in history to dismiss those

customs as barbaric, cruel, and unfair.  However, in their society it

was somehow right and good and proper.  Where our society would

have screamed "Murder!," theirs might have been nodding solemnly,

saying, "Yes, that was the right thing to do."

This was all very heady stuff, stamped out in a few brief

sentences on rusting metal National Park Service plaques placed

around the mound.  The violent acts of the early peoples were

hard to fathom in such a bucolic setting.  In the distance, the

cows were munching the grass, a barn stood quietly against the

treeline, and a split rail fence snaked its way across the meadow.

All around us the spring flowers were

bursting with color.  Yellows, pinks

and pale blues filled the fields.

If you looked really closely, some of

the tiniest little blooms were the most

elaborate, but as a group they

formed a carpet of color.

Back at the campground, right outside the bathrooms, a

single tulip was opening up and greeting the day.  How could

that bulb have possibly gotten there?  There wasn't another tulip for miles around.  It seemed yet

another mystery in this very mysterious place.

We said goodbye to the people we'd met at the campground, a young woman riding her bike

down the Trace for Spring Break and an older grey bearded guy on a motorcycle going the other

way.  A little more north off the Trace for us, and we would soon find ourselves in the Ozarks.



































Natchez Trace Parkway, MS – Echoes of History!

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Old Trace

Mount Locust "stand"

Dining room - with seating for 6

Parents' bedroom

10 kids slept here (5 in each bed?!)

Grandmother and eldest daughter slept here.

Driveway to Stanfield

Stanfield, where Andrew Jackson was married.

Rocky Springs Campground

Rocky Springs:

Population 1860 - 2,616

Population Today - 0

Bank vault

Rocky Springs Church, built 1837

Rocky Springs Graveyard

French Camp

Natchez Trace & Jim Henson Museum, Mississippi

April 29-May 2, 2008 - We left Natchez and ventured onto the Natchez

Trace Parkway, a 444 mile road that follows a primitive trail linking

Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville, Tennesse.  The Parkway is a

remarkable two lane road that is closed to commercial traffic and has a

speed limit of 50 mph.  The National Park Service oversees the Parkway

and maintains three free campgrounds along its length.  Because of the

low speed limit the traffic is non-

existent and we often drove for many

miles without seeing another vehicle.

There is a lot of history along the

Trace and at times it felt like we were

viewing layers of history.  We saw

Indian burial mounds from 4,000

years ago and travelers' "stands" or

inns from 150 years ago.

The original Trace was created by buffalo and other animals migrating north-south.  The ancient

peoples used the trail for their own migrations.  In the 1700's European traders would bring furs

and other goods down the Mississippi by boat, sell their goods in Natchez (and even sell their

boat for lumber) and then walk back to Nashville and other points north to do it again.

The Trace became a popular

place for highway robbers, as the

folks walking north from Natchez

had money in their pockets and

little protection.  In the early 1800's, seeking to bind the vast and

turbulent frontier to its northeast seat of power, President Jefferson

ordered the army to widen the trail and make it a road passable by


As was noted by the Secretary of State at the time, "the passage of

mail from Natchez is as tedious as from Europe when westerly winds

prevail."  The Trace vastly improved communications, but by 1830 it

fell into disuse as steamboats going up and down the Mississippi

river offered easier transportation.  The Natchez Trace Parkway

weaves along the original Trace route.  At times the original Trace is

visible.  It is a mere hiking trail.  After the Trace was built into a road,

"stands" or inns popped up along the route.  These offered food and

lodging to travelers -- on a very simple scale.

We visited the Mount

Locust stand.  A family

operated this stand with

51 slaves.  In the main

house the parents slept

in one bedroom.  The

grandmother and eldest

daughter in another.

The other ten kids slept

in the remaining

bedroom.  The

mattresses were made

of corn husks and rope.

Visitors made do on the


Looking at these


accommodations it was

hard to imagine that

arriving at one of these

stands was all that

inviting.  However, after

walking or riding a horse

all day on a dirt trail

these intrepid travelers must have been accustomed to truly roughing it.

Nothing like us, with our motorized transport, smooth paved roads to drive on

and a buggy with a well stocked fridge, freezer, hot shower and 12 inch mattress.

We stopped briefly at Stanfield, the mansion where Andrew Jackson was married.

Like others we had visited, there was a long tree-lined drive up to the house, and

the house was a

pillared beauty.

At Rocky Springs Campground, one of three lovely and free

campgrounds on the Trace, we were treated to a gorgeous morning

with filtered sunlight pouring through the trees.

On the edge of this

campground is the

ghost town of Rocky

Springs.  All that

remains of this once

bustling town is the church, the graveyard and two bank vaults.  The abandoned

bank vaults reminded me of the vault we had seen in the Gulf Coast town of Bay

St. Louis, MS.  However, the once prosperous rural town of Rocky Springs wasn't

devastated by a hurricane.  Instead its death came from many sources:  bad land

management that cleared hillsides for cotton leaving

erosion scars that can be seen today, the Civil War, a

yellow fever epidemic in 1878 and a boll weevil infestation.

It was eerie to walk a small trail through the woods where

there had once been cotton plantations and 2,616 residents.

There is nothing but trees now.

Up on the hill the church is still used, but

the cemetery's stones all date from the

1800's.  How can a town vanish in just a

little over 100 years?

Port Gibson is one of the larger towns at

the southern end of the Trace.  At one

time it was considered "too beautiful to

burn," but we didn't find it particularly

inspiring.  There was an interesting mural

on the wall of one building, and a small street with a handful of

stores, some in business and some shuttered.  More intriguing were

the homes on the outskirts of town where the Confederate flag was

flying.  Some flew the flag along with the American flag, and some

flew it alone.

We took advantage of this ideal area for cycling to do a few rides along

the Trace.  With no noticeable traffic, modest rollers, and interesting

historical sites every few miles, we thoroughly enjoyed our rides.  One

day, while camped further north on the Trace at Jeff Busby

Campground, we rode our bikes down to French Camp.  This was a

bustling community in earlier days and had several pretty buildings.

Besides the recent historical sites that can be seen on Natchez

Trace, there are a lot of prehistorical sites as well.  We stopped

at several Indian ceremonial and burial mounds.  Archaeologists

have dug through these mounds and made some startling

discoveries.  At one site, when the leader of the tribe died it

seemed that all his attendants were killed and buried with him.

Often they were killed by strangulation.  Likewise, when a parent

died sometimes the rest of the family would be strangled and

buried with the parent.  As I pondered all this back at the

campground -- in the pretty setting sun -- it occurred to me that even though lots of people have concerns about individual rights in

our culture today, at least we don't do that.

After we left the Natchez Trace Parkway we headed west and

north towards Arkansas.  I was dozing when suddenly Mark

said, "Look, Kermit the Frog...!"  I woke up just in time to see a

billboard for the Jim Henson museum.  We spent a very happy

hour at this little outpost in Leland, Mississippi that is a

charming museum of Jim Henson memorabilia.  It is run as a

labor of love by a woman who raised her children watching

Sesame Street.

I remember when that television show first aired in 1969.  As a

nine-year-old its alphabet and numbers lessons were a little

juvenile, but I remember loving the gentle humor and I

watched it for many hours with my younger sister.

Mark knew the show from raising his kids watching it.  He had been a

teenager when it first aired, so he never saw the episodes I did.  It was

amusing standing around with the proprietor and realizing that all three

of us had watched it during different eras and we remembered different

things -- even different muppet characters.

This little stop in Leland rounded out a delightful visit to Mississippi.

From there it was on to the Ozarks in Arkansas.








































































Natchez, MS – Conjuring Another Era

Reviews 120x600
Cherokee antebellum mansion Natchez MS

Cherokee, 1794

Magnolia Hills antebellum mansion Natchez MS

Magnolia Hall, 1858

Longwood antebellum mansion Natchez MS

Driveway to Longwood

Longwood antebellum mansion Natchez MS

Longwood, 1859

Longwood antebellum mansion Natchez MS Longwood antebellum mansion Natchez MS Antebellum gown Natchez Bicycle Club Griffith McComas House Natchez MS

Griffith McComas House

Glen Auburn mansion Natchez, MS

Glen Auburn, 1875

Melrose mansion Natchez, MS

Melrose - from the front.

Melrose mansion Natchez, MS

Melrose - from the back.

Slave quarters at Melrose mansion in Natchez MS

Slave quarters at Melrose.

Ravennaside mansion Natchez Mississippi

Ravennaside, 1902.

Natchez, Mississippi

April 25-28, 2008 - Driving inland from Bay St. Louis, we stopped in Natchez, Mississippi

for a few days before starting up the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This plantation-era city,

the first city built on the Mississippi River, is loaded with beautiful homes.  Some are

"antebellum" mansions, which we learned means "before the rebellion," that is, before

the Civil War.  Plantation owners engaged in serious one-upsmanship with each other,

building homes that were ever more elaborate.  The most stunning of these homes grace

the outskirts of town where they still stand on very large and grand parcels of land.  Most

of these mansions have been

lovingly restored and are open

to the public as museums.

Some are even available to host weddings.

Urban aristocrats of the 1800's built elegant homes in town, many of

which now offer overnight accommodation as guest houses.  Wandering

around this town and these homes made us feel like we were peering into

a bygone era of immense wealth and of gracious, slow--paced, elegant

living.  We toured much of the town by bike.  It was a perfect way to

experience it.  The traffic was fairly light, and the downtown area was so

tightly packed with mansions that we were constantly hopping on and off

the bikes to admire them.  Each mansion has a a story to tell.

Perhaps the most dramatic was the story of Longwood.  At the time

that this mansion was being built, it was on track to be the largest

mansion by far.  Being octagonal, its construction was complex.  It

took 600 slaves 9 years to build it, and by 1859 only the exterior

was completed.  However, when the war broke out construction

stopped.  After the war ended the man of the house died.  His wife

raised their ten children in the basement of the house -- the only

finished part -- and she lived in the basement until her death, some

25 years later.

The Longwood

mansion was

beautiful, but its sad

story hung like a

cloak over the whole

estate.  The ancient

trees on the

property were

loaded with Spanish

moss, giving

everything a heavily overgrown feeling.  It made me think of Sleeping Beauty

and the prince who had to cut his way through the thick overgrowth to find his

beloved fast asleep in her cobweb filled castle.  Up close Spanish moss has

the appearance of cobwebs growing between the leaves.

As we rode back into town one afternoon we discovered

that the Natchez Bicycle Club was hosting their Belles on

Bikes century ride that day.  The ride was strictly for

women -- the men in the club were relegated to providing

SAG support!!  We hung around and chatted with some

club members while the women came in from their

vigorous ride along the Natchez Trace Parkway.  After a

morning of mansion-gawking and pondering Mississippi life

in the mid-1800's, it was refreshingly familiar to hear about

the hills and wind out on the Parkway.  Mark chatted with

the bike mechanic about the bike

business while I snuck behind the club's

peep-through painting of a 19th century

Belle with a Bike.

There is a certain fantasy about

wearing those beautiful long

hooped dresses and wafting

about your plantation mansion

as an elegant and beautiful

young southern belle in 1850.

It's a girl thing.  The bike club

had it right when they painted

the peep-through dress for

photos of their Belles on Bikes.

The Natchez Bicycle Club jersey is certainly a cool

jersey, and at times in my life I've probably worn more

cycling jerseys than any other garment.  But when we

went into the visitors center and I saw the pink

hooped dress on display -- the real thing -- my inner

princess came alive.  What fun it must have been in

those days.  It might have been impossible to sit

down, but wouldn't it have been a thrill to be the Belle

of the Ball in that dress in one of those mansions?

Sadly, not everyone was able to live

that way, and when we climbed on

our bikes again we decided to go to

other parts of town to see how the

non-mansion-dwellers lived.  It was

startling to see the degree to which

the mansion owners shoved their

wealth in the faces of those around

them.  Just one street away we

found rows of homes that

were as modest as the others

were lavish.  Suddenly the

conspicuous wealth that had

seemed so dreamy a

moment ago now felt

offensive.  We wandered

beyond these homes to

back parts of town that were

truly struggling, even today,

and we heard loud voices.

Turning a corner we came

across a group of men

shooting the breeze on a

dilapidated porch.  They

were seated on battered

couches and kicked back on

broken chairs, laughing and

joking together as we rolled by.  I waved, and they waved back and called out, "Hi there

Lady!"  I felt as though we had finally found the real Natchez, the one that isn't mentioned

in all the brochures about the civil war, the plantations and the mansions.

The Mississippi River was cresting at a record high during the days we were in Natchez.

We rode to a bluff that overlooks the river and Louisiana on the far banks.  We got talking

with the folks around us and discovered we were surrounded by local people who had

come to see the swollen river.  Several told us they had lived in Natchez all their lives and

never paid much attention to the river, but now they were watching it everyday because it

was rising higher than it ever had.  We rode down to "Natchez Under the Hill," the rowdy

part of town in the old days.  We found it was not only under the hill but under water!  The

Isle of Capri casino boat was still tied to the docks, but the parking lot for the casino was

totally submerged.  As on the bluff, we found more local residents down in this area

staring and taking pictures of the high water.

A group of adorable kids

was out for a look at the river with their moms.  They were so cute

Mark asked if they'd mind lining up for a picture.  They were tickled at

the idea and huddled around him afterwards to look at the shot in the

back of his camera.  They had been searching for alligators because

there were warning signs posted at the water's edge.  They weren't

lucky enough find one, but that didn't matter.  They started looking for

sharks instead!

The National Park Service maintains Melrose, one of the antebellum

plantation estates.  It is a large complex with outbuildings in addition

to the main house.  The back of the house is almost as grand as the

front.  I was surprised to learn that some of these Natchez mansions

were essentially just winter homes for their residents.  Several

families spent summers in the northeast or touring Europe and

returned to Natchez for just a few months a year.  It was hard to

assimilate the idea of that lifestyle with the slave building at Melrose

which housed several families in very tight quarters.  Kids began

helping their parents work at age 6, parents were deliberately split up

and sold to separate owners, and the only rest anyone got was after


Back in town we

cycled past


This gracious

home was built

in 1902 by the

woman who

spearheaded the

effort to create the

Natchez Trace

Parkway -- the next

stop in our travels.  We

just liked the look of the

house and the sculptures in the back yard,

and we paused for a moment to admire it.

What a surprise it was when the gates

suddenly swung open and a Lincoln

Continental pulled out of the driveway.  It is

still a residence!

After enjoying the history and culture of Natchez

we struck out to the north along the Natchez

Trace Parkway.