Monday, October 28, 2019

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway on a rainy day, as seen from one of the roomy pullouts

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a wilderness park that stretches 444 miles from Nashville Tennessee in the general direction of New Orleans and ends in Natchez Mississippi. I've been hearing about this stretch of road for years from fellow motorcyclists, and planned our approach to coincide with the fall colors.

The Buffalo River along the Natchez Trace Parkway

The Parkway travels through three states and became recognized in 1938 as important enough to annex into the National Park System. The speed limit is 50mph which gives you plenty of time to enjoy the tunnels of trees and pause at the many pull-outs, most of which are RV friendly and those that are not are well-marked. Here and there are hiking paths, creekbeds, picnic tables, and plentiful plaques to read about the history of the area.

A coffee break pause at Sweetwater Branch offered plenty of room for Loretta

Mr. Toad got us into the smaller turnouts along the Trace where Loretta could not fit

Wildlife is plentiful and we regularly paused or dodged
 to avoid hitting turtles, white-tail deer, squirrels, foxes, armadillos, possums, raccoons, and one very fast-moving black bobcat. The night skies are stunning and cell signals are scarce adding to the feeling of isolation. As the crow flies, the Trace is never far from a real town and you can easily exit the parkway and find fuel, food and internet, but while on the parkway it felt like we'd gone back in time.

A section of the Old Trace

The Trace was originally a game path which Native Americans followed to pursue bison, elk, deer and other tasty critters. The natives of the area were Chicosaw, Choctaw, and Natchez all of which welcomed the Europeans who came along the game path, trading and intermarrying with them and even establishing inns (called "stands") along the route and profiting from them until such time as they were eventually betrayed and forced out of their ancestral homeland along the Trail of Tears, which crosses the Trace at several points.

This is all that remains of an old Steel mill along the Buffalo River

Famous travelers along this route include Andrew Jackson, John James Audobon, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, and Meriwether Lewis, who at age 35 died at a stand not far from Nashville and was buried there. Other travelers include "Kaintucks" from the Ohio River Valley in the early 1800s who floated cash crops down the Mississippi River, sold their boats for lumber and walked or rode horseback up the Trace back home. Highway robbery was not uncommon and a few enterprising bad boys on the Trace became the organizers of some of the first (land-based) organized crime rings in the young country.

Look who we found on the trail

One of many river fords along the Trace, this one looked like it might be a likely spot to get ambushed

We stayed 10 days or so at Natchez Trace RV Campground, a Thousand Trails campground not far from Hohenwald, TN with a tricky entrance hiding behind an 11' bridge. There was no cell signal there for either my Google Fi phone or the Sprint puck on the bus, but Verizon occasionally got a text message through to Lance's phone and friends had good luck with AT&T in one particular section of the campground. The campground offered unlocked wifi at the rec hall which was pretty fast when I was alone there in the early mornings but bogged down in the afternoon when it filled with other campers, so I packed up my computer bag and went to the Hohenwald Library on workdays, where I enjoyed lightning-fast wifi and a quiet desk all to myself.

The Meriwether Room at the Hohenwald Library, my high-speed internet work oasis
The Meriwether Room contains books of the epic endeavor's maps, letters, and findings. Coincidentally, we have been following much of the same path this year in our RV, fitting that I should discover these at the end of the road for Meriwether Lewis.

Many of the campers in this park stay long-term and some have built elaborate decks out onto the lake from their rigs, and 4-wheel toys are standard equipment for most of these long-term spots. We saw lots of wooded trails where these would come in handy, including and crossing the original Old Trace Road. Fun.

4-wheel side-by-side commonly found at the campground

A seasonal camper's setup at the Natchez Trace Thousand Trails campground

I had this grandiose idea of drone footage of the Parkway with us traveling along, the sweeping red and yellow fall colors and the plentiful wildlife, and then the rain started and didn't let up for days. Sometimes it feels like the very nature we came out to shoot is playing hide-and-seek with us intentionally.

Closeup of fall leaves on a rainy day, I call this one the "bruised banana" leaf

Well, rain or no rain, it's time to roll South.  Next stop: Abbeville Louisiana, we should make it just in time for the 5000-egg omelette festival.

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