American Culture

Another shot at the Natchez Trace

After visiting Nashville, Tennessee on the fourth night of our road trip, my sister, Julie, and I geared up for a day of historical site-seeing along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Our brother, Dan, and I attempted this drive once last summer after receiving a recommendation to take the famous byway from Nashville to Southern Mississippi before cutting South to New Orleans. Not 30 miles into our trip, we crossed a park ranger who threatened us off the parkway with a ticket and authoritative scolding. Unbeknownst to us, a 14-foot yellow Penske truck is considered a “commercial vehicle” and eyesore on a scenic byway.

Though Dan could not join us on this road trip, Julie and I took advantage of having our compact Toyota Camry and picked up where Dan and I left off.

The 444-mile parkway offers various scenic sites and opportunities to learn about Southern history. We drove over (and then exited to drive under) Double Arch Bridge, an award-winning structure stretching over Birdsong Hollow in Tennessee. We snapped photos of Gordon House, one of two remaining buildings from the historic Boatmen Era of the 1780-1820s.

Among of my favorite stops was an old tobacco farm, where we saw tobacco hanging to dry inside an early 1900s barn (see photo in top right). Other noteworthy attractions include the Meriwether Lewis Historical Site, which stands over Lewis’ ashes and honors Lewis and Clark’s early-1800s expedition. Jackson Falls and other scenic stops such as Rock Spring offer short hiking paths and opportunities to explore waterfalls, wildlife and overlooks on foot.

When we stopped to refuel on gas near the Tennessee-Alabama border, a gas station greeted us with 71-cent coffee and a parking lot surrounded by mooing cows. Not even three hours south of Nashville, the local accents had changed and we seemed to have entered another world.

When we returned to the car, we opted to take a temporary break from the Natchez Trace to further explore these foreign rural towns. In fact, rural does not describe how secluded these towns are. Our road did not even provide a state sign when we crossed the border into Alabama. Instead, we saw trees, houses lined with multiple old pick-up trucks, and one desolate – and almost creepy – backroad ridden by two curious New Yorkers.

We took our final night’s rest in Tupelo, a town of about 35,000 in the Northeast corner of Mississippi. While searching for our hotel, we discovered that Tupelo is also the birthplace of Elvis Presley – a hidden attraction we could not pass up during our stay. So, on the way out of town the next morning, we made a stop at Elvis’ childhood home. As it turns out, we showed up just in time to wish Elvis a happy birthday. We found this to be a perfect evolution of our trip after seeing his name plated on Nashville’s “Walk of Fame” two nights before.

We arrived in sunny, 75-degree New Orleans mid-afternoon after leaving Tupelo. When we crossed the Mississippi-Louisiana border we counted the number of states we visited along our road trip from New York to Louisiana. We saw 12 states in six days.

We drove new highways, wore out nearly every country song on Sirius radio and learned a bit more about the history of our country. We made it to New Orleans. And, now we’re ready to begin our next new adventure as sister roommates.

3 replies »

  1. Stumbling across Meriweather Lewis’s grave caught me completely off guard when I first traveled the Trace. For a guy whose name is known by virtually every American, few people know that he came to such a miserable end and then killed himself.

    Thanks for bringing us along on your journey!

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed your second trip on the northern end of the Natchez Trace Parkway. There are some really neat, rural towns just off the Trace.