Natchez Trace Parkway and National Scenic Trail

Natchez Trace Trail & ParkwayThe Natchez Parkway is a quiet (at least when we were on it) stretch of pristine roadway that stretches from Natchez, Miss., up the state through Jackson and Tupelo, then traverses through the northwest corner of Alabama before coming to an end in Nashville, Tenn., some 444 miles later.  Without a billboard in sight, it passes through low-lying marshes, cypress swamps, forests, agriculture fields, and pastoral pastures of grazing animals.  While it has been a real treat to drive along segments of this beautiful parkway at several places during our travels here in Mississippi, the interesting part of this story is how this corridor came to be. 

One needs to go back centuries to find the beginnings of what is referred to as the Old Trace.  [Trace means ‘path’ or ‘road’.]  The Trace as we know it today began not as a single trail, but a weaving of animal and Indian paths following the quickest and easiest way through the land.  Ancient Indians had the same transportation and communication needs as we do today, and over the centuries they followed the Old Trace pathways to get to where they were going.

Natchez Trace HistoryNative cultures flourished in this region prior to European colonization. The Natchez, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and other American Indians had their homes here when the Europeans came.  Of special interest to us, Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto, whom I wrote about in a previous blog (De Soto National Memorial), made contact with the Chickasaw near the Old Trace back in 1540.  Brute that de Soto was, he demanded Chickasaw slaves, but the tribe refused and attacked de Soto and his army, forcing them to flee.  

KaintucksFast-forward 240 years to the late 1700s, when pioneer homesteaders were crossing the Appalachian Mountains into the Old Southwest to settle the Mississippi River Valley and points further westward.  The Old Trace was most heavily used between 1785-1830.  Farmers from the Ohio Valley River, called Kaintucks, built flat-bottom boats and floated them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, carrying goods to be traded in the southern markets of Natchez and New Orleans.  When their goods were sold, these Kaintucks broke apart their boats and sold the logs, then used the Old Trace to return to their homes back up north on foot.

In 1800, The Old Trace was designated as a federal post road, making mail delivery between Washington, D.C., and Natchez and the Old Southwest much faster.  During the War of 1812, the Old Trace was a vital link for getting U.S. troops into position, and then back home again after the war.  During these busy years, simple way stations, or "stands," were built to aid travelers on the move during this time when the Old Trace was most heavily used.  Slaves often traveled the Old Trace with their owners between Natchez and Nashville.  Outlaws and bandits, too, used the Old Trace, but for bad; they targeted and robbed travelers of the money they made from selling their goods at the southern markets.

Over time, other roads were built to connect bigger cities, and these were faster and safer for traveling.  Then with the advent of the steamship, the Kaintucks could return to their northern homes much more quickly.  By 1830, the Old Trace path was virtually abandoned.

Natchez TraceIn 1905, the Mississippi Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) wanted to preserve the slowly dying out Trace, for they recognized its value as a cultural treasure.  As they set out to gain support, a Mississippi congressman proposed a road as a way to give tribute to the original Natchez Trace.  Established as the Natchez Trace Parkway in 1938, and administered by the National Park Service, it was, once again, the magnificent work of the CCC who labored to build the long stretches of this two-lane road.  The markers and monuments that the D.A.R. began placing along the Trace some 80 years ago are still in place today, and they identify significant features like ancient Indian burial mounds and villages, the gravesite of explorer Meriwether Lewis who died here in 1809, and beautiful picnic areas, waterfalls, and other natural elements on either side of the roadway – all the way from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River.

In 1991, the Federal Government started the National Scenic Byways Program to recognize roadways with outstanding scenic views and valuable historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archeological significance, and the Natchez Trace Parkway received this designation.  The Parkway was mostly completed in the 20th century, but two gaps remained.  Finally in 2005, money was appropriated to complete these two segments, and with that, this scenic roadway was finished.  Grateful are we, and so, too, the other 7,500,000 people who annually drive along this old corridor with the exceptional views, that so many before us worked to preserve this national treasure.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Many sections of the original footpath are visible today, and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, a separate national park unit, features 65 miles of the Old Trace trail.  It is open for hiking, and in some places horseback riding.

(Sing it with me…) Reunited and it Feels so Good!!

We're back in Charley!
After a 17-day separation, we’re back in Charley!

Remember that Peaches & Herb song from the late ’70s, Reunited?  Maybe not, but music and lyrics savant that I am, I do, and the tune & lyrics fit.  We Jollys have reunited with Charley today and it feels so good!  Wayne, Chris, and all the guys at Dynamic Truck Repair in Columbia, SC, did a fantastic job installing better shock absorbers and an anti-sway bar, and we’re very happy to report that it was money well spent; Charley rides a lot smoother now!

Country Music Hall of Fame
Old costumes in the Country Music Hall of Fame, including Patsy Cline’s fringy dress and Don Gibson’s guitar-studded suit
Country  Music Hall of Fame
Two of our country music faves, Patsy Cline & Glen Campbell, imortalized in the HOF
Kelly Pickler's costume and the coveted DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy
Kelly Pickler’s costume and the coveted DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy

Let me catch you up on these last two-plus weeks…..

We had a really nice journey back to the Midwest a couple of weeks ago – except for the fact that it got colder & colder as we traveled north.  We stopped in Nashville where I finally had the chance to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame.  It was cool to trip down country music lane and history, especially as that’s my favorite genre of music.  I enjoyed reading nearly every placard, watching nearly every video, and seeing all of the costumes these country music stars wore at one time or another during their careers.  And Fred was thrilled to see his country music fave, Patsy Cline, immortalized in bronze right next to one of my old faves, Glen Campbell.  And true confessions:  Dancing With The Stars is one of my guilty pleasures, and it was a thrill for me to see Kellie Pickler’s costume and the Mirror Ball trophy on display!  :)

Friend Dona rolled out her new hardwood floors for us when we spent a night with her (not on her floor; in her guest bedroom!) en route back up to Chicago.  Then friends Kathy, then Eric, each put up with us and our many bags and suitcases for a few nights while we thoroughly enjoyed our visits with friends and family back in our beloved Windy City.

I purposely haven’t posted any photos from our time in Chicago, in large part to conceal just how much vino was consumed (I’m joking Mom!) as we got together with several sets of friends who very graciously hosted dinner parties for us so we could get together with many of the friends we wanted to see.  Honestly, though, I was also ready for a little break from photographing, writing, and posting as I have been doing regularly for the past six months.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner Table
Our Thanksgiving Dinner table – when all the table confetti was still ON the table –       Eric reports he’s still finding it throughout the house a week later…!

We had a really nice Thanksgiving with Claire and Kyle and Tom and Eric.  It was truly a blessing to be back in Chicago with our family on this, my favorite holiday.  We collaborated on a delicious meal together, and as always, we all laughed and drank and laughed some more.  Eric proclaimed this BTGE – Best Thanksgiving Ever – and indeed, we set the bar very high with this one!

Natalie & Elizabeth decorating Mom/Nana's Christmas tree
Natalie & Elizabeth decorating Mom/Nana’s Christmas tree

Following a week in Chicago, we headed further north – up to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin where it was a bone-chilling 3° on our final of the four nights we spent up there visiting my family.  We had nice visits with Mom and my sister and her family.  Kyle, our 23-year-old nephew was home from Galveston where he’s serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  And Kelsey (21) and Patrick (18) were both home on break from UW-Madison – my Badger legacies!  Also lots of fun, our two youngest nieces, Elizabeth and Natalie, helped me get Mom’s house decorated for the Christmas holidays.

On our way back down south, we had lunch in Milwaukee with my adopted brother, Will – as in, we met in 1980 when we were 16 years old, and adopted one another as brother and sister sometime when we were in our 20’s.  He is still in disbelief that we are actually living this lifestyle – he asked me what happened to all my shoes and jewelry!?! – but he did acknowledge that we must be doing something right, for according to him we looked well-rested, and as we regaled him with stories from our first six months on the road, he could tell we are having the time of our lives….

Cosell & Ali
The Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky

We made one more stop – the Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.   Non-fan of boxing that I am, I must admit that this was a very well-done museum, and I really enjoyed visiting.

So that brings us up to date.  This afternoon we moved our carload of stuff back into Charley, and as the song goes, we’re reunited once again and it feels so good….

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stunning view of the Appalachian Mountains
November 7 – 12 — Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain Chain.  Confusing?  Suffice it to say that however you refer to these mountains – the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smokies, or the Appalachians – they’re stunning!  They take their name from the rising streamers of a misty blue haze which so frequently envelopes the valleys and ridges of this magnificent mountain range.**

Atop Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome – the tallest point in the park at 6,643′

The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on earth; older than the Himalayas and the Alps.  Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains some 15,000 years ago, and this is one of the many reasons for the unparalleled diversity found in both plants and animals in the park today.

The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park, and the Appalachian Trail runs right down this ridge, as well; no doubt making this a popular section of the A.T. for hikers.  There are two main entrances to the park: Oconaluftee just north of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, and Sugarlands just outside of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee side.  A 30-mile road connects these two cities, following along the Oconaluftee and the Little Pigeon Rivers.  In addition to Oconaluftee and Sugarlands, there are two more Visitor Centers – Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome – each showcasing different elements of the park and offering unique opportunities to understand the rich biodiversity in this area, see the varying flora and fauna in the park (the Smokies are home to over 100,000 different life forms), learn of the pioneering spirit of the hearty farmers of yesteryear in what were once vibrant mountain communities, and marvel at well-preserved remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture that date back to the mid-1800s.

Channeling the river water at Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill – an 1886 turbine mill used to grind corn

We stayed in the town of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, which is actually on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  Over 1,000 years ago, the Cherokee people wove their culture into this land, and names such as Oconaluftee are reminders to us of who was here first!**

Our campsite was wonderful.  We backed up onto the Raven Fork River (see embedded slide show, below, for photos) and thoroughly enjoyed watching anglers in waders fish for the Brown and Rainbow Trout in the cold river waters.  As mentioned in an earlier post (Perry & Dee Dee Come Visit), we really enjoyed hosting Perry & Dee Dee for the first two days we were in the area.  Then the remaining days found us driving through the park, visiting and learning in all four Visitor Centers, hiking a few trails on a couple of days, touring the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, driving the loop road through Cades Cove where we saw demonstrations of the old ways of life in the Smokies, and seeking out wildlife – we saw elk, wild turkeys, a hedgehog, a fox, and we even spotted a black bear in the woods – my Smoky Mountains visit was complete!

A bull elk with his harem in GSMNP
Bull elk (left) with his harem feeding in the late day


Geography, climate, and evolution combined to create this wonderful place.  Today, it is the most visited national park in the United States, drawing over nine million visitors each year; more than double the next closest park.  It is a place of peace, beauty, and recreation – a true sanctuary to come together with nature.

Hover your cursor over the photo, then click the arrows to scroll through pictures from our visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

** Sadly, much of the blue mist we see today is air pollution; ozone depletion and acid rain have reeked havoc here and elsewhere.

** In another sad chapter of American history… in 1838, as the Smoky Mountains became a destination for ‘new Americans’ to settle and set up their simple farm lives, most of the Cherokees were marched west by the U.S. Government into settlements in Oklahoma.  Thousands died on what was called the “Trail of Tears;” the forced relocation of Native Americans.  Today, the town of Cherokee is largely made up of direct descendants of the Cherokee people who have lived in these lands for hundreds and hundreds of years.