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Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee

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Entry sign...
The Trace has existed for a long time. The earliest map it appears on is a 1733 French map, showing a road that goes to the Northeast. It probably started as a game and hunting trail, then a trading route, and by the late 1700's and early 1800's, it was a road. (Back in the 1700's, a road was a trace, and the Natchez Trace is commonly referred to as the Natchez Road. Parkway is the term used by the National Park Service on its road parks. The other notable NPS Parkway is the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

People along or near the Ohio River would build a boat, and float their goods down the Ohio and Mississippi River to various markets along the way. The eventual destination would be Natchez or New Orleans, where they would break up the boat and sell the lumber. They would then buy a horse or walk back home via the Natchez Road which stretched from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau. Back to Top

Early US
The United States (Before the Louisiana Purchase)
It was widely used and the main thoroughfare through the Southeast, to the point of being recognized and protected by the Federal Government. It's demise was the Industrial Revolution and the steam engine, which brought boats that could paddle their way back upriver. It beat having to deal with the swamps, bandits, biting insects, foul weather and other pitfalls of travelling the road. This would eventually turn the Trace back into a peaceful forest trail...

Today, the Natchez Trace Parkway (established in 1938) is a 443 mile, two lane, limited access road, with a maximum speed limit of 45 MPH. It starts in Natchez, Mississippi, and extends 310 miles to the Northeast in Mississippi, another 30 miles in Alabama, then ends 20 miles Southwest of Nashville in Pasquo, Tennessee. (Pasquo is home to the Loveless Cafe, which is right next to the Terminus and an excellent place for excellent (imho) food coming off the Trace).

While the original Trace did reach Nashville, the path is through (now) urban areas, and only exists as a dotted line on a map. So you don't have to drive through those urban areas, there's a short connector to I-40 at the terminus of the Trace.) Back to Top

Natchez Trace Parkway Map
Click on the map for a detailed parkway map.
The Natchez Trace is only one of a few National Park Service venues that are tasked to preserve a road. It is designated a Parkway, but in reality it's a very long historical and preservation park. There are dozens of scenic pullouts and places of interest along the Trace, all designated by "Milepost", the Trace's version of a mile marker. (Mileposts start at zero in Natchez, and ends at Milepost 443 in Tennessee.)

I drove the Trace from Natchez to Tupelo, Mississippi in 1998, on the way back from a business trip. I completed the Trace from Nashville to Tupelo in 2000 when heading down South on a vacation. There was another short drive in 2011 from Meriwether Lewis to the Tennessee Terminus, just because I was going to be (somewhat) close, and wanted updated images of the Meriwether Lewis Site. When I had come across the site in 2000, it was a dark, overcast, rainy day, and the pictures I had were pretty bad. It was more of a tribute to the man I had crossed the path of so many times out West.

I admit, I'd have more pictures of the Trace if I drove it when I was digital, but you were much more careful with your shots when film was the medium of the day... Back to Top

Some observations:

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Natchez Trace Parkway, Natchez, Mississippi (milepost 0) to Ross Barnett Reservoir (milepost 105)

There is a visitor's center in Natchez, and the trace now starts in Natchez, rather than a few miles outside of the city like it used to.

When I had first planned on taking the road on the way home from San Antonio in 1998, I didn't know of all the attractions along the road until I got to the Visitor's Center, so I didn't have the time to make more stops, nor did I spend any time in Natchez itself. (I also had this little back problem from sleeping on a strange bed for a week...)

Natchez Trace Parkway - Natchez, Mississippi (milepost 0) to Ross Barnett Reservoir (milepost 105)
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Tupelo Swamp (milepost 122) to Black Belt (milepost 253)

Tupelo Swamp
The Tupelo Swamp was a pretty surreal place, with the cypress trees in the water covered by green. As you look over the swamp, it's not hard to imagine some creatures hand coming out of the water and pulling you in like some horror movie.

It probably would have been better if I was there when it wasn't deserted and dead quiet. :-)

I had started the day someplace in Louisiana, and made it as far as Tupelo, where I stayed overnight. Since my back was giving me problems (I blame it on bad genes), I left for home from Tupelo the next morning. So after Black Belt, the pictures transition from 1998 to 2000 and 2011.

Tupelo Swamp (milepost 122) to Black Belt (milepost 253)
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I don't recall a state border sign, and since this was film, I don't have a time stamp to even roughly figure out where these were taken. I seem to remember stopping to take a picture only because it was in Alabama, so these might be it.

Around the Alabama/Tennessee border
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Meriwether Lewis Burial Site (milepost 386)

Meriwether Lewis Burial Site...
When I drove the Tennessee Terminus to Tupelo in 2000, I was ignorant of why Meriwether Lewis would be buried along the Natchez Trace. The signage at the site never suggested the cause of his tragic death, stating it was under "mysterious circumstances".

Meriwether Lewis was appointed the governor of the Louisiana Territory as reward for his journey out West in 1806. Soon to follow were several personal failures, and he wasn't really the person for the job. Even Thomas Jefferson had noted Lewis had a problem with (what we call now) depression, but by 1809, it led him to alcoholism and drugs. He was traveling to Washington from St. Louis, to personally discuss some budgetary problems, when on the night of October 11, 1809 he committed suicide while having hallucinations at Grinder's Stand.

It was a particularly crappy day when I was there in 2000. I was going to be in Tennessee (somewhat) close in November 2011, so I decided to go out there if it was a better day. Well, it was. So I kept two of the images from the old photo set to show the old monument, versus the new one built sometime in-between. (It may have been rebuilt for the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's journey.)

The site is actually not only of Grinder's Inn (or Stand), but the monument is located in a pioneer cemetery. Back to Top

Meriwether Lewis Map
Click on the map for a detailed map.
Meriwether Lewis Burial Site (milepost 386)
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Swan View (milepost 393) to Gordon House (milepost 408)

The appearance of the trace does change as you leave the lowlands and swamps of Mississippi, and the scenery starts to give way to hilly terrain.

Swan View (milepost 393) to Gordon House (milepost 408)
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Water Valley Overlook (milepost 412) to Terminus (milepost 443)

Terminus Entry Sign...
The first two images are at the same place as the panoramic, and it kinda shows what it looks like on a overcast, misty/rainy, crappy day, versus a nice sunny afternoon... :-)

Water Valley Overlook (milepost 412) to Terminus (milepost 443)
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The Natchez Trace is a nice drive, so long as you're not in a hurry to get anywhere. It's good that the park service is trying to preserve one of the most important roads in early America. It may not be as scenic as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the Trace was a real road back in the 1700's and 1800's, so holds some real historical creds. If you're out for a road trip, or are in the area and can travel the Trace for a few miles, I'd recommend it.

Related Links

Lewis And Clark
Lewis And Clark Link I've visited a few Lewis And Clark sites, from Philadelphia to the Pacific Northwest.
Visited Various.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Link The Blue Ridge Parkway can be a spectacularly beautiful drive as it follows the crest of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, but that very fact can change low hanging clouds into fog on the parkway. A very common occurrence. Ugh.

I have been on the parkway three times, but never North of the North Carolina border.

North Carolina, Virginia / 91 Images. Visited Mar 2000, Oct 2007, Sep 2011.
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Trip Report: Jun 1998, Mar 2000, Nov 2011.

Return to: State Index Mississippi State Page Alabama State Page Tennessee State Page Roads

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