Friday, May 17, 2013

Week 5 done - many more to come!

There are two ways to travel. One is based on the destination in a specific time frame and what is along the way is considered an annoying hindrance. My way, especially on this trip, is to enjoy the entire ride and all the places it takes me.

The South – seems like a foreign “country”
I am enjoying each day and the people I meet, even if they are sometimes difficult to understand. They probably think I’M the one from a foreign country.

Short drive in Louisiana
I spent three nights at Lake Bruin State Park in Louisiana, parked just a few feet from the swampy lake. Jeremiah Junior was parked among tall trees – cypress, sweet gum and oak. It was a playground for squirrels and a perfect place for birds to perfect their songs

Squirrel info of interest
Intrigued by these fluffy tailed creatures especially the variety of ways a squirrel moves its tail, I went to the Internet to learn more. This body part can be nearly as big as the critter it's attached to. But it’s not there just for decoration. The squirrel uses its tail to keep itself steady as it leaps across treetops or does a high-wire act on telephone lines. And it uses his tail to communicate with other squirrels. When a squirrel is alarmed, it flicks its tail; when it's feeling aggressive, it fluffs it up. During its breeding season, a squirrel will wave and shiver its tail while approaching the opposite sex.

From Lake Bruin to Natchez
The highway from Lake Bruin to Natchez was sparsely traveled, giving me time to ponder life and to look at the farm fields – mostly corn, cotton and soybeans – as I drove past. Along the way I stopped at the Louisiana State Cotton Museum; took pictures, including an old tractor and a sharecropper’s cabin. I also saw some early cotton gins in one of the outbuildings.

Mississippi, the sixth state on this trip
The bridge spanning the mighty Mississippi River was high and long. (Question: when you were in elementary school do you remember learning how to spell Mississippi – M, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, hump-back, hump-back, I?)

Natchez, Mississippi
Settled in 1710, two years before New Orleans was settled, Natchez’ claim to fame is that it is the oldest “civilized” town on the Mississippi River. I’m in this state specifically to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez to Nashville, Tenn.

The Natchez Trace Parkway – 444 miles through three states and 10,000 years of history
At first, the trace was probably a series of hunters’ paths that slowly came to form a trail. By 1785, Ohio River Valley farmers searching for markets had begun floating their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez. They sold their products and also their flatboats for lumber, so returning home meant either riding or walking. Growing numbers of travelers tramped the crude trail into a clearly marked path. By 1810, it was an important wilderness road.

As the road was being improved, many inns (called ‘stands’) were built to provide shelter and food. Difficulties of the trail included thieves, floods, swamps, disease-carrying insects and sometimes unfriendly Indians. The trace was used until the steamboat era made the return north easier.

The Trace Today
The National Park Service has completed a really nice, two-lane road over many parts of the original Trace. No commercial traffic. The black-topped surface makes for a smooth ride – maximum 50 mph – with no stop signs or traffic signals. Cross traffic along the way is access controlled. All traffic entering or leaving the parkway does so by yielding. A delightful drive.

In most areas the tall trees and generous mowed-grass road shoulders form a wide corridor for the road. There are more than 100 marked features on the parkway and pull-outs – historic areas, buildings, Indian mounds, side walking trails, overlooks, primitive camping areas, etc. I stopped at many – but not all – of those areas.

First campground stop on the Trace
My first campground stop along the Trace was Natchez Trace State Park. Senior camping fee is $13 a night for water and electricity. Being here three days gave me plenty of relaxing time. And it is here I met some super new friends, Gary and Cheryl from Pembroke, Maine. We had lovely visits as we shared happy hour each evening. And it is here that a tick managed to find my leg! It was a very small one. Below you'll find me relaxing at my campsite.

A memorable stop was at Mt. Locust Stand.
This is the only remaining stand (inn) from the beginning of the 19th century was about a day’s walk from Natchez. This restored cabin is one of the oldest buildings in the state. It is the only remaining example of a frontier home of the 1820s, which was he peak era of he Trace’s foot and horse travel.. 

My fourth night on the Trace was in the free, primitive (no hookups) Jeff Busby Campground. It is named after the former congressman who shepherded a measure through Congress in the mid-1930s. “to locate the Natchez Trace as near as practical to its original route and to determine the cost of construction of an appropriate National Parkway.’

A whole lot of mowing going on
Another stop was at Pharr Mounds – ancient burial grounds for Indians. Look carefully and you’ll see two lawnmowers at work. With 900 acres, this must be a full time job! (You can double-click a photo temporarily enlarge it)

Along the way, I drove through the area where a hurricane blew down trees in April 2011. It was a sad sight and a reminder of just how powerful these storms are. For about 12 miles, I could see devastation on both sides of the Trace. Those huge, healthy trees are now simply tall trunks with new leaves and small branches coming on. It will be a long time before they again reach their glorious height

Still more Trace to go
I’m at Milepost 304, so there is plenty of this historic road to travel. I’m camped at Tishomingo State Park. Knowing that rain was forecast for a few days, I decided this was a good place to hunker down. I was met by a member of the campsite greeting committee.

And on one of my walks, I came to this outdoor church location here in the park.
I fell asleep last night to the “crooning” of an American Bullfrog. Its deep voice that can be heard up to a quarter mile lulled and relaxed me. We’ve had lots of rain today – it is comforting to know that I have a water-tight motor home! Weather permitting, tomorrow I’ll continue up the Trace to Alabama and then Tennessee.

I am so blessed to be on this trip. Jeremiah Junior is doing super. Since I started on April 7, I’ve driven 2,812 miles.