Monday, February 28, 2005

05-04 Natchez Traice Parkway, Mississippi

The Roving Reporter, Ya’ll
Week 4 of 52
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

I had initially read about the Trace in a book “The Most Scenic Drives in America”. 120 spectacular Road trips, so of course I had to give the Trace a try. And talk about a mother-load of scenic roads. It’s 444 miles long stretching from Natchez Miss to Nashville Tenn.

May 1st, 2005. Up early and eager to get on the Trace. I’d already traveled the other day on the Trace for about 15 miles and was instantly in love with this wonderful parkway. What’s unique about the trace is that it is limited to non-commercial vehicles only. No commercial vehicles are permitted. No trucks hauling lumber, no semi-trucks, no people with road rage need show up here. It’s a two lane road that winds through Mississippi, a corner of Alabama and into Tennessee. With a speed limit of 50 mph, and virtually no traffic, there have been many miles that I traveled on it that I didn’t see another car for miles on end.

What’s nice is that there are so many little stops to get out, breath the fresh air, take a short walk (most involve a 15 minute walk to a site or nature walk describing the plants, trees and topography of the region. And did I mention, no traffic, no traffic, no traffic! What a wonderful way to enjoy a country drive. Remember when a Sunday drive used to be a fun thing? Here you can experience it every day of the week.

Learning about the various Indians that lived in the area and visiting their Indian mounds such as the Grand Village of the Natrchez Indians, Emerald Mound (the 2nd largest mound in the US), and Mangum mound. So many historical markers to bring you back in time when America was being explored and settled.

In Natchez or any of the welcome centers in Miss, you can pick up a great map that’s about 4 feet long, with information on every stop along the way listed on the back.

The present day trace parkway was started in the late 30’s around the same time that the Blue Ridge Parkway was started. It follows the original paths created by the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians and expanded eventually by French and Spanish traders and finally by the Army Corp of engineers. By 20 May the last two sections of the trace will be opened to traffic. Meaning, you will be able to stay on the trace for the entire 444 mile length. The trace is also designated an official bike path and I saw a number of bike riders along the Trace. Most of the lower portion is very level making it easy for bike riding.

What did I enjoy most about he Natchez Trace parkway? Driving through a county setting, no developments or houses, just fields, forest, hills, being able to stop, take short walks, get some fresh air and learn something new every so many miles was great. I enjoyed learning about the history of the Trace, seeing sections of the original Trace and being able to walk on it, the native Indians of the region, and nature exhibits. By the way, the brochure breaks each stop into these and other categories, so you can highlight the map before you even start. There are 100’s of stops along the way.

The state parks were great along the way as well. Just pull into the campsite at most locations, pick a site and the park ranger will stop by later and collect your money. Cost: $14.00 a night, electric and water. Tishomingo State Park was my favorite. My friend Manny had recommended it and we were hoping to meet up along the Trail, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Tishomingo has a swinging bridge, river and awesome outcroppings. It was the first area along the trace that I saw rocks. It being the beginning of a much more hilly mountainous area going into Alabama and Tenn.

It’s a whole different way of traveling. Unlike any highway travel or back road travel you’ve ever done. No traffic, no stop signs, no hassle. It’s like having a Starbucks cappuccino with a raspberry tart instead of 2 hour old stale coffee. It’s like having your own private road that leads right into Nashville or Natchez depending on which direction you decide to take.

Loved see the new spring leaves on all the trees and the wild flowers. The dogwood had already bloomed to I missed that, but what a great drive. Sure hope you have a chance to try it someday. Oh, I did stop in The Alabama Music hall of fame which is 1/3 completed. Interesting, but disappointing at the same time. For a music hall of fame the sound equipment was horrid. Some of the displays were good, but the “display” for Jimmy Buffet, my man, was reduced to a PowerPoint print out.

MEMPHIS, TN. May 4, 2005. I exited the Trace at hwy 72 on the Northern end of Alabama and Miss. I’m getting eager to head west and have decided to forgo taking the Trace into Nashville since it will take me a couple hundred miles out of my western destination. Instead, by heading west on 72, I arrived in Memphis TN by noon. I’m staying at T.O. Fuller State Park for $18.50 a night.

Note: For Rvers, DO NOT BRING your rig into the downtown area. I’ve never seen so many low bridges in this town where just about every road and rail line comes and goes over bridges. Many having clearances of 12’-10”, 13’-8” etc.

Memphis, the town of southern Blues, soul music, Elvis, Beale St, Sun Records. While I was at the library checking e-mails, I took advantage of their great collection of historical Memphis Blues CD’s and copied about 5 onto my computer. Thanks Memphis. More exploring today.

I got up and decided to check out the Elvis home “Graceland”. I didn’t do the tour, perhaps another time. Tours started at $27 and went up from there if you wanted to go on more than one tour. I did get a chance to see the outside of the house and the Elvis’s airplane the 727 Lisa Marie. But for my money and there is sooo much to see in Memphis that I’m sure I’d go broke doing everything, I went to what I thought would be the biggest bang for my buck.

The Sun Recording Studio. Wow, wow, wow! What a tour! The history inside those walls was just overwhelming. I had a lump in my throat a number of times and a misty eye as well. The tour guide has a passion for this place and music created here. It showed during the entire hour tour. I was completely spell bound. From Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and so many more who recorded here. The place came alive with the tour guide weaving a story of the music that was created on this hallowed ground. The guide would describe a scene, then play the music, bring each of us to that place and time when it was created. At one point, he spoke about a passionate song that Elvis was recording and spoke directly to me as if I was there at that very moment. Chills ran up and down my spine. Awesome!

Sorry, I could go on for pages and pages about my experience at Sun Records. But Memphis has so much to offer. There are like over 50 major museums and historical sites to see and experience. Next I went for lunch at Huey‘s, still overwhelmed by my tour at Sun and walked though a fascinating town I’ll surely come back to many times. Beale Street is where all the music comes alive today as it did in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Over 30 entertainment establishments along Beale Street bring the Blues, Rock a Bill, and soul music to life. Enjoying live outdoor music, the wonder lighted signs advertising all the bars and music venues. And all of this within walking distance of the Mississippi River with its river boat tours, mud island and an old double arched bridge crossing the famous river.

Memphis, a town that’s old with character. Building for the future. New Loft and studio apartments filling in the more tired neighborhoods. A downtown going through a transition and rebuilding that will only get better. The trolley’s bringing the past into the present. Beale street introducing new generations to music of the south. And a love of music that seems to fill every corner of this river front town.

I’m come back Memphis. I’ll be back. OK, one more note. Sun Recording Studio is still being used by today’s artists. U-2 just to name one. And that’s after it closed down for 25 years!

Experience something new each day and your life will be filled with wonder.

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