wild ride at 175mph

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Monday, March 24, 2008

The Natchez Trace (North Half)

If you like a leisurely, picturesque ride with a lot of interesting historic stops along the way, then you will love the north half of the Natchez Trace. Tennessee - One of my favorite places to ride is on the Natchez Trace Parkway, aka The Parkway or, more colloquially, simply The Trace.
I live south of Nashville, Tennessee, which is the northern end of The Trace. The entrance at the north end of The Trace (Mile Marker 444) is about a 15 minute ride from my home. There are a couple of exits in the first 10-15 miles that are only a half-hour from the house. So, I can take a quick, 1 to 1-1/4 hour ride and catch the breathtaking scenery in these first few miles, most notably, the Double Arch Bridge over Tennessee Highway 96 at Birdsong Hollow (MM 439). However, the scenery of these first few miles is only a portion of what you will find on The Trace.
Before you start out a journey on The Trace, you need to know a couple of things.
First of all, though there are many historic and scenic stops along The Trace, restroom facilties are very scarce. In fact, in the first 40 miles, there are only three rest stops with restrooms. Stop and take care of that urgent need before you get on The Parkway.
Second, there are no gas stations on The Trace. In fact, there are no gas stations at most exits on The Parkway. In some cases, you may have to drive 5-10 miles off the Natchez Trace in order to find petrol. You need to plan your ride carefully and know where you are going to stop to fill up. A miscalculation here could be very problematic.
There are also no inns, hotels or motels along The Trace. As with fuel, you'll have to know where you're going for lodging. There are three primitive campgrounds directly on The Parkway between Nashville and Natchez, but they are several hours apart and they are primitive.
Once you get on the Trace, you'll find lots of interesting place to stop and linger. The Tennessee Valley Divide at MM 423 is the point where you cross from the (edited)berland River Valley to the Tennessee River Valley. A few miles later there is a beautiful view of a rural valley from the Water Valley Overlook at MM 412. This is folowed by the Baker Bluff OVerlook at MM 406. and the Devil's Backbone State Natural Area around MM 395.
Continuing south on The Trace, you'll find one of my favorite stops, Fall Hollow (MM 393) where a creek cascades into a beautiful, 12-15 high waterfall. It's a little hike off the road, but well worth the walk. In the heat of summer and early fall, it is very cool under the trees by the waterfall, giving some much needed relief from the heat. If you are a bit more adventurous, you can follow the trail further down the hollow to another beautiful, dark, mossy waterfall that trickles down 20-30 feet over ancient rocks.
Next up is Meriwether Lewis Park, a primitive campground (i.e., no electricity, running water or hookups, though there are restrooms and a shower) and historic site. This is where Meriwether Lewis (of The Lewis and Clark Expedition) was mysteriously died in 1809 at Grinder's Stand. Ther is a monument here in his honor that was erected in 1848.
There are several more stops before you reach the Tennessee-Alabama border (MM341, 103 miles from the north end of the Parkway) after which there is an eleven mile stretch with no stops. The next stop, Rock Spring (MM330), has a nature trail that leads along a creek to a small swamp. I'd never seen a swamp before and found it very interesting. Lots of interesting plants can be found in the woods along the trail.
About a mile past Rock Spring, you will cross the Tennessee River. The Tennessee is wide here. The bridge is easily a half-mile long. The view of the river is beautiful. Just be sure you pay attention to your riding. Last summer, a friend decided to take a picture while riding over the bridge on his scoot and got dangerously close to the guard rails. He gave the rest of us a good scare that day!
Just on the other side of the Tennessee River is a rest stop at the old Colbert Ferry Site. The ferry has long since ceased operations, but there are restroom facilities here -- something you won't find at most stops.
There are two or three more stops in Alabama before you get to MM 310 and the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Just as you cross the state line, you'll find Bear Creek Mound, an old Indian burial mound, that I found fascinating. There's nothing there but some parking and the mound, but if you like Native American history, you might find this one interesting.
Just a quarter mile or so further on is Cave Spring, another site I found interesting. It's an underground spring where the roof of the cave that contained it has collapsed. You can walk down into the former cave and knock around a bit. Apparently, it was a watering hole for horses and livestock on The Trace in bygone days, but now the water is polluted and would make you pretty ill.
From Cave Spring, it's about 45 miles to Tupelo, home of Parkway Headquarters and the Tupelo Visitor Center. Along the way, you'll pass several scenic overlookcs such as Donivan Slough (MM 285), Twentymile Bottom Overloock (MM 278) and Dogwood Valley (MM275). Recreational areas off this section of The Trace include Tishomingo State Park and The Bay Springs Lake.
Tupelo is a thriving city and the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Last year in mid-August while on a weekend ride, my wife and I stopped in Tupelo the weekend of 30th Anniversary of Elvis' Death. There were people from all over the world in Tupelo to remember The King! We had a great time visiting with folks from around the globe in the hotel bar that night.
There are many hotels and campgrounds -- some with cabins -- in the greater Tupelo area. Some are easier to get to than others, but it's a great place to overnight if driving the full length of The Parkway. There are also numerous parks and historical sites such as the Tupelo National Battlefield, a Civil War site for American History buffs, and the Tombigbee National Forest.
If you want to get to the halfway point on The Natchez Trace, you'll need to continue down to MM 222, a rest stop where you can see the Old Trace running alongside the modern highway. Along the way, you will see the Hernando de Soto site and historic Indian sites such as the Chickasaw Village Site, Owl Creek Mounds and Bynum Mounds. There is also a very interesting site called Witch Dance.
The southern half of The Natchez Trace is another 222 miles of beautiful park and highway that takes you all the way to historic Natchez, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River.
If you want to ride from Nashville down to MM 222 and back, you need to plan a minimum of two days. Tupelo is a good place to stop and spend the night. A two-day ride, won't give you a lot of time to stop along the way and see the sights. You might need a third day for the trip to really enjoy the wonders of The Natchez Trace.
Riding the full length of the trace is a minmum two-day trip just in one direction. Down and back is a four to six day trip.
Whatever part of the Parkway you decide to ride, get a map of the Natchez Trace Parkway and good maps of Tennessee, Alabama and Missippi. You'll may also need to talk to someone who has made the ride before and can tell you where to find fuel, food and lodging. If you plan your trip well, this is one of the best rides in this part of the country.

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