We are spending, what is left of the summer, following the Lewis & Clark Trail. Before this trip is over we (as in all of us) are going to get a history lesson.
From Nashville we are going to head to the Ohio River to very near Cincinnati. The exact place we are going to start following Lewis & Clark's Journey to the Pacific is in Big Bone Lick State Park Kentucky N38° 53.120' W84° 45.024'.
Monday June 21, 2004
We finally departed Pensacola around 1:30 today headed to Bay St Louis, Mississippi 150-miles west. The trip west on I-10 was uneventful. One thing prospective RV-travelers on I-10 might find valuable is the availability of dump-stations at the Alabama & Mississippi rest areas.
Now lets get back to our discussion of the Natchez Trace.
Most of us have heard of the Natchez Trace but most likely don't have a clue about any of its history. We have wanted to do the Natchez Trace because we hear RV'ers talking about doing it. Then while researching our Lewis & Clark Trip I learned that Lewis committed suicide on the Natchez Trace within a few years of completing the historic journey to the Pacific Ocean and back. That is when we decided to experience the Natchez Trace on our way to starting the Lewis & Clark Trail.
Now you know how we got interested in the Natchez Trace and why we are doing it at this time.
What is the Natchez Trace? According to history books the Natchez Trace is one of the oldest roads in the World. Yes World! Ancient Indian Mounds & Villages existed along the trace as long ago as 8000 B.C. Realize that this was before the building of the Pyramids. That was where the road or trace or trail got its start. Animals also used the "trace" for migration purposes especially to the salt licks in Tennessee & Kentucky. That is how the trail got started however, it was in the early 1800's that the Natchez Trace became what it is known for. Individuals opening the frontier would float down rivers like the Mississippi and Ohio on log rafts carrying goods to market. Upon reaching Natchez, Mississippi these individuals would sell whatever products they had like hides and farm goods to Spanish merchants that would put the goods on sailing ships and transport the merchandise around the world. Natchez was settled before New Orleans also at one time Natchez had more millionaires than any place in the New World other than New York City.
These traders would abandon their rafts and return home (to civilization) with money via the Natchez Trace. The traders were known as "Kaintuck" boatmen. These Kaintuck boatmen wore the Trace into a "rough-road". Soldiers and government officials utilized the Natchez Trace to move between the newly formed United States and the newly acquired purchase along the Mississippi (Louisiana Purchase) until around 1830. During its busiest time the Natchez Trace was the principal route overland from settlements like New Orleans and places west to back east. When steamboats arrived the Trace gradually withered and died. Today only a few sections of the original old trace remain. We hope to view and walk some of the old trace as we follow the highway from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.
That is a short background on the Natchez Trace. However, tonight we have stopped at Casino Magic's nice RV-Park located next to their casino & golf resort in Bay St Louis, Mississippi. We like this place for a variety of reasons chief among them is the good free entertainment Casino Magic provides on a nightly basis. Possibly Casino Magic has slowed down on the FREE entertainment. This was Monday night and they didn't have free entertainment. The Pete Fountain performances on Tuesday & Wednesday nights are now $12:50 including two drinks. I suspect that they might not have free entertainment the nights they are charging for Pete Fountain. If this is the case Casino Magic in Bay St Louis might not be attracting us as often.
Tuesday June 22, 2004
We traveled 190-miles from Bay St Louis to Natchez before settling in outside Natchez at Natchez State Park.
We headed in to Natchez and drove across the Mississippi River into Vidalia, Louisiana before turning around and heading back to Historic downtown Natchez. Ocean going ships cannot negotiate the Mississippi River north of Natchez because they can not get under this bridge. I am not sure how far upriver ships can go but I do know they regularly visit the refineries north of Baton Rouge. Looking at our mapping program SA-2004 the Natchez Bridge is the first one over the Mississippi River North of Baton Rouge so I suspect ocean going ships could navigate this far up river providing the river is deep enough.
We toured the historic cemetery, went down by the river. Natchez itself is built on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. Stunning views of the river far below present themselves in many places.
We drove around looking at the myriad old mansions. These mansions were so awesome that Grant decided not to burn them when he marched through Mississippi. Thanks to Grant we are now able to view these mansions that predate the Civil War. In the early 1800s the area around Natchez was producing 40% of the world's cotton. Many plantation owners built their ostentatious homes in Natchez where their women could socialize and they could come and entertain. It was during this time prior to the Civil War over half of the millionaires in the United States lived in Natchez. They constructed elegant mansions as testimony to their fabulous wealth.
Wednesday June 23, 2004
We woke to rain and it continued to rain most of the day. That didn't discourage us we headed off anyway. Joyce had a list of places for us to visit that would take all day.
Our first stop in Natchez was Melrose one of the magnificent antebellum mansions now operated by the National Park Service. We got there 5-minutes after the tour of the mansion had started. They told us the next tour was 55-minutes. We decided to tour the outside of Melrose where we toured the out buildings like kitchen and slave quarters. Rather than wait on the next tour we headed to Rosalie another Mansion Tour. We arrived in time for the Rosalie tour. After Rosalie we stopped by a picture gallery of Old Natchez. This picture gallery is not one of the highly advertised attractions in Natchez but it is an excellent history in pictures and visitors should put it on their list of things to do.
Stanton Hall in Natchez, Mississippi
After lunch we did Stanton Hall. Stanton Hall may be the most magnificent of the antebellum mansions that Joyce and I have toured. All the old restored mansions are so opulent that it is hard to determine which is the most resplendent. Mr. Stanton was a cotton-nabob of the utmost degree. While Natchez was the mecca of American millionaires Mr. Stanton was a multi-millionaire and built Stanton Hall to let all the other millionaires know who the big boy in town was. If I paid attention I think the docent said Mr. Stanton's plantations were across the river in what is now Louisiana. The docent made a comment that back in those days the ladies of the house could go up to the 4th floor observation deck and see the "white fields of gold" across the river, of course referring to Mr. Stanton's cotton plantations.
Many pictures in the picture gallery told stories. One that struck me was of a ferry from the 1800s that was ferrying rail road cars across the Mississippi River to tracks on the west side near the town of Vidalia, Louisiana. It was a LONG time before a railroad bridge was constructed across the Mississippi River.
Natchez is one of the oldest cities in North America. The French established a fort at Natchez in 1716. Let that 1716 date sink in. The French didn't establish New Orleans until 1718. French fur traders ventured up the Platte River in 1741 to a range of mountains which the Indians called the Rockies, becoming the first Europeans to report on this uncharted mountain range. The Declaration of Independence was in 1776. Now the 1716 date of the settlement of Natchez by the French should be better understood. Spain was in control of Natchez from around 1779 to 1798. In 1798 the Spanish evacuated their garrison in Natchez and the Stars and Stripes have flown over Mississippi and Natchez ever since except for the brief period of the Civil War.
Wild turkey in Natchez State Park
We have enjoyed Natchez State Park. We wanted to do some hiking but it rained so much that hiking was out of the question. We did enjoy the wildlife. We saw deer and numerous turkeys. In fact we saw more turkey in this park than we have seen in any other place. One time we watched as two adult turkey escorted a group of 6 or 8 chicks feeding in a grass field down from the RV-Park. The adults seemed to be feeding on Bahia grass seeds while the chicks appeared to be feeding on bugs in the grass. The Park has recently opened this particular campground and it is very nice complete with 50-amp service and paved pads. Some spots even have sewage. They are in the process of upgrading the old campground at this time so anyone visiting the Natchez area in an RV should consider the Natchez State Park Campground.
Tomorrow we start our trek up the Natchez Trace following the footsteps of the pioneers back in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Thursday June 24, 2004
We started our trek up the Natchez Trace this morning. We entered the trace at mm-9 about 9-miles north of Natchez off US-61. No commercial traffic is allowed on the trace and the speed limit is 50mph. Talk about a leisurely drive this is one. It is also extremely beautiful. The trace is part of the National Park system and has limited entry points. There is NOT much traffic. The part we traveled today was through hardwood forest and manicured meadows of Bahia grass. It rained again today. This daily rain has everything bright green, a thousand different hues of green. Each type of tree can be recognized by the subtle difference in its own unique shade of green. Again today we saw turkeys feeding in the roadside meadows.
We stopped by Mount Locust one of the many primitive stands that sprang up along the old Trace during its heyday. Mount Locust is the only one still standing. Mount Locust is the only one of these stands still standing. This particular home, is one of the oldest in Mississippi, and dates from 1780. The original one room cabin was constructed to fulfill a land grant issued by the British government of West Florida. The original cabin changed owners several times in succession before William Ferguson purchased it. He had a growing family so soon added rooms to the cabin. He also found himself providing lodging for homebound Kaintucks. It wasn't his intention to establish an inn, but the location of his house-a full day's walk from Natchez-kept the boatmen knocking on his front door. Knowing the distance these Kaintucks had to walk over the next weeks, he didn't have the heart to turn them away. Ferguson eventually built a 4-room, two-story building behind his main house filled floor to ceiling with corn-shuck bunk beds. The ranger told us that travelers on the trace just picked a vacant bed for the night.
Just north of Mount Locust is Loess Bluff pull off. The kiosk tells an interesting story of windblown topsoil deposited here during the Ice Age. When glacier covered the northern half of America, endless dust storms swirled into this area from the western plains. Some of the deposits of soil, called loess were as thick as thirty to ninety feet. Because the soil was so loose, it was especially prone to erosion. In spots where the Old Trace passed the loess bluffs, some sections of trail sank to depths of nearly twenty feet.
The highlight of our day was stopping in "The Old Country Store Restaurant" in Lorman, Mississippi. Lorman is a mile or so off the Trace but worth the excursion off the Trace to visit. Actually, Lorman is "The Old Country Store Restaurant". They don't even have a stop light. The Restaurant features breakfast, lunch and supper. We arrived for the lunch buffet that consisted of fried chicken and ham with greens, field peas, cabbage, sweet potato, green beans, dirty rice and cornbread. That is a meal you might have seen your Grandmother make for Sunday dinner when the preacher was invited for lunch. Oh yeah, I forgot the sweet tea. Good old southern sweet tea.
Built around 1890, this general store is a true Southern relic. The exterior hasn't seen a paint brush in the last century. Old-fashioned red & white metal signs advertise Pepsi-Cola on the weathered, front. The old pine planking on the floor creeks as you walk across the huge room. But the best thing about the restaurant is the people working there. They make you feel like family.
We ended the day at Grand Gulf Military monument & Campground. Grand Gulf is a confusing name for me since I think of any name with Gulf in it to be located on the Gulf of Mexico. No so with this place. Docents at Grand Gulf related that Grand Gulf was originally known as Grand Gulp. Gulp? Why Grand Gulp? It seems that the confluence of the Black River and Mississippi River caused whirlpools in the river that would catch a river boat and suck (or gulp) it down it's vicious vortex. The riverboat men named the place Grand Gulp. It seems a newspaper from Vicksburg started calling it Grand Gulf and the name stuck. Today what remains in the area is called Grand Gulf.
Unlike Natchez, Grand Gulf was not spared when Grant's army came through. While it once was one of the strongest points on the Mississippi River. Several times Confederate troops repulsed Union invasion attempts. When the Union forces finally overtook Grand Gulf Grant burned it to the ground. In 1962 Grand Gulf Military Monument Park was opened, dedicated to preserving the memory of both the town and the battle which occurred there.
The campground at Grand Gulf has paved pads and most importantly
a modem connection for the campground.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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Until next time remember how good life is.