Natchez Trace Parkway

American parkways are excellent examples of creating something outstanding from almost nothing. They are called upon for pleasant driving, crossing mountains and valleys, have well-developed infrastructure, and a branding story. Natchez Parkway is, perhaps, one of the most widely known, stretching through the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

1_Natchez_Trace_Parkway_Locator_MapThe Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive, and although its scenery is not exceptional, it covers 10,000 years of North American history. The road is maintained by the National Park Service, to commemorate the original route of the Natchez Trace, once used by American Indians, “Kaintucks,” settlers, and future presidents.
Prehistoric animals already followed the dry ground between the salt licks of central Tennessee to grazing lands southward and the Mississippi River. Native Americans used these footpaths created by the foraging of bison, deer and other large game that could break paths through the dense undergrowth. They began to blaze the trail further, until it became a relatively well-worn path. Numerous Prehistoric indigenous settlements in Mississippi were connected by the Natchez Trace. The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes and earlier peoples, collectively known as the Mississippian culture, had long used the Trace for trade.
By 1809, after President Thomas Jefferson decided to foster communication of the distant Mississippi frontier with other settled areas of the United States by initiating a postal road, the trail was fully navigable by wagon. The US signed treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to keep peace as European Americans entered the area in greater number. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route was the development of inns and trading posts. Many early United States settlements in Mississippi and Tennessee developed along the Natchez Trace.
With the rise of steamboat culture on the Mississippi, however, the Trace lost its importance as a national road, as goods could be moved more quickly and cheaply, in greater quantity, on the river.
Though the Natchez Trace was only blossoming as a major United States Route for a moment, it served an essential function for years. The Trace was the only reliable land link between the eastern States and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers and missionaries, highwaymen and traders and peddlers among them.
As with much of the unsettled West, banditry regularly occurred along the Trace. The rowdiest of the men were the “Kaintucks”, the crude frontiersmen from Kentucky who operated flatboats down the river, and later worked on the steamboats. They delivered goods to Natchez in exchange for pockets full of cash, and even had their Natchez Under-the-Hill, an early 19th-century Las Vegas. Then they would walk up the Trace the 450 miles back to Nashville. In 1810 an estimated 10,000 Kaintucks used the Trace to go north and start another river journey.[1]
Worse dangers lurked on the Trace in the areas outside city boundaries. Highwaymen such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based organized crime in the United States.
The construction of the modern Parkway in commemoration of the Old Natchez Trail was begun by the federal government in the 1930s. Markers and monuments paying tribute to various moments of Old Natchez Trail history were planted along the Trace.
We started our trip from the particular bridge over Tennessee river (coordinates), meeting the sunrise early in the morning.


Under the bridge, the picture was even better:




In general, the trail is quite flat, being a good route for the bicycle riders. The landscape is quite average, as we mentioned, especially for those who lived in Belarus or Estonia:



It is not the landscape, but historical marks, however, that make this place. For instance, this is the sign of the early settlement dating at least to the 8000 BC.

The Cave Spring is an example of natural activity though:


Pharr Mounds is the largest and most important archeological site in northern Mississippi. Eight large dome-shaped burial mounds are scattered over the area of 90 acres (100 football fields). These mounds were built and used about 1-200 AD by the tribe of nomadic Indian hunters and gatherers who returned to this site at times to bury the dead with their possessions.

Much of the Old Trace had been abandoned by the start of the Civil War. However, the War also did leave its mark on the trace as it did upon the rest of the south as soldiers marched, camped, and fought along the portions of the historic old road. A five minute walk away from the main road takes you to the gravesites of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers, a mute reminder of bygone days and the great struggle.


The Trail even has former bottoms of the rivers marked:


Natchez Parkway is a great way to learn not only about history, but also about how to promote it through showing how the “great nation” (as mentioned in many markers) evolved in the given landscape, within so ethnically and socially different people, thanks to or in spite of certain historical events. In addition, it has a great infrastructure, being an excellent road with a plenty of facilities: information centers, places for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping, and historical highlights. The main of them are:
Natchez to Jackson
• Milepost 10.3 Emerald Mound
• 15.5 Mount Locust
• 41.5 Sunken Trace
• 54.8 Abandoned Town of Rocky Springs
Jackson to Tupelo
• Milepost 105.6 Ross Barnett Reservoir Overlook
• 107.9 West Florida Boundary
• 122.0 Cypress Swamp
• 203.5 Historic settlement of Pigeon Roost
• 232.4 Bynum Mounds
• 261.8 Chickasaw Village Site
Tupelo to Tennessee state line Highlights
• Milepost 266 Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center
• 269.4 Old Trace
• 286.7 Pharr Mounds
• 327.3 Colbert Ferry, also site #12 on the North Alabama Birding Trail
• 330.2 Rock Spring Nature Trail, also site #10 on the North Alabama Birding Trail
Tennessee Highlights
• Milepost 385.9 Meriwether Lewis Monument
• 391.9 Fall Hallow Trail
• 401.4 Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive
• 404.7 Trail to Jackson Falls and Baker Bluff Overlook
• 438 Bridge at Birdsong Hollow

By the way you can visit Elvis Presley museum in Tupelo.

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