The Natchez Trace National Parkway, AKA— the Devil’s Backbone

Peggy and I were driving down the Natchez Trace when we came on this beautiful Luna Moth with a wingspan of about four inches. It was one of many treasure we found along the way.

Peggy and I were driving down the Natchez Trace when we came on this beautiful Luna Moth with a wingspan of about four inches. It was one of many treasures we found along the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s Wednesday, time to scroll down through my iPhoto and find photos to feature. This time, my finger landed on the Natchez Trace, one of America’s premier drives— or bicycle trips. If you are ever wandering through Mississippi, Alabama or Tennessee, be sure to include it as part of your itinerary.

Large game animals, including buffalo, first used sections of what would become known as the Natchez Trace. Later it served as a major trade route for Native Americans. By the early 1800s, the Trace had been modified by a young United States into a 450-mile transportation corridor between Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. Soldiers, highwaymen and missionaries travelled the route, but Kaintucks were its primary users.

Kaintucks were rough frontiersmen from Kentucky who operated flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. They would load their boats with merchandise in Nashville and then oar down the Mississippi to Natchez where they would sell their goods for a handsome profit. Getting the money home was the challenge. Rowing up the Mississippi was not an option. Kaintucks were faced with the 450-mile hike back up the Trace— and they were faced with a multitude of folks who wanted to separate them from their newfound wealth.

First came the gauntlet of booze, prostitutes, gamblers, and gangsters in ‘Natchez Under the Hill.’ Assuming the Kaintucks got out of town with fortune intact, they became fair game for highwaymen. It was open season on the rivermen and their cash. For this reason, the Natchez Trace became known as the Devil’s Backbone. Today the Trace is a beautiful National Parkway with no commercial traffic. I’ve driven it several times, and once, I bicycled 370 miles of it from Natchez into southern Tennessee.

A number of lakes and waterways are found along the Trace. We took this photo from our campsite. We also watched a beaver working.

A number of lakes and waterways are found along the Trace. We took this photo from our campsite. We also watched a beaver working while relaxing in our camp chairs.

I found this grass growing in the lake the next morning and enjoyed its reflection.

I found this grass growing in the lake the next morning and enjoyed its reflection.

Numerous trails lead off of the Trace, often leading to babbling brooks.

Numerous trails lead off of the Trace, often leading to babbling brooks.

And lots of fungi, including this shelf fungus, which decorated a rotting log.

And lots of fungi, including this shelf fungus, which decorated a rotting log.

Miles and miles of dogwood bloom along the natchez Trace in Spring.

Miles and miles of dogwood bloom along the Natchez Trace in Spring.

Peggy and I also found these colorful violets.

Peggy and I also found these colorful violets.

Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark was found dead in a hotel on the Trace. To this day it is debated as to whether he was killed or committed suicide while under the influence of opium.

Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark was found dead in a house on the Trace. To this day it is debated as to whether he was killed or committed suicide while under the influence of opium. This monument stands over his grave.

I wondered if Peggy had some type of message in mind when she asked me to pose for this photo. The sign is pointing toward portions of the historical Trace that are still found along the Parkway.

I wondered if Peggy had some type of message in mind when she asked me to pose for this photo. The sign is pointing toward portions of the historical Trace that are still found along the Parkway. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Phar Mounds located north of Tupelo, Mississippi were left behind by nomadic Native Americans some where between 1-200 AD as burial mounds.

The Phar Mounds located north of Tupelo, Mississippi were left behind by nomadic Native Americans somewhere between 1-200 AD as burial mounds.

These are the brick restrooms at Phar Mounds. I am sure you are wondering why i've included them. They are my favorite restrooms in the whole world, bar none. I hid out in them when I was on my bike trip around North America as a tornado ripped apart the woods a quarter of a mile away.

These are the brick restrooms at Phar Mounds. I’ve included them because they are my favorite restrooms in the whole world, bar none. I hid out in them when I was on my bike trip around North America and a tornado ripped apart the woods a quarter of a mile away. My bike hid with me.

I'll conclude with a final photo of dogwood. NEXT BLOG: The Friday Essay: Just possibly a ghost is involved.

I’ll conclude with a final photo of dogwood. NEXT BLOG: The Friday Essay: Just possibly a ghost is involved.

 

 

27 comments on “The Natchez Trace National Parkway, AKA— the Devil’s Backbone

  1. We’ve driven part of the Natchez Trace and loved the serenity and natural beauty. Where else can you drive and not see anything commercial? No billboards. No fast food. Here’s hoping we can keep the Trace that way for years. (And, by the way, we love those dogwoods, too!)

  2. To really enjoy the Trace, one must do as you did taking your time to stop and see the nuances. Otherwise, if one is just driving to a destination, it becomes a long, slow drive through trees.

    • Best by bicycle, which was a long, slow bike trip through trees. (laughing) But, none the less, one of the most pleasant parts of my 10,000 mile trek. Thanks for commenting. –Curt

  3. So much to comment on here. Burial grounds of Meriwether Lewis, how interesting. For some reason I always associate him with the West coast…but the fact is they just visited us out here, huh? Silly me. I really do love dogwoods. That last photo gives a sense of the sunshine that day. I’ve always wanted to see a Luna moth and this one is gorgeous.

    That mound made me instantly think of the Cherokee earthen mounds. Cherokee legend has it that our ancestors migrated up to the East Coast from what is now Central America, so it’s completely logical to me that the people of that time would share customs as they were moving through.

    At first I was bemused that you would have a favourite public restroom. But now that I’ve read it through I realize I would react in exactly the same way.

    Until today I had never heard of Natchez Trace, and I thank you for the postcard.

    • It wouldn’t have been very long after Lewis and Clark made their epic journey west. Not surprising you think of them as westerners given the impact they had on opening the west to future pioneers. And the mounds, I’d lay money on a connection with the Cherokee. You are welcome on the postcard, Crystal. It’s a fun way to think of my Wednesday photo essays. 🙂 –Curt

  4. Some beautiful photographs Curt. I wonder if any of those Kaintucks made it home – sounds like there were mighty odds against them. And how lucky you are that you were near the restrooms when the tornado came along. Under the circumstances I think it would be my fave in the world also.
    Alison

    • I suspect enough of the Kaintucks made it home with their money to encourage others to maintain the effort. 🙂 Yep, that will forever be my proverbial brick outhouse, Alison. –Curt

    • I always think of the poem, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” converted to “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree, Indeed unless the billboards fall, I may never see a tree at all.” –Curt

  5. The photo of the moth is still one of my all time favorites and….it will always remind me of the beautiful, serene environment of the Trace.

    • It is beautiful to start with, and then what a difference no commercial traffic makes. Unfortunately, locals around the major towns have discovered it makes a great commute route. –Curt

    • Grin… fortunately, that was the only time on my six-month journey that I was faced with a tornado. 🙂 Well, there were the golf sized hail stones in Texas, and the snow storm in the Sierras, and the… –Curt

  6. There are some lovely, billboard-free roads in the country. Two tht come to mind are the Indian Nation turnpike in Oklahoma, and the roads through the Flint Hills in Kansas. The Trace looks beautiful, too. Your photos certainly attest to that.

    When I was in Mississippi, I was farther west, but I still enjoyed dogwood, wild white wisteria, and azaleas. There were many Indian mounds, too, and of course the Mississippi.

    Those explorers and early traders were something. I came across a Zebulon Pike campsite in Kansas. I guess he couldn’t just translocate to PIke’s Peak!

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