Friday, June 08, 2012
Natchez Trace Parkway & Nashville
Dear Blog Reader, Towards the end of May, we entered Mississippi and started driving the Natchez Trace Parkway. It is an area, set aside and maintained by the National Park Service, which connects Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. It probably started as animal paths, then hunter’s paths, then paths used by the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, then the French and Spanish, and finally by the American settlers. By 1785 Ohio River farmers seeking new markets had begun to float their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez or New Orleans. They sold their boats for lumber and returned home, either riding or walking on the Natzhez Trace. By 1810 the Trace was an important wilderness road, the most heavily traveled in the Old Southwest. Comforts came to the Trace in the form of inns, called stands, which were about 20 miles apart – the usual distance a person traveled in a day. Eventually there were about 20, but only 2 are left standing. They provided basic food and shelter. After 1812, when steamboats started to go both down and UP the Mississippi, the Trace became much less important. Started in the late 1930’s, the modern Natchez Trace Parkway parallels the old Trace. It runs 444 miles. We started at the very friendly, comprehensive, and informative visitor’s center in Natchez. They had an interesting movie about the Trace ($3), gave us lots of handouts and maps, and they had free WiFi in an air conditioned and comfortable building with lots of exhibits. Additionally, there were RV parking spaces in the parking lot, although it was difficult to get level. They also had a dump station and water. We spent several days in Natchez because they have many antebellum homes and other historical buildings. They have devised several very interesting walking trails through the town going past these places, where they have information boards telling about the homes that you are looking at while you are actually there. This home, the Rosalie, is a museum now. This home, Glen Auburn, is Mississippi’s grandest example of the French Second Empire style, with its mansard roof. It was built in 1870 and is symbolic of the rise of the merchant class which replaced the slave owning plantation owner class in wealth and influence after the Civil War. One of the homes is that of William Johnson, a freed black slave who became a successful businessman, slaveholder himself, and wrote diaries during the heyday of the cotton kingdom economic boom. His home is owned by the National Park Service, has free entry, and many interesting exhibits about slavery, and freed slaves. Here is a picture of his parlor: (#5) Our friends, Jim and Jan, whom we visited in Louisiana on the way to Natchez, told us about a little restaurant we would pass which Jan always used to see as a child when she was on family trips. So we stopped there and took this picture: One of the more interesting stops was at Mount Locust, one of the 2 remaining stands (inns). At another stop, we saw a beaver dam, with freshly cut branches adorning the top. Most of the way, this what the drive looked like through our windshield: because a tornado ripped through here a number of years ago and knocked down a lot of the trees. Towards the end of the drive, we stopped at the Gordon House, which was the only other inn left standing. Unfortunately, it was closed and we didn’t get to see inside. One of the towns just off the Trace is Vicksburg, and there was so much history there that we drove the car in one day to explore. Some other campers had recommended the Coke museum, which is a private one, because this was the first place that Coke was ever bottled. It cost $3.50 to get in and we didn’t think it was worth it. First there is the old soda fountain counter: then some cases of memorabilia: There are 3 free campgrounds along the Trace, and we stayed overnight at 2 of them. There are also nearby towns, and state parks, and we stayed at several of those too. The free campgrounds are very wooded but they do have pull through sites and picnic tables, just no electricity or water. The Meriwether Lewis campground is the largest and we were quite surprised that we were able to receive a signal through all the trees for our satellite TV. Nearby there is a monument at his grave, because he died of 2 gunshot wounds while he was staying at Grinder’s Inn on the Trace in 1809. There was some suspicion that they were self-inflicted. We stopped at Tombigbee State Park for several nights because it was near Tupelo and because we wanted to drive to Red Bay, AL to tour the Allegro RV factory. They have a very good tour, largely because they take you all over the entire place and let you see everything and they have headsets so you can hear the tour guide through all the industrial noise. It was impressive to see all the big machinery they use to fabricate nearly every part of the RVs they produce. They also employ a lot of women, who were doing nearly every type of job, and we were pleased to see that. Their attention to detail and dedication to doing quality work was also impressive. I took lots of pictures so here are a few: the chassis come from some of the big manufacturers, although Allegro makes some too. Here is a chassis with the floor put on and they are starting to install cabinets, which were all made right in Allegro’s cabinet shop. At this stage they are getting ready to put the slide out in. They manufacture their own wire and rather than color code them, their machines stamp right on every wire exactly what it is for and which kind of rig it goes in. This one is nearly finished and is being inspected. They also have their own paint shop in a different location. After the tour, we collected several of their brochures, and the price list, and although we would love to acquire one of these beauties, I think it will be a long while before (a) we need one, and (b) we can afford one!!! Once we got to Nashville, we went to Costco because we needed supplies, and then to WalMart where we stayed overnight. Some new cruise friends, Lisa and Marcia, (twins) came over to our rig and we had Happy Hour together. It was fun to see them again, and we learned that they will be with us on our next 2 cruises in September. The next day we had an oil change at WalMart and then a tire rotation at Costco, before moving east of Nashville to the Five Points Corps of Engineers campground on the J. Percy Priest reservoir. It is a delightful campground and they honor the Golden Age pass so it only cost $10/night to have a roomy site with electricity and water. We could only stay there 4 nights because people with reservations come in on the weekend. So we left today and are now sitting in the day use area while I type this. Either later today or tomorrow we will start heading towards Knoxville. Staying in state parks and COE campgrounds has been pleasant, yet there have been a few natural pests to consider. Here at this COE park we have been attacked regularly by a cardinal He sits in the branches of a nearby tree and flies at our windows. Early in the morning, he pecks at our hubcaps, making so much noise that he wakes us up and our neighbors have complained. On many of our hikes along the Natchez Trace, we either picked up ticks on our bodies, or heard other people complaining about how bad they were this year. So we have been avoiding hikes that go into the underbrush. One of the more delightful experiences has been watching the lightning bugs (or fireflies) as evening falls. They are all over the place, blinking on and off as they fly around. Two of them even got into our rig and were blinking all around our living room and bedroom. Elaine captured them gently and threw them back out. During our 4 days in Nashville, we wanted to do lots of sightseeing. Many people told us to be sure to see the hotel at Opryland because it had recently been redone, so we went there first. Wow, what an impressive place! The various buildings, including the convention center, form an outer wall with incredible gardens, waterfalls, sculptures, restaurants, fountains, etc. all in the center, with a glass roof over the top. It was fun to walk around the whole place. Then we went to the Grand Ole Opry building to try to get tickets for a performance. Here is Elaine at the entrance to the plaza: And here is the front of the theater: We succeeded in getting tickets for the same night, Tuesday at 7PM, because we got tickets in the second to highest row (W), but at least they were in the center. They cost $34 each. Before the performance, starting at 5PM, they have a big stage set up and several of the groups who are going to perform later that night, perform free in the plaza. I’m sure lots of people come who aren’t attending the show. There is a huge shopping mall right across the street, so I’m sure lots of people come over from there too. We arrived at 5 and managed to get seats at one of the small tables in the plaza: Because we had packed drinks and food, and the temperature was so nice, we greatly enjoyed the 2 hour wait for the Grand Ole Opry to start. When we got into the theater, we could see that the way the theater was laid out greatly enhanced the fact that they crammed so many people in there (thousands) yet everyone could see pretty well. They also had 3 HUGE screens showing the performers up close. This is the view of the Oakridge Boys from our seats: And this is a picture of Carrie Underwood taken from one of the screens: Another thing that many people had recommended to do was tour the small, historic town of Franklin, which is located about 15 miles south of Nashville. We drove down there and got the walking tour brochure, had a nice picnic in the park, and then walked around the historic parts. Here is one of the historic old buildings called Clouston Hall, which was built in the 1830’s. It is now an art gallery, and the gal at Visitor Info told us to stop in there and meet the guys who owned it, so we did. Jesse and Elaine are standing in one of the rooms which has art for sale all over it but also is delightful to see because of the restoration to the way it was before the Civil War. It was used as a field hospital after the battle of Franklin and you can still see bloodstains in the floor and the mark left by a cannonball. After walking around the town, we could appreciate why everyone recommended this historic and charming town. Another day was devoted to visiting The Hermitage, the plantation and home of our 7th president, Andrew Jackson. Because he was not a member of the aristocracy, and was the first president elected by the voters and not the state legislatures, he was a “man of the people”. He expanded presidential powers so that the executive branch had power equal to congress. Many of his positions and policies were controversial, and still are. The entire museum and plantation are very well presented by the Women’s Historical society which prevented the place from being turned into a convalescent home in the late 1800’s. Instead, it became a museum in 1889, the first one for a president. Audio tours are provided and are excellent. Here is a picture of the front of the house. This is a picture of the restored dining room. The garden is beautiful and has authentic plants in it from the time of the Jacksons. Both Rachel and Andrew Jackson’s graves are under this rotunda in the back of the garden.