When we left Tickfaw SP we took some really pretty backroads to get to Natchez Mississippi so we could drive the Natchez Trace. Sharon had done a lot of research on the Trace and we had planned to spend 14 days driving the Trace Parkway with side trips but due to the Coronavirus outbreak we compressed that into 2.5 days. The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles long through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. It was established as a National Park system in 1938 but officially completed in 2005. It commemorates the most significant highway of the old Southwest. The history along the parkway is quite significant including the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, a defined pathway for westward expansion in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, and a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. Also in the early 1800’s working people from the Ohio River Valley would float cash crops and livestock down the Mississippi River on wooden flatboats and once they reached Natchez or New Orleans they would sell everything, including the lumber from their boats, and then use the Natchez Trace to walk or ride horses back. The road eventually was worn down into the soft earth and you can still see some of the “sunken” sections on the Old Trace. To get you oriented this first slide will show the area covered.
As we drove into Natchez Mississippi our path happened to take us to the Forks of the Road location. From the 1830’s until 1863 Natchez was the second largest southwest enslavement marketplace. There was a very high demand for slave labour to work the cotton and sugar plantations, so slave traders walked many of the slaves along the Natchez Trace to then sell them at the Forks in Natchez. The marketplace was closed during the Civil War in 1863 when the Union troops took over Natchez.
After the Forks we drove into downtown Natchez and went to the main Natchez Trace Visitor centre, but it was closed due to the Coronavirus. We saw the bridge that goes across the Mississippi River from Natchez to Vidalia Louisiana. We had decided to stay in the Natchez State Park that night so began the Trace Parkway drive. There is a great brochure from the National Park service that outlines everything to see along the Trace and gives the exact mile marker where you will find that site. On our way to the State Park (10 miles from Trace start) we stopped at three different exhibits, the Elizabeth Female Academy which was established in 1811 as a college for women and closed in 1845, the Old Trace exhibit, and Emerald Mound which was built from 1200 to 1650. Natchez SP was a ways off the trace and was quite busy but we were lucky to get a fairly secluded spot that looked over the lake since we only needed it for one night (the next night was Friday so most spots were booked).
When we went to leave Natchez SP the next morning, we took a wrong turn and drove along the park boundary, but it meant that we got to see a Snapping Turtle up close on the road (the navigator claims the wrong turn was on purpose). We also saw some historic buildings that had been abandoned. Back on the Trace our first stop was Loess Bluff. The word Loess means that it was a deep windblown deposit of topsoil that was formed during the Ice Age through continuous dust storms. These deposits were on top of sand and clay from an ancient sea and this is part of the reason that the Old Trace roadway would erode down forming “Sunken” sections. One good thing about the Coronavirus situation was that we could park at all the roadside exhibits as we were the only people stopping. I’m sure it would be very difficult for an RV (even our size) to stop at many of the pull offs during normal times. Mount Locust was our next stop and it was one of the many Inns along the Trace to service the travellers. It was originally built in 1799 and the home that still stands shows very skilled craftsman’s work. Mount Locust is the only remaining Inn of the 50 that existed along the Trace in the early 1800’s. They normally have guided ranger tours, but we were able to just walk around the grounds and do a small hike through the forest.
Our next stop was the Sunken Trace. There is short trail that takes you through a deeply eroded section of the original Trace. You really could imagine the history as you walked through this section. At Rocky Springs Campground you could do a short trail to see the ruins of the town of Rocky Springs, only the church was still intact. As we continued north it started to rain and the winds picked up and we drove through a section of forest that had been totally devasted by the March 3rd 2020 tornado that went through this area and touched down further north in Nashville. It was extremely eerie to drive through here with all the downed trees. We also stopped to see Bynum Mounds south of Tupelo and Pharr Mounds north of Tupelo both which were built around 2,000 years ago. That night we stayed at Tishomingo SP with a nice site overlooking the lake. We would like to return to this park as they have hiking trails for us to do.
Our first stop the next day was Cave Spring, a sink hole in the limestone that may originally have been used as a water source. This was the only location along the Trace where they had an audio display that discussed the forced removal of the Chickasaw people in the 1830’s. Close by was Bear Creek Mound and that was the last mound we saw along the Trace. We crossed from Mississippi into Alabama and stopped to hike up the Freedom Hills Overlook, which at 800’ is the highest Alabama point on the Trace (Alabama only has a 33-mile section on the Trace). At Colbert Stand we learned about the Inn and Ferry business that Chickasaw George Colbert operated in the early 1800’s and saw John Coffee Memorial bridge over the Tennessee River, which is the Parkway’s longest bridge. We crossed into Tennessee and they had a turn off for a 2.5-mile section of the original trace that you could drive on but unfortunately RV’s weren’t allowed. We pulled off to see the Napier Iron Mine exhibit and this was the first location where we actually saw other people stopped.
The next time we drive along the Trace we will try to stay at the Meriwether Lewis Campground but this time we just stopped in to see the location and gravesite where Captain Meriwether Lewis (leader of the Meriwether Clark expedition) died in 1809. Now we were starting to see lots more people touring around so it seemed like Tennessee hadn’t gotten the message about the Coronavirus. Our next stops were Fall Hollow and Jackson Falls to see the waterfalls, and a short stop at Gordon House which was a trading post and ferry crossing. Just before the end of the Trace we crossed Birdsong Hollow which has a Double Arch bridge over TN Highway 96, and it won the 1995 Presidential Award for Design Excellence. The actual end for our 444-mile journey seemed almost anticlimactic as the road just forked over to Junction with Highway 100. Somehow, we were expecting something more pronounced😉 We know we will do the Natchez Trace again in the future so we can cover all the things we had to miss in our shortened journey. We were really glad to see a Shell station right on Highway 100 as the light had come on for low fuel quite awhile ago! We were also able to see the famous Loveless Café beside the Shell station but of course it wasn’t open due to the Coronavirus situation. We drove through Nashville and entered Kentucky to stay at Dad’s Bluegrass campground (used to be a KOA) in Franklin.
The next two days were mainly travel days. We drove from Franklin Kentucky to the KOA in Wapakoneta Ohio and then drove from there to our home in South Bruce Peninsula, Ontario Canada. In the Franklin campground we emptied our grey and black tanks and flushed the black tank. In Wapakoneta we had a heavy wet snowfall as we arrived at the campground and then the next morning, we did our full winterization so we could drive home and not worry about pipes freezing. These were both really long days for me as the driver. Timing weather situations makes it very tricky when you’re coming home early. At the border crossing in Port Huron/Sarnia the first question the agent asked was if we had any symptoms of the Coronavirus. She would not take our passports until I answered that question. She asked if we were aware that we would need to quarantine in our home for 14 days and have a friend deliver our groceries, which we answered yes, and we had already made the arrangements. She handed us a detailed sheet from the government on what to do because of the virus and she did not ask any questions about what we were bringing back into Canada, darn I didn’t buy more wine and beer before coming back😉 We completed our drive home, emptied the RV, and parked Plankton back in her garage. Our neighbour Cathy dropped off our fresh goods groceries and we began our quarantine period.
This blog concludes RV Trip 6. We had to cut it short due to the Coronavirus situation but luckily neither of us got sick at all during this trip or in our quarantine time period back home. Here is a link to the 7,104 km journey we took from November 28 2019 through until March 23 2020: RV Trip 6 Full Map
You can zoom in on that google map version of our trip as it shows all the data points captured from our GPS logger. We looked at our Strava app recorded activities and we did a total of 527 kms on our bikes and 263 kms of hiking. Of course, this does not count other walking activities just the ones we considered hikes. Our original plan was to go to the Florida panhandle and follow Interstate 10 West until it was time to come home. However right off the bat we took a diversion and followed the South Carolina and Georgia coastlines and we really enjoyed those areas. Lots of beach time including our first shark teeth finds and historical areas like Charleston and Savannah. Next, we started covering swamp areas like the Okefenokee in Georgia and the Springs in Florida. We did repeat a few places in the Florida panhandle that we had seen on RV Trip 2, but we also visited several State Parks that we hadn’t been to before. Getting bookings in the State Parks in Florida was far worse than our last trip. We now had to try to book at least 2 to 3 weeks in advance and that is very hard for our travel style. This meant we had to prejudge how many days we would need in each park to do the things we wanted to in that park. However, this was still better for us than attempting to plan a full year in advance which many seem to do now. Once we reached Louisiana it was easier to get bookings, but the weekends would still be a problem. The only area we spent a lot of time researching was the Natchez Trace and of course we had to cut that very short due to the Coronavirus. There are always lots of areas that we add to our bucket list for future trips.
Our favorite park of the trip was Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina because it had lots of things we enjoy; mountain biking, beaches full of shells and sharks teeth as well a historic lighthouse and nature talks. Our most unique experience was kayaking on the Okefenokee Swamp with the gators watching us! I’ll close this blog with a saying I liked from the Tickfaw SP Nature centre which said “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. Feel free to leave any comments about RV Trip 6 or what you enjoyed reading about in this blog series. Thank you to those who regularly comment as it helps us to stay connected while we travel. We hope our blog inspires you to seek out travel adventures. Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, and start to plan your next adventure!