Friday, May 02, 2014

US Hwy 70 — Detour: Natchez Trace Parkway

You may be wondering why a guy who doesn't like cities or country music is visiting Nashville, TN. Well, the main reason I am here is to scout out a road… And what a road it turned out to be!

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 444 miles from the southern Appalachian foothills near Nashville to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. It is in a national park throughout its route, commemorating the most significant early highway of the Old Southwest.

To say it is an impossibly beautiful road does not do it justice. Uninterrupted by so much as a stop sign for its entire length, the smooth two lane roadway is a pleasure to drive. Commercial traffic is prohibited, there are few access point to other roads and the speed limit is 50mph. All of which combine to make it a peaceful, secluded, lightly traveled route. It is simply gorgeous!

The natural travel corridor that became the Natchez Trace dates back many centuries. It bisected the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. As the US expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. You can see it here, on the far side of the fence.

There are numerous opportunities to pause along the road, ranging from simple pull-outs to more substantial picnic/camping areas with comfort facilities. Natural and historical points of interest are well designed and maintained, illustrating in some detail the historical significance of the route.

Happy and I stopped at one to take a lovely 2-mile loop walk through the woods, and at another to see a monument commemorating the route's significance in moving troops during the War of 1812.

Not surprisingly, the road is very popular with cyclists, and I strongly encourage any of you two-wheelers to make it a priority ride. Limited access to supplies, facilities and accommodations would require some detailed planning, but I guarantee it would be the ride of your life.

It didn't hurt to drive the route on a beautiful day! While the portion of the road that I drove was set mostly amongst lush green forests, there were numerous places to stop and enjoy sweeping views of the countryside. The entire route crosses four distinct ecosystems, all sure to be stunning.

Since my mission for the day was only to scout the road as a possible future expedition — which it clearly warrants and is now on my list! — I stopped after driving only 60 of the 444 miles. That coincided with the location of one of the larger park facilities on the route, where Ranger Carol provided me with some excellent intel on planning my future exploration and gave Happy some much appreciated pats. It's also where Meriwhether Lewis "died of gunshot wounds" so Happy and I posed by the monument in honor of our fellow explorer.

After a long, overwhelmingly rewarding day scouting this astonishing road, Happy and I high-tailed it on the nearest interstate back to Nashville for the night. Considering the semi-leisurely pace we set for the day, I'm now planning on 10 days to do our future expedition right… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.


Mark said...

According to my reading, the ghost of the highway John Murrell still walks the Natchez Trace. Any sightings?

Macgellan said...

Nope, didn't see him... I did appreciate the euphemism that Meriwhether Lewis "died of gunshot wounds"... Sad, sad story of a guy who was perfect at one thing (exploration) being drafted into something he wasn't cut out for (politics)... Reminds me of Ernest Shackleton, etc...