Tag Archives: Natchez Trace

I learned today the Natchez Trace was . . .

a lot of things to a lot of people over as much as 2,000 years and counting. Native Americans used it first and longest. It much later became commercially important to our young nation as a haul road, then fell into disuse to be re-discovered and celebrated.

The Trace’s history goes back, way back. I read something a week or two ago about early settlers in the 1800s into some part of the U.S. and caught myself thinking, “they mean European settlers, right?”

Pharr Mounds

How do we seem to forget we weren’t the first peoples here? So it goes with The Natchez Trace — native Americans probably used this natural travel corridor in their migrations and buried their dead at places along the Trace like the Pharr Mounds, dating to over 2,000 years ago.

Early native American settlers (the real settlers) lived, farmed, and traded in this area 800 to 1,000 years ago, according to archeologists. The Choctaw, Chickamauga, and Natchez lived here and traipsed the paths of the Trace.

The old road was an important trade route from the early 1800s for farmers and other producers. They could load freight onto barges and follow the river’s current south to markets. They would follow the Trace home from Natchez north to as far as Nashville.

The mail carriers used the Trace too — President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 designated it as a national postal road. But by the mid-1880s steam-powered paddle boats were in use to haul cargo up the might Mississippi River. The paddle boats could make the trip far faster than oxen or horses drawing a wagon along the Natchez Trace.

The Natchez Trace became a cause célèbre after the September 1905 publication of an article by John Swain in Everybody’s Magazine. Swain wrote, “The Natchez Trace itself, even if it were not so picturesque and delightful in its whole length, has played so great a part in our country’s history that it by right demands attention and a visit from us.”

Swain’s magazine article awakened historical interest in certain circles, notably Daughters of the American Revolution. They successfully campaigned for legislation to restore and protect the Trace. Some years later President Roosevelt approved inclusion into the National Parks System in 1938. The National Park Service’s current brochure states the Parkway was “officially completed in 2005” and that it “commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southwest.”

The Natchez Trace is 444 miles in length, from Natchez MS to Nashville TN. The Trace has six bicycle-only campgrounds, thirty-four picnic areas, thirty-six history exhibits, three Parkway campgrounds (no hook-ups) and at least nine more public campgrounds including state parks and Corps of Engineers.

much like the Blue Ridge Pkwy

If you’ve driven parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, driving this may seem very familiar. The road has no shoulders, the speed limit is a relaxing 50 mph, there are no billboards, no businesses are fronting the Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway and is only for non-commercial uses.

damage from April 2011 tornadoes

We had a big surprise soon after turning onto the Natchez Trace Parkway. We saw a tremendous amount of deadfall for perhaps ten or twelve miles along both sides of the Parkway. Trees were variously broken off ten to twenty feet above the ground or were uprooted and heaved over, roots and all. A sign explained, “Tornado damage April 2011”. Do you remember the tremendous tornadoes that assaulted Tuscaloosa AL just last year? They apparently traveled for miles up this Parkway, leaving an ugly autograph.

Nice exhibits and helpful folks

We stopped awhile at the Visitor Center near mile 264 (north of Tupelo). They provided us a brochure and map, a long listing of campgrounds private and public, and helpful inside info about three nearby campgrounds we might try for tonight.

Nice new sign for the State campground at mile 304

Their recommendation was excellent — we chose Tishomingo State Park for the nice views around the lake. The state park is directly along side the Parkway, access is easy, and the sites are nicely laid out. Except for one detail — they missed on the elevations! Our pad, and apparently many others, drops off on three sides by a foot or more. There’s not room for anything but the trailer on the pad. Not a huge deal but you sure would hate to back up a little bit crooked and . . . fall off.

Another time we can survey the entire 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez for an enjoyable two weeks. This trip we are grateful to take in the scenic road, interesting historic markers along the way, and have an entire afternoon’s driving along at 50 mph without any zoomy trucks, without any stop signs or traffic signals, without any hurry. “Destination unknown” was just fine with us — we enjoyed the drive.

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What’s a weekend without wifi?

Sitting outside the RV before sun-up this morning.  Chilly, around 50 degrees and no wind.  The sky is brightening but no sunlight hitting the trees high all ‘round us.

Strong steady whishing noise from through the trees south and west of our RV, must be Sol Duc River.  The river isn’t large or deep, but has that nice whitewater rushing water sound.  Debbie says this one sounds like white noise.

Before leaving bed, grabbed a camera to capture this view from the pillow through our bedroom window.  The nice part of camping in the forest or a field almost anywhere — leave the shades open at night.

Our window view up from the bed pillow

No streetlights burning brightly in, just pitch black everywhere.  It helps we’re under a new moon and amongst densely-packed tall trees.  Clear skies, unlike most times last week in Lacey, if we look straight up in this small clearing.

We drove 101 north from Olympia along Hood Canal (not a canal at all, but the sole glacier-formed fjord in continental USA, 600 feet deep and huge) through a series of small towns.  Much of this we recognized from our visit two years ago with a WBCCI caravan, National Landmarks West.

Lake Crescent on Olympic Peninsula

Through Port Angeles we drove and onward alongside Lake Crescent, a large and deep glacier-formed beautiful blue lake ringed with tree-covered slopes.  We were surprised not a single sailboat was on the lake despite steady winds across the water (We read later, personal watercraft not allowed on this lake). The day is a little cool – are they awaiting a warmer day?

The road from 101 into Olympic National Park evoked memories of Natchez Trace in Tennessee, a paved long and narrow road through the forest.  But this road to Sol Duc Resort Campground is through old growth Douglas firs, every other one seems six feet and greater diameter.

The 1912 Sol Duc Resort was pretty grand

More than 95 years ago was built a four-story resort at these Sol Duc hot springs.  The picture of the resort evokes thoughts of the grand destination lodges built by the American and Canadian rail line companies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  But this one lasted only four years before it burned to the ground.

Sol Duc has two campgrounds, the National Park one and the “Resort” one.  The latter has 20 sites and electricity and water hookups but no comfort stations or toilets.  The former has 82 sites, no hookups but vault toilets.  The national park one has paved roads and sites.  The resort is dirt and rocks.

We’re in the Resort campground.  For the $32 per night price we were expecting to be a little wowed.  Far from it, though — this is a gravel parking lot with railroad ties defining camping spaces between 13 and 18 feet wide.  And the utilities post sits at the back edge, each serving two sites.

Space is tight, sites are not deep enough to park the truck lengthwise in front of the trailer and aren’t wide enough to park the truck crosswise.  We moved our truck this morning to provide a departing camper necessary clearance.

The Resort is a small two-story lodge building, pools, and collection of small KOA-style cabins situated on the other side of the river, 300 yards from our campsite.  Three 25’ diameter wading pools are the hot springs.  And a 60’ long unheated swimming pool attracted no adults during our brief reconnoitering.

Sol Duc Resort Lodge 2010

The “lodge” houses offices, a gift shop, a small camping store with beer, charcoal lighter, firewood, marshmallows (the things you wish you hadn’t forgotten).  And there’s a restaurant.  But no wifi, no lounge area to hang out.  We’re a lot surprised an area calling itself a resort lacks these.

Lest you think we’ve lost sight of who and where we are, we’re not complaining about the accommodations.  We only are commenting.  Television holds no attraction for us, wifi and phone service are conveniences we’re fine without.  Well, sort of fine, we think.  But how will we spend our time?

We’re in a designated wilderness area and need to take full advantage of the benefits.  This is an incredibly gorgeous national park.  We’re glad we’re here.  Numerous hiking trails provide us opportunities for seeing more of the old growth forest, and the river’s falls, and some nearby lakes.  We’ve met nice folks.  And it IS dark and quiet at night, as we said.

Let’s go hiking!  The resort provides a trails map indicating several hikes and mileages.  Our first day out we don’t need a long hike, maybe a couple or three miles.  We chose one listed as 0.8 miles each way.  It doesn’t say, and we didn’t check, the starting location.  It would have been a good idea.

How big are these old Douglas Firs?

The trail is Sol Duc Falls trail from one side, and is named Lovers Lane loop from the other end at the resort.  It’s a very nice walk up one side of the river to the Sol Duc River falls and back the other side of the river through old growth forest.  On closer inspection, after our hike, the map shows distances for each trail from the trail’s respective trailhead.  Makes sense, but means you either drive to the trailhead or add the walking distance from campsite to trailhead.

Sol Duc Falls

Our hike was six miles, more than we bargained for our first day out but still a nice walk in the woods.  Second day we hiked the ancient grove nature trail, less than a mile-long loop.  It is beautiful and we would have enjoyed another mile or two of it.  Still, we deserve a long soak in the hot springs, right?  We paid $12 per adult for all the soaking we can take in a day

One pool is pretty warm at 104 degrees, one is less so, and one is barely warm.  We spent over an hour in the warmest pool, kneeling on the bottom so water was up to our necks.  The pool was so crowded, at 4:30 in the afternoon, we felt like sardines packed in a tin.  A movement back or left or right and we bumped into someone.

Hot springs pools at Sol Duc resort

And four of five of the someones were non-English speaking.  We thought we recognized Russian, German, and Japanese, but we weren’t certain.  We heard almost no English amongst the over one hundred people crammed into this warm pool.  Fortunately, 5:00 rolled around and enough people trickled out to make more room in the pool.

Our third day we hiked to Mink Lake, a 5.2 mile round trip with 1,500 feet elevation gain.  We passed through stands of very tall Douglas firs and were amazed at the great piles of fallen trees we frequently saw from the trail.  The hike up to Mink Lake took a little longer than the return trip for only one reason:  blueberries.

We stopped ten minutes on our way up to pick and eat blueberries.  Most were not fully ripened but we each ate a half-cup of pretty good berries.  We couldn’t have denied it either — our hands were deeply stained from some of the ripe berries.

Mink Lake seemed small, maybe an acre or two at most.  An old backpacker’s shelter and fire ring provide one of several designated campsites for backpackers.  Blueberry bushes abound on the lake’s south shore and the berries are larger and in clusters instead of singles like we found on the trail.

Mink Lake in ONP

We donned our fleeces and sat in the very cool afternoon long enough to share a snack bar.  Sunlight was fading and air temperature, which hadn’t exceeded 60 degrees, was falling.  So we packed up and hiked back down to our silver home at Sol Duc Resort.

Absent any wifi, we spent more time reading, hiking, and writing.  We’re craving connectivity, but appreciating the calm and un-busy nature of our days here.  This has been a nice visit in a very nice forest.   Maybe the resort has it figured out after all?

Today, Labor Day, it’s pouring down rain in Forks, 15 miles west of Sol Duc.  We’re in the Thriftway Outfitters/Grocery/Bakery, adjacent to the Dew Drop Inn (yep, another one).  Every other storefront in Forks includes either a store name or a feature with “Twilight”.  We had no idea whatsoever, never heard of Twilight series before.  Different layers of life — even frequent wifi doesn’t reveal all. . .

Jim and Debbie
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