New Orleans to Natchez, MS and Onto the Trace

The Mississippi River bridge at Natchez
Our campground is just beyond the bridge over Doug’s left shoulder. Beautiful evening in Natchez!


Doug has just informed me that we have already traveled 3,056 miles.  Our day ended on the banks of the Mississippi River near the town of Natchez and the beginning of the Natchez Trace.

You must understand that the “Trace” is a pathway (now a road) that connects Nashville, TN with Natchez, MS. Initially the trace was a south to north migratory route for the “Kaintucks” (the Kentuckians). These men built large flat bottomed boats to float Ohio River Valley goods down to New Orleans. When they arrived they sold everything including the boat for lumber!  They then walked, yes walked, home using a well established trail – the Natchez Trace! There were no boats that could move upstream against the Mississippi River current. (more information to follow) By 1820 the steamboat ended the need for the upstream, south to north walk to Nashville. However there soon began a reverse north to south migration which remains a dark part of America’s history – the slave walk.

In the early 1800’s one half of all the millionaires in the U.S. lived in one town, Natchez! Their fortunes came primarily from the expanding cotton industry and, sadly, the slave trade.  By 1820 the importation of slaves into the U.S. was illegal. However, the declining tobacco farms in the North provided valuable slaves for the ever growing southern cotton fields. Selling slaves  remained legal in the southern states.  A Virginia or Maryland slave was worth 50% more if transported to Mississippi. This financial incentive generated the new north to south slave trail. The civil war ended  this slave trade – thankfully! There is more to this trail and road but the fact that it ends in Natchez explains the city.

Natchez, once one of the wealthiest towns on the Mississippi, survives mostly on tourists visiting the many antebellum mansions.  Don’t think I am smart using big words like “antebellum”.  I had never heard the word before today.  It simply means pre Civil War.  These are homes that survived the civil war and are original buildings built before the Civil War.

The openness of this RV Park on the river is Natchez is a stark contrast to The French Quarter.  Natchez has shut down by 9 pm while New Orleans is a 24 hour city.  The closest RV is at least 60 feet away not 12 feet away as in the French Quarter.  A bike ride on the banks of the Mississippi river completed our day.  Dinner was at a darling cafe called the Cotton Alley Cafe.  Seems they can fry anything here…..even our dinner rolls were fried!  So far I have not encountered a vegetable that isn’t fried…

Today my church is sitting in a swing on the side of the Mississippi River.  I am grateful for the privilege  of being able to see this fine country and learn more of how it came to be.  It seems that the majority of people in the world simply want to earn an honest living, love their God and their families.  Why do things get so complicated?  As my grandma La Bertew used to say “What is this world coming to?”. Something else comes to mind….Dinesh DeSousa mentioned in one of his documentaries that, throughout the world, many millions of people are born into this world and NEVER venture more than a mile from their birthplace….imagine. I am glad we have this opportunity to see our wonderful country – from sea to shinning sea.

It is Sunday and I am expecting to see some pleasure craft on the river, but no….it seems this part of the waterway is “all work and no play”.  This is the 4th largest river in the world as determined by its length and volume.  It is muddy brown.

We will be dry camping (no hookups) for the next few days, so we need to get some clean clothes and food.  Walmart….. I can find my way around the food section of the store, but I doubt I will ever be able to navigate the rest of the place.  It is the most bizarre store I have ever shopped.  Is it my logic or their’s?  At any rate, their parking lots are usually easy to navigate and we have been known to spend an occasional night there.  I did find that along the I-5 coming back from Washington last year, that several of the Walmarts did not allow “overnighting” … it seems some people spent there entire time  “vacationing” in the parking lots….yuck.

Another Adventure begins…..The Natchez Trace 4/18-22/2016

The Original Natchez Trace
The Original Natchez Trace
Navigator's view of the modern Trace
Navigator’s view of the modern Trace

The trace stretches 444 miles from Natchez Mississippi, through the north west tip of Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee.  It originated in prehistoric times when giant bison carved the original path.  Then came hunters, numerous indian tribes, the Spanish conquistadors followed by trappers.  As stated earlier, the “Kaintuck” boatmen would float their goods down the Mississippi then sell everything, including their boats for lumber in New Orleans. They would then tramp home on the Trace.  With the development of the steamboat in 1820, the Natchez Trace was suddenly quiet  Time marched on and the Civil War was fought.  Some of the notables that lived in the area were Elvis Presley and Helen Keller.

This is the longest National Park in the US.  It only averages about 800 feet wide.  The renovation and preservation of the highway started in 1938 and not completed until around 1996.  It is simply a two lane highway in the most beautiful country you can imagine.  There are no billboards and cell service is weak to absent.  No trucks or commercial vehicles are allowed and the speed limit does not exceed 50 miles per hour.  There are a multitude of places to stop and explore. We found that 5 days on the Trace was not nearly enough time.  Doug always says “ We will come back”.  I know we never will. (Doug here – yes we will!)

 A segment of well used "sunken trace" worn down by heavy use
A segment of well used “sunken trace” worn down by heavy use

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When the rebuilding of this “road” was conceived and started in 1938, RVs, big RVs, were not even a spark in someones conscience.  This is reflected in the road’s construction.  There are numerous turnouts for picnics or historical markers. We never knew if we were turning into a pullout from which we could not easily exit!  Doug is a master at driving this huge hunk of machinery.  He can manipulate this thing within an inch of a tree now….did I mention that he did once back into our Jeep (our brand new Jeep) a few years ago…our maiden voyage to Bend, OR?  He has become a true master since then.  Fortunately we only had one incident in the 444 miles where we had to unhook our Jeep just to back up. This does make for some anxiety.

1st Day out…..we only made it to mile marker 55.

Our first stop was Mount Locust, only 15 miles into our journey.  It is the only place on this entire road that we saw a Park Ranger, and these were volunteer docents.  The structure was a residence of a married couple that homesteaded the property in the early 1800s. They were required to build a structure 16×20 feet to honor that agreement with the Spaniards.  They found that men  would stop for shelter and food.  They added a few rooms and started a business….perhaps the precursor to today’s B&Bs.  These were called “stays”.  This was  the only “antebellum” stay left standing on the Trace.  The docents were a married couple that had been “full timing” for many years.  She said when they first started that they didn’t see their children for 5 years.  They encouraged us to “just let your imagination run wild and imagine what life was like back then”………and we did.

Mt Locust Stay
Mt Locust Stay

We spent the night at Rocky Springs Camp Ground.  First come, first served. 18 sites and only 1/2 full.  No services  No cell signal  No reservations  No Fee, only a beautiful forrest with a fire pit and a picnic table and pull throughs. NO KIDDING.  With “nothing to do” Doug and I watched the first half of Gone With The Wind…….very appropriate for the Civil War National Military Park..Vicksburg….that we toured the next day.

Our campsite as seen from the RV. We were deep in a forest!
Our campsite as seen from the RV. We were deep in a forest!


Day 2…..Vicksburg…..The “Key” Victory for the Union Army

We thought we would be moving up the Trace today but we were encouraged to visit this Civil War site.  This is an enormous memorial to the Confederate and Union troops that fought one the the “key” battles of the American Civil War.  It was the battle for control of the Mississippi River in the South.  This was a battle waged over an approximately 7 month period with an actual 47 day siege on the city.  The park spanned 16 miles of battle fields.  I had not realized the 620,000 lives were lost during the Civil War. Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in all the nation’s wars–620,000 in the Civil War alone and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War.

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Bonny standing behind the still standing Union earthen works. The guns are trained on the Confederate lines and the city at Vicksburg
The restored hull (partial) of the USS Cairo
The restored hull (partial) of the USS Cairo
One of the guns of the USS Cairo
One of the guns of the USS Cairo

While we were in one of the museums that housed a restored iron clad boat (one of six produced for the war) we started talking to couple of other tourists.  Doug  wears his 101st Airborne hat because it often starts some very interesting conversations with total strangers. There is a certain affinity within the ranks of the military that we outsiders don’t understand. Steven was a retired Army aviator and had served at Fort Campbell where Doug was stationed for two years after finishing his residency.  Well, I should have just gone and taken a nap…..this conversation went on and on.  It turns out Steve had worked with Bob Johnson, Doug’s best friend and the person we were going to be spending some time with at Fort Campbell.  To top it off, Steve also knew John Mihalka, the son of our friends Denny and Mary from Redding and Long Beach.  Their son John is an aviator graduate from West Point that gave up his commission and became a Warrant Officer in order to continue what he loved best…flying.  True aviators love to fly! Small world.

Steve and his wife Suzanne. Retired Army Aviator
Steve and his wife Suzanne. Retired Army Aviator

Day 3….we have only gone 60 miles

Cypress Swamp

Another of many interesting places along the Trace.  I was keeping my eye out for those “logs with eyes” (‘gators) and glad I had turned in my flip flops for hiking boots.  We had been warned that there are 6 species of poisonous snakes here. 

Footbridge over the Cypress swamp - safer than wadding!
Footbridge over the Cypress swamp – safer than wadding!
Cypress Swamp
Cypress Swamp

French Camp

This place turned out to be an amazing stop.  The population is 176 with an additional 150 students enrolled in the French Camp Academy… 326. It is a small American town but with a VERY big heart. It was established in 1838.  The entire town works to support the mission of the Academy….”French Camp Academy is an interdenominational Christian boarding school.  Striving to feel more like a home away from home and push toward academic excellence, French Camp Academy accepts students from first through twelfth  grades who are interested in a fresh start in life. They provide a safe, healthy, community for young people from all over the country nestled in tall southern pines located in rural Mississippi away from many distractions and negative influences of our culture. Their goal is to educate academically, develop sound character qualities and an inspiring work ethic, develop skills and talents, open doors of opportunity, mentor and counsel for social and emotional maturity, and lay a Christ-centered foundation on which to build a successful life.”

The one thing I particularly liked was the work program.  Each student works 10-15 hours a week.  This helps offset their tuition.  They pay according to family ability or not at all.  A student is never turned away due to inability to pay.  Besides a diploma they end up with a work resume.  Some of the skill development opportunities are in radio broadcasting, horse care, building maintenance and management, clerical skills, photography, quilting and needlework, pottery,  grounds keeping, woodworking, mechanics, photography, graphic design, and construction projects. Another component introduces juniors and seniors to resumé writing, interview skills, and exploring career fields.

We spent some time talking with the waitress at the little cafe at the Academy where we stopped for “Mississippi Mud Pie”.  Besides enjoying her “drawl” we learned so much about the heart of this community.  She was the 2nd person that day to mention how terrified she is about our country’s national debt.  There is no grocery store…the downtown is about 1/2 block long.  It seems when you have a “mission” in your life, life is certainly fulfilling as demonstrated by the folks we met. This town actually works to ensure that the Academy succeeds in offering these often troubled kids a new life. They all know the reason the town exists is “the kids”. 

French Camp
French Camp

Do you know the origin of the Apple logo?  Just a thought… We were asked, is it linked to Genesis? 

The night was spent in civilization at an RV park in Tupelo, Mississippi….the birth place of Elvis.  I had almost forgotten what a great artist he was.  You cannot go to Tupelo without actually visiting the King’s birth place.  That is Doug sitting on the porch where Elvis was born.  Did you know that Elvis was the 2nd of twins?  He was born 30 minutes after his stillborn brother.

Doug swinging on Elvis' porch singing of course!
Doug swinging on Elvis’ porch singing of course!

Send me to your favorite “hole in the wall” diner and I am a happy girl.  Tonight we had SOUTHERN BBQ.  I had fried green tomatoes, brisket, corn bread fritters, & sweet potato casserole.  If I don’t stop this, I am going to look like a little sweet potato.  Our RV stay was at a place call Barnes Crossing almost behind the big Visitor’s Center for the Trace. $35 Veteran discount and cash only “Obama does’t need to know our business” was their answer.  I like their moxie – they are very direct.


Barnes Crossing
Barnes Crossing

4th Day on the Trace

Today we celebrate one month on the road.  Someone asked me if we have wanted to kill each other yet……Doug has got to be the easiest person in the world to live with.  I can’t even “pick a fight” with him….I have tried.  However, every once and a while he will say “It is a good thing you are cute” which I interpret to mean “Hon, you have stepped on my last nerve”.  So far, no need for Dr. Phil.

A small part of the Trace traverses the north western tip of Alabama.  Can’t really say we “saw” the state.  The number one food to taste in Alabama is “white BBQ sauce. What do you think it is?  The predominate ingredient is mayonnaise.  Doug’s two favorite food groups are peanut butter and mayo.  We may not be able to pass this one up.

Our last night on the Trace was at The Meriwether Clark Camp Ground.  It beautifully accommodated our big rig.  Again no hookups, no Host, no cost.  It was so incredibly dark.  It rained and rained and rained.  And, it is not cold.  The RV felt like a steam bath.   Made for a rather sleepless night…….ah but the morning was beautiful.  We ran into a couple of other campers that were alone………I love having time to myself, but camping or hiking alone is not the least bit appealing to me.

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Camping in the forest

Meriwether Clark of Lewis & Clark fame died a age 35….on the Natchez Trace.  We have all heard of Lewis & Clark, but learning about them is fascinating.  For us it began in Astoria Oregon which was the western terminus of their famous expedition, finding the mouth of the Columbia River. To become a part of this history making trip, one had to be the equivalent of a Navy Seal (or and ARMY Ranger) and have a skill that contributed to the success of the mission.  The manner of his death remains a question……was it suicide or murder?  The forensics of the time were questionable.  Doug did point out that the pistols at that time only shot one round and had to be reloaded.  With at least 2 gun shot wounds and his money missing, how could suicide even be considered?

The Clark Monument and our bus
The Clark Monument and our bus

What you don’t see, but you must imagine, is the sound of the wind, the smells, and the bird song.  I read once that God made birds for our pleasure.  Here, their sweet voices are everywhere.  The wild flowers are everywhere, white, purple, pink, yellow, and red.

Leaving the Trace in Tennessee is an enormous double arched bridge.  As we went to walk out on it, we saw this sign.

The sign at the bridge - "There is hope - call anytime"
The sign at the bridge
View from the bridge
View from the bridge

I could’t figure out what it meant,  Doug did!

Our condo in Redding……from the front door you know you are in a condo development.  But you walk to the back and you would think you are out in the country with a grassy knoll covered with oak trees, manzanita and wild black berry bushes and not another house in site.  But, just over that hill is the I-5.  The Trace is sort of like our condo, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, when civilization is just around the bend or through the trees.