Friday, November 11, 2016

The Natchez Trace Parkway-Tennessee

Sign for the Old Trace Walk along the Natchez Trace

The Natchez Trace Parkway

     Ready for yet another adventure my husband, Donald, and I scoured Google Maps looking for the perfect place. Just Southeast of Nashville, Tennessee Donald found David Crockett State Park and as it turns out, if routed correctly we could travel part of The Natchez Trace Parkway. Alright a great scenic drive on our way down to hike in David Crockett I thought. 
   Honestly my back and hips had been killing me lately, I wasn't sure if I was up for several hours in the car, let alone hiking. Lots of icing and hot baths over several days and I finally felt like I could manage, although how much remained to be seen. I was feeling reluctant to make the trip but had already committed and I'm a woman of my word, come hell or high water. 
   Feeling better I finally started researching The Natchez Trace and stumble upon an amazing site, Natchez Trace Travel. Clicking around through the site one can plan their entire trip, from traveling the entire 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee or by traveling sections at a time which we did. An interactive map highlights points of interests and "hot spots" or places of high interest along the way. History and nature collide on this National Scenic Byway which is maintained by the National Park System. 
    I was finally excited about our trip and quickly began using the interactive map on Natchez Trace Travel to learn about the history and discern which stops were in the portion we were traveling as well as which stops we wanted to make. Spreadsheet, I had to have a spreadsheet! There were so many and all carefully detailed, even the mile marker noted! 
    American History has always been one of my favorite subjects, since grade school I devoured anything under the subject and my interest has only grown with my age. Nature, of course, has always been a big part of my life, ever growing from family requirement to an interest and place of solace to a passion and devotion. Being able to combine the two is an awesome adventure to me. 
    Early, I mean EARLY, on a Saturday morning we headed South leaving the state of Kentucky and making our way down to Tennessee. It was dark; so dark there was no horizon, it was cold, and everyone was tired except for Kennedy, our Jack Russell Terrier mix. Donald and I both couldn't wait for the Sun to come up so we could see something other than what the car headlights would allow. 
   When the Sun finally did come up it was blinding as we traveled toward it and Nashville but I at least felt like I wasn't traveling on the Moon any longer. The terrain was much hillier, almost mountainous as we closed in our target. We picked up The Natchez Trace Parkway near an area called Kinderhook, south of Leiper's Fork  and around mile post 410. The Natchez Trace actually starts in Natchez, Mississippi so the miles go up as you head toward Nashville or down for vice versa. 
  The first stop on our list was Water Valley Overlook, a scenic overlook with a picnic area. We reach our target around 9 a.m., there was still a heavy chill in the air, and patchy fog slowly lifting from the low lying areas. Foliage forecast had predicated that we would be arriving during peak colors for the northern section.

View from Water Valley Overlook

  We couldn't have scripted better weather or colors for our day on The Natchez Trace. The Sun was shining, there was a bit of a cool breeze, and the colors were magnificent. Water Valley Overlook was stunning, the hills of the countryside laid out before us, green and brown fields border with rows of trees made a patchwork of the valley floor. Ponds with wisps of fog rising from their waters sat nestled among the steep forested hillsides of greens, reds, oranges, and rust colored hues. Thick patches of fog hovered above the trees in the recesses of the hilly terrain. Farmhouses, barns, and livestock completed the picturesque scene. 
  After stretching our legs a bit and taking the beauty of the first stop we made our way down to Baker's Bluff Overlook. Another stunning scene as described above was laid before our eyes. 

View from Baker's Bluff Overlook
    Large white Cows bellowed below us, their calls echoing up to us off the hills. We meandered around and found a trail that lead to Jackson Falls which was our next stop on the list 1/3 of a mile away. Donald prodded me to take the trail and after snapping a few pics I joined him near the trail head. A sign immediately warned "Steep Incline", all one simply had to do was look past the sign to see you were literally going to be face to face with the ground as you ascended. Nope, no thank you. I quickly shook my head and turned around. I don't mind hiking in the least bit but when I'm going have to claw my way up, you can forget it. I advised Donald we could just drive, if I remembered correctly and cut out a large portion of the death by mountain style hike. He and Kennedy rejoined me at the car and we drove to Jackson Falls.
   Jackson Falls provided a bit of an overlook, most of the view being blocked by trees and foliage. There was another picnic area and another trail head down to Jackson Falls as I had suspected. We trekked our way down a concrete sidewalk along the steep hillside. Navigating over a small wash with a wooden bridge and further down too the foot of Jackson Falls. Unfortunately much of Tennessee is experiencing the same drought conditions that Kentucky is and there was very little water flowing over the falls.

Jackson Falls
   What water was flowing echoed off the high stone bluffs that surrounded us, green moss still clung to the rocks along the creek, the leaves were a kaleidoscope of colors against the sky and Earth. We milled about, I taking pictures, Donald and Kennedy exploring. A bench sat just off the creek, facing the falls so we took advantage and soaked up the sounds of the forest and the trickling water, all deliciously devoid of human noises.

View from the bench at Jackson Falls
   The bad part about descending is usually you must ascend at sometime or another. For us it was obvious as we trekked down that would be our path back up and I knew it was going to suck. Despite knowing that I had gone down, now I had to go up. I have been working on my inclines, trying to keep my posture correct while traversing them and thereby hopefully reducing any low back pain. All in all, it wasn't too horrible, a few craps, some huffing and puffing, and I was back at the car.

The not so steep section down to Jackson Falls
    Next stop was one of my favorites, Old Trace Walk, where you can actually walk a portion of the original Trace. The Old Natchez Trace dates back to the 1700's when sections were animal or Indian trails.

Sign at the trail head

     Here we strolled down the sunken path worn by many before us hundreds of years before. The Autumn colors abounded as the Sun peered through the forest canopy at us. Leaves crunched under our feet as we retraced the steps of so many along The Natchez Trace. On our way back we came to a spot where the birds were chirping loudly and squirrels were milling about the branches. We stopped a moment, took a seat upon a downed tree and just took in the forests sounds. Suddenly a Chipmunk jumped out just 20 feet down the path and darted across the forest floor. We watched for a few minutes as he darted in and out of the downed leaves on the forest floor before taking our leave.

Section of Old Trace Walk
     A large expanse of undulating forest spread out before us at Swan Overlook, dotted with the water tower for the town of Hohenwald. Hills, splashed with the varying colors of Autumn, that rolled till they smacked right up against the horizon.
Swan Overlook
       Fall Hollow Falls awaited us next and I hoped it wouldn't be as dry as Jackson Falls had been, nor as steep. We pulled into the parking area and headed down a dirt path,  that lead to a wooden bridge over a small stream. The sound of the falls was apparent as we headed down the path. After crossing over the bridge the trail turned, becoming muddy at times and made it's way to a wooden observation area overlooking the falls.

Fall Hollow Falls
     We took the time to snap a few pictures before an older couple joined us. After making small talk we made our way back to our vehicles and as we began to pull out the man held up a drink, offering it to us. We politely waved off his offer, being well prepared. It can be some distance for fuel, food, water or lodging along The Natchez Trace so his offer was understandable, although not needed, but very much appreciated. It was nice to see such consideration from a complete stranger we hadn't spoken to for more than 10 minutes.
     The Natchez Trace Parkway is like any other road, requiring maintenance and upkeep. Current maintenance meant that a portion of the parkway was closed. We had hoped it had been completed prior to our arrival but we hadn't been so lucky. There was a marked detour and I did print off the map so there was no issue getting around the closure.
     Highway 20 intersects with The Natchez Trace and here you will find the death and burial site of Meriwether Lewis. A pioneer cemetery with a monument of a lone broken shaft reaching toward the sky to commemorate the historic figure. An old pioneer log cabin sits, abandoned, a shuttered site for information. More portions of the Old Trace can be walked here as well as the site of the homestead where Lewis met his demise.
Pioneer Cemetery
      Our next stop was Metal Ford and Buffalo River, the historical site where pioneers forded the cold waters of the Buffalo River and former home to Steele's Iron Works. A charcoal burning furnace was used on site to manufacture pig iron, though there are no remnants. We strolled the little trail that followed the shore of the Buffalo River, it's babble ever present. The little trail eventually turned and went down into a dry channel once used to funnel water off the river for the furnace. The channel walls were only 8 to 10' in height and it's floor lined with dry leaves of the season's colors. We followed the path back to it's start and explored a little more before taking our leave.

Buffalo River

   The final item on our list was Old Trace Drive, where one can drive a 2.5 mile portion of the original route. I was a little nervous about taking my Malibu down this drive but after talking to a few others who had driven it on motorcycles I had little worry. It wound it's way through the woods, brilliant from Autumn's brush. There were several spots providing scenic views to the surrounding hills full of yet more Fall splendor. It's certainly a must if you ever find yourself along the Natchez Trace.

Old Trace Drive

   Back out on The Natchez Trace the remaining five miles we soaked in the beauty every second we could. Donald nor I wanted to leave it behind us but a new adventure laid ahead in David Crockett State Park.  We arrived to find a 5K race going on and people everywhere. Navigating back through the park was difficult, with runners, hikers and other traffic dotting the way like an obstacle course. It was quickly decided to abandon our original plan to hike to the falls and instead we drove up and parked nearby. Parking wasn't easy either, the circular lot was full of cars and people. I managed to find an empty slot and parked.
  It was a simple stroll to David Crockett Falls, several people were playing and wading in the stream. I hurried down to the shoreline, snapped several pictures and then dashed back to the car eager to get away from the onslaught of humans after a tranquil morning of virtual solitude.

Crockett Falls
    We had decided to take advantage of the the pet friendly dining area at the restaurant in the park, Crockett's Mill. Donald and Kennedy took a seat in the outdoor dining area while I went and let the staff know our wishes. We were quickly accommodated with silverware and menus being brought out to our table, the waitress even served Kennedy a bowl of fresh water. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but was nice to see a sit down restaurant with a pet friendly option.
   It was time to start making our way back toward the hotel we had reserved a room at. I had chosen a different route to return along, Highway 13. As it turns out, it was a Scenic byway through mountainous terrain with winding curves and steep hills. It was a beautiful drive through the scenic Tennessee countryside.
  By the time we made it to our hotel we had been on and off the road for 10 hours and I couldn't tell you how many miles we had logged. Everyone was definitely ready to be out of the car for more than a few minutes at time. Our hiking plans for the day had been thwarted so we sat down and did a little more research for where we could hike that was en-route home.
  We quickly found Big Sandy Wildlife Refuge, it was still open for another couple weeks and had a trail that interested us. Plans were made to be up early again the following morning and with Daylight Savings Time ending, we got plenty of rest.
   Another couple hours of driving had us landing in the Big Sandy Refuge where we made use of Bennett's Observation deck on our way back towards the trail head. Ducks, geese and even American Pelicans could be spied along the shores of the Tennessee River.
   Gingerly driving down dusty gravel roads we pulled into the trail head parking only to find that the trail was closed for hunting season. Disappointing to say the least, we had saw no notice on the website but definitely didn't want to be accidentally shot by someone game hunting. I turned the car around and we drove the remaining distance back home.

Bennett's Observation Deck
   I fell in love with the Natchez Trace while there and despite any other disappointments in our adventure it was more than worthwhile to explore such a gem in the heart of Tennessee. Next time I travel the Parkway I hope to be completing the remaining miles in Alabama and Mississippi.
  It's important not to let little setbacks and disappointments overshadow something that was so spectacular. In today's world it's easier to look towards the negatives but I choose to dwell in the light of the positives and revel in my experiences, good or bad.

Adventure Awaits!





No comments:

Post a Comment