A Place of Quiet Contemplation: Driving the Natchez Trace Scenic Parkway
In the beginning, several thousand years ago, the Natchez Trace was just that—a trace, a vague path trampled in the grass by migrating animals in search of grazing lands.
Where the animals went, the hunters followed, ancient Americans from the Mississippian culture who trampled a footpath in the trace in pursuit of their prey. They also left other evidence of their presence, the great burial mounds seen up and down the Mississippi Valley. Emerald Mound is one such, just a few hundred yards off the Trace, near Natchez.
In 1742 the first European traveled the Trace. He reported miserable conditions, swamps and sloughs, like Cypress Swamp near present day Jackson, Mississippi.
Sixty years later, President Thomas Jefferson, seeking a way to connect the Mississippi River to Virginia authorized an extension of Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road from Nashville along the route of the Natchez Trace. Those hearty enough to try it found mud, mosquitoes and snakes, as well as water logged trails. To get around them, they took alternative routes like the so called “Sunken Trace”, a visible reminder of how the sodden earth was pummeled into a trench by passing travelers.
In the early 1800’s boatmen known as “Kaintucks” steered flatboats down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and from there to New Orleans to sell their wares. Unable to overcome the upstream current, they had to walk back to “Kaintucky” on foot, following the Natchez Trace. So many Kaintucks passed the home of William Ferguson en route, he felt obliged to provide them food and comfort. Ferguson’s home, Mount Locust, can still be seen today, America’s first highway rest stop.
With the advent of steamboats and railroads, the Trace fell into disuse. Because the Trace runs mostly through wilderness with just a few major towns along the way, it was chosen by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930’s as the route of a scenic parkway. Today the Natchez Trace Scenic Parkway extends 444 miles through three states. To drive its full length typically takes three or four days.
Like all America’s Scenic Parkway’s, the Natchez Trace is sparsely traveled. Choose a spot to sit and wait, and a car passes only about once every minute. The speed limit is 40 mph, but the typical driver on the Trace drives slower than that. The setting is tranquil. The scenery is beautiful.
Access points are spaced on average about every twenty miles. Stone bridges over the roadway are the first visible sign that an access point is approaching.
At many points you are tempted to stop and enjoy the peaceful serenity of the place.
The Natchez Trace offers scenes of beauty and wonder around every turn. It’s worth traveling, if only to seek a place of quiet contemplation away from it all.
Previous Stop on the Odyssey: Oxford, MS
Next Stop on the Odyssey: St. Francesville, LA
My American Odyssey Route Map
Shadow dappled road, Malcolm Logan
Emerald Mound, Ken Lund
Natchez Trace Cypress Swamp, Visit Mississippi
Sunken Trace, Ian E. Abbott
Mount Locust, Malcolm Logan
Distance sign, Malcolm Logan
Grazing horses, Malcolm Logan
Stone bridge, Malcolm Logan
Curving road through the trees, Malcolm Logan
Hay spools in a meadow, Malcolm Logan