Wanderlust often takes me to far ﬂung places, yet a times, I have the throbbing desire to discover more of the good old US of A. Recently, while visiting New Orleans, I remembered that Natchez, a mere two hours away, had always pulled at my heart strings. It did not take long to discover the green line on the map going off in a northeastern direction and traversing Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, ending in Nashville –the Natchez Trace Parkway. While at this stage of my life, climbing Kilimanjaro is not in the picture, winding my way through 444 miles of American history seemed irresistible and possible.
If ever there was a time without lush summer greenery, spring ﬂowers, or fall foliage, that’s what I picked to drive the NTP under a steel gray sky during the coldest spell the South had endured in recorded history. But the added promise of no power lines, no stop signs or traffic lights, no billboards, and no commercial traffic made it worthwhile. Bridges and overpasses for roads leading to historic towns that developed along the Old Trace do not interrupt traffic. The speed limit is 50 MPH or less.
You can pull off and park at any of the 100 markers which commemorate the Trace’s 10,000-‐year history. Pre-historic men, early Indians, slaves, explorers and traders trod and “traced” this highway. I stopped and read most while cocooned in the car. I did get out for some sights and sounds at a short trail to see the remnants of a ghost town, but having exhausted my small store of body heat I resumed the drive with images of a hot lunch blurring my vision. Ridgeland, Mississippi, clearly a historic town and a suburb of Jackson was my choice because of its location on the huge Ross Barn reservoir. I chanced upon the Cock of the Walk with a romantic view of the water, still shrouded in fog and framed by barren limbs of water cedars.
After an overnight in Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis and not much more to recommend it, I was on the road again – yes, Willie. And if not to make music with my friends, I was going to stop at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, iconic for its recording studios – a pilgrimage of sorts. But 1969 was a long time ago and not much is left of that era in this now industrial town. I was deep in Tennessee Valley country with water everywhere.
One hundred or so miles peppered with historical landmarks remained before Nashville, but time was running short. On the way, I vowed to return during more clement conditons to take the time to enjoy slowly and deeply the ﬂora, fauna and landscapes, to visit the towns at a leisurely pace, and to imagine the life of those who preceded us on one of 40 “All American Highways”.