Monday, April 26, 2010

Tracing the Trace

Natchez Trace Parkway

We rolled into Mississippi on Thursday to begin our trek northward via the Natchez Trace Parkway. During a trip south in the 90’s we covered part of the Trace starting at the parkway’s northern terminus in Nashville. This time we began at the beginning of the smooth, seamless blacktop 444-mile parkway on the southern end in Natchez.
Battle of Grand Gulf
Our first overnight along the Trace was at Grand Gulf Military Park State Park located along the Mississippi River east of Port Gibson. Grand Gulf was the site of a naval battle during Grant’s campaign to capture Vicksburg. The park has several period buildings, a museum, an old cemetery and for our purposes, some pretty good birding habitat. New yard birds: Mississippi Kite, Fish Crow and Prothonotary Warbler.
 Country Store exterior and interior
 "Mr. D" and Carol
The Country Store in nearby Lorman, where one can find an authentic sampling of Southern home cooking, was a must do. Outside appearances of the building gave the impression it might be condemned at any moment. But on the inside, it was pure eye candy for anyone who has gone “antiquing”. The “South’s best fried chicken” claim did not disappoint. The owner, Author Davis, reminded us of the John Coffey character in The Green Mile. Massive, with a smile as broad as the Mississippi, when we checked out at the register “Mr. D” hugged Carol and broke out into a song that extolled “grandma was a cornbread woman” and her influences on Author’s life. If you’re ever down that way be sure to stop in to sample both the food and Arthur’s Gospel baritone voice.

We had planned on spending just two nights at Grand Gulf but severe weather forecasts for areas we planned to travel into the next day gave us pause. We extended our stay by another night, which allowed us to drive into Vicksburg to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park. The Battle of Vicksburg was the last significant key to the Union’s efforts to simultaneously cut Confederate supply lines along the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. The park boasted an extensive auto tour passing numerous Vicksburg battle landmarks, many which involved Union troops from Wisconsin. The drive was augmented by using our cell phone to dial a park number and punch in numbers, which coincided with markers along the route to hear recorded messages about each site.
USS Cairo display and a better use of one of her canon's
Beside the auto tour another attraction was the outdoor exhibit of the USS Cairo, a Union “city class” gunboat which had the dubious distinction of being the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo (a mine) on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg. A final leg of the tour, appropriately so, was of the Vicksburg National Cemetery. I came away feeling as I have from other Civil War battlegrounds…compared to the conditions combatants in the Civil War war endured, Vietnam to me seemed a cakewalk. And it was no cakewalk.
We finished off the day with a meal at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill where we discovered the joys of a local brew, Southern Pecan beer (Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company).
While our weather in Vicksburg was sunny and clear, it did not belay the deadly storms that took place just to the north. An EF4 category tornado had torn through Yazoo City spreading death and destruction. During our drive the next day, we drove through a section of parkway where huge trees had been toppled and cleared. While we probably would not have encountered the tornado, the accompanying high winds that caused this damage surely would have done us no good.
Carol at THE counter where Elvis got his first guitar
and waiting for Elvis to come home
Tom in downtown Tupelo
On late Sunday afternoon we pulled into Trace State Park outside Tupelo, MS. Again our plan was to spend just one night but our drive from Grand Gulf had taken longer than expected. Nothing to do with bad weather. Simply the parkway’s 50 mph speed limit and our propensity to dawdle.  However, our decision to stay an extra night paid off once more. Nearby Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Naturally we had to drop in at the Tupleo Hardware store where Gladys Presley bought Elvis his first guitar. Elvis wanted a new bike or a .22 rifle, but the store clerk, along with Elvis’s mother, both concerned about Elvis hurting himself with a bike or a rifle, persuaded him to take a guitar instead. What harm could that bring? And rest, as they say, is history.
Tomorrow we’ll leave the Trace at mile marker 266 and head west back toward the Mississippi River Valley with a mind to park for a few nights at Reelfoot Lake State Park in northwestern Tennessee. We need to get back to doing some serious birding and give the tourist bit a rest!

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