Bill Funkhouser, a Natchez Trace Parkway fanatic, sends us his travelogs he wrote during a trip along the Trace in July 2011. Take a look:
July 11th – Baton Rouge, Natchez & Jackson, MS
Before the trip I had read about Mammy’s Cupboard, a restaurant outside of Natchez, MS. Since 1940 the politically incorrect restaurant has been serving southern cuisine in a building that is shaped like a black woman’s dress. I had hoped to eat there, but it was already closed when I got there. [They are only open from 11 am to 2 pm]. Within a few minutes, I come to Natchez, where I gassed up and got on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
I am finally seeing the scenic in the scenic highway
Sign for Mammy’s Cupboard
As I have talked to people, many have said they have heard of the parkway, but few have been on this wonderful 444 mile road that goes from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN and is one of the South’s best kept secrets. I did not know anything about it and read the historical markers whenever I found one. The parkway follows the original road that Thomas Jefferson had built starting in 1801 to protect the southwest corner of the US from a threat from Spain, France and Great Britain. It was built on old Indian trails and soon became a main highway from Natchez to Washington as well as the mail route.
Entering the parkway
Info about its history
Once on the parkway, the traffic and cities are soon left behind and are replaced by rolling hills, hawks, deer, turkey and quiet and only a few cars. Unfortunately, one of the summers afternoon rain showers caught up with me and so I pulled over and suited up. When it started to thunder and lightening, I thought I would leave the bike beside the road and go down under a bridge I had just crossed to stay dry. What I did not plan on is that on all 4 sides of the bridge’s banks was a thick stand of poison ivy! I finally got under the bridge by going down the road and through the woods. After a bit, the thunder and lightening quit and I headed back to the bike and drove on.
Beautiful drive with no traffic – I did not even speed while on it. Well not much anyway!
Rain is heading my way
Around supper time, I arrived in Jackson,. MS where I would stay in a Quality Inn. After I checked in, tested my Internet connection and unpacked, I headed to Sal & Mookies Ny Pizza & Ice Cream Joint where Katie, a friend of mine from Colorado worked serving ice cream. She had gotten off early and I was afraid I had missed her, but I decided to stay and eat there anyway. As I walked in, she was eating at the bar and I joined her. I had a great Eggplant Parmigiana and a beer as well as a delightful visit with her, Dylan the bartender (who is now a MySpace friend) and another of the staff. Katie is in Jackson doing a summer internship at a grief center for children. I had known her and her family from visiting Colorado.
Sal & Mookie’s
Katie and me.
July 12 – Jackson to Tupelo – What a Day!
Thursday 12th What a day! Years ago, a friend from Atlanta used to talk about working at a botanical garden called Mynelle Gardens, here in Jackson, MS. Since I had some time this morning, my first stop was a visit these gardens. After a continental breakfast at the motel, I put in the gardens address in my GPS and headed out. In a few miles, I got there and was the only visitor on this hot and muggy morning. After paying the $4.00 admission price, I spent about an hour meandering through the gardens and enjoying my time there. Although the gardens are small and have been run by the city of Jackson since 1973, they are still worth a visit. The history of the gardens is interesting. They were originally planted around 1923 when William and Alice Westbrook designed a Mediterranean house around a central courtyard and then expanded the gardens as a result of Alice’s love of flowers. Their daughter Mynelle Green and her husband moved into the house too. During that time, Mynelle opened a flower shop called Greenbrook Flowers and by 1926, she had planted cut flower fields for her shop. The gardens were used during World War II as a place of rest and enjoyment for injured soldiers. By 1942, Mynelle had remarried and moved to Illinois Unfortunately, the gardens were untended until 1952 when she and her husband returned to the property, replanted and expanded the gardens. In 1953, the gardens were opened to the public. Today the gardens provide a tranquil escape as you walk down the wooded paths or sit by the pond.
Sign at the entrance to Mynelle Gardens
One of the fountains
One of the sculptures in the gardens
I enjoyed these wooded paths
Rustic fountain in the middle
Sculpture called A Wing and a Prayer by Cynthia Sparrenberger
The pond and bridge
More sculptures that blend into the garden
Such a tranquil walk
From Jackson, I headed to Tupelo, MS for an over 4 hour ride on the parkway. The ride today epitomizes why I ride. The scenery was picturesque, there was no traffic, the weather was very pleasant, and I had plenty of time to cruise and enjoy the experience. At one point, I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” At one point, I turned on my iPod and listened to praise & worship music and worshiped God! As I said, it does not get any better than this!
As I left Jackson, I have gone 93 miles so far. Tupelo is today’s destination.
All along the parkway are signs showing parts of the original trace (the opening to the right of the sign)
Just north of mile marker 193, there was a gas station right on the parkway! It is the Mountain Service Station at the Jeff Busby campground and the only station on the parkway. I was getting low on gas, so I decided to fill up here. Once there, I though it would be fun to take time to visit with the workers and travelers that were there. I found out that the lady running the station is named Tammy and her daughter Tamara (14) works there too. Tammy told me that her father-in-law opened the station in 1973 as a full station service station that changed tires, fan belts, etc. She even had a picture of him she showed me. There was another biker there named Travis who was enjoying a leisurely stop also and we all chatted for a while. I was glad I was not in too much of a hurry, but took time to hear Tammy’s story about the business, meet these people and just chat with them for a bit.
The campground area where the gas station / convenience store is located
Travis, Tammy and Tamara
All along the parkway were these historical markers that were interesting to read.
This gives some of the history about the creation and use of the Trace and in the background you can see part of the original Trace.
I was driving past this lake when I saw a that there were acres of Lotus growing!
Seen from the side of the lake
Unfortunately, it was so sunny that the flowers bleached out
The lotus seed pods that are used in floral design (in flower arrangements)
I love bales of hay on a hillside
A bridge over the Parkway
My GPS showing I was on the Parkway
By late afternoon, I got one of the typical showers and suited up and kept riding. When I got to Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis!, I checked into the Comfort Inn on Gloster St. I still had on my rain suite as I got there and the lady at the desk offered me some old towel scraps to dry off my bike! She also told me that in about 30 minutes, they would have some Otis Spunkmeyer cookies freshly baked. Oh and in the mean time, they had juice or coffee! I went to my room, and immediately noticed that it smelled clean and not musty or like old cigarette smoke like some do. When I came to get some cookies, the manager was recommending some restaurants to another guest. I asked her if there was a Golden Coral or Ryan’s steakhouse in the area. She said there was a Ryan’s not far away and if I told them I stayed at the motel, I would get a discount. Cool! I drove to Ryan’s and they only charged me $3.61 for my meal!
The wonderful Comfort Inn I stayed at.
While I was getting my food, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I looked and it was a lady with a CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association, the group I ride with) vest on! She said her name was Shorty and she had seen my CMA vest. She then told me that the Omega Riders, the local chapter of CMA was meeting there tonight and asked if I would I like to join them. I was bushed and declined, so she asked if I would join them for prayer at the end and I agreed. After a bit, I heard all the wait staff singing happy birthday and it turns out it was for my waitress! That was a good opener to get into a conversation with her. I was also able to read some more from Perelandra, the book I was reading I finished my meal, I headed back to the room where the Omega Riders were meeting. After we prayed for their prayer requests, they prayed for me. They then started coming up, introducing themselves and giving me their business cards. They also gave me their member roster on which some circled their names Although their were only 19 families or individuals on the list, there were probably close to that number there tonight. Shorty is fun and said she can be shy unless the Lord gives her boldness. She went on to say that she may be short but makes up for hit with her big mouth! Hehehe I asked what she rides and she told me she rides a Honda Rebel 250 motorcycle to and from work (about 30 miles one way) everyday, no matter what the weather! She went on to say that she had ridden the 1350 miles to Sturgis, (The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally one of the top biking events in the country that draws over 500,000 to the Black Hills of SD each August). She also goes to the Little Sturgis Rally, in Sturgis, KY which is also in August. Her husband was not there, but she told me that he has a 1077 Hondamatic 750. I had never heard of it. She said there were only 800 made and only 25 are registered today. His is still in the original condition! Oh and it has an automatic transmission. In addition to Shorty, I also met Scruffy, Bear, Bulldog and others. This CMA group is a great group and they were living out what we are supposed to be about. I know if I am ever in that area and need a place to stay or any help that I could call any one of a number of them. Before saying goodbye, I wanted to get some pictures and reached down to my belt where I usually have my camera attached. I then remembered that since I was just going to supper, I did not bother taking it. Wow, this just goes to show that you never know where God will choose to bless you and you should be ready.
Friday the 13th – Tupelo to Franklin
Heading out this morning
Turkeys along the parkway
The Tenn-Tom Waterway – After breakfast and filling up with gas, I got on the parkway by mid morning. I had about 180 miles to go today with a speed limit of 50 mph. So I knew it would probably be at least 4 hours if I did not get caught in the rain. (The extra time accounts for getting gas, reading historical signs, getting pictures, etc.). When I got on the parkway, it was around mile marker (m.m.) 265. After I had driven to around m/m 293 I was crossing the Tombigbee River and saw what looked like a lock up the river. Since it was starting to sprinkle, I thought I would explore and get out of the train if necessary. I drove down to the river and found some signs that told me that this was the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. This234 mile waterway was opened in December of 1984 and goes from Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River to theTombigbee River. According to TennTon.org this is “the largest water resource project ever built in the United States “and is the “largest earth moving project in history.” It provides access of 1600 miles of waterways access to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, AL. There are 10 locks and dams that raise or lower boats a total of 341 feet. The lock I was looking at is the Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam (formerly named Bay Springs Lock and Dam).
Tenn-Tom Waterway information
The Waterway getting sprinkled on
The locks in the distance
The sprinkles quit and I headed north on the parkway. Around m.m. 309, the parkway crosses the northwest corner of Alabama for about 33 miles and then it enters into Tennessee at m.m. 341. While in Alabama, I crossed the Tennessee River which looks as wide as the Mississippi River had been.
Information about the Indian mound
At one time, the Indians built a crude temple atop this mound
A short ride across Alabama
The bridge that crosses the Tennessee River (still in Alabama)
The Tennessee River
Detour – While still in Alabama, near m.m. 336.3, I had to detour from the parkway. I later found out it was because they are replacing a couple of bridges on the parkway. The detour took me to Alabama State Highway 20 which I was on briefly then County Road 5 to County Road 10 where I got back on the parkway.
Crossing into Tennessee
Ok, now I am officially crossing into Tennessee!
Welcome Center – When I entered Tennessee, I was ready for a break. I looked at the map and thought I would still have a ways to go before I found any gas stations. Fortunately after about 13 miles, I saw a sign that said “Welcome Center 1 mile. At m.m. 355, I exited the parkway and drove a few blocks into Collinswood, TN where I found the Welcome Center in the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce. As I walked in, I was greeted by Twila, the lady behind the desk. The building also functions as a museum for the area which was fun to see their displays. And I also discovered that they had free cookies, and coffee! I ended up talking to Twila and another lady named Fleeta. It turns out that Twila, and her husband used to live outside of Orlando, but it had gotten too crowded and since they had wanted to retire in TN, they ended up here. Oh, and they are riders too! She told me that they once rode The Dragon (also called the Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap which will be featured in a later issue of this trip), and it was cold rainy and it even hailed! That is not what you want for a road that has 318 curves in 11 miles!
The Wayne County Welcome Center
Twila on the left and Fleeta
[Note] I called the Welcome Center to get some more information and Twila was not there, but Dorothy her mother-in-law and the volunteer coordinator was. She was a delight to talk to. She told me that she had lived in the Atlanta area until Twila and her husband suggested moving up here. At first she was not thrilled with the idea, but once she came up for a visit and found a house she was hooked! She said to be sure to tell everyone that they love motorcyclists and told me some stories of different bikers that had come to visit and what good people they were. She also told me that yesterday they had cut a watermelon for the visitors!
Friday the 13th, Part 2 – This edition finishes out my time on the wonderful Natchez Trace Parkway and brings me to my friend Deena in Franklin, TN.
After chatting for a while with the ladies at the Welcome Center, I drove into town, filed up with gas and was heading back to the parkway, when I saw how dark the sky had become. So I went back to the Welcome Center to suit up. While I was there, a couple came in and said that they just came south on the parkway and it had been raining really hard. After suiting up, I could not decide if I should stay a little longer or go on. I waited for a while and decided to head out and see how far I could get before it hit. After just a few minutes, it started to rain. Within a few miles it got fairly hard, but I was able to slow down and keep going.
Around mm 386 is the Meriwether Lewis site. I would have stopped if it had not been raining. There is a campground and a monument that marks the grave of Lewis (who co-led the Lewis and Clark expedition) who died mysteriously of a gunshot wound here.
It was mid afternoon by now so I thought I would head straight on to Franklin. Well, that is until I saw a sign for Fall Hollow (near m.m 392). I pulled over and followed the path and saw a pretty stream and some waterfalls that had little water going over them because of the drought. After exploring the area, I called Deena, who I would be staying with, and told her I was heading on and gave her an approximate time, thanks to my GPS.
I pulled over and saw that there were waterfalls to explore!
One of the falls
I wondered what these would be like if there was not a drought
These rocks were VERY slick to walk on!
Ah, Poison Ivy!
Sourwoods are starting to bloom
I fully intended to follow through, but after about 13 miles (m.m. 404) there was a sign for Jackson Falls and the Baker Bluff Overlook. Well maybe a quick look would not take too much time. Unfortunately, it was a long walk down to Jackson Falls which were nearly dry and an even longer walk (nearly ½ mile) to the Baker Bluff Overlook. I enjoyed both although I was wet from sweat trying to go quickly from one to the other. When I finished, I called Deena again and told her I would try to head straight there. I did pretty good and only stopped 2 more times to get pictures of a stacked rock wall and a split rail fence.
I simply had to explore this area!
Jackson Falls were nearly dry
The view from the Duck River Overlook
Split-rail fences add so much to a rustic landscape.
I love the dry stacked rock walls.
Deer coming out. There were actually 7 grazing here.
I exited the Parkway at Leiper’s Fork and drove through the charming little village that I was dying to get pictures of, but it was already after 6:30 by this time, so I drove on and arrived at Deena’s by 7:00.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my travelogs!
With Best Regards,