The Appalachian Mountains have the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mississippi has the Natchez Trace. This scenic highway isn’t as well known as its cousin to the north and east, but it’s equally beautiful, and well worth the drive. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explore the entire Natchez Trace Parkway — in fact, I just hit the southern end of it, before turning off and heading towards Arkansas, but I’d love to return someday and drive the whole thing.
Just after getting on the two-lane parkway, outside of the city of Natchez, there’s a pullout with a sign that explains the history of the road.
Not the paved road, mind you, but rather the actual “trace” — one of North America’s earliest pathways for moving people and transporting goods.
The Natchez Trace began as a migration path for animals. Native Americans began following the path while hunting. It’s possible Hernando de Soto traveled the path, but the first recorded experience along the trail by a European came in 1742. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson realized the importance of creating an easily-travelable link to the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army began blazing the trail the following year, and by 1809, wagons could navigate the entire path.
Much of the trace is “sunken” — sometimes several feet below the surrounding ground level. This made the trail especially dangerous in its early years — organized bands of thieves would routinely target travelers.
Across the road from the interpretive sign, there’s an old section of the trail that’s still visible. You can walk down it, but you might be eaten alive by gnats and mosquitoes — the kind that don’t care if you’ve doused yourself in DEET.
Emerald Indian Mound
A short drive off the Trace leads to Emerald Indian Mound. It’s one of the largest Indian mounds in North America, measuring 770 feet long and topping out at 65 feet high.
Despite those impressive statistics, it’s essentially a hill. You can hike up to the top of it, enjoy the view, and walk back down, but don’t expect an overwhelming thrill.
The Trace owes much of its historical success to the presence of inns, spaced correctly to provide a place for travelers to stay. One such inn is well preserved and open to the public: Mount Locust.
Mount Locust was about one day’s walk from Natchez. The house was built nearly three decades before the Trace was made into an official route. It served as a plantation before traffic on the Trace began, and again after the steamboat was invented (which eliminated the need for anyone to walk north, making the Trace obsolete).
The National Park Service has restored Mount Locust to what it would have looked like, on any typical day around 1820. There’s a kitchen…
… bedrooms (this one is a child’s room)…
… and a fully-stocked tool shed.
Out back, there are two cemeteries. I walked out to the slave cemetery, but there wasn’t anything to see.
The cemetery for white folks (which is, of course, in a separate location) has beautiful statues and headstones, and is well preserved behind a fence.
Of course, since Mount Locust was located on the old Trace, there is a nice section of the old path nearby, which you can walk down, if you aren’t annoyed by the bugs and the humidity.
Back on the two-lane parkway, I drove just a short distance further, before taking a detour towards Windsor Ruins.
Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive up the Natchez Trace, through Port Gibson, all the way to Vicksburg: