Spring Break Road Trip 2022 | Day 6 | Natchez National Historic Site & Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway | Goldonna, LA to Rocky Springs, MI | March 2022
Day 6 of our road trip was the day when we would enter Mississippi for our first time, as well as hit our Southernmost point for this trip and start making our way slowly up North. When planning this trip, we had gone back and forth on how much of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama we wanted to drive through. While looking through which National Park sites we could visit, we discovered the Natchez Trace Parkway, a scenic road that travels Northeast across Mississippi with plenty of historic sites along the way. We decided this would be perfect for our style of travel, so we planned the next few days of our trip around it.
From our campsite in Louisiana we took back highways generally Southeast towards the Mississippi River. The countryside scenery was a bit more of what we expected for the south, with lots of river crossings and farmland, as compared to the endless pine forests of the day before. Eventually we crossed over the great river at Natchez, leaving Louisiana behind. We’re a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the state, but traveling out to the coast during spring break season and so close to Mardi Gras just wasn’t achievable or desirable this time.
The bridge across the Mississippi topped out on a high bluff where the town of Natchez sits. Having driven a couple of hours we quickly found our way to the Melrose Plantation, a unit of Natchez National Historic Park. This antebellum home served as the residence of a cotton baron before the Civil War and was at one point considered ‘one of the best brick homes in Mississippi’ if not the South or the nation. And indeed the home is beautiful as were the gardens. We enjoyed our time walking around admiring and remembering our time living in South Carolina. The camellia and azalea bushes were just starting to bloom, the enormous oaks draped with Spanish moss were budding, the heat was pleasant with no humidity, and no mosquitos or alligators were pleasant. It was as if we had found all the best qualities of our time in Charleston and put them into a few acres.
We then drove around the town, stopping at the ruins of Fort Rosalie, a colonial French Fort overlooking the river, Louisiana, and the bridge, and then began our way Northeast following the Natchez Trace.
The Natchez Trace Parkway was a public works project created by the CCC during the 1930’s connecting Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS generally following the route of the historic Natchez Trace. That route was one of the first reliable overland routes to connect the Ohio River Valley (and therefore the East coast) to the Mississippi River. What likely started as migratory game trails and native paths grew into a well traveled route for the first half of the 19th century. Andrew Jackson traveled the route with his army to defend New Orleans during the War of 1812. Rivermen from the Ohio valley would float their barges down to the Gulf ports, sell their wares, and then walk back along the trace. And now we get to travel it, free of billboards, semi-trucks, and stop lights.
We decided early on that we would take three days to travel the trace in order to slow down and enjoy the scenery and the history. On our first day we only made it 60 miles down the road, stopping often. We stopped to see Emerald Mounds, the second largest Mississippian mound site in the country (and only the second set of pre-historic mounds we’ve seen after Effigy Mounds) and then stopped at the Visitor Center at Mount Locust where Curtis chatted with the ranger and got the whole scoop on what places were worth the stop. He highly recommended going off the Trace a few miles to visit the next highlight, and so we jogged West back towards the river to Windsor Ruins.
This site was very reminiscent of the ruins we used to see while living in Charleston and was very impressive and provided us with this neat anecdote: The mansion was used by General Grant during the Vicksburg campaign (another NPS site that we’ll have to return for) as a hospital and observation post. The home ultimately survived the war only to burn down in the 1890’s. However, no pictures were ever taken of the mansion, and after a time, the exterior look became a matter of conjecture among historians and locals. That is until the 1990’s, when a hand drawn picture was discovered among the personal papers of a former Union Officer who had camped at the mansion during the Vicksburg campaign.
We returned to the trace near Port Gibson where we stopped to walk along the rutted path that once was the original trace before finally stopping for the day at Rocky Springs. There are 3 campgrounds directly on the Natchez Trace, all of which are first-come, first-served, and free for camping. Here we set up camp, ate our dinner, and then walked down even more of the original trace from a trailhead that began in the campground. It is honestly quite impressive that a route used for less than 50 years could have such a distinctive impact on the environment.