Friday, November 27, 2009

Tennessean writer thankful for the Natchez Trace Parkway

Joe Biddle, sports writer for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, wrote an article in the Thanksgiving Day edition of the paper titled "Pilgrims thankful they didn't have to watch the Lions".

The title of Joe's article was poking fun at the woeful Detroit Lions football team. But, the rest of the article lists many things that Joe is thankful for in the sporting world, those serving in the military and life in general. He also mentioned the natural beauty that we enjoy here in Tennessee, including:
"I'm thankful for the Natchez Trace Parkway and all its beauty and history. You can stop and learn about our state and see some incredible scenery. You are forced to drive slow. There are no commercial trucks, billboards or advertising to spoil the drive."
Click here to read Joe's article.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fly and Bethel communities near the Natchez Trace Parkway

If you find yourself traveling on the Natchez Trace Parkway about an hour or so south of the northern terminus of the Trace or if you live in the Nashville area and are wanting to get out on some back roads you are in luck.

The parkway from milepost 425 (Leiper's Fork area) south to milepost 391 (intersection with US 412) follows a ridge where the altitude approaches 1100'. 'Kaintucks' that used to walk the Old Natchez Road home from Natchez, MS called this area the 'Devil's Backbone'. To the east of this ridge lies some of the most beautiful Tennessee valleys that you will ever see. There are some overlooks along the Trace where you can view the valleys: Water Valley Overlook, Baker Bluff Overlook and Jackson Falls.

To access these valleys you can exit the Trace at either the Leiper's Fork exit or the Fly exit which I took a few days ago. I exited the Trace at  milepost 416 onto Tennessee Highway 7 and headed south (towards Columbia). A mile or so down the hill takes you into the Fly community. On the left is Fly's General Store. Proprietor is B. Wilson Fly who has been enjoying the backroads of this area for decades. He loves to show off a shoebox full of pictures that he has taken over the years. And, he has a few recommended driving or biking routes that will take you back in time through the valleys and hollers of this breathtaking country.

If you are just the slightest bit hungry you can fill your belly with a bona-fide hand sliced bologna sandwich. The hardwood floored store is filled with snack items and general supplies. In the mornings the parking lot is usually overflowing with pickup trucks as folks stop by to get a bite to eat and to visit with friends on the front porch. The general store is real popular with cyclists (bicycles and motorcycles) who come off the Trace in search of nourishment.

Fly's General Store
5661 Leipers Creek Road
Santa Fe, TN 38482

From Fly, there are two different directions you can take to view valley back roads. You can go north on Leiper's Creek Road towards Bethel and Leiper's Fork or you can go south on Leiper's Creek Road towards Water Valley. Leiper's Creek Road parallels the Natchez Trace Parkway but it is located in the valley as opposed to up on the ridge.

I have been south before to the Water Valley area but then I got lost. Next time I go that way I'll take Mr. Fly's map which shows you how to navigate the back roads all the way across the Duck River and eventually to US 412 between Columbia and Hohenwald. The Water Valley Overlook stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway mentioned above is a panoramic view of the small community of Water Valley and the surrounding farms.

On this trip I headed north on Leiper's Creek Road towards the Bethel community. Several times before I had passed by The Quilting Frame. This time I stopped and met Sandra Adkinson owns the store. Sandra  carries all types of fabric and quilting supplies.

In the center of the big yellow building is a Gammill Long Arm Quilting Machine and a computerized Statler Stitcher Quilting Machine.

The Quilting Frame is open Monday-Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. - noon. They are closed on Thursday and Sunday.

The Quilting Frame
6000 Leipers Creek Road
Santa Fe, TN 38482
(931) 682-3746

Another mile or so north on Leiper's Creek Road brought me to Nett's Grocery. The old store is close to the road - look for the orange and blue "76" gasoline sign. Nett's Grocery gets its name from owner Annette Dotson - everybody calls her Nett.

Nett's, like Fly's General Store, is another local gathering place. Grocery shelves are located at the front of the store. Beyond the grocery shelves is the dining area. And, at the back of the store is a small stage for karaoke music on Thursday night (6:00 to 8:00) and live, local music on Saturday night (6:00 to 8:00).

The 'deli' at Nett's is typical of that southern genre of restaurants referred to as "Meat & Threes" where you select one meat and three vegetables (or just two veggies for a lesser price). And, like many meat and threes, one of the meats on Friday is catfish. I ordered catfish, fries and coleslaw. Of course, hush puppies automatically came with the catfish. All were worth a return trip (actually I have eaten here three or four times).

Nett's is open on Monday from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (breakfast is served in the morning), Tuesday and Wednesday from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. in the winter), Thursday and Friday from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday the store is open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the deli is open for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Nett's Grocery
Skelley Road (just off of Leipers Creek Road)
Santa Fe, TN 38482
(931) 682-2315

From Nett's I headed on north on Leiper's Creek Road past several horse farms and eventually to the small village of Leiper's Fork. Here you can hop back on the Natchez Trace Parkway at the intersection with Tennessee Highway 46 at milepost 428.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Natchez Trace Parkway trip with Mom and Dad - Day 3

Day 3 - Collinwood, TN back to Nashville

On Friday morning we went to the Dragonfly - an Emporium in Collinwood for a quick breakfast. I had a peach smoothie and mom and dad drank hot chocolate and we shared a couple of muffins. David Harrison, the owner, showed us some of the arts and crafts items made by local artisans.

The Dragonfly is located next to the Wayne County Welcome Center in Collinwood, only 150 yards from the Trace.

We went back to Miss Monetta's Country Cottage and packed up our belongings and headed north on the Trace. We planned on stopping at a few of the areas that we didn't have time to visit on the way down on Day 1 of the trip.

Our first stop was at the Metal Ford / Buffalo River area at milepost 382. If you need to stretch your legs this is a great place to stop. The nature walk that takes you along the river and through an old mill run is absolutely beautiful.

Hard to imagine the old "Kaintucks" fording their way across the swift moving waters. But they did in order to make their way back home.

Our next stop was at the Tobacco Barn / Old Trace Drive area at milepost 401. Mom and Dad checked out the Tobacco Barn and talked to some other travelers while I made some phone calls.

Tobacco cut from the small tobacco field next to the barn was hanging to dry in the barn rafters.

Behind the tobacco barn there is an opening in the trees that reveals a breathtaking view of the valley below. Also behind the tobacco barn is the beginning of a two-mile section of the Old Trace that has been graded, just enough, to be a one-way road for cars. The Old Trace Drive takes you north and then exits back out onto the parkway. The drive takes you through dense forest and a few glimpses down into the valley that lies to the east.

We made a "pit stop" at Garrison Creek at milepost 427.  The park service maintains bathroom facilities spaced out along the parkway every 20 miles or so.

Garrison Creek is the northern trailhead of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. The 24 mile hiking and horse trail parallels the parkway and Old Trace from here to the southern trailhead near the intersection of the parkway and Tennessee Highway 50. Just as we were about to leave a couple on horseback rode past us and onto the trail.

Just north of Garrison Creek we pulled off the Trace onto Tennessee Highway 46 and headed into the historic village of Leiper's Fork for lunch and a little shopping.

There are three restaurants in Leiper's Fork: Puckett's Grocery, the Twisted Fork Cafe and Country Boy. We dined at Puckett's Grocery. Puckett's is a small grocery store, restaurant and music venue. All three restaurants are worth the drive.

Of course, there is more to Leiper's Fork than just a bunch of good restaurants. There are several stores and shops housed in historic buildings all along the same little stretch of road as the restaurants. You can park your car and easily walk from one place to the next. Here are  mom and dad in one of the antique stores.

Leiper's Fork is a short 15 miles down the Trace from the northern terminus. This would be our last stop on our three day tour of the northern half of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Once off the Trace and a few more miles we were driving on I-40. What a difference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Natchez Trace Parkway trip with Mom and Dad - Day 2

Day 2 - Collinwood, TN to Northeast Mississippi and back

As mentioned in Day 1  we stayed at Miss Monetta's Country Cottage in Collinwood, TN last night and will be there tonight as well. We are using Collinwood as our home base to explore the Trace in Tennessee, Alabama and northeast Mississippi.

After breakfast at Chad's Family Restaurant in Collinwood we headed south on the Trace. Collinwood is located about 15 miles north of the Tennessee-Alabama stateline on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Just a few miles into Alabama and about 150 yards off the Trace sits one of the most unique memorials you will ever see and hear about. It is known as the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall. The stone wall honors the great-great-grandmother of Tom Hendrix. Tom has been building the wall on his property for more than 30 years. Tom has placed by hand over 7 million pounds of rocks to create the curving waist-to-head high wall that represents the journey his Native American great-great-grandmother made from northwest Alabama to Oklahoma as part of the Trail of Tears and back to Alabama.

Our next stop took us over the Tennessee River to Colbert's Ferry at milepost 327. Today, Natchez Trace Parkway travelers drive over the river on this beautiful bridge. During the early 1800s George Colbert, who was half Chickasaw Indian, operated a ferry from this spot that took Old Trace travelers across the river.

Colbert's Ferry is one of the largest areas that is operated by the National Park Service on the Trace. There is a large picnic area overlooking the river, a boat ramp, the interpretive area where the ferry was located and a ranger/information station that is open except during the winter months.

Our next stop was barely into Mississippi at Cave Spring at milepost 308. Here we talked to a couple taking a break from riding their motorcycle. Mom wouldn't get any closer to the cave than she is here in this picture.

The weather was absolutely awesome for early November. Temperature around 70 degrees and lots of sunshine. September and October most of the Trace saw 2 to 4 times as much rain as normal. So far, November has been one sunny day after another.

Our next stop was Pharr Mounds at milepost 286.  Eight Indian burial mounds sit within sight of the Trace. We were now about 70 miles south of Collinwood so we decided to turn around and head back. This means that we were unable to see the southern 285 miles (64%) of the Trace. I'll try to talk Mom and Dad into coming back so we can see the Trace from Tupelo to Natchez.

We took a slight detour off the Trace so we could check out Bay Springs Lake. On the way down the Trace we had driven over the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway at milepost 293. The Trace bridge over the waterway is located just below the dam that holds back the huge lake. Dad likes to watch barges and boats go through locks. The dam has a huge lock that takes a vessel "down" from the lake to the river or "up from the river to the lake. As we made our way to the dam we saw a barge heading up the river towards the dam. Mom and I knew we were going to be here for awhile. We found the dam observation parking area and off Dad went with his camera. You can walk down to within about 75 feet of the lock. It really is impressive to see the lock fill up with water and lift the barge up to the level of the lake. The picture here shows the barge heading out into the lake. Three medium sized fishing boats then headed into the lock to be taken "down" to the river level. But we had to go. We assume they made it to the river.

We made our way back to the Trace and headed north to Collinwood and the comforts of Miss Monetta's Country Cottage.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Natchez Trace Parkway trip with Mom and Dad - Day 1

My mom and dad, Karen and Bill Fought, live in Ohio. I invited them to come to Nashville and take a short trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway during the fall foliage season. We went on a three day trip down the Trace from the northern terminus near Nashville, Tennessee to northeast Mississippi and back to Nashville.

Day 1 - Nashville, TN to Collinwood, TN

From my home in Madison, TN we drove 30 minutes to the community of Pasquo, TN where the Natchez Trace Parkway ends. We arrived in the area at lunch time and since my mom had seen a TV show about the Loveless Cafe and its famous biscuits we decided to eat at this world famous diner.

Dad and I ordered breakfast food (French Toast and Pancakes) and mom had a pulled pork BBQ sandwich that had enough meat to make three sandwiches. Before our meals arrived our waiter brought us some of the famous biscuits and three types of jams. You could just about make a meal of the biscuits - in fact, you can order a dozen!

We checked out a few of the shops that now encircle the cafe (they used to be motel rooms). The beginning (actually the end) of the Trace starts about 150 yards from the Loveless Cafe.

Just a few miles down the Trace takes you to one of the most popular stops on the entire 444 mile long parkway - the Double-Arched Bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow. The nearly 1/3 of a mile long bridge takes the Trace over 150 feet above the valley below.

The weather was fantastic for early November. Quite a few cyclists were out on the Trace. Here we are passing a solo cyclist. Notice how we pulled completely over into the other lane to pass the bike. Unfortunately, there has been two cyclists hit and killed by automobile drivers this year on the Trace.

Our next stop was Water Valley Overlook at milepost 411. The Trace follows the top of a ridge through this area and from the overlook you can see several farms in the Water Valley area. Several other people were also enjoying the view. We think the smoke in the picture is from a tobacco barn.

Our next stop was Jackson Falls at milepost 404. The parking area is on top of the same ridge with the Duck River 300 feet below. A 900 foot paved trail takes you down into a gorge where Jackson Falls tumbles. When we arrived at the falls we were not along. A young father and his three children were having a lot of fun playing in the water and jumping from rock to rock. We have had a very wet fall so there was quite a bit of water cascading down the two falls.

Our next stop was Fall Hollow Waterfall at milepost 391. Again, there was a lot of water flowing down the streams that feed the waterfalls. We only walked on the paved trail to the observation deck where you have a great view of the first cascade. Past the observation deck the trail is not paved and starts to go downhill. We decided to go no further. A more daring couple came up the path and reported that the main falls below was well worth the hike. We convinced ourselves that we had many more miles to travel on Day 1 and didn't have time to hike down into the gorge!

We made a quick drive through the Meriwether Lewis area at milepost 385. He died and was buried here along the Natchez Trace 200 years ago.

Our last stop of the day before arriving in Collinwood was at Glenrock Branch at milepost 364. This is one of the best picnic areas along the Trace. Several picnic tables and grills are located down the hill from the parking area. The creek (Glenrock Branch) flows around the picnic area. On the other side of the creek are rock walls and some very oddly shaped rock formations. The temperature in the heat of summer is usually 10-15 degrees lower here under the forest shade and next to the cool flowing water. We were still filled up from lunch at Loveless Cafe so we pushed on towards Collinwood.

Collinwood, Tennessee sits just off the Trace at milepost 354. In fact, the old Natchez Trace wilderness route looks like it went through what is now the middle of town. Our lodging for tonight and the next night was Miss Monetta's Country Cottage. I had stayed here once before and told mom and dad how nice it was. Needless to say - they were impressed. We had plenty of room. One bedroom has a queen bed and another bedroom has two twin beds. The living room featured a large TV with cable channels, two couches (one a sleeper sofa and the other one leather), a recliner and a chair. The kitchen is fully equipped with everything you need. We watched the last baseball game of the season as the Yankees put the wraps on yet another World Series championship.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Natchez Trace Milepost Markers

For your convenience the National Park Service has erected and maintains a 4"x4" brown post every mile along the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Mileposts start at 1 on the southern end of the Trace near Natchez and end at 444 at the northern terminus near Nashville. The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles long. The posts are located on the east side of the parkway.

The official park service map of the Natchez Trace Parkway uses mileposts to the tenth of a mile to denote the location of the 80+ interpretive stops along the parkway.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall Foliage on the Natchez Trace Parkway

Fall foliage color along the Natchez Trace Parkway is generally at its peak from mid-October thru November. Of course, there is quite a difference between Nashville at the north end of the Trace and Natchez at the southern end of the Trace. The 444 mile parkway runs northeast to southwest (a little more north/south than east/west) from latitude 36.03458 at the northern terminus to latitude 31.5479 at the southern terminus. So, the peak season moves down the Trace into warmer weather.

At the northern end of the Trace in Tennessee the peak season looks to be the last week of October and the first week of November. The picture shown here is of the Double-Arched Bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow at milepost 438 near Franklin, Tennessee. The picture was taken as the leaves were just beginning to turn colors on October 24th. More fall foliage pictures from October 24th and dozens from the first week of November 2008 can be found at