Tag Archives: Natchez Trace

RT7: Tupelo to Nashville

It’s a cool 80 degrees at 8:00 this fine morning as we prepare to leave. Breakfast is to be at a local bagel shop. We head out and in under two minutes manage get pulled over by Tupelo PD. You cannot drive in parking lanes here. Who knew?  After a “Be careful of those parking lines, ya’ll have a nice day now!” we are off again. Bagel Shop…closed permanently. Sigh. We are back tracking the way we came into town to regain the Trace so we don’t miss mile marker 269, where there are 13 Confederate gravesites. We are quickly running out of breakfast options. There will be even fewer along the Trace. In desperation we turn to Dodge’s Fried Chicken. Dodge’s is a chain originating in Tupelo, which we have never heard of. They seem to be part of filling stations across several states in the South. It will have to do. We order chicken tenderloin, egg and cheese biscuits, crispitos and fried sweet potato pie to share.

The fried chicken, egg and cheese is on a not half bad southern biscuit, but the entire sandwich is a tad salty for my liking. The crispito is a deep fried burrito rolled thin and open ended, stuffed with industrial queso, possibly chicken and some spicy red sauce. Sounds bad but it was just cheesy and spicy with a crisp flaky envelope. Not terrible. Lastly the hot rectangular sweet potato pie had a creamy filling much like pumpkin pie and a crisp shell with a crunchy layer of cinnamon and sugar. All in all not too bad, but too much fried food for my delicate constitution.

We enter the Natchez Trace heading to Nashville. Our first stop is at mile marker 269. We take a five minute hike on a neat trail through sun dappled forest.We come upon a clearing in the woods and there they are: 13 tiny headstones, each one chiseled with the words: Unknown Confederate Soldier. No one is sure how or why they ended up here. The markers are adorned with plastic flowers, tiny, faded confederate flags and stones from visitors pausing to reflect and note the passing of these, probably very young men, during a conflict so long ago.

Our next stop is Cave Spring. Just off the pull over is a collapsed limestone shelf that created a cave. It is believed to have provided shelter and water to natives along the Trace.

We cross into Alabama, our third state on our monster road trip. The Trace cuts across a small corner of the state. Soon after we come upon the Tennessee River and cross the John Coffee Memorial bridge. It is not clear to us how travelers hundreds and thousands of years ago forded this major waterway. We stop on the other side of the bridge to enjoy the view and snap some photos.

Traveling the Trace is a relaxing and pleasant drive through forests and grasslands dotted with mile markers, clean restrooms, and historical sites. It is fun to soak up the history and the ghosts of travelers who endured the hardships of the early Trace, many of whom died in the process. It does not escape me that I have just sent an email to my decorator 1000 miles away in Canada on my iPhone. Mind boggling to me still.

Back on the Trace we come upon Metal Ford, a gorgeous, peaceful trail a few meters into dappled woodland which reveals a swimming hole with warm, crystal shallow waters and a smooth rock floor. A tiny set of rapids babbles upstream. The air is fresh and sweet and the temperature drops slightly to a bearable degree.

Our next stop will be our last before lunch. Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died and was buried on this spot along the Old Trace. His death remains a mystery but it was messy and possibly self inflicted. In 1848 the government erected a monument to commemorate a life cut short. Curiously, he is buried in the middle of a small pioneer cemetery full of tiny flat markers of which no mention is made.

The memorial spot takes us off the modern Trace and leads us into Hohenwald, a little dusty town. As we follow Stella’s instructions we agree it does not look promising for lunch.

Rob struggled last night to find a place worth visiting for lunch off the Trace. After much research he decided that Big John’s Pit BBQ (listed on the town government’s website as one of a dozen places to eat in town including fast food joints) is our best bet. Worst case we have actually passed a McDonald’s and a Sonic. We pull up at the BBQ and there are a number of pickups in the parking lot. A good sign.

A few people are finishing up lunch as we order off hand written menu boards at the cash. We want to try a few things so we order three sandwiches to share, smoked turkey, pulled pork and smoked pulled ham and cheese, deep fried okra, potato salad and coleslaw. The three sandwiches come wrapped in white paper.

All are on soft, white, well made buns and have fresh tomato slices, leaf lettuce, sliced onion and ridge cut dill pickle. They are piled generously high with meat. The ham sandwich has cheddar cheese and the turkey a little mayo. A sweet BBQ sauce in hot or mild is provided in a squeeze bottle. We apply some to our sandwiches and dig in but we know just by looking: these sandwiches are going to be awesome. And they are.

The meats are hickory smoked and they are pull-apart-melt-in-your-mouth juicy. The ham and turkey are my personal favorites and they are one of the best sandwiches I’ve had anywhere. Sandwiches range in price from $1.75 to $3.50. The fried okra is well made and not greasy, but indistinguishable from fried zucchini. It came without sauce and was great dipped in their house bbq sauce. The small side of potato salad was good, eggy and had a little sweet vinegar taste. The coleslaw was of my personal favorite variety. Vinegar based and finely cut and diced green cabbage.

Why would you go to McDonald’s when you have this kind of food two driveways away? What an awesome discovery, especially when we expected nothing from this lunch except to fill our tummies. Big John’s is so unknown it does not have a web presence and does not appear in any food review sites that we could find. You heard it here first! A real treat.

Big John's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Back on the road to Nashville where the midday temperatures are a relatively cool 97 degrees (it’s all relative after you have experienced 106 degree weather)…our next stop is Fall Hollow. Here you follow a path a little way into the forest and you come upon a pleasant waterfall with a twenty food drop.

We finish our drive on the Trace on the winding roads through the hills of Tennessee. The road terminates at mile marker 444 and conveniently at the Loveless Cafe. We stock up on their lovely peach preserves and head to the hotel to relax before heading to a friend’s home for dinner. Good to be back in Nashville.

The Old Natchez Trace is still present along stretches of the parkway and serves as a constant reminder that this road has been used for over a thousand years.
Local flora and fauna
The hills get bigger on the approach to Nashville.

 

 

RT6: Jackson to Tupelo & More Elvis

We get up early to get a start on Tupelo. We have just one night here and want to have a little time to explore before setting off to Nashville. It is a cool 84 degrees at 9:30. By the time our day ends at 5:00 it will be 106 degrees. I cannot imagine being forced to toil in a field picking cotton in this heat. Brutal! Time to gas up and put some drinks on ice and hit the Trace for the second day. We have planned a few stops today on the Trace: The Reservoir Overlook, Cypress Swamp and the Bynum Mounds.

We encounter the overlook almost immediately and enjoy the pretty view. The reservoir is a sparkling body of water that borders the Trace for a time and breaks up the greenery nicely. There is more traffic on the Trace today and more maintenance workers. We also encounter more animals…deer, horses, herons and wild turkeys.

Our next stop is the Cypress Swamp. The swamp has a trail around it that takes 15 minutes to walk. A couple from Minnesota is just leaving and then we are alone with only trilling insects, birds and gators that are hiding from the heat. The bald cypress and tupelo trees are magnificent, tall and majestic. The swamp water is covered with a plant material, the colour of pale jade that literally illuminates the area. It is quite beautiful.

We continue on our journey, passing well maintained fields, forest and hay bales. The Park Service allows the fields to be cut for hay. Soon we are looking to have lunch as we skipped breakfast to get on the road. Stella 3000 is being a jerk today, trying to get us to turn into a ditch. Every once and awhile she tries to see if we are paying attention. She eventually gets us into Kosciusko, a cute little Mississippi town that barely registers a blip on the map, where we are going to get lunch at Rib Alley Restaurant.

Rib Alley is hosting a Rotary Club meeting in the front so we are directed to the back section near the kitchen. The restaurant is decorated in “early re-purposed rec room bric-a-brac” with crucifixes and mardi gras beads thrown in for good measure. We are offered menus or the buffet, which is comprised of chicken spaghetti, green beans, butter beans, corn, baked ham and vanilla cake. We opt for the menus. We both order from the “Customer Sandwich” list which is favorite sandwiches from certain customers. I can’t resist ordering the Smitty’s Canadian Melo, because it doesn’t sound very Canadian, some half-sweet iced tea, and Rob orders Jay’s Slide.

Lunch takes a moderate amount of time to hit the table as it is being prepared fresh. Both sandwiches arrive with hot, crisp, well made krinkle cut fries. My melo is a fried fillet of chicken with tomato, iceberg lettuce, American cheese, bacon (not Canadian back bacon) and ranch dressing on white bread that is cooked on a flat top in butter. It is grilled dark with a carbon-butter crust that is lightly crispy and buttery but not greasy. It is a great sandwich. Almost like a club/grilled cheese. Rob’s slider, compared  to a patty melt by our server, comes on Texas toast instead of rye, cheese whiz instead of Swiss, onion and a flavourful homemade beef patty. Not really a patty melt but still a really good sandwich. Good, honest, home cooking like your mom would make.

Rib Alley on UrbanspoonBack on the road again we stop at the Bynum Mounds at mile marker 232. These Indian mounds were built during the Woodland Period between BCE 100 and CE 100. Two mounds have been restored. Mound A contained the remains of a woman and the cremated remains of two adults and a child. Mound B housed a log-lined crematorium and the cremated remains and unburned remains of several individuals, along with copper spools and projectile points made with non-native materials, indicating a culture that included long distance travel.

We leave the Trace at mile marker 260 and enter Tupelo, back into fast food strip land. We check in to our home for the evening and head out to explore a little Tupelo. First stop: Elvis Presley’s birthplace, coincidentally located on Elvis Presley Drive. The tiny, two-room, shotgun house built by Vernon Presley is preserved and open to the public for a fee. Elvis was born in the house on January 8th, 1935. The museum on the property has free admission.

…in all its glory. Can’t you just feel the “King of Rock and Roll” vibe emanating from it? Me neither.

Next stop on our mini Elvis tour is Tupelo Hardware Store, “coincidentally” located a few doors from a guitar shop Rob wants to check out. Tupelo Hardware is where Elvis ‘s mother bought his first guitar for his 11th birthday in 1946.

Dinner tonight is also on the Elvis tour. Elvis spent a lot of time in Johnnie’s Drive-In growing up and as a young teen. The drive-in looks pretty much as it must have back in the day. We chose the Elvis Booth as it was unoccupied. This is where he is said to have spent his time. The eatery, decorated in early- and mid-Elvis is small, boasting just ten tables, two counter stools, two tables on the patio and carhop service.

The menu is presented above the kitchen on magnet boards. I spy a pimento cheese on the board. I really want a cheese burger but I am intrigued by this southern specialty. We decide to order one to try and share. I get my cheeseburger and onion rings and Rob orders a BBQ sandwich and rings. The pimento cheese is a satisfying grilled sandwich containing of all things, cheddar cheese with pimento, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and mayo.

My cheeseburger is a basic, classic simple homemade beef patty on a soft white bun, with processed cheese, lettuce, onion, and pickles. $1.29. Rob’s BBQ sandwich comes on the same white bun and is filled with house-smoked, coarse-chopped pork shoulder, a small dab of BBQ sauce, mustard, tomato and onions. It’s good pulled pork – a flavourful, substantial, easy-eating sandwich. The rings were decent and the service was awesome and super Southern friendly.

BBQ sandwich from Johnnie’s.
Cheeseburgers for $1.29. Really.

 

Sitting in Elvis’ favourite booth!

Johnnie's Drive In on Urbanspoon

RT5: Natchez & The Trace

Pecan pie for breakfast! We are in the deep South and that is what they do, right? Our hostess at The Pig Out Inn sent us on our way last night with two of their homemade mini pecan numbers. As we opened them this morning the wrapping released the sweet BBQ smoke adhering to it. Deep breath… aaahh! The pie is sweet and nutty and the perfect breakfast size.

As we walk to the river to embark on a horse drawn carriage ride through this genteel town, we sniff their wood smoke on the light breeze once again. Could get used to that. We are heading to Jackson, MS later today but first we want to see a little more of Natchez and we think a 45 minute tour by horse and carriage with a guide will be the best way to accomplish this.

Mike introduces himself as our driver and nods to his horse Mac. He tells us that if this is confusing we can have Jack and Jake instead. We are his only customers on this fine but very hot morning. As we head out at a very slow clop, Mike tells us to hold on because Mac has ” the pedal to the metal.” As we tour through this pretty southern town which has an incredible sense of civic pride, we are introduced to the homes of cotton barons, which are the founders of this town, Natchez, the oldest city on the Great River.

We meet William Johnston, a slave freed at the age of 11, who goes on to become a plantation owner… and owner of 23 slaves. We pass by enormous live oak trees and quaint home after quaint home. When we clop by the City Hall we ask Mike for Tripod’s story. We saw his headstone on the front lawn last evening. Tripod the cat had three legs and the run of City Hall. He attended council meetings and was featured on the TV show, “PM Magazine” at which point, he became a celebrity. People sent him money and food. Tripod died with $42 in the bank which was donated to the Humane Society.

We continue along the tour route and past Hotel Eola where we spent the night. Mike tells us this is where Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift stayed in 1953 while filming in town. Further along we see the grand house actor George Hamilton once owned and Magnolia House, the finest example of the Greek Revival style in town. After a delightful tour, Mike and Mac lead us back down to the river way station where Mac is very happy to join Jake and have a long drink in the shade.

Time to hit the road for Jackson. We have decided to stop by Fat Mama’s for tamales first. Yes, tamales. In Mississippi. These are rooted in the influx of Mexican migrant workers coming to work the cotton fields after the freeing of the slaves. Today, however, African Americans are the keepers of the tamale flame in Mississippi.

Fat Mamas is a pretty little spot with a beautiful outdoor patio, artfully planted up with Agave and an ornamental pear tree. Lights are strung and there is a glass bottle tree in the courtyard. Inside Mama’s is clean, colourful, and…empty, although we are through the door the minute they open. We order up a half dozen tamales and a gringo pie to share. Tamales are corn husks stuffed with a masa mixture and ground meat and spices, then steamed to cook the masa. These tamales are simple, flavourful, and of medium heat. They are unadorned with sour cream or guacamole. Hot sauce is not necessary. They are plenty spicy.

The Gringo Pie is basically three tamales unwrapped and smothered in beef chili, cheddar, onions and jalapenos. The chili is a nice saucy accompaniment to the tamales. Here is where we run into some technical difficulties. Rob took most of the photos at this stop and they disappeared somewhere, somehow between a fancy camera and powerful software and an operator who is neither fancy nor powerful.

Fat Mama's Tamales on Urbanspoon

We get back in the car and allow Stella 3000 to take us to the Natchez Trace, a 444-mile road that will take us to Jackson, then on to Tupelo and then into Nashville, Tennessee, where it terminates by the Loveless Cafe. The Trace is an ancient trail over 1,000 years old and rife with history. It was walked by Indians, trod by horses, followed by armies, and terrorized by bandits. In modern times, it has become a lovely way to get from here to there. The National Parks Service maintains it. Never have we seen such a pristine roadway. In the 100 miles we covered today, we saw not one piece of trash. The restrooms are near spotless.

The Trace is a two lane road, paved in the reddish-peach asphalt you see through out the state. Well maintained grass butts up to the road. Pines and other forest greenery travel along side. Each mile is marked and when sites of historical importance or natural beauty are approaching, you are warned by a sign a half-mile in advance. We have a detailed book about the road and decided to stop at two places of interest, the Springfield Plantation and the Windsor Ruins.

We chose the Springfield Plantation because we had not yet visited and toured a real Southern Plantation home. Springfield boasts original interiors. After a false start due to poor signage and directions in our guide book, we find the Plantation. The gates are closed. The sign tells us the plantation is open Mondays and Wednesdays on the first Sunday of any  month with a J in it and the moon is in its crescent phase, or some such nonsense. Oh well, back on the road.

Our next stop will be the Windsor Ruins. We leave the Trace at the appointed mile marker and travel through 11 miles of Mississippi back roads, just long enough to start to get creeped out. We almost stumble upon it. Windsor Ruins are basically what’s left of a gigantic antebellum mansion destroyed by a devastating fire in 1890 – 23 columns and a balustrade remain. A house guest accidentally burned the place to the ground. A Union army soldier sketched the place at one time and it is the only visual record of this grand home. The columns, nestled among stately trees are truly magnificent and the setting eerily quiet but for the occasional bird call. Worth visiting.

The Trace is hardly traveled this day. We see seven fellow travelers, two ladies on horseback picking muscadines, three maintenance workers, one cyclist, perhaps thirty cars passing in the other direction and possibly one Sasquatch. Rob thinks it was a deer… a verrrry big deer. There are no cars in our field of view, front or rear, for the majority of our trip. At last we have to pop onto US 80 for 20 minutes to take us into Jackson. Back into big box territory. Very jarring after the peaceful solitude of the Natchez Trace.

We roll into Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi around 3 pm. We settle into our hotel and are happy to be greeted once again by Antonio, our bellman from our last trip to Jackson, and BBQ connoisseur who put us on to E & L BBQ, still our favorite reason to be in Jackson. We have planned this ahead of time. We wish to be in Jackson early in daylight so we can grab dinner at E & L which resides in a rough section of town and bring it back to the hotel. We order the exact same things as last time: Rib tips with sauce on the fries, wings, dipped, and links. Everything comes with fries so we end up with three orders of fries.

For more detail on E&L, refer to our Happy Mouth Classic review here.

We rush back to our hotel room, with our precious cargo in the back seat. We scurry up to our room and lay out the spread. Wow. I’m almost scared to dig in – sometimes the memory is better. Nope…exactly as I remember. Fabulous. The link is coarse-ground and spicy. Chunks of pepper are visible. We roll it in the soft, squishy, utilitarian white bread and chow down. The beefeater cut fries are smothered in sweet bbq sauce that has little or no smoke. The rib tips are meaty, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth succulent. The chicken wings? I do not know where they get wings this size. They are deep fried and then dipped in bbq sauce which just soaks in. Luscious. AND there are leftovers in the hotel fridge ;). Well played.

Amazing links – coarse and spicy.
These wings are huge…

 

As shown against a piece of bread for scale. These are BIG wings.

E & L Barbeque on Urbanspoon