Natchez Trace, Day 3: Tupelo to Jackson

Sunday, July 21, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Although Tupelo offers numerous attractions, especially for fans of Elvis, we have visited the city several times before.  The only site left on our Tupelo agenda was the Tupelo National Battlefield.  Having visited other sprawling Civil War sites such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg, we were expecting a bit more than we found in Tupelo.

Tupelo National Battlefield Park (almost the entire extent of it)
Though neither side won a clear victory in the 1864 Civil War battle fought in Tupelo, the National Park Service established a one-acre plot on Main Street as a memorial to the 2,000 who lost their lives there.  Reading the two interpretive signs and the inscriptions on the granite memorial and snapping a couple of photos took us about five minutes, and we were soon on our way back to the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Driving a bit north, we checked out the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center at MM 266 and were rewarded with outstanding exhibits and films detailing the history and ecology of the parkway.

Thick summer growth shades the Natchez Trace from the 90° heat
Continuing down the Trace and stopping occasionally at minor sites, we enjoyed the shade of the thick hardwood stands beside the road.  After driving through this kind of canopy, it was quite a shock when we arrived at MM 212, the beginning of an 8-mile stretch of the parkway that was heavily damaged by the same storm system that spawned the Tuscaloosa tornado of April, 2011.

Area of tornado damage
Suddenly the roadside was lined with vertical trees that had branches but no limbs as well as many trees in a horizontal position.  Most of the trees in this area were either downed or damaged by the storm, and the National Park Service elected to leave the trees as the storm left them so they could continue to provide homes to wildlife living along the Natchez Trace.

Log cabin at entrance to French Camp
At MM 181, we paused to investigate the Natchez Trace Historic District of French Camp.  Around 1810, Louis LeFleur, a French Canadian married to a Choctaw woman, established a stand (tavern and inn) at this site.  French Camp has been recreated to give visitors the opportunity to see how early Americans lived and to again offer services to travelers, including a bed and breakfast, gift shop, and restaurant.  Though it looked quite interesting, on this Sunday morning, most of the buildings were locked up, so we continued south.

Near MM 160, we exited the Trace briefly to pick up some lunch at the town of Kosciusko (pop. 7,402).  Named for a Polish general who offered military assistance to the United States in the Revolutionary War, the town is most famous as the hometown of Oprah Winfrey.  A couple of miles outside of town we found a rusted sign indicating that we were on Oprah Winfrey Road. 

Pretty shabby for one of America's wealthiest self-made women
Nearby on an overgrown vacant lot was another sign, posted by some of Oprah's cousins, indicating that the home where Oprah was born and lived her first six years had stood at that spot.  We were surprised to notice the absence of any mention of the famous Ms. Winfrey on the town sign at the city limits.  When we asked some locals if Oprah visited much or whether she donated money to benefit the town, they told us she had come to Kosciusko a couple of times since she became famous, most recently in 2006 to dedicate a Boys and Girls Club that she financed.  Maybe she could send her cousins some funds for maintenance on the signs.

About 20 miles north of Jackson, at MM 122, an abandoned river channel has formed a swamp that is home to bald cypresses and tupelo trees.  An elevated boardwalk cuts across the swamp, leading to a trail that circumnavigates this isolated wetland full of unseen living wonders.

Cypress Swamp
A healthy stand of duckweed obscured the water's surface making for easy alligator spotting.  But the only reptiles we saw at the swamp had shells on their backs.

Beginning about MM 120, the parkway skirts the western side of the Ross Barnett Reservoir on the Pearl River for about eight miles.  By this time, hardwood trees along the parkway had given way to a dominant pine forest.  The reservoir is a very popular recreational spot for locals, especially on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon.  In a protected cove, small gatherings of boats were anchored in close proximity so their owners could socialize.

Ross Barnett Reservoir
At MM 102, we exited the Trace onto US-51 and drove into Jackson, Mississippi's capital city, and our destination for the night.  After checking in at the historic King Edward Hotel (now operated as a Hilton Garden Inn), we investigated a few nearby sights.  We plan to visit the Mississippi Capitol building tomorrow but decided to take advantage of our Sunday arrival to have a look at the grounds while things were a bit quieter. 

The beautifully restored old capitol (1839), reincarnated as a state history museum, had closed just before our arrival.  Likewise, the imposing Mississippi War Memorial next door had been locked up for the day, but we were able to admire the Art Deco finery on its exterior.

Mississippi War Memorial
Just down the street, we appeared at the gate of the stately Mississippi Governor's Mansion, confident that we were expected.  First occupied in 1842, the house is a classic of Greek Revival architecture, but apparently we were not on the guest list for today.

Mississippi Governor's Mansion
We found the capitol grounds almost empty, enabling us to capture photos of its well-manicured landscape without the clutter of people and autos.  While we were wandering there, a friendly security guard stopped and chatted with us, eager to answer questions and encouraging us to return for a tour tomorrow.  When our explorations were at an end, we returned to the hotel for dinner and a relaxing evening in the quiet, almost empty inn.

More Photos from Today

Oprah's family erected this sign at her childhood church.
Jackson City Hall
War Memorial detail
War Memorial
Old Capitol Museum
Old Capitol Museum