The Natchez Trace Parkway

I a pleased to introduce my son-in-law, Ken McCarron, who is an enviromental consultant, and the author of this post. He lives in Denver, Colorado with my daughter, Becca. They have two dogs, Konza and Lexie. 

 

Old Trace (milepost 221.4) on the Natchez Trace Parkway

For anyone that dreams of the open road, a place to explore and escape from traffic, powerlines, and road signs, to drive at a pace that allows you to feel that you belong, then head to Mississippi, and follow the Natchez Trace.  When one thinks of Mississippi, they may often envision the culture of the South, magnolia trees, or the War Between the States, and everyone remembers the river, but only a few know the “Trace”. Established in 1938 and maintained by the National Park Service, the Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates the historic Old Natchez Trace between Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi.  Originally a trail that followed the pre-historical migratory path (or “traces”) of the bison, it was used as an important trade route for centuries by the early Native Americans and later became the main path for European exploration into the south central region of North America. Less used after river traffic and railroads replaced its purpose, it remained a seldom used route until the Civilian Conservation Corps began building the park in the 1930s.

Today, the Natchez Trace is a 444 mile two lane road, which is void of commercial vehicles and welcomes those that wish to experience a relaxing, steady, and uninterrupted drive through the history of the region.  The park encompasses more than 51,740 acres of protected lands and in many areas parallels the original Trace and includes 65 miles of hiking trails that take you along the original route, to early Native American archaeology sites, and beautiful natural landmarks.  Traffic along the Natchez Trace is generally light, especially on weekdays, and has become a popular route for many cyclists. 

Traveling the Natchez Trace is a relaxing experience and a unique park that is not to miss. Below I have outlined a few highlights of things to see along the way.  My first experience with this beautiful parkways was from the book “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” by William Least Heat-Moon, and I leave you with his description of Natchez Trace:

“Now new road, opening the woods again, went in among redbuds and white blossoms of dogwood, curving about under a cool evergreen cover. For miles, no power lines or billboards. Just tree, rock, water, bush, and road.  The new Trace, like a river, followed natural contours and gave focus to the land, it so brought out the beauty that every road commissioner in the nation should drive the trace to see that highway does not have to outrage landscape.” – William Least Heat-Moon

Natchez Trace Parkway in early fall.  All photo are from the Public Domain NPS site: https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery.htm?id=B6BFCEF9-1DD8-B71C-07734C8CDA457AB2

Some highlights along the Natchez Trace include:

Emerald Mound Site (Milepost 10.3): An eight acre archaeological site with the second-largest Mississippian Period ceremonial mound in North America and one of the seven mound groups found along the Natchez Trace Parkway. There is an established trail that allows visitors to climb the mound and information signs describing how the mound was built and how it may have been used.

The ghost town of Rocky Springs.  One of the original European settlements along the route, Rocky Springs was settled in the late 1700s, but began to decline after the Civil War and was abandoned by 1930.  Today, the only surviving building is the Methodist church (established in 1837) along with the graveyard, although many remnants of the town can still be seen along the interpretive National Park Service trail. 

Cypress Swamp (Milepost 122.0): One of my favorite stopping points along the Natchez Trace, the Cypress Swamp trail and boardwalk, gives visitors a chance to walk among the tupelos and cypress trees of a Mississippi swamp.  The full trail system takes about 30 minutes but is an easy hike and a nice place to stretch. 

Cypress Swamp, Natchez Trace Parkway, milepost 122

Bynum Mounds (Milepost 232.4): A 15 acre archaeological site along the Houlka Creek with a complex of six burial mounds from the Middle Woodland period built between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. (LINK: 

Pharr Mounds (Milepost 286.7): A Middle Woodland period archaeological site with eight burial mounds built between 1 and 200 A.D. 

Rock Spring Nature Trail (Milepost 330.2):  A nature trail that runs along a series of wetlands across Colbert Creek past Rock Spring and through a woodland setting.  The trail takes about 20 minutes to complete at an easy pace and is a favorite for birding enthusiasts 

Jackson Falls and Baker Bluff Overlook (Milepost 385.9): From the Jackson Falls overlook there is a 900 foot long paved walkway (steep) that takes you to the base of the beautiful Jackson Falls.  Also at this stop there is a 1/3 miles (gentle) trail that takes you to the Baker Bluff Overlook above the Duck River.

Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive (Milepost 401.4): One of two places within the park where you can drive on the actual Old Trace road.  As part of the more recent history of the area, a restored Tobacco Farm provides information of the growing and drying of tobacco.

 

 

Three State Parks Within A Mornings Drive Of Jackson, Mississippi

I a pleased to introduce my son-in-law, Ken McCarron, who is an enviromental consultant, and the author of this post. He lives in Denver, Colorado with my daughter, Becca. They have two dogs, Konza and Lexie.  

As an environmental consultant, part of my job I often get sequestered away to client’s offices for weeks and sometime for months at a time. I generally enjoy the traveling and I love to see new places, the adventure of exploring, but after a few visits to the same city it becomes a challenge to find new inspirations.  This was my reality a few winters ago as I worked on a long-term consulting project in Jackson, Mississippi.  I had explored the city on previous trips, seen the museums, walked the streets around the capital, and I needed something different.  I didn’t have a lot of time on the weekends, so I wanted something close to the city.  My inspiration came from an unexpected source, the long ignored iconic symbol of the cheap hotel lobby; the tourist brochure stand.  

No, I didn’t go for the flashy casino ones, golfing vacation rentals, or the numerous ones advertising the battles of the Civil War.  As a child my father had saturated our family vacations with everything Civil War; I really thought that every vacation had to include a picture of my sister and myself sitting on a battlefield canon.  The one that caught my eye was the simple paper one, dull against the glare from all the glossy reflections around it, with the simple print; the State Parks of Mississippi.  It was February in Mississippi, the rental car was paid for, and I had a couple Saturdays to myself.  So, for the random encounter with the simple non-intrusive state park pamphlet, I would visit the four closest parks to my hotel in Jackson, Mississippi and spend my day off.  . Side note, I had already visited the LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, including the Museum of Natural Science on a previous trip and since it was only about 5 minutes from the hotel, I decided to visit the next three on the list.

Roosevelt State Park (Morton, MS):

kims no bull

Roosevelt State Park Mississippi Watchtower photo (https://www.mdwfp.com/parks-destinations/ms-state-parks/roosevelt/park-photos/roosevelt-photos.aspx)

It’s not a far trip from downtown Jackson, it only takes about 40 minutes with light traffic on interstate I-20 going east. The entrance to the park is north of I-20 about half mile, you will notice the watch tower on the hill just before the turn.  It was a warm winter Saturday morning when I drove into the park and I didn’t expect to see many visitors, that was my plan, to escape and shake off some of my hours in front of a computer screen editing reports.  To my surprise there were a number of visitors down by Shadow Lake near the visitor center enjoying the sunny day.  I milled around the area, walked down to the lake and past the pools that were closed for the season.  Back at the visitor center there was an information board with a copy of the trail map, which I studied, noted the color system and names (really, trail #7 Civil War Hill; my Dad would be so proud) and then headed off to walk around the lake.  Once I was on the trail I quickly left behind the few picnickers and entered into a pleasant trail system that took me through the winter forest, past pine stands, through a couple of wetlands, past the rental cabins, and into the many campsites on the backside of the lake. I had the place to myself, except when I decided to climb the watch tower, but it was not even that busy.  The park is really nice, situated in the Bienville National Forest the scenery was beautiful and there are some great panoramic views from the overlooks and the tower.  

Golden Memorial State Park (Walnut Grove, MS):

 

My second stop of the day was a trip to Golden Memorial State Park.  I didn’t have a lot of information about this place when I set out, but I really enjoyed my time in this small park.  The park is centered on a 15-acre spring fed lake and seems to be popular among local fisherman and the park memorializes the “Patrons Pupils Teachers and Friends” of the old Golden School and their descendants (I was so tempted to put commas on the stone memorial).  When I entered the park in the late afternoon there were only a couple of cars and a few people fishing.  Since there were not a lot of trails and the park was fairly empty, I ended up walking along the road across the levee up to the trail head.  It was very relaxing and I felt like I had the place to myself.  I assume during the summer the small size of the park may hinder this feeling, but for my afternoon it was perfect.  The trails take you to the far side of the park where you can walk among the pines and see the second largest loblolly pine in the state of Mississippi, and yes, it was pretty tall.  It was getting dark by the time I got back to the car, but the drive back to Jackson was not that bad; without stops it took me about an hour. 

Lake Lincoln State Park (Wesson, MS):

Lake Lincoln State Park Mississippi photo (http://www.mdwfp.com/parks-destinations/ms-state-parks/lake-lincoln.aspx)

The next Saturday was a bit overcast with some rain, however living in Denver, I was just happy that it was not snowing and that it was almost 60 F in February.  I headed south on this trip to Lake Lincoln State Park; I figure that I had already been to Roosevelt, I should keep up with the presidential theme.  The trip from Jackson, down I-55, and through Weston took about an hour.  However, it took me a lot longer to get into the park because right across from the entrance to the park was Smokin’ Oaks BBQ & Steakhouse, and yes I am a sucker for good BBQ.  After lunch I drove/rolled across the road to the park, the rain had picked up so I slowly drove around the park roads and took in the sites of the forest and all the campgrounds. I parked my car near the boat ramp wanted waited for the weather to clear a bit before heading out to explore on foot.  The park seemed larger than the ones I had visited the week before, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of trails, however, this park is all about the 550-acre Lake and fishing.  This was obvious when I realized that everyone I saw in the park that day was either getting ready to fish or was out on the lake in a boat fishing.  I enjoyed my time in the park and I did walk around after the weather had cleared, but I was kind of jealous that I didn’t have a boat to really appreciate this park.  With the weather turning on me again, I decided to head out early and take the back roads back to my hotel.  Part of enjoying a place is to step away from the interstates and just let the roads dictate where you go.

 

Weekend Getaway To Monroe, Louisiana

Although Monroe, Louisiana is a small town, it has a ton of places to see and things to do. And, it is only a seven hour drive from Atlanta via I-20. That’s close enough to go for a weekend or for a week long vacation. Here are some of the attractions you will find in Monroe.

 

Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo

Interstate Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram

Flamingos at the Louisiana Purchase and Zoo
(Photo from http://www.monroe-westmonroe.org/Discover/Attractions)

The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo would be at the top of my list to visit in Monroe. The zoo has a flock of Flamingos, which I think are so pretty! There are more than 450 species of animals at the zoo, with exhibits that include those animals indigenous to the original Louisiana Purchase. You’ll see Bison, Black Bears, and Elk and more. I can’t wait to see the Australian Exhibit with all the animals that only live in that country. The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Tickets costs are: Adults $4.50, Seniors $3, Children $3, 2 & under are free.

Market at 7th Square

7th street market

Market at 7th Square
(photo from http://www.monroe-westmonroe.org/Discover/Attractions)

The Market at 7th Square is open year round, and offers a great variety of produce depending on the season. Early spring brings Strawberries and bedding plants. In Summer, expect to see things like corn, tomatoes, squash, peas, peppers, butter beans, okra, watermelon, muscadines, and peaches. During the Autumn months you’ll find sweet potatoes, and your pumpkins for Halloween Jack O’lanterns or yummy pies. This is the kind of place I look for when I travel, to find locally grown vegetables and fruits, either to eat while I am in the area, or to take home and freeze. They are open Monday thru Saturday, from 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and are located at 1700 North 7th Street in West Monroe, Louisiana. 

Landry Vineyards

After you’ve been by the Market at 7th Square for your fruits and vegetables, you must go see Landry Vineyards. Family owned and operated, Landry Vinyards was established in 1999. The first vineyards were established in Folsom, La. where the winery was also located. Hurricane Katrina destroyed that first vinyard. After that, the family moved their business to West Monroe. The 20 acre site includes a new winery, vineyards and beautiful tasting room. They offer a wide range of wines from Bayoutage Red Blend, Bayoutage White Blend, Peach Muscadine, Blackberry Merlot, Chardonay, and more. They are open Monday thru Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and offer tastings and tours of the winery. 5199 New Natchitoches Rd, West Monroe, Louisiana 318-557-9051

Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Want to go fishing on Black Bayou? Here is your chance to experience Louisiana wildlife up close. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a 4,500-acre lake, swamp, bottomland hardwoods, mixed pine and hardwood uplands is a wildlife habitat with all kinds of plant species and everything from small alligators and turtles to coyote, deer and a wide variety of birds. You can rent a canoe and go fishing, or just look at the wildlife that lives in the refuge. Refuge is open daylight hours. Visitor Center open 8-4 weekdays; 9-5 Sat.; 1-5 Sun. Get more info here. 

Whether you stay a weekend or for the week, you’ll find lots to do in Monroe, Louisiana. Get more information here.

 

Four Things You Have To Eat When In Maryland

Every state and region in the United States has food they are famous for. In Maryland, you are seriously messing up if you don’t eat these at least once. And, while it is not a famous regional food, the Cuban restaurant in Frederick was one of my favorite places to eat when I was there. So, here is my short list of what to eat in Maryland.

Maryland Blue Crabs

Whether you eat them steamed, fried, made into cakes or soup, or in dip, you simply must have some Maryland Blue Crab if you go to Maryland. Buy them by the dozen in seafood shops, or catch them in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Wherever you get them, though, season them with Old Bay Seasoning. Blue Crab is the State Food of Maryland!

Smith Island Cake

This is a cake with ten layers. It comes in many different flavors, and is the State Dessert of Maryland. It is served with whipped cream and strawberries.  “October 1, 2008, the Smith Island Cake became the State Dessert of Maryland (Chapters 164 & 165, Acts of 2008; Code General Provisions Article, sec. 7-313). Traditionally, the cake consists of eight to ten layers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting between each layer and slathered over the whole. However, many variations have evolved, both in the flavors for frosting and the cake itself.” (from http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/symbols/html/dessert.html)

Caramel Creams Bulls Eyes

Goetze’s Caramel Creams

My favorite candy ever, these caramels have a creamy center. They look like a bulls eye. Made by the Goetze’s Candy Company in Maryland, they are so chewy and delicious. Goetze’s also makes Cow Tails.

Sabor De Cuba Restaurant

Located in Frederick, Maryland at 9 East Patrick Street, Sabor de Cuba was an interesting stop while we were in town. The Cubano Sandwich, the Maduros, and the espresso were the top three things I would recommend. Check out their menu here. It’s what to eat in Maryland. 

The Big Zombie Tour 2 with Atlanta Movie Tours Review

Our tickets were comped by Atlanta Movie Tours so that I could write this review, but all opinions are mine. 

The Walking Dead. I absolutely love that show. I love it so much that we watched all the episodes from season 1 through season 6 over the summer. I am itching to see the season 7 premiere. October 22 can’t get here fast enough! To say that I am a fan is, well, an epic statement.  So, when Fabgrandpa was in the hospital back in August, we were talking about The Walking Dead with two nurses who were in the process of removing the catheter from his leg. One of them asked me if I had been on any of the Zombie Tours yet. And I said, “No! I didn’t even know they had tours.” She said her mother works for Atlanta Movie Tours, and we talked a little bit about it. You never know what you are going to learn from talking about things you love. 

So, I got in touch with Atlanta Movie Tours, and worked out a plan for doing a review of Big Zombie Tour #2. Fabgrandpa still did not feel well enough to go, so I asked my daughter, Emily, if she wanted to go with me. Even though she is a teacher, and it was on a school day, she took the day off as a personal day so she could go. She is an even bigger fan of The Walking Dead than I am, if that is even possible! 

senoia georgia

Senoia, Georgia is the starting point for The Big Zombie Tour #2.

On the day of the tour, we left my house at noon, headed to Senoia, Georgia. It was a 66 mile drive from my house to The Waking Dead Cafe, the check-in point for the tour. You can also meet at the Atlanta Movie Tours office in Atlanta, and ride their bus to Senoia. There was a sign on the sidewalk in front of the cafe so it was easy to find. Inside the cafe, there were The Walking Dead posters on the walls. The coffee drinks were all named after characters in the show. 

The Big Zombie Tour #2 with Atlanta Movie Tours

The Big Zombie Tour sign on the sidewalk.

The Big Zombie Tour #2

The Waking Dead Cafe sign.

The Big Zombie Tour #2

The Walking Dead posters decorated the walls in the cafe.

When all of the people who were going on the tour had checked in, we got on the bus and started the tour. The tour guide, Kent, has worked as an extra and as a Walker on the show many times. He had a remarkable amount of knowledge about the show, and kept us entertained with inside information about the show, the actors, how to get a job as an extra or a Walker on the show, and about the movie and TV industry in Georgia. The bus also had a TV, and when we were passing by or stopped at a location that was used in the show, one of the tour employees played clips from the show with scenes from that location. The clips made the places we were seeing come to life. 

The Big Zombie Tour #2

Atlanta Movie Tours bus. It was very comfortable.

One of my favorite locations was the “Pudding House”. On one of the episodes, Carl found a 112 ounce can of chocolate pudding, and sat on the roof of the porch while he ate the entire can. I loved that episode, because it showed that even though Carl was mature beyond his age due to the challenges of living in a post apocalyptic world, he was still just a boy at heart. 

Big Zombie Tour #2

The “Pudding House”, where Carl ate an entire 112 ounce can of chocolate pudding while sitting on the roof of the porch.

The railroad was central to a couple of seasons of The Walking Dead. We saw several places along the railroad that looked so familiar because we had seen them in the show. This was the tower where Tara had to rest after twisting her ankle. 

Big Zombie Tour #2

The railroad tower where Tara rested after twisting her ankle.

Most of the tour we were on, The Big Zombie Tour #2, was easily accessible for me. I have a disability that makes getting up from a seated position, sitting down, going up and down stairs, and walking long distances difficult. There were only two places where it was hard for me, but I managed to do it. The first place was at an abandoned factory that was the location of the “fight arena” in Woodbury, where The Governor pitted Merrell against Darrell in a fight to the death of one of them. The only way to get to the set location was via a very steep, narrow, stairway. It was harder going down them than coming back up. I’m glad I made the effort, because I volunteered to be one of the people in “Zombie School” where we learned how to walk like a Walker on The Walking Dead. Fun! That’s my daughter, Emily, on the stairs in front of me. I went last so I wouldn’t hold anyone up. 

Big Zombie Tour #2

Very steep stairs down to the fight arena at the abandoned factory.

The fight arena location:

Big Zombie Tour #2

The set location of the fight arena where The Governor made Merrell and Darrell fight.

The second place where I had a hard time was when we got to the place where Morgan’s Apartment was. The tour guide parked the bus, and we had to walk a couple of blocks. I was waaaay behind everyone else, because I am so slow walking, but I made it all the way to the apartment. This is what is on their FAQ page about accommodating handicapped guests:

Do you make provisions for handicapped guests?
Yes. We want everyone to enjoy themselves. There are portions of the tours that occur on foot, but all surfaces should be safe for wheelchairs. The bus is not equipped with a lift and we ask that you notify us in advance if you need to bring a folding wheelchair with you so we may make arrangements for storage.

Big Zombie Tour #2

Emily was attacked by a walker in Morgan’s apartment. She was bitten, poor thing!

You can also find information on the FAQ page about transportation to Senoia from Atlanta for the Big Zombie Tour #2 and Big Zombie Tour #3; refund policy; interpreters; and a lot more. 

Big Zombie Tour #2

Emily and me at the wall.

Tours are priced at $65 per person, which in my opinion are well worth the cost. My daughter and I really enjoyed our tour. We saw a lot of places (I didn’t even show you pictures of more than half of them!) and learned a lot about how and where our favorite show is filmed. We are planning to go on Big Zombie Tour #1 and Big Zombie Tour #3 as soon as we can!

To contact Atlanta Movie Tours, you can call them at 855-255-3456; send them an email at info@atlantamovietours.com ; or visit them at their shop at  327 Nelson St SW, Atlanta, GA 30313. You can save $5 per ticket when you purchase them online using promo code FABGRANDMA at checkout! 

 

Make Your Plans Now To Attend The Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville

Do you like to poke around thrift shops and antique stores? Does visiting a botanical garden sound like a fun way to spend the afternoon? If so, then you need to start making plans to attend the 27th Annual Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville. Here is information about the show:

American interior designer, author and television personality, Nate Berkus, will headline the Keynote Program at the 27th annual Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville at the Music City Center, 201 5th Ave S, February 3 – 5.

Each year, the Antiques and Garden Show presents more than 150 fine antiques and horticultural dealers, making it the largest show of its kind in the country. Proceeds from the show will benefit Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and the charities of the Economic Club of Nashville (ECON).

Berkus, a renowned interior designer, who has transformed countless homes around the world through his design work, home collections, books, and television shows will present his take on the show’s theme this year – Cultivated Style – on Friday, February 3 at 11 a.m.

“Your home should tell the story of who you are. What you love most, collected and assembled in one place,” Berkus says. “Whether it’s a family heirloom, or a piece you found on your travels. Everywhere your eye goes in your home, it should land on something that resonates.”

Berkus will sign copies of his book, The Things That Matter, following his presentation.

Other notable participants at the show include:

  • Brooke and Steve Gannett, California-based design duo and authors of Patina Style and Patina Farm

  • Mary McDonald, an LA-based award-winning interior designer and star of Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Decorators” and “Property Envy”

  • Robert Leleux, author and founder of the Southern Style Now Festival

  • Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller, interior design power couple behind Carrier and Company Interiors in New York City and authors of Carrier and Company: Positively Chic Interiors

  • Nathan Turner, California-based interior designer and special projects editor at Architectural Digest

  • Tara Guérard, Charleston-based award winning wedding and event planner

General Chairmen Linda Graham and Mary Smith said the line-up of speakers was chosen because of the diversity of their design backgrounds.

“From traditional architecture, landscape and interior design to wedding and event planning, the speakers this year have such unique design styles.” Graham said. ” We want attendees to be entertained and take home a few tips from some of the top designers in the country.”

This year, the show will be larger than ever and celebrate Gil Schafer of G. P. Schafer Architect, PLLC as Honorary Chairman.

“Gil has served on our national advisory board for years and has always been a loyal patron of the show,” said Smith. “We are thrilled to honor him to say thank you for all of his contributions to the show.”

Tickets are now available at www.antiquesandgardenshow.com. For the latest show updates and speaker schedule, follow the Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville on Facebook, Twitter (@antiquesgarden) and Instagram (@antiquesandgardenshow).

About the Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville

The Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville is an annual charity event whose purpose is to raise funds for Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and the Economic Club of Nashville (ECON) charities, by exhibiting the highest quality antiques, landscaped gardens, and horticultural items and by offering a related educational outreach program. Learn more at antiquesandgardenshow.com.