A September ride through the Natchez Trace and visit to Vicksburg started out by us running ahead of the remnants of Tropical Storm Dolly in the Rio Grande Valley. Dolly had just come ashore into Northern Mexico the day before so the valley was still getting dumped with much needed rain as we headed north toward Houston. There were three of us leaving the valley with plans to meet a fellow rider riding from south Florida somewhere in Mississippi that evening.
We went through some heavy rain just north of Edinburg, Texas so we pulled into an abandoned convenience store's gas pump station to get our rain gear on and kept moving north. The rain dissipated before we hit the border patrol check point just south of Falfurrias, Texas so we pulled into a McDonald's to get our rain gear off. Luckily we dodged more rain the rest of the day or we just rode through some quick rain without having to get into the rain gear. If we kept moving we managed to stay dry enough.
We had left Mission about 6am and met Marco at his home in Edinburg, after a quick cup of coffee we were off. Marco wanted us to stop for lunch at a BBQ place just south of Houston, but it had burned down. It must have been really disappointing to Marco because he just stood on his bike in the middle of the access road forever. I finally had to ask him if he was waiting for it to re-open. So we moved on and stopped at a trusty What-a-Burger place in Rosenberg. Houston was its typical crazy traffic self. It took us about an hour just to navigate through town on a hot muggy afternoon. On the other side of Houston traffic between it and Beaumont finally picked up and we flowed along at a nice 80mph clip. Another 26 miles or so and we were in Louisiana. It was still cloudy and rain was hit or miss as we made our way across the high Lake Charles bridge.
If you're afraid of heights like I am, then it's best to take the inside lane and not look down. The guys razzed me on how I sped up to cross over instead of slowing down to enjoy the great view. Never saw it as I fixed my gaze on the pavement a few yards in front of me. It was over quickly, after all, it's not Mount Evans in Colorado.
We decided to end the day in Lafayette, Louisiana by checking into a Hampton Inn. We waited all of about five minutes when David rolled in from Plantation, Florida. We rode about 700 miles and he about 900 miles and reached our meeting point almost exactly at the same time. How's that for coordination.
In the morning Marco and David exchanged bikes, David getting his BMW R1200RT back and Marco getting his newly purchased used scooter, a Piaggio 500. It's that three wheeled scooter that has its two front tires relatively close together for added stability. It's only a 500cc machine, but it's no slouch on the highway. On our way back to Texas, late at night, we were doing 80mph and happen to pass some 1%ers (one percenters) who were doing about 75mph, and I'm sure their significant others riding with them are still beating on them on "how could you let someone on a 'scooter' pass you up!". I was just hoping that we wouldn't breakdown in front of them.
We had left Texas without any definitive plans so Friday morning we all decided that rather than ride to New Orleans we would do the Natchez Trace. "The Natchez Trace, also known as the "Old Natchez Trace", is a historical path that extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi toNashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, the trail is commemorated by the 444-mile (715 km) Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows the approximate path of the Trace, as well as the related Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Parts of the original trail are still accessible and some segments have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places." (from Wikipeada) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natchez_Trace
To get there we had to ride from Lafayette to Natchez so we decided not to ride on the main highways, but the take the more scenic back roads to Natchez. I changed my Garmin to the new "Curvy Roads" configuration to see what it would draw out for us. Well, it wasn't long before we ended up on a narrow, half paved, road to 'who knows where?'.
The back roads took us through some nice little towns and rural roads that led us up to Hwy 15 that runs along the banks of the Mississippi River then eventually crosses the river into Natchez, Mississippi. It was about 3pm when we reached Natchez and we rode to a seafood restaurant. After a late lunch we started out on the trail. It's a well paved two lane highway with a maximum speed limit of 50 mph. The leg we rode between Natchez and Jacksonville is void of any sharp curves as the gentle curving road is a continuous ribbon of asphalt on an emerald bed of green grasses, shrubs, and trees. It's beauty is intoxicating. Our ride lasted a while as we generally were going much slower than the posted speed limit and frequently stopping to admire the views.
Eventually, we turned off onto a small road that had memorial signage recognizing it as "Grant's March to Vicksburg". It got dark soon after we made that turnoff so we didn't get to see much except for an occasional sign recognizing it as Grant's March. By about 9pm we made it to a local Hampton Inn in Vicksburg.
Early the next morning we discovered that the hotel was directly across the street from the Vicksburg National Military Park. The Park is part of the National Park Service so if you have your NPS Pass you can get in without any additional cost.
The Park is essentially a 16 mile loop of the the battle grounds that made up the siege of Vicksburg. There are over 1,300 places on the grounds commemorating the history of this critical Civil War battle. It can easily take all day to tour. Each battle site is identified with either a blue sign identifying it as a Union site or red for the Confederates. If you like Civil War history this is a "must see" stop.
There's also a iron clad ship that has been restored. The ship, named USS Cairo, was sunk by a Confederate mine during the siege of Vicksburg. It was raised up out of the waters of the Yazoo River in the 1960s and is now on display in the park.
"The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. These powerful ironclads were formidable vessels, each mounting thirteen big guns (cannon). On them rested in large part, Northern hopes to regain control of the lower Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.
The "city class" gunboats were designed by Samuel M. Pook and built by river engineer James B. Eads. Cairo was constructed at Mound City, Illinois, and commissioned in January 1862. The Cairo was destined to see only limited action in the engagement at Plum Point in May and in the battle of Memphis in June. Her most significant action came six months later when she kept a rendezvous with destiny." http://www.nps.gov/vick/u-s-s-cairo-gunboat.htm
Seven gun boats all like the Cairo were built within a 100 days at a cost of approximately $107,000 each. The USS Cairo had a crew of approximately 184 sailors and all survived the sinking of the boat. A museum adjacent to the USS Cairo displays many of the items which were recovered from the ship. It's an interesting visit and well worth your time.
If you're into Civil War history a ride into Mississippi and the Vicksburg area will be well worth your time. The roads are scenic and not too crowded. There's lots to do and see. We eventually headed east towards Jackson then south just north of New Orleans before getting back on I10 West to Beaumont. After a night's stay in Beaumont we were back home by mid-afternoon, a 430 mile ride. We had left on Thursday, back by Sunday and logged over 1,700 miles. It was a little wet at times, but nevertheless a great ride.