By M. Scott Morris
A getaway can involve a vacation to a faraway place, or a visit to the backyard.
Northeast Mississippi is blessed with both in the form of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a National Scenic Byway that mixes history with natural beauty.
Tupelo resident Tommy Caldwell, 70, is a regular visitor thanks to an unfortunate incident.
“I had a heart attack in 2009,” he said. “They said, ‘You need to start walking.’”
On Thursday morning, his T-shirt was drenched with sweat and his dogs, Cisco and Pearl, were panting heavily after a hiking trip that began and ended at the Chickasaw Village south of McCullough Boulevard in Tupelo.
“Just going out walking is one thing,” Caldwell said, “but if you’ve got two dogs like that at 8:30 in the morning all over you and ready go, you’re more likely to go.”
Caldwell could do his walking on a treadmill, but the Trace offers extras that a house or gym can’t. One day, Cisco came upon a mewling fawn that was on its side.
“He put his paw up on it, just gentle,” Caldwell said.
He called Cisco back. The fawn got to its feet and wandered off.
“It just went on its way,” Caldwell said, smiling. “It was something to see.”
Vicki Chrisman of Lafayette, La., was driving home from a family reunion in Kentucky. She’s traveled the Trace over the years, but portions had eluded her.
“I had never done the Nashville to Tupelo part,” she said. “I’m stopping at all the stops, reading about the sites and doing all the trails.”
She visited the Pharr Mounds to study the maps and information panels. She also planned a rest break at the Visitors Center in Tupelo to get her National Park Service passport book stamped.
“At the different ranger stations, they have stamps with the date on them,” she said.
Her passport resembles a spiral-bound textbook. It has entries for 401 national parks. It’s her dream to get stamps for them all.
“I’m a collector,” she said. “Once you start collecting, it’s hard to stop.”
Of course, the Natchez Trace portion of her book is handled.
Difference of opinion
Colby Skinner, 24, was returning home to Vardaman on Thursday when he asked his passenger, Jade May, 19, a question.
“I said, ‘Hey, do you want to see a cave?’ She said, ‘Sure,’” Skinner said.
They stopped at Cave Spring, near the Alabama-Mississippi line. It’s a cave created after carbon-dioxide slowly eroded the limestone and exposed an underground water supply that probably was used by Indians.
“It’s not really what I expected it to be,” May said. “I thought it would be bigger.”
After another inspection, Skinner said, “I wonder how deep it goes.”
“Go find out and tell us,” May said.
“I bet it would be a good tornado shelter,” Skinner said.
After they left Cave Spring, a pair from Joplin, Mo., pulled up. It was an important trip for Billie Mullins, 68, and Roberta Worley, 66.
A few years ago, they traveled a portion of the Trace and that planted the seed for this chance to travel all 444 miles. They started in Natchez and spent nights in Vicksburg and Tupelo.
“We went to Elvis Presley’s house when we were there,” Worley said.
Mullins is a bird watcher and a nature lover. Birds have been hard to see because summer leaves provide too many places to hide, but the travelers spotted deer and turkey.
“I think it’s interesting that it originally started as animal trails, then the Indians used it, then the Kentucks and the fur traders,” Worley said.
“I love the history,” Mullins said. “This is one of the things on my bucket list. It’s just something I really wanted to do.”