By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches like a ribbon of significant history more than 400 miles from Nashville to Natchez, and a large number of the historic venues and impressive natural sites are within day-trip distance of Tupelo and most other Northeast Mississippi towns.
Destinations on the scenic parkway northbound from the Natchez Trace Headquarters in Tupelo include the death and burial memorial site of Meriwether Lewis, among the greatest American hero-explorers, and Pharr Mounds, described as the most significant archaeological site in northern Mississippi.
The anchor of early American history is the site memorializing Lewis, approximately 120 miles north of Tupelo, near present-day Hohenwald, Tenn. The site was known as the Grinder House, an early 19th-century home and inn where Lewis stopped for the night Oct. 10, 1809, after having traveled from the south on the Trace. His destination was Washington, where he was to meet with President James Madison about issues related to unpaid bills of the Territory of Northern Louisiana, the post to which he was named after the world-changing Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805-1806.
A refurbished hand-hewn log house containing a museum and office, built in the 1930s to period specifications, has been upgraded. New exhibits to be installed this summer will tell the story of why Lewis traveled from St. Louis, south to Memphis, and using a Chickasaw Indian guide, traveled up the Trace on his journey to Washington.
Lewis is believed by many historians to have committed suicide at the Grinder House. He died Oct. 11, 1809; he was only 35. He is buried in the nearby Pioneer Cemetery, where a large monument soars in tribute.
The Lewis site has several new and/or refurbished restrooms, a small bookstore, extensive brochures and well-marked trails, and most of the park is handicap-accessible. Lush woodland picnic areas, shaded free campsites and a scenic stream, Little Swan Creek, are in the park.
The museum/office is staffed Wednesday to Friday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
THESE ARE the most significant stops along the Natchez Trace north of Tupelo: Pharr Mounds: Eight large Native American mounds (mile 286.7) dating to about 2,000 years ago, in a 90-acre field 20.7 miles north of the visitor center. Maps, charts, explanatory notes
and observation pavillion, and restrooms. No access beyond the pavillion is allowed; the site is protected.
Access to Tishomingo State Park: The scenic park is accessible at mile 304.5.
Cave Spring: A natural rock formation and trickling water at mile 308.4. No direct access to caves; viewing only from observation stands.
Bear Creek Mound: The structure is dated 1400 to 1600, but human activity is noted to 8,000 BCE at the site information sign. Mile 308.8.
Colbert Ferry: At mile 329. Spectacular views of the Tennessee River, the soaring Natchez Trace Bridge over the river and scenic riverside picnic and boatlaunch area. Restrooms.
Meriwether Lewis site: At mile 383, the great early American frontier explorer is memorialized. Historic staffed exhibits, restrooms,
trails, bookstore, monument, Old Trace access, picnic areas and free campground.