I had looked at a map Saturday and randomly selected Hohenwald, Tennessee as my next destination. I did not know what was there or how I would get there. The travel time was right, about 6 1/2 hours. I made reservations at Fall Hallow Campground. Hohenwald is German for high forest. Maybe the German name drew me in.
I left Vicksburg, Tennessee at 10:30 Sunday morning March 25. It was drizzling as I stopped for Diesel just a mile into my trip. I paid $ 2.44/ gallon (rounding up). I had paid at the pump but decided to visit inside the Shell Station for a cup of coffee. While getting the coffee a frosted cinnamon roll caught my eye. I grabbed it along with the coffee. Paid for them, and hit the road northbound on U.S. 61 to east bound I-20.
The coffee was OK. The cinnamon roll was terrible. It may have been there since Friday. As I drove with one hand and held the roll in the other the dried white frosting was falling onto my lap. It peeled off like a loosely set plastic cap. The roll crumbled as I bit into it. I should have tossed it away but I decided to eat it anyways. I might have choked on the crumbs but I managed to survive. When I finished, my shirt and beard were littered with small flecks of roll. Sipping the coffee and a water helped me survive.
I encountered rain early on but it soon turned to sprinkles and then heavy overcast for the rest of the drive. I passed the Natchez Trace Parkway following Google Maps’ directions to I-220 north to I-55 North to U.S. 82 east to the Natchez Trace north. I had driven 200 miles by the time I had reached the Trace. I was looking for a place to fill up but did not see anything near the Natchez. I turned north onto the Trace hoping to find someplace to fuel up before too long.
The Natchez Trace is a long narrow two lane limited access road that stretches 444 miles between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. The road dates back to prehistoric periods when local Indians lived, and hunted along the high grounds that formed a natural travel corridor. Along the way you pass many historical site and some Indian mounds. The Trace became a National Park in 1938 and the road was completed in 2005. The speed limit is 50 MPH. My experience is that many people consider that too slow or the speed limit just doesn’t apply to them.
I had entered the Natchez Trace at mile 205. As I headed north I realized just how secluded the road is from the surrounding countryside. It reminded me of a two lane country road with trees obscuring the view on either side. As I would approach a state route I would slow and then go on my way having seen no signs of a gas station. I exited when I saw a sign for Mantee, Mississippi. It looked promising. Immediately to the left of the exit on SR 46 was a solitary gas station and they sold diesel. I fueled up at $2.68/ gallon. After a short break I headed north on the Trace again.
I am used to driving at interstate speeds. The miles crept along at 50 to 55 MPH. The last 187 miles on the Trace took longer than the first 200 miles on highways. Learn more about the Natcez Trace Parkway at the official site: https://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm
By the time I passed through the western edge of Tupelo (the Natchez Trace does that) I was in need of a break. I was glad to find the Parkway Visitors Center only six miles further up the road at Mile 266. The Center has a video, exhibits, and information. A park ranger was present to look after the site and mostly answer questions. I spoke to her briefly, and walked around long enough to feel that I had loosened up.
I made one more stop along the Trace within fifteen miles of my end destination. It was necessary. Further up the road I saw signs for the Meriwether Lewis site. That would be worth checking into. I reached my exit at mile 392 U.S. 412, turned left (west) and turned right into the Fall Hollow Campground located beside the Natchez Trace. The campground sat below the entrance to the right. I looked at the sign telling me to call a number for the camp host or check in at the restaurant. The restaurant was closed. It is only open Thursday through Saturday nights. I had hoped to get a meal there but that was not to be.
I decided to tour around the small campground before parking. Most of the sites looked like packed mud with sparse grass. Others were a pinkish tan pulverized rock material known as chert. I was given a Chert covered site. It proved to be a bit too soft with the rains. The RV stabilizers were of little use. The RV swayed slightly left to right as I would walk the length.
I was greeted by the camp host. He asked if I was Doug so I knew that I was expected. I followed behind him as he drove a golf cart and lead me to a pull through site. To make it easier for me to access the site he lead me up the hill to access the road coming from the other direction. I pulled forward on the site until he said OK. but the RV seemed to be listing heavily to the right and nosed up. I assessed the situation, dropped the car and backed up the RV to gain a level position. The hookups went well. I tried using the small digital TV antenna. There was no reception and no cable either. In a way I was glad that I would not have a TV distraction. It gave me more time to think, read and blog. At least I had the Verizon signal to use my Internet MIFI device. Hohenwald is a small town next to the Earth’s edge but they do have a Walmart. The camp host told me the RV camp had been recently bought and the owners were making improvements. It was a work in progress. I will be curious to see it in a year.
It was only 6:00 PM. I was very tired and considered going to bed early. Not that early. I walked around, ate a light dinner, then occupied my time until 9:30 when I retired for the evening.
Monday March 26 I was up at 7:30 AM and took my time getting ready. I drove six miles to Hohenwald to check it out and ended up stopping at a McDonalds for coffee. As is often seen at McDonalds a group of older men were drinking coffees and solving all the world problems or discussing the good old days. One of the coffee crowd approached the counter to get a refill. It took no time before we were talking about the area and I had told him what I was doing. The conversation turned to fishing and also the Meriwether Lewis burial site out west of town. I learned all about the best fishing spots and the fact that he had a boat that he didn’t get to use much because he was losing his eyesight. We stood sipping our coffees until he decided to rejoin the group. I sat down to enjoy my coffee and review things on my phone. The elderly man seated himself across from me to show me a map he had drawn of fishing areas. He told me what fish to get where. He suggested that I get a map at the library and pointed me there. I thanked him and headed to the downtown area.
My first stop was the library which is next to the courthouse. The library was closed Sunday and Monday. I took time to walk around the courthouse. It is a small red brick unassuming building that could have qualified as a 1950’s high school. The historical plaques were interesting. Basically the town was spared during the Civil War with the exception of passing troops.
I had seen the Museum of Natural History at the eastern edge of the downtown. It too was closed on Mondays.
Hohenwald is home to an elephant sanctuary. It was an unexpected find. The learning center for the sanctuary is downtown, “The Elephant Discovery Center”. I tried the doors for the center. They were locked. Just as I was ready to turn back to my car a door opened and a voice called out “Can I help you?” I turned around and told him I had seen the sanctuary and wanted to find out more. He introduced himself as Todd and asked if I would like to see a movie about the sanctuary. “Yes I would.”
I was seated in front of a large TV and the movie was started. It highlighted the sanctuary and the benefits to the retired elephants of various backgrounds. Afterwards I was able to talk with Todd about the eleven different elephants. I asked about the various personalities and if they didn’t have conflicts. He told me that some are loners and some form bonds between each other. The sanctuary is large enough that they don’t have many conflicts.
I asked how they handle veterinary needs if the objective is to leave the elephants to themselves as much as possible. Todd said that they interact with each elephant for twenty minutes each day to keep them socialized with humans and to repeat a series of commands that helps when they need a checkup or treatment. Smart.
The center caters to school groups and educating the public about elephants. For instance there are three types of elephants. African Forest, African Savanah, and Asian? As a final treat Todd showed me the live video feeds of the various elephants. You can view the “elecam” online at https://www.elephants.com/#elecam The center is still under construction. It is well worth the visit. In the meantime check out their home site here: https://www.elephants.com/
I bought a shirt with an image of the elephant Billie at the gift shop. Visit the gift store online at their site.
Since it was Monday and most places were closed, I headed out on SR 20 east to the Meriwether Lewis Site. This is the location where Meriwether Lewis died. A monument lies over his confirmed grave site. A segment of the original Natchez Trace runs right through the site. The National Parks had a ranger on duty at the visitors center. The center tells about Lewis’ life and the odd circumstances of his death at the Grinder house. Lewis was traveling to Washington DC along the Trace and took shelter at the Grinder house for the night. The circumstances of his death are sketchy but officially he committed suicide shooting himself in the head and the chest in an ineffective manner that led to a slow death in which time he was able to speak. It was reported that he was “out of his head” when he had arrived at the home. He had suffered from malaria, depression and possibly alcoholism. He reportedly had tried to kill himself before.
I visited the memorial in the Pioneer Cemetery. There are small surface leveled grave markers with the names of other individuals in the area around Meriwether Lewis’ monument. I was surprised to find out later that there had been regular gravestones over the graves that had been removed, possibly for convenience sake. Sounds disrespectful to me. Learn about Meriwether Lewis here: https://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvisit/upload/M-Lewis-Site-Bulletin-8-30-13.pdf
The park ranger had shown me where I could walk part of the Natchez Trace from the northern tip of the monument to a loop that would bring me back to the visitors center. I headed off toward the east. The trail sloped down toward Little Swan Creek where it turned north to parallel the stream. The lower section of the Trace was muddy. I followed along the creek at a good distance from the shore. It had been raining and the waters were high. A small stream cut through the trail. A flat unstable stone sitting in the middle of the flowing water allowed me to step across. It was a little wobbly but I did not get wet. From there the trail split left up hill or right toward the creek. The map I had did not show elevations or stream crossings. I decided the way to go was left up the steep embankment. The trail going uphill had been washed out. It was traceable but I braced my feet against freshly exposed roots to gain a foothold.
The trail was easily discerned at the top of the hill and equally as easy to hike. I followed it parallel to the creek until I reached a deep crevice with a loud rapidly flowing stream gushing down the hillside. I had to study the topography to find where the trail dropped abruptly to the right toward the crevice. It was wet, muddy, and looked too slick to risk. The thought of turning around was not desirable yet the trail ahead looked too dangerous. I turned around.
The descent from the hillside proved easier than the walk up. I was getting tired by the time I started the ascent back toward the visitors center. I had been unaware of the long slow slope when I was walking downhill. Traveling back uphill away from the creek valley reminded me just how far I had walked and how challenging the terrain was. I was relieved when the Trace leveled off again. I had a lot farther to go before reaching my goal but it was an easy walk on the level trail. I was glad to see the fence along the trail marking my close approach to the center.
I stopped by the visitor’s center to ask the ranger about the difficulties I had encountered. He was surprised that there were any streams flowing down the hillside. Normally that doesn’t happen. It was the recent rains that had increased the difficulty levels of the trail. Lucky me.
Before leaving I drove the side road eastward to the end where a circle overlooks the Little Swan Creek. I was probably very close to this point when I had decided to turn around. So close, yet…
I returned to the RV to rest awhile. Rather than cooking I decided to go out to eat. Lot’s of places were closed. I could have chosen the fast food joints like McDonalds, or Taco Bell. I decided on Big John’s Pit Bar-B-Q. I had the Bar-B-Q Plate (only $10.00). It includes two sides. I had the pulled pork with green beans, and potato salad. It was good tasting but the pork was not very hot. I think they reheated it and did not do a great job. At least it tasted good. I could not eat all the potato salad. There was just a lot of it.
Back at the RV I read, wrote, and watched the BBC show “Allo, Allo” on Netflix. I was pretty tired. Sleep came easily.
Tuesday March 27- I headed toward downtown Hohenwald around 8:30AM. Before long the low tire indicator came on with a ding. I could either drive back to the RV for the tire gauge or pick up one for the car at Walmart. The car was pulling to the right which made the front right tire suspect. After purchasing the gauge I checked the tires pressures. The front right was now noticeably low. It had 25psi, ten pounds low. All the other tires were at 35psi. I used my phone to look up tire repair shops. The closest was just down the street, John’s Tire Services. I called to make sure they were open. Actually, I guess the closest tire shop may have been Walmart, but I did not consider it.
The first clue that I had found John’s Tire Shop was the huge collection of old tires enclosed by a fence. The shop looked sketchy. The exterior old metal siding made me wonder if I had made a mistake with my selection. I wasn’t even sure where the office was. I tried one door but it was locked. Then I saw another door with a hasp thrown back and a lock inserted through the metal loop on the door jamb. The man who had been sorting old tires walked up I motioned toward the door. He nodded back.
The interior was a well kept tire shop. I introduced myself to a mechanic. He had me pull into a work bay onto a lift. I stepped aside to let him do his job. In about fifteen minutes he had me back on the road. It only cost fifteen dollars. The tire had been plugged at some time in the past. The previous owner had probably picked up a screw or nail in the tread and had it repaired. The old plug had failed. A new patch did the trick. I was thankful that it was an easy fix and that it had not given way while towing the car. I was very pleased with the work done.
I decided to head downtown for a late breakfast. Locals had told me that the Southern Skillet was the place to go for a good breakfast. It is a small corner storefront diner, the type you might find in Mayberry. I parked in front of the restaurant on North Park Street across from the courthouse. I took a seat at a table near the counter and the front window. A smiling young waitress brought me a menu. I ordered coffee and a water. By the time she came back I had decided on pancakes, bacon, and a single egg over hard.
The crowd in the restaurant looked to be locals. One table was filled with either friends or family members. They were having a great time. Another table had an old man with a young woman (grandpa, grand daughter?). At another table a man sat alone reading the newspaper. And there were others. Interesting.
My meal arrived. The pancakes were huge and thick. There were three strips of crispy bacon and the single egg. The food lived up to the good expectations set by the locals.
After eating I drove to the Lewis County Museum of Natural History on U.S. 412, Main Street. Entry cost $5.00. I could have gotten in for $4.00 as a senior. I told the attendant to put the dollar towards the museum maintenance. I really need to remember to ask about the various discounts that places offer. This has happened to me before.
The museum offers a brief historical view of Meriwether Lewis. They regard his apparent suicide with skepticism. Even the attendant told me she thought he had been murdered and locally the suicide explanation was not widely accepted.
There are Civil War artifacts, A display of mining history in the area, a log cabin display, and the Maddox Trophy Animal Collection from around the world. The most interesting display was about the early Hohenwald history. There were two small towns founded by separate Swiss groups, Hohenwald and New Switzerland. The two cities fought over the name during unification. Since Hohenwald held the rights to the post office they won out. There’s a little more to it but that’s the gist of it.
There is also a wall display of various plants that were collected like the ones appearing in Meriwether Lewis’ books from the expedition to the Pacific. The plants were gathered by people from along the expedition route, and brought to the official 2009 ceremony that payed overdue respect to Meriwether Lewis.
A small tribute to Sacagawea accompanies a wall map of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. I spent about forty minutes at the museum. A large portion of the displays is dedicated to the hunting trophies. I did not spend much time there. The trophy areas make efforts to frame the hunting within the times that the hunts took place to counter possible objections toward the hunts. The elephant tusk stands in contrast to the Elephant Conservation Center just across the street.
I had nothing else to do for the day. There are plenty of wineries in the region. In fact, they have dubbed it the Natchez Trace Wine Trail. I chose to go to Amber Falls Winery because it was the closest one that was open. I drove east on U.S. 412 under the Natchez Trace, past the Fall Hollow RV site then left on Ridgetop Road following the signs up the steep hill along the hilltop to the vineyard. It was clearly marked by signs and easy to find. I drove down the long lane past the rows of grape vines with workers tying off the branches, past the water house, and the winery, to the tasting room at the end. Once inside the building I was greeted by two large lazy dogs (one white, the other black) laying at the top of the stairs. They were more interested in sleeping than they were in me. They never lifted their heads but their eyes opened as they watched me enter.
I walked around the dogs, down the stairs to enter the store. A the copper covered tasting bar awaited me. I was invited to the far end of the short bar. The right of the bar was occupied by a couple, and a group of four. The woman behind the bar was able to answer all my questions. I reviewed the wine list and made my six allowed selections. I cannot remember all of the wines I tried. The dry selection was more dry than I am used to. It tasted good but sucked the saliva from my mouth. I grabbed an oyster cracker and worked up some moisture. The semi-sweets were my favorites. When all was said and done I had bought two bottles. The Midnight Crimson, a medium blend of sweet cherry and dry red varietal. Not too dry and not too sweet. Right in the middle. I also bought a bottle of Sweet Dreams dessert wine. It is a Cream Sherry style wine. Sweet but not too sweet. I am reserving this bottle for a special get together to be determined.
I had started my visit at Amber Falls with Margaret Cluchey (the Office Manager) as my server. Pat Cluchey took over. He is the Wine Maker. Although we talked a lot about the wines and the wine making processes Pat and I spent far more time discussing fishing and muscle cars. We both agreed that we needed to spend more time catching fish. Although they did not tell me so I surmised that Pat and Margaret are married. I was also told about the way they pump the ground waters used at the winery from the local wells. The water is filtered at the water house. There are working windmills capable of extracting the water. Learn more about Amber Falls on their website. http://amberfallswinery.com/
I had spent over an hour at Amber Falls. The company was good and I had nowhere else to go. I took far longer than others with the wine tasting. It was time to return to the RV. I turned right onto Ridgetop Road away from the direction I had come. Eventually I came to a sign pointing down the hillside toward U.S. 412. I headed west to the RV park where I stayed until 5:30PM.
I had wanted to try another restaurant in Hohenwald, The Lewis and Clarke’s Restaurant or as the sign says, The Lewis and Clarke’s Explore the Heritage of American Cuisine. Now that’s a mouthful. So was the plateful of food I received. I ordered a ten ounce sirloin steak with mashed potatoes, and steamed spinach seasoned with diced garlic. The meal was great. The steak was tender and juicy. The potatoes were flavorful and the spinach was tasty too. I tried a New Castle Brown Ale with the meal. It tasted off. I did not finish the ale. I was impressed with the meal. The restaurant interior was a tribute to the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. The exterior is decorated with a large mural related to the expedition. The restaurant hours are somewhat odd. Consult their Facebook page for more information. https://www.facebook.com/Lewis-Clarkes-Restaurant-264406324017694/
It was a quiet evening at the RV. My next chosen destination was Elizabethtown, Kentucky. I had stayed there before with a failed attempt to visit the General Patton Museum. I was determined to try again. Read about the previous visit in an earlier blog https://rvwithmedoug.blog/2017/08/02/a-visit-to-general-george-patton-museum-fort-knox-ky-almost/