Locking through the Tenn-Tom
Nov 23, 2007
|The Natchez Trace crosses the amazing Tenn-Tom Waterway
Friday, November 23, 2007
The start of our sixth month
We woke to a clear day with a little overcast but a lot of blue sky. The temperature was hovering near freezing and dipped below it just before dawn, but nothing froze and we were OK. We broke camp and drove out over the O'Neal Bridge, back through Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals were we gassed up. Our destination is the Trace but first we wanted to see their more or less famous Coon Dog Cemetery. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
We tried, we really, really tried. We barked. We howled. We even looked for funeral processions - but the directions on our map weren't very good and even though we found the turnoff and followed it out a mile or so, we never did find the cemetery. We never got to say 'goodbye' to ol' Troop and the others. Durn!
We finally gave up and continued on to the Trace, another 18 miles down the road. We rejoined it and turned our baby toward Tupelo once more. Maybe we'll make it today.
We are now officially in the 'Land of Cotton' and like the song says, "Old times here are not forgotten." It should have said, "Old times here were really rotten." For this is the land of slavery and segregation, of the Montgomery bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins. The place where George Wallace said, "Segregation forever!" and Freedom Riders were harassed and killed for helping black people register to vote. This is where little black girls were killed in a church bombing, and where old people were attacked by police in the streets for daring to ask for their Constitutional rights. This country killed Dr. Martin Luther King. But it got George Wallace shot too, so things are changing.
Despite it's ugly history, you can't say the land is not beautiful though. The Trace Parkway is so clean - so well designed and maintained. And it should be, it took over 70 years to complete. From the first vision in the '30s, to the appropriations from Congress in the '50s, to the final completion in the early years of the 21st century, this has been a labor of love that many people and several generations have worked to complete. And we admire and appreciate them for that.
After stopping at several ancient burial mounds we started looking for a place called the Tenn-Tom Waterway. The map said it is the largest project the Army Corps of Engineers has ever attempted - a project to connect the Tennessee River and the Gulf of Mexico by turning the Tombigbee River into a navigable waterway between them.
Like the Trace Parkway it is a project envisioned first in another century and only recently completed. We wanted to see what it was all about so we drove to the visitor center.
The visitor center was a little disorganized, with boxes stacked in the lobby and a receptionist who barely said, 'Hello' and kept her nose stuck in a computer the whole time we were there. She wasn't exactly rude, but she wasn't friendly or helpful either.
So we ignored her and spent half an hour looking at the excellent exhibits they have on the waterway, including a scale model of the whole project from the Tennessee River, down the Tombigbee River to Mobile Bay. There are nearly a dozen locks and dams on the waterway and the Corps of Engineers moved more earth here than did the builders of the Panama Canal.
From the visitor center we drove out to the Jamie L. Whitten Lock and Dam and what a sight it is. This lock has the highest lift on the waterway - 84 feet! We braved the wind chill and walked out on the dam, and to our surprise we found an upbound barge tow locking through. It was almost to the top so we watched it rise the last few feet and took these pictures.
The tow was so long the tow boat had to disconnect and sit next to the barge for the ride up. Then when the upper gate opened it had to maneuver in behind it again. Once the tow boat got behind the barge again, he pushed it out of the lock very quickly. This corner of the lake next to the lock seems to be a favorite of fishermen, probably because it's very deep.
For shipping headed for the Tennessee River or for the upper Ohio this waterway saves them hundreds of miles and several days sailing over having to go to New Orleans and travel up the Mississippi. The average lift of all the locks is 27 feet. From here it's clear sailing to the Tennessee River some forty miles north of here.
We continued on south, crossing the Jamie L. Whitten Bridge on the Trace Parkway and taking a picture of the lock and dam from there. We stopped briefly at another group of mounds and then at Dogwood Valley. We took the fifteen minute walk and saw what we think are dogwood trees, but it's hard to tell when they're not in bloom. So it looks like we will have to come back again in the spring!
Our last stop was at the Tupelo Visitor Center where we spent an hour or so looking at their exhibits and viewing a movie on the Natchez Trace.
Then we headed for Tupelo and a campground at Elvis Presley Lake. We made a wrong turn off the Trace and went several miles out of our way, but we found our way back and eventually found the park and campground. It was still light enough to see to hook up without a flashlight, but not light enough to take a walk or a look around. That will have to wait until morning. It was very cold and looked like it would probably get down to freezing by morning, so after a dinner of turkey leftovers we watched a DVD on the National Parks, then pulled in our slide and went to bed.