October 26, 2022

Southern States Loop - It's a Wrap! (Part 1 of 2)

Alan and I recently returned from a five week loop through a number of southern states in which we hadn’t yet camped.    We tallied seven new-to-us states (West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Maryland) and traveled a total of 8,333 miles.  About half of those miles were spent with the travel trailer in tow; the other 4,000+ miles were logged during our explorations away from base camp.  Overall, it was an excellent trip with a great number of wonderful experiences and a few disappointments thrown in to keep us from getting too cocky.

This is what our map looked like before the trip . . .

By way of explanation for those unfamiliar with a “visited states map,” different families have different criteria for coloring in a state.  Ours is that we have to sleep in the state in our travel trailer for at least one night for it to be counted.  So, for example, even though we’ve attended conferences in Texas, visited friends there and have driven across the narrow northern section of that state towing the travel trailer, we didn’t color it in until this trip because we never actually camped there.

. . . and this is what it looks like now. Just four more to go in the 48 contiguous states!

I’ll document this trip completely at a later date (I really need to get back to documenting our West Coast National Parks Trip), but I wanted to post a recap while these past five and a half weeks on the road were still fresh in my mind.  Read on for the highlights – and the “lowlights.”

Our journey began with a couple of overnight stops on our way to Tennessee, including our first ever stay in West Virginia at Battle Run Campground, an Army Corps of Engineers facility in Summersville.  We may not be Siskel and Ebert, but Alan and I gave Battle Run a “two thumbs up” and wouldn’t hesitate to return.  Our destination in Tennessee was Seven Points, another COE campground located just east of Nashville on J. Percy Priest Lake.  It would be a jumping off point for a drive on the northernmost section of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Traveling the entire Parkway was one of our priorities on this expedition, and the northern terminus of the Parkway is just outside of Nashville.  This city has long been a favorite destination of ours, and Seven Points now feels like an old friend.  In fact, it was a visit with friends Kathy and Albert, who retired to the Nashville area some years back, that made this stop especially sweet.

Our first overnight ever in West Virginia - Battle Run COE Campground in Summersville

Whenever Alan and I travel, we’re mindful of the locations of friends and family members throughout the country.  We don’t always manage to squeeze in visits when we’re in the neighborhood, but we do try when possible.  Who was on our direct flight path as we made our way from West Virginia down to Nashville?  Joe and Helen Bruner!  Joe is the author of Easin’ Along, a blog which is included in the list of my favorite blogs in the column at the right.   Joe and I, having become “cyber friends,” were always hoping that our paths might intersect somewhere along the line.  This time, they did.  Joe and Helen happened to be in town the day we passed through Knoxville on our way to Nashville.  Although Alan and I would have been happy with something as simple as meeting somewhere for a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone, Joe and Helen invited us to their lovely home for lunch and a hefty dose of southern hospitality.  The couple of hours we had carved out of a long travel day to allow for this inaugural visit flew by in record time.  As the saying goes, a good time was had by all, and I know in my heart that this will not be the last time we’ll be catching up with the Bruners.  Thank you, Helen and Joe!

Photo credit to Easin' Along - thanks for sharing, Joe!

If “Easin’ Along” with Joe and Helen and spending an entire day with our Nashville friends Kathy and Albert were two of the highlights, I have to admit that the Natchez Trace Parkway was one of the trip’s disappointments.  It truly pains me to admit this because Alan and I are HUGE fans of our National Parks, and the Natchez Trace Parkway falls under the administration of the National Park Service (NPS).  Sadly, I think the NPS dropped the ball on this one – whether due to staffing issues, funding shortfalls or something else entirely, I don’t know.  During the course of our travels, we drove almost the entire Parkway in four different segments.  (It’s 444 miles long and winds through three states – Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.)  While there were some excellent stops along the way, there were some major disappointments, too.

Can you read this informational sign?  Neither could we.

The Natchez Trace Parkway roughly follows the Old Natchez Trace, a travel route used by Native Americans, settlers, traders and soldiers.  The “lowlights,” as we’ll call them, were illegible or damaged signage in at least a half dozen locations; an overabundance of stops at which you read a sign about what used to be there – no photos, no re-creations - leaving what actually had been there to your imagination; disappointment in finding that an old inn we could explore was closed with no explanation provided, despite the sign outside indicating it was open for tours from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; confusing signage, especially at Emerald Mound, an attraction which necessitated a brief jump off the Parkway to visit; and an incredibly l-o-n-g detour through the countryside because part of the Parkway was being repaved.  Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be whining about that last item because the Parkway does have a limited number of access points.  Still, it was rather annoying, especially because we ended up backtracking to see other things in the area.

Mount Locust was also closed the day before according to other travelers we met.

The good stuff along the Parkway, though, was really good!  These two northeasterners marveled at tobacco hanging in a barn to dry and cotton still growing in easily accessible fields; were amazed by the view of the magnificent double arch bridge; visited the somber and thought-provoking gravesite of Meriwether Lewis; were duly impressed by Emerald Mound (when we finally found it); took advantage of the opportunities to walk a portion of the Sunken Trace and drive a two mile stretch of the Old Trace; and enjoyed a delightful picnic at Jeff Busby Park.

This photo of the double arch bridge doesn't do it justice.  Not even close.

Although we were disappointed at times, we did drive the entire Parkway with the exception of a short section just south of Jackson, Mississippi.  Alan and I agreed that this was a “one and done” for us, having learned just as much from the Moon Travel Guide I had purchased as we did from our travels on the Parkway.  Anyone who is more of a history buff than either of us may have had a better outcome at this NPS unit.  As we like to say, “To each his own.”

Monument at the Meriwether Lewis gravesite

From Tennessee, we dropped down into Mississippi, over to Arkansas, down into Texas, through Louisiana, back across southern Mississippi into Alabama then on to North Carolina, Maryland and home.  We were keeping a close eye on Hurricane Ian, but it made landfall when we were in Texas, our westernmost point of the trip, and ended up being no threat to us.  (The same cannot be said for Alan’s brother and sister-in-law who live in Florida.  Their landscaping was decimated, but their home was not flooded.   Thankfully, they and their pups are fine, but they said the damage in the surrounding area is horrifying.)

In addition to Hurricane Ian and our disappointment in the Natchez Trace Parkway, we experienced some other lowlights on this journey.  Our surge suppressor alerted us to an electrical issue at Trace State Park in Mississippi that was exacerbated by management that insisted there wasn’t a problem and temperatures that hit the mid-90’s during the day.  Both at Trace State Park and one other stop on the trip, we had neighbors who thought cornhole was best played after quiet hours began right on through to about midnight.  (“Thunk, thunk. Thunk, thunk.”)  I felt like “thunking” them all in the head with their beanbags.

Our campsite at Trace State Park in Mississippi was lovely, but we won't be returning.

The most disheartening event was the attempted theft of our bicycles from a parking lot at the Fort Smith Historic Site in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  The Fort itself was a fascinating place.  The video and exhibits were excellent and informative, and we would highly recommend visiting to anyone interested in the history of the American West.  That being said, we would also recommend that you take all valuables with you, or be sure to hide or otherwise secure any you choose to leave in your vehicle.  When we returned to the truck after visiting Fort Smith, we found my bike hanging off the side.  Like this:

We travel with our bikes secured in a special rack Alan made for when they ride in the bed of the truck.  Apparently, the prospective thieves had sliced the ratchet strap that holds the bikes stable in their rack.  Then they attempted to hoist my bike over the side of the truck.  What they didn’t know was that the bikes were secured to the truck with a half-inch thick braided steel cable.  (I would have loved to see the look on their faces when they figured it out.)  That cable wouldn’t have deterred all thieves, but it sure put the kibosh on this attempted theft – which was probably one of perceived opportunity.  Through an amazing stroke of luck, neither the truck nor our bikes were damaged in any way.  This incident validated our tendency to mitigate the risk of theft whenever possible, and we’ll continue to lock our belongings throughout our travels both on the road and at camp.

Now that I’ve dragged a little black rain cloud over all of our heads, it’s time to talk about the highlights of the trip – of which there were many.  Since this post is already quite long, I’ll hold onto the good stuff for Part 2.  Did the positive outweigh the negative?  Absolutely!  I’ll prove that to you in the next post.

Seven Points COE Campground outside of Nashville - our campsite flag says it all.

Despite the “downs” of travel that inevitably accompany the “ups,” I understand that Alan and I are truly fortunate to be able to enjoy life on the road and the many adventures of RV travel.  To see twinkling stars through our skylights at night, to wake to the sun dancing through the trees, to revel in yet another glorious sunset over a lake – these are all blessings and privileges that we, as outdoor enthusiasts, get to enjoy day after day.  When the occasional lowlights occur, our disappointment is tempered by our perspective.  Roger Miller is quoted as saying, “Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet.”  Indeed!




  1. I'm sorry you had a few... ummmm... challenges (that attempted bike theft was awful!) but I look forward to your list of highlights next. I have such a soft spot for our National Park system, and I know they struggle with under-funding, especially at the lesser-known locations. I wonder if there is a website where you could give them a heads up on the unreadable signs. I doubt they have anyone to monitor them regularly so they may not be aware. Since their funding always seems to be on the chopping block (we want all the stuff, but we want lower taxes) they need all the constructive/positive help they can get.

    1. I do have the name and address of the Park Superintendent. (The only email address I found was for a generic inbox for staff to answer questions.) I agree that the more popular units of the NPS receive more attention due to their visitation numbers. More funding, too, as a result of those numbers which is understandable. Honestly, we saw so little traffic on the days we were on the Parkway, that it's not surprising it appears to be somewhat neglected. I can't even imagine what it costs to keep up a Park - it's mind-boggling, no doubt.

      As for the bikes, I'm REALLY glad they weren't stolen! They're Diamondback hybrids that we've had for years, and they work well for the type of biking that we do. If they had actually been stolen, I think I would have cried. Seriously. We were very lucky!

  2. We thought we did well to spend at least one night in 32 states during our RV years. Your map shows us to just be pretenders to the crown!

    On one trip we did spend several days in the Nashville area where one of my brothers lives, and found lovely side trips to keep us engaged. My wife is from West Virginia and I lived there for awhile. It has some of the most underappreciated landscape in the country, if you don't mind narrow, twisty roads.

    1. Nashville is a gift that keeps on giving as far as we're concerned. This time we found a new-to-us bike trail and added another excellent restaurant to our list of local favorites. I do agree that the West Virginia scenery is gorgeous. Although we didn't stay to explore, our ride through the state was quite enjoyable.

      Bob, you and Betty are definitely not slackers! I just think that, in our case, wanting our kids to see as many of the National Parks as possible resulted in a lot of road warrior trips, logging lots of miles and lots of states in the process. Lots of great memories, that's for sure!

  3. Thank you for being thoughtful enough to give me a heads up about your appearance in Texas without proper notice (to me). I get your reasoning but, when you visit next time, the state troopers will be watching for those New York license plates. Even the display of those things is a misdemeanor down here, but I have some lawyer friends. Seriously, one of these days, it will happen.

    1. I would never try to sneak through Texas without letting you know, Mike. I'd be too concerned about your prescience and the magical powers that accompany it. I'm pretty sure things would not go well for Alan and me!

  4. Mary,
    So glad that it worked out for us to spend time together. Helen and I were delighted to visit with you both, and agree that we will do it again. Helen really appreciated the Halloween card and wanted you to know that it was the only one we got--very thoughtful of you. Hope your fall is going well. Please stay in touch. Joe

    1. Just my way of letting Helen know that I'm thinking about her, Joe. As for our get together, it was a meant-to-be case of cyberspace meeting real life. (Real life is SO much better!) Hugs to you and Helen!

  5. Oh no!!! I'm so sorry that someone tried to steal your bike, and so glad they were foiled. I appreciate your take on the Natchez Trace Parkway. We've thought about driving it, but it doesn't sound worth the effort. Too many other things to do!

    So fun that you got to visit with Joe and Helen. And we love that Seven Points COE campground, too...I just wish there were hiking trails in the campground.

    1. The Natchez Trace had been on our bucket list, and we agreed that we were glad we did it. Had we anticipated the relatively few highlights (again, we're not huge history fans), I think we would have moved it down quite a bit on our list of priorities.

      Nashville has been a favorite destination of ours for decades. Not only is Seven Points a real gem, but we really like its location. It would be a great place for the six of us to meet up someday after you and Eric make your move!


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