A Little Chunk of the Natchez Trace Trail

This 445 mile scenic drive through the heart of the south is quick and beautiful with lot's of side loops to explore. Many places to jump on and jump off means easy access too.

I went to New Orleans last week for the Traditional Building Show and Convention. While I was there, I took a few extra days to explore the wreckage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In heading to Mississippi’s Gulf coast, I took a little detour: north out of New Orleans to Natchez, Miss, so that I could drive a little piece of the Natchez Trace Trail. This historic scenic road was a way home for farmers who had floated their wooden boat down the Mississippi from Ohio, Kentucky, and other farming states to sell their crops. They’d typically sell the boat too, buy a horse and ride it home. The trail goes from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.

I’ve wanted to drive this road ever since Tinsley and I lived in Nashville. Our friend, Michael Evans, told us what a wonderful drive it is, but we never were able to take the trip. One of these days when we’re visiting her folks in Nashville, we’ll take a side trip down the Natchez Trace Trail for a family vacation to Planet New Orleans. For now, I’ll write about the chunk I covered last week.

The southern portion of this road is fantastic -- smoothly paved; curvy enough to be a fun drive, but not so curvy that the passengers will puke; and laid out to allow a reasonable pace -- 50 or 55 mph. This is better than the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you’re limited to around 40 mph (faster than 40 and the passengers will, you know, puke). And it wasn’t crowded at all (unlike the Blue Ridge). The 25 measly miles that I covered were a wonderful introduction. In fact, I seriously considered changing my plans from visiting the Mississippi coast and then flying out of New Orleans, to skipping the gulf coast, driving straight up to Nashville and flying home from there.

My trip-let started in Natchez, and I drove up to the Windsor Ruins, stopping at the Mount Locust Inn and Plantation on the way. The Inn and plantation consists of is dog trot style cabin, some slave’s quarters, a four room, two story annex out back known as Sleepy Hollow (not related to the headless Horseman), and a couple of cemeteries. Because I was racing the light to the ruins (in order to get photos, see the top photo), I wasn’t able to really explore the Inn but I did snap a few photos of the main house (the light was great). The Mount Locust Inn was one of two or three that provided a place for travelers to sleep under a roof, get a hot meal, and stock up on a few supplies for the long trip. There were about 20 "stands" along the way that offered no sleeping quarters, just the bare minimum of supplies and food.

More Natchez Trace installments as we cover them…

Have you ever been on the Trace?

A Lighthouse That's Worth the Climb

Owl's Head Light offers an amazing view of Penobscot Bay.

Located just south of Rockland, ME atop a long stretch of stairs, perched on a rock outcrop sits Owl's Head Light. This side trip makes a great after-dinner activity. The stairs tire out the kids and offer a wonderful reward for very little effort. Get up there an hour before sunset and you might capture some magical light.

This could be a fantastic place to peep leaves, if you're a foliage aficionado.

To get there, take Route 73 south from Rockland to N. Shore Drive. Turn left just after the Owl’s Head Post Office (about 2.5 miles) onto Main Street and then Lighthouse Road. Follow the signs to the lighthouse.

Vacationing with Your Kids

I stumbled on to this article at HighlightsParents.com. It's by an educational psychologist, mom, and entrepreneur who believes that as parents we need all the support we can get.
Amen to that Dr. Schwager.

The advice is similar to our Tips for Traveling with Kids series. Although I must draw the line at making up a new word unless it's both useful and fun to say. Kidcation isn't really either, in my opinion.

Vacationing with Your Kids
By Istar Schwager, Ph.D.
Vacations with kids are so different from vacations without kids that they may deserve their own name. Kidcations? Anticipating my first vacation after becoming a mother, I imagined sleeping late, taking long quiet walks, spending afternoons reading, and enjoying candlelit dinners with my husband. The reality was that I awoke before 6 A.M., prepared baby food in an ill-equipped cabin, trekked tons of baby paraphernalia to the beach, and sacked out by 8 P.M. We had fun, but in an entirely different way than I'd pictured. Later I laughed at myself for being fooled by the "vacation" word.

Here are some thoughts on making "kidcations" enjoyable for the whole family.

Have Realistic Expectations
Take into consideration your kids' ages, interests, and need for activity as you plan your itinerary. Be realistic. You can still do many of the things that fit your agenda, but don't expect your kids to morph into different beings while on vacation. While a change of location may bring out the camper, historian, or marine biologist in a child, most kids are not turned on by "beautiful scenery" and aren't going to have much tolerance for looking at every last picture in a museum. Make sure that at least some of the activities you plan are oriented to your kids' interests.

Get Kids Involved in Planning
The more kids are involved in planning, the more they will feel like true family-vacation participants. Before taking off, help them look up destinations on maps. Encourage them to plan what to take, discussing what will be needed, what you can do without, and the amount of baggage space allocated. If you have a chance, read with them about where you'll be going and help them become familiar with the names of places and anticipated activities. Share a sense of discovery as you research your plans.

Reassure Kids During Transitions
Kids, especially younger children who have a less-developed understanding of time and distance, may find travel confusing and disruptive. Bringing a favorite stuffed animal or other transitional object can be very comforting. It's also important to help kids anticipate what will happen. Phrases such as "next week," "soon," and "we're almost there" can be translated into more concrete descriptions, such as "by the time we sing three more songs" or "we'll be sleeping at Grandma's seven days." You could even give your kids a calendar that shows where you'll be and what you plan to do each day.

Keep Up Old Routines or Create Some New Ones
Find a balance between old and new. See if it works to read a bedtime story and stick to regular bedtimes while on vacation. You may also want to create special vacation routines--for instance, taking a family walk every morning or playing a board game after dinner each night.

Engage Kids While Traveling
To keep kids engaged and excited about the vacation, help them read maps, watch for road signs, look at changes in topography, and play the kinds of car and travel games that encourage observation and discussion. Kids can also be encouraged to be in charge of their own small travel bag, to have a pre-set amount to spend at a roadside store, and to try new foods and activities.

Be Aware of Pacing
Whether you're traveling by car, plane, or train--kids need time to move around. The "are we there yet?" question isn't just about bathroom stops and boredom. Try to plan your route so that your children have opportunities to stretch their legs. Parks, zoos, and playgrounds along the way provide a chance for kids to let off steam. Providing opportunities for movement will cut down on the whining and acting out that can result from normal, predictable restlessness.

Encourage Kids to Record Their Experiences
To help make the vacation their own, kids can take photos, draw pictures, send postcards to friends back home, and even keep a travel journal. These are great ways for kids to express their reactions to what they are doing and seeing and to keep their skills active during the school break.

Although they take some extra planning and effort, family vacations allow you to share experiences, talk together, tell family stories, sing, play games, and bond in ways that may be hard during the regular year. Whether you're vacationing in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, camping near a stream or visiting your great-aunt Irma--I hope that you and your kids have a relaxed and memorable vacation this summer.

Istar Schwager, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist, mom, and founder of Creative Parents, Inc., with the website creativeparents.com. She believes that as parents we need all the support we can get.

June 2007

6 family travel headaches — solved!

So here's an article from MSNBC about how to survive a trip with your kids. It seems that the author seeks to survive rather than make it fun, interesting, or educational. And while the questions seem quite contrived, there's some info in there.

6 family travel headaches — solved!
Kids change the whole dynamic of a vacation, but they don't have to ruin it

By John Frenaye
Travel columnist

When I got into the travel business back in the '90s, I had no idea where it would take me, but over the years, I've come to specialize in a couple of niche markets: family travel and single-parent travel (in that order, thanks to a divorce in 2000). I have done many television and radio interviews on these topics over the years, and the same six questions keep popping up. So if you are getting a headache trying to figure out how to finagle your family travel, start here. I might just have your aspirin.

1. HELP! My husband wants a romantic second honeymoon, but we're taking along our toddler. Where can we go and what can we do?
The best solution is to find a trusted baby sitter or family member to watch your child while you reignite those embers of matrimony. A private two- or three-night getaway can certainly do wonders to restore romance. But if you must take Junior along, look for a destination that has a children's program. Not just a baby-sitting service, but a carefully designed, specially staffed children's program. The Camp Hyatt program (minimum age: 3) is an outstanding example. Their staff is trained in early childhood development and child care. In addition to getting a special kid-friendly menu, you can also learn to hula dance in Hawaii, search for Native American arrowheads in Texas or watch the dolphins in Florida. Another option is to take a cruise. Most cruise lines accept youngsters as young as 2, and their programs are organized into activity groups by age. In either case, you are just a beeper away from your child, and the program usually provides the beeper. In my experience, once the kids are in the program, it's hard to persuade them to leave.

2. We want a big family vacation, but we're on a budget. What should we do?
There are plenty of ways to save money on a family vacation. One is to travel in the off-season. For example, ski resorts are a lot of fun for families in the summer months, especially if you can get hold of some mountain bikes. Or look into a serviced campground; by "serviced" I mean cabins and electricity — certainly not the "roughing-it" camping of Cub Scout days. My family has had a lot of fun at some of the Yogi Bear Campgrounds, which offer TV and phone service in the cabin. Another tip, wherever you go, is to cook your own meals (usually, it is the restaurant meals that kill the family travel budget). Finally, be sure to use any reward points you've accumulated with your airline or credit card company. They can really add up to savings.

3. I always wind up overpacking — and yet I still forget things. Any advice?
Don't sweat it. It's like the weather: There's not much you can really do about a forgotten item, now is there? But I sympathize. I used to be a victim of my own disorganization, and I was always forgetting something critical (usually sunscreen, which for some reason costs three times as much once you reach your sunny destination). I got tired of all those trips to the gift shop, so I developed a simple and fun packing checklist. Now when we pack (and I make my kids pack themselves), I give the list to my son and put him in charge of keeping his dad and sisters on track. If you want a copy, you can download the list from my agency's Web site.

4. Our flight is nearly six hours long and we have two kids with us! What can we do to make the long trip less stressful?
With the state of air travel today, you will be lucky if the flight takes off at all, much less on time. My advice is to expect the unexpected and come to the airport prepared. Most important: Buy the kids their own seats. (Yes, it's tempting to save money by having that little one ride in your lap, but believe me, it's almost always a bad idea.) Make sure the kids have plenty to drink; good hydration will help them cope with the cabin pressurization. Set the expectations for behavior before you leave for the airport, and for heaven's sake, have plenty for them to do.

Are they old enough to own or borrow an iPod? Do they know how to use one? We downloaded a full-length movie to my son's video iPod for our last trip; a $4 headphone splitter from Radio Shack allowed his sister to listen, too, and they were both entertained for more than two hours. Battery-operated Game Boys and P2Ps are also fantastic time passers. Sudoku, word-find games, crossword puzzles, crayons and coloring books are all outstanding investments for a long trip (also plain old books, if the kids are already reading). If it is an especially long flight, ask your travel professional about the onboard entertainment; there might be a built-in gaming console at the kids' seats. (This was the case on the Cathay Pacific flight I took with my son to China a few years back, and it was a godsend.)

5. Is there a way to make everyone happy on a vacation — two adults, a teenage son, an 8-year-old daughter and our 2-year-old?
Families with a big age range have to work hard in advance of the trip. Make sure everyone is involved in the planning and make no assumptions. (For example, do not assume Gramps is too old for Disney — he may be looking for a good excuse to be a kid again.) Look for a destination that has something for everyone, and be on the lookout for special children's programming so the grownups can have some time to themselves. Most important, don't push the idea that everyone has to spend every waking moment together. "Downtime" and "apart time" are underrated, in my opinion, and I build them into all my family vacations. For example, I took a cruise in August with my kids and their "Grammy." Most of the time, the kids were with me or they hung out with their new friends, but we ate all our dinners with Grammy, and we did a couple of shore excursions together. That way the kids avoided "Grammy overload," and Grammy was able to have a good time without having to be institutionalized when she got off the ship.

6. What are some resources for family deals, trips, advice, etc.?
My best advice is to work with a travel agent who is really interested in family travel. The Internet has many great resources, too, but take the consumer reviews with a grain of salt; after all, no two families are alike in their needs and expectations. For hotels and resorts, I like to check out Trip Advisor. For anything cruise-related, I use Cruise Critic, a wonderful forum-based Web site. Single Parent Travel is indispensable for that constituency, and Tripso has a lot of tell-it-like-it-is information on the travel industry as a whole. If you are headed to the mall, check out Borders or Barnes & Noble for some of the better guidebooks including Frommer's, Rick Steves and Zagat.

My most memorable trips have been family trips, though I'm pretty sure not one of them went off without a hitch. The above tips might help you out a bit, but the best advice, I have saved for last — just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride.

Road trip ipod revisited

A discussion at Fodor's Forum about road trip songs.

The Colors of Autumn

It's coming on here in Northwest CT, should be nice for a while.

Here's more from the Fodor's travel wire on foliage following in New England:

New England park rangers and other outdoors-y types are predicting an outstanding fall foliage season this year, though the foliage peak might be a few days later than usual due to the still-lingering traces of summer. The last weeks of September and early October in the northernmost regions of New England are expected to be prime viewing time. Check the Foliage Network for current updates as the season progresses. Here's where to see the best of Mother Nature's annual art show.


For New York-based leaf-peepers who can't break away for a long weekend, Connecticut -- "New England's front porch" -- is a doable day trip.

When to Visit: Foliage season usually begins here in late September and extends through mid-to-late October. Peak color is estimated to be a little early this year -- between October 5 and October 12. But the tourism board suggests that people not fuss and fret about missing the big-color climax, noting sensibly that "visitors will still be able to enjoy a full array of colors even before the peak."

Best Viewing: Take a drive along Connecticut Route 169, a winding off-the-beaten-path road that travels through the rural northeastern corner of the state and has been dubbed one of the ten most beautiful drives in the country. Start your drive in Canterbury, CT, and along the way stop for a meal at the Inn at Woodstock Hill, or tour the Sharpe Hill Vineyard and Winery in Pomfret. If you're driving to Connecticut from NYC, avoid the interstates and take the Merrit Parkway, one of the oldest highways in the country. You'll be guaranteed one of the most impressive foliage shows anywhere.


With 17 million acres of forest, taciturn Maine is downright festive in autumn, when trees put on one of the Northeast's grandest shows. The perkiest hues come from the sugar maple, oak, elm, birch, and ash trees, all native to the state.

When to Visit: Leaves start to turn in the northern part of the state in late September. The southern part of the state is ablaze by mid-to-late October.

Best Viewing: To see the foliage at its best early in the season, take a drive along the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, which begins on Route 17 in Byron (western Maine) and traverses north to its namesake waterway. Make sure to stop at the Height of Land overlook to wax poetic over the view of five lakes surrounded by colorful mountains. In October, visit Camden, where the blazing-colored hills slope down to a schooner-filled harbor fed by a waterfall in the center of the town. In Camden, drive to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Battie and have a big bowl of chowder and a piece of pie at Cappy's.

060913_NewHampFAllF copy.jpgNew Hampshire

The state's tourism board claims that only two places in the world -- New Hampshire and Japan -- have the unique combination of climate and topography that results in particularly brilliant foliage.

When to Visit: In mid-September, the state's mountaintops and lowlands turn a flaming red. From the end of September through the first week in October, the trees are at their peak color in the far northern part of the state. The first two weeks of October are southern New Hampshire's time to shine.

Best Viewing: To view all this wonderfulness, take a drive along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which traverses New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest. The road begins at the junction of I-93 and Highway 112 in Lincoln (near the Pemigewasset River) and goes east until it ends in the city of Conway at the junction of Highway 112 and Highway 16. If you're traveling with kids, stop off at Clark's Trading Post (weekends only through mid-Oct.), a classic cheesy roadside attraction that includes a fire station, a steam locomotive, and trained bears. Or drive to the eastern end of the Byway, park your car, and take a train ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad -- opt for the picturesque Notch route for the full-on fall foliage experience.


The Green Mountain State doesn't even try to live up to its nickname in autumn, when its mountains morph into a multi-colored mosaic. State foresters here are joyfully expecting a spectacular season.

When to Visit: Mother Nature's fall fiesta typically begins in mid September in the northern part and higher elevations of Vermont and progresses southward to lower elevations through mid to late October. But Vermont's small size makes it easy to roam across the state and experience every color stage in just one day.

Best Viewing: Drive the Smugglers' Notch Scenic Byway (Vermont Route 108), which can be picked up about an hour's drive east of Burlington. The super-curvy road brings you up through the foliage canopy to the summit of Mount Mansfield, at 4,393 feet above sea level -- Vermont's highest point. Stop by the 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery in downtown Jeffersonville for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (802/644-8100) or sample traditional New England food at the Smugglers Inn and Tavern.


The air is crisp and clear, the trees are clad in crimson, gold, and purple, dry leaves crunch underfoot whether you're hiking a woodland trail or walking a city sidewalk. The small picture-perfect New England villages smell of wood smoke and apples and the entire state seems happily haunted with the ghosts of seasons and centuries past. Massachusetts is autumn incarnate.

When to Visit: Jim DiMaio, Chief Forester for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, anticipates seeing "some of the best foliage we've seen in years." Peak color across the state often coincides with Columbus Day weekend.

Best Viewing: Leaf-peepers are spoiled for road trip options in Massachusetts. You can take Route 133 from north Boston, which winds along back roads and passes through the classic New England towns of Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, and Georgetown (whatever else you do, make sure to stop for fried shrimps or clams at The Clam Box, 246 High St., Ipswich). Or take Route 127 along the coast through Beverly, Manchester by-the-Sea, Gloucester, and up to Rockport.

If you want to avoid the crowds, take Route 128 to Route 117 to Stow, in the heart of apple country, then Route 62 South and West to Princeton. Follow the signs to the Wachusett Mountain Reservation. There, you can drive 2000-plus feet up to the summit for a grand view of the countryside.

---Michelle Delio

Tips for Leaf Peepers

This in from the Fodor's Travel wire:

Helpful hints on seeing the best of autumn's colors....

1: Don't head to New England on a whim, blithely assuming you'll be able to find a place to stay. Everyone visits New England in autumn, so make your lodging reservations well in advance.

2: If all the country inns are full, it's best to book a hotel in a larger city and use that as your base camp. Boston is close to the action and a great departure point for day trips in Massachusetts. Portland gets you close to Maine's foliage-hot spots. Or if your schedule is flexible, try booking a room Sunday through Thursday rather than busy Fridays and Saturdays.

3: For updates on fall foliage conditions, call the National Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline at (800) 354-4595. But don't get freaked if you're too early or too late to see colors. Autumn color is a process not a single moment, and from the end of September to mid-October you can usually be guaranteed great colors somewhere in New England.

4: Be respectful of locals on the road. For you, driving along the road looking at fall foliage is a magical-mystery tour through nature's glory. But to a local, that same road is just a way to get from point A to point B. Show some respect. Pull over and let them pass.

5: Pay attention to critter-crossing signs. Moose- and deer-crossing signs are serious warnings that large animals -- like a 1,000-pound moose -- could dart or amble out onto the road at any minute.

6: For the very best photos, hit the road early. Colors are most vivid in the morning light. And do linger late -- the hour right before sunset is perfect for capturing fall colors against a muted deep sky. Don't just snap the big panoramic views either. Look for single, brilliantly colored trees with interesting elements nearby, like a weathered gray stone wall or a freshly painted white church. These images are often more evocative than big blobs of color or panoramic shots.

7: Pack a sweater or jacket. It might be 70 and sunny during the day, but New England nights are invigorating, to say the least. And if you're heading into the mountains you'll probably need a sweater during the day; it can be 20 or more degrees cooler at higher elevations. You might also want to pack lunch or snacks so you aren't at the mercy of overcrowded restaurants.

8: Don't fixate on the foliage. Mother Nature is wonderfully unpredictable and one windy rainstorm can put a brusque end to any location's foliage season. There are many ways to enjoy autumn in New England, so plan to visit a harvest festival, museum, art galleries, go antiquing, pick apples -- whatever interests you. Looking at the leaves should be just one part of your trip, not its sole focus.

--Michelle Delio