Fall Foliage Colors are in Mississippi too!

November 5, 2011 · 0 comments

in The Natchez Trace Parkway

There’s lots of fall color in Mississippi

You can find lots of fall color in Mississippi. If you missed the drive to the mountains, it may not be too late to catch the color here at home. Cool weather comes a little later which delays the change of colors, but does not prevent a beautiful season.

Not every road trip needs a distant destination point. Sometimes we just want to drive and look. Although there are great fall colors in other places, we need not overlook the beauty which is close to us. Here’s a map to help you find the fall colors in North Mississippi. I love them!

It is the custom of many Mississippians to drive several hundred miles to see the fall colors in the Great Smokey Mountains. I still agree it is hard to beat that area’s views from lofty mountaintops. I have enjoyed them for the past 40+ years. The early chill, which comes in higher elevations, causes trees to change color in a uniform manner in the mountains. I do not dispute the fact that year-in and year-out, there is a distinct advantage due to climatological and topographical factors. But all that being said … we can’t all make it to the mountains every year, so why not enjoy what we have so close to home?

Hickory Tree in my neighbor’s yard.

I moved to North Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and have been pleasantly surprised each year by the variety and consistency of the fall colors  in this area. As is true in the “mountains” there are good years and years with less brilliance of color. The year of 2006 was the stellar year. The old-timers around here said they could not recall such a beautiful array in their entire lifetime. 2011 has proven to be a good year.

There is a great deal of replanted forest in Mississippi. In its earliest stages you only see the dark green of Pine trees, but as the crops mature, volunteer hardwoods seem to magically appear. Oak, Sweet Gum, Hickory, Ash, Poplar and dozens of other varieties regenerate from seed or roots left in the ground before the land was clear cut to plant Pines. The Pines are such a fine ‘money crop’ for this state that it is impossible to resent their presence. Thousands of jobs are provided to the hearty folks who work in the Mississippi Timber Industry. The hardwoods struggle to claim space among the Pines, as Pines form a natural backdrop for the colors and shapes of a variety of hardwoods, much like a picture frame. Some people object to cutting trees, but the fact is that the timber industry has taken responsibility for the care and re-planting of trees. Today we actually have a higher percentage of forest lands in the USA than on the Continent of Africa.

One of the best routes to view this spectacular fall display is to take a road trip on the Natchez Trace. Along the Trace, hardwoods have been encouraged to grow. There may be more hardwood trees in greater abundance along this historic trail than in any other single locale in Mississippi. But don’t limit your drive to the Parkway, get off and drive any of the state highways north of Jackson and you’ll find yourself enveloped in a rainbow of colors. The color continues all the way up the Trace to Nashville, TN.

Short road trips are rewarding

Beautiful Fall Colors in N. Mississippi

Get off the main roads and see better countryside scenes. You can also investigate the small towns along the way. Not all will become your favorite place to visit but all have something to offer. Almost every small town in North Mississippi has a local cafe that serves up food it calls “home cooking.” They don’t actually cook this meal at home and bring it to the store. What they are trying to say is this: this is the same kind of food we eat at home. After eating a meal in some of these owner-operated cafes you may want to go home with the cook. Most of these restaurants serve good fried chicken, meatloaf, minute steaks, Catfish and traditional southern soul food. Some serve breakfast at any hour of the day. If there is a decent crowd parked around the cafe, you can trust the food. Southern folks will not eat bad food. We don’t reward bad cooks with great success.

This morning we took a short road trip by driving west from Louisville, MS along MS Hwy 14 toward Kosciusko, MS. The trees are very close to the roadway along this route. At some points the limbs reach across the highway and brush against each other. The colors here are some of the finest you will ever be able to see. We felt like we were literally riding through a picture postcard. The entire ride took about an hour.

The time of day has a lot to do with the quality of fall colors. 

Atop Little Mountain, Nov, 2011

I prefer to drive and gawk on bright, sunny days. Early morning is the time to watch a sunrise, and late afternoon is the only time to see a sunset, but color is best seen in bright light. There is a neon effect as light floods through the thin membranes of drying leaves. There are many beautiful scenic drives available. We have good roads in Mississippi, so don’t be afraid to get off a main road and see the sights. Anywhere you are along the way, find a little hilltop, get out the binoculars and watch Red Tail Hawks, Coyote, Racoon and assorted birds perform their duties. It’s quite a show.

I drove out to the Natchez Trace Parkway and turned in at what locals call “Little Mountain.”

"Little Mountain" Jeff Busby Park on Natchez Trace

The Trace managers prefer to call it Jeff Busby Park. It is situated on one of the highest points in the state. So in this state it is as close to mountaintop viewing as you can get. There is a vantage point at the top of the mountain from which you can view to the east and to the west. But the drive up the mountain is the choicest treat anywhere you can travel. The only problem is that you would like for the drive to be longer. These trees were not planted here for a special effect, they just grew up and in the fall of the year they “show off.”

Not all news is good news and you can see that in a stretch a few miles north of Jeff Busby Park. Just about a half mile north of US Highway 82, there is a 7 mile stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway that was hit by a tornado in April, 2011. I drove this road 3 days after the tornado and couldn’t believe the extensive damage done by the storm. The tornado followed the track of the Trace almost without wavering until it reached the little community of Cumberland. It destroyed several homes, the school and athletic facilities before lifting from the ground and passing on to even greater paths of destruction. This is the

Tornado Damage, April, 2011

same system that devastated Smithville, MS and Tuscaloosa, Al.

East Webster School 6 months after storm

East Webster High School at Cumberland, played football this year and is having a good season. Isn’t the human spirit a beautiful, flourishing thing? After tragic events, which ripped this little community into pieces, they begin again. The football field is new again, But the school buildings and homes are not yet rebuilt.

Cleanup crews did a very good job, but damage was so severe through this area that the Trace had to be closed down for nearly a month to let logging crews get in and clear the damaged trees and debris. The road was impassaable and covered with trees after the storm. You can now see the extent of the damage by the number of  half trees that line each side of the road. You can also witness the resiliency of nature. The trees that were stripped, but did not die, have already begun to grow new branches and have leafed out through the summer months.

I have to pull over for awhile, but y’all keep rolling up the miles and dialing up the smiles. I’ll see ya soon.

Bill Taylor

 

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