By Mary Ann DeSantis Photography courtesy of Margaret Littman and Moon Guides
In this newly revised Moon travel guide, the journey starts with a biscuit and country music and ends with a beignet and jazz riff.
Author Margaret Littman’s “Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip” offers so much more than descriptions of roadside attractions and places to eat typically found in guidebooks. While those kinds of detailed lists are included, she also explores history, arts and culture, recreational areas, and interestingly, the places where the nation’s musical legacies began. At first glance, the book focuses on the Natchez Trace Parkway — the 444-mile route from Nashville to Natchez — but Littman veers off the parkway to explore several other iconic cities that influenced the Southern way of life. After completing Moon Guides for both Nashville and the state of Tennessee, Littman began talking to the publishers about a guidebook for the Natchez Trace. First published in 2018, “Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip” was updated this past spring. From Nashville’s Jefferson Street Sound, where legends like Jimmy Hendrix, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke played, to Muscle Shoals rhythms and on to New Orleans’ iconic jazz clubs, the route is easily a musical journey.
“If you do all of the drives in this book, you’ve covered the nation’s formative music,” Littman says. Those off-the-parkway drives include stops in Memphis, Oxford, Jackson, and the Mississippi Blues Trail. Littman’s total drive is 620 miles and she recommends 12 days to do it all. “In just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next,” she adds. Of course, that is by car. Littman also includes a section in the book about riding bicycles or motorcycles, both popular modes of transportation along the parkway and the blues trail. Her “essentials” chapter even includes a list of repair shops. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Littman is a full-time writer who now lives in Nashville and covers stories in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, with an emphasis on her adopted hometown. She says hiring local writers is what separates Moon Guides from other travel guides.
“If you do all of the drives in this book, you’ve covered the nation’s formative music.” Margaret Littman, author
“Moon empowers us as locals and that is the thing I love about working with them,” she explains. “They really listen to us [writers] when we want to break out of the mold. If there is something offbeat, I can make that argument because I am local. It’s an exciting and thoughtful approach.” Although she writes for a variety of publications, she especially enjoys guidebooks because she loves showing people what is in their own backyards. “The Natchez Trace Parkway literally goes through people’s backyards and that spoke to me,” she says. Littman believes the people who drive the parkway tend to be folks who like to learn about history and the route doesn’t disappoint. “The Natchez Trace is a microcosm of U.S. history in this one road,” Littman says. “There are so many layers of history from Native Americans to the War of 1812 and the Civil War to the women in the early 1900s who fought to preserve the roadway.” She drives the parkway often as it is one of her favorite places to explore, especially in the spring when the redbuds are in bloom and the temperatures are pleasant enough to hike. “My favorite hike is Cypress Swamp (east of Canton, Miss.) because I didn’t grow up in the South,” says Littman, an Idaho native. “Seeing the swamp feels almost otherworldly to me. The boardwalk trail winds through the swamp, and I always make time to stop there.”
Her other favorite stops include the Native American mounds, especially Emerald Mound at Mile Post 10.3 near Natchez. “Emerald Mound is the second largest mound in the United States,” Littman explains. “It was a very powerful experience. When I visit the mound, I think about the people who once lived there.” Her favorite musical destinations include Muscle Shoals, which she calls an “essential music stop,” and Jackson’s Iron Horse Grill, which is connected to the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. In the book, Littman gives details and recommendations for exiting the Natchez Trace for gas, food, and accommodations. Many people, she says, do not realize service stations or restaurants are not located right on the Parkway itself, which is maintained by the National Park Service. And because visitors must get off for those essentials anyway, Littman decided to include the Mississippi Blues Trail and other nearby cities not usually associated with the Natchez Trace. “If someone wants to do a Mississippi road trip, those sites are relatively easy to get to and it made sense to include them as thematic connections, especially for music,” she explains. “If you are in Starkville or Oxford for a ballgame, here are some suggestions to add on to your trip.” Littman is not done with the Natchez Trace. She traverses the area regularly looking for things that may need to be updated in future guides. She is also working on her new Moon Guide, “52 Things to Do in Nashville” to be released in December.
A native of Laurel, Miss., Mary Ann DeSantis is planning her own journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway this fall, using Littman’s guidebook to find the special places.
Sowing the Seeds of a Love for Reading
By Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Mississippi Children’s Museum
The Literacy Garden lets children explore and play in a magical space while encouraging storytelling.
Imagine yourself in an enchanted garden like something out of a fairy tale. Pink mushrooms tower over your head and sing songs, giant yellow flowers become tables to write and draw upon, and a dancing waterfall spells out words. Luckily for little ones, this “magical kingdom” is a real place, part of the Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson. The Gertrude C. Ford Literacy Garden is designed to encourage language and reading skills using whimsical, literaryinspired sculptures, innovative technology, and native plants along with an edible garden to pull children from newborn to eight years old into the creative, limitless world of stories and imagination. Playing outside — celebrating and exploring the natural world — is an integral part of each child’s development and young children discover language and learn to love reading as they play, explore and interact in the garden. There’s also a zone where smaller children and their caregivers can become collaborative learners. The unique space meets national and state education criteria, as well as Common Core standards and exposes youngsters to elements critical for literacy acquisition and allows them to become the heroes of their own stories. In fact, recent brain-based research supports the notion that storytelling is an effective way to help children’s brains develop. In “Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain,” Renate and Geoffery Caine state that “organization of information in story form is a natural brain process and … brain research confirms this evidence and begins to explain why stories [and storytelling] are important.”