Land in Nashville the afternoon before the drive to explore the new National Museum of African American Music (510 Broadway, nmaam.org). Its imaginative interactive displays explain the evolution of genres from gospel to R&B to hip hop. Find fresh air in Centennial Park and a to-scale replica of Greece’s Parthenon (nashvilleparthenon.com). Stashed inside the temple: a 42-foot-tall gilded statue of the deity Athena whose lips are allegedly modeled after Elvis Presley’s kisser. Music City’s other current goddess is Dolly Parton. Her image is sprinkled throughout the candy-colored country-music themed Graduate Hotel (from $169 a night; graduatehotels.com).
Day 2: Oxford to Natchez
After chicken and waffles at Oxford’s popular Big Bad Breakfast (bigbadbreakfast.com), drive east toward Pontotoc then south toward Troy to rejoin the Trace. A stop near Milepost 221 affords a glimpse of the Old Trace, a forest trench worn deep into the earth by countless feet. For lunch, seek out Saltine, an oyster bar in a former suburban Jackson elementary school (jackson.saltinerestaurant.com). Approaching its Natchez terminus, the Trace grows wilder. Wisps of Spanish moss, dangling vines and the nearby Windsor Ruins, an immense mansion burned in 1890, evoke a lost world. Windsor’s surviving columns with their ornate, crumbling capitals resembling a plantation Palmyra.
Day 3: Natchez to New Orleans
Before heading to New Orleans, walk the promenade on Natchez’s Bluff Park overlooking the Mississippi. Head south to Baton Rouge on Highway 61, the famed “Blues Highway.” (Most of the musical history lies further north in Mississippi’s Delta.) The landscape rolls by fast: The 90-minute drive should get you to Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital, by lunch. Visit the deli at Tony’s Seafood market (tonyseafood.com) for to-go oyster po’boys and ginger cake, then eat them in the landscaped grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol. Conceived by rabble-rousing populist governor Huey Long, the 1932 building is a 34-story art deco skyscraper, the country’s tallest state house and a monument to the Kingfish’s Kong-sized ego. Bullet holes from Long’s 1935 assassination remain just off the ornate lobby.
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