The Sunken Trace

Shows where centuries of travel by Natchez, Chickasaw, and other peoples wore down the earth more than five feet in places.
The Sunken Trace, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018

A little over a year ago, I moved from the Southwest to the Midwest. I took a month off to move and settle in, and have a bit of a breather before starting a new job. I did a facilitated self-move (hired labor at either end to pack and unpack a truck, which I drove myself), then flew back and drove my car a slightly different route. I am an inveterate planner, but for once I didn’t plan ahead and arrange all my lodgings, stops, etc. I went with the flow.

That said, I went with the flow with a semi-formed goal in mind: to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. I’ve driven, or been driven, along many of the most beautiful roads in the US at one point or another (Skyline Drive, Kancamagus Highway, Going to the Sun Road, northern parts of Route One). I made it to the Parkway (lets not talk right now about just how long it takes to drive across Texas) and got all of 100 miles along it before I bowed to fate. It was raining, heavily, and the forecast predicted rain, rain, and more rain for all the days before when I absolutely had to be in the Midwest. I left the Parkway in favor of roads that are easier to drive when one is a stranger forging through pouring rain (I got lost first, but that’s a sidepoint).

Nevertheless, I was able to drive far enough along the Parkway to see the Sunken Trace — which is every bit as stunning as I’d hoped. The overcast sky lent the scene a gray stillness, and contributed to my being the only person there. I’ll admit a had a flash decidedly out of this world (it brought to mind the scene in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship where the hobbits hide from the wraiths in the roots of a tree). Nevertheless, the real power of this spot is the centuries of travel along it. The Park Service sign suggests visitors walk along it imagining themselves back to 1800 — but I didn’t stop there. Centuries of Mississippian peoples (Choctaw, Chickasaw) passed by long before any of European descent. It’s all these peoples taking the same path to/from that wore it down between the trees to such an extent. It’s definitely worth visiting–and revisiting.

I’m going back, someday, to drive the whole Parkway and stop at all of the historic and nature spots that the 444-mile road boasts. Someday. Until then, memories and the photo posted above (taken about when the rain started) will have to suffice.

National Park Service sign providing background on the Sunken Trace
Sunken Trace Sign, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018
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