From Nashville to Natchez, the old Natchez Trace is a highway into history.
“Old Trace,” the sign reads, pointing away from the ribbon of highway into the deep Tennessee woods. I follow, feeling as if I'm going to a/sacred site, where many spirits still linger. I have to drop down into this eroded remnant of the old frontier trail, the Natchez Trace, because it has sunk at least four feet below the surrounding forest. Over the centuries, thousands passed here, carving their footprints and their stories into the land.
The serpentine trail once snaked all the way from Nashville, Term., to Natchez, Miss., for a total of nearly 500 miles. The Natchez Trace was first beaten in place by the hooves of buffalo, who were drawn to the natural salt flats in the South, then by hunting parties of moccasin-clad Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. They were followed by French explorers, pioneers and frontiersmen, boatmen, post riders and soldiers. John James Audubon was no stranger to the Trace, and Andrew Jackson was a frequent traveler. Meriwether Lewis passed this way. The Natchez Trace became an official “post road” to expedite mail delivery, and the silhouette of the post rider has been adopted as the official symbol of the modern-day Natchez Trace Parkway.