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In This Issue

Everything alive leaves behind traces. This issue of American Road examines the meaning of traces. It begins with an extended visit to the granddaddy “trace” of them all—the Natchez Trace. Today, the Natchez is a smooth modern parkway, but before the Civil War, it was a crude footpath scuffed into the earth by Mississippi rivermen.
Any excursion along its 444-mile length uncovers legends that left deep impressions—whispers of a cursed place called Witch Dance, where the beldams reportedly worked their dark magic; tales about a monstrous serpent that slithered out of Cypress Swamp to terrorize area tribes; and accounts of a road bandit named Little Harpe whose severed head weirdly became a rotting highway marker.

English Quaker William Penn left traces of the life he lived throughout the American province he founded. In Pennsylvania, his thirty-six-foot likeness towers atop Philadelphia’s City Hall, while his Morrisville manor is a museum still reached via a crossing of the historic Pennypack Bridge. Three thousand miles away on the Oregon coast, the crumbling ribs of the schooner Peter Iredale sink into the sands of Clatsop Spit, recalling a shipwreck and a 1906 crossing never truly completed.

In Berkley, Massachusetts, we pore over the puzzling petroglyphs etched onto Dighton Rock. In Stroud, Oklahoma, we scarf down buffalo burgers between slabs of Route 66 sandstone. We follow hundreds of hadrosaur footprints across Colorado’s Dinosaur Ridge and walk under arches fashioned from thousands of elk antlers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In northwestern Virginia, the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine reminds us we need a trace of air to breathe; in southwestern Ohio, the Passenger Pigeon Memorial honors Martha, the last of her feathered kind, who gasped her last at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

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