Eclipse at Mantle Rock

Mantle Rock pre-eclipseThe occurrence of the total eclipse last year got me back to an historic archaeology site I had helped to survey in 2004, prior to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places: Mantle Rock, in Livingston County. The site is part of a property owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since 1988, and part of a network of “2,000 acres of nearly contiguous conservation lands” (Shelly Morris, 2017)– that TNC has quilted together surrounding a “rare sandstone glade community”, with plants unique to such an environment, in western Kentucky.  The striking geologic feature of this sandstone arch called Mantle Rock is part of the glade habitat but historically is significant as a place of shelter along the Trail of Tears. The trail here is visibly entrenched, in some places with nearly three foot slopes on either side, due to its continued use in later years as a road. During the harsh winter of 1838-1839, when the Ohio River froze, some 1,700 Cherokee people being marched west (a small portion of the total number subjected to the passage) had to take shelter under and around Mantle Rock for two weeks until the river became passable.

Entrenched portion of Trail of Tears

This section of The Trail of Tears, together with the site of Mantle Rock, exists as a park and preserve today because of TNC’s view that historic preservation is complimentary to their natural area preservation efforts. Their initiative and collaboration with Kentucky Archaeological Survey, the Cherokee Nation and other groups mean that you and I are able to visit this place of historic significance surrounded by the beauty of the native flora and fauna of Kentucky.

Eclipse ViewersExperiencing the eclipse along a portion of The Trail of Tears was important to me, it lent a visual and audible emphasis to a reflection on our human experiences, past and present and painful to comprehend.

Sun ReturnsWe viewed the total solar eclipse in a field of native grasses and flowers buzzing with pollinators, then walked down to the arch to see the sun emerge first through the center of the immense sandstone split. During darkening hours, midday twilight, and the minutes of nighttime view into space, birds and insects chirping their nightsong, I was lucky to be in such a place.  (Shelly Morris is the Project Director at the West Kentucky office of The Nature Conservancy Kentucky Branch.)


By: Ann Shouse Wilkinson




One comment

Comments are closed.