Impact of Taking the Back Roads

When I visit my family, I often drive the back roads instead of the main highway. The back roads pass through a part of the town that curves sharply several times and plunges deeply into the hollow, a site that I’d heard was where a meteor crashed “a long time ago.” While we’re making the serpentine descent, my husband always remarks that he imagines a Native American tribe along the bluffs. I shrug, saying, “Who knows?”

During my last visit, I asked my grandmother about her father’s heritage. I knew only that he was a tall sharecropper with a sun darkened face. He wore overalls and had large, dark hands and high cheekbones. His sharp appearance didn’t seem clearly aligned with a particular race or group. She said, “Supposed to be Dutch and Indian. His Momma looked just like an Indian.” I had never heard this about her family, though it was a common description of an ancestor from another part of my family.

I asked, “What tribe?”

She said, “I believe it was Shawnee.”

The next day, my great-Aunt Linda let me borrow a book that gives the history of the town. The book doesn’t have an ISBN or Library of Congress number. Compiled and typed by two of the town’s historians, it seems that they simply printed & bound some copies and sold them a few decades ago. One of the first stories I read was about a small group of Shawnee, about 150 people, who lived in the fertile valley in the hollow. They traded with the settlers and contracted Scarlet Fever, which wiped out about 85% of their population. It felt like I stumbled upon the family of that great-great grandmother.

As I read more of the book, I learned that hollow is actually a crater that holds even more surprises. About 360 million years ago, a meteorite did crash into that location, on the backside of what was once my great-grandparent’s and later my grandparent’s farm. The book says the crater was formed “sometime near the middle of the Devonian Period” and it “belongs to a controversial class of structures that number at least 50 throughout the world and have been variously termed Cryptovolcanic, Cryptoexplosion, or Meteorite Impact craters”, though theories for the former two terms have been abandoned by geologists. Meteorite impact site is the agreed upon definition. And this particular crater has been the site of a core drilling, along with other studies that “indicate…the formation…is consistent with a cometary impact.” I haven’t finished the book and look forward to more discoveries. And, I cannot wait to hear what’s revealed during my next visit.

If you’re curious about Meteor Craters, check out’s map. You can zoom up close to 50 of the world’s meteor craters, though you won’t see any in the Southeastern United States on this map.

3 thoughts on “Impact of Taking the Back Roads

  1. What I didn’t communicate in this blog post is that we so often pass by with other thoughts in our heads and don’t see what is unique when we’re in its presence. I’ve driven through that location, spent my summers as a child picking through brambles & running down gravel roads with my cousins on the nearby hills, and never fully noticed the particulars, the specialties, of that spot on earth.

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