It’s road trip season and we’ve got a documentary that will have ready to grab your keys and head out on a driving adventure.
Natchez Trace Parkway: Traces Through Time, a new documentary by Chris Wheeler (Civil War: The Untold Story), blends history and natural splendor in a 30-minute exploration of the roadway. Amy Grant narrates.
The documentary premieres Thursday, June 18, at 9:30 p.m. on NPT and will also be shown at 9:30 a.m. Monday, June 22, and 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, on NPT2.
Natchez Trace Parkway opens on a stretch of road cutting through silhouetted stands of trees as it curves toward a haloed sun in an orange sky. Images of natural beauty are found throughout the film; there are waterfalls and creeks, overhead views of forests and winding ribbons of motorway.
Those aerial shots were expensive, but well worth it, Wheeler said, because they provide an unusual perspective of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Wheeler and his colleagues also wanted to present the roadway in different seasons, particularly in spring and autumn.
“One of the things I love about the Trace – and we say it in the film – is it really is like a park that’s over 400 miles long,” Wheeler said by phone from his home state of Colorado. Specifically, this national park is 440 miles long and runs through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Four ecosystems and eight major watersheds are found within its path. “There are no billboards, you don’t see very many power lines; you really are kind of in this cocoon, Wheeler said. “That makes you feel like you’re getting away…It is sort of time travel in a way.”
The Natchez Trace Parkway roughly follows the path of the original route used by the Kaintucks, 19th-century traders from the Ohio River Valley. Reenactments in the documentary depict the Kaintucks and Native Americans who created landmarks such as the Pharr Mounds. Modern-day Native Americans discuss the significance of the mounds in the film.
While Wheeler found those aspects of the story fascinating, for him the most dramatic episode concerned the death of Meriwether Lewis. “Like most, for me the story of Meriwether Lewis ends when he returns from the trip to the Pacific,” Wheeler said. “It was fascinating to see the next chapter of his life and it’s a chapter that ends in tragedy and mystery.”
Wheeler’s company, Great Divide Pictures, has made 29 films for the National Park Service and though Wheeler still doesn’t have a National Park passport, he enjoys visiting the parks. “It’s a real privilege to go out and try to capture the beauty of our national parks and to tell their story,” he said.
The Natchez Trace Parkway: Traces Through Time will be distributed to public television stations via NETA and will also be shown at the park’s main visitor’s center in Tupelo, Miss.