National Forest Foundation

Unforgettable Experience: Track Rock Gap

Adventures, History and Culture


Around the country, National Forests are protecting more than trees. Historical places, grasslands, geological formations and more are scattered across the country. In the Chatthoochee-Oconee National Forest in northern Georgia, petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap provide visitors with a sense of mystery and a window into the past. More than one hundred symbols cover six table-sized soapstone boulders in the gap between Thuderstruck Mountain and Buzzard Roost Ridge.

Native Americans used one of two techniques to carve into the rocks: pecking or incising. To peck into the stone, they used hard rocks, or hammer stones, to make the shapes with repeated blows in the same spot until the design was created. For incising, the carver rubbed a hard stone back and forth to create the design. Soapstone is a relatively soft metamorphic rock that was commonly used for dishes and stoves because it absorbs and distributes heat evenly.

The public and research communities have long known about the petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap, but it wasn’t until 2009 that researchers completed the first study of the site. Led by archaeologist Johannes Loubser, scientists used a variety of methods including tracing, nighttime photography and halogen lighting to best record and study these ancient carvings.

In addition to recording the carvings, researchers are trying to figure out who made the petroglyphs and why. These answers are complicated, since many groups overlapped in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of North Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee. The area was largely dominated by Cherokee, but Creek and Catabwa also frequented the mountains. Many researchers believe that no single group made the carvings, but that many different groups added to Track Rock throughout history. Due to similarities in social structure, economic and political systems, religious practices and linguistics, all three groups could have easily contributed to the carvings.

Even if the Cherokee didn’t carve the designs, although it is likely they did, they still have a name for Track Rock Gap: Datsu’nalsagun’yi, “where there are tracks” and Degayeelun’ha “printed (branded) place.”

When You Go: Track Rock Gap, two hours north of Atlanta, is open to the public free of charge. To best see the carvings, examine the rocks either early or late in the day when the light is at a low angle. Be sure to visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee’s website to print out drawings of the petroglyphs , which will help you identify the figures while you’re there.

Related Posts

Eight Juicy Questions about Huckleberries

Huckleberries are in your own backyard--they’re abundant on our National Forests. These delicious, sought-after, and magical berries are available to you on our public lands. But not everyone is a well-versed huckleberry fanatic…yet. So I spelled out the facts for you, so that you, too, can join the huckleberry fan club.

Read more

Winter Tracking Resources

What better time to witness animal tracking than in a fresh coat of snow? This winter, consider introducing your kids to tracking in the woods.

Read more

Avalanche Safety: The Basics

If you’re planning a trip into the backcountry, be sure to check avalanche conditions and learn proper backcountry winter travel techniques. Check out this short blog below from February 2011 on some very BASIC avalanche awareness techniques.

Read more

Share this post on social media


Like this content?

If you enjoy this article and find it useful, support the NFF to ensure we can continue helping you and others discover our National Forests.

Donate Now