Typical Trees: The typical trail tree is a white oak with an abrupt bend several feet from its base. The main trunk then extends horizontally for several feet terminating with a rounded end that usually has a small mouth. One or more main branches grows vertically from this horizontal segment of the trunk, each becoming a new supporting member for the upper branches of the tree. The horizontal portion of the trunk often slopes downward [either by design or perhaps from the weight of the vertical limbs over time]. The majority of the trees have this shape, and stand out clearly from the other trees in the woods. On the Sassafras Mountain ridge, one can often see from one trail tree to the next tree in the chain.
Atypical trees: Along the path of these more typical trees, there are some other trees that stand out in the forest, but have other [similar] shapes. The trees on the left below look like the typical trees that have been reformed by climate and time. Others, like those on the right, are atypical, but share qualities that suggest they are also "shaped" by human intelligence, though their inclusion is more by proximity than anything else. While it's tempting to guess their meaning [...pointing towards water, ...a branch in the trail], such thoughts remain in the realm of speculation at this point.
Are they pointing? Certainly, walking through the woods, they seem to be pointing out a route. On the left, we've plotted them with extensions on the classic trees that have a clear directional alignment. There are a lot of them that do line up with the path along the mountain ridge, but plenty of others that don't. Once they're all photographed, we intend to plot them by morphology along with nearby water sources and known Indian settlements to try to get at the question of whether they're "pointers" or simply "markers."
As you'll see in the references, these unique trees are found throughout the United States, and are generally interpreted to be trail markers from our American Indian past. But, so far, we've mostly found speculative and anectdotal reports without much scientific study. We hope that we can provide a central registry for these trees and develop a community of interested parties who can respond to the questions these trees ask with a definite answer.