Salt licks are places, often along rivers and streams, where naturally occurring salt deposits attract animals that come to lick the earth for its mineral gifts. These areas tend to be rich in both biotic and human history. A good example is the Licking River, earlier known as Great Salt Lick Creek, a 320-mile-long river arising in eastern Kentucky and flowing north into the Ohio. The salt licks along its banks drew down mastodons and other great mammals of the Pleistocene whose skeletons are today embedded in the substrate; they so greatly influenced the migratory routes of eastern bison that early European explorers counted more than one thousand at a time at the licks, and Daniel Boone told of seeing buffalo “more frequent than I have ever seen cattle in the settlements.” Later, these same springs along the Licking became centers for the human industry of salt-making, strategically important Civil War sites, and, during the nineteenth century, home to bottling plants and grand hotels touting the health benefits of the waters from their springs. The craving of mammalian species for mineral salts is strong and timeless.

Barbara Kingsolver