Riot of Carved Rock

Published: February 19th 2012
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The Natural BridgeThe Natural BridgeThe Natural Bridge

There are many natural bridges in eastern Kentucky, but this is the only one called 'The Natural Bridge'
One of the criticisms often thrown at eastern mountains is that they do not have the geological extravagance of their western counterparts.

Western mountains have been carved into arches, canyons, hoodoos, and many other freakish sights.

Eastern mountains, in this view, look like mere outsized hills.

In reality, parts of the east have formations just as noteworthy as their western counterparts.

The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is one of them.

First, I had a major problem to deal with.

I discovered this morning that my camera body had a hairline fracture.

It was not enough to disrupt my camera’s functioning, but it did mean that it was no longer watertight.

When one needs to shoot pictures outdoors as much as I do, this is a major issue.

Sending it in for repair meant that I would not have a camera for a while.

If I wanted a replacement, I would need to order it, and this would take at least a week.

I eventually decided to both order a replacement and then repair my original.

On a trip this long, with environments as bad as I had
Trail ShelterTrail ShelterTrail Shelter

Shelter on the main trail to Natural Bridge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
coming up, having backup is always a good idea.

I made sure that the new camera was from the same manufacturer, so batteries and memory cards would work with both.

It’s definitely not cheap, but this is what contingency funds are for.

I still needed a way to protect my camera for a week.

I finally hit on a workable engineering hack.

I bought a set of ziplock bags and put the camera in one of them.

It’s rather awkward to operate, and I need to keep the bag tight on the lens to get good pictures, but at least it works (almost the engineer credo).

(It’s worth discussing the other usual repair method, duct tape.

It’s waterproof, so it would have covered the crack.

I decided against it because I’m always operating the camera, and I was afraid tape would fray off before the final repair.)

Natural Bridge State Park

The Gorge overall is a fairly large area in eastern Kentucky.

Given the time I had, I decided on a short burst of what it had to offer, Natural Bridge State Park.

The park
Bridge Top TrailBridge Top TrailBridge Top Trail

This, belive it or not, is the trail to the top of the Natural Bridge. It narrows to six inches wide!
is located in one of the forks of the gorge.

The main set of trails starts off rather lackluster.

The trailhead is next to an uninspired park lodge built in the 1960s.

Other than the fact that it is located on the side of a hill with great views, it could be anywhere.

The trail soon gets better.

The main route was created in the 1890s back when this area was a private attraction.

After the state took over, the Civilian Conservation Corps improved the trail and built a series of shelters.

The trail now looks like stereotype of a trail in a popular park, with log railings the whole length (partly to keep people on the trail) and good views.

Wherever this trail was going, it had to be good.

The trail climbs the side of a scenic valley.

The shelters were built to showcase views.

They contain the CCC’s hallmark stonework.

The trail eventually switchbacks, and runs next to a large natural rock ridge.

The natural sandstone ridge reaches high above the trail.

Wind and rain has carved grooves in
Natural Bridge topNatural Bridge topNatural Bridge top

The top of Natural Bridge. Notice the obvious drop offs on either side.
the sides of the ridge.

Endangered plant communities grow in many of the grooves.

The trail climbs slowing along the ridge until the namesake for the park appears in the ridge, a large stone bridge.

The bridge has a bunch of rock fall underneath it.

Seen from the right angle, the bridge looks like a large stone window.

The trail then passes directly under the bridge, and reaches a junction.

From the junction, it’s easy to see that the rock ridge is really a ridge between two valleys.

It’s about six feet wide, and the valleys drop off on either side.

The bridge occurs where the ridge is thinnest.

One can climb up on the bridge from the trail junction, by a truly crazy trail.

It climbs a crack in the side of the ridge about six inches wide.

Wooden steps are jammed into the rock to make the climb easier.

I had to take off my pack and walk sideways to squeeze through (shades of Needle’s Eye in Rock City, see Stress, Danger and Discovery).

Eventually, it reaches the top.

Red River GorgeRed River GorgeRed River Gorge

A view of Red River Gorge from Natural Bridge

From the top of the bridge, the Cumberland Plateau appears in all its glory.

The Red River Gorge is forested, so no other features are visible, but the Gorge itself makes quite a sight.

Since the bridge is solid rock, no trees grow on it.

There is an obvious drop off on either side, with the top of trees visible beyond.

The bridge itself is the width of the ridge, six feet.

Unlike the human version, this bridge has no guardrails, so step carefully!

For the trip back, I took the Battleship Rock trail, which follows the ridge near the base.

Rock towered above the trail for most of its length.

Long lengths of this trail were covered in mountain laurel.

There is quite an amount of downed trees, so it requires careful hiking.

Many parts of this trail had a view of the ridge, with signs to stay on the trail to protect the rare plants.

Soon enough, the trail reaches a spur which goes to the actual Battleship Rock.

It is a huge rock that obviously
Natural Bridge from Battleship RockNatural Bridge from Battleship RockNatural Bridge from Battleship Rock

A distant view of the bridge, showing its size. Look for the patch of blue to the left of the big tree to find the bridge.
fell from the surrounding ridge.

It now sits on the edge of the valley, and does look like the prow of a battleship from the correct angle.

Those with experience in rock scrambling can climb the rock to the top, which provides a beautiful view of the surrounding valley (be careful; it’s a rather long drop if someone slips).

The Natural Bridge is visible in the distance.

The overall size is more apparent from here than standing close to it.

From the Battleship Rock, the trail follows the base of the ridge until it reaches a feature called the Devil’s Gullet.

The ridge has a long, steep gully in it carved by falling water.

A very steep staircase climbs the gully to the top of the ridge.

It provides some special views of the plant communities living in the rock cracks.

From this junction, the trail drops steeply into the mountain valley, and soon meets the original trail at the trailhead.

Miguel's Pizza

I had lunch at a pizza joint called Miguel’s Pizza.

It has the feel of a bohemian outdoors enclave.

People were
Devil's GulletDevil's GulletDevil's Gullet

The Devil's Gullet, a narrow and steep ravine through the same sandstone ridge that holds the bridge.
camping in the backyard.

The Red River Gorge is a Mecca for rock climbing in the eastern US, and this spot is the equivalent of Camp 4 in Yosemite; the place everyone hangs out.

The pizza was OK.

To wash it down, I drank L8A soda, which is only sold in Eastern Kentucky.

It tastes like a combination of ginger beer and fruit punch.

From here, I had a long drive into Ohio.

The drive was scarier than most.

Another cold front was coming through, and this one had yet again the potential to produce tornadoes.

I stopped periodically to check the weather.

Unbelievably, I made it almost the entire way without getting rained on.

Watching the thunderhead clouds in the sky grow larger and larger as I headed north was quite unnerving.

Roebling Bridge

Part of this drive marked an important symbolic moment, the last part of the Southern section of my road trip.

I would not see this part of the country again for six months.

I chose a historic site to mark the highly symbolic crossing of the Ohio River, the Roebling Bridge.

On the way to Natural Bridge State Park

Before he built the Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling built suspension bridges in other parts of the country.

One that is still in use crosses the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

The bridge looks very much like a miniature version of the one in New York City.

Sadly, it had no safe place to take a picture.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Natural Bridge TrailNatural Bridge Trail
Natural Bridge Trail

More glorious trail construction
Natural Bridge TrailNatural Bridge Trail
Natural Bridge Trail

Getting close to the ridge
Hanging plant gardenHanging plant garden
Hanging plant garden

Living in a natural depression within the ridge side
Trail stoneworkTrail stonework
Trail stonework

More glorious work from the CCC
Ridge groovesRidge grooves
Ridge grooves

Natural grooves in the ridge caused by wind and rain
Approaching the bridgeApproaching the bridge
Approaching the bridge

Just visible in the distance
Bridge top trail sqeezeBridge top trail sqeeze
Bridge top trail sqeeze

Reaching the top of the bridge requires fitting though this, which I did sideways
Ridge recessesRidge recesses
Ridge recesses

Recesses along the ridge on the Battleship Rock Trail
Hanging gardenHanging garden
Hanging garden

More rare plant communities along the Battleship Rock Trail
Battleship RockBattleship Rock
Battleship Rock

From below. As had to climb as it looks
Mountain LaurelMountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Approaching the parking lot

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