It’s a pretty steep climb from Hemlock Lodge to Natural Bridge,
the great stone bridge with an arch that’s 78 feet long and 65 feet high.
But once we made it to the center of the bridge, we decided it was worth the hike. As far as we could see in either direction, there were deep forested valleys and high cliffs. I imagined Daniel Boone standing in this same spot more than 200 years ago.
Less than 50 miles to the west lay Fort Boonesboro. Just off to the northeast the beautiful and rugged Red River Gorge wound its way through the Daniel Boone National Forest.
We were spending a couple of nights in the lodge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. The park covers 2,300 acres in Kentucky’s Powell and Wolfe counties. Half of that is set aside as a nature preserve to protect the areas ecological wonders and rare species of plants and animals, such as the Virginia big eared bat.
The lodge stands on the Middle Fork of the Red River. The natural bridge is the centerpiece of the park. Geologists say the natural process of weathering formed the arch over millions of years.
Vacation time is over for people with children in school, but the park is within easy driving distance for a Friday-Sunday visit.
MY FIRST VISIT
I was visiting the park for the first time, although I’ve gone back several times since.
On this first trip I was working as a reporter for the Ashland Daily Independent. I was there to cover a weekend conference of some kind for the Ashland Daily Independent.
My wife, Bonnie, having heard much about the Red River Gorge, accompanied me.
I filed my stories back with the aid of an ancient laptop that had a rubber cup that fit over the mouthpiece of the telephone.
Thankfully, the paper was an afternoon publication then, which meant I had until about 10 a.m. the next day to have my story in. This gave us time in the evenings to hike some of the trails and explore some of the natural wonders the park has to offer.
This land of Boone offers some great opportunities for the backpacker and the canoeist. At least a dozen smaller natural stone arches are scattered through the hills surrounding the park, with hiking trails (about 20 miles of them in all) leading to all of them.
The Red River offers a great adventure for the canoeist on an overnight float trip. Sections of the stream flow peacefully through the valley. Going through the gorge, however, you meet with white water and dangerous rocks which should be tackled by only experienced canoeists.
For a more relaxing climb to natural bridge, you can enjoy a ride on the sky lift. The ascent begins one-half mile from the park entrance and ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge.
The sky lift chairs operate daily from the first weekend of April through the last weekend in October.
For more information, (606) 663-2922.
THE SILVER SEARCH
One of the mountain hiking trails, located just north of Campton, will take you through the area where the legendary John Swift silver mine is said to be located.
But if you have visions of finding the mine, you better read up first on the history of Lady Rebecca P. Timmons. Her grave is located near Rock Bridge in an area drained by Swift’s Camp Creek.
Lady Rebecca and her husband had much wealth when they came to Wolfe County with the purpose of finding the lost rich lode.
After several years of fruitless searching, she and her husband returned to New England. He died a short while later. Still determined to strike the mother lode, she returned to continue the search.
She employed a number of workers to help her. They all left her, though, after she had spent all of her fortune in the attempt to find the mine.
She continued the search alone until old age and poverty led her to her grave.
But did she really give up? Today, 90 years after her death, reports say that hunters and campers will not be found in this area after dark. Many of them, it seems, have claimed to see strange, eerie lantern lights and hear the scrape of picks and mattocks on the ground.
IF YOU GO
One route to take to get to the park from the Ashland area calls for taking I-64 past Morehead and then taking the Farmers exit. Follow Ky. 801 south and then Ky. 1274 through the forest and around and over Cave Run Lake.
The later route will bring you out at Frenchburg, from where you take U.S. 460 and Ky. 77 into the Red River Gorge area.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]