Natchez Trace & Natural Bridge Park, KY

On the way to Slade, KY, where the Natural Bridge Park is located, Google sent me through the most interesting shortcut I've ever encountered on a public road. It began when I pulled off I64 near Winchester. A patchy fog hung in the air and there were occasional spots of rain. Then I entered the forest. The already narrow Kentucky roads got narrower. The drainage ditches got deeper. The winding roads windier. Hairpin turns caused the road to double back on itself every hundred yards or so.

Google’s route took me along the entirety of KY 77. The road ended in a 30 yard long single lane tunnel that looked to be hand carved out of a solid wall of rock. There was no signal on either end. You just plowed ahead and hoped nothing was coming at you from the other side. The tunnel was so narrow I don’t think a full sized pick-up truck could have fit through it. I certainly couldn’t have opened a door inside the tunnel. Just after the tunnel the drive was suddenly over. I went a short way along Rt 11 and found the park. The shortcut that should have taken just under an hour took me a bit over two. Fun.

In any case, I got to the park that night and began hiking the next morning. There are many trails at Natural Bridge Park, but I decided to begin with the longest, the Sand Gap Trail. The rock formations were impressive - similar to those in West Virginia, but carved with finer tools. Those rock formations seemed to go up forever; these had more human proportions, but there were so many of them!

I walked to the top of one of the ridges and found a different trail, which I decided to follow for a while. I later found out that was the Natchez Trace, a long distance trail running from Mississippi to Tennessee. I'll have to come back to that one some day. The Natchez Trace offered wide, long views of my surroundings. Much of this was wooded so the features were difficult to make out, but the occasional rock outcropping give some definition to the landscape.

Getting back to the Sand Gap Trail, I followed it off the ridge and into the undergrowth. Not much to see down there, but I kept going. It's a good thing the bears were still hibernating this time of year because I couldn't see more than a few yards in front of me at any one time and didn't want to bump noses with one.

I made it back to the lodge, but before doing that I found the Natural Bridge for which the park is named. It's an impressive rock: 78 feet long, 65 feet high, 20 feet wide and 12 feet thick. Most of the park's trails go around, under, or over it. It was even more impressive the following day when a dusting of snow covered everything and a cold mist hung in the air. It was also a bit disconcerting being on an icy, stone slab 65 feet in the air so I stayed well clear of the edges and kept my mind on my footing while I was up there!

The second day at Natural Bridge was my first real day of rest on this trip and I took the opportunity to take lots of pictures on all the short trails of the park that went up and around the central ridges. I'm not even sure which trails I followed or how many times I doubled back on my own path. I've tried to make sense of most of it on the individual picture captions, so do take a look and you'll see what I mean.


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