By Karen Jurgens
As its name implies, Natural Bridge is a natural wonder. Nestled in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Slade, Kentucky, this sandstone archway looks like it was carved by the finger of God. At least a million years old, it spans 78 feet long, 65 feet high, 12 feet thick, and 20 feet wide with glorious views of the forest on both sides. Native Americans and early American Hunters like Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett explored and lived for hundreds of years in these abounding woods.
We have family ties to Natural Bridge going back several generations, beginning with my great-grandfather. He, along with other visitors, began coming in 1889 when there was no way to reach the top unless you hiked. That’s still one way to do it, but there’s also a matter of having to dodge bears and snakes. About forty-five years ago the park added a skylift, making the trip not only safe but easy and fun.
Riding the two-seater chair has always been the highlight for me. It skims high above the treetops where I enjoy taking pictures of the beautiful, thick woods, full of songbirds and bubbling brooks. When the lift pulls me straight up and over that last rocky ledge, my heart always jumps in my mouth as I ride over the sheer precipice, similar to the thrill of a roller-coaster. Arriving at the top and feeling the ground under my feet is a welcome relief.
To reach our destination, we follow a narrow path with a railing on one side. At the end of 600 feet, the path widens out to what looks like a narrow dirt road. The woods stop, and the sky opens on all sides. That is the beginning of the top of the bridge.
Walking across is an adventure because neither side has railings, so I make sure I stay in the middle of the 20-foot-wide crossing. I’ve witnessed people lying on their stomachs and hanging off the edge to take pictures of the sheer drop-off that plummets thousands of feet straight down (but you won’t find me doing that).
I can’t appreciate where I am unless I walk the top’s full length and take the stone staircase that descends to the bottom of the bridge. Next is a very narrow passageway, sliced out of a sheer boulder that is about 300 feet high. There is just enough room to slide through sideways, and only one person can enter at a time from either direction. It makes me feel like a piece of bread sliding through a toaster, and I always hold my breath, hoping I won’t get stuck. At the other end is a clearing where I can look up and see the majesty of what I walked across. Words can’t begin do it justice.
Hemlock Lodge is the hotel for the park where I love to stay. It’s built on the edge of a mountainous cliff and has a marvelous view of the Red River Gorge at the bottom. Bird feeders line the outdoor porches that run the length of the building where you can enjoy the view and the variety of birds as they’re drawn to feed. A huge kidney-shaped swimming pool is at the bottom of the gorge. The 40-acre Mill Creek Lake hosts fishing, paddleboats and canoes—fun for the whole family.
Family reunions and vacations are popular at this park. Groups can choose to stay in cabins for more privacy and convenience. Meals can be enjoyed in the lodge’s dining room or on the grounds at one of the many picnic spots. There’s also a one-acre Hoedown Island where country folk dances happen every Saturday night from May through October. Throughout tourist season there are several choices for nature walks and hiking. The park also hosts educational seminars about its natural biology. What a terrific place for kids to learn about nature through personal experience.
Interested in learning more? http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/natural-bridge/
I had no idea what to expect on my first hiking trip to the mountains. The guide met us and explained the rules, then took us out to the path. My backpack held binoculars, a camera, sunglasses, and sunscreen. I could feel adventure in the air as we hiked up our path. Everything went well until we came to a bend where …