Thanks to the continuing threat from Covid-19 and variants of a virus still hanging in the air, plans for a summer vacation are still hanging in the air for many of us.
To the beach, the Smokies, a campground or a fishing camp?
One place I would like to revisit is Natural Bridge State Resort Park, located in the Red River Gorge near Slade, Ky. It has been many years since Bonnie and I were there.
I remember it was a steep climb from our room in Hemlock Lodge up to Natural Bridge, the great stone bridge with an arch 70 feet high and a backbone that spans the top of the mountain for more than 100 feet.
But once we were standing on the flat surface of the arch, we decided the hike was worth it. Cooled by a sweet breeze, we gazed out over a vast panorama of deep forested valleys and high cliffs.
Just beyond the pine-topped ridges to the northeast lay the beautiful and rugged gorge. Gazing down a deep valley to the west, I thought of Fort Boonsboro, just 45 miles away. I had visions of Daniel Boone standing on the very spot where we stood.
The “Land of Boone” offers opportunities for the backpacker, the canoeist, and the camper. At least a dozen of the natural stone arches are scattered through the hills surrounding the park, with hiking trails leading to all of them. An avid backpacker could spend a week just exploring the 25,000-acre Red River Gorge Archaeological Area, located north of the Mountain Parkway.
How the great stone arches were formed atop the mountains is beyond my comprehension. Scientists tell us they evolved out of a geological process that is more than 350 million years old.
The Red River offers a great adventure to the canoeist on an overnight float trip. Sections of the stream flow peacefully through the deep valley. Some sections, however, are filled with whitewater rapids and dangerous boulders that should be tackled by only the more experienced canoeist.
There is fishing there, too. The river offers smallmouth bass and muskie, and plenty of panfish.
Other small streams in the forest are stocked annually by the U.S. Forest Service. Many of these may be reached only by hiking into them.
THE SILVER MINE
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 had best read up first on the story 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 considerable wealth when they came to Wolfe County for the purpose of recovering the lost lode.
After several years of fruitless searching, she and her husband moved back to New England. He died a short while later and she returned to continue the search.
She employed several workers to help with digging. They left her, though, after she had spent her fortune in the attempt to find the silver.
She continued the search alone until poverty and old age led her to her grave.
Even today, more than 80 years after her death, hunters and campers, according to legend, will not be found in this area after dark. Some have claimed to see eerie lantern lights and hear the scrape of picks and mattocks on rocks and earth.
There is more than one scenic route to Natural Bridge State Park from the Ashland-Portsmouth area. Our journey, from Ashland, took us down Interstate 64 to Grayson, Ky. 7 to West Liberty, then U.S. 460, then Ky. 203 and then Ky. 191 to the Mountain Parkway.
For the most scenic drive before reaching the lodge follow the parkway southwest until, just west of Pine Ridge, exit at Ky. 715. This route will take you north through the Red River Gorge and on to Ky. 77, which you take back south to the parkway. Continue westward to take the exit at Slade, which takes you to Natural Bridge State Park.
Another scenic route involves taking Interstate 64 past Morehead and on to the Farmers exit. Now follow Ky. 801 and Ky. 1274 through the forest and around and over Cave Run Lake. The later route will bring you to Frenchburg, from where you take Ky. 460 and Ky. 77 into the Red River Gorge.
So, if the park facilities are not fully open because of the virus, at least you have had a good day-tripping vacation.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619.