Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center preserves the cabin of some of the area’s first pioneer settlers
Cary Jobe, Art Meripol
Rocks That Speak to You
You’d have to look far to find someone who’s more inspired by the nature of the region than Brian Gasdorf, naturalist at the state resort. He grew up camping here with his parents. On his first date with his future wife, he took her hiking to Natural Bridge. “It’s a beautiful place, but it’s a rugged place,” he says. “Anyone who comes here can’t leave unaffected.”
Especially at the peak of wildflower season. One morning after breakfast, Brian points me toward trails in the shadow of the area’s most famous arch where I can see showy wild geraniums, fiery red trilliums, and pink lady’s slippers.
Before dinner, I start up the steep, half-mile trail that leads to Natural Bridge. Leaves obscure the lofty landmark almost to the moment that I reach the base and it appears magically above the forest. I run my hands over the stone, worn smooth like a monumental piece of sculpture by eons of wind and water. On the way back down, I take the less traveled trail past Battleship Rock. I can hear rain dripping down the towering cliffs. In the antiquity of this timeless place, I’m sure it’s only the distant roll of thunder, but I swear I hear the voices of ancients whispering around rock shelters in the gathering dusk. This place of natural wonder speaks to everyone who sees it.
- Getting There: Red River Gorge is near Slade, Kentucky, about an hour’s drive southeast of Lexington. Take I-64 to Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway East. Take Exit 33 off the parkway, and follow the signs to the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
- Where to Stay: Rooms in the lodge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park start at around $90 per night in April; 1-800-325-1710. If you’re taking a canoe trip, rates for the riverside cabin at Red River Adventure start at $99 per night; (606) 663-1012.
- What to Do: Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center offer wildflower walks and many other nature programs; (606) 663-8100. Red River Adventure rents kayaks ($25) and canoes ($40), including livery service, life vests, and a river map in a waterproof case.