In 2013 Jen suggested that we spend time at an “off-the-grid” cabin. I pictured a Kaczynski-esque shack deep in the woods. The thought of roughing it without electricity and internet for days filled me with fear. I strongly resisted.
This year she presented the concept differently. Now it was a cabin that was part of a complex in the Red River Gorge National Park, nothing to get uptight about. I figured, OK, as long as I’m not in the middle of nowhere with only hungry bears for companionship I would probably survive. We made the reservation and off we went.
We arrived at the park on Nada Tunnel Road, the tunnel being one lane hewn through sandstone a few hundred feet tall and about an eighth of a mile long (my guess). It’s a spectacular introduction to Red River Gorge. We stopped short in a pull off area from the road then did a little exploring and photography.
A couple of miles past the tunnel we came to the rental office for our cabin. We met the owner, grabbed a park map (this will become important later) and got directions to the cabin.
As we climbed a steep, rocky and rutted road in low gear we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Had we bitten off more than we could chew? We found the hillside parking area. The instructions had said something about a 40-yard, aggressive climb; it was closer to 100-yards and it was definitely aggressive. The climb was worth the effort as we found ourselves staring at a wonderful little cabin in the woods. It really was a tough climb so after some consultation we agreed on a system where Jen would bring our gear up the first half, then I would take it the rest of the way. We made four trips using that method, getting everything we needed into the cabin. We were exhausted.
We evaluated our situation, we really were off the grid. Water was delivered by hand pump and there was no electricity, no cell service, no wi-fi, we were cut off.
After recovering we discussed our adventure options for the remainder of the day. We had passed a parking area that the map showed to be a trailhead. We decided convenient was a great idea. We drove down our hill to the Martins Fork Parking Area, the trailhead for three different trails. We selected the longest, the Rough Trail, which is anywhere from 7.0 to 8.2 miles, depending on your source. The goal was to get to Gray’s Arch, the closest attraction to our cabin, about two miles up the trail.
We started walking and found Rough Trail to be not so difficult, following a creek upstream, gently making our way uphill. At about the 1-1/4 mile point we arrived at a portion of the trail where it narrowed, diverged from the creek and began an aggressive move up the hill. Jen forged ahead while I brought up the rear. We climbed a couple hundred yards then the trail narrowed even more and showed no sign of leveling off. We decided two old ladies had had enough after our exertions getting moved into the cabin. Down the hill we went. We got ourselves back up the hill to the cabin, soaked our feet in icy well water and drank beer. Life was really good.
We had hotdogs and beans for dinner, then as darkness fell we began a checker match lighted only by our headlamps. At some point we realized we’d arrived at a stalemate. We made some noise about trying to build a fire in the pit; but that would have required more effort than we were interested in exerting. It was time for bed.
Day Two – Adventure Time
Cabin management had given us a map that seemed more complete than the one we’d gotten at REI. Unfortunately both maps left off critical information, like the location of roads that provided access to attractions we were interested in visiting. We were confused. Confusion be damned; we were on vacation! So off we went in search of attractions.
After beating ourselves up the previous day we decided we’d spend this day seeing attractions that were one-half mile or less from parking areas. Unfortunately we were unable to find any of them. However we came upon the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Center & Learning Site, a fancy name for a fancy ranger station. Inside the center we were drawn to the information desk where Rick the Ranger gave us a map with a larger scale and more detailed information. He showed us how to access points of interest (hint: roads not apparent on the previous two maps.).
With better information in-hand we first headed off in search of Sky Bridge. Along our way we stopped at a couple of overlooks that provided views of the valleys and gorgeous sandstone cliffs that are characteristic of the region.
Sky Bridge is a sandstone arch that bridges a gap. As we walked across the bridge we considered whether we should follow the trail down the other side then back up on the parking lot side of the arch. The sign had said it’s only one mile, so we figured, why not?
We took the stairway down to “ground level” then began walking along a sandstone wall back toward the car park; within a hundred yards we found the arch. On top of the arch it had been hot and muggy. In the shade of the arch there was a strong, cool breeze. We loved that part. After hanging around under the arch for a bit it was time to move on, the sandstone <img src=”http://tinypal.com/wordpress/?p=110″ alt=” cliff on our right. We were hoping the terrain would gradually climb to get us back up to the car park — it was a nice hike until we arrived at the stairs going up. We climbed and climbed and climbed, then climbed some more; but eventually we crested — in the parking lot.
We drove back to the main road then proceeded to the parking area for the next attraction on our list, Angel Windows, which are more arches formed by erosion,
The parking area at Angel Windows afforded us a little shade. The time was about noon and we realized two things; we were hungry and the only food we had was a bag of granola. We scarfed it down, chasing it with water. Yum. As we completed our snack and prepared ourselves for our next walk, Jen exclaimed, “Oh, man… I’ve got granola in my bra!” Too funny.
The map said from the parking lot to Angel Windows was only one-quarter of a mile, a mere 440 yards, nothing. Off we went, happily on our way, until we got to the first downhill portion of the trail which was a little steep. We considered the implications of climbing back up the hill (remember, we’re older Americans) but continued on anyway because, hey, it’s just a quarter of a mile. We continued on the trail and eventually arrived at the attraction which consisted of two triangular openings in the sandstone that were pretty neat. The photograph at the left doesn’t show the openings are tall enough for an average sized adult to stand.
After wandering the area for a bit we decided it was time to head back to the car. We did OK in the uphill portions of the trail; although we did stop to catch our breaths a couple of times. When we got back to the car we checked the map and decided Chimney Top Rock should be our next stop.
Chimney Top Rock
Ranger Rick had pointed out the gravel road leading to the parking area for Chimney Top Rock and a couple of other attractions, saying it was about 3 miles long but would seem like forever. He wasn’t that wrong. After arrival we checked our information and decided Chimney Top Rock was our best option, it was only a quarter-mile, right?
The first thing we saw as we started on the trail was a sign that described the dangers of falling to our deaths if we got too close to the edge on the trail. As it turned out there were several opportunities in that quarter-mile that a few steps off the trail would have put one at great risk. We stayed in the center; when we arrived at the end of the trail there was a formal viewing area that allowed us to see many of the sandstone formations.
Contrary to our expectations Chimney Top Rock turned out to be a viewing area rather than an opportunity to see the rock we were standing upon. If that was a disappointment, the view was not.
After getting our fill of the view we headed back to the car. It was now mid-afternoon and other than water and granola we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We had no choice but to head for downtown Slade, Kentucky and the “world famous” Miguel’s Pizza and Rock Climbing Shop. Miguel’s walls are decorated with rock climbing equipment, from shoes to rope to hardware — all for sale. They also make a really good pizza. We filled our tummies then headed back into the park and our cabin. After two days of going up and down hills we were challenged hiking back up to the cabin. We decided to park ourselves again soaking our feet in a bucket of well water and sip on a beer while we talked about our activities the last two days.
There were still a couple of items on our to-do list but we weren’t sure whether we’d save them for our next trip or check them off before heading back to Cincinnati.
Day Three – Going Home
July 4 – I awoke to find Jen taking a load down to halfway bench. Our plan is to get everything the staging point, then take our time getting it to the car. So much for best laid plans. We packed the remaining items, secured the cabin, loaded ourselves up, and headed down to the car with everything — in one trip. It was awesome.
Our bodies had made the decision for us — we were going to drive home. Heading out early in the day meant we wouldn’t have to deal with Fourth of July traffic. We made a brief stop, photographing Nada Tunnel from the other side; where it was no less impressive. We were home before noon.
On the drive we decided this would not be our last trip to Red River Gorge. There were enough attractions we didn’t see and hikes we didn’t take that would make the short two-hour drive worth our while. We have committed ourselves to getting into better physical condition so that getting up the hill to the cabin, for example, won’t wear us to the point that we feel obligated to cut activities short.
So, until next time…