Geology

Hike a trail

The book Hiking The Red, A Complete Trail Guide To Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, provides an excellent description of the activities one can find in the Red River Gorge. The authors suggest “popular activities include hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming, horseback riding, bicycling, rock climbing, spelunking, bird watching, photography, nature study, and more” (p. 14). The Red River Gorge is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) which contains an estimated 500 miles of trails through rugged terrain made of sandstone cliffs and exposed limestone rock faces. The authors remind us that this trail network is larger than any other National Forest in Kentucky, and perhaps more importantly, that it takes fewer than six hours for most of us to reach this destination.

red rock gorge

The core of the Red River Basin is the ‘Gorge’ which has been rightly designated a national ‘Geological Area.’

The Geologic processes are examined in three phases.

  1. The first is the accumulation of sediments in an ancient coastal river plain starting about 340 million years ago. The sands and other sediments deposited at this time are the materials that have since hardened to form the bedrock of the area.
  2. The second geological phase is the process of diagenesis and how the sediments were buried and turned into rock. The process began when sediments were first buried, but is ongoing today as groundwater flows through rock pores and continues to modify the rocks’ internal structure.
  3. The final geological phase is the erosion of the bedrock into landforms such as the cliffs and arches that we see today. This formation of landforms is known as ‘geomorphology.’

Are they arches or bridges?

The Natural Bridge of Natural Bridge State Resort Park is an arch; Whittleton Arch is a bridge, and Henson’s and Moonshiner’s Arches are neither.

If you are confused, you are not alone.

Geologists have generally chosen the words “arch” and “bridge” to refer to landforms made by different processes, rather than to the actual shape of the structures.

Geologists define “natural bridges” as structures eroded into existing rock by running streams, and traditionally “natural arches” were structures weathered into exposed rock without streams.

Brief Summary

The geologic history of the Red River watershed spans over 400 million years, and starts with the deposition of sediments in marine and then river delta environments.

These sediments were compacted into rocks and economically important oil and iron deposits result from diagenetic processes.

Chemical changes also led to a unique collection of holes, tubes, and plates that provide interesting and challenging handholds for climbers and have elevated the Corbin Sandstone to a worldwide climber destination.

Recent weathering processes have exhumed rocks that have broken along joints into sheer cliffs and sometimes majestic arches, and large amphitheaters.

Together the three phases of the geological history (bedrock formation, diagenesis, geomorphology) have created the unique and interesting landscape, so aptly recognized as a ‘National Geological Area.’”

red river wildlife information

“Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin” by Dan and Judy Dourson

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