Kentucky Part II: knobs and barrens
For the next several days, John Muir recounts, he walked on through “glorious forests” and over barren, naked limestone rock outcrops:
All the streams that I tasted hereabouts are salty and so are the wells. Salt River was nearly dry. Much of my way this afternoon was over naked limestone. After passing the level ground that extended twenty-five or thirty miles from the river I came to a region of rolling hills called Kentucky Knobs – hills of denudation, covered with trees to the top. Some of them have a few pines… [and on to] a tumbling rocky stream [Rolling Fork] … too deep and rapid to wade [but crossed with help of a former slave boy on horseback]…”
Muir walked on through fertile farmlands and “green wooded hills… [with] grand oaks …and magnificent flowing hill scenery,” and through Elizabethtown “till wearied and lay down in the bushes” to sleep.
I headed my trusty Subaru southward from Louisville on KY Highway 61 to historic Shepherdsville and the bridge on the south side of town over the Salt River. In his memoir Muir makes no mention of sites of the recent Civil War battlefields and forts that he encountered along his route, but that military history is recounted here in Shepherdsville and on markers on the south side of the Hwy 61/ Salt River bridge on the southern outskirts of the town, and thereafter frequently at other places along the route of his trek. Muir seemed oblivious that his path led him through a landscape and society ravaged by the recent war.
The route follows the eastern side of Fort Knox Military Reservation (over 100,000 acres in size), which encompasses large tracts of relatively recovered upland and bottomland forests, streams, hills, and erosion-resistant “knobs.” Public access in the military base is restricted. The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust has been arranging permanent conservation easement management agreements with numerous landowners on the eastern flank of the military base. One might detour slightly on State Route 1494 for an image of the landscape on the eastern side of the reservation.
Muir would have been pleased with the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (privately owned and managed) and the adjacent Knobbs Kentucky State Forest and Wildlife Management Area, which together preserve over 16,000 acres of mature forests and areas of prairie restoration (the prairie biome unmentioned by Muir). Over 70 miles of streams course through the Bernheim and Knobbs forests. The core of the arboretum and surrounding forest reserve were first established in 1929. With help from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund (KNLCF) and Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, more land has been acquired and added to the protected forests. Spend time here to learn about central Kentucky’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems in the nature center and on some of Bernheim’s 35 miles of trails through forests and over knobs, ridges, and hollows.
Learn more about Kentucky’s state wildlife management areas .
One might be tempted to go “off course” a bit east from Bernheim Arboretum to visit the nearby Jim Beam whisky distillery and outlet, and enjoy historic Bardstown (and the “Old Kentucky Home” State Park there).
Heading farther southwest on Highway 61, and then, pressed for time and speed, taking Interstate 65 (named the Kentucky Turnpike), I cruised onward to historic Elizabethtown, KY. The center of that community displays interesting historic residences and a commercial district with several history museums and the Freeman Lake walking trail. A modest detour east from Elizabethtown via the Martha Lane Collins Bluegrass Parkway will take one on to explore the 4.5 miles of trails in the 730-acre Vernon-Douglas Kentucky State Nature Preserve. For additional diversions off the Muir route, you can head slightly farther south to visit the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville and the nearby Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site and Lincoln Homestead State Park.
>>>CONTINUE ON over the Green River into cave country . . .