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Mantle Rock

    Surprising to a lot of folks who have at least a passing interest in natural arch formations around the state is the fact the longest arch span is not in the Red River Gorge.  It's not even in the Daniel Boone National Forest, nor the eastern part of the state for that matter. To find the state record, well, the record east of the Rocky Mountains, you will need to travel to Joy, Kentucky in Livingston County.  This location is out in the western part of the state and near the Ohio River.
Mantle Rock
     Mantle Rock spans a distance of  154 feet        according to  the Natural Arch Society making it the record holder for the longest natural arch span  in the eastern part of the country.  This giant natural rock arch appears to have been formed by fracturing and continued erosion through the joint fracture.  The small creek continues to eroded the base of the arch as it flows unusually parallel to and slightly under the arch.  As the stream reaches the lower part of the arch, it continues to eroded the base, thus, no doubt extending the arch a bit each year.  The beautiful rock formation can be reached by a short hiking trail built and maintained by the Nature Conservancy who also owns the property.

Front view of Mantle Rock
     The area is especially beautiful in the spring time as an abundance of wildflowers are found along the trail and the stream that flows beneath the arch.  The name Mantle Rock has been around for many years probably due to the strange appearance when one first arrives at the arch.  The top of the rock has a smooth flat appearance much like a mantle rock over a stone fireplace.
     Besides being a significant natural rock formation in the state, Mantle Rock has a sad historical background as well.  During the years of 1838 and 1839 the Cherokee people of North Carolina and other surrounding states were rounded up and moved to a new reservation established for them in Oklahoma.  As America expanded to meet the demands of producing goods for around the world, the rich farm land and timberland of the mountains in the south were taken.  The act of moving the native people was ordered by President Andrew Jackson.
Momfeather Erickson, Cherokee elder and founder of the Cultural Center
     The route(s) to move the Cherokee people crossed the extreme western portion of Kentucky and was referred to in later years as the "Trail of Tears."  Today this trail is designated as a national trail.  Many of the Cherokee died along the route through various hardships and illness.  The "Trail of Tears" went north across the Jackson Purchase region of Kentucky in the vicinity of Mantle Rock.  During the particularly harsh winter of 1839 the Ohio River froze, thereby halting the ferry that was the transport to move the natives across the river to continue their westward forced march. Many, perhaps several hundred, took refuge under the Mantle Rock and surrounding area from the harsh winter.  With little food and no medical assistance, many of the people, several hundred in fact, died right here at Mantle Rock. Though the natural rock arch is a wonderful monument to natures handiwork, it is also a sad reminder of how cruel the first Americans were treated in perhaps one of our darkest hours of a constitutional government.
Children singing Cherokee songs at Mantle Rock Cultural Center
     A visit to Mantle Rock is well worth your time and should be seen and appreciated.  But go with respect and reverence to those who perished.  You will be richly rewarded.  Today, Native American descendants of the Cherokee and many other tribes consider this a very sacred place.  There is even a Mantle Rock Native Education and Cultural Center in nearby Marion, Kentucky.  It is open to visitors who are interested in learning more about the native cultural of the region and state.  The center provides learning experiences in a variety of programs and events and is open to everyone.
     Mantle Rock is certainly worth the visit to anyone interested in Kentucky's natural arch wonders or history.  Just knowing the sad story of those poor souls that had to endure the hardship of a Kentucky winter can make your visit one that requires introspect and sorrow.  At the same time the pure enjoyment of the outdoors and this record holding natural formation will lift your spirit and leave you marveling.

   Members of Facebook can visit and are welcome to join our group "Mantle Rock Friends."


  1. Wow. This is a fascinating bit of trivia. I would love to get to the western part of the Commonwealth and explore.

    - The Kaintuckeean

  2. You need to do this. It is well worth your time to visit and would be great to see you post an article on the Kaintuckeean about Mantle Rock.


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