02.04.24: Through the arch

Looking through Shangra La Arch, a natural bridge in Carter Caves State Park, Olive Hill, Ky.

Looking through Shangra La Arch, a natural bridge in Carter Caves State Park, Olive Hill, Ky.

Park’s natural bridges: Caves with back doors

Unlike natural bridges I’ve seen in other locations, which tend to be narrow arches, many of the natural bridges at Carter Caves are more like long tunnels or long caves with large rear entrances.

Carter Caves State Park near Olive Hill, Ky., is known, of course, for its caves. Guided tours are available for several of the caves.

But Carter Caves State Park also has a number of natural bridges along the more than 30 miles of trails in the park. Smokey Bridge is the largest, but another one — Carter Caves Natural Bridge — serves as an actual bridge for a road above it. Both are massive

The caves and natural bridges in Carter Caves State Park were formed by centuries of erosion. Flowing water eroded limestone, creating the geologic features in the park.

I have photos of several of the natural bridges at Carter Caves. This is a photo of Shangra La Arch, one of the smaller  natural bridges on the Carter Caves Cross Country (or 4Cs) trail. The trail goes through the arch.

As I was hiking the park, looking for interesting opportunities for landscape photographs, I would often stop at — or in this case — inside an arch or adjacent to a rock structure to get a shot.

When I entered  Shangra La Arch I was immediately taken by how the walls of the arch and the rocky floor framed a warm forest scene. So I set up the tripod and grabbed a photo. 

Unlike natural bridges I’ve seen in other locations, which tend to be narrow arches, many of the natural bridges at Carter Caves are more like long tunnels or long caves with large rear entrances.

Smokey Bridge definitely fits that description. It’s the largest natural bridge in Kentucky — 90 feet high, 120 feet wide and 220 feet long. You could fit multiple Shangra La Arches inside Smokey Bridge, with plenty of room to spare. Some sources list the name as Smoky Bridge instead of Smokey Bridge. It’s spelled both ways on the Carter Caves web site, but the sign near the bridge says “Smokey Bridge” so that’s how I’ll identify it.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Jul 9, 2006 9:47 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 20D
  • Lens: 10.0-22.0 mm 
  • Focal length: 22mm
  • Aperture: f/13
  • Shutter: 1/2 second
  • ISO: 800

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