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"That's a nice lookin' hill there."  

"It's not a hill, it's a knob."

"What the hell is a knob?"  

"You're not from around here, are you?"

Surrounding Kentucky's Bluegrass region is a horseshoe shaped geologic area known as "The Knobs."  At their widest, the area only stretches about 30 miles, but it encompasses a unique area, and if you look at a detail map of the state you'll see numerous points on the map identified as "Knobs."...there's even one called Keith Knob.  As well as Anvil, Bald, Black Jack, Boneyard and Buzzard Knobs.  

The Knob Region of Kentucky is unique, and uniquely beautiful.   Amongst the most forested parts of an already heavily forested state, it has a geology all of its own.  You've probably never heard of it, unless you live in the state.  The "Bluegrass Region" gets all the attention.  That's where the horse farms are.  The Knobs form a horseshoe around the Bluegrass Region, and are more hilly, but not nearly as mountainous as eastern Kentucky.  

So what's a knob?  This is a knob.  You may say it's just a hill, but I'll explain the subtle differences below the fold.
Bald Knob

A hill is differentiated from a mountain in that it is more rounded in shape, due to erosion, and lower in elevation.  But hills are usually found in relations to mountains.  And they are usually part of a grouping of geologic uprisings.  A Knob, on the other hand, stands alone.  It is not part of a rolling chain of hills.  It is almost always conical in shape, much like a small volcano.  It is defined by the limestone soil in Kentucky.  Often, the top of a Knob can be somewhat flattened...formed by hardened limestone from which the looser topsoil has eroded, forming a small shelf, while the sides are steep, marked by shale deposits...resulting in a profile that stands out in the landscape.

Pilot Knob, KY

As beautiful as that scene is, here's an even more beautiful one, shot from a Knob, looking towards Kentucky's Red River Gorge.
Clearing fog in the Red River Gorge, KY

That, my friends, for lack of any better description, is God's Country.  And I'm an atheist.
But I must admit...looking at scenery like that sometimes calls your religiosity into question.

In geological terminology, these "hills" are actually what's called a monodnock.  They are erosional remnants of the original Mississippi Plateau that have been isolated by the wearing away of river and stream beds over the ages.  Their limestone caprock forms the cone, and the shale underneath accounts for the steep slopes, and singular shape.  Kentucky's Bluegrass region is also a product of limestone, but without the hills.  The limestone soils of the bluegrass region account for the high calcium content in the grass, which in turn accounts for the excellence of the region's pasturage for horses.  High calcium results in strong bones...and sturdy race horses.

The Knob Region of Kentucky is not large, but it is quite striking.  Some 12 years ago, when I was still into my backpacking and hiking years (before a hip surgery)...I planned a week long trip to Southern Utah.  It was a fine adventure, and beautiful country.  But had I been aware of this part of Kentucky back then, I might have chosen a different destination.  Afterall...I was living then in Ohio, so it would have been much closer.

Red River Gorge, in Kentucky, is smack dab in the middle of the Knobs.  And it is archetypal Appalachian woodland and geology.  Heavily forested, graced with rock outcroppings and stone bridges, streams, small waterfalls, forest wildflowers...for any hiker, there is much to be found here.  Mushrooms, ginseng, berries, springs, trilliums, so many other small forest wildflowers.  It truly is an enchanted woods.
Rock Bridge, Red River Gorge, KY

Here's a link to the State Park...check it out.

If you are a gardener, the Knobs region is probably not the best place to be.  The soils are erosional, especially on a slope, and the bottom lands are noted by shaley, clayey soils.  They tend to drain poorly, but with fertilizers they do support some orchards.  The streams in the region cut sharply into the weak shale and sandstone banks, lending the woods another characteristic that is regionally singular.  
Pilot Knob, KY
View from Pilot Knob, KY, early winter

So...if you live nearby, regionally, and think you'd might like to make a trip to this region, where exactly is it?  You can't go wrong by pointing your compass to Berea, Kentucky.  It's right in the heart of the region.  West Liberty is a town that some of you might remember from the last severe tornado storms that swept the southern is located in the Knobs region, and was devastated during those storms.

Red River Gorge is just a beautiful park, and you can google it.  There are cabins, hiking trails, camp sites and rock climbing options.  Many of the state forests in the region allow hunting.  It truly is a unique and gorgeous area.

If you live in he West, you have many options for finding the wonder of nature.  If you live in the Midwest, it sometimes takes some seeking...but it is there.  Sure, there are lots of woods in the Midwest, but many of them are a hodgepodge of rural, suburban encroachment.  

There are parts of Kentucky that retain their woodland origins, and are still fairly vast.  Before loading up your car and heading to Utah, you might well check them out.  The last time I went to Utah, it was, in spite of it's remoteness, pretty damned crowded.  All the good places are already discovered...and overrun.   But you might just be surprised by this area.

Originally posted to Keith930 on Tue Jul 24, 2012 at 07:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Appalachian Journal and Community Spotlight.

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