Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pilot Rock

Landmark in Todd and Christian counties

Pilot Rock, Christian County, KYPilot Rock

Pilot Rock is the highest point in both Christian and Todd Counties (in Kentucky) with an elevation of 966 feet. It sits on the county line, at the summit of a large, high hill. It has been cited as a landmark since local history was recorded, and it surely was noted by prehistoric travelers as well.

A Knob on an Escarpment

When I took my brother over to see Pilot Rock, he wondered whether underground activity such as a volcano or a shifting fault line had pushed the big rock upward. I didn't know the answer to that question, and after a little research, my answer is that I still don't know for sure.

The University of Kentucky's Groundwater Resources page for Todd County says that Pilot Rock is a knob on an escarpment. I wasn't entirely clear about what an escarpment was, so I looked it up.

Escarpment or scarp, long cliff, bluff, or steep slope, caused usually by geologic faulting or by erosion of tilted rock layers. An example of a fault scarp is the north face of the San Jacinto Mts. in California. Examples of erosional escarpments include the Palisades along the Hudson River and the long break separating the coastal region from the inland area in Texas, roughly paralleling the coast.

Source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press, as presented by

The escarpment in Todd and Christian counties separates the low farmlands of South Christian and SouthTodd from a high plateau in North Christian and North Todd. There are several lesser knobs of note, but the highest of them short of Pilot Rock's elevation by 86 feet:

  • Pine Knob a few miles west of Pilot Rock: 863 feet
  • Keeling Hill in Todd County near Fairview: 848 feet
  • Tucker Ridge a few miles north/northeast of Pilot Rock: 880 feet

Big Clifty Sandstone is the underlying rock of the escarpment. It can be seen at Pilot Rock and on top of other high knobs. It interested me that Big Clifty is also seen on the Mammoth Cave Plateau as the top or "cap" layer of the rock in which Mammoth Cave was carved by underground streams.

Local History

I've read several old histories of Christian County and memoirs of people who grew up here in the 1800's, and without fail, Pilot Rock is mentioned as a recreational site to enjoy.

Of [Todd County's natural objects of peculiar interest,] Pilot Rock is perhaps the most striking. This is a vast mass of rock some 200 feet high, resting upon elevated ground and entirely isolated.

Its summit is a level area of about half an acre in extent, covered with a small growth of timber and wild shrubbery, and is a pleasant resort, frequented by picnic parties from the neighboring country. It stands north of Fairview on the line between Christian and Todd Counties, the larger portion of the rock lying within the limits of the latter.

Its elevated summit, which is gained without much difficulty, affords a fine view of the surrounding country for many. miles, presenting a prospect beautiful and picturesque. In the leafless season and a favoring atmosphere, it is said Hopkinsville, twelve miles away, may be distinctly seen from its summit, and in pioneer days it was known far and wide as an infallible landmark, hence its name.

Quoted from: Kentucky Genealogy. The writing style suggests that this is quoted from an old book, but thus far, I am unable to locate a citation for it.
A few strange events have taken place at Pilot Rock during the time that we've lived here. In one incident, a mentally disturbed person climbed the Rock to elude the police and had to be coaxed down. Another time, a drunk man fell to his death from the summit.

Buzzards at Pilot Rock

Several years ago a girl photographer from the local newspaper climbed Pilot Rock and photographed the fall foliage and autumnal landscape. In her photographic essay, she mentioned big hawks that repeatedly circled the rock. We all laughed, out here close to Pilot Rock. We knew that those big birds were buzzards, not hawks.

A couple of weeks later, the newspaper published a letter from someone in another state who had written to say he suspected that the birds were buzzards, not hawks. We all laughed again.

A lady who grew up in this neighborhood came home to spend a few days. She has lived and worked in the big city for years. While she was here, she decided to climb Pilot Rock for old time's sake.

After her climb, she stopped by the little country store where I was working. Her brother, a local fellow about 50 years old, was there, drinking a soda. She sat down beside him and shared her experience. "It was so peaceful on top of Pilot Rock" she exulted. "I stretched out in the sunshine and just watched the buzzards circling."

Her brother snorted. "I wouldn't be lying on the ground for long if there were buzzards circling over me," he said emphatically. He did have a point, I thought.

Sad Condition

Pilot Rock's listing on the National Register of Historical Places states that Woodland Indians painted petroglyphs on the rock (or somewhere in the immediate area) and used it as a ceremonial site. I have never seen the petroglyphs, but I fear that they may have been vandalized. Pilot Rock is heavily used as a party-place. The ground is littered with broken glass and the sides of the rock have suffered spray-paint graffiti.

I looked at one website that stated that Pilot Rock is privately owned; another stated that the property is owned by "the government" (whatever entity that may be.) I have been told that it was formerly public property but is now privately owned. Whatever is the case, I wish we could take a little better care of it.

Having said that, I'm a little ashamed that I picked up a couple of conglomerate rocks from a washed-out road at the base of Pilot Rock and brought them home to add to my outdoor rock collection! Shame on me for not practicing what I preach. I will restrain myself next time I think of picking up a rock at an unprotected, unattended historic site and natural wonder like Pilot Rock.

Pilot RockMy brother at Pilot Rock Conglomerate rockConglomerate rocks from Pilot Rock

Related site: Todd County High Point Report
Related post: Treasure at Pilot Rock or Apex in Christian County, KY


Wrkinprogress said...

Well they *are* gorgeous rocks....

Genevieve said...

WIP! You're supposed to encourage me in my reformed ways, not my old ways! :D

They are interesting rocks. One side of them is red and yellow, and the other side has embedded small rocks and pebbles.

I know that puddingstone is a conglomerate rock, but I don't know if it is a universal term for all conglomerate rock. I've always liked the word, puddingstone.

Anonymous said...

Puddingstone is big clasts in a fine matrix, whereas conglomerate could mean any mixture of clasts of all sizes, fine medium and small.

Don't feel too bad about taking home the specimen. It's people who chisel out fossils and mine in posted public parks who are the real villains.

Unknown said...

I too, spent some time at Pilot Rock as a kid in the 70's and 80's. We used to party there in high school. Although we were in the wrong for drinking underage, we did not use spray paint or damage anything. Just drank and had a good time. One gal with us fell once and broke her arm. All she could do was laugh and ask us to lower her a beer.
This past Christmas day(2008), I drove all around Hopkinsville, Elkton, etc, looking for Pilot Rock for ole times sake and could not find it. I was disappointed because I too would have like to climb it. Now I am stationed in Korea and will have to wait to get to the area again. Could someone post directions from Hoptown or Elkton to Pilot rock? I would hate to miss out on it again.
Those rocks look good. I took some one time from Lake Barkley area once for my aquarium. They were beautiful.

Genevieve said...

Bilz, take Highway 107 (East 7th Street) to Highway 507 and follow 507 about ten miles or so east of Hopkinsville. You will go right past the Rock. But if you decide to climb it, be careful. Particularly, it's a bad idea to climb it if you're not 100% sober. A girl fell to her death in April.

Anonymous said...

Actually there is a fault line that runs near Pilot Rock. It is inactive but who knows it could of caused the rock formation. I enjoy going over to Pilot Rock. It is very nice and peaceful. It would be nice though if some people had not taken spray paint and messed up the natural beauty of it. Sad to say young people do not care anymore.

Anonymous said...

Who put the steps in?

Genevieve said...

I think there was once a fire tower on top of Pilot Rock? Or at least, it was used as an observation point. I presume the steps were built at that time. My son tells me that they have mostly fallen or broken down now.

Brandon said...

I took a friend of mine out there a few years back who is a geologist. He told me that Pilot Rock is caprock. This essentially means (as I understood it) that it's one of the last remaining pieces of the original rock surface of this area. The rest of it has eroded away over millions of years.

Anonymous said...

Hey y'all--I'm a local. I live in the Clifty area. My dad owns the hill behind my house ENE of Pilot Rock --great view of the Rock from my my driveway and the hill. I take lots of photos of Pilot Rock from my dad's hill(abt 900 ft. above sea level). Fyi: There was a firetower on Pilot Rock years ago. My class went there several times on school trips from Clifty Elementary School and students would go up to the top of the tower. I'm deathly afraid of heights, so I never climbed to the top of the tower. There used to be steps going up. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I rode with my dad to Hoptown to sell a cow. We stopped at the Rock to check on the cow and guys were pouring concrete and making the steps --- that would have been around about 1970. Sections of the steps are still there. I have no idea who the men were who put the steps there.

Anonymous said...

there were wooden steps up one side back in the 50's when I was there. In the late 80's I dared to climb up the back side of the rock where there were no steps.

Anonymous said...

Pilot Rock stairs and fire tower info shared KNE front page with Sputnik:,348416&hl=en

Unknown said...

I used to go there back in the late 90's when I was in high school. I've climbed it numerous times.
A little history: Native Americans did use this place as a look out and for ritual purposes. During the Civil war, this was both a Union and Confederate lookout post with canons mounted up top.There once was a fire tower up there once also. I went back in 2005 and was appauld by how trashy it was. I picked up at least 7 big lawn bags of trash that day. With its rich history and it being registers as a state landmark, I'm very surprised it has not been turned into a state park yet.

Anonymous said...

Can people still visit pilot rock? Would like to go in a few days to take pictures of some friends getting married soon thought that would be great pictures :)

Anonymous said...

Yes there was a fire tower there for sure the military used a helicopter to lay it in the field next to it and dismantled it a number of years ago

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