Landmark in Todd and Christian counties
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 Answers.com
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
Related site: Todd County High Point Report
Related post: Treasure at Pilot Rock or Apex in Christian County, KY