Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hiking the Clifton Gorge, Clifton, Greene Co., Ohio

Hiking in the Clifton Gorge area is particularly poignant if you are interested in the history of the area. Having just read Allen W. Eckert's book "That Dark and Bloody River: Chronicles of the Ohio River Valley" which includes some narration about the Shawnees, their campsites and some of the famous people who were captured and escaped from them, it brought some of that history to life walking in the area.

The Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is a great place for a moderate hike with some beautiful scenery. Greene County has some nice geological formations left from the post-glacial erosion. The river that was formed was the Little Miami River which has its headwaters just north of the town of Clifton in Southwest Ohio. Clifton itself is historic as it is the site of an historic mill which is still in operation and affords a nice place to lunch before or after the hike. Attached to the Nature Preserve is John Bryan State Park, which has trails that continue following the scenic river for an extended hike.

I began when I parked in an area just slightly south of the town of Clifton and set out on an easy trail. A few hundred feet into the hike, are the stairs that take you down into the gorge and closer to the river itself. From the upper trail there aren't very many views of the river itself. But as you step down into the gorge, you are still mostly a ways above the river. There are places where the rock formations have made it difficult to get closer to the river. Gradually, the gorge flattens out slightly and you can easily walk up to the river itself.

The rock formations are always fascinating to look at in this part of the hike. More resistant dolomite makes up the upper portion of many of the cliffs sometimes rising 40 to 50 feet, while the less resistant on the lower half has weathered to form not only recesses, but interesting shapes. The gorge is gradually widening due to the weathering and previous rockfalls. But the trails wind their way through and among these rock formations. Whether you are hiking in the lower gorge or along the top of the cliffs, you'll be presented with some pretty spectacular geologic formations.

The historical aspect is that this is the trail often used by the Shawnees as they traveled up and down the Little Miami River. Not far from Clifton in Greene County is a small modern village called Oldtown. It was the original site of the second primary Shawnee village named Chilicothe similar to the first Shawnee settlement at the time on the site of the present town of Chilicothe. This second Shawnee location is where Daniel Boone and Cornelius Darnell were held captive. Both men were captured at the Blue Licks in Kentucky. They were taken to the Indian village of Chilicothe (now Oldtown) where Daniel Boone escaped a few months later. Later yet, Cornelius Darnell escaped and traveled north up the Little Miami where he was chased by the Shawnee. At one point in the Clifton Gorge in the Narrows, they came so close to catching him - meaning slow death and torture if re-captured - he leaped across the chasm. Though he fell short, he was able to grasp some small trees which then covered the cliff and break his fall. By doing this he was able to escape back to Kentucky ultimately.

Within about three quarters of a mile, the hike begins to widen and flatten. The views and closeness to the river begin to afford some wonderful photo opportunities. The river moving rapidly through the Narrows begins to slow down tremendously almost becoming like still pools. Close to this point one can take a path that sharply takes you back to the upper portion of the gorge where you can hike back to where you parked along an upper trail. If you want to continue hiking, you will soon leave the Preserve and pass into John Bryan State Park where you will find yet more interesting landscape.

All in all, Clifton Gorge is a great place to come and hike. As you can tell from the photos, I last hiked it in December. Hiking when the foliage is just beginning to bloom in early April is another excellent time. It has reached any kind of heat in the day and blooming flora presents some great photo opportunities.

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