Monday, March 30, 2009

Return to Clifton Gorge/John Bryan State Park

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life

This short piece from Walt Whitman came to mind as I decided with my brother, Jack (who took a couple of the photos in this post) to revisit the Clifton Gorge and John Bryan State Park once more as the long winter its break into Spring.

Actually, the hike through John Bryan State Park was new to me. It is contiguous to the Clifton Gorge Preserve and so our six mile hike began at the northern part of the Gorge only a few miles from the headwaters of the Little Miami and followed that scenic river as it passed by the still operating Clifton Mill then on down into the State Park.

It was an overcast day with threat of rain that never materialized until long after the hike was completed. I still have to say I am amazed in the beauty of that little river as it narrows and cuts through the soft limestone. The increasingly rapid water suddenly opening up into nearly still pools after the rush of what came before gives one pause at the awe of mother nature.

This trip was made much more interesting by the slow changes taking place in nature as the early bloomers begin coming alive creating an excitement that all will soon burst into a newness. One of the wonders of the nature that surround us as even this hiker feels the sense of renewal afforded by the coming Spring.

After about a half mile, you can descend into the gorge since it begins to open up allowing passage slightly closer to the river. The trail at this point is rough with large tree roots and pieces of dolomite sticking up in the path requiring one to pay attention to the pace of movement. Photo by Jack WidnerEarly flora included the Spring Beauty in various states of full bloom to its just beginning to pop from its pods. As you move down the trail, you start seeing it everywhere - high up on places of the rock cliffs and down at your feet just off the path. Gradually throughout are the snow trillium nestled among their three-leaf beds.

It was a busy day in the gorge as we passed or were passed by many people also out for the hike experience. Soon the day brightened a bit and began to warm slowly. As we neared the area known as The Blue Hole, a flock of Canadian geese were displaying a trial of individual geese attempting to assert their dominance while the meeker ones quietly swam around the calm waters. As we continued down the trail, these geese seemed to follow us with their continuing honking echoing off the high cliffs of the gorge.

The Blue Hole is an area of the Little Miami River where it seems to open into a still pond. It is famous in that it was depicted by African-American/Scotch-Canadian artist Robert Duncanson, whose painting of the scene is in the Cincinnati Museum of Art. It was painted by the artist in 1851 and provides a small picture into how the area might have appeared in those early days. Duncanson came to Cincinnati in 1842 traveling the area and painting. This part of the pool gets its name because of its depth and the algae, but according to Shawnee myth, it was called the "Spirit Pool" because of an Indian maiden who drowned herself here in a case of unrequited love. If you listen closely, it is said, you can hear her sobs.

Soon one comes to the end of Clifton Gorge Preserve and the trail splits. You can cross the Little Miami and begin hiking on the South trail or continue through onto the old Cincinnati-Pittsburgh Stage Coach trail on the North side. We chose the Southern trail, and so we crossed the bridge and entered John Bryan State Park. This side of the river opens up with more distant cliffs, though fewer in number. Occasionally, the trail would rise up rocky paths and we would find ourselves looking down onto the river or over small backwater tributaries. Even more of the early bloomers were visible heading back into the open area of the park forest. The honeysuckle on this side was just beginning to open green leaves. Unfortunately, this type of honeysuckle usually is responsible for killing trees and tends to create more open areas that are virtually nothing but honeysuckle. I am not looking forward to seeing bunches of that as Spring moves to summer.

The trail continues until you reach the western most bridge, which is the only direction you can go. Photo by Jack WidnerThat brought us back to the Stage Coach trail which is a wide relatively smooth trail. This south side of the river brings one closer to the steep cliffs which have areas where one can practice rock climbing. The trail eventually returned us back into the Clifton Gorge Preserve and back to our starting point.

Returning to this old friend as the season begins to come alive was an enjoyable renewal of acquaintanceship.

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