Friday, August 7, 2009

Hocking Hills State Park - Part 2

When I traveled to Hocking Hills State Park for the first time with my brother, I wasn't sure just what to expect. I had two immediate reactions: this was a wonderful geologic phenomenon that pictures simply cannot do justice and I was amazed at the number of casual tourists visting the primary features.

As I said in my last posting, the State Parks department has spent money and time to create easily accessible "points" for tourists to come in and view. This includes making the trails as easy to traverse as possible, building wooden bridges or steps when necessary to get you into the zone, and clearing some of it so the rock formations are much more visible. All of this is fine since there are more difficult hiking trails branching off from the individual stops. Unfortunately for us, the day, which started brightly enough devolved into solid hard rain.

Our second stop on our visit was to the "point" called the Rock House. This apparently is the only true cave in the area formed from erosion in the center of huge Black Hand sandstone that comprises the area. Black Hand sandstone is a primary base for a lot of this area of the hills coming from the early Mississippian era. A close look at the sandstone to me looked like very dry (though it was rock hard) sand pebbles and small whitish quartz stones. The Rock House itself sits up a 150 foot cliff and forms a tunnel-like area with various softly edged openings. There was a rumor that this was a location where notorious gangster Pretty Boy Floyd hid out, but I could find no proof to that rumor. I do know that people had been coming to area for ages though only those in the late 19th century had begun recording their visits (photo shows June 1889). According to the literature, water leaking from a horizontal joint parallel to the cliff face is responsible for the hollowing of this sandstone.

Historically, the area was used by Indians and later settlers as a platform for creating turpentine.
There are formations inside the cave that provided platforms and where sections had been created to allow the sap to run out of the pine wood as it was burned. As Turpentine was a vital part of Indian folk medicine, they produced it regularly. In 1835, one Colonel F.F. Rempel built a hotel complete with ballroom, livery stable and Post Office near the picnic grounds. None of that still stands, however.

From a hiking perspective, getting to the Rock House is a bit harder than that of Old Man's Cave. That possibly, its lesser popularity and the weather changing lowered the number of people our day there. Due to the wetness mixed with bright light, the views provided a wonder world, our own little land of the lost!
There is some climbing up some rocky footpaths along with some precarious views, but generally, to the careful hiker, the trail is moderate and safe.

The trail does have a history in which an early settler of the area was moving along the trail when he was attacked by a bear and gravely injured. He was able to escape, but later died and his widow and family soon left the area behind for safer counties.

When we reached the cave itself, the light was such that it was reasonably dark inside. Though the floor is relatively smooth, there were places you had to be careful to avoid tripping. While we weren't prepared, there were some people with flashlights to see inside. The tunnel-like area has "windows" so walking along it wasn't extremely precarious.

With the weather still holding, we decided to leave the immediate area and head to our final stop, the Cantwell Cliffs. (posting to follow).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hocking Hills State Park - Part 1

Last weekend I visited Hocking Hills State Park with my brother to hike some of its trails. I had not been to the Park before though since I have lived in Ohio, people were constantly telling me I needed to visit Hocking Hills. More specifically I would be told I needed to visit Old Man's Cave. Over the years I heard plenty about it, but never found the time to get over there. It is nearly a 3 hour drive for me just to get there. But through the inspiration of my brother, for whom it was a 5 hour drive from his Pennsylvania homestead, I felt it was time to see it. As I arrived near the entrance of the park, I came upon this interplay of light and nature that I hoped bode well for the day.

Hocking Hills State Park is actually a large area located in Southeast Ohio with several different specially created tourist stops requiring a drive to each one, or an extended hike to see them. Unfortunately, for us, while the day started out promising after an overnight rainstorm, the bad weather began to return and so our hiking was limited to driving to each location then hiking into some of its outsanding geological features.

The park service has made these geologic stops into more easily accessed spots for tourists. The initial hike into each area has fairly cleared paths or areas accessible with minor difficulties. The sites themselves are a wonder to behold, but due to the initial access, all kinds of non-hiking people can be found including people with babies, dogs and dressed in sandals and other non-hike dress. However, leading off from these locations are trails that definitely require some expertise. Despite the number of tourists visiting, there are still dangerous cliff that could result in 80 feet or more falls, so the area still requires caution.

Come, Traveller, this hollow Rock beneath,
While in the leaves refreshing Breezes breath;

Retire to calm the Rage of burning Thirst,

In these cool Streams that from the Caverns burst.

Despite all of that, the wonders of the place are worth seeing. Our visit took us first to Old Man's Cave. Despite its name, it is not truly a cave. It is well known to most Ohioans and one of the first things I heard about after I moved to the state when talk of visiting the state parks came up. The spot is quite amazing to visit. The gorge it is part of is approximately 1 mile long with such geologic features such as waterfalls (though there is a drought and very little water falls), sandstone cliffs smoothly eroded giving them a sort of eerie look, and rock formations that have been named because of their appearance to various elements of nature. The park department has made various levels of the area easily accessible even to the casual visitor: wooden steps, dusted trails, carved stone steps and bridges.

The story behind the "cave" is that a man named Richard Rowe, an early 19th century hermit, lived in it. The Rowe family migrated in the 18th century from the Kentucky area to the Ohio River where he set up a trading post. Richard worked in his father's trading post and would make trips every autumn to the gorge where he would stay and trap for pelts to take back to the trading center. Staying through the cold season, one day, he went to the creek to get a supply of water. Using the butt of his musket to break the ice. The weapon discharged with the muzzle pointing under his chin. A few days later, his body was discovered by some other trappers in the area. They covered his body with the bark of an Oak tree and buried him in the sand on the ledge.

In later years, a mythology built up around Richard Rowe and the gorge. Avoiding the area, children would be told that an old man lived in a cave there and had shot and killed himself. Soon the area came to be known as Old Man's Cave.

My brother and I left the confines of the tourist area and began traversing the creek, but found that the trail seemed to fade away. So with storms threatening, we turned back and decided to head to our next destination - The Rock House. (Posting to follow)