Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hocking Hills State Park - Ohio's Crown Jewel

Do not underestimate Ohio.  I did.  It has some world class natural beauty.  And today I passed through the heart of it.  According to the girl helping me at the park office, the Hocking Hills area is Ohio's best.  This area boasts more big sandstone rock shelters (natural cliff dwellings) than anywhere else in the east.  It even has slot canyons.

It's like Utah with forests, though I don't know of any natural arches here.  If you're a particular fan of 'walk-behind' waterfalls, as I am, then this is the go-to place in the east, if not the entire country.  There is a greater concentration of them here than anywhere else I know about.

The biggest rock shelter in Ohio is Ash Cave, shown in the photo up top.  Stunningly it combines the best walk-behind waterfall of the many I've seen.  None other comes close.  Because of that combination of world-class rock shelter and exceptional waterfall, Ash Cave stands alone.  It is a natural wonder unlike any other, by my estimation.  It is hard to do justice to a place like this in a 2-D photograph, but the one above was my best attempt.

I've been to Mesa Verde in SW Colorado.  Ash Cave is every bit as cavernous as 'Cliff Palace' in terms of height and depth of the enclosure.  Obviously it lacks the dwellings, but in their place it has its own walk-in shower.  Live here and you don't need to haul water up from some distant stream.  And of course it has the lush, verdant, hardwood forest vegetation.

The 5.3 miles of Buckeye Trail through Hocking Hills was dedicated by and named for Emma Gatewood, a native to southeastern Ohio, famous for her 1955 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail wearing Keds and carrying her gear in a home-made denim sack slung over her shoulder.  Her namesake trail is extremely heavily used, in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the Buckeye Trail.  In the Old Man's Cave area creative trail building has perhaps reached its epitome.

I know of no other long-distance trail in the country that can boast a dedicated, foot-traffic-only man-made tunnel.

Besides rock shelters the Grandma Gatewood Trail features some fine waterfalls, best of which is Cedar Falls.

As far as walk-behind falls, the trail goes under this one, just a small stream but a very tall fall.

In the middle, the trail also comes up on a ridge and passes a fire tower, built in the 1930's, that you can climb.

The view is of nothing but flat-seeming forest--no mountain ranges, no lakes, no grand vista, nothing but trees.  So I haven't bothered to show it.  Instead I'll show a peculiar root-smothered boulder.

And of-course, one was rarely out of sight of the ubiquitous sandstone cliffs and buttresses.

Outside of Hocking Hills State Park proper, there are half a dozen more fine trail miles in Hocking State Forest.  Here I passed through a stately pine plantation.

I took a side trip to see a secret grotto with another lofty walk-behind fall, though it was just a splattering trickle on this day.

The semi-rare pink lady slippers were in bloom.  They're a wild orchid.

Weather was ideal for experiencing this natural beauty, and crowds were relatively modest in the busy area.  That means you could usually get shots without people in them if you wanted to, although the throngs were definitely there--witness the wider shot at Cedar Falls.

Anyhow, it was a day that is going to be hard to beat as I continue down the Buckeye Trail.  But maybe, just maybe, there are more surprises in store.

There were two days of hiking that got me to Hocking Hills including the Bill Miller Trail around Logan Lake.

On the evening of the first of those days, back in my motel at sunset, I was treated to a first-class rainbow.

Here are the GPS screen shots of the tracks for those two approach days and the day in Hocking Hills.  Also attached below is the interactive Wikiloc track for the Grandma Gatewood Trail section.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Boch Hollow Preserve - a Hiker's Nirvana

I was expecting today to be a tedious stretch of road walking.  I could not have been more misguided.  What actually unfolded beneath my feet was one of the nicest 4.2 miles of woods trail a hiker could hope to experience.

How could this happen?  Well, I was carrying the latest Buckeye Trail official map (dated August 2014).  But it was outdated, and the Trail web site said so.  The wonderful new bit of trail through Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve had opened on November 16th, 2016.

Yes, I had done my due diligence--on paper at least.  I had gone to the Buckeye Trail Association web site and printed the latest trail updates.  Problem:  they were sitting back in my motel room.  I hadn't looked at them, and I was only carrying the outdated map as I hiked.

Here's my proof, complete with the date stamp--the relevant bit of the page I printed back at home on March 30th and then stuffed among my trail papers and forgot to consult.

Buckeye Trail Association, you did your job.  Two overused old sayings apply:

"You can lead a horse ... a thick-headed old hiker ... to the current trail info, but you can't make him read it."

"You can't teach an old dog ... a thick-headed old hiker ... new tricks" (like consulting internet updates to paper maps.)

So today I was expecting to be spanning a gap between nice trail segments in Wayne National Forest and the Bill Miller Trail at Lake Logan State Park, and I expected to be bored.

Fortunately my August 2014 map did mention a parking place along Beach Camp Road--a trailhead into some local trails, it seemed--just a place to park my car.

When I got there I walked over to the kiosk just to read the information.  First I noted this cute moss-adorned nest with little chicklets and an unhatched egg perched under the protective kiosk roof and right beside an interpretive note about local bird life!

After marveling at and photographing the nest I wandered over to a nearby trail map.  Here I've suitably annotated it with my shocked reaction.

What a pleasant surprise.  I moved over to the west trailhead and marched into the woods.  It was fresh new trail, perfectly blazed and with maps identical to the one above at every trail junction.  At every point where maintenance cart paths or old roads crossed the trail there were clear markers saying 'Not a Trail'.  Even a thick-headed old half-blind hiker couldn't lose the trail here.

The trail passed through young succession areas--meadows beginning to grow over with new forest.  Here the Preserve maintainers keep the trail as closely mown as somebody's lawn.

Elsewhere the trail meanders through mature forest that hasn't been disturbed for decades.  It passes two serene little ponds.  This one was the best.

And it skirts what they call rock shelters (overhangs - see photo up top) and great sandstone rock walls, foreshadowing the upcoming Hocking Hills trails.

The rest of the day I was indeed on roads.  But the afterglow of Boch Hollow stuck with me, and I wasn't bored at all.  It was quiet country and choirs of May flowers in the grassy fields were singing.

It was a hot day--so hot that I found myself leaving clear evidence of my Personal Continuous Footpath.

My North Carolina connections must have been in play here.  I left today's hiking as a real "tar-heel".

The heat began to boil up into thunderstorms.

Fortunately, except for a brief cooling sprinkle, the storms held off until I was driving back to my motel.  But then it looked as if Judgement Day had arrived.  We were under a severe storm warning.

But I got safely to my room.  Here's the static map of the day's hiking and the Wikiloc interactive map.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Burr Oak Lake, Wayne National Forest, and a visit to Buckeye Trail HQ

Four days on some great off-road trail took me through the spiritual heart of the Buckeye Trail.  Here it is host to three great trails - North Country, Buckeye, and American Discovery - and here it has located its headquarters.

The area is economically challenged.  The main street of the town of Shawnee, where the headquarters building stands, contains more abandoned, hopelessly deteriorating buildings than it does habitable ones.  Yet they all speak of a grand past.  The much larger town of Glouster has a similar plight.  The great promenade of downtown store-fronts along High Street was largely empty.  It felt like a ghost town.

I've found that where there are economic challenges there are also trail challenges.  This is an area where the off-road trail, despite signs inviting foot traffic but prohibiting all motor vehicles, has been infested with ATV and motorcycle traffic.

Some of it could be attributed to workers accessing old oil wells that, in some cases, are being given new life with new technology.  Some of it can definitely also be attributed to local government actions.  The town of New Straitsville, just a mile and a half from the worst of the violations, has designated itself an officially 'ATV friendly' town.  If I understand correctly this means ATV riders can legally use public roads.  Finally, Wayne National Forest itself probably contributes to the problem, given that its Monday Creek ATV trail system is so close to the Buckeye Trail in the New Straitsville area.

Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight.  A few rogue ATV riders using foot-traffic-only trails tear them up and the damage takes years to recover.  If a few rogue hikers use ATV trails ... well ... nobody even notices.

Who has more numbers statewide?  Well, as of this writing, the Ohio Motorized Trails Association Facebook page has 1694 'likes', and the Buckeye Trail Association has 2910.

Now, let's compare an infestation of rogue ATV riders to nature's own rogues.  One could say that use of ATV's is evidence of man's evolutionary advantage.  Well, the Oak Apple Gall Wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) has evolved the ability to turn a simple oak leaf into a virtually impenetrable, too big to swallow, fortress.

Somehow this tiny quarter-inch worm has worked out the chemical messages to con the oak tree into constructing an amazingly elaborate structure that does not benefit the tree at all.

Yet the oak tree endures, its stately splendor undiminished.  Nature has a way of keeping its rogues in balance.  I'm sure that will be the case with the human infestations as well.

Okay, off the soap box and onto the trail.  Burr Oak Lake is a wonderful serene setting.

No ATVs on the trails here, and even the waters are regulated.  Boat motors are mostly of the silent electric type.  Anyone with a motor greater than ten horsepower must keep it at 'no wake' idle speed.  I saw more kayakers than motorized boaters.  The carp thrashing about in shallow mud flats made far more noise.

This part of Ohio is notable for its 'grotto' style waterfalls.  Here's the latest example - a walk-behind trickle of a waterfall in Burr Oak State Park.

There were some road walk sections during these four days.  Here the invasive, ubiquitous, European native multiflora rose was at peak bloom.

My favorite roadside sight was this venerable old pine in Salem Cemetery.

Back on trail in Wayne National Forest, there was some pleasant woods walking.  (I've selected a non-ATV-infested scene.)

And in the midst I took the 0.4 mile white-blaze side trail to the Buckeye Trail Association office and enjoyed a pleasant half hour chat with Executive Director Andrew Bashaw.  I never cease to be amazed how much there is to talk about with another trail person.  Thanks for the sticker, Andrew!  I added it to the collection on the back of my van.  I bought an orange Buckeye Trail t-shirt too, and I'll add that to my 'rotation' of hiking shirts.

Now I'm leaving Wayne National Forest.  The last of it comes at this nice trailhead ...

... then its off to do some road walking with my head held high.

ATVs can roar around all they like.  I prefer to take my trails slow and quiet.

Here's the GPS track images of the four days of hiking reported here.

For the interactive map of the latest hikes, zoom in on Ohio in this overview map.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Bridging the gap from AEP ReCreation Lands to Burr Oak State Park

It was three days of road walking, mostly on very quiet roads.  But it was still road walking, meaning that even when you're in the woods, you're buffered from nature by a wide, dead, gravel or asphalt surface.

There were some fine sights along the way, though.  The Williams Covered Bridge, built in 1872, was perhaps the highlight (see above).  I crossed the Muskingum River at the Lock Six dam in the town of Stockport.  Water was roaring over the dam.

That building on the far side is an Inn.  You can rent a room with a balcony overlooking and overhearing that wonderful white noise of cascading water.  Here's Lock Six itself.  It's still in use, apparently, though it dates back to the nineteenth century.

Along Olney Run Road, the creek itself offered a nice cascade on a much smaller scale.

For the fourth time in my hiking career I gained canine hiking companions for a mile or more.  These two young gals barked at me as I passed their farm, but then became amiable and curious scouts until we approached a house with another dog.

What possesses a dog to leave its home and follow an itinerant wanderer I do not know.  I wonder what it says about their masters.

I have to confess that in the middle of the second day of this road trek there were two one mile stretches in the woods on former roads across private land.

That's a buckeye leaf in the foreground, the namesake of the Trail and the state tree, Aesculus glabra.  It's in bloom now.  Its clusters of flowers aren't very showy until you look closely, then they resemble little 'jack-in-the-pulpits' or pitcher plants.

More conventionally showy flowers are abundant now too.  Here are wild blackberry blooms with a backdrop of domestic roses and iris.

Four times during this three days the roads the trail uses were so minor that they didn't have bridges over creeks. 

But they're still roads, not trail.  Thankfully by the end of the third day I was on the verge of a good chunk of popular foot trail around Burr Oak Reservoir.  On the third day, at the town of Chesterhill, the American Discovery Trail joined the route of the Buckeye and North Country Trails.  Wow.  Three Trails for the price of one.

Here's the GPS track screen shots for the three days, as I worked my way generally toward the west. 

I'm not presenting the interactive maps from Wikiloc because there are a whole raft of them.  To study my route in all the intimate detail you want via the Wikiloc maps, you can always go to my 'Hopping Rocks' page.

So tomorrow its into Burr Oak State Park.  I can't wait.