Hiking in the Hills: Part III

IMG_1826Our final day of hiking was probably the most scenic. Consequently, I took entirely too many pictures! When hiking — especially in autumn — I find myself taking pictures of almost everything. Nothing in the forest is safe. Every tree, rock, and leaf is subject to my never-ending scrutiny and by the end I’m left with more pictures to edit and sort through than I care to admit. It took me several days to get them ready and decide which were the best ones to share with all of you, needless to say!

Our final hiking destination was Hocking Hills State Park. Our cabin was less than a 10-minute drive from the park, so getting there bright and early was no trouble at all. It was a beautiful day for hiking — a cool, crisp breeze with bright and sunny skies. Within the park are about 15 miles of hiking trails. Some of the trails begin and end within the park while others are larger trails that pass through.

We were certainly not up for seeing all 15 miles of trail, so it took some planning to decide our chosen route. Personally, I like a hiking trail that has a lot of varied scenery, stays far enough from highways so that you can’t hear civilization, and preferably is a bit challenging in spots so that my heart rate gets elevated a little bit here and there.

We decided to begin our trek at Old Man’s Cave, following the trail through the gorge then connecting with the “Grandma Gatewood Trail” to lead us to Cedar Falls and then circling back via the Gorge Overlook trail (quite literally the trail that towered above the trail we’d come in on). In sum, we hiked about 6-6.5 miles in about 4 hours.

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In contrast to our hike at Strouds Run State Park, the trail through the gorge at Old Man’s cave was a completely different palette of colors! Strouds Run was full of warm browns, oranges, reds and golds. For the IMG_1791largest portion of this trail, we were in a world of stone, sand, slate, and deep greens.

It was extremely difficult for me to capture the immensity of the outcroppings and recesses in most of the photos. The gorge was formed by a stream which eroded the sandstone over millions of years. I was fascinated by the way that trees and other plants managed to cling precariously to the outcroppings.

Immense hunks of stone which were sometimes several stories tall lined the trail and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of sound they made as they’d tumbled from a higher perch millennia before. It was interesting to think of what an incredible bit of time lapse video it would be to see them crash to the gorge floor and then see centuries zoom past, frame-by-frame, as trees and other plants swarm and dance across them.

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Old Man’s cave, a recess cave, marked the end of the first portion of our route. In the fall, the stream here is reduced to a trickle, but the scene is still a sight and sound to behold.

The hike became a bit more challenging as we intersected with the Grandma Gatewood trail. Interestingly, the trail was named for Emma Rowena Gatewood [1887-1973]. Reading of her life makes me feel like the laziest slob on earth. Even before her amazing hiking career began, she reared eleven children and lived as a farmer’s wife. Staggering as that was, she began a notable hiking career at age 67 when she hiked the Appalachian Trail (a trail which traverses from northern Georgia to Maine at a distance of about 2,179 miles). That really puts our 6.5 miles in perspective, doesn’t it?! She hiked the trail carrying almost no supplies with her which was amazing enough, except that she hiked the trail TWO MORE TIMES in her lifetime becoming the first person to hike the entire trail three times (thru-hiking, meaning from start to finish; not in segments). A tireless woman, she also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon at a rate of about 22 miles per day. Some of us have a hard time getting from one end of the parking lot to the other!
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When she died at age 85, she’d walked more miles in the last 20 years of her life than most Americans walk in an entire lifetime. She was not a trained athlete, she did not spend a fortune on equipment and gadgets, and she did not belong to a gym. In my opinion, her likeness belongs on some form of American currency and it’s a shame she’s not a household name. Any time I feel like lying down, these days, I just ask myself what Grandma Gatewood would do!
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The Grandma Gatewood trail led us through a forest that seemed utterly enchanted in fall color. Giant stones made the scenery take on a very solemn and majestic appearance. Rather than a mere forest, it was as though we were hiking through an immense cathedral of stone arches, moulding all around us made by the ever-reaching roots of ancient trees grappling over and around the stones, stained glass made of jewel-toned leaves glistening in the sun, and a crisp breeze whispering psalms older than time itself. Again, I was taking entirely too many pictures!

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We exited the Gatewood trail at Cedar Falls — another scenic wonder within the state park. It was interesting to note that Cedar Falls is actually misnamed due to a misunderstanding. Early settlers who came to the area apparently mistook the hemlock trees surrounding the falls and populating a good bit of the forest as cedars. Alas, the misnomer has stuck and there are no plans to change the name in the foreseeable future. I guess Hemlock Falls will never be.
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Having seen larger waterfalls elsewhere, I guess the best part about the waterfalls in Hocking Hills State Park is the journey through the forest and gorges. So — even though Cedar Falls was a beautiful vista, it wasn’t long IMG_1850before we ascended the giant staircase that led us up and out of the gorge, headed for the Gorge Overlook Trail which would lead us back to our starting point.

The Gorge Overlook Trail was promised to be the most challenging leg of our journey. Several sources touted the claim, so we were excited about what was ahead. Other than two or three fairly steep climbs up forested hills, the trail seemed no more rigorous than the Gramma Gatewood trail, in my amateur opinion.

Though it proved to be less of a challenge than we’d expected, the trail did take us through more of the beautiful forest — this time at dizzying heights above the gorge we’d already hiked through. While not what I’d consider challenging, the trail certainly had a heightened level of danger since you could easily be an idiot and wander yourself right over the edge of a cliff! Mother Nature doesn’t build guard rails, after all.

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Another beautiful bit of scenery was the Hocking Hills Reservoir — or it’s prettier name, Rose Lake. The trail leads you across the dam which forms the lake and you get a beautiful sweeping view. There are no roads leading to the lake, so you get the giddy sensation of being somewhere you can’t get to by modern means. I’m glad, also, that I did not learn of local legends of hauntings in the Rose Lake area until well after we’d left, by the way.

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By and by, we found ourselves back at the Old Man’s Cave area of the park and gazing at our car in the parking lot. Unwisely, we’d brought no snacks with us, only bottled water. So, it was with reckless abandon that we made our way to the Hocking Hills Lodge and ordered cheeseburgers with fries and onion rings! They were decidedly naughty and we ate them in the lodge’s retro-decorated but beautifully panoramic dining room, overlooking the park.

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~ by Jason on November 23, 2010.

2 Responses to “Hiking in the Hills: Part III”

  1. Ah… The pictures totally make the story. It looks like it was a great time.

    • Thanks, Ben! Hocking Hills State Park is a lovely find — a startling collection of hills and caverns in what’s largely a flat though no less beautiful state. We’d love to go back, sometime, when the waterfalls are more active. Thanks for reading.

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