Saturday, June 15, 2013

Old Man's Cave & Cedar Falls - Hocking Hills

Last weekend Kenneth and I met my parents, sister, Brittney, and her boyfriend Cam, outside of Logan, Ohio to go hiking.  My parents had rented a cabin for the weekend and Kenneth and I came for breakfast and a hike at Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls on Saturday. I'm including a review of these parks on my blog because while Hocking Hills is not in Columbus, it's an easy hour and a half drive from the Capital City and is definitely worth the trip!

My family used to go to Hocking Hills all the time when I was growing up.  We'd usually rent a cabin for a few days or just the weekend and hike at a few different parks, mostly visiting in the summer or winter.  This area of Ohio is magical, the hills and caves, the plants and wildlife - they always make me feel like I've been transported to another world!  One of my favorite books, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, was being made into a series of three films around the time that we visited Hocking Hills the most.  Brittney and I must have watched the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, a hundred times!  We even took a VHS tape of it to a cabin one winter to watch.  When we went hiking we felt like we were following the path of Frodo and the other hobbits though the hills and forests of the Shire or Rivendell - the woods had that much of a hold on us and our imaginations.

When Kenneth and I went to college at Ohio University in Athens - Hocking Hills was less than a half hour drive away.  Several of my plant biology classes field trips went to Hocking Hills to study plant ecology or mushrooms.  Kenneth and I were able to visit the area during any season and we went on one of our most memorable hikes after a winter ice storm.  We went to Old Man's Cave and discovered waterfalls that had turned into huge icicles and large pools of water completely frozen over.  Buds on trees were captured in large ice 'droplets', reminding me of ancient mosquitos preserved in amber.  There were very few other hikers that day so we had this winter wonderland all to ourselves! 

On Saturday we packed lunch in a cooler and headed to Old Man's Cave.  We hiked the upper trail to Cedar Falls, then returned to eat a very late lunch at the picnic shelter before hiking the lower trail at Old Man's Cave.  My Mom and I used to birdwatch when I was in high school (yes, I was a nerd, still am and am proud of it!), so we aren't the fastest hikers.  We both forgot to bring binoculars, which slowed us down even more than usual as we tried to snap blurry photos of birds to try to identify back at the cabin.  My Dad and sister are used to us stopping on the trail to gaze up into the trees, trying to pinpoint where that bird is, the one singing a slightly familiar song that we can't quite place.  They usually hike ahead, but stop when we're almost out of sight. Cam stayed with Dad and Britt and Kenneth hovered between them and my Mom and I, he's used to me stopping in the middle of a hike and is starting to learn some common birdsongs.

During our hike and at the cabin we spotted and/or heard eight notable species that we were able to identify.  At the cabin we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Eastern Phoebe and many House Wrens.  While we were hiking we heard ad saw Wood Thrushes, Black-throated Green Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes and a curious Blue Jay.  I adore the flute-like song of the Wood Thrush, which Henry David Thoreau described perfectly: "This bird never fails to speak to me out of an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal beauty and vigor."  The Louisiana Waterthrush was a bird Mom and I excitedly photographed and made mental notes on its behavior (it constantly bobbed its tail as it walked).  I had no idea what it was, but we were able to find it online once we got back to the cabin.

Cedar Falls has always been my favorite of the Hocking Hills parks - mostly because of the picturesque falls, but also because of the funny way in which the falls were named.  When Europeans began exploring the Hocking Hills area, they were a little rusty on their Eastern North American Forest tree ID.  They mistakenly identified the Eastern Hemlock trees found near the falls as cedar trees, hence the name, Cedar Falls.  Hemlock trees are one of my favorite conifers, and there are plenty to be found in the Hocking Hills area.  Most of the trees giving us shade as we hiked from Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls on the upper trail, were hemlock trees.  Other cool plants we spotted include squaw root (Conopholis americana, a parasitic plant, not pictured), a very fragrant flowering viburnum (pictured below, top left), liverworts (pictured in the last photo collage, bottom center) and a cool penstemon (pictured below, top right).

We also found some really cool insects during our hike.  We saw two different species of millipedes, the very large Narceus americanus and Apheloria virginiensis corrugata (pictured below, top left).  The black and yellow A. virginiensis corrugata millipede emits cyanide as a defense mechanism and could make a person who handles the millipede sick if they don't wash their hands.  We didn't handle any insects we encountered - I'm not a fan of feeling all those legs crawling on me!

I had a lightening bug land on my jeans at Cedar Falls, I'm not very good at insect ID, but after searching online I think it might be Photinus pyralis, or the common eastern firefly.  The butterfly pictured below (bottom left) is one of the few Ohio butterflies I can readily ID: the Red-spotted Purple!  I have not yet identified the other two insects pictured, but both allowed me to get really close-up photos.  I really like photographing bees, they always seem too preoccupied with their work collecting pollen to notice me and my camera.

After our very late lunch and hike in the lower portion of Old Man's Cave, Kenneth and I stopped in the visitor's center.  The displays include information on the history of Hocking Hills, what the area was like during different geologic eras and some of the animals that can be found nearby (with a sign reminding visitors not to feed them!).

We've been in the visitor center before, and I've always been drawn to the a small display about a woman named Emma 'Grandma' Gatewood (pictured below, right center).  Gatewood was born in Gallia County, Ohio and hiked the Appalachian Trail solo three times, starting at age 67, she finished her third hike at age 75.  I have been on portions of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and I hope to someday hike the whole thing.  Emma Gatewood will be a great source of inspiration!  On Saturday when we hiked from Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls, we were on part of the Grandma Gatewood Trail which connects Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls and Ash Cave.  Eden Valley Enterprises is currently working on a documentary about Gatewood.

All of our visits to Hocking Hills are fun and memorable, and Saturday's hike was no exception!  It was great to visit with my family and relive some childhood memories - my sister and I always talk about this scene from The Fellowship of the Ring when hiking in Hocking Hills - it's become a goofy tradition.

If you're looking for a day or weekend trip out of Columbus to immerse yourself in nature - check out Hocking Hills!  There are twelve fantastic parks to explore including: Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, Conkle’s Hollow, Tar Hollow, Lake Logan, Lake Hope, Rock Bridge, Clear Creek and Wayne National Forest.  

For more information about Hocking Hills, check out the following websites: ODNR - Hocking Hills State and