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Thomas R. Fletcher
Thundering water is the dominant sound. Surrounded by canyon walls, now and then I hear the determined chirping of a bird. This particular bird is determined not to have its voice drowned out by the roaring water. It rained a good part of the night and Cedar Falls is booming. I have the park to myself this morning. It's early and it's raining--two factors which lessen the chances that I will encounter others. There is a special beauty to the rain-drenched forest. Colors appear more saturated, there is a special calm. The towering pines, the falls, Queer Creek swirling past all add to the mood. The rain this morning is a constant misting with intermittent downpours. This is as I desire it, alone in the beauty and solitude of nature.
My morning stroll in the Cedar Falls section of Hocking Hills State Park was just the beginning of my delightful discoveries in this southeastern section of Ohio. Later the same day I was to visit "Rock House," a house-like cave set back in a wall of sandstone midway up the wall's 150 foot height. The color variations in the sandstone are simply amazing. Such is something one would expect to find in the U.S. southwest, but in southeastern Ohio? The cave has been known of since the earliest explorers reached this region. I found several very old dates carved into the walls, many from the early to mid-1800's and one from the 1790's. It is rumored to have once been the hangout of robbers. I have no trouble envisioning a group such as the "Hole in the Wall Gang" riding in, dust boiling in the background. Rock House is an eroded corridor 200 feet long with a ceiling 25 feet high. Numerous naturally formed "windows" overlook the surrounding terrain. The view out the back window encompasses a waterfall plunging 150 feet over the rock wall.
My visit to Hocking County was in mid-spring, so the streams were at their fullest. It seemed there were waterfalls everywhere I turned. Pouring over the ledge at Ash Cave was a beautiful falls plunging 90+ feet into a lovely pool at the base. Ash Cave is a huge recess cave that was used as a shelter by Native Americans for centuries. It is the largest recess cave in the state of Ohio. (Recess caves are formed by the erosion of softer sandstone layers underlying a harder top layer that remains intact.) Ash Cave is named for the large pile of ashes discovered there by early explorers. These ashes represented centuries of Native American fires built in this natural shelter.
Another unusual and mysterious place I wanted to visit was Conkles Hollow. This area was named for an inscription, "W.J. Conkle 1797," found on one of the canyon walls. Conkles Hollow is the deepest gorge in Ohio. Sheer sandstone cliffs rise 200 feet from the valley floor. Stately hemlocks abound in this area, which was named an Ohio State Nature Preserve in 1977. Some of these majestic trees have fallen from the canyon ledge, lodging themselves in the gorge below, adding a surprising element of beauty. This narrow gorge of fallen trees and multiple waterfalls is one of breath-taking beauty.
I have visited other areas of Ohio, which were mostly flat. The glaciers of the last Ice Age, which leveled northern Ohio, stopped short of this region--leaving the hills, ledges, and canyons unscathed. The Hocking Hills area is one of unexpected natural delight. The rolling hills would seem more in place in either West Virginia or Kentucky. (Although, I have never found such a relatively small area in either state with so many waterfalls.) The beautiful multi-colored sandstone formations would seem more at home in New Mexico or Arizona.
The regions just described are all part of the Hocking Hills State Park. There are several other areas of particular beauty included in the Park. Cantwell Cliffs, the northernmost area, is probably the least visited. Here one finds narrow passages through sheer rock canyons, high sandstone cliffs, and (you guessed it) more waterfalls. Probably the most well-known section of the park is Old Man's Cave. This is the most visited area. In fact, many people believe "Old Man's Cave" to be the name of the park system. This area takes its name from the hermit, Richard Rowe, who lived in the large recess cave of the gorge. Old Man's Cave features a campground with 172 sites.
As evening drew near, I had many, many new miles on my hiking boots. Still I realized I had only started to discover this region. Many areas beckoned for my attention. In addition to the natural beauty to be explored, the area is dotted with craft shops. Since wood is an abundant natural resource, there are many woodworking shops. One such shop is Terry Lingo's "Creations with Nature," where one may special order hand-crafted beds, cabinets, and other furniture items. However, that sort of exploration would have to wait for another day. I was tired and the dinner hour at my place of stay was drawing near.
Situated in the midst of these wonders of nature is The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls. Here I found a quiet place of rest, which added to the tranquil surroundings. There are no televisions nor telephones in the rooms. The wooden floors and antique furnishings take one back to yesteryear. However, the gourmet meals remind one that this is the late 1990's. The evening meal began at 6:45 with a Tri-Cheese Ball and Cracker appetizer. We were then served a Chill Bell Pepper with Basil Soup. The main course consisted of Potato Crusted Tuna, Nutted Brown Rice Pilaf, Yellow Squash and Zucchini. Dessert was a Cherry Crumb Pie with a Vanilla Sauce which was mouth-watering. The food was definitely top-notch.
The inn has nine rooms, each with private bath. There also are five secluded cabins available for rent. These are renovated, completely modernized 19th century log cabins, built of huge chestnut logs. The inn is located on a relatively secluded 75 acres, and completed a wonderful experience in the natural beauty of Hocking County.
As I waddled away from the dining room and up the hill to my room, the sun's rays broke through the clearing clouds. A beautiful yellow-orange light was cast upon the rail fence surrounding the garden. The rain clouds were rolling away, my stomach was filled with delicious food, and the sun's rays were warm on my back--a perfect end to a perfect day.
Text and Photos [c] Thomas R. Fletcher PROSE & PHOTOS