Hocking Hills, Ohio

Cantwell Cliffs.
First stop before 10am.
We had the place to ourselves.
Soaring cliffs leads to the wooded valley below.
Tight squeezes, sheer drops, slot canyons and carved and crafted stairs form directly from the cliff wall. Lowering visitors into the chasm.
Water trickles through the cracks and leads to a small stream below.
Long autumn light filters through tall orange and brown trees made tall by their looming station on the cliff.

A blacktop road leads to a parking lot where At the end of the road is a general store/gift shop and a compound of cabins and tee pees. The trail head to the nature preserve squeezes on a narrow right of way between two larger farms. About a mile in on a looping trail is Rockbridge. Rockbridge Nature Preserve is situated on the calm Hocking River. The rock bridge formation is stunning for the eastern United States. The bridge arcs about 75 foot across 25 foot above the wash out below. Access underneath the bridge has been limited by Ohio Parks. Visitors prevented from walking in the watershed underneath the bridge, making an overall view of the bridge difficult. Ironically walking across the bridge is permitted yielding a classic view of of the Hocking River as it meanders through the trees below.

Ash Cave
Ash Cave is an enormous shelter opening. Whodathunkitinohio. This place looks and feels western. It is the largest cave of its type in Ohio. The scale is looming, a 90 foot cliff soars to the tops of mature hemlocks. The opening of the cave is over 300 foot wide. A narrow goat path leads you through the cave to an intricately carved set of stairs that lead you to the top where you are provided a grand lookout to the orange fall forest below. Trails leading from Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls through the Hocking Hills Park end here at the top of Ash Cave.

Rock House
A non-descript walk through the woods leads to a modest cliff inside the hemlock forest. The most striking feature so far are, again, the intricately designed and hand carved stairs that lead you down through racks and cliffs to an intermediate bluff below. A second more defined and severe cliff lurks below. Following the path you can hear the echoed voices of other visitors. They remain out of sight until you climb over a few large rocks to the entrance of the Rock House. Inside the cavern light pokes through from two lateral openings and another opening at the far end of the cavern. Silhouette beings move through the darkness. Their full shape and scale are only revealed while they pass through the light at the openings. High Dynamic Range photography reveals a display of the full color spectrum on the interior walls of the cavern. The opening present interesting frames for the forest outside.

Individuals and couples traversed the rocks to have their photos taken inside the openings. The far open end of the cavern leads to a ladder like staircase, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, inclined straight down into the canyon below.

Old Man’s Cave
At Old Man’s Cave we hiked to the Upper Falls and would follow another classic CCC trail through the gorge to Old man’s Cave and beyond to the Lower Falls. The Upper Falls, which was not flowing, is marked by a stone bridge over a pool of water at the foot of the falls. Rich coloration in the rocks and trees made a picturesque fall scene.

Moving through the bottom of the gorge coupled with the time of year, autumn, and time of day, late afternoon provided gorgeous light that danced on rock formations making them saturated and glowing. The gorge trail squeezes through rock crevasses, traverses through wide open points of the gorge and continues to make use of beautiful CCC stairways, bridges and tunnels leading you through to Old Man’s Cave.

The sandstone cave when isolated through the frame of the camera looks more like a desert than a temperate forest. Sandstone walls and stairs lead up the cliff to the cave perched on the hillside above the stream bed. The floor and walls of the cave are white sand and sand stone slowly eroding underfoot. The expansive opening gives more than a glimpse of the thick forest surrounding gorge. Thick hemlocks and colorful oaks line the gorge top providing a surreal vista.

Further down the gorge below the cave are the lower falls. The falls are sheltered in a bowl created by the flowing water, easily 50 feet below the elevation of the cave. Splendid rock formations loom in the center of the pool at the base of the falls. Low water allows visitors to wade out and climb on the rocks.

The setting of Hocking Hills is unique, it takes the best of the west and moves it east. Hiding it away in the Appalachian region of Southeastern Ohio. The views and attractions are stunning. I am taken by the beauty of the region and am truly surprised that this is not a National Park.

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