McConnells Mill State Park

An autumn chill was in the air and the rains from the previous night eliminated any remaining leaves from the trees. With the leaves on the ground rather than on the trees this is the start of winter. Nature and ecology begin to slow down and inch toward hibernation at Hell Hollow. A trickle of water moves through Hell Run before the falls, the stream has a greater flow underground than above ground here. Moving down the one mile path towards Hell Hollow Falls reveals a recent geological creation. Situated on the glacial moraine the stream cuts a narrow slot canyon through through the soft rock. The canyon acts as a funnel collecting, narrowing and speeding the stream as it moves towards the falls.

Just above the falls is a deep basin that collects the water before dropping over the ten foot drop. The water slowly spins and churns the freshly fallen leaves in concentric circles. The pattern is subtle, mesmerizing and may go unnoticed to the casual observer. A slower pace walking through the hollow is revealing. Water churns over the broad falls making the wet rock appear black. A constant light mist generated by the falls mixed with a mud coating on all of the rocks makes for a slippery situation. This situation may have lent its name to the Slippery Rock Creek. After the falls, the stream enters the Slippery Rock Gorge and flows over another series of small rock shelves to the larger creek below.

The original gorge is thought to have formed in a single geological event 140,000 years ago and further eroded to what we see today during the last glaciation over 23,00 years ago. The resulting events left rocky cliffs, outcroppings and walls throughout the gorge. Several other waterfalls careen over the cliff walls providing hidden retreats high along the cliff walls. The rocks and crevasses provide a perfect place for repelling and climbing and relaxing.

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.

Rockbridge.
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.

Point State Park

In the heart of downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers sits Point State Park. This park is hardly wild. No tree, flower or shrubs exists there without the planning of a landscaper. The park provides green space and a respite for the humanly wild activities taking place all around. It contains history dating to the founding of the city 250 years ago. It contains the oldest building in the city of Pittsburgh, the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, as well as the landmark fountain marking the head of the Ohio River. During the fall months the foliage in the park accents the architecture of the city in close proximity and the green ways lining the hillsides above the city. A rivers edge bike trail passes through the park and a kayak launch is nearby making Point State Park a central destination for a lunch hour respite by biking, kayaking or fishing.

Keystone State Park

Peak color arrived right on schedule in mid October at Keystone State Park located in the Appalachian foothills just below the Chestnut Ridge. A mid morning hike with my two small children began with lunch at a picnic grove sheltered under a beautiful stand of oak and maple trees situated at the edge of Keystone Lake. The ground was covered with brown and orange leaves. Many more remained hanging on the trees as they have not yet yielded to the coming winter season. My youngest son, not yet walking, chased his older more mobile brother as he crawled on the ground with leaves crackling and crisping under his hands and knees.

After lunch we set out along the level and easy Lakeside Trail to take advantage of it’s views of the wetlands at the far end of the lake and it’s colorful panoramas of autumn leaves. After the short hike around the lake we walked the more rugged trails along the Loyalhanna Creek to take in fall color that plays on the water with filter light. The trails provide great access to the creek for fishing, hiking and picnicing with family and freinds.

Franfort Mineral Springs

Soaking, cool, fall rain christened my annual pilgrimage to Frankfort Mineral Springs. The theme for today’s photography walk would only be water.

Two short 1/4 mile up the hill trails lead to the site of the springs. The left one traverses through the rocky gully carrying water down from the mineral springs, while the right one follows an old road bed that has been closed to traffic decades ago leading to the former site of the mineral springs resort. I chose the trail through the gully.  Shortly, I reached the crumbling rock overhang which is being slowly eaten away by the brook as it careens over the rock layer. Since my last visit more of the outcropping has become part of the creek bed.

Here, iron oxide gathers on the outlets of the springs, tinting the rocks and cracks with a deep and brilliant orange color. The oxide pervades from all of the seepage sources as hard water leaches from inside the shallow cave.

Diffuse light illuminated a light fog rolling over the narrow valley. Calming the mind were the sounds of rain hitting the brittle autumn leaves still attached to the trees and a rhythmic tempo as a delicate stream of water rolled over the ten foot waterfall.

More GigaPan

My GigaPan unit finally arrived. Initially, I intended to modify the GigaPan robot to accept my Nikon D200, but I purchased a Canon G9 instead. Being a Nikon user, it has been more of a struggle to get used to the Canon camera than it has been to use the GigaPan robot. It operates in a very logical and systematic fashion.

The camera and robot aside, the real struggle starts in the editing phase. The GigaPan Stitcher works well at compiling the images for the panorama. The process of aligning is not a fast one. It takes up to 8 hours to compile the finished product. So far I have only had success in compiling images on my MacBook Pro, my PC has been a total disaster. It crashed the computer several times. Inconvieniently, I have not been present when it crashes so I miss any messages or warnings that it may provide. I guess I’ll need to set aside 8 hours to sit and watch.

This panorama created with my MacBook Pro of Moon Park in Moon Twp. , Pa. is about 370 images. My wife and son Andrew appear in the photo twice.

Roaring Run

One thousand feet up and 1000 feet down. From the parking space of of County Line Road between Westmoreland and Fayette Counties to the top of Birch Hill and the rock outcropping at the summit is nearly 900 vertical feet. The clearly marked trail to the rocks meanders around shallow saddles and rises through a maturing forest with little undergrowth and a clear forest floor. Closer to the summit, rocks begin to dot the ground. A cloud scrapes across the top of the summit encapsulating the high point in an eerie early morning fog. The misty shroud blocks any vista that would normally greet visitors at the top. Wild signs abound and are contrasted by signs of human activity. Fresh fox scat is scattered about the cliff faces. A small weathered stone shelter comprised of the greenish mossy rocks present could provide a redoubt during inclement weather.

One thousand feet down in the valley below is Roaring Run. The mountain stream is lined with trails that were formerly railroad grade to tranport lumber out of the forest to mills below in the town of Champion. In late September the creek is running slow but steady. The green leaves of the trees lining the creek filter the melancholy light through the faded green leaves as autumn is rapidly approaching. Soon Roaring Run will freeze in it’s place waiting for spring to funnel the mountain snow melt to a larger watershed west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Point Park University announces School of Communication

Point Park University announce its new school of Communication yesterday in the newly renovated lobby of Lawrence Hall. Proudly, I am a member of the School’s faculty. The announcement culminated three years of hard work by our faculty and staff.

Helen Fallon will be the acting Dean of the School while Robert O’Gara will be the chairman of the Department of Journalism

Read the release here

GigaPan

This is my first attempt a using GigaPan (see mine here) technology to create images. I owe this image to my colleague, Dror Yaron, from the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. Dror, a beta tester for GigaPan, was kind enough to bring his device to Point Park University for me to try out. He made such a compelling case for the usefulness of the device that I signed up to be a beta tester and I purchased one of the devices for myself.

The device is a small robot attached to a standard tripod. The device rotates and fires a point and shoot camera through a grid. The images are stitched using the GigaPan stitcher and are uploaded to the GigaPan website. Once at the GigaPan website the images can be viewed, shared and commented on. The site also offers code and a full screen viewer that can be embeded into a webpage without all of the prorietary GigaPan information. It offers a clean ad-free way to view and navigate the detailed images.

The device was origninally designed as a tool for human connectivity, to bring people and imagery together as a method of sharing ideas and culture. I think this a great first step, but being a cpitalist, I envision many profitable and practical uses for the device.
Stay tuned for more GigaPan images.

Laurel Hill State Park

This time I was looking for a less rugged camping experience. At Laurel Hill, I stayed in one of eight camping cottages at the north end of the well established camp ground. The cottages were situated within the sight line of one and other, making privacy during the day sparse. Each cottage is furnished with one double bed, three single bunks a few chairs and a picnic table. It is just like camping but without the tent or the rain. At these sites the campfire is still the center of activity, as there is no cooking inside the cottage.

We launched the kayaks from the main boat launch near dam at the south end of Laurel Hill Lake. The kayak trek was easy. kayaked from one end of the small 63 acre lake to the other very easily in the late afternoon. We reached the bridge where the main park road crosses the outlet of the Laurel Hill Creek into the lake. We pulled the kayaks up onto the left shore of the creek and hiked the Hemlock Trail, a loop through the Virgin Hemlock Natural Area, a six acre tract along side the creek with towering behemoth trees rising over one hundred feet into the blue sky. Many of the trees were several feet around at their bases. An easy trail wound up the hill side up and through the old growth portion at the north end. As you reach the end of the tract the trail reveals a newer forest on a demarcation line. The differences are obvious, the old growth forest has virtually no ground cover, only smaller hemlocks and evergreen ground cover. The younger forest has several types of ground cover and small trees including ferns and maples. Hiking along the creek reveals a network of trails etched out between the towering pines providing access for fishing the creek.

The return kayak trip yielded many striking reflections of the tree covered hillsides just hinting at the beginning of the autumn in the Appalachian Mountains.

Banska Shiavnica Part 2

Part 2 of 3

Later in the afternoon Rastislav and I met with Josef, a Roma or gypsy. He agreed to take us to flats where the group lives on one of the hills surrounding the city. Josef is a businessman who escaped the living life in the poor conditions that make up the flats. The four story apartments are clustered together and sequestered from other non-Roma residences in the area. The outside of the building was devoid of any character. Most of the window were broken or cracked. Weathered clothes and blankets hung out of nearly all of the windows. There were no cars around the building whatsoever. Cigarette buts and other small pieces of rubbish were scattered about. A few young children occupied themselves with a salvaged wheel and a bicycle with no chain or wheels to make it go, a pitiful sight.

Banska Stiavnica

I was introduced to a short chain smoking woman who allowed us inside of her flat to photograph. She did not tell me her name. Once inside the building the stair wells and hallways were free of debris.

Banska Stiavnica

She opened her flat, everything inside was neat orderly almost welcoming. The furnishings were a hodge podge of scavenged furniture. The few of the plates, cups and bowls on display matched. They were all clean and all things had a place. She clearly took pride in her space.

Banska Stiavnica

She was jovial and joking with Josef she seemingly no complaints about the presence of outsiders. I asked how they managed in the winter and I was told that the flats are heated with wood only in a small stove that acts as a heater and a stove. Josef insinuated that many of his people do not understand or care for the fact that energy cost money so they choose to collect wood and other items to burn inside their flats for heat. To subsist many Roma pick blueberries, mushroom and other wild produce to sell along the roads during the summer and clear the same roads of snow in the winter time.

Banska Stiavnica