Another stellar day -- Saturday, 6/4/16
Well, go figure. Today's forecast was for afternoon thunderstorms. Yet, this morning, we awoke to raindrops on the roof! So much for hiking early. We busied ourselves with breakfast and what-not, and around mid-morning, the rain quit. We knew where we wanted to go. On went our "rain-proof" hiking shoes and merrily we were on our way. With so many miles of trails in such a gorgeous park, we would be happy to see a smidgen of it. We weren't worried about the predicted thunderstorms, since the forecasters screwed it up from the get-go.
On our way to Cedar Falls, we passed this distinctive bridge over the Queer River (honest!). A part of the trail continues on the other side of the river. In the early 1800's, a grist mill was built at the top of the falls, and from this bridge, we could see metal plates that once anchored the building to the south bank.
This is Cedar Falls, so (mis)named because early settlers mistook the stately hemlock trees in the area for cedar trees. (There are no cedar trees near the falls.) In terms of water amounts, Cedar Falls is the most abundant waterfall in the entire park, though it doesn't look like much right now. I think it's a very unusual, striking waterfall.
Reading a plaque near this bridge over the river (near the falls) told us that in January 1998 a 100-year flood of massive proportions ripped its way through the gorge, taking out almost all the man-made structures, while it continued its never-ending work of carving the sandstone. When this bridge was rebuilt, the decision was made to reuse the "main" bent steel girders as a reminder of what happened and what might come again. How cool is that?
After leaving Cedar Falls, we made our way to Grandma Gatewood's favorite Buckeye Trail, a six-mile path that winds its way from the Visitor Center to Ash Cave. Yesterday we did part of it and today we'll add another five-plus R/T miles. This section of the trail was not as heavily traveled as the Old Man Cave section. Much of the time we traveled alone, and quiet, which suits us fine. The cicada din was overwhelming at times; at others, it simmered down to a dull roar, and I could hear the lilting song of a hermit thrush.
Found on the trail -- a Great Spangled Fritillary.
Found alongside the trail -- a red monkey in a tree!
Truly, Ash Cave is the most spectacular feature in the entire park. It's also the largest, most impressive recess cave in the state. We approached the cave through a narrow gorge lined with those beautiful hemlocks and some mighty big beech trees.
The narrow gorge is approximately a quarter mile mile in length and with astonishing suddenness gives way to the tremendous overhanging ledge and cave shelter. We could hardly believe our eyes.
"The horseshoe-shaped cave is massive; measuring 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from the rear cave wall to its front edge with the rim rising 90 feet high. A small tributary of the East Fork of Queer Creek cascades over the rim into a small plunge pool below. The cave was formed like the others in this region; the middle layer of the Blackhand sandstone has been weathered or eroded while the more resistant upper and lower zones have remained intact."
The water falling into this pool from the overhang continues to shape the park. From the top, people below in the cave recess looked like ants. We gawked and dawdled for quite a spell, before hiking back up to the overlook trail and a return to Smartie.
Of all things to see in the recesses, pigeons were nesting in the crevices.
One is perched on a ledge above Jimmy.
On our way to Ash Cave, we passed this 80-foot fire tower that was built in 1924. Jimmy thought about climbing to the top, but changed his mind. But, as we passed it again on our return, he handed me his pack and hot-footed it to the top! Piece of cake for this guy (who had knee replacement surgery a year ago). It was way too warm and humid for me to attempt a climb like this. Besides somebody had to stay on the ground to get a pic or two. That's him at the top beneath the little house.
One of the "finds" in Hocking Hills is a Pink Lady's Slipper Orchid. Well, looky-here, I found one, though it looks more like a tongue sticking out than a flower. I think it was on its way out.
So, we ended our hikes in Hocking Hills State Park, and really enjoyed ourselves. This park was a real find. After dinner, sitting in our usual places at the dinette, a crack of thunder echoed overhead. Rain commenced. OK, so the predicted thunderstorm arrived (late), but we got our hike in between the rains. Tomorrow we move east.