OHIO, USA

High Rock Ad­ven­tures in Ohio’s Hock­ing Hills County of­fers hik­ing trails, wa­ter­falls, creeks, zip lines, old caves as well as camp­ing sites.

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS FOCUS - Anne Z. Cooke writes

If you paused long enough to read the trail­head signs in Ohio’s Hock­ing Hills State Park, you’d find that the Black Hand sand­stone un­der­foot was laid down 350,000 years ago, on an an­cient seabed. Or you could push ahead to the Old Man’s Cave, past a me­an­der­ing creek and down a level path. Level, it seemed, un­til both trail and creek abruptly van­ished, swal­lowed up by a hole in the earth.

The Old Man’s Cave was as fab­u­lous as it was un­ex­pected. But our next day’s out­ing, a na­ture walk booked in ad­vance, which _ to my sur­prise _ in­cluded an in­tro­duc­tion to rap­pelling _ out­did the caves by half.

Steve Ro­ley, our guide, a rock climber, gath­ered the group to­gether. “Yeah, where’s Old Rocky Top?” echoed the guy be­hind me.

But Ro­ley, a stu­dent of na­tive plants, was in no hurry as we, he pointed out the edi­ble plants that thrive be­neath hem­locks, trees de­scended from sim­i­lar hem­locks that flour­ished 10,000 years ago, when the cli­mate was cooler and moister.

“These here are jack-in-the-pul­pits and those are may ap­ples,” he said, mov­ing on to a patch of green­briar and a soli­tary sweet si­cily.

Then Ro­ley stopped short, next to two rocky walls. “Geeez,” said some­body, gaz­ing sky­ward. But be­fore you could snap your fin­gers, we’d buck­led up, climbed to the top, wob­bled over a nar­row bridge, and one-by-one, gasped, backed off into thin air and “bumped” down the wall to the ground.

“Wow, it’s easy, let’s do it again!” clam­oured the group, thrilled _ and re­lieved _ that they hadn’t backed out. And to think that a month ear­lier, I’d writ­ten off Ohio as one of the states you fly over on your way to some­where else.

And I would have, if my sis­ter, who lives in Kent, hadn’t sug­gested a get­away to the Hock­ing Hills, south­east of Colum­bus. “C’mon, this is Daniel Boone coun­try, with log cab­ins and pi­o­neer his­tory, like those books we used to read,” she said. “Ex­cept that it’s the 21st cen­tury. There’s zip lines, mu­sic fes­ti­vals, art gal­leries, an­tique malls. Even golf, or ca­noe­ing or we can look for the caves.”

“Ev­ery­body wants to see the caves,” said Au­drey Martin, at the Hock­ing Hills Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion, in Lo­gan, the county seat. “From na­ture lovers to se­ri­ous hik­ers, or fam­i­lies camp­ing or rent­ing a cabin, they all want to get out and walk.

“The park gets an es­ti­mated 1.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, but the trails are rarely crowded,” she said. “But come in au­tumn, if you can. When the weather cools and the maples and birch change colours, ev­ery hill­side glows. They’re a daz­zling panorama of reds, golds, bright yel­lows and or­ange, with splashes of green. Hem­locks are ev­er­greens.”

Pack­ing up, we drove south­east to Colum­bus and on to Hock­ing County on State Route 33.

Cot­tages, barns and trail­ers mea­sured the miles; front porches, vegetable gar­dens and laun­dry on the line marked the days. Here was a rusty truck; there a flower garden. The last turn, on State Route 374, left us at our des­ti­na­tion’s door, the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, and to Ellen Grins­felder, the owner.

Perched on 75 green acres near the State Park, the inn was a mod­est B&B when Grins­felder in­her­ited it. To­day it’s clas­sic rus­tic-lux­ury, with a cozy lodge, nine sin­gle rooms, 12 fur­nished log cab­ins (some with kitch­enettes), four snappy yurts (where we stayed) and an out­door fire pit plus benches.

The restau­rant, the neigh­bor­hood’s best, em­ploys a full-time chef and sup­ports a large and in­ven­tive menu. The 1840s cabin houses a tiny bar and half the kitchen; a meet­ing room seat­ing 50 hosts girl­friend re­unions, county din­ners and small wed­dings.

Best of all, it was a brisk walk from the inn to the State Park where the trail loops from Cedar Falls to the Old Man’s Cave, to Rose Lake and to the new­est area, Whis­per­ing Cave. Other park sites — Con­kles Hol­low, Ash Cave, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs — are linked by roads, a free pub­lic shut­tle bus, 35 miles of hik­ing trails and 33 miles of bri­dle trails.

The next day we toured Lo­gan, And the town’s pre­mier at­trac­tion? The Colum­bus Wash­board Fac­tory, the last Amer­i­can maker of wash­boards, the rack­ety per­cus­sion in­stru­ment favoured by coun­try and blue­grass bands.

The busi­ness, owned by James Martin, a for­mer Brit, sells thou­sands of wash­boards an­nu­ally, many to tourists lin­ger­ing in the gift shop. A sou­venir hunter’s heaven, it’s awash in games, hats, soap, honey, lo­tions, tow­els, play­ing cards, toys and, of course, wash­boards.

Hid­den in plain sight, the Old Man’s Cave sur­prises vis­i­tors ex­plor­ing the trails.

“Dog­wood Cabin,” one of 12 at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, is on 75 pri­vate acres near Lo­gan, Ohio.

Cab­ins and cot­tages dot hills, hollers and mead­ows in south­east Ohio’s Hock­ing Hills.

Tight quar­ters and low ceil­ings in the Old Man’s Cave must have been un­com­fort­able.

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