I admit it…my favorite time of year is Spring. But the contrasts winter brings can also be mesmerizing. Hiking in winter isn’t for everyone, I know that. It’s cold. It’s sometimes snowy, icy, muddy or wet. And my fingers never seem to get warm when I hike in the winter, no matter what combination of gloves I wear.
But winter hikes can also bring a fresh perspective and a new view of your world.
Some friends recently shared a couple of their favorite winter hikes with me. Hiking these trails in southeastern Ohio in winter brings not only wonderful views, but few (if any) people on the trail. You virtually have the entire preserve to yourself. A cell phone had to suffice for photography on these adventures. (It’s hard to be gloved up with hiking poles in hand and manipulate a camera too.)
Near Logan there is a short hike of just over a mile that is in Rock Stalls Preserve. While privately owned, it is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The trail starts out rather mildly with a level, fairly wide grass trail through woods, then steps take you down into the “rock stall.” I’ve been told that Indians used to winter their horses in this area due to the nature of the rock formations and water source. I’m not positive as to the accuracy of this, but once you view the area, you will understand its plausibility.
You drop down into fantastic rock formations that surround you on three sides with heights of roughly 20 to 30 feet or more.
A small meandering creek winds through the bottom ground. You cross this several times when hiking through the area. It’s peaceful there and quiet except for the sound of water. Waterproof hiking boots are highly recommended if you want dry feet.
Rock formations rise impressively on both sides. It’s very easy to understand how horses could have been “corralled” within these structures. It’s natural fencing of sorts.
And at the very end is a waterfall that is approximately 20 feet tall, although at this time of year it was only a trickle over the rocks. But mineral stains easily show the normal width of the falls in times of increased rainfall. A tree had, at some point, lost the battle of balance along the top edge of rock and tumbled down.
Extricating oneself from this area (without backtracking) means climbing up a rock surface that thankfully had small foot indentions for boots but does require a bit of skill to scale. It’s a beautiful area that captures the imagination of not only today but days gone by as well. You can almost hear the whinny of horses in the distance echoing off the rock walls (or so I imagine).
* * *
Another hike close to Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve is Airplane Rock and Chapel Cave. While I’ve hiked at Conkle’s Hollow, I’d never been to the other two trails. I was in for an amazing experience.
Rock formations in this area also astound the mind with their intricacies and grandeur. It makes one stand in awe thinking how these rock formations came to be…how water, wind and weather helped shape their very existence.
The views continue to amaze, with towering formations of moss-covered rock and cave-like crevices. Small trees cling tenaciously to rocky surfaces, sometimes defying gravity in their exuberance to thrive. I always find this aspect of nature thought-provoking. That is, when living things survive best when left to their own devices without human intervention. I think there just might be an underlying lesson there for us all in this.
Some of the rock formations (see photo below) appear to defy gravity, like Table Rock. Not sure if that is this formation’s actual name, but it seems to fit quite well, don’t you think?
This one made me stop and fathom how this particular formation could have possibly developed. How does the effect of water, wind and ice over an untold number (millions?) of years create such an amazing grouping of stone that balances so precariously? I believe it’s the very essence of art created by nature, which somehow makes me feel small and rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And perhaps that’s the way it should be.
Further along the trail, one encounters a magnificent waterfall. Another of nature’s gems to behold and experience. The sound of water encompasses the entire area, making one halt and admire its dramatic effect.
And just in case you haven’t seen enough waterfalls yet, here’s another view of one I found amazing.
Did I mention that it was cold on this hike? Yep. In the mid-20s, which made for more solid footing and also for some interesting ice formations. At the base of the waterfall, ice had formed on logs and twigs where water splattered off the rocks. The ice on the twig (in the photo below) was more than an inch thick.
Earlier I mentioned the name of one hiking trail was Airplane Rock. And why you ask is it called Airplane Rock? Here’s the answer for those inquisitive folks who want to know…
Okay, now look at the above photo and squint your eyes a bit. See the point of the rock in the top center of the photo? Well, that’s the airplane “cockpit.” And the rock ledge I was standing on to take this photo is the right wing. Hence, airplane rock.
And now, on to the next portion of the hike. Chapel Cave is probably one of the most amazing caves I have experienced in this area. Its shape and size are astounding. From a distance, it beacons you to come explore.
It takes a while for the eyes to become accustomed to the darkness, and I have to admit, I did have images of bats flying around. But fortunately (for me) those were only in my head.
This is one cave you really need to experience personally to fully appreciate its beauty. You need to stand in its cool interior and see the height of the ceiling, the walls that encompass you and the embracing smell of earth.
The hiking I have shared with you in this blog wasn’t long by hiking standards; it was just short of 8 miles or so. But I can’t remember a hike in which I have felt more in awe and wonder of the natural beauty around me. It’s the kind of hike that leaves you feeling energetic and alive. And very happy to add this experience to your treasured memories.
My sincere thanks to our hiking friends, Chris and Eva, who shared these wonders with us, along with the stories behind them. You made this day very special!
Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.