A Winter Hike

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).

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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.

Awe and Wonder

I guess it’s natural towards the end of the year to take time for reflection. Some quiet time to think. Perhaps to assess where you are in life or simply reevaluate what’s important. And perhaps even more importantly, what’s not important. To get rid of the “clutter” in your mind. To find the place inside that is just “you.”

Nature is where I unerringly find the real me. It’s where I stop and take the time to really see what is around me. Not just look at it. But to experience it. To feel it. To breathe.

Most times I have a camera in hand, or at least a cell phone. Oh, the photos aren’t necessarily good but they’re enough for me to slow down and remember not only what was in front of me, but also how it made me feel. The awe and wonder of nature’s beauty, like this collage of colorful leaves that floated to this particular arrangement through no human intervention.

Perhaps it’s how the light filters through the trees in a woods, like a spotlight illuminating your path and brightening your day.

Or the wonder of two different tree species growing together, sharing nutrients and helping each other to thrive. Like this black walnut and maple. Sharing resources to grow stronger. Perhaps it’s a lesson we could all learn from. If we could only slow down enough to see it.

Beauty in nature captures the eye and the mind if we only let it. Nature’s harmony is all around us. Like this Great Spangled Fritillary with a small bee sharing nectar from a thistle.

I too need to be reminded to slow down and really see what’s in front of me. I almost walked right on by this innocuous little thing in the pasture field till a friend pointed it out and told me what it was.

It’s a praying mantis (mantid) egg sac. The first I’ve ever seen (or rather, the first I’ve ever fully recognized as such). The little sac (called ootheca) is about one inch long and the outside looks like foam but is hard. I’ve read the eggs overwinter and emerge in spring as 1/2 inch nymphs that look like a praying mantis but don’t have wings yet. And there can be from 50 to 200 of them in a single egg sac. Amazing.

Beauty in nature comes in many forms. This tree had me stopping in my tracks to wonder how this growth happened.

And stand in awe and wonder how the tree survived whatever had caused it to be shaped like this. Yet it continued to grow. Perhaps rather like we survive tough times and have the resilience to “soldier” on through it all. Just another reflection of nature in its many forms and the lessons it has to provide.

I hope you are fortunate enough to take a few moments to stop and really see whatever view of nature may be around you, wherever you live. To marvel at its magnificence. And stand in awe and wonder of its beauty. Whether it’s an close up view of the intricacies of an insect, such as this Gold-marked Thread-waisted wasp…

or experiencing the cold quiet hush of a partially frozen wetland on a morning walk.

May your Holiday and New Year be filled with awe and wonder of the nature that abounds around us all.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.