December 30, 2010

Quick Fact

The most powerful earthquake in recorded history with an epicenter in Ohio occurred on March 9, 1937. The magnitude 5.4 earthquake had an epicenter near Anna in Shelby County.

December 1, 2010

Bear's Mill

Bear's Mill is a water-powered gristmill that has been in continuous operation since its construction in 1849. Flour is still produced the old-fashioned way in the mill, using water from Greenville Creek to create power. Admission is free and a first-floor gift shop offers local crafts and sundries. Bear's Mill can be reached by taking US 36 east from Greenville, then turning right on Bear's Mill Road. Look for the mill on the right-hand side of the road after crossing Greenville Creek.

November 30, 2010

Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve

Considered by many to be Ohio's natural crown jewel, the Hocking Hills region presents the explorer with a breathtaking showcase of the state's natural heritage. The typical southeastern Ohio landscape of rugged hills, vast forests, and sandstone formations is amplified in the Hocking Hills region. Here, one can find Ohio's tallest waterfall and largest recess cave, the state's longest natural bridge, a diverse ecosystem that includes black bears and bobcats, and even a dab of frontier outlaw history.

Named for William Conkle, whose ghost is said to still haunt this wild valley, Conkle's Hollow is a Black Hand sandstone masterpiece. The Hemlock-shaded gorge becomes increasingly narrow as one journeys through millions of years of geologic history. Adorned with caves and waterfalls, the hollow's most striking feature is the rim of fortress-like cliffs, some of the highest and most dramatic in the entire state.

Stream-side cave

 Gorge trail landscape

Conkle's Hollow SNP has two trails to explore. The Gorge trail is an easy hike through the dense vegetation that blankets the floor of the hollow. Diagonal Cave and Lower Falls can be viewed from this trail, along with giant Black Hand sandstone slump blocks and the impossible cliff faces that dominate the hollow. The Rim trail is a more strenuous exercise that rewards the hiker with views of the narrow gorge below and spectacular vistas of the surrounding hills.

Black Hand sandstone slump blocks

Black Hand sandstone cliffs

 Entrance to Reckworth Cave

 Reckworth Cave

Lower Falls

Conkle's Hollow is one of my favorite places in Ohio. Hocking Hills State Park is usually full of travelers from around the world, and popular sites such as Ash Cave, Conkle's Hollow, and Cedar Falls are the most crowded. Though I encountered hikers in the gorge, I was blessed to be alone for ten minutes near the end of the Gorge trail. With only my thoughts and my camera, I felt a deep connection to a landscape where dinosaurs felt more appropriate than gray squirrels and warblers. Protected by the guardian cliffs, her secrets etched in the rocks, this jewel of jewels stands as a sandstone testament to the wild Ohio that still exists.

September 15, 2010

Highlands Nature Sanctuary: Barrett's Rim

Barrett's Rim Trailhead

The Highlands Nature Sanctuary is the flagship preserve for the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System. The sanctuary is a patchwork of smaller preserves in and around the Rocky Fork Gorge between Rocky Fork Lake and Paint Creek Lake in eastern Highland County. Though some areas of the sanctuary are closed to the public due to the delicate nature and incredible biodiversity of the Rocky Fork region, many are open to the public and can be accessed via the sanctuary's public trail system.

The Barrett's Rim trail is a 2-mile loop which can be accessed from the Taloden Pond trailhead on Cave Road. The trail begins with a journey through a grand expanse of tall-grass prairie dominated by Big Bluestem and Canada Goldenrod. I observed specimens of Purple Coneflower, Ironweed, and White Snakeroot, as well as numerous butterflies and dragonflies.

Tall-Grass Prairie

Big Bluestem

Peck's Skipper

The trail then enters the forest and descends into the Rocky Fork Gorge. Though the decline is moderate, the trail is narrow and runs along the cliff face of the gorge during the descent. The Highlands Nature Sanctuary is cliff country, and extreme caution should be exercised on many of the trails.

In the Rocky Fork Gorge, the trail follows the base of the towering cliffs of the eastern gorge wall, and the geology of the area becomes readily apparent. The cliffs are pockmarked with small caves and riddled with vertical joint fractures. As the erosion of these fractures progresses over time, huge blocks of dolomite will break free and tumble into the gorge. Evidence of this process abounds in the sanctuary. Many of the trails are littered with monolithic slump rocks, creating a natural rock garden reminiscent of a time long gone. Indeed, much of the sanctuary has a land before time ambiance.

Joint Fracture and Small Cave

Eastern Gorge Wall

Cliff-side Caves

Dolomite Slump Block

Joint Fracture and Small Cave

Dolomite Slump Block Maze

Joint Fracture

The Silurian Period dolomite bedrock of the sanctuary also provides habitat for a dazzling array of plant life, including rare and threatened species. The White Cedar trees which cling to the cliffs of the gorge are evidence of this. These trees are some of the oldest in Ohio, though they appear as young and insignificant to the untrained observer due to their small size. White Cedar grows at an incredibly slow rate. Trees which are hundreds of years old resemble second-growth Red Cedars. Though White Cedar trees are difficult to find in Ohio, they can also be observed at Davis Memorial in Adams County.

White Cedar Tree

A day pass to explore the Highlands Nature Sanctuary can be obtained from the Appalachian Forest Museum on Cave Road. Several of the trailheads are near the museum and there is a large parking lot which can accommodate visitors. To reach the sanctuary, take US 50 east from Hillsboro. Just before the Highland/Ross county line, cross the bridge over Rocky Fork Creek and take an immediate right onto Cave Road. The Appalachian Forest Museum is located on the right side of the road.

 Rocky Fork Gorge

September 3, 2010

Wildlife Notes

The largest typical White-tailed Deer taken in all of North America in 2009 was taken illegally from Adams County, Ohio.

2009 Bobcat and Black Bear Sightings

ODNR Division of Wildlife Confirmed Sightings

Bobcat 2008: 65
Bobcat 2009: 92

Black Bear 2008: 38
Black Bear 2009: 51

Source: Wild Ohio magazine. Fall 2010.

August 9, 2010

Quick Fact

Ohio grows more acres of trees than corn and soybeans combined!

July 27, 2010

Legend of the Azgen

"The Shawnees", Black Fish said, "cannot tell you that you are allowed to settle in the Can-tuc-kee lands. We have never owned that land. It belongs to the ghosts of murdered Azgens - a white people from an eastern sea. Their bones and ghosts own and occupy every hill and valley of the country. They protect the game there and have more and better right there than any of the Indian tribes, including our own Shawnee nation, because they do not need or use material food themselves and do not like it. Long ago our fathers and our grandfathers killed off the Azgens, but we now fear more the spirits of these people than our fathers and grandfathers feared them when they were flesh."

Black Fish paused and there was a murmured assent and nodding of heads among the assemblage. "When our food is all gone," he continued, "and our squaws and children starving, we appeal to the ghosts of the white mothers who were killed there and, by saying the right words, we are allowed to kill an elk or deer or bear or buffalo. But," and now his voice lost its almost chanting quality and he fastened an unfriendly gaze on Bullitt, "we are never allowed to kill the game wantonly and we are forbidden to settle in the country of Can-tuc-kee. If we did, these ghosts would not rise from their caves and mounds and slay us, but they would set father against son and son against father and neighbor against neighbor and make them kill one another."

~ Chief Black Fish of the Shawnee, quoted from Allan Eckert's The Frontiersmen pgs. 65-66

Though the Legend of the Azgen people has its genesis in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, the tale directly relates to Ohio and her history. During the frontier era, and the numerous Indian wars and treaties that followed, the Indian tribes of Ohio maintained that Kentucky was a sacred land and off-limits to everyone. The Indians could hunt in Kentucky, but could never make permanent settlement. This notion of a sacred game preserve, of course, paved the way for the untamed wilderness that great explorers like Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone discovered on the frontier. The frontier accounts of Kentucky's wilderness were astonishing. It was often described as a bounty of game, where one could hardly take a single step in the forest without scaring off at least one animal.

The origin of the Azgen legend will probably never be known, but it shows up in traditional Cherokee and Shawnee folklore. The Azgen were a race or tribe of white people who lived in North America prior to the arrival of the Native Americans. The Indians called them the "Moon Eyed People", due to their nocturnal habits. Some legends even go so far as to claim that the Azgen were very small and perfectly white. Nonetheless, the Indians maintained distance and respect for the Azgen.

Who exactly were the Azgen? Theories range from the fabled tale of Prince Madoc, ancient Europeans, and Norse peoples, to the Knights Templar and the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The Cherokee legend of the Azgen states that when the Cherokee first arrived in their country (Tennessee), they found the land possessed by the Moon Eyed People who could not see in the daytime.

The Cherokee legend also states that the stone earthwork atop Fort Mountain in Georgia is a remnant of a war between the Azgen and the Creek Indians. The Azgen lost the war and moved north, deeper into the mountains and began to live in the subterranean environment. Another version of the legend says that the Cherokee drove the Azgen away from their village at Hiwassee at the mouth of Peachtree Creek near present Murphy, North Carolina, and the Azgen fled into Tennessee.

Fort Mountain was allegedly the second of three "forts" (earthworks) constructed by the Azgen in the southern United States. The first fort was near DeSoto Falls, Alabama. The second fort was Fort Mountain, Georgia. And the third fort was Old Stone Fort near Manchester, Tennessee. Those who believe the Prince Madoc origin of the Azgen people tie in the forts with the alleged arrival of Prince Madoc at Mobile Bay, Alabama. According to their interpretation, the followers of Madoc would have constructed the forts as they progressively explored the southeastern United States.

Some have even connected the Mandan Indians to the Azgen. According to this interpretation, the Mandan are the descendants of the Azgen and migrated to the west from their homelands in the mountains of Appalachia. The differences of the Mandan tribe compared to other Indians was noted by french explorer "The Sieur de la Verendrye" in 1738 and even Louis and Clark in 1804, among others. These innate differences were also explored by George Catlin in his book Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians. The Mandan Indians were exterminated by smallpox and are now considered to be extinct.

Whatever the origin or nature of the Azgen legend may be, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Indian tribes of Ohio regarded Kentucky as sacred land, and land worth fighting for. In this vein of thought, it is also hard to ignore the importance of the Ohio country to the Indians. For a time, the tribes maintained the Ohio River as a boundary between white settlement and native lands, with Ohio being the so-called Middle Ground, a place that everyone wants and none can have. Ohio still holds her sacred secrets today, and we will perhaps never know the true importance of the state to the hearts and souls of the native peoples.