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.