Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring Fever: Hocking Hills State Park

This post was originally published in 2010.

Spring Break has come and gone. We are back to the chaos of everyday life. Easter was nice, and the next day we headed south for a couple days. Our destination was Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio. I had stumbled across a website for this place while on a different site, and when I checked it out I was intrigued. As it turns out, Ohio has been hiding a region of magnificent natural wonders and I never knew about it until now.

Our drive was about five hours and fairly scenic; ie: not 100% on I-75. On the way, I received a phone call from Uncle Kevin, saying he and the boys were going to head down and check the park out too. We rented a cottage right at the State Park. It was basic, but fine. There was a full kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom with shower, a/c and heat, gas fireplace, television with approximately five channels, and a screened in porch overlooking the woods. Behind the cottages, there was a playground and a sledding hill, which Bethany and Connor enjoyed running down at top speed. Although the cottages were nothing fancy (and had very uncomfortable beds), the location couldn't have been better. The first night, we had a lovely storm that lit up the woods with every flash of lightening. The next morning, Kevin, Mason, Keenan, and their dog, Mimi, met up with us, and we headed a little ways down the road to Old Man's Cave.

We had no idea what to expect. As we started on the rustic trail we quickly entered a realm of surreal beauty. Wow! Old Man's Cave is one of several scenic areas in the state park. Basically, we walked down into a huge gorge, with many caves and waterfalls and trails. The scenery was beyond anything we could have imagined, especially considering we were in Ohio, and I am finding it difficult to put into words. Here are a couple pictures to help convey the beautiful scenery we enjoyed.

Waterfalls and other natural wonders were literally around every corner. There were hollow trees, caves, snakes, frogs, streams, even a natual whirl pool dubbed Devil's Bathtub (one of the very few signs in Old Man's Cave was placed by this dangerous pool, warning that it was nearly impossible to get out of the very deep water; however, it was completely open, with no safety rails anywhere preventing visitors from jumping into the harmless looking water). The weather was hot and summery, with a lovely warm breeze blowing through that kept us comfortable as we hiked. Several times, the kids kicked off their shoes and got right in the water. At one point, as we stood on the bank of a waterfall pool, we suddenly noticed that Connor was on the other side of the waterfall. As we wondered how he managed to get over there, our normally cautious son decided he would simly walk through the water to get back to us. Here he is, right before he stepped out, and into water that was much deeper than he anticipated.

There were some large rocks, they aren't shown in this picture, that he had the presence of mind to grab onto. He only screamed for a minute before he pulled himself out. Whew! Our little boy gave us quite a scare, but we were proud of him for being brave and keeping his head.

One of the most amazing things about this place was that there were very few modern interferences to the natural formations. Other than some basic paths, a few staircases, some minimal handrails, and a few signs, the part of Hocking Hills we saw was left as God made it. We marveled that no one was around to tell us not to go in the water, not to stray from the path, not to climb in the caves, etc. We did quite a bit of hiking, and our kids never complained of tired legs. They couldn't wait to see what they would find next. Chris remarked that Old Man's Cave was more fun than Disney; and I think it was, in its own way. At the end of our trail, there was one last waterfall, which the kids climbed and slid down. They were all soaked and filthy by the time we headed back to the car. It was one of the best days I can remember having with my family in a really long time.

After a few hours exploring Old Man's Cave, we headed back to our cottages for a bit of rest before dinner. Bethany, Connor, and Lucy hung out at Uncle Kevin's, which gave Chris and I a chance to have a short nap with Mathilda. Then all of us headed to dinner at the State Park lodge, which was very close and almost empty. One whole wall was nothing but floor to ceiling windows with spectacular views of the hills and forest. We spent our evening sitting outside by Uncle Kevin's cottage, and walking up and down the little cottage road.

The next day, Connor wanted to visit Rock House, the only true cave in Hocking Hills State Park. He really wanted to see some real bats, which unfortunately (I think?) did not happen. We drove a few miles down the road and started off on our hike. Immediately I could tell that this trail was even more primitive than Old Man's Cave. We were hiking along cliffs with no safety rails. A few times it got pretty harrowing, but our kids listened well, stuck close to the rocky walls, and made it to the cave in one piece. We had to climb up through a rock opening to get into the cave, which was slightly tricky while carrying a baby in the Baby Bjorn (me) and holding a 3-year old's hand (Chris). Hanging out in the cave for a few minutes was a good reward for our hard work, and we had some spectacular views - again with no safety rails, and some very steep cliffs.

The Rock House hike was more grueling and more dangerous, and there was definitely a lot less to see, but it was a cool adventure before we started on our long trip home. Everyone is already talking about our next trip to Hocking Hills! Had we known how amazing it was, we may have scheduled a day or two more, but it was just as well since the weather took a sharp turn for the worse.

A couple days after our return home, the kids and I headed back to the Imagination Station in Toledo with some friends. It was much more crowded than our last visit, but we still had fun at one of our favorite museums.

The last couple days of Spring Break were spent with friends. Saturday night we had dinner at a friend's house, our kids playing together while the adults talked and laughed. I can't help but think again about how fortunate our kids are. Looking back at my own childhood, I wish my mom had had such great friends to hang out wih and go on fun excursions together (even in each other's living rooms and backyards). I, too, am so lucky to have supportive friends who love doing all kinds of things. I love knowing that I can call someone to work out, go for a walk, take the kids to a park, or go to the zoo. I feel blessed, truly blessed.

Sunday afternoon, the moms went to lunch in Greektown for Cathy's birthday. We ate at Pegasus, which was very nice and the food was great. Normally, we go to the New Parthenon, which has great food and service, but Pegasus is prettier by far. After we ate, we went to the bakery for a treat. A trip to Greektown would never feel complete without a trip to the bakery. We took our desserts to the riverfront and ate outside while enjoying the view of the Detroit River. I don't think I've ever been down there, and it was so nice. Lots of people were out, enjoying the beautiful Spring day. There are many benches, and a carousel. I think the riverfront path goes right to Hart Plaza, which I haven't visited since a third grade field trip. We made plans to return with the kids this summer.

Spring is lovely, with its teasing warm days. What I don't love is the wintery weather interspersed with the warm weather. I also don't enjoy the mud, but thus far that hasn't been much of a problem this year. I love that my yard is blooming. One area at a time comes back to life, with green leaves and colorful flowers. Chris has already had to cut the grass twice.The best thing is that there is a Robin's nest right on our back porch, perched on our porch light. There are three beautiful blue eggs in it, and I hope we don't scare away the mama Robin so we can see the babies when they hatch.

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