Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Run To The Hills

A run to the hills. Yup, that was part of my weekend.

What hills? The Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio.

If you have never been there, you should consider going. Forget that flat Ohio imagery. (You can thank the glaciers for that.) This area, about 1 hour south of Columbus, is far from flat. They don't call it "hills" for nothing. I think if one combines bedrock, botany, birds, a baseline general , boats, beers, and breakfast (including the best damned hashbrowns on the planet) you have an awesome little getaway.

The first thing to think about is the geology.

Well, no, the first thing to think about is the opportunity to try new beers.

Okay, its a tie, but I'll talk about the beers real quick. The Columbus Brewing Company was light years ahead of Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub. The Brewpub was a bit rough on the outside (clean up the parking lot!) but the food was good. The Centennial Ale (#602) and Scottish Ale (#603) were both pretty fair. Nothing crazy there. The CBC on the other hand, was simply great. Atmosphere. Food. Beer. Everything was great. The beer flight, consisting of the 90 Schilling (#608), American Tripel (#611), Apricot Ale (#606), Columbus 1959 Porter (#609), Columbus IPA (#610), Pale Ale (#607), and Summer Teeth (#605) was very rewarding. While the Teeth and Tripel were not to my liking, the Pale Ale and 90 Schilling were both very well done. Interestingly enough, the best beer of the trip was not even from Ohio. With my mouth watering ribs and baked potato dripping in butter and sour cream at Shaws, I enjoyed the White (#604) from the Allagash Brewing Company in Maine. Five out of five. Hands down, it was the best beer of the trip. My beer list now stands at 611.

If you like geology, you don't need the Rockies. Consider heading to the Hills. You'll love it. Old Man's Cave - named after hermit Richard Rowe who lived there beginning in the early 19th century. Ash Cave - a 700-foot long, 90-foot high recessed cave (the largest in Ohio). Rock House - a 200-foot long, 15-foot wide tunnel/cave parked halfway up a 150 foot sandstone cliff with carvings from passersby dating back well over 100 years. Its all there today because of the saltwater sea that was there 300 million years ago. The rocks of today (Black Hand Sandstone) that were once the sediments from millions of years ago have been carved by erosion (both wind and water). Unless you have been there, you just won't understand how neat this place is. The pic at the left is from Ash Cave. Those are real people down there.

From a photography standpoint, the place was very cool. Trying to get a handle on "how the camera sees" is really tough in a place like this. They don't see like our eyes do. Bright sunlight combined with deep shadows made any photography challenging. I took too many pics with either burned out sandstone and "lighter shadows" or nice sandstone and with huge black voids. Someone with better skills than mine (most photographers out there) could have a field day, especially if they where out on a more cloudy day with less (or no) people. For some areas, like Rock House (at left) a tripod was mandatory. So little light was available I went with a 20-second exposure!

Basically, the glaciers never made it that far south. But, they influenced the area, especially in and around the gorges, in ways we can still see today. When they retreated from central Ohio, some areas were still capable of supporting vegetation normally found today hundreds of miles to the north. Massive hemlocks, yews, and birch trees are just a few of the holdouts. With plants like that around, one can find bird life consistent with Canada(!) in southeast Ohio. While birding for passerines in mid-August is functionally a bust, there can be some cool finds here and there. The best bird of the trip? The fledgling Hermit Thrush. 15 feet away. The Black Vulture, indicative of the south, was pretty cool, too.

By total accident, I found myself standing on the sidewalk in front of the birth-home of one of the most hated men in American History. Well, at least, half the people in America (specifically those from the Confederate South) - William Tecumseh Sherman. Yup, it was Sherman who eviscerated the Confederacy with his "March to the Sea" during the final stages of the Civil War in what is now called Total Warfare. He long will be remembered for that one. Many forget he was, at best, an average general. While he served well at Bull Run, he and Grant had their rears handed to them because they where basically stupid during the opening phases of Shiloh. (His tactical stupidity here was likely directly related to the nervous breakdown he had after Bull Run.) So what does all this have to do with Ohio? In 1820, he was born in Lancaster, Ohio in the house on the left. That, by the way, would be "LAINK-uh-stir", not "LAN-caster."

For a little relaxing on the final day, a lazy canoe ride down the Hocking River north of Logan was just what the doctor ordered. Also known as the Big Hock-hocking River, Great Hock-hocking River, Hock-Hocking River, Hockhocken River, Hockhocking River, Hocking Hocking River, Hokhoking River, Big Hockhocking River, Big Hocking River, Great Hockhocking River, Hakhakkien River,and Hockhoking River it is plenty wide (every bit as wide as some sections of the Rio Grande), it was slow moving and scenic. It was a bit warm, but still an great way to kill a few hours.

At this point, you have to be wondering what the "best damned hashbrowns" comment is all about. It is simple - tucked away in the tiny town of Logan is a small diner with the best damned hashbrowns you will ever have. You must get to the Spotted Owl Cafe. Now, dont let the name fool you. I'm sure many of you know Spotted Owls are not found in Ohio, but that is not the point. The point is that the hashbrowns are awesome, the toast is thick, the eggs are cooked to perfection, and the iced tea was.....iced. The place is deserving of a visit is you are in the area. I would like to thank my GPS for finding it. While a Bob Evans was up the street, one could not pass up a breakfast at a sleepy diner named after a bird in sleepy rural Ohio. Of course, a real birder (whatever that means) would likely not sit down for a nice breakfast at 10am, but I digress.....

There you have it - bedrock, botany, birds, a baseline general , boats, beers, and breakfast. If you have some time, people, run to the Hills!

No comments: