During our recent visit to Hocking Hills, Rocky and I had a wonderful time hiking over some of the beautiful trails of the area. After trekking through the Cantwell Cliffs in the morning of our second day, we decided to drive to Ash Cave in order to complete the second half of the Grandma Gatewood Trail. The goal was to hop on the trail at Ash Cave and hike to Cedar Falls and then a little beyond that landmark to Whispering Falls, where we had stopped the day before. The crowds were rather full at Ash Cave. We had a hard time finding a parking place. But we soon learned that the vast majority of the car travelers were headed straight for the cave. We, too, spent some time marveling at this huge horseshoe-shaped cave measuring some 700 feet in length and the overhang that reaches about 90 feet in the air. From the front edge of the rim, the cave recesses into the mountain about 100 feet. It is quite impressive and numbers don’t capture the visual impression of this natural phenomenon.
I am always fascinated by names – Ash Cave? Why the name? According to hockinghills.com, Ash Cave is named after the huge pile of ashes found under the shelter by early settlers. The largest pile was recorded as being 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 3 feet deep. One conjecture concerning the source of the ashes is the remains from Indian campfires built up over hundreds of years. Another belief is that the Indians were smelting silver or lead from the rocks. Still another theory claims that saltpeter was made in the cave. No matter the source, several thousand bushels of ashes were found. A test excavation of the ashes in 1877 revealed sticks, arrows, stalks of coarse grasses, animal bones in great variety, bits of pottery, flints and corn cobs. Based upon the evidence of this excavation, my professional conclusion is the ashes are the remains of an early version of a Superbowl party, or the National Black Bear Convention including a BYOS invitation (Bring Your Own Snacks).
Rocky and I soon left the majority of the tourists behind as we started down the trail toward Cedar Falls. I love walking in the woods so just about any hike is enjoyable for me. Although the leaves were not adorning the branches of the canopy, we walked through a beautiful wooded area that presented a comfortable carpet for our feet with very few rocks or roots. The slight upward slope promised an easy ending to the return trip.
Not too far into the hike we came upon one of my favorite parts of any hike – a fire-tower. My granddaughters would have love it because it was painted pink. I loved it because it escorted me 80 feet about the forest floor. I don’t really like heights but I love the view at the top more than the butterflies in my stomach on the way up (and down).
Cedar Falls was worthy of the walk. It is not the highest waterfall but it is by far the largest waterfall that Rocky and I saw in the Hocking Hills region in terms of water volume. Queer Creek tumbles over the Blackhand sandstone face of the rocks displaying the powerful mix of water and gravity. While talking with Rocky, who had done some pretty good research on the trail before we began the adventure, she shared with me that the falls should be named Hemlock Falls – the early white settlers mistook the stately hemlocks that frame the falls for cedar trees. You’d think that some ranger would have made the correction along the way, giving the hemlock the honor it deserves.