Hocking Hills is . . . An area? A collection of parks? A collection of hills? Perhaps all of the above. Whatever the name refers to, for me, it a part of growing up.
Something that my friends in Tennessee might not quite understand about growing up in Ohio is the experience of growing up where the land is flat. While Ohio has its river valleys, in Central Ohio, they tend to create long, slow slopes that are barely noticeable in a car.
The steeply angled streets of Chattanooga that climb, descend, and climb again seem as foreign to me as a river that flows North. When I was growing up, we had to drive somewhere to experience substantial hills and, more often than not, that somewhere was Hocking Hills.
Hocking Hills is about an hour or so South of Columbus. It marks the edge of a glacier that planed down the irregularities in the landscape to the North, leaving behind what was once plains and then forests and is now some of the flattest farmland around (except maybe for Kansas). But just beyond this geological boundary, the land rolls. The hills are high and cut deep by ancient rivers, leaving fascinating ravines with sandstone outcroppings and lush ferns.
It’s the kind of place that brings people from several states back over and over to experience in every season. In the spring and fall, it’s hard to find a parking place in any of the state parks if you get there after late morning. Flat landers rush to the hills in droves, seeking the experience of driving the winding roads as well as hiking the ravines.
On Sunday, Pat and I took Tisen for what may have been his first hike in the woods ever. We went to a section of the Cumberland Trail and picked our way through incredibly large and voracious looking poison ivy plants.
As we entered the woods, the bright sunlight dimmed under the trees and we had to blink, waiting for our eyes to adjust.
We started near the top of a large hill that would put Hocking Hills to shame and ascended several more times until we were walking along the very edge of the ridge line of the slope. As we worked our way along the ridge, the large outcroppings of stone protruding from the opposite side of the ridge immediately made me think of the kinds of formations we would see at Hocking Hills. It’s funny how you can hike to the top of a mountain and find only what you brought with you.
Tisen, having never seen Hocking Hills, cannot appreciate the similarity, but he appreciates being allowed to run ahead on the trail–something he could never be allowed to do in the crowds at Hocking Hills. Today, we are the only car parked at the trailhead and we neither see nor hear any other hikers on the trail. This solitude makes the walk that much more satisfying.