Yesterday was another perfect day for hiking in central Ohio. It was sunny and clear, with temperatures starting in the 50s and ending up in the 70s. We decided to drive east, to Heath, Ohio, to the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve. Our car’s GPS took us on a circuitous route to get there, even directing us down some gravel-topped one-lane country roads, but it was such a beautiful day, and the rolling countryside was so pretty, we really didn’t mind. By the time we reached the preserve, however, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs as we followed a couple with a youngster down the main trail.
Blackhand Gorge features miles of different trails, some of which are paved and some of which are natural. We turned off the main, paved trail to take the first natural trail we saw, which was the Buttonbush Swamp trail. The trail meanders for more than a mile and gives you glimpses of swamps, like the one shown above, natural wetlands, and small streams, like the one seen below. The sun was so bright that the countryside seemed to be stippled with gold in the sunshine as we hiked through the woods among the towering trees.
The Buttonbush Swamp trail isn’t a difficult trail and is well marked. It offers the opportunity for a pleasant, and quiet, walk through the woods on a meandering journey. In some spots, there are elevation changes where two stout walking sticks or grabbing a handhold is a good idea. Eventually the trail joins with the Quarry Rim trail, leads upward, and presents you with a view of an old quarry and pools of water through the trees. Yesterday, the bright sun through the trees left the ground, water, and cliffside striped with black shadows.
After you wind around the rim of the quarry and back down to ground level, you can go off the main trail and follow an ancillary trial down to the shore of the pool of water that has collected in the quarry bottom. It’s a bit of a scramble down and back up again, but the view at the bottom is well worth it. Yesterday morning there wasn’t a breath of wind, and the water below the quarry cliff, framed by the surrounding trees, reflected the colorful scene like a mirror. This view, alone, made the trip worthwhile–but there was more to come.
Shortly after the spectacular quarry view, the Buttonbush Swamp trail rejoined the main trail. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources website indicated that parts of the paved trail ahead were closed, so we decided to turn back and try to get a good look at the Licking River. The trail almost immediately took us straight through the Black Hand sandstone formation, which towered above each side of the trail. It was dark and cool in the shadows as we walked through the crack between the two sandstone cliffs.
The sandstone walls are dark and textured with chips and indentions, and the almost black color made for a striking contrast with the colorful tree leaves far overhead. Fortunately for us, the Ohio countryside is still at close to peak fall colors, and many of the leaves hadn’t yet been knocked off the trees by wind or rain. The yellows, reds, and oranges stood our sharply in the bright sunshine above as we strolled through the shadows below.
The main trail at Blackhand Gorge follows the Licking River for a while, with the river to one side and stone and wetlands to the other. There are sandstone formations throughout the area and wetlands in between, like a silent and still black pool, shown below, that is wedged in a crevice between smaller sandstone mounds, just off the main trail.
The main trail gives you many opportunities to appreciate the immensity of the sandstone formations, which were cut by the Licking River long ago. The photo below provides a sense of the scale of the sandstone ledges along the trail, with the Licking River, screened by trees, just off the left side of the frame.
There are several opportunities to follow ancillary trails off the main trail and get down to the banks of the Licking River. Some portions of the river cut right through the sandstone, while others present a more pastoral scene. According to the ODNR website, this portion of the Licking River was part of the Ohio-Erie Canal (and, unfortunately, during construction of the canal in 1828 a black hand petroglyph that gave this area its name was destroyed). Yesterday the river, too, was like glass, without a riffle to be seen.
The area around the river also presented some interesting bonatical signts. Ohio’s State Nature Preserves are intended to simply maintain the natural beauty of the areas, without interference. One section of the river was bordered by a marshy field of bright green reeds, seen below.
As we headed back along the main trail, the sun’s rays made the woodlands to each side glimmer and glow, and the thermometer moved upward toward 70. It was a brilliant fall day at one of the more spectacular settings you will find in the Buckeye State. We’ve taken a number of really wonderful hikes in Ohio, but the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve might just have been our favorite.