It was the perfect spring day. Not too cold and slightly overcast with a chance of rain in the forecast of which never materialized. We were about to take in the Cascades Gorge Hike at The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and from all that we had heard, it was a fabulous hike.
Allen Cleek of Allegheny Outfitters was the naturalist who hosted the three hour hike that covers approximately 2.8 miles. The hike is rated as intermediate with an elevation gain of only 700 feet. Beginning at 1700 feet, the hike ends at the Cascades Golf course at 2300 feet. Allen has worked in outdoor activities for 15 years and prefers the Gorge Hike to any of the other activities he has conducted. His knowledge of the gorge and the flora and fauna of the area is captivating and the hours flew by.
One of the most drastic changes to the area in the last 15 years is the loss of the Hemlock trees. This species is slowly being killed out by an invasive aphid which was brought into this country from Asia during the 1800’s. This die off has allowed other types of plants and trees to grow more prolifically in the gorge thus changing the dynamics of the environment.
Some wildlife habitat is present in the gorge. Evidence of beaver life was pointed out, though no dams or lodges currently exist on the waterway in the gorge. Some of the trees show scars where beavers had gnawed the bark around the base of trees to keep their teeth in check and some trees had not survived this. A black bear was spotted on a recent hike as a group was stopped viewing the stream and the bear scurried up a tree to a perfect den hollow in the top. We didn’t get that lucky.
Allen pointed out that mid-April through June is his favorite time of year in the gorge. The water flow is usually good due to the abundant natural run off from spring rains and the naturally occurring underground springs that feed into the gorge stream. Also, the wild flowers are prolific during this time as the earth comes back to life after a long cold winter. He pointed out plants such as black cohosh, blue cohosh, greenbriers, various species of ferns in their fiddlehead stage, and wild ginger. Spring flowers were magnificent such as the trillium grandiflorum (great white trillium), red trilliums, trout lilies, jack-in-the-pulpit, large flowered bellwort and bloodroots to name a few.
Plants and flowers are always wonderful but the highlight of this hike is the stream. For a waterfall lover, this Gorge Hike is Zanadu as it features 13 major falls and cascades along its stretch to the top of the gorge. These are viewed from different vantage points as numerous bridges cross the stream and falls along the upward grade. Only the final cascade is named – Bridal Veil – and all others are appropriately unnamed. All along the way, massive rock formations tower upward and Allen pointed out some perfect fossil formations in some of them along with some geology of the area.
The stream is also home to native trout and we met up with a fishing expedition trying their luck in luring out the fish from some of the deep holes in the stream. Allen also pointed out that the presence of snails on the rocks in the water is a good indicator of the health and purity of the waters flowing in the gorge stream – no chemical runoff or pollution. The snails also help to keep the waters clean and healthy for fish and wildlife.
Lisa and I give this hike an enthusiastic Thumbs Up and highly recommend it to anyone who loves waterfalls and wildflowers. The Cascades Gorge Hike is available to anyone and can be booked by calling Allegheny Outfitters at The Omni Homestead at 540-839-7760. Weather permitting, hikes are offered at 9:30 and 1:30 daily.
Published in Daytripper – May 2014
Ohio is not often equated as one of the great destination spots offering adventure opportunities. Locals may visit Amish country in Lancaster, but I’m talking adventure like hiking trails, rocks, rivers, and waterfalls. A couple of years ago, I started seeing post on Facebook about Hocking Hills State Park and as I investigated further, decided it may be an adventure worthy destination. Many have never heard of it – surprisingly, those who have lived in Ohio are unaware, or never visited the area.
We rolled into Logan, Ohio and were able to find the visitors center for the park easily. We picked up an area map and decided to scope out what we planned to do during our time there. First we did a drive by of Logan Lake to see if it was worthy of using our new inflatable kayak. However, it was marked off the to-do list as Mark found it to be more for fisherman than for pleasure boats or kayaks. We headed into the park and found a campsite – one high enough to keep us dry during the endless rains. We were tent camping after all.
Hocking Hills is comprised of six distinctive, unique natural areas covering about 2000 acres. We hit the Old Man’s Cave area during our first afternoon there. It had rained hard earlier in the day and the gorge had a misty, moody look to it. As the largest natural area in the park, it features Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle Falls, Lower Falls, and Lower Gorge. Throughout the 1700’s, historical records indicate men actually lived under the rock overhangs throughout the century.
Day two was devoted entirely to hiking as we took in Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Conkle’s Hollow and Rock House. Cedar Falls was misnamed by early settlers as there are actually no cedar trees in the gorge. It is filled with hemlock which has escaped attack by the beetles which have riddled other hemlock stands throughout the country. This falls offers the greatest volume of water of all the falls in the park.
Ash Cave is not a true cave, rather a vast rock overhang with a waterfall which accentuates its beauty. The Cave measures 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from front to rear and is 90 feet in height. The falls is fed by the East Fork of Queer Creek. The recess was used by the native peoples and early pioneer travelers. Blackened walls and heaps of ashes give testament to its extensive use. Ash Cave is wheelchair accessible.
Conkle’s Hollow is one of the deepest gorges in Ohio. Its vertical cliffs rise over 200 feet and at the end of the hike, you are rewarded with a couple of picturesque water falls. Conkle’s Hollow is a state nature preserve and part of this trail is wheel chair accessible.
Rock House is the only true cave in the Hocking Hills which has a 25 foot high ceiling, 200 feet long and 20 to 30 feet wide. Back in the day, it was used as a hide out for robbers, murders, horse thieves and bootleggers and as such earned it the name “Robber’s Roost”.
Our last day in Logan found us exploring Cantwell Cliffs and outside of the park, the Rock Bridge. The Cantwell Cliffs may be one of the least visited areas of Hocking Hills as it the most remote, but the cliffs and rock formations are a must see. Rock Bridge was not as impressive as our Natural Bridge in Virginia.
Granted, we did not do the longer hikes, and we did not explore the famed Buckeye Trail or Grandma Gatewood Trail, so you could spend much more time exploring the park than we did. Spring would be a great time to see wildflowers, and fall is probably brilliant with color. We did not see much wildlife however.
Hocking Hills State Park has great beauty and ease of access but the size of the parking lot at each feature gives testament of the high foot traffic it receives. Sadly, it is showing signs of vast over use and abuse some of which we witnessed by visitors in the various areas. Adults as well as children showed little regard for rules put in place to preserve the integrity of the natural areas. If these areas are not protected, the natural beauty will soon be totally destroyed and unrecoverable. Outside of these facts, the area is rich in beauty and history and a wonderful travel destination.
“On a clear day, you can see forever.” My thoughts exactly as I looked all around me from the top of Cock’s Comb Trail. The view from the top is amazing as you take in the 180 degree vista. To the left, you see into Rockbridge County and to the right, into Allegheny County all the way to the state line. The actual hike is quite short, but these views are truly the drawing card.
Cock’s Comb Trail runs nearly parallel to the county line of Rockbridge and Allegheny. Though only a .21 mile trail, it is rated “Difficult” due to the steep incline. However, it was not as difficult as I had anticipated. For some reason, I envisioned a rock climb the entire distance and indeed, the last part is a scramble up boulders and some agility is required to accomplish that part of the hike. If you don’t get to the top of the rocks, you miss the view.
The trail is smooth and otherwise easily navigated. Late spring flowers were in bloom such as the pink wild azaleas, Lilly of the Valley and waves of deep purple widow’s tears. Black swallowtail butterflies enjoyed the floral sweetness and warmth of the sunlight filtering through the trees and a little bit mountain tea was growing along the trail. After a little bouldering to the top of the rocks, it is easy to see where the name “Cock’s Comb” comes from. Even the buzzards’ were enjoying sunning themselves on the lower set of rock outcroppings.
From the top looking toward the Rockbridge side of the mountain, you can see Lake Robertson in the valley. After we came down from the trail, we decided to explore the area around the lake. The lake is a 31 acre body of clear mountain water offering great fishing and boating. Also available is a large picnic area, tennis courts, a swimming pool, hiking trails, boat rentals, and a 56 site camping area which accommodates both RV’s and tents – another great option for a weekend outing of camping and canoeing on the lake.
To access the Cock’s Comb Trail from I-64 East, exit #35 at Longdale Furnace. Turn right onto Rt. 269 and travel .34 miles to SR 770 (Collierstown Road) which is to the left. Travel 4.1 miles to the top of the mountain, then take a left and continue 2.39 miles to the parking area which is on the left. Please note that signage is nonexistent and the trailhead is only minimally marked, but very visible. There is a post with a “5” on in and a National Forest flier attached to it. To continue on to Lake Robertson, after coming from the Cock’s Comb Trail, return out the 2.39 miles to the point that reconnects to SR770 and go left and this will take you down the other side of the mountain to SR652. Turn left and after a few miles, signage for Lake Robertson is on the left.
Published June 2014 – Day Tripper a tabloid insert to the Mountain Messenger published in Lewisburg, West Virginia
Fall’s warm, golden days are fleeting as we move towards the end of yet another season heading into winter and snowy, icy weather. These are days to be treasured – savored with all of our senses. There’s nothing like a bike ride to help you drink in all the loveliness of a rich autumn day.
Every week I pass by Smith Bridge Road in Allegheny County, Virginia where the trailhead for the Jackson River Scenic Trail is located. This is a Rail-to-Trail conversion project which currently runs from the Smith Bridge Road through Petticoat Junction to Intervale for seven and two-tenths miles. Taking advantage of 65 degree temperatures, Mark and I decided at the last minute to get out the bikes and explore this “new” trail.
The afternoon sun was warding off the chill from the air as we pulled into the Smith Bridge trailhead. Only one other vehicle was there at the time. The trail is well prepped with fine crush gravel for smooth riding as it heads towards Covington adjacent to a nice residential section. It runs along the Jackson River as it meanders along farmland and wooded tracts offering pleasant views along the route.
At first, I mistakenly felt that this trail was underutilized, but as we made our way heading toward Petticoat Junction, I found that I was wrong. We started meeting joggers, people out walking their dogs and other folks on bikes. There were signs along the way of horseback riders, though we did not encounter any on this day. Along the way we saw nice picnic tables inviting you to stop, enjoy the view, or have a lunch break. High shale banks skirt the trail and add interest to the ride.
We raced through the cool breeze in the blue shadows of the mountains gliding into the warm rays of the sun on the other side as the fallen leaves crunched under the bike tires. Across the river, we could see fields with big round bales of hay and were serenaded by the lowing of cattle as they came down the riverbank to enjoy a cool drink of water.
When we got to Petticoat Junction trailhead, there were several vehicles in that lot and we stopped to look at the map. It is a little over two more miles to the Intervale trailhead. A little gas station is in sight, so we rode down there to check that out. They have the usual gas station type of stuff but also have a grill where they serve a limited menu.
We decided to head back and the shadows were starting to fall long onto the trail. Canada geese swam in formation in the river, honking away and paying no attention to anyone. The pleasant scent of wood smoke was starting to rise from some of the camps along the river… that always reminds me of fall. The fresh air was inviting as I pushed up some of the slight grade heading back.
We passed a farm that had two friendly ponies and two wonderful gaited show horses. They came running to the fence as if I had a carrot or apple to share with them. I had neither, so their attention was short lived. We watched as the show horses ran and galloped in the shadow of the mountain. What beauties they were and watching them run was a pleasure.
We had gotten in a little over ten miles on the ride and by the time I got back to the trail head, I had to shed a layer. I had gotten a little warm on that last push to the trailhead. Someone was there from North Carolina, inquiring as to where the Falling Spring waterfall was located. Mark gave directions and they headed out. I checked out the other side of the road where at some future time, the trail will be extended. The grassy rail bed is waiting for its transformation which will add another seven miles as it heads north to connect Smith Bridge and Natural Well.
So thankful that Mark and I were able to enjoy the ride on the Jackson River Scenic Trail. The forecast for the rest of the week is rain and ends with a possibility of snow showers. The seasons pass quickly -grab those golden days as they present themselves because after they are gone, they’re gone.
Published in the Day Tripper a publication of Mountain Messenger in Lewisburg, West Virginia November 3, 2013.
Is anyone else scratching their heads wondering where in the world summer went? Honestly, fall has kind of sneaked up on all of us and it is probably safe to say that no one out there got to do all that was on their summer bucket list. I didn’t. I am not sure that I even got around to actually writing my bucket list. I did get to ride my bike on the Greenbrier River Trail a few times, but with all the summer rains, I never seemed to get a kayak trip worked in. Kayakers were excited to take advantage of the unusually high stream conditions this season – especially streams like Johns Creek that tend to get low early in the mid to late summer.
In the past, we have enjoyed canoeing on the James River and kayaking on Craigs Creek, but had never considered the Cowpasture River. Someone mentioned that the Cowpasture is a really nice kayaking destination so we decided to take advantage of the great end of summer temperatures and planned a short excursion – as in only 3.2 miles. The Cowpasture actually begins in Highland County and flows through Bath into Allegheny for 84.4 miles and is considered to be some of the most pristine waters in Virginia. It could easily be a two day excursion or an entire week.
The morning was a little foggy when my partner in adventure, Mark, met me at the Glen Wilton pull off on a Wednesday morning. We put his kayak in my truck and rode out McKinney Hollow Road to the Walter L. Robinson River Access Point (Evans Tract). We had the river all to ourselves and the temperatures were absolutely perfect for a kayak trip – around 70 degrees. The waters were very calm, with a few riffles along the way. There were only a couple of places where we had to use our hands to push ourselves through the rocks because the water was low but at no point did we have to walk the kayaks through dry places.
The Evans Tract section joins the George Washington National Forest. The shoreline along the way was fields, farms and camps and there were also some high shale banks with scarce vegetation. Butterflies and dragonflies escorted us along the way while the quietness was occasionally interrupted only by the calls of crows and ravens.
There were some fish along the way – smallmouth bass and rock bass. Virginia Fish and Game Commission report that muskies and redbreast sunfish are in the Cowpasture, but saw none of these. We only saw one lonely turtle out sunning himself and we followed a blue heron a ways down the river that was scouting out lunch. We startled a covey of wood ducks a couple of times, but there were no deer or other critters to be seen.
A couple of times, there were some close calls. Mark got stuck on top of a big rock while trying to maneuver some riffles, but somehow managed to get off of it and not get dumped into the water. I am not sure how he accomplished this because I was busy trying to make sure the same thing did not happen to me.
In Botetourt County at Iron Gate, the Cowpasture merges with the Jackson River and there they become the James River. The Doobie Brothers’ song, “Black Water” came to mind after I started into the merge. It was really dark compared to the sparkling clear water of the Cowpasture.
The last set of rapids we needed to negotiate was the largest of the entire trip. You could hear them roaring for quite a way up the river. The broader part of the river had some serious ledges and after studying the situation, we decided that if we stayed hard to the right, closer to the bank, it would be a smoother ride. We maneuvered the black waters down to the Glen Wilton pull out without any incidences.
After we picked up the other truck, we headed to Clifton Forge to enjoy an early birthday lunch at Jack Mason Tavern. It was late for most of the lunch crowd, and too early for dinner, so we had the entire place to ourselves. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.
Published in the Day Tripper, a publication of Mountain Messenger in Lewisburg, West Virginia, October 6, 2013.
Social media sites like Facebook and Flickr have become wonderful resources for the weekend adventurer in all of us. Many photographers are anxious to post images of their outdoor adventures, scenic panoramas, and nature close-ups, putting the temptation out there for us to go and visit those places as soon as we have an opportunity. Really, a lot of these places are not that far away and how did we not know about them? A very striking, painterly image was recently discovered on Flickr of Glenn Falls, Virginia and a convincing voice suggested, “Someone should go and explore this waterfall and some around the I-81 area.”
”I will go”, I said, “but Glenn Falls is not indicated in my gazetteer for some reason.” It was on Google maps however, so we decided to just wing it. Since there are several others waterfalls in the area, we certainly have other options!
Being that my weekends are relegated to work, a midweek day was selected and as you can imagine, rain began as soon as I hit I-64 headed east. Really? Who would have believed it – right? This has been the summer of endless rains and if you have an adventurer’s heart, you just have to go with it, or sit in the recliner watching the grass grow.
After picking up my partner in adventure in Buchanan, Virginia, off we headed to Lexington to knock around and wait out the rain. Weather .com indicated that the rain would stop during the afternoon. By late morning, we headed out of Lexington on Route 11 – North Lee Highway. It was still trying to rain a little, but we pulled into Vesuvius and turned onto Route 56 east. Shortly after we started down this route, I caught a glimpse of a little hand painted sign that said, Glenn Falls. I said “there it is” to which Mark replied, “That’s all it is?” Well, it became obvious that this was not what we expected to find, so we decided to head on through the Vesuvius area and connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway heading toward the White Rock Falls area. It looked like a possibility in the gazetteer.
The rain and wind were still threatening and when we found the trail head, it indicated that it was a 2.5 mile hike both ways and with the on and off rain, we were not prepared to hike that distance-who would have thought to bring raingear? So we headed back into Vesuvius and stopped by Gerties’ General Store which appeared to be the (only) hotspot for some lunch in the area. Food aroma’s met us at the door and we also saw an opportunity to ask some locals about the Glenn Falls situation. Come to find out, it is on private property and it was questionable as to whether the owners allowed visitors into see the falls. As we were heading out of Vesuvius, it became obvious that this is the best view of the falls – No wonder we were not impressed heading in. After a nice lunch, we decided to take another route and head to Panther Falls on the Pedlar River which is located outside of Buena Vista in Amherst County.
As you go out of Buena Vista on Route 60 east, cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway and almost immediately, you come upon a Forest Service Road (dirt) marked Panther Falls Road which turns to the right. A very short distance down this road you will find yourself at the trail head located on the left.
By this time, the rain had stopped and there was a slight overcast, but this is desirable for photographing waterfalls! Plus, we had the entire place to ourselves. We slogged down the muddy trail a short distance to the falls and plotted out our best angle. Panther Falls is a split falls. It cascades in two different places which makes it a challenge to photograph. There was a significant cool breeze and mist rising from the water of this upper side. There are huge rocks on each side and on the left side, large “drilled out” places in the rock. At some point in the past, the powerful force of the water has made a perfect circular hollow in the rock as the water ran much higher and faster. As you look at the second section of the fall, watching the water, you can come to understand how that had happened. If the water were not as deep and forceful, you would probably also see a circular cutout in those rocks as well.
Swallow tail butterflies were flitting all around and the sound of the water along with the mist coming off of the falls made for a very relaxing time at Panther Falls. We headed out on the muddy trail as the sun began breaking through the cloud cover. A perfect day of chasing water falls had come to a close and it was time to head home to West Virginia.
Published on September 7, 2013 in Day Tripper a publication of Mountain Messenger in Lewisburg, West Virginia