Friday, November 25, 2016

Conkles Hollow, on a misty morning

One of the crown jewels of Ohio's rich natural resources is the Hocking Hills. This region, which is a short drive southeast of Columbus and is centered in Hocking County, is noted for its steep hemlock-cloaked gorges, impressive sandstone cliffs, and overall stunning scenery. While I've made scores of trips here over the years, I must confess to avoiding the area somewhat in recent years.

Too many people.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm glad the tens of thousands of folks visit Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls and all of the other iconic Hocking Hills hotspots. By visiting such glorious natural areas, a person would seemingly have to become more interested in nature and conservation, or so it would seem. So, I'm glad my fellow primates flock to these places. But, alas, my fellow primates are also VERY NOISY. And that drives me crazy when I'm in places such as the one we will visit in this blog.

To many Hocking Hills veterans, Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve would be Numero Uno among the region's natural treats. It's only 87 acres, but what an 87 acres! I have been remiss in trying to capture some of the beauty of this place with my camera, but today was the day for an attempt. Most factors were in my favor. One, I was there EARLY, like right after sunrise. Thus, beating the crowds. Two, it was cold and misty and such weather would help keep people away. Three, it was Thanksgiving, and the holiday would also keep many people in their bungalows.

The weather was a double-edged sword. The fumaroles and puffs of mist swirling in the valleys create interest and drama. But my favorite camera for landscape work, the Canon 5DS-R, is a priss. Too much moisture can shut it down, and potentially lead to an expensive fix. I do all I can to protect it, but no matter - if the skies unleashed water by the buckets, and I was a mile or so out on the trail, it would be quite difficult to keep moisture at bay. But, luckily, that didn't happen - the skies spit a bit, and even sprinkled on occasion, but it was manageable.

For this expedition, I brought along Canon's amazing 14mm f/2.8 II ultra wide-angle lens to test out. I rented it from my favorite camera gurus, Midwest Photo Exchange here in Columbus, for a mere $35 for a long weekend. Many of the following images were taken with that lens. Others in the bag and also employed were Canon's 16-35mm f/4, 50mm f/1.4, and 70-200mm f/2.8.

The view from partway up the long set of stairs leading to the gorge's upper rim. There are two trails at Conkles Hollow: this one, and the much easier lower gorge trail. My plan was to traverse the upper rim, then work the lower gorge. However, by the time I returned to the lower levels in late morning, there were already enough yelling, screaming people running around down there that I decided to save that part of Conkles for another day.

The rim trail is really not very tough. Once the hiker has ascended to the top, it's a nice flat hike all the way around the gorge, until the descent at the other end. You'll quickly be rewarded with spectacular vistas such as this.

The cliffs along Conkles' box canyon are massive, some of the tallest (the tallest?) in the state. Some rise to 200 feet. Over the years, many people have fallen, resulting in serious injuries and fatalities. More than a few have been photographers. Caution is advised when trying to frame that award-winning shot.

One of the spectacular Blackhand Sandstone promontories that stands guard over Conkles Hollow.

Shifting mists and a different lens creates a different perspective of the scene in the previous photo, only minutes later.

Another, smaller sandstone promontory along the rim trail.

 Same view as the previous image, with a different lens and slightly shifted position.

The highlight of the lower gorge is the recess cave at the trail's terminus. After rains, a waterfall splashes over the cliff at this point. This is the stream that creates that fall, and feeds the gorge, as seen from above. Just past the downed logs, the stream tumbles over the cliff and into the gorge. Little water in it on this day, though.

Jumbled logs and dead snags punctuate old-growth timber. This is how a forest should look. Too many of Ohio's forests are excessively manicured due to ecologically ignorant, poor timber management practices. While I was creating images in this area, a massive Pileated Woodpecker was working high in a nearby snag. THUMP! CRACK! The brutish woodpecker was probably after wood-boring beetle larvae, and his crude carpentry caused giant chunks of the snag to crash to the forest floor with resounding thumps. That's the only type of logger I want to see in a place like this.

The trail passes along the crest of steep cliffs which drop into rich coves. Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, is a dominant tree here. This northern and Appalachian conifer is what gives the gorges of the Hocking Hills their distinctive flavor. The trees also provide habitat for disjunct populations of breeding birds that normally nest far to the north: Hermit Thrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, and Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Canada, and Magnolia warblers among others.

A blanket of still green "Fancy Ferns", Dryopteris intermedia, brighten the forest floor.

One of several stunning sandstone recess caves, nestled in a cathedral woodland. As always, I look forward to a return visit to Conkles Hollow, and as always, it'll be at first light so I can have the place to myself for a few precious hours, selfish as that may be.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Jim. Was over in Hocking Hills to catch the fall colors few weeks ago. Prime, very beautiful. looks like you caught a good day too. Like all your shots - took me back ~25yrs when i walked the rim first time - a very special place. Gary Wayne