Shawnee Lookout: Life-sized Timeline

Caption: The lovely featured image of the old log cabin at Shawnee Lookout was taken by Cathy on Flickr. Check out her photo here.

Today, I was supposed to knock out three hikes and make up for some lost time. But, with the temperature in the single digits this morning when I started to head out, I thought I’d rather just curl up with a pot of coffee and get some busy work done. (Hiking in sub-zero temps may be OK with The Real Hiking Viking, but not for Cassie. Though I am enjoying watching his hike progress.) I was going to hike Shawnee Lookout today, but instead I’ll fill you in on some of the history of my second-favorite local park. Then next weekend, we’ll see how my lungs fare on its trails.

Shawnee Lookout spans a beautiful swatch of land between the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers, less than a mile from where the two rivers converge. Of the park’s three trails, the westernmost trail ventures into the point between the rivers, stopping near the floodplain between the two waterways.

I love to hike here, but it’s not really one of those places you can hit up and hope to feel completely disconnected and lost in nature. To me, it’s more of a place where you get a great walk in the woods – and see a life-sized timeline spanning more than 10,000 years.

I’m a long time removed from my seventh-grade Ohio History class, so I’m more than a little rusty on my facts. But, what I culled from dear old Google tells me that there have been more developments in the last 20ish years, so I don’t feel so bad for forgetting most of it. A 2009 study done by University of Cincinnati archeological students showed that Shawnee Lookout could be “the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group,” according to an article published in “Science Daily.”  This statement is supported by artifacts found which date back 14,000 years and are attributed to the Hopewell Indians. Some of the more recent studies have shown that the most recent Native Americans to live in the area, the Shawnee the park is named after, are linked to the Hopewell Indians, thus creating this continuous Native American habitation for over 10,000 years.

Let’s take a walk through time.

Miami Fort Trail

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Even though artifacts have been found in the area that date back 14,000 years, according to the sign at the Miami Fort Trailhead, the oldest part of history you can easily see are the earthen mounds around the park. None are what you might call “plainly visible” because the trails are kept several feet away and trees and brush have been able to grow up around them. Still, several of these mounds are marked along the 1.4-mile Miami Fort Trail as it meanders its way around the mounds and gives hikers some pretty views of the rivers the park boundaries parallel.

Out of the three trails in the park, this one has always seemed to be the most difficult. It starts you out going up a pretty large hill, and then runs you up and over a couple of ridges once you’re at the top. Still, the cardio is worth it for the views you’ll get.

Between the name “fort” and the ridge top location between rivers, I always assumed this was a fortified position used for defense, but that may not actually be the case. Another blogger visited this park in 2010 and wrote that the Hopewell Indians used this hilltop as a ceremonial burial ground, not as a defense post. But a local newspaper published republished Tamara York’s chapter from “60 Hikes within 60 Miles” which said it was used as a strategic spot, so you can decide how you think it was used. I’m not sure if I prefer thinking I’m walking on a fort, or desecrating a burial ground. But since there haven’t been any reports of children in the area being sucked into televisions, I’m guessing we’re safe. (Also, if you’re into history, I’d encourage you to read all of the blogger’s post above. It has more interesting tidbits about the area surrounding the park.)

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Ancient history and modern day have an interesting juxtaposition along the Miami Fort Trail. On one hand, you are following a marked path along Indian mounds, and on the other you have some pretty fantastic views of the river below – and the power plant belching smoke on its bank. This is the first example of how you can’t quite get away from civilization on this hike.

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This photos was taken by Just Nora from Flickr. You can view her photo here: https://flic.kr/p/4RKMZD

Little Turtle Trail

After tens of thousands of years, the pioneer settlers showed up. On the only road through the park, just past the Little Turtle Trailhead, lies the Springhouse school and log cabin. Neither were originally located in the park, but both were built in the late 1700s and moved to the park in the 1970s to preserve them. Farewell, Shawnee. Hello, Europeans.

The Little Turtle Trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, just next to a playground. Measuring about two miles, this is the longest single trail in the park. Even though the trail takes you up and around a decent hill, the trail is still pretty easy/moderate for most people. Out of the three park trails, I’d rank it a second-most difficult, behind the Miami Fort Trail. The cool things about this trail are the scenic overlooks along the hillside where hikers can see the rivers below. They’re great places to stop, catch your breath and switch out oxygen tanks.

This trail has little else to remind you of the historical significance of the area. There aren’t any marked mounds along the trails and there aren’t many reminders of modern day unless you get a glimpse of something along the river.

But if you want to take a step forward in time, cross the street for the third and final trail in the park.

Blue Jacket Trail

I can’t walk this trail without Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings” coming into my head: “They come with fire, they come with axes…. Gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning!”

Even though you don’t have the (necessary, I’ll admit) ugliness of a power plant wrecking your view of the river, this trail is bisected by a wide swatch of land that has been cleared for power lines to cut through.

You’ll head into this 1.3-mile trail like you’re on a jolly jaunt into the woods, and start on your merry way. And then, BOOM! You’re in a clearing you think is a cute little meadow or something until you look around and realize there are hulking towers on either side of you and electrical wires buzzing over your head. I mean, I’m sitting here with a computer, cell phone, desk lamp, and various batteries charging, but I don’t want to be reminded of how my own materialism impacts the earth when I’m trying to pretend I’m one with nature. But then, maybe it’s a good thing to have that reminder?

Once you get past the power lines, you’re back into the quiet woods. This trail seems to be to be the least trafficked one, maybe because the only views it has are of trees. There are occasional benches, but there’s nothing to look at but woods – which is better than a power line, any day.

 

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Hike 4: The Hike That Wasn’t

Today I planned to tackle a brand new, three-ish mile hike. But we should all know by now that when I plan to do something, nothing at all goes the way it’s supposed to.

Everything started changing when I kept having these gut feelings that I should avoid that hike. I never have these kinds of feelings, despite family members constantly asking me if I’m afraid to hike alone. The answer is no, actually I love it. Not that I don’t also love hiking with my friends, but it’s nice to get out into the woods on my own to clear my head.

The hike I was planning to do is a bit further out, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s no cell service, so if I fell, or broke something, I’d be on my own. Despite the total likelihood that I’d be fine doing this hike with only my dog like every other hike, I paid attention to the nagging voice in the back of my head and decided to hold it until my friends are available to join me.

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The Lakeview Trail was only visible by the divot it left in the earth. Under those leaves was squishy, sucking mud.

Instead, I decided to hit a park I haven’t visited since I was a kid: Stonelick State Park. This park was built around another one of those man-made Clermont County lakes I would advise against sticking a toe into. There is a beach and a boat ramp, but I couldn’t tell you if anyone still swims here. The state of the park would suggest few people use any of its amenities, but I think that’s deceptive.

The park was created to become a haven for outdoor sportsmen, and it appears that is really all it’s used for. The hiking trails appeared to be little-trafficked, the only one that seemed to be getting much regular use was the Lakeview Trail, which followed about a mile on one side of the lake.

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The “60 Hikes” trail begins here. Note the pool of water in the foreground. The author warns of these along the trail, but not that it is a public hunting area.

I started out trying to follow the “60 Hikes” path through the park; normally I just take her notes and pick my own path. But I drove past the trailhead twice before I found it, and then nearly ripped the undercarriage off my car turning into the parking lot. I think the last time anyone parked there and took that trail was in 2009 when her book was published.

There was a sign at the Beechtree Trailhead announcing a public hunting area. Despite another sign forbidding hunting on Sundays, and that most hunting seasons are over in Ohio, I just don’t trust people enough to actually follow regulations. Not that I think most hunters turn their nose at the law; quite the contrary. Most of the people I know are careful to follow the law and practice safety because they don’t want to lose their license or hurt themselves or someone else. But there’s one in every bunch, and with my luck that one would be wandering around Stonelick the day I decided to hike it. It didn’t help that while I was pondering the pros and cons of hiking a hunting area that someone started target practice nearby.

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The Lakeview Trail would be easy if not for all the downed trees across the path.

I finally decided to hike around the lake a bit, and parked in another decrepit lot that was more dead weeds than pavement, just past a marked Sycamore grove. There was a spur trail that brought us down to the Lakeview Trail. The quiet serenity advertised on the park’s website was ruined by a rowdy bunch of fishermen on the complete other side of the lake. I could make out every ridiculous comment they made. When listening to them got to be too much, I turned around and headed back down the trail the other way, trying to get farther away from their ruckus. I never really did.

The trail was a slippery slide of mud covered in a thick layer of leaves. If it weren’t for the leaves on the ground, instead of the trees, the Lakeview Trail wouldn’t give any views of the lake. Couple my slip-sliding with a stubborn hound who was doing some hardcore tracking, and I was basically skiing down this trail. It wasn’t fun. But it would have been much easier if there weren’t trees down every twenty feet or so on the trail.

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That darn dog would have dragged me into the lake if I would have let her.

When a dog is trying to drag you after something and you have to keep hopping over logs, her tugging while you’re in the air is enough to make you eat mud, every time. Thank goodness for trekking poles.

Totally frustrated with my more-stubborn-than-usual dog, and the hilljack fishermen across the lake, I hauled my dog back to the car and left the park more annoyed than when I got there, completely defeating the purpose of my weekly hikes. Thus, the hike that wasn’t. I logged less than a mile before I removed my frazzled self from Stonelick woods.

The moral of this story: I explored this park and determined that it’s not somewhere I want to hike. However, if you want to hunt or fish or hang out with a bunch of noisy fishermen, it’s your kind of place.

Hike 3: The Aborted Hike

I won’t take the space necessary to discuss how much of a fail this particular hike was. I called it “The Hike That Wasn’t,” until Hike 4 earned that title. (Stay tuned for that lovely story.)

You ever have one of those days where every time you start to do something, something goes wrong? And then every time something goes wrong you kind of laugh (not really) and think to yourself, “Why did I get out of bed, again?” And eventually you stop laughing, and just get annoyed. That was my day for Hike 3 of my 52 Hike Challenge. And now, I’m far enough away from it that I can finally chuckle a little bit about it. (Not really.)

So what do you do when everything in your day is just going super-duper wrong? You get lost in the woods, of course!

Since it was a weekday, I decided to go to a park that stays pretty packed on weekends, Shawnee Lookout. Its part of the Hamilton County, Ohio, park system and has three nature trails, a golf course, nature center and historical cabin.

Before I left, I couldn’t find my GoPro. Even though the picture distortion drives me crazy, it’s a lot more portable and easy to deal with than my DSLR, especially when I’m carrying 20 pounds of oxygen tanks on my back. But I ended up grabbing my DSLR and taking that instead. When I got to the trailhead and started trying to take pictures, I realized there was no memory card in the camera.

Then, I decided I’d use my iPhone. They have great cameras, right? That didn’t work EITHER. Helga’s (yep, I named my cell phone, too) memory was full, because podcasts had been downloading automatically. (I didn’t discover and correct this until later.) So I have zero photos or videos or anything of this hike.

But wait! There’s more. I went to this park intending to hike all five miles of trails, something I haven’t done in well over a year. But that didn’t happen. You see, I need a wrench to open and close my oxygen tanks. When one empties, I take a slim, black piece of plastic with a hole in it and close the empty tank, remove the regulator from the top of one tank to another, and use that handy piece of dense plastic to open the new tank. No wrench, no oxygen. You’d think I’d remember something this important, but I’m chuckling as I type because this isn’t the first time I’ve forgotten it.

I realized I didn’t have my wrench almost halfway into the first trail – in just enough time to get back to the car with just a few minutes of oxygen left. This is the part where I quit trying to turn my day around and went back home.

I managed to hike a total of one mile. Go. Me.

East Fork State Park

Featured image: This freeze frame from a GoPro video is of one of the trails that cross the bridle trails in East Fork State Park near Batavia, Ohio. The park has 46 miles of uncrowded, backcountry trails – not including bridle and bike trails –  ripe for the hiking. 

The first time I announced I was going to East Fork Lake State Park in Clermont County, Ohio, the response I got was a look of bewilderment.

“Ew. Why?” was the question that went with the look.

What I didn’t know before my first visit some five or six years ago is that the lake the park is named for is known for being kind of gross. It’s one of those man-made lakes that was created to help curtail flooding. The dam was built and the lake filled – covering everything left behind in water, including buildings, bridges and whatever else trash was left behind.

The gross part is the lake issues warnings periodically because of a toxin created by algae in the water. Some level is safe, but as recently as last summer park officials had to issue a warning for people who are very young, very old or have compromised immune systems to stay out of the water.  Nevertheless, the beach stays busy but not overcrowded, there is a new bathhouse (that actually has doors) and a boat ramp. Oh, yeah, there’s also 46 miles of backcountry trails, and miles of bridle and biking trails that allow hiking. For all these miles of trails, I can deal with a dirty lake, moss-covered ponds and and random, rusted-out hot water heaters tossed out on a trail.

I probably make this park sound much worse than it really is. For the record, the first time I went to the park, I went only to the beach, played in the water and didn’t die. I’d never do it again, but that’s because I have a “compromised immune system” – a.k.a. I take drugs to beat down my immune system so it doesn’t kill me. So even if there is no health warning posted, you won’t find me dipping a single toe in that water. Now, if I could just keep my dog from drinking from stagnant pools – and then subsequently yakking everywhere – I’d be in business.

What trailheads?

The second time I went to this park was earlier this summer. Lacey and I headed out one Sunday afternoon with the intention of logging some miles. We got to the park and an hour or so later, we actually got on a trail. Which brings me to my only real complaint about this park: It’s next to impossible to find a trailhead.

If you enter the park from the State Route 125 side and stop at the Visitor’s Center, there is a kiosk outside chock full of completely useless maps. Roads aren’t named, they’re numbered. But matching up the road you’re on with the road on the map is nearly impossible.  The only trail that was easy to find is the backpacker trail. It’s on the right, just past the visitor’s center. Parking is to the left, just past the putrid pond. The trailhead in the parking lot is the start of the mountain bike trail, which also allows hiking.

Part of our problem was that the trail rating on the map listed the backpacker trail as moderate/rugged and I wasn’t feeling particularly rugged that day. So instead of just hiking the trail we could find, we spent an hour trying to find the trailhead for one of the shorter, easier trails, which we never found. But we did find the trailhead for the bridle trails on the State Route 32 side of the park, and hiked about four miles on them.

Bridle Trails

For anyone else, I'd rate the bridle trails as easy, but they can border on moderate with busted lungs. The trails are almost flat and have few obstacles in the way.

For anyone else, I’d rate the bridle trails as easy, but they can border on moderate with busted lungs. The trails are almost flat and have few obstacles in the way.

There are one or two obvious problems with bridle trails: Horse patties and trail damage. Couple that with the wet summer we’ve had and if you’re not picking around one you’re picking around the other. Even still, there was usually enough room to walk around or pick up a spur to the side of the trail to bypass the mess.

This is another freeze frame from a video, so please excuse the quality of the image. But you can see the kind of trail damage you'll cross on the bridle trails.

This is another freeze frame from a video, so please excuse the quality of the image. But you can see the kind of trail damage you’ll cross on the bridle trails.

These trails were almost completely flat. If you’re looking for a good trail and you want a quiet walk without having to go up and down a bunch of hills or climb over fallen logs, take a tour of the bridle trails. We passed a couple of riding parties, but that was about it. There are several trails that intersect with the main bridle trail, so if you get bored with what you’re seeing, just take a side trail. We took several, I can’t even remember which blazes we followed, but none of them disappointed.

Backpacker Trail

A step up on intensity from the bridle trails, the Perimeter Trail would still be fairly easy for a normal person. The hills aren't difficult but there are roots, rocks and fallen trees to navigate along the way.

A step up on intensity from the bridle trails, the Perimeter Trail borders on rugged for the busted lung club. The hills aren’t very difficult but they are frequent, and there are roots, rocks, creeks and fallen trees to navigate along the way.

The third time I went to this park was about a week ago. I was coming off a couple of weeks of zero days and out to prove a point. My goal at the beginning of the summer was to be able to hike eight miles – my pre-diagnosis best for a weekend day hike – and I was determined to make it. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it.)

This is a freeze frame from a GoPro video, so please excuse the image quality. But this is a piece of one of the  trails that cross the bridle trails at East Fork. This is what most of the trails I've seen look like.

This is a freeze frame from a GoPro video, so please excuse the image quality. But this is a piece of one of the trails that cross the bridle trails at East Fork. This is what most of the trails I’ve seen look like.

Lacey and I hit the park, and this time I didn’t let the moderate/rugged tag scare me. In fact, we were about a mile and a half in when I declared that the trail wasn’t that bad – and it wasn’t, really.

If you park at the lot behind the putrid pond and then walk back out across the road, you’ll find the Steve Newman Worldwalker Perimeter Trail. This 32-mile trail circles the park and has four primitive camping sites along the way. I’m not so sure the campers who used the spots believed in packing out their trash, because it was partially bagged and left in the fire pit. I guess at least it wasn’t strewn about the site?

The trail winds around and over some smallish hills, through some narrow, mostly dry creeks, and over some fallen trees. It isn’t nearly as easy as what we walked on the bridle trails, but even I still wouldn’t consider it rugged. We hiked out about 2.5 miles before my lungs started betraying me and we turned back. Our total for the afternoon was 5.1 miles, and even though that’s not a lot, it ain’t too shabby for some busted lungs.

Reaching freedom’s shore

Featured image: The John Rankin House sits atop Freedom’s Hill in Ripley, Ohio. Hundreds of escaping slaves passed through this house on their way north. 

Ripley's Front Street lines the riverbank with historic homes and shops.

Ripley’s Front Street lines the riverbank with historic homes and shops.

Nestled between a high ridge and a deep, narrow neck of the Ohio River you’ll find Ripley, Ohio, population 1,738. If you float east of Cincinnati for about 50 miles you’ll glide right past it. But be careful – blink and you may miss it.

Ripley was home to a huge shipping center, and bustled year round. The area’s pork and tobacco farmers used the many tributaries leading to the river to move their wares further down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond. But underneath this busy farm city was a quiet movement that helped transport hundreds of people through the area. While slave traders were shuttling African Americans west down the river to sell them, others were helping a movement that led to freedom.

Ripley was well known as a hotbed of activity for the Underground Railroad, so much that armed fights were not uncommon. Some Southern slave owners had even placed bounties on the heads of well-known abolitionists, such as the Reverend John Rankin and freed slave John P. Parker.

Reverend Rankin's home on Freedom Hill has a great vantage point to see signals from the town for when it is safe to cross the river and watch for approaching bounty hunters.

Reverend Rankin’s home on Freedom Hill has a great vantage point to see signals from the town for when it is safe to cross the river and watch for approaching bounty hunters.

Rankin’s home at the top of the ridge was made to order for his work. With the home’s elevation, it was easy for lookouts to see several miles to make sure there was no one pursuing. The area’s terrain and waterways also worked to escaping slaves’ benefit when they needed help losing the hounds tailing them.

If you stand behind the Rankin House, you can see for miles in either direction down the river, even on a misty, spring day. When you walk down the 100 steps and look back up to the house, maybe you can imagine the relief that escaping slaves might have felt when they finally reached that hearth. Today, this ridge is known as Liberty Hill. From Rankin’s home, railroad passengers were transported to Felicity, Ohio on their way to Canada.

It’s worth mentioning here that one of the Reverend’s visitor’s was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even though Rankin didn’t speak publicly about his work on the Railroad, for obvious reasons, he made an exception for this guest and told her the story of a woman who was chased across the river on foot while it was thawing. She was forced to hop from chunk of ice to chunk of ice with her baby in her arms to escape bounty hunters. This story made it into “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Rankin’s home has been restored to its appearance when he lived there, and can be toured for a nominal fee.

John P. Parker was a slave who bought his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley. He was one of the first black men to have patents issued before 1900 and helps hundreds of people reach freedom.

John P. Parker was a slave who bought his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley. He was one of the first black men to have patents issued before 1900 and helped hundreds of people reach freedom.

Another well-known Ripley resident was John P. Parker, a man who was able to buy his freedom by working extra hours for his last owner. I can’t help but pause here to think about what it would have been like to have to work to earn the right to be my own person. Did he ever wonder, while he was working all those hours, if his owner was lying to him and wouldn’t grant his freedom after all? The concept is unfathomable to me.

But Parker did get his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley, where his experiences as a slave fueled him to help others reach freedom. He was also one of the first black men to have inventions patented before 1900. Today, his former home is a museum that can be visited during summer.

Ripley has a beautiful, historical waterfront with other places that played a role in the Underground Railroad. A few of them are listed below and more information can be found on Ripley’s website.

  • 212 Front Street: The “North Star Station,” owned by Thomas McCauge; known as the wealthiest man in the western reserve.
  • 200 Front Street: Owned by Thomas Collins; a story goes that he sold coffins and once hid escaping slaves in them to thwart a search party
  • “Signal House”: I haven’t been able to find a location for this, but this was owned by Vic and Betty Billingsley and signaled to the Rankin’s on the hill that the river was clear to transport escaping slaves.

Underground Railroad: Fee Villa

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Fee Villa, pictured above, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Moscow, Ohio. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, the residents would signal by placing a candle in the window.

Along the river are a lot of those little blink-and-you-miss-them towns. You know the kind that have a sign saying, “Welcome,” then 10 feet later one saying “Thank you for visiting.” They’re charming, usually hiding some kind of gem – either a great locally-owned shop or restaurant, or someone with a great life story. One thing you can count on is they always have a story to tell.

Moscow, Ohio is a little town like that. If you’re following US-52 – yep, that road again! – you don’t even have to blink to miss it. You’ll see signs for it once you get out of Point Pleasant, Ohio, but you have to turn off the main road to find it.

This teensy town registered 185 citizens in the 2010 census, down from the 244 who registered during the 2000 census. It was in the news about three years ago when tornadoes ripped through the area, taking out about 80 percent of the town and killing three people.

Go back about 150 years and the town was home to a distillery that made fruit brandies, and a glass factory. Today, there are some houses and a church or two. At the end of Water Street is a stately white house standing vigil over a long dock on the Ohio River.

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Check out that eerie fog. That’s the Ohio River blending in with the sky there. Usually, its easy to see the opposite bank.

The house wasn’t hard to find, exactly, I just had a bit of trouble figuring out which street I was on. You would think with just a handful of streets it would be easy, which is what I think the village planner thought too because I didn’t think the streets were marked well.

I finally found the house – but only because I decided to drive down a street that ended in a boat ramp because I wanted to get some photos of the river covered in fog. I chickened out before getting to the ramp – I always feel like I’m going to drive straight into the river, even though I’m at least 200 feet from the shore – and when I turned my head to check my mirrors, I saw the small green sign to designate this house as part of the Clermont County Freedom Trail.

This large white house was once a beacon of freedom for people crossing the river. I stood on the bank of the river below the house and tried to imagine what it would be like to get across that river. Its wide and with the heavy fog the morning I was there, I couldn’t even see the other bank. The river and its swift current dwarfed the dock beneath the home.

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More eerie photos. I can’t help but love the fog!

The place is Fee Villa, formerly inhabited by Thomas Fee, Jr., a noted abolitionist. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, Fee would place a candle in the window of the house. That candle in the window is still used in Moscow’s village logo today.

The Fees would feed, clothe the people they helped, and then transported them along the railroad to Felicity, Ohio.

A few blocks away is an open site where the home of Robert E. Fee once stood.  Fee fought to get back the freedom of a woman and her children who were kidnapped and then sold into slavery. He was unsuccessful, but dedicated his life to helping slaves escape. He was indicted by Pendleton County for slave stealing, but Ohio refused to extradite him to Kentucky to stand trial.

If you want to keep following the Freedom Trail in Clermont County, Ohio, there a many more places to visit. Check out their brochure of Underground Railroad locations, and keep checking back here. I’ll keep visiting them throughout the summer!

Gus Scale: Old Man’s Cave

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Hocking Hills State Park’s trails can be rather rugged, but there are still some suitable for members of the busted lung club. One of those is a short, out-and-back trail to Old Man’s Cave.

The Old Man's Cave Trail gets a two on The Gus Scale, but only for the steps to get in and out of the gorge. Other than that it's a walk in the park!

The Old Man’s Cave Trail gets a two on The Gus Scale, but only for the steps to get in and out of the gorge. Other than that it’s a walk in the park!

Hocking Hills is one of my favorite places to go in Ohio. This state park in south-central Ohio is full of all the outdoors you can take – but it can get a bit rugged out there, especially when you’re operating at less than full lung capacity. But fear not! There are still some things you can do, even if you aren’t able to get out to hike the full Buckeye Trail.

Old Man’s Cave is a short, easy one-mile hike from the visitor’s center. The cave is named after a hermit who lived there with his two dogs in the 1860s. You can take the trailhead that comes down behind the visitor’s center, and all the stairs that go with it, or you can hop on the trail from the opposite end of the parking lot and pass a couple of pretty little waterfalls on your way out.

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The trail follows a creek through the base of the gorge.

The downside to this path is there is a bit of a tight spot at the beginning of the trail, just past the waterfalls. There are some steps worn into rocks, and it’s a tight squeeze to get through. It’s wide enough for one person, but things get a little tricky when you have two hounds with you, competing for who’s going to be the leader. It also gets a bit tricky when people try to pass each other on this part of the trail, but it is short enough that you can usually wait to see if there is anyone coming before you start up or down.

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This is the second of two waterfalls you’ll encounter on the trek to Old Man’s Cave.

The trail to Old Man’s Cave is an easy mile – even if you have busted lungs. The trail is wide, and mostly flat because you are following a creek along the gorge. Getting in and out of the gorge is the only strenuous part. And I know this trail is super easy because I did half of it without oxygen (completely by accident, Dr. M! I promise.)

We hiked the mile to Old Man’s Cave and were almost halfway back before I noticed that my oxygen wasn’t puffing anymore. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the tank was full. I thought something was wrong with the gauge or the tank, but it turned out I just hadn’t turned it on when we started our hike.

I’m super smart.

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Meet Stubbs, Emme’s hiking partner. They compete to see who can sniff the most trails, and get the most attention.

But not using oxygen – however unsafe that is when your lungs do not absorb enough oxygen from the air – showed me that my lungs were getting better, and stronger. If I’d had it on the entire time we were hiking I may not have needed to stop to rest at all! It also demonstrated just how easy this hike really is.

For those of you looking for a longer hike, keep going past Old Man’s Cave and take the Buckeye Trail three miles to Cedar Falls. Add another three miles on the trail and you can hike all the way to Ash Cave. Just remember – these aren’t a loop, so if you go seven miles out, you’ve got to come seven miles back!

Exploring on Sunday

Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

I had the itch go to for a drive last weekend, and decided to take another bite out of my ever-growing list of Underground Railroad locations. (I promise, the posts will start rolling out over the next week.)

I love Sunday mornings. I love to sleep in, but even more I love getting up while most people are still tucked in their beds, or having pancake breakfasts, or sleeping off the night before. Traffic is nonexistent, hiking trails are clear, and you can explore small towns without anyone else around. (Which, to me, means I don’t have to small talk when I’m not in the mood to be social, which is most days that end in “Y.”)

Last Sunday, I opted for the small town explorations with Emme the Mutt in tow. She loves a good ride in car, just not for six hours, I eventually learned. But she also likes sniffing things, chasing geese into the river, and barking at bicyclists, so she had a great time.

The morning was very foggy, and while visibility on the roads was fine, the fog was so dense over the river that I couldn’t see the other side. I have to admit, I kind of love fog. It can be annoying, and it wreaks havoc on the focus in my pictures, but I love the surreal feeling it creates.

I took my favorite route along US-52, a scenic byway that runs along the southern border of Ohio on the river. My first destination of the day was to be Moscow, a map dot barely out of the river. I stopped off in New Richmond first to check out some points of interest (to be blogged about later).

About five miles east of New Richmond, I stumbled through a historic district with ties to the Civil War. It wasn’t on my list for the day, and despite driving past it eleventy million times, I forgot it was even there.

A simple white house behind a flagstone sidewalk anchors the district. Of course, district is a generous term because the white house, a well next to it and signage in the yard are about all there is to the space. A stern looking man will be peering at you through one of the front windows, and you’ll know you have the place. Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace is in Point Pleasant, Ohio – not to be confused with the home of the Mothman in West Virginia.

President Grant, in case you aren’t familiar, commanded the Union Army during the Civil War and accepted General Lee’s surrender. While being known for his military strategy and personal integrity, his presidency was marred by scandals.

Good ol’ Unconditional Surrender had his humble beginning along the banks of the Ohio. He lived in that house for less than a year before his family moved about 23 miles away to Georgetown, Ohio.

The thing I like most about places like this is that it reminds me that no matter where you start in life, you never know where you can end up. Grant started life as a tanner’s son along the Ohio River, and went to West Point against his will, according to the information boards outside the house. Even though his grades at West Point were mediocre – one would assume from not applying himself since he didn’t want to be there in the first place – he rose to command the armed forces of the United States, became President and traveled the world.

When you visit, you can tour both his birthplace in Point Pleasant and boyhood home in Georgetown and see the schoolhouse he attended. Fun fact: I lived a few blocks away from Grant’s boyhood home when I was a kid. I walked past it almost every day on my way to school.

For more information about visiting these sites, you can check out the Ohio History website.

Up next: Summer shenanigans

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Summer is finally here! It’s been so great not having to deal with cold, crappy weather. Even the rain this spring hasn’t been so bad, or at least it hasn’t interfered with my plans too much. But on the occasion when I am cooped up, or in the evenings at home, I’ve been planning some projects for the summer. Usually, I try to stay away from previews on this blog – it’s part of managing expectations. I don’t like to make promises and then not deliver.

However, I’m super excited about this summer, and some of the adventures I’m about to introduce have already started, so I’m confident I’ll get through them this summer. Without further ado, I present to you my summer adventures!

Gettin’ my nerd on

I try to keep my nerd hidden, but sometimes it slips, usually when it comes to historical things. History was always my favorite subject in school; I’m fascinated by how it  overlaps with everyday life. I see history in layers. Where I am right now is one layer, but if you peel some back, you’ll find my apartment gone and just a wild, land filled with Indians, then Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone.

Right now, the layer I’m fascinated with is the Underground Railroad and Civil War. The Ohio River was a main thoroughfare for escaping slaves, and subsequently there are many Underground Railroad stations in the area. Of course, Kentucky’s strategic geographical location made it the location of several Civil War Battles, so there is much history to explore in Kentucky as well.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring as many of these locations I can find.  In the meantime, if you have a suggestion of somewhere to check out, please leave it in the comments. I have a huge list of places to visit, but I know I haven’t found everything.

Hiking, camping and general outdoorsy stuff

I’m still stubbornly working on increasing my endurance and lung capacity so I can hike over longer distances, so I’ll be sharing my misadventures along the trails in the Tri-state area. Along with these adventure posts, I’ll finally start updating more of the Gus Scale posts – my ranking for trails in the area. I’ve found that many of the descriptions of trails really aren’t accurate, or detailed enough. Something that is called “moderate” has me about to die after a quarter mile. \

That’s not moderate.

So I have a slightly different rating scale that’s handy for other cripples, like me, or people who just want to know how easy or difficult it is to navigate a certain area.

Vagabond Girls

Last year, before my body broke down, Lacey and I were working on starting a joint blog project to document our adventures. We met up at The Highland – a great coffeehouse in Clifton – bought a domain, set up a blog and started working. Then life intervened, and we realized it would just be better to keep the Vagabond Girls theme, but make it separate sections on our respective blogs.

She’s working on getting her blog revamped and relaunched – with some nagging from me – and I can’t wait to read her musings on the world. We have several smaller adventures in the works this summer, but we’re also working on some bigger ones a little further in the future, including a driving tour to Alaska and eventually to the tip of South America.

Ohio Day Trip: Covered Bridges

The first road trip of the season is always my favorite. It’s the first time you get to shake the dust off, work out the kinks and get lost trying to find something. The only thing I was waiting for this spring was a free Saturday with clear weather, and I finally got one in late March. It was a chilly day – the high was only around 40 degrees – but the sun was shining and the puffy clouds in the azure sky couldn’t have been more perfect if someone painted them. They were the ideal backdrop for covered bridge hunting in southwestern Ohio.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of covered bridges left in the nation, and seven of them fall in about a 70 square mile area. The path between the bridges will take you along the Ohio River, past Underground Railroad Stations, through the rugged terrain of southern Ohio and over the rolling hills of Amish Country. You’ll pass suburban sprawl and a host of what I affectionately call “dumpy little towns” – the kinds of places I wouldn’t mind living. My dad and brother are into covered bridges in that guy/building kind of way. They like to look at how things are put together and talk about it, you know, knocking on walls and things. Mom and me? We just think they’re pretty. So we loaded into the car Griswold-style and set off.

The route connecting the bridges covers about 75 miles and would take about two hours to complete. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to add time to get to and from the beginning and end of the route and time to explore around the bridges. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have some time to climb around in the creeks (once the weather warms up) and check out all the local businesses you’ll be passing along the way.

I’ve lived in the Greater Cincinnati area my entire life. Part of my childhood was spent in suburban Milford and part of it in more rural Brown County. The rolling corn fields of Brown County are by far my favorite. The only thing that stops me from moving that far off the beaten track is getting to work. I love road trips, but I hate, hate, HATE commuting. Of course, when I lived there 20 years ago the only places to shop were Pamida and IGA and now many of the towns have built up. There are Kroger stores and Wal-mart stores and subdivisions; it’s fallen victim to the ever-permeating suburban sprawl. Still, most of the area is full of stately old farmhouses, dilapidated barns and rolling farmland.

This time of year, the land hasn’t come back to life yet. Trees are still bare and fields are not plowed. The grass is just showing the first hints of green. But the sun is shining and the cows and horses we pass seem as excited for the spring as we are.

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