Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hiking and Painting at Clifton Gorge near Yellow Springs, Ohio

Last Friday morning, I drove an hour north to the beautiful little town of Yellow Springs, Ohio to hike the Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve. My friend, Krista, was at the same time driving an hour south from her mother-in-law’s home near Columbus. Krista, who lives in Michigan but was in Columbus for Thanksgiving, is a blogging friend I met through Laure Ferlita’s online watercolor classes. Back in September when I saw the Sandhill Cranes in Ann Arbor, I met Krista for lunch, but this time we were determined to get out and paint, and we did. We had so much fun at Clifton Gorge, and despite the cold, 30-degree temperatures, we were able to paint without our fingers freezing. The place is gorgeous, and I’ll be back during spring migration. At many points along the trail, it's almost as if you are in the canopy of huge Sycamore trees, no doubt ideal hiding places for those canopy-loving neotropical migrants! Plus….wouldn’t you know it, the water rushing over the rocky bed of Clifton Gorge is my favorite birding river--the Little Miami!

At only 20 miles from its headwaters, the rock walls of Clifton Gorge sometimes narrow to no more than 20 feet apart, and in other spots, the Little Miami River looks more like a creek than a river.

Look at this narrow pass. The waters below churn and roar with amazing power as they are forced through an incredibly narrow rocky channel, but don't try to jump it! Since 1965, at least 10 people have died by falling into the gorge.

...we have to back up a little bit! Before heading to the gorge, Krista and I started our day in the sleepy little town of Clifton, Ohio, home to the only surviving grist mill in the area and one of the largest water-powered grist mills still in existence, Clifton Mill.

Built in 1802, Clifton Mill supplied the soldiers with grain during the War of 1812, and from 1908 to 1938 it powered Clifton, Cedarville, and Yellow Springs with electricity for $1.00 a month for private residences and $2.00 a month for businesses (hmmm...doesn't that sound lovely!)

…covered in Christmas lights for the holiday season, the old mill wheel at Clifton Mill is a reminder of how important the rushing waters of the Little Miami were to Ohio settlers in the 1800s. Now, the nighttime light display of over 3.5 million twinkly lights is supposed to be spectacular. We might have to head up there one evening this December...

Beautiful old homes line the streets of the town.

We didn't stay too long in Clifton as we wanted to get to the gorge. Returning to the parking lot off State Route 343, we hopped on the Rim Trail at Bear's Den. (We later found out you can also access the trail at Clifton Mills, so the next time I might start there.) It was still early in the day, so the parking lot was empty (or maybe it was because most of the population was recovering from the turkey and mashed potatoes consumed the night before on Thanksgiving)! Either way, as soon as we stepped on the trail, we could feel the stillness of winter all around us, but the quiet and cold only added to the wonder of the gorge, exposing the beauty of the dolomite and limestone cliffs. With no leaves to get in the way, the black walls of rock dominated the scenery.

Massive and beautiful...the wonder of Mother Nature is everywhere at Clifton Gorge.

On the other side of the river, we could see caves formed from "slump blocks."

Clifton Gorge was formed over 10,000 years ago as an ancient meltwater river from the Wisconsinan continental glacier eroded the soft limestones and shales in its path. Silurian dolomite, resistant to erosion, formed the walls of the gorge as undercutting continued to carve out the softer stone under it. Reported as "an outstanding example of interglacial and post-glacial canyon cutting," Clifton Gorge is an open book of geological history. Slump blocks are formed when flowing water carves out softer rock under erosion-resistant rock, such as the harder Dolomite in Clifton Gorge. As the horizontal undercutting continues, the layers of rock above eventually collapse under their own weight, tumbling into the canyon or slumping against the walls forming slump-block caves.

...slump blocks glowing with spongey, electric-green moss. The hunks of Dolomite cover the canyon floor. Some can be as large as a house, some much smaller, all very cool...

Wherever you look there is beauty. The grays and brows of winter only help highlight the remaining color found in fallen leaves. A small spring feeds this tiny brook that eventually falls over 100 ft to the river below.

The glacial meltwaters also formed the incredibly diverse plant life of the gorge. Boreal relics of northern species were deposited in the gorge as the mile-high glacier retreated, and thousands of generations later, the plants still survive due to the cooler temperatures in the shady gorge. Eastern Hemlock and White Cedar (Arbor vitae) live throughout the preserve, as well as other northern species such as Red Baneberry and Canada Yew. Other rare plants are sheltered within its protected walls, and in spring you can find the rare Snow Trillium.

Large cliff-hugging White Cedars (Arbor vitae) cling to the rock walls of the cliffs. With such impossible-looking displays, the roots of the Arbor vitae must be very strong. I read ancient White Cedars growing along the Niagara Escarpment are very slow growing and outlive the sedimentary rock beneath them. When the rock erodes away, they end up clinging to the edges of cliffs. Click here for more info. I don't know if that's how our cedars reached their precarious positions, but it's interesting!

...more slump blocks. Always covered with the bright green moss, they are especially beautiful now as they show the only saturated color in the winter landscape. In spots, the water of the river had an aqua tinge as you see here. I read somewhere it's because of algae. We both noticed the beautiful shade of blue appearing in certain spots.

...Krista laughing at the bottom of the gorge. Can you tell it was cold. It was about 37 degrees then, so it wasn't too bad. I think she was laughing because I forgot (of all things) my paintbrush and had to run back to the car to get it. Typical.

...a shot of me, courtesy of Krista, looking very northern in my super fluffy good-to-52-degrees-below-zero down parka. Needless to say, after climbing back up the gorge with camera and painting supplies, I was sweating!

Here and there small springs leak from the cliff walls and the beautiful sound of the dripping water is soothing. I can only imagine what it looks like when the temperature drops below freezing and the gorge is encased in ice.

This has been my longest post ever. I hope you're still awake. It seems I am destined to bird the Little Miami… I have my “patch" of the Little Miami at the Kings Powder Factory (thanks for the British term, Warren and Frank…), Fort Ancient just 15-20 minutes up the road, Caesar Creek 30-35 minutes….and now Clifton Gorge at just an hour north. I haven't tried birding the Little Miami south of me........I wonder what's down there....

Information I did not know was gleaned from these sites, click for details:
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve Flyer (found at the interpretive hut at Bear's Den, this is the online version of the same flyer, complete with map and directions).

31 comments:

Busy Bee Suz said...

This is great Kelly!!! Looks like a fun and cold day...so, when do we see the artwork????

Scrappy Cat said...

Looks like you and Krista had a great time - I am SO jealous!

Laure Ferlita said...

Oh, fine, just keep rubbing it in!!!! LOL!!!

I so hate being left out!!!

;•)

Wonderful post!!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Kel, What a neat place. You know how much that George and I love gorges. We'd love that place. Were there any waterfalls???????????

I love to be out in the cold. It's my favorite season to hike!!!!! You all looked toasty warm!!!!

Glad you and Krista had a good time. What did you paint once you got there--with your paintbrush????? ha

Hugs,
Betsy

Diane Shields said...

What sweet pictures and I have great memories of going there when we were younger. The pictures of you and Krista are great and made me smile!

Elaine said...

What a wonderful way to spend the day! It looks like a lovely place and your post was very informative and interesting. It's fun to find new places to explore so close to home. When I do it always makes me wonder why I didn't visit sooner.

Wanda said...

I love all of your photos of the gorge Kelly!

"I have my “patch" of the Little Miami at the Kings Powder Factory (thanks for the British term, Warren and Frank…), Fort Ancient just 15-20 minutes up the road"

You are so close to me Kelly...I am midway between Kings Powder Plant and Fort Ancient!

Roy said...

I kept looking at your pictures and wondering why they looked familiar, and then it hit me - two different people among my connections on Gather.com have done photo essays on Clifton Gorge. The place seems to draw artists like a magnet. I can see why!

Chris said...

Yes I'm still awake even if your post was long it was interesting and nice. Full of beautiful scenery pictures!!! very nice to see you also in this nice picture and I can see I'm not the only one to wear huge winter parka, and I feel relieve ;-)

Roy said...

Looks like a very special area for watercolouring Kelly, lots of lovely colours.
Oh and the wooly hat looks great {:)

Sue said...

So so gorgeous photos. Love the coat-it shows your love of the outdoors. I think some of the most fun is during the winter.

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Kelly, Clifton Gorge and John Bryan State Park were two of my favorite places to visit while I was attending Cedarville College just down the road. I loved your photos--they brought back wonderful memories of past hikes.

Jayne said...

What a magical place! Love seeing those arbor vitae just growing out of the cliffs with attitude! Cute photos of you guys!

Krista Meister said...

Kelly, I had so much fun with you that day, despite the coldness! It seems to be a very popular place - towards the afternoon we came across a fair amount of people.

Beautiful photos, as always, Kelly, and wow, I am amazed at all the research and history you poured into this post! Very thorough.

P.S.: and you SHOULD show your artwork. It was far better than mine!

-Krista
www.kristameister.com

Toni said...

I love places like that and to share it with a fellow blogging artist friend makes it oh so much more special. I enjoyed all your photos.

Mary said...

What a gorgeous place...will have to check it out on one of our trips to Ohio. That red house and the mill look so inviting, as well. I don't know how you could paint in weather that cold.

NCmountainwoman said...

I loved this long post! What a beautiful area. So glad you had fun.

Warren Baker said...

A very informative post today Kelly, with some stunning scenery, (not excluding the lady folk!)

I love the winter weather, it's a pity we rarely get any here now.

holdingmoments said...

Really enjoyed reading this Kelly, and full of information. Superb pictures captured a very beautiful place.

Hilke Breder said...

Great description! The next time you go take me along -- well just kidding! Nice pictures.

The Early Birder said...

Hi Kelly. I thought I was guilty of long posts but I didn't want this one to end..still looking for the 'watercolour'!
The gorge (your new patch) reminded me very much of areas in south Wales where the water has undercut the limestone with moss strewn boulders everywhere. Did some 'patch' exploring myself today with temps 8-10 deg C, but more rain on the way. FAB

Robin said...

Great picture of each of you. The place looks beautiful -- I've gotta go! Where are the paintings from the trip?

Kelly said...

....I'm in Cleveland tonight! Tomorrow I'll be at Lake Erie where I'm going to go birding with The Loopy One and Doodles tomorrow!! I hope I catch a lifer tomorrow!

Suzan...I should have posted the paintings! I'll do that when I get back home. I was thinking about the photos. Krista posted her painting...I forgot!

Cheryl...we did have a great time! We're all going to have to get together one of these days! Preferably in Florida during the dead of winter!

Laure...well...in a sense you were there because we talked about you!!! :-) all good....

Betsy...there are waterfalls...a few! I'll get back to take photos of the falls one of these days. When I get home I'll scan the painting. It's of a bend in the river...

Aunt Diane....thank you!!! It is beautiful. I've got to get Matty up there. I know he would like it. We still have to do the dairy farm!

Elaine.....my thoughts exactly.....what took me so long?

Wanda.....wow!! We are practically neighbors! Do you ever make it down to the Little Miami Trail?

Roy....Yellow Springs is an artist town--all sorts of cool little art shops, but nothing compares to the woodlands surrounding the town.

Chris...my parka is from 1990 when I went to see the Bald Eagles in TN (February). It's lasted all those years!! It' s huge, but incredibly warm...

Roy...isn't the wooly hat great! It is a lovely spot. I want to go back again to see more of the park.

Sue....well....tomorrow I get to use it again, as I'll be on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, and I think it's going to be quite cold. It's an old, old, Eddie Bauer coat. I don't even think they make that design any more... I have lots of fun in the winter too. Once the snow hits, it's gorgeous.

Adrienne....cool! I didn't know you went to Cedarville. I saw several bookbags in Ye Old Towne Tavern (where we ate before going home). I knew te college was close, but didn't know exactly how close! it must have been a beautiful school. You were lucky...

Jayne....thanks! I know what you mean. The white cedars were so big and just clinging to the sides of the cliffs--amazing.

Krista....I'll post the paintings when I get home, but my stuff is hardly better than yours!! I loved yours...great colors. I hope everyone pops over to check it out.

Toni....thank you!! It really was fun to get out and paint with Krista. I don't bring my watercolors outside to often. I'm going to start doing it more. Painting with Krista made it easy....we inspired each other!

Mary....all that walking kept us cold. When you come to Ohio, you have to look me up. I'll meet you there!!

Mountainwoman....thank you!!! Although....i don't think it can compete with your beautiful mountains!

Warren...thank you!! I love the winter weather too, when it's snowing, but we haven't had snow yet. I would love to see this place under a blanket of snow. It must be stunning.

Keith...thank you! There was a lot to write about!! I had so many other beautiful photos, but.....you can only post so many....

Hilke....thank you!! Any time!! :-)

Frank....Thank you! I am so far behind on reading blogs. I can't wait to get over and read yours. I have to do some C to F conversions, but 8-10C sounds pretty cold! I hope the rain holds off for a bit. You have had so much!! I'll get the watercolors up...

Robin...wish you could have come. Next time, we can all three get together. it's strange that we are so close!! Now we can add Wanda in. Sounds like she only lives about 10 mins from me!

yen said...

wonderful scenery shots for a change huh! just Lovely.

JPT said...

Good stuff you look like you had a nice time!

Larry said...

Love the scenery-especially that narrow gorge.I always wanted to go out and paint outdoors but don't feel like I have the patience for it now.

Heather said...

What a lovely telling of the beauty of Clifton Gorge, Kelly. Looks like you girls did plenty of exploring. I can't wait to see what you painted while you were there! By the way, I LOVE that photo of the sycamore leaf in the water - just gorgeous.

oldcrow61 said...

Wonderful pictures. Looks like you were both really enjoying the day.

Cindy said...

Great post and wonderful photos.

Have a great day,
Cindy

E said...

Very interesting journey, how wonderful to be there, the birds are great, excellent jobs, Kelly, big hugs

carolmattinglyphotography said...

Kelly, wow this was a great experience. Sounds like you had a lot of fun. I just might have to check out some of these gorges one weekend. Thanks for sharing. Love the photos. Carol