Zaleski Epilogue: A Small Quest

After completing our little Zaleski State Forest backpacking loop on October 30, we loaded up in Wiggs’s car and hit the road. We did not go straight back to Columbus, however. Instead, my very nice boyfriend agreed to reroute half an hour west so that I could visit three Ohio History Passport locations: Leo Petroglyphs, Story Mound, and Logan Elm.

If my trail name is any indication, I love a good passport. I love collecting stamps and badges. I love tangible evidence of having been somewhere. While on the Appalachian Trail I looked forward to getting a stamp in my AT Passport at a store or restaurant, and I missed this quest when the hike was over. So when Wiggs’s dad gave me an Ohio History Connection Passport, I was very excited. This booklet contains a page for each of the organization’s 56 sites across the state. At the bottom of each page is a trivia question about the site, followed by a space for either a stamp or a pencil rubbing of the site sign. I have a handful of stamps, answers, and pencil markings so far, but I am always looking for a chance to collect more. Leo Petroglyphs wasn’t terribly far from Zaleski, or so it seemed on Google Maps, and so we headed in that direction first.

Bye, Zaleski! Thanks for a fun (if rainy) few days!

Site 1: Leo Petroglyphs and Nature Preserve

We didn’t have cell service at the parking lot, so we headed vaguely in the direction of the town of Zaleski. We reasoned that we would have service once we got there, but this did not exactly pan out. We managed to scrape 3G out of one corner of the town, which put us on track to get to the site. Half an hour later, we were rumbling down a gravel road.

“Uh… I don’t think this is the right way,” Wiggs said nervously. We were approaching a house, and the road was becoming narrower.

“Well, let’s just see where this goes.”

Sure enough, it went right up to someone’s house. Not a cul-de-sac, not another road – genuinely, this was someone’s long gravel driveway, and there was someone’s dog running out of the house barking maniacally. Tension rose palpably between us as the dog kept trying to run out in front of the car, while Wiggs tried to inch away from it, until finally we got far enough away that the dog left us alone. We found another normal-sized paved road, turned right, and were back on track.

Ten minutes later we reached the small site of Leo Petroglyphs. We took a walk around beautiful nature preserve, which featured a lovely creek cutting through mossy sandstone overhangs. And of course we admired the centuries-old petroglyphs carved into the rock. Though we aren’t sure of the exact dates, it can be surmised that these symbols were carved by the Fort Ancient culture, who also constructed several complexes of mounds further south in Ohio.

I had seen petroglyphs in Arizona before this – they’re all over the place – but never in the midwest, or anywhere in the eastern United States. It was jarring to see them here, inside a wooden structure by the side of the road in Ohio farmland. It’s easier to forget that we are on stolen land when we are somewhere like this, a thoroughly settled agricultural area, deeply entrenched in the white American psyche. But there are still reminders that we were not the first.

One of the petroglyphs carved into the Sharon sandstone at Leo Petroglyphs by the Fort Ancient culture between ~900-1500 A.D.

Site 2: Story Mound

After Leo Petroglyphs we traveled north towards Chillicothe, which was ostensibly on the way home, but ended up being a bit of a hilarious side trip. We were getting slightly hungry by this point, so we navigated towards McDonald’s once we got to the town and took our fries and ice cream to our next destination: Story Mound.

Ohio is positively covered in mounds built by the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient peoples. Story Mound, according to my passport, was built by the Adena people between 800 B.C. and A. D. 100. I knew it was smaller than other mounds I had visited, but when we rolled up to the pocket park smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, I realized the scope and couldn’t help but laugh. Then I really laughed when I saw the gate in the fence surrounding the mound: it was padlocked.

Undeterred, I snapped a photo and answered the question in my passport. I couldn’t get a stamp because said stamp is located in the Adena Mansions and Gardens site, which was by then closed for the season. But I don’t mind. I will get it one day.

We finished our snack and I got out of the car to shake all of the fry dust off of my disheveled post-hike outfit. Then we got back on the highway for one more stop.

We couldn’t actually get into the park to visit Story Mound, but we saw it from the street!

Site 3: Logan Elm

“It’s literally just off the highway. Look.” I held out the map so Wiggs could see its proximity to our location. I felt like I was pushing my luck, but I wanted to get just one last stop in. He ultimately agreed, and we headed towards Logan Elm.

I’m still not exactly sure of the full extent of the story of Logan Elm. From what I can gather, there was a revered chief of the Cayuga Native American tribe named Logan, who married a Shawnee woman and moved to Ohio. Originally friendly with white settlers, he rightfully changed his stance when they lied and killed many of his people, including his mother and sister. Logan sought revenge, killing many white settlers in the area, and then delivered a powerful message under a massive elm tree. He spent the rest of his life fighting white invaders and trying to prevent them from settling in what was then called Ohio Country.

Today the site of Logan’s speech is marked at Logan Elm Memorial. The elm tree under which Chief Logan spoke has long since died, but the site of the speech is marked and a new elm has been planted. It is a field of monuments to Logan, his speech, his family, and his people. It was cold when we were there, and the wind cut across the open field and through our layers.

It struck me as we left that many of the Ohio History Passport sites – and all three of the sites that we visited on this day – are locations that were sacred to Native American people. I don’t know that I ever thought about Ohio in terms of its indigenous origins, but almost every site I have visited so far is significant to the Hopewell, Adena, Fort Ancient, or Shawnee people. In addition to collecting stamps and getting to see more of Ohio, these visits are reminding me over and over that this country was stolen. The hills and mounds and fields bear that truth more than I had ever realized.

What am I doing with that information? Are we learning? I am trying to be more intentional about researching the indigenous people who first took care of the land I walk on, and who take care of it still. I am trying to learn more, give more, and be more aware. I have a long way to go.

The memorial at Logan Elm, which bears Logan’s speech that took place at this location.

The Mini Adventure Ends

Having visited Logan Elm, we turned back onto OH-23 and headed north to Columbus. On the way back, Wiggs and I talked about adventures, family trips, and little destinations. We compared our experiences of childhood road trips and reflected on the potential for joy even close to home.

It has been hard on me not to be able to travel this year. Wiggs and I had planned to hike in Scotland, and then I was going to do part of the Camino with my mom. Instead we did a sweltering eight-day hike in Kentucky, and now I am running around Ohio collecting stamps and rubbings at historical sites. And I love it. The day will come when I am traveling farther again, when the virus is over, and that will be a good day. But I know will miss these weird little journeys, these wet Ohio backpacking trips, and these small moments of simple joy learning about the places that are already around me. Whether it is a mound in a locked park in an Ohio neighborhood, or summit at the end of a very long hike, there are destinations and places worthy of reroutes everywhere.

A Satisfying Hike in Clear Creek Metro Park

In the height of morel season, my visits with Wiggs were energetic, even frenetic: Each day we would go on at least one walk in a different park to inspect the bases of elms and poplars and comb the woods for mushrooms. It seems to me that since then, and since finding our first morels, we’ve calmed down a bit. Maybe it’s the warmer weather, or the gleam of quarantine rubbing off, or my sadness that I’m not in Europe right now, exploring Ireland and hiking the Camino with my mom like I was supposed to. Or maybe in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the wave of increased worldwide awareness of the insidiousness of white supremacy, I feel a sense of overwhelmed urgency, a worrying that at any given time I’m not doing enough.

Whatever the case, I didn’t spend as much time in the woods in late May and early June as I did in April, and I was missing it. So on my most recent visit to Columbus, Wiggs and I decided it was time to get back on the trail. He had visited Clear Creek Metro Park with his family a couple of months before, and he thought I would enjoy a long day hike there. So we got up early, packed a lunch, and headed south.

Trail map of Clear Creek Metro Park, Ohio

The Park

Clear Creek is located about 40 minutes southeast of Columbus, just off OH-33 near the town of Rockbridge. It is located on the stolen ancestral lands of the Shawnee, Osage, Hopewell, and Adena people.

The drive to Clear Creek is very pleasant. The roadwork and hubbub of the metro area fades and gently rolls into green hills that from a distance bear a striking resemblance to the landscape in Virginia along the Appalachian Trail. This is the part of Ohio where the glaciers didn’t flatten the land; the unglaciated Appalachian plateau where hills still abound and cornfields give way to forest. Driving there felt like breathing again. Ohio isn’t all corn and fields and Confederate flag-painted barns and threatening “hell is real” billboards after all. This landscape exists too, and it is a blessing to be a visitor here.

Clear Creek Metro Park features over 5,300 acres of woodland interspersed with blackhand sandstone cliffs, ravines and creeks and is home to more than 2,200 species of plants and animals. Forested areas range from Canadian hemlocks and ferns, to oak and hickory, to Ohio’s last remaining colonies of rhododendron. Home to Ohio’s largest state nature preserve.

-Clear Creek Metro Park Website

All in all, there are about 12 miles of trails in the park, though many of them loop and reconnect in various ways, and it would be easier to make a longer or shorter day depending on your preference. On this particular day, we selected a combination of trails that enabled us to hike about 8 miles overall, each one of which was verdant, quiet, and precisely what we needed.

Wiggs walking on the Cemetery Ridge Trail

The Hike

We began our hike at the Creekside Meadows picnic area. True to the name, the trail first meanders into a meadow, with the creek on one side and tall grasses full of buzzing insects on the other. After rounding a curve the Creekside Meadows trail turns into the Cemetery Ridge Trail, which crosses the road and heads sharply uphill.

Though this first hill caught me off guard, the trail was very well maintained and I never felt like the grade was unbearable. A few pitstops for breath-catching and water-drinking and we were at the top of the ridge, which the trail followed for most of the rest of the day.

One of the first landmarks we arrived at was an old barn dating back to the 1800s. It is open for exploration, though we didn’t find much inside besides some fallen boards, an adorable toad, and an owl that took off as soon as we approached. As it was sprinkling a bit by this point, we decided to stop here for lunch, which we enjoyed while listening to the light patter of rain on the old roof.

The old barn on the Cemetery Ridge Trail where we had lunch, scared an owl, and saw a very cute toad

We continued on the Cemetery Ridge Trail until it met an open meadow dotted here and there with daisies. We continued straight onto the Chestnut Trail, which was a bit hillier and dipped into valleys, crossed small creeks, and came back up onto the ridge several times. It was on this section of the trail that we saw the most people, including a hiker with a full, large backpacking pack. Wiggs asked him if there was camping around here and he said no, he was training for the Colorado Trail. We were both instantly jealous, smiling wide and imagining all the mountains. We wished him luck and he kept on hiking the other way.

We took a break for water and snacks, then turned back the way we came and headed once more for the Cemetery Ridge Trail, noticing as we walked back the other way that there were Monotropa uniflora, Indian pipe plants, everywhere on the forest floor. These parasitic, mycoheterotrophic plants take in nutrients from mycorrhizal fungus and grow only in the perfect conditions. They were all over the Appalachian Trail, and though they are a bit creepy, it was nice to see them again, like someone you recognize from a different time.

Monotropa uniflora, the mycoheterotroph “Indian pipe” plant

Meeting back up with the junction, we turned right, continuing the loop, and hiked back down to the road and the meadows by the creek. It was late afternoon by now, and we had made good time, so we found a bench by the wide, peacefully flowing creek and sat down. I enjoyed the way my limbs felt tired and worked, though this distance was nothing compared to an average day on the AT. In a weird way I love the pulsing in my heels, the tightness in my calves, the slight shortness of breath that tells me I walked here. I sat eating sriracha peas, enjoying the creek, enjoying being with my partner, kind and adventurous and full of life, whom I met by chance because we both walked really far in the same direction in the same year. How lucky. How right.

We completed the flat mile and a half along a combination of the road and a dirt path right next to the creek, eventually ending up at the back of the parking lot where we had started. I stretched, took a last sip of water, and got in the car.

Love to Ohio

Without Wiggs, I never would have given central Ohio much thought, much less given thought to the idea of moving there. I think there’s an Ohio-shaped space in the brain of every American, and that space is full of boring rows of corn and small towns on the edge of a flat plateau surrounded by Amish farms. I should have known there was more; after all, I was raised in Kentucky, and what’s the stereotypical Kentucky-shaped space in the mind? Hillbillies and soda? Horses and coal? When there’s a whole nuanced world of beauty here: Sandstone so beautiful you can’t help but breathe it in, and fields of flowers by wide wandering creeks, and towns with heart, and waterfalls and caves tumbling into forever. No place is ever fully what it seems.

There were interesting rock formations along the road to the park and along the Cemetery Ridge Trail, including this pocketed standstone intermingling with tree roots.

I’d like to go back to Clear Creek and do a longer day hike. There is no camping there, but if you get an early start you might be able to walk every trail and feel satisfyingly tired by dinner time. There are several picnic areas and parking lots with well-maintained privies, in addition to areas where you can fish in the creek. There are flat trails to walk in the valley if long hilly rambles aren’t your thing, and there are wide possibilities for big days if you don’t do small hikes. The day we went it was pleasantly quiet and uncrowded; it was also a weekday, however, so this may not be the case all the time.

After the hike, we left the rolling hills and slowly meandered back through the highways and buildings and intersections, back to Wiggs’s house and showers and beer. It’s nice to know that there’s a place nearby that feels like the AT, where there are conifers and plants I know and quiet woods.

Daisies in the field at the junction of the Cemetery Ridge and Chestnut trails