07.29.18: In Ash Cave

Visitors stand in Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.


Technical information

Oct. 26, 2015,
11:06 a.m.

39°27'10.997" N 82°34'20.999" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L  (16mm) 


1/80th second


I try to get to the Hocking Hills region of southern Ohio a couple of times a year for hiking and photography. The rocky terrain and sheer cliffs are a contrast to the mostly flat landscape found in much of the rest of the state, providing some interesting opportunities for photography. Spring (when creeks are high and the many waterfalls in the area are flowing) and fall (when trees are full of color) are my favorite times.

This photo shows Ash Cave, one of the many impressive features of the Hocking Hills. Ash Cave is the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi River, measuring 700 feet from one end of its horseshoe-shaped rim to the other, 90 feet high from the base to the rim and 100 feet deep from the rear cave wall to the front edge. There’s a waterfall — impressive at times but a trickle at others — where a small tributary of the East Fork of Queer Creek flows over the rim.

I captured this scene during an October 2015 visit to the Hocking Hills. I had struggled during previous visits to get a shot that illustrated the enormity of the cave so I tried something different this time. I climbed up a narrow rocky path off the main trail entering the cave to reach a rocky platform that provided an excellent overview of the area. The people milling around the cave looked microscopic beside the slanted rock wall.

And I knew I had my shot.

Ash Cave is named for a huge pile of ashes found under the ledge by early settlers to the area. The largest pile of ashes was about 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and three feet deep. According to various websites about the Hocking Hills, the source of the ashes is unknown. One theory is that the ashes were from hundreds of years of American Indian campfires in the cave. Another theory is that the Native Americans were smelting silver or lead from the rocks or making saltpeter in the cave. In 1877, a test excavation of the ashes found sticks, stalks of grasses, arrows, bits of pottery, a variety of animal bones, flints and corn cobs.

According to a Hocking Hills website, "It is obvious the cave was used for shelter by early inhabitants. The recess shelter also served as a workshop for Indians where maidens ground corn and prepared meals, and where braves fashioned arrow and spear points and skinned and dressed game. The cave provided a resting place for travelers along the main Indian trail which followed the valleys of Queer and Salt creeks. This trail connected the Shawnee villages and the Kanawha River region of West Virginia with their villages along the Scioto River at Chillicothe. The trail was used after the start of the frontier wars to march prisoners captured along the Ohio River to the Indian towns on the upper Scioto River. The old Indian trail is now State Route 56. More recent uses of Ash Cave were for camp and township meetings. Pulpit Rock, the largest slump block at the cave's entrance served as the pulpit for Sunday worship service until a local church could be built. The cave lends itself well for large gatherings due to its enormous size and incredible acoustic qualities. In fact, two spots under the recess have the qualities of a ‘whispering gallery.' "

The Hocking Hills is a great area for photography. Its terrain is much different from the mostly flat land in other areas of Ohio. Blame it on the Wisconsin glacier that covered Ohio from 85,000 to 11,000 years ago. It flattened the area, but southeastern Ohio (about an hour’s drive from my house) was outside the glaciation of the ice age and remained ruggedly hilly and forested.

The same glacier that flattened much of Ohio is responsible for creating the Hocking Hills, one of the most geologically unique – and photogenic – areas in Ohio. The ruggedly hilly section of southeastern Ohio features gorges, cliffs, caves and waterfalls created when torrents of water from the melting glacier rushed through that area.

According to Wikipedia: “When the glacial torrents found cracks in the hard capstone, the water poured through to flush out the soft middle layer. This left long tunnels where the gorges are today. Eventually, the weight of the tops caused them to come crashing down. The ‘slump rocks’ in the gorges today are what’s left of the hard top layer. In just a few centuries, the rushing waters of the glacier carved the soft middle layer of sandstone into the myriad dimples and wrinkles that decorate the cliffs and grottos today.”

The waterfalls, deep, rocky gorges and towering, forested hills make Hocking Hills State Park one of my favorite areas for photography. It’s about an hour’s drive from my house, but it’s worth the trip.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.