Rocky Fork Gorge - Miller Nature Sanctuary

Over the course of Ohio Uninterrupted, I've talked about many of the physical features that make Ohio's state nature preserves special. Flowing waterfalls, dynamic rock formations, and exotic plants are all things that come to mind. What I experienced during my visit to Rocky Fork Gorge was a little less objective; there was a sense of wonder present. From the parking lot to the winding trails and back, this little slice of Appalachia had me in awe.  

Trying to find my way to the trail entry,I arrived at the Appalachian Forest Museum (also part of the SNP) and parked at a nearby open space. It was a muggy, warm mid-Summer morning, the kind where every part of my body felt sticky. Without much to go on, I stumbled through behind the museum to a series of old trails that lead through a series of caves (formerly 7 Caves tourist attraction). It was still before sunrise at this time, so there was a hint of daylight plus my smartphone to light the way. The caves wound there way around a small cliff face, with about another 30 ft. down into the gorge. I'm still not sure if it was the light or a sense of exploration, but I was hooked, and needed to keep going!


The opposite end of the caves trail lead to the road I'd come in on, so I hoofed it back to the museum to find another path. This particular trail had a name, "Valley of the Ancients". With a name like that, expectations were set higher than normal. By the time I'd followed the trail about a 1/4 mile, the sun had been up for a few minutes, and the dolomite rocks and the water flowing through them were starting to take shape. I could hear the faint trickle of a nearby waterfall, and nearly broke the my 8x10 field camera making a beeline towards it. The light was filtering in heavily from the top of the waterfall, and I had to work quickly to maintain detail in the shadows and highlights. One circular polarizing filter and 150mm lens later, the above photograph was made. 


Heading West I made my way to the Etawah Woods trail, which follows Rocky Fork Creek and opens up to a series of large, dolomite cliffs. Moving up and down the stone stairways and along each rock face brought me back to the same marvel I had traveling to Japan years ago. The natural elements here felt untouched and well-respected as I remember the Buddhist and Shinto temples in Japan. While I could go on trying to describe this feeling myself, a master nature photographer, Mr. Noboyuki Kobayashi has already summed it up beautifully in his short film "Portrait of Nature: Myriads of Gods" (If you have some time, I highly recommend checking out his gorgeous black and white work).  As I neared the bottom of the gorge, the strong overhead light opened up to calm, clear waters and three large rock formations in the middle, aptly named the Three Sisters. 


Upon seeing these rock formations, I parked my camera gear to the side of the trail and started to try and find a composition in the Three Sisters. My first choice was to try the wide lens; get close, add some front rise (shift perspective up) and take the shot. This left a lot of empty, bright, overcast sky that was sending some nasty flare back into the lens. Wide lens was out as an option. Next up was the standard lens; here I was closer, but not looking better than the wide lens. I was left going long, bringing out the Nikkor T 600/800mm lens. This allowed me to tightly frame up the rocks, while the necessary depth of field (f/64 at 800mm is still shallow!) gave the exposure time enough the blur any movement of the water. After completing the 30 second long exposure for the photograph above, my film holders were spent and I couldn't have been more content. 

On the two hour drive back to Columbus, I couldn't stop thinking about how much fun it was to experience the short-but-sweet trails at Rocky Fork Gorge. This is another one high up on the list of favorites, and strongly recommended if you're a photographer, geologist, and/or nature enthusiast. If you'd like to check out any of these fantastic State Nature Preserves (SNP's) for yourself, remember most of them are free to visit, and usually only an email away from getting permission. Check out more of the Ohio Uninterrupted series by following the tags in this blog post, and see you next time!