Ravens Rock Trail, Portsmouth, OH

            “But the love of adventure was in father’s blood.”—Buffalo Bill

           “Only one who wanders finds a new path.”—Norwegian Proverb

As a young girl, one of my favorite events was a Sunday afternoon hike with my dad, Larry Musick. Dad would gather part or all of us kids. (Counting me, there were four kids in my family, of which, I was the oldest.) This most often occurred, as best I can recall, on fall or mild winter days. Once bundled up, we traipsed out into our back yard and headed up a petite hill to what we referred to as the “back road.”

The back road was really a long right-of-way dirt path to the property behind our neighborhood street. The Broughton family owned most of the hillside behind one side of our neighborhood, and had a farm just beyond the top of our cul-de-sac street. They were a quiet family who mostly kept to themselves, but had given Dad permission to hike their property from time to time.

Dad, as I recall, was never in a hurry with us when we hiked, and he was especially patient. We could pile leaves together and jump in them if we wanted, or swing on a vine hanging from trees, and then, bravely jump off. He’d talk to us about the different types of trees, nuts, birds, animal tracks, leaves, and so forth. Sometimes, on rare moments, he could convince us to be quiet, so we could learn to hear God’s voice whistling and whispering to us amongst those rolling hills.

I recall on a couple of walks, we seemed to get “lost,” but if Dad was worried, he never let on to us. In fact, these “lost-times” were often the best hikes because that was when we discovered, in my overactive kids imagination, magical places. Once or twice, we ran across a group of family tombstones so old the writing was weathered and unreadable. I felt certain, in my child’s heart, the buried family had been brave pioneers who had withstood a number of Indian attacks. Another time or two, we encountered the hearth and foundation of what appeared to have once been a tiny home. My imagination would be stirred once more, and I could vividly envision my childhood storybooks for which this home might have been the setting.

My point is this—I found peace during those times– I could not have articulated it then, but I was developing a profound sense of Divine communion when I was out exploring on those wooded hill hikes of long ago. Just as from a tiny acorn, a mighty, deeply rooted oak can grow, so too, was a seed planted within me during those hikes. Even now, at age 51—I feel deeply rooted and simultaneously awe-inspired when I spend in nature.

Recently, I had the pleasure to join my Dad on a hike in honor of Father’s Day, but I’m not sure if it was a gift to him or a gift to me! The original plan was to hike and/or visit what we call, “High Rock,” the towering overlook above Ohio 52 near Hanging Rock. However, we discovered that access is now denied as we encountered a “No trespassing” sign. Therefore, we had to give up that notion, and quickly come up with an alternative.

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My dad, Larry Musick, about half-way up trail pictured in what I referred to as the “Rock Garden.”
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Dad at the top of the ridge, just before walking onto Ravens Rock.
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This sign is so small. No wonder I have driven past this trail head repeatedly and never noticed it.

In keeping with the hike-with-a-view theme, we formed an alternate plan to hike Ravens Rock trail, a suggestion from my husband before we left home. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had we, but Dad and I decided it was worth a try.

Located directly across from the Shiners’ Lodge and Portsmouth West schools, I have literally driven past Ravens Rock trailhead on numerous occasions and never knew it existed. In fact, it wasn’t until 1996 that this land, that includes three arches formed from Mississippian sandstone, became an official nature preserve. In fact, due to the vulnerability of the cliff community and the rigorousness of the trail, hikers are only allowed to explore this path with a permit. This was not hard to obtain, as we simply had to drive a bit past Ravens Rock and follow the signs to Shawnee State Park Lodge to the Shawnee Parks Office, just before the lodge, and apply for a free permit there. Additionally, permits can be obtained on-line.

Dad and I had the perfect day—at least as far as summer hiking goes. It was cloudy and breezy, a bit humid, but not too hot. It wasn’t until after the hike that I learned that Dad and I had ascended approximately 500 feet on this winding, steep, but well marked trail. Additionally, I also later learned that the path is lined with blackjack oak trees—a potentially threatened tree species in Ohio. Likewise, the state endangered, small-flowered scorpion weed can also be viewed along this trail; and, while I did not spy this flower along the path, I did observe several varieties of minute flowering plants dancing in the breeze.

Based upon what we read before our hike, as well as information we read on a sign at the top of the trail, Native Americans, such as Shawnee scouts, once used the rock as a lookout in search of European settlers. These settlers traveled by flat boats on the Ohio River and could be seen from this high rock; and thus, the Indians could then launch attacks in an attempt to keep the white settlers out of the Ohio territory.

In fact, one legend, (though there are many variation) credits Native Americans for naming the rock as it supposedly looks like a raven with outstretched wings. As previously mentioned, there are three natural arches, with the largest spanning 10-15 feet long, depending upon the source cited, and 14 inches wide at it most narrow point.

The trail to reach the high bluff is 1.5 miles long—which doesn’t sound too bad—until you realize it’s all ascending. Nonetheless, it is quite doable for all levels of healthy hikers. Furthermore, once you arrive at the top, it is well worth the “uphill battle” (pun-intended).

I immediately exclaimed to Dad that this was a double-high-five view as we took our first glance of the expansive, and spectacular panorama. In fact, I felt downright giddy as we gazed out over the Portsmouth/Ohio River Valley area. We could see sprawling fields, the Ohio River snaking through the valley, and layer upon layer of hills across the river in Kentucky.   To the left side was the beautiful, cabled Portsmouth bridge, to the right was the quilted patchwork of farmland, directly below us were the new Portsmouth West schools, and above us, well, I am pretty sure I could have tickled God’s beard if I had jumped—of course that may just be a slight exaggeration. Dad and I sat down and remained seated for 20 or so minutes just soaking the goodness from below and above. Funny, how a change in perspective can alter your view—literally and figuratively.

 

For those with curiosities, like my Dad and me, you can certainly explore a bit at the top.   However, we HIGHLY recommend hikers exercise great care and caution if choosing to do this. Dad and I felt like we were on a giant, natural jungle gym for adults as we climbed, photographed, and investigated the magnificent rocky area.

Dad and I agreed; Ravens Rock is a hiking gem. It is a trail we would highly recommend, no matter the season. It is certainly worth the drive and the climb.

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Dad and I agreed; We would definitely recommend Ravens Rock trail!

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