For the last two decades, our first road trip of the summer season was a long trek to the beach. Year after year, we returned to the sandy shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
A few factors led to a major change this year. Instead of the early beach trip, we are gathering with extended family in Michigan later in the summer.
Change can be hard, and this news was not met with excited cheers from our kids. I decided to fill that week with another trip completely different from the beach. My goal was to find something that was the exact opposite of laying in the sun.
I wanted to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. As a family, we have been caving in South Dakota and collectively, we loved it. Located just under 500 miles from our home, Mammoth Cave would make a fun camping trip. Exploring caverns over 300 feet underground seems to be the antithesis of sunbathing.
To break the trip into shorter segments, our first stop was Caesar Creek State Park in Waynesville, Ohio. A dam built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s created the 2,830-acre lake. The creation of the dam and lake was to help with flood control in the Little Miami River watershed.
When our trip started, it had not rained in our part of Ohio in twenty days. We were praying for rain for our garden and newly planted crops. We knew the forecast and were not surprised when raindrops splattered on our windshield.
The sky grew darker and the wind started catching our trailer. The surprise came when the radio emitted a weather warning alert. After the familiar series of beeps, a voice came on with instructions for a tornado warning. The radar had detected a rotation in the clouds.
We were within 30 miles of our destination but pulled over at a restaurant. We eventually made it to Caesar Creek, finding the humor in the situation. We had prayed for the rain but didn’t anticipate setting up camp in a gully washer.
The much-needed rain lasted through the night, but the morning ushered in blue skies. We were able to explore the park after all.
First on my list was a walk down to the lake. Above the lake, I could see large birds swooping in large concentric circles down to the water. At first, I thought they were turkey vultures.
As I walked closer, I realized they were black vultures. These scavengers have become a nuisance in many parts of Ohio. Black vultures are known for attacking the soft tissue of young livestock like calves, lambs and piglets. They can also damage homes and commercial buildings.
Vehicles are not safe from their damage either; they rip vinyl seat covers and damage rubber seals and wipers. I was not aware of their bad reputation. I just found them extremely creepy and intimidating.
My walking route was quickly rerouted away from the birds. My dogs and I found another spot to admire the expansive lake.
Several fishermen were up early hoping for a large catch. The lake is home to several bass species, crappie and catfish. It is also stocked yearly with muskellunge and saugeye.
After the rest of the family woke up, they joined me and the dogs on a hike. A waterfall named Horseshoe Falls is located on an out-and-back 1.7-mile hike. We enjoyed the hike through a densely forested area, noticing mature cedar and sycamore trees.
Horseshoe Falls is not a large waterfall. The water drops a meager three feet, but the rock ledge stretches across the entire width of the creek. Near the falls, a natural border was created by a large, sedimentary limestone cliff wall. We quickly noticed the abundance of fossils in the limestones that formed the creek bed.
Caesar Creek State Park is known for being an excellent place to find fossils in Ohio. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the dam, layers of fossil-bearing limestone and mudstone were exposed. The result is a fossil-collecting dreamscape covering a vast area by what is now the spillway.
There is a designated area for collecting fossils. We could not keep the fossils from the falls area. A permit must be obtained at the Visitor Center. A list of rules must be followed including not using any tools and only keeping fossils smaller than hand size.
I was glad the route to Mammoth brought us to Caesar Creek. The park offered many more activities than what we had time for on our stay.
What we did have time for accumulated into a unique and interesting experience. It was a great introduction to the area for us as first-time visitors.
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