And then we headed to the Stanford House in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to take a short but fun hike to Brandywine Falls. When you arrive at Stanford House, you kind of feel like you're trespassing, because you have to drive behind this big old barn to find the parking lot:
Recently, Stanford House was also a hostel, and also served as a retreat place for some local school groups. Now, they have rustic campgrounds there that you can reserve, with both water and chemical toilets for your use. They also have this blue tanker labeled "Drinking Water," which I wouldn't be brave enough to use but which looked pretty against the yellow fall leaves:
This great old maple tree was near the trailhead. When I looked up at it before we got started, I felt like it was kind of giving me a hug--because its branches fanned out all around:
I assume that this was once a chicken coop or some other kind of animal area... but maybe someone better versed in farming can set me straight here? Whatever it was, it may be on its way to a return to its former glory, judging by the recent addition of plywood and other boards:
Isn't that old brick great, by the way? I love the texture, and the sheen:
Steve spotted this huge millstone, on the edge of a field, from a good 50 feet away. He has good eyes--mine skimmed right over it, assuming that it was just a regular old rock:
The same millstone, with our feet (mine are a women's 9, his are a men's 14) near the center to give you an idea of how huge this millstone was. Notice the leaves inside? There was a foot or so of space below the stone, which makes me wonder if it covers up something like an old well shaft. There's no mill or creek around for a while, so no other reason for it to be here:
While we were checking out the millstone, a rustling and tapping in the nearby field caught our attention. It wasn't long before we spotted the woodpecker--a male downy woodpecker, I think?--tapping at the browned tubes in search of dinner. Taking a photo of him was another story. This single clear photo was probably photo #11 or 12:
Photo accomplished, we headed off toward the falls. The first part of the walk is through a meadow area, and I loved how the bright white shocks of opened milkweed seedpods punctuated the field of grasses. In the late afternoon light, they reminded me of tiny deer tails:
If I had to guess, I would say that this is a ground cherry... but it doesn't have that papery husk. Anyone else want to venture an ID for this bright yellow fruit?
There's something kind of lovely about the meadow of browned plants against a light blue sky, with still-green grass at its feet:
I loved the quirky shape of this already-bare tree, spotted just off the path:
Finally, the first footbridge, leading into the woods, of the 4 that you encounter on this trail. I've done this hike at least 6 or 8 times now, mostly toward evening time, and this is always the marker for being "out of the woods" on the way home.
You rarely encounter any humans on this trail until you reach the falls, but don't think that doesn't mean you are really "alone" out here. The woods have eyes! Do you see?
We probably saw half a dozen deer, and heard at least a handful more, during our hike. It's such a seldom-used trail that the sense that you are encroaching on their land (which of course, we were) really hits home. And it also struck me how big woodland animals like deer are typically very quiet (identifiable by single branch cracks) while the small animals like squirrels and chipmunks make enough noise for animals 10x their size.
Steve and I were making just as much noise, shuffling through the carpet of newly-fallen leaves:
Very few wildflowers were still blooming here--it's just a half hour south of where I live, but they get frost and colder temps much earlier than I do. (Thank you, Lake Erie!) A few asters, and this dainty little persicaria, were among the bloomers:
The fungus "blooms" were everywhere, though, including this huge "bouquet" at the foot of a fallen tree:
The trees that still were upright with leaves were mostly those showing yellow coloring. It made for a golden, warm, cathedral effect as the sun streamed through to the path:
The walk is fairly hilly (190ft vertical over the course of the walk, not counting the falls) and when you went down into a valley, just the tops of the trees around you would be sunlit:
It amazes me how much the color of the sky can change from photograph to photograph, even when the camera settings remain the same. Check out how much bluer the sky looks in this zoomed-in photo below, as compared to the one above:
The plants weren't all golden, however. A few deciduous trees still retained their green leaf color, and many little colonies of green ferns popped up here and there. They were particularly abundant in this little creek ravine:
And this hillside, near another footbridge, was completely covered in green:
I have "a thing for" twisted fallen trees, and can rarely pass one without snapping a picture or two. I would love to have a piece like this to use as a focal point/natural sculpture in my front yard:
This, I believe, is a new footbridge that they built over the summer. Very sturdy, and they picked a color that would work well with the surroundings:
We soon exited the woods, and picked up a crumbling old road that has long been closed to car traffic. We were very close to the Falls, but couldn't resist stopping to try to get a few pics of some impressive wildlife. See them in the white box below?
Not sure what you're looking at? You might still not know after viewing my blurry photo below (zooming all the way, in low natural light, leads to blurry pictures!) so I'll give you a hint: If they weren't on National Park land, they might have to worry about being served for dinner somewhere in a few weeks!
Giving up on the wild turkey photos, I shot one last picture down the ravine. Here, the water from Brandywine Creek starts to calm back down after its trip down the falls... but it's still a rocky creek bed. We could hear it better than we could see it through the evergreens:
As we descended the stairs that lead to the observation deck, the view opened up to give us a better look at the rocky creek:
When we rounded the last corner, we were glad that so many of the leaves were already gone. You generally can see the last stairs and observation deck from here, but when there's no leaf canopy, you can immediately view the falls themselves as well:
Brandywine Falls were first formed between 300-400 million years ago. The lighter layers at the top are made of Berea sandstone, and the darker layers at the bottom are made of Bedford shale. (Berea and Bedford are two local towns, so I assume these stone names just designate that they are the "type of sandstone like one could find in X town." But I'm not sure.)
Anyway, the sandstone is harder than the shale, which chips away much more easily, and that's why you see the overhang at the top:
I wonder if, a long time down the road (as in, not in my lifetime) the lower level will be taken away entirely by the power of the water? And what would be left would be a straight drop of water, uninterrupted, from the top of the Berea sandstone into a deepening pool carved out of the Bedford shale below. Whatever the life cycle of the falls is meant to be eventually, right now it's a gorgeous "bridal veil" style waterfall:
But we didn't have a lot of time to admire it. The darkening sky and the time on Steve's cell phone sent us the message that we had to hustle unless we wanted to get stuck in the woods in the dark. We started to ascend the 69-step, multi-tiered decking to head back to the trail:
But I couldn't resist taking this cool shot of a fern growing out of the rock ledge overhead:
We wasted no more time on photos, and little time on conversation, as we powered back through the woods to our starting point. Remember the "out of the woods" footbridge I mentioned earlier? I know I can make it through the meadow part in almost complete darkness (don't ask!) so we were aiming to reach the footbridge by the last remaining daylight...
.... and we made it, just in the nick of time! By the time we got back to the car, our cheeks were pink with an autumn chill and with the exertion of our speed walking. And we were a little too tired from our day of bumming to brew any root beer yet that night... so that will be another post.
Unless, of course, I find something else to do when I "should be" brewing root beer. Who knows? After all, this IS turning out to be "The Year of Should've!"