On a sunny day, drive east from Newark until the office buildings turn into fields that turn into rock cuts towering above the highway. Exit Ohio 16 and head south toward Toboso. Turn off your phone (leave the GPS on if you must) and listen to the grit of the road beneath your tires. Take your eyes off the screen and notice the wildflowers passing by; the fields where a farmer worked hard to sow this year’s corn crop.
Notice the way the clouds passing over the sun make different patterns on the hillside; slow down just for a second to let that butterfly flit across your path.
This is where Hidden Legends begins.
1. Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve
The first nod to the past you glimpse as you pull into Blackhand Gorge’s main parking lot is a weathered log cabin, one of just a few man-made structures on the nearly 1,000-acre property. It doesn’t take long to discover more: four miles of paved, bike-friendly wooded trails create an immediate sense of intimacy with nature. Along the trail, the rolling Licking River ambles past, continuing to carve its way through the sandstone on either side.
The preserve is named for a dark, hand-shaped Native American petroglyph engraved in a cliff along the north side of the river, destroyed during the construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal.
Additional hiking trails can be accessed at various locations on the preserve; be sure to take a moment to see pieces of centuries-old canal locks along the route and venture through the former interurban rail tunnel that now serves as a mysterious reminder of times past.
2. Flint Ridge State Park
Over hill and dale--with plenty of breathtaking rural vistas in between--Flint Ridge State Park stands at the site of a large flint deposit vital to the area’s Native American inhabitants thousands of years ago.
This is a place to appreciate the symbiosis of history, art and nature. At the Flint Ridge Museum, visitors can get up-close and interactive looks at the history of flint in the region. Beyond the museum, a forested walk with the crunch of flint underfoot serves as a firsthand look at how the land’s former inhabitants may have lived. The trail winds past quarry pits once used by Hopewell people, who harvested the stone for hunting and trading.
To look at even a small piece of flint--its unique and varied stripes and swirls, from gray to tan to white--is to witness one of nature’s finest art forms.
3. Taft Nature Preserve
With more than 400 acres of meadows and woodlands, this natural haven is a draw for wildlife-lovers, equestrians, ornithologists and folks who appreciate a true breath of fresh air (which is to say, just about anyone).
Located on the reserve, the William C. Kraner Nature Center serves as a hub for up-close-and-personal nature education. With programming for guests of all ages, the center offers unique opportunities not just to witness the splendor of the nature around us, but to become acquainted with its inner workings.
4. Great Circle Earthworks
Surrounded by--but seemingly miles from--the hub of commercial life, this gently sloping relic of a bygone era invites visitors to relish the sound of silence.
Beyond the rush of traffic and hubbub of city life, the circular mound of earth--1,200 feet from crest to crest and ranging in height from four to 14 feet--was built by the Hopewell people for use as a ceremonial center.
Walk through the eastern gateway and breathe as you take in the panorama of towering trees, whispering grass and, at the center of the enclosure, the Eagle Mound, where visitors can stand and view all sides of the Great Circle; marvel at the history that has taken place here.
The earthworks are also the site of the Great Circle Museum, a great visual resource for soaking in the history behind the Great Circle and other Newark Earthworks.
5. Octagon Earthworks
Tucked away behind a quiet neighborhood in the north end of town, the Octagon Earthworks--also the site of the Moundbuilders Country Club--can be viewed during daylight hours on a platform overlooking the 50-acre property.
The Octagon Earthworks, consisting of eight walls, each about 550 long and between five and six feet high, are believed to have been used by the Hopewell people as a type of astronomical observatory.
The grounds of the Octagon Earthworks are open to the public four times a year during specific “Open House” days, during which programming and tours are also scheduled. To view current dates, visit ohiohistory.org and search “Octagon open house.”