The Hidden Legends Pathfinder Route extends from Hanover to Newark near the Great Circle and Octagon mounds with a length of about 32 miles. This route ties into hidden gems, or "Hidden Legends" as we are calling them. These Hidden Legends are better known as Black hand Gorge State Nature Preserve, Flint Ridge State Park, Taft Nature Preserve, and the Newark Earthworks sites (The Great Circle and Octagon Earthworks).
1. Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve
The prime feature of this preserve is a narrow, east-west gorge cut by the Licking River through the famous Blackhand sandstone formation. It also boasts the only bike trail in Ohio's state nature preserve system; more than 4 miles of bike trail wind through the preserve.
The preserve is rich in natural as well as early Ohio history.The name Blackhand, for which the preserve is named, originated from a dark, hand-shaped Indian petroglyph which was engraved on the face of a massive sandstone cliff along the north side of the river. The engraving was destroyed in 1828 when canal builders dynamited the cliff face, during construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which runs through the gorge. Sections of the canal towpaths and canal locks may be seen from the trails along the river.
The dry hilltops are dominated by oak-hickory mature woods along with Virginia pine and mountain laurel. Yellow birch, cherry birch and eastern hemlock grow on northerly exposures. It is an excellent site for viewing woodland spring wildflowers.
2. Flint Ridge State Park
Flint Ridge is a deposit of flint approximately 3 x 9 miles running in an East-West orientation. The layer is 2 - 10 feet thick. More than 10,000 years ago, Native Americans quarried the flint from pits still visible on the quarry trail. They fashioned many different types of stone tools from this material including knives, spearpoints, and arrowheads. Flint was vital to their survival. An excavated pit can been seen inside the museum.
3. Taft Nature Preserve
Taft Reserve and the William C. Kraner Nature Center contain 425 acres with eight miles of horseback riding and hiking trails through woodland and meadow habitats. The area is noted for its abundance of spring wildflowers, owl, deer, wild turkey and coyote. The trails follow hilly terrain and are considered moderately strenuous. The William C. Kraner Nature Center houses displays interpreting Licking County’s rich cultural and natural history.
4. Great Circle Earthworks
This may be the best preserved of the geometric earthworks not just in Newark, but anywhere in Ohio. It’s a gigantic circular enclosure, 1200 feet from crest to crest. Four football fields would fit across it end to end. The walls vary in height from 4 feet up to 14 at the monumental gateway.
The design is typical of many earlier, Adena earthworks: a ring, with an interior ditch and a gateway opening to the east. But here, people coming from other parts of the complex would enter the most dramatic portal anywhere in their cultural world: a sign preparing them for the ceremonies at the circle’s heart.
5. Octagon Earthworks
Across town from the Great Circle (once linked by ancient walled roadways, now by 21st Street, Main Street, and 33rd Street) the precise Octagon Earthworks present their perfectly level artificial horizons, used in antiquity to mark the complex movements of the moon. A giant circle connects via an avenue with the even larger octagon, with cleverly designed corner gateways. Small earthen walls nearby were the beginning of a long straight roadway to the southwest.
Arriving at the parking lot of the Moundbuilders Country Club, you are at the heart of the Octagon Earthworks. A small wooden platform has been built here to offer an orientation, and views into the Avenue connecting the giant Observatory Circle (on the left) with the open-cornered Octagon (on the right). This octagon and its adjoining circle are the most precise of all the remaining earthworks. They’re a half-mile across, perfectly formed, and exactly level. The circle’s diameter is 1,054 feet, an interval that also perfectly constructs the Octagon (as the sides of a diagonal square it perfectly touches 4 gateways).
Throughout the site, the walls are just at eye-level, keeping us enclosed, and forming an artificial horizon. Even the gateways are visually blocked by these smaller mounds. Inside this huge, perfect work of geometry, our eyes are drawn across from one point to another, and on to the real horizon beyond. Poles and banners probably marked the gateways. We can imagine grand processions along the wide roadways, moving among the various parts of the complex.
If golfers are not present (there are several “golf-free days” each year), walk the grounds thoroughly; it will take between one and two hours. Follow the giant circle to the left, as far as the Observatory Mound. From the top of this feature, ancient priests or shamans could observe the perfect alignment of the moon at its northernmost rising, appearing along the axis of the Avenue and across the center-point and distant gateway of the Octagon, about six-tenths of a mile away.
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