People ask me how I choose where I go to visit. Sometimes, I go where someone pays for me to go. I recently went to Ohio on a press trip for travel writers to visit the Hocking Hills area. I had never heard of this place before and never would have visited save for this trip. I was invited because the dates coincided with an Airstream rally that would be going on while I was there. I enjoyed some other elements of the trip but the rally was a highlight.
Logan, Ohio is a small town that has seen better days. Like most small towns, its revival is limited by economic opportunities. The Airstream rally – Urban Air, was held on Main Street. There are a few Airstream rallies where Airstreamers bring their rigs and park right on the designated streets of downtown in a bumper-to-bumper fashion. It’s urban camping. They sell tickets to events to raise money for a local charity, their presence provides customers for local stores, and many will participate in showing people their trailer which brings more people to town, and hopefully, they will patronize stores or at least get exposed to the town’s opportunities. There were 85 trailers participating in the event!
Fun elements of the event include having live music at night, food trucks visiting on the weekend, and games like cornhole on the street during the day. Mark Wahlberg owns an Airstream dealership in Ohio and they had a “booth” set up outside their trailer to do some fun things. I don’t think he made an appearance, but he has been sighted at his dealership on occasion. I enjoyed going into a few trailers and talking to many people as they sat outside and welcomed visitors. People had awnings unfurled and camp chairs out in typical camping fashion. On the first day of the rally, the local high school band came and played some tunes as they walked down Main Street. Most of their selections were age-appropriate for the Airstreamers – Steve Miller Band, Journey, and the Beach Boys. It was fun and a nice way for Logan to say, welcome.
Hocking Hills is on the northern edge of Appalachia. The terrain is hilly and the roads wind in and out of hollers and around foothills. There are several state forests and one national forest in the area and the Hocking Hills State Park is a favorite place for hiking. The area is filled with caves and waterfalls making it a fun destination for outdoor activities. Some of the writers went ziplining, kayaking, and rappelling. I declined to participate in those things as my bum knee was really bummed from hiking at Old Man’s Cave. The hike was great except for the stairs! Who puts stairs on a trail? Apparently, the state of Ohio does when the terrain is steep up and down and the wetness of the area would erode the soil. So I went to the Airstream rally instead of the other stuff and had a great time.
Some of the other things we did were fun, but two things really stood out. One was an opportunity to blow glass at the Jack Pine Studio. I didn’t know anything about blown glass but I am a fan of the product – Chihuly has a big studio in Seattle and is a renowned glassblower. I’ve not been to the studio but did see his art in New York. Glassblowers take the molten glass and manipulate it by rolling, cooling, heating again, blowing air into it, and pushing and shaping the glass. They may add fresh hot glass to a cooling piece, creating a beautiful result. We sat in the firing area and it was intimidating. Liquid glass and the heat of the furnaces were scarry. We each got a chance to try making our own piece with an expert craftsman doing the most challenging work, but guiding us as we performed the other tasks.
A long tube/stick is dipped into the furnace by the craftsman and he grabed liquid glass to put on the end of my stick. It’s like thin dough and it follows gravity so I had to quickly work with the material by rolling it on a table to create a form. Then I reheated it by pushing it into another furnace while I twirled the stick. Looking into a furnace while twirling glass on a stick was a new experience! Then I took it out and rolled it in colored glass chips on the table. This gave the final product the color I wanted. I chose green. Then back in the furnace. I had to keep the glass hot or it wouldn’t be malleable, as it cools quickly. Then I did a second run on the table in the second color – yellow. It stays separate from the first color in the final product. I don’t know why the colors don’t mix, but they don’t.
Back in the furnace and then it comes out for some shaping with a device that looks like a dipping cup to round the glass. The craftsmen blew into the tube and an air bubble appears and enters the rounded glass, creating a cavity and expanding the glass for your final object. He put it back in the furnace and then into another shaper device on the floor. This time I blew through the tube so the glass would expand into the mold. Then the craftsman held the tube parallel to the floor and I used a wooden paddle to push on the bottom of the glass to give it a squattier appearance. The final piece of making this object I left to the craftsman. He got more molten glass and while the object sits in a vessel that looked like a vice, the hot glass was added on top. It’s stretched, cut, and curled. Then a blow torch is used to set the final look and the entire object is put in a storage cooler to slowly cool over the next 36 hours. Cool it too fast and it shatters. Here’s the result!
These pumpkins sell like hotcakes! They are extremely popular in the fall and the studio creates a new signature pumpkin each year in a variety of sizes. They are quite beautiful with dramatic and vibrant colors created by the artisans, not that mine isn’t beautiful! While we were making our pumpkins, other artisans were making more stock items. They swiftly moved through the steps in a separate furnace area and then added stems like it was nothing. Our instructors said that once you get the hang of it, the fear turns into healthy respect. No one wants to get burned or covered in shattered glass, so you learn the limits and tolerance of this substance. Later as we walked back through the gift shop, I had a new appreciation for how difficult it is to create these delicate and beautiful objects.
The other experience that stood out for me was visiting Glenlaural. This is an Inn and Cottage property that is built to replicate the look of a Scottish village. It was the owner’s desire to create a Scottish Highlands experience and he did. The property has nearly 150 acres and includes its own hiking trail and gorge to visit. It also includes an 8-hole Scottish links-style golf course. They have you use authentic Scottish tees and balls (slightly smaller and different weight) and clubs. Apparently, this style of course and equipment challenges American golfers. If you’ve ever watched the British Open golf tournament on television, you’ve seen the sweeping fairways and undulating terrain with very high rough. They created that here.
The main activities take place in the Manor House where there is a parlor, pub, and dining room all decorated in castle style – rich colors, sumptuous fabrics on overstuffed chairs, large tables, and whimsical art and objects everywhere. They have a nightly formal dinner that is six or seven courses. On Saturdays, they do poetry readings at dinner after you’ve been led into the dining area by a bagpiper. Talk about an experience. We had a special lunch prepared for us of four courses and the chef prepared vegan fare in each course for two of us. The food was wonderful and a welcome relief from the typical midwestern fare we had been having. If you’ve been to the midwest, you understand.
The main Inn has most of the rooms, but there is a separate loop with cottages. The Hocking Hills are filled with cottages to rent. It’s a thing here. These cottages looked like ones you’d find in Scottland with sloping roofs and stone construction (though I’m pretty sure it was a facade on these). Cottages at other Inns, like the one I stayed in at the Inn at Cedar Falls, are usually equipped with a gas fireplace, a screened-in porch, and the ubiquitous rocking chair. Think Adirondacks or Wisconsin for your reference.
Press trips are usually non-stop, running from place to place in hopes that some of the stops will make it into your writing. We visited an apple orchard, a blacksmith, an observatory, and there was supposed to be a nighttime moth event but it got rained out. We visited the pencil sharpener museum (don’t ask), the only remaining US washboard factory and its museum, a winery, and assorted restaurants. The blacksmith was the most unusual stop. This family-run enterprise makes iron and steel cookware and assorted items. But what I wasn’t expecting was the bridge repair work they do!
They had taken down a civil-war era bridge from Pennsylvania, piece by a piece, and transported it to their property. The bridge was in disrepair and was originally built with hot rivets. This family has perfected the art of doing hot rivets and is taking out all the old ones and putting in new ones. The rivets hold two large pieces of metal together and are hot soldered. It requires at least three people to perform the work on each rivet. It was quite amazing to see this piece of the bridge in the foundry and hear them talk about the process. The original rivets were put in place just before or after the civil war. I could imagine a tradesman of that era, working on the rivets with the implements of that time.
I also got to visit Columbus on this trip as that is where the airport is and I had to come in a day early due to time changes. We visited a distillery on my first official morning in town and Middle West Spirits delivered. They make a very nice series of whiskeys and bourbon that I tasted and approved!
Hocking Hills is about an hour southeast of Columbus if you are ever in that neck of the woods. The area is quite lovely for a driving tour, hiking, and other contemplative appreciation of nature. I’m glad I got to visit and sample what they have to offer.