Monday, July 30, 2012

Black Hand Gorge & Flint Ridge

On Sunday my wife planned to visit her cousin in Zanesville, Ohio and she suggested I bring my bicycle and go riding while they spent the day poolside.  (She comes up with good ideas!) After dropping off my family in South Zanesville I backtracked a few miles to the Black Hand Gorge State Nature Preserve to start my ride.  Black Hand Gorge has the distinction of being the only State Nature Preserve in Ohio that has a bike trail running through it.  While it is rather short at 4.25 miles in length the scenery along the way makes up for it.

Located in Eastern Licking County the east-west gorge was cut by the Licking River through Black Hand sandstone.  The sandstone formation is named after a hand shaped Indian petroglyph engraved on the face of a sandstone cliff along the north side of the river.  This petroglyph unfortunately was destroyed in 1828 when the cliff face was dynamited during construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal which passed through the gorge on it's way to the Ohio River.

Pictured above is the cliff and along the bottom several courses of sandstone blocks are visible. I'm guessing this was part of a canal lock.  Adjacent to the bike trail to the south is an abandoned quarry where these blocks likely originated.

It's too bad the Indian petroglyph no longer exists or hundreds if not thousands of years of human influence would be evident in this otherwise wild place.  The river valley probably offered safe haven and productive hunting grounds for countless primitive peoples.  In later times Ohio's first public works came through in the form of the canal system.  Soon to follow was the era of steam power as coal fired locomotives chugged and hissed up and down the gorge on a bed made flat by blasting away more sandstone as seen in the opening photo.  At least now we know to preserve these rare links to mankind's early ancestors.

After reaching the end of the bike trail I took to the county roads heading south to a place called Flint Ridge.  I decided to ride the Motobecane because as you can see in the photos there is no shortage of hills in South-East Ohio and nothing climbs like a titanium road bike.

My map does not differentiate between paved and gravel and of course since I was on the road bike with skinny tires I had to endure a few miles of this.  At least the road bed had been recently graded so I didn't have to put up with ruts and potholes.

The Flint Ridge State Memorial is located about six miles south from the Black Hand Gorge.  This place played a huge role in the lives of early Native Americans and is a interesting place to visit.
The following description I copied off signage placed by The Ohio Historical Society. It explains this unique geological feature and it's importance to the prehistoric people who inhabited the Ohio Valley:

Flint Ridge

Flint Ridge is a chain of long, narrow hills extending from a few miles east of Newark almost to Zanesville.  A distance of more than twenty miles.  The surface of these hills is underlaid with an irregular layer of flint, which may be only a few inches or several feet in thickness and varies greatly in color and texture.  In many places along this ridge the soil has been eroded revealing the underlying flint.  You are standing at one of these outcroppings. 

Flint is formed by a geologic process whereby the softer limestones and shales are replaced with much harder silica.  Due to its high quartz content, flint polishes beautifully and exceptional pieces of jewelry can be made from it.  The 106th General Assembly designated flint as Ohio's official gem stone in 1965 because of its occurrence in several parts of Ohio, particularly Flint Ridge, and because of its importance as a semi-precious gem stone.

Flint is both hard and brittle and thus can be broken into pieces that have razor sharp edges.  For this reason Indians as long as 9000 years ago traveled to this ridge to secure the rock for making projectile points, knives, and scrapers.  The area is now covered with hundreds of shallow pits from which flint has been quarried through the ages; several are visible along the trails.  The prehistoric Indians broke off chunks of flint with stone mauls or pried them out of the pits with wooden poles.  They broke the chunks into usable pieces with hammerstones, as shown here, and then proceeded to chip the flint for various purposes.


On the park grounds is a small museum which has the usual "Indian statues engaged in daily life" displays but also a very nice collection of Native American stone artifacts. This alone makes it worth checking out!  In the center of the building a large section of the floor is removed revealing an actual pit that has been cleaned out to show exactly the condition of the quarry with mining underway.


From the museum a foot path leads into the woods and within seconds smooth rounded bowl shaped depressions are visible all around.

I kept looking around and soon I found a flint deposit right at the edge of the hillside.

Black Hand Gorge - Flint Ridge Loop
Bike:  Motobecane
Ride Time:  1:56:46
Distance:  23 miles
Average Speed:  11.8 mph
Max Speed:  39.5 mph

Here is a link to more interesting reading on this unique subject:  Investigations at the Flint Ridge State Memorial, Ohio, 1987-1988 By Richard W. Yerkes, Ohio State University


  1. Beautiful scenery....even at 40 mph.

    1. I spent much more time going 7-8 mph up the hills though. I love SE Ohio, It is beautiful country. Hills are not as big as yours in WV but that just makes them a little easier to pedal up!

  2. That's not really Ohio- probably photoshopped! really cool post old man. Tom, ab9nz

  3. Before I began reading your blog, I had no idea Ohio was such a remarkable state! Thanks for taking us along on the ride. The flint site was a nice find, but I also enjoyed seeing tree roots winding through rock.