Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

The Hocking Hills area in southeastern Ohio offers more than a picturesque walk through the woods. It affords unique opportunities to explore every angle of these stunning surroundings while providing some welcome surprises.

During a trip to the Hocking Hills and the nearby regions, you can hear a beaver slapping its tail on the water as you kayak on a lake under a rising moon. You can spy the majesty of the Appalachians as you glide through a canopy of trees on a zip line. You can even observe the rings of Saturn – 746 million miles up – at an astronomy park where professional and amateur astronomers converge.

We experienced a handful of rewarding outdoor pursuits during a summer weekend adventure in the Hocking Hills, about an hour’s drive from Columbus. Here’s a sampling of what you can do, too.

• Kayak Under the Moon

On a warm evening I eased into a kayak at the nearly 3,000-acre Lake Hope in McArthur. Lake Hope State Park lies within the Zaleski State Forest, about 20 miles southeast of Hocking Hills.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioI teamed up with Mimi Morrison, owner of Touch the Earth Adventures. She inspired me to unwind and tune into the environment. As we glided across the lake, Morrison indicated the lack of mosquitos thanks to the overhead yellow warblers. I quieted and listened to their sweet whistling as the full moon rose over the horizon.

Ramp up the experience by visiting the nature center at Lake Hope State Park to hand-feed hummingbirds during the summer months.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioAt specified times park rangers remove the hung feeders and hand out plastic planter plugs full of sugar water. Each has a red pipe cleaner attached to attract the little birds, as well as a hole for them to poke their pointy beaks into the liquid.

I felt a thrill as bird after bird visited my feeder. As they hovered over my hand, I admired their delicate features and their vibrant blue and green feathers.

• Zip Through the Trees

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

You can get in touch (literally) with the trees at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge, which offers several zip-lining adventures. Max and I hopped on the Canopy Tour. For about three hours we zipped between trees and covered several sky bridges.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioThe company offers various other tours, including some shorter ones, as well as Segway adventures and hikes. What impressed me was the attention to detail at the departure destination. The touring company made sure to give us a training session before we embarked. They follow Association for Challenge Course Technology standards, so we always felt safe while we got our thrills.

Along the way, our guides pointed out interesting trees, such as the American sycamore, with bark that resembles military camouflage, and the indigenous pawpaw tree, which produces a papaya-like fruit. Our guides also took our pictures as we zipped through the course, making it unnecessary to carry mobile phones or cameras.

Ramp up the experience by spending the night in a treehouse at Among the Trees Lodging, only about a mile or so away from the zip lining adventure. We stayed in the Buckeye Barn Treehouse, meticulously constructed from reclaimed barn wood.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioThe cozy confines sleeps four and contains everything for a comfortable stay, including a hot tub. You enter the treehouse via a swaying ramp that’s illuminated at night. The height provides a unique perspective of the woods. Mike liked hanging out beneath the treehouse, studying its impressive construction.

• Gaze at the Rings of Saturn

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

We visited John Glenn Astronomy Park in Logan, a short drive from Hocking Hills State Park, joining dozens of others gathering on a warm Friday evening. The crowd included expert and amateur astronomers and many inquisitive visitors like us.

The park, operated by a non-profit organization called Friends of the Hocking Hills State Park, is open Friday and Saturday nights at sunset from the beginning of March through early November. It doesn’t cost anything to visit.

We were invited to study the stars through several telescopes set up on a rectangular, paved surface. We caught a glimpse of the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the craters of our moon. As the night quickened, the views improved. The site’s main tool is a huge, 28-inch telescope in the rolling-roofed observatory. During our visit it was trained on the Crab Nebula.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioRamp up the experience with dinner at Kindred Spirits, the new restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan. Dining here is not roughing it. The food and surroundings are top-notch. Step up to the rooftop bar for a breath of fresh air, filtered through pretty flowers.

Learn more about the Hocking Hills area.

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Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

A monarch flutters through a window in a castle made of stones. It hovers over a village of miniature stone cabins and past three seated Indian chiefs made of clay while on its way to a patch of coneflowers.

The more I follow the butterfly, the more I see at the Hartman Rock Garden, a restored folk-art sensation that’s located in an otherwise typical back yard in Springfield, Ohio.

The stone sculptures, about 50 in all, are worth driving an hour west of Columbus to see. We did just that one summer afternoon, pairing our adventure with a couple of beers at Mother Stewart’s Brewing in Springfield, and a couple of ice cream cones at Young’s Jersey Dairy on the drive back to Columbus.

Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

The story of the Hartman Rock Garden begins in 1932, when a 48-year-old man named Ben Hartman got laid off from his job as a mold-maker during the Great Depression. Bored, the self-taught artist started shaping cement and hundreds of thousands of rocks into recognizable structures, like houses, churches and castles.

Some structures resemble famous landmarks, like the White House and Mount Vernon. Others are just pleasantly odd, such as a patriotic cactus with an eagle on top.

Ben worked on his rock garden for a dozen years before he passed away in 1944. His wife, Mary, looked after the garden for 53 years after his death, and even gave tours.

But when she died in 1997, the garden went into despair. Weeds grew. Wind, rain and snow eroded delicate features.

In 2008, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation restored the garden and gifted it to a nonprofit organization called Friends of Hartman Rock Garden. The gesture was part of the plumbing product manufacturer’s longstanding commitment to folk architecture and art environments.

One walk along the garden’s path tells you the restoration was well worth it.

The Hartman Rock Garden is located at 1905 Russell Ave., Springfield, Ohio. It’s open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

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Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio

Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio

Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio

We love to spend time at Ohio’s nine state park lodges. After all, they’re part of our great state’s rich travel inventory, and they’re there for the taking.

Our latest visit was to the lodge at Maumee Bay State Park, 1,300 wonderful acres set right on Lake Erie, about 10 miles east of Toledo. Like many of the other state park lodges, Maumee Bay Lodge lets you know unmistakably that you’re on the water.

When you step inside Maumee Bay, you get the feel of a coastal getaway, from the huge picture windows looking out on the lake, to the blue-and-green seafaring motif. At the surrounding state park, you’re likely to see bald eagles, great blue herons, sandhill cranes and swans.

Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio
Red-winged blackbird along boardwalk

Maumee Bay and the surrounding wetlands are part of Maumee Bay State Park, a protected area. Wetlands offer ideal bird watching opportunities.

In our opinion, one of the park’s best assets is a 2-mile boardwalk that winds through a marsh wildlife refuge near the lodge. During several exploratory walks we encountered beavers, muskrats, a family of ducks, frogs, songbirds and geese. Even though it’s just off the Trautman Nature Center, the thick woods and lush wetlands give you a real feeling of seclusion and peace. Birding is a popular attraction.

Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio
Multipurpose trail near the public beach

The park sits just off the Lake Erie shore, and there are bicycle trails that lead around an inland lake and along the lake and a small marina. Rent a bicycle at the lodge for a few dollars. Better yet, bring your own.

Another star of the park is the Maumee Bay Golf Course, which covers 1,850 acres of protected wetlands and follows Ohio’s beautiful north coast. Our experience has shown that most state park lodge golf courses are fairly average. That’s not the case at Maumee Bay, because of the involvement of Toledo native Arthur Hills.

Hills is one of the top golf course architects in the country. He laid out the Maumee Bay course in 1991 in the style of a Scottish links course. While it may not be a true links course, it’s designed in that style, and frankly, anything that Hills work on – think the Longaberger course near Newark – is top notch.

Not that the other state park lodge courses are haphazardly thrown together – legendary architect Jack Kidwell designed most of them in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But Maumee Bay’s course has received national acclaim and is recognized by some as a top-five Ohio public course.

Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio
Billiards with dad

The park has a 120-room lodge and two dozen cabins that can sleep up to 12. The rooms and some of the common spaces could use some updating, but we found the lodge to be really enjoyable. There’s an indoor pool, a game room, a children’s play area, racquetball and wallyball courts, and several board games to play.

A snack bar made some great fries and dogs, and the recently updated bar was really fun. But the better dining experience is a full-service restaurant called Water’s Edge, which has offered an improved, more-upscale menu since U.S. Hotel and Resort Management took over management of most of the state park lodges in 2018.

Maumee Bay Lodge: Find a coastal getaway in Northwest Ohio
Paddle boats on inland lake

Outside, there’s a lot to do. First, there’s the beach, as the park does lie along Lake Erie. We would recommend checking with park personnel if you want to swim in the lake. The 57-acre in-shore lake has its own beach and is fine for swimming, canoeing, paddle-boating and other non-motorized boating. (The lodge also offers an outdoor swimming pool.)

Being a state park, there also are opportunities to fish, plenty of hiking trails and sports courts on premises, as well as an amphitheater. The nature center has a research laboratory and offers interactive displays, an auditorium and places to view wildlife outside.

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Explore 30 acres of fun at world’s largest museum for kids

Featuring more than 3,200 pieces of blown glass, Fireworks of Glass by Dale Chihuly can be viewed from all sides.

The magnitude of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is epitomized in a 43-foot sculpture by noted glass artist Dale Chihuly. It’s his largest permanent installation of blown glass, so magnificent that visitors are encouraged to view it from all angles, even through it, from below, like a kaleidoscope.

Founded in 1925, the downtown attraction pitches itself as the world’s largest museum for kids, with 481,000 square feet of space containing a dozen major galleries that range from dinosaurs to outer space. We didn’t measure it, but we can tell you the place is immense, and it’s certainly worth planning a visit to Indianapolis. It would be easy to spend all day and more here and still feel like you’ve missed something, as we did when we visited with Rosie and Max. We have to say it was the best children’s museum we’ve ever seen.

As you enter you can’t miss the huge model dinosaurs that greet your arrival. They foreshadow one of the museum’s signature exhibits – Dinosphere – where you’ll meet Bucky, said to be the sixth-most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found, and Dracorex Hogwartsia, a recently discovered species that has a spiky skull and was named after the dragon in the Harry Potter series.

Here’s a sampling of what you can do at some of the museum’s inside exhibits:

Learn to sketch a Dracorex at one of the many interactive exhibits.

• See full-sized dinosaur skeletons, touch a T-rex, dig for bones and view one of the largest juvenile dinosaur fossil collections in the world at Dinosphere. In addition to Bucky and Dracorex, you’ll meet Leonardo, a mummified dinosaur found in Montana in 2002.

• Be moved by The Power of Children exhibit, a tribute to three young folks who’ve touched our hearts. Step into the bedroom of Ryan White, the brave young boy who died in 1990 after contracting AIDS through a blood transfusion. Pay tribute to Anne Frank, who told stories of the Holocaust through her diary, and Ruby Bridges, a first-grader who became one of the first black students to integrate into the white school system in New Orleans.

• Experience what it means to be an astronaut in Beyond Spaceship Earth. It’s an immersive exhibit that relates the story of NASA’s Project Mercury program, which propelled the first Americans into space.

• Take a ride for a dollar on the Broad Ripple Carousel, a 1917-vintage ride that was reclaimed from an old Indianapolis amusement park. The ride contains 42 original animals and a 1919 Wurlitzer band organ. Also on the museum’s fifth floor are games, puzzles, a tree house and a maze of mirrors.

One of the attractions that separates the Indy museum from other children’s museums we’ve visited is the indoor/outdoor attraction known as Sports Legends Experience. It’s a ginormous play space for children and adults that combines physical fitness with an appreciation of sports history. In the 15 exhibits you can participate in many popular sports.

Here’s a sampling of what you can do outside through early November:

Swing for the fences at Wiese Field within the Sports Legends Experience.

• Climb the 25-foot Tree of Sports sculpture (or take the elevator), and chat with someone on the ground using talk tubes. See a panoramic view of the sports fields, then zoom down one of three slides to get back to ground level.

• Swing for the fences at Wiese Field, a miniature ballpark with modified equipment the museum provides. Anybody can go up to bat. Just enter the dugout and get ready to hit one deep. You can run the bases, throw to a pitching tutor and pose for a photo after you’re done.

• Pedal around a miniature race track, and speed along a short drag road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pedal Car Racetrack Experience and Church Brothers Collision Repair Drag Strip, which pays homage to Indiana’s strong history of auto racing.

• Throw a football around at the Indianapolis Colts Gridiron Experience. We thought it was really fun for two more reasons: You can try to split the uprights at a field goal kicking game – there are distances for both the young ones and adults. And you can try to hit a receiver in stride around permanent cutouts; or try “laying out” for a pass as you dive into a cushioned pile.

• Sample other live-action sports, including soccer, tennis, golf, hockey and track-and-field.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is open daily. See the museum’s admissions page for more information, as the hours and admission pricing are variable.

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Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

Historic train station shines after $228 million restoration

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
Cincinnati Union Terminal

As we approached the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, we didn’t quite know what to expect.

We often like to explore landmarks without a mission, letting spontaneity be our guide. That was the case recently as we entered the stunning train station built during the Great Depression.

We knew we wanted to take in the art deco architecture and experience the workmanlike grandeur of Winold Reiss’ mosaics, which help to create an eye-popping entry when combined with the vibrant ceiling, the largest half dome in the western hemisphere.

But this depot in the city’s Queensgate neighborhood is much more than an old train station. It’s the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, consisting of three museums and an Omnimax theater. So there are plenty of places to explore and have fun once you stop gazing at the 180-foot rotunda dome.

The terminal opened in 1933 and was built to serve 17,000 passengers and more than 200 trains daily. It closed to passenger traffic in 1972, then reopened as an Amtrak line in 1991.

In November, the center completed a $228 million renovation on the terminal, bringing it back to its original glory.

Here’s a flavor of the various museums that occupy parts of the building. You can enter each with a Discover Pass, and there’s plenty of additional admission information on the museum’s website.

Cincinnati History Museum

The city’s past is on display, from the initial settlers through the second world war. Costumed actors give you a feel of what it was like living in the Queen City, and you can check out the Queen City of the West, a replica side-wheel steamboat. Next year the history museum will include Cincinnati in Motion, what it’s calling the country’s largest s-gauge model train display.

Duke Energy Children’s Museum

Duke Energy Children’s Museum
Duke Energy Children’s Museum

We really liked this museum, which is essentially a huge play area for kids. There are eight interactive spaces to explore and learn about such topics as energy, nature and science. Highlights include a webbed enclosure called the Energy Zone where kids can release steam throwing balls and working simple machines, and a two-story jungle gym called The Woods where kids can tunnel through an aquarium.

Museum of Natural History & Science

Cincinnati History Museum
Museum of Natural History & Science

Dinosaurs dominate this exhibit. There are six prehistoric creatures on display, covering the Jurassic Period (153 to 145 million years ago) and the Cretaceous Period (145 to 65 million years ago), five of which are on display to the public for the first time. They include the only known associated skeleton of a Torvosaurus, a meat eater of the late Jurassic period.

Our son, Max, enjoyed an add-on activity ($5), going face-down into a motion simulator for a three-minute ride through a Jurassic jungle.

The Discovery Pass, $14.50 for adults and $10.50 for kids, provides admission to the three museums. For extra fees you can see a film at the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater, or visit two special exhibits: Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World, and Chocolate: The Exhibition.

Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World
Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World

The guitar exhibit has dozens of guitars on display, ranging from the classic Fender Stratocaster to lutes and other antiquities. We learned about the history of chocolate production through informational displays and antique tins and other collectibles. (There were no chocolate samples, much to our dismay.)

If you visit on a weekend, be prepared for good-sized crowds and a somewhat congested parking situation. Lines were long to exit when we arrived, but we stayed until the museums almost closed, and it was easy to get out.

Learn more about the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.

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Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo

Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Two rhinoceros hornbills perch on a tree in the Wings of the World exhibit.

As longtime members of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, we’re offered reciprocal agreements to visit other zoos at a discount.

With our busy lives, we never carved out time to venture to nearby zoos. But that changed during the holidays, when we made a road trip to Cincinnati to see the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

This wonderful urban amenity opened in 1875, making it the country’s second-oldest zoo. That kind of longevity means it’s located right in the city, giving it a certain metropolitan appeal absent from the Columbus Zoo (which we really love, by the way).

The complex houses more than 500 animal and 3,000 plant species, making it a one-of-a-kind destination. We focused mainly on the zoo side, and came away impressed with the variety and uniqueness of several of the exhibits.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
A gorilla claims a hammock at the Gorilla World exhibit.

We especially enjoyed Gorilla World, the recently renovated space for the zoo’s collection of western lowland gorillas and colobus monkeys. The zoo refreshed the outdoor area in spring 2017 and built a new indoor space for the primates a year ago. It was fun watching two of the gorillas battle over a hammock inside their indoor playground.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Merchandise featuring Fiona the hippo is all the rage in the zoo’s gift shop.

When the weather warms up, most of the attention will be captured by Fiona, a plump, young hippopotamus born on Jan. 24, 2017. The city has gone Fiona gaga, with several businesses supporting her. Fiona hangs out with 19-year-old Bibi in Hippo Cove, which offers underwater viewing and a play area where children can learn about the African mammals. We weren’t able to see Fiona or her friend, as the hippos can’t come outside until it’s 45 degrees or warmer, and their indoor living space is not viewable.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
An owl peers at us in the Night Hunters exhibit.

A few unique exhibits really captured our attention. One was Night Hunters, a trek in the dark where we saw wild animals in a dim atmosphere. They included clouded leopards, Pallas’ cats, a sand cat and predators such as vampire bats, aardvarks, a Burmese python and the potto, a big-eyed prosimian native to Africa.

The Cincinnati Zoo has an awesome aviary exhibit called Wings of the World, which houses birds from various habitats, including rainforests and grasslands. We were impressed by the rhinoceros hornbill, with its striking, horn-shaped casque on its beak, and by the quizzical buff-crested bustard, which lets out a shrill call while traipsing around the African savannah.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Find unique exhibits, sense of history at urban zoo
Cockroaches craw through an exhibit at World of the Insect.

We also enjoyed (well, some of us) World of the Insect, a huge collection of things that creep and crawl. Yes, there are big, hairy tarantulas and lots of cockroaches. But the best experience was seeing the amazing giant walking sticks, a species the zoo has maintained since 2000, garnering nationwide acclaim. The captivating creatures can measure over a foot and are incredibly “stick like” in appearance.

Our zoo pass allowed us a discount on food, but if you go, check out the parking situation carefully, which was not organized well.

Learn more about the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Watch and listen to this buff-crested bustard we heard at Wings of the World.

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Appalachian landscape reels us back to Wheeling for golf, flowers, lorikeets and more

The par-3 hole No. 13 at Oglebay’s Palmer Course

Playing golf at Oglebay Resort is like stepping into the past, yet remaining firmly planted in the present.

We’ve always felt a special attraction to this wonderful resort, tucked into 1,700 hilly acres just northeast of Wheeling, W. Va., about a two-hour drive from Columbus. After all, Wendy and I held our wedding reception at Oglebay in April 2005.

We try to return at least once a year, and this time we visited during early October so I could play golf and Wendy and the kids could explore the resort. Golfing at Oglebay presents an excellent opportunity to enjoy the vistas of the Appalachian landscape. The resort offers four courses – the two main layouts called Jones and Palmer, the classic Crispin course and a nine-hole, par-3 layout that’s perfect for youngsters.

They combine the new and the old, which is always what I liked about Oglebay. This is no modernized golf mecca. Crispin dates to the 1930s. There were no bulldozers employed to sculpt out the course. It simply followed the contours of the land, so you have some very abrupt elevation changes.

Lovely Appalachian terrain is on full view at Oglebay.

It was joined in 1970 by the Jones Course, which legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. built in a somewhat similar manner, although much better. Most of the fairways on Jones have some contour, and the drainage rolls with the slope of the terrain.

The Palmer Course rounded out the package in 2000 and best reflects modern golf course design, as much dirt was moved to create a more playable layout. The Jones Course and the Palmer Course comprise the Speidel Golf Club, and growing up in eastern Ohio, I’ve always considered Speidel a true test of the game. Not only for me – for professional golfers as well. The Jones Course was a regular stop on the LPGA tour from 1974-84, its hilly terrain often causing havoc for some of the best golfers in the world.

It was a fairly new course then, and Jones’s design takes advantage of the mountainous terrain. It offers several elevation changes, plenty of side-hill lies, lots of trees, and small, contoured greens. The routing follows the land, and you’re likely to find yourself punching out of a grove of trees into a fairway if your drive is a bit off center.

Oglebay commissioned Arnold Palmer’s golf architecture firm to build the Palmer Course to make Oglebay more of a resort destination.

Oglebay Resort, Wendy Pramik

Earl W. Oglebay willed his mansion to the city of Wheeling after his death in 1926.

One of the main attractions is the former summer estate of the late industrialist Earl W. Oglebay. The yellow mansion with stately white pillars is a museum that’s a tribute to Oglebay and the history of the property.

The resort is a great place for families. There are plenty of things to do, and they’re often rather quaint in their simplicity.

Take the Good Zoo. Opened in 1977 in a wooded area, it contains African wild dogs, meerkats, kangaroos, lorikeets and other animals, as well as a dinosaur exhibit with animatronic creatures. The lorikeets are particularly friendly if you entice them with nectar that the zoo sells for $1 a cup. Several of the colorful birds were perched on Rosie and Max as they tried to grasp a taste of the sweet liquid.

Max maneuvers around the Oglebay Aerial Challenge Course.

We took a mile-and-a-half ride aboard the C.P. Huntington train, an open-air recreation of a 19th century locomotive. It moved rather slowly, and to our amusement required the conductors to stop the train, get out and disperse sand on the tracks so the wheels could grip well enough to propel the train up a couple of mild inclines.

We had fun riding paddleboats around Schenk Lake, and Max had a blast on the Oglebay Aerial Challenge Course, a combination of rope walks, climbs and maneuvers high above the ground. Max spent an hour exploring the course, while safely tethered, with one of the friendly guides.

We also love exploring the surrounding landscape, so thoughtfully cared for and manicured. Visitors also can tour a glass museum and wander along a red brick path through a garden that dates back a century.

Oglebay also offers quality horseback riding opportunities, being the home of the nearby Bethany College equestrian team. You also can play tennis, ride a mountain bike or discover one of the walking and hiking trails.

Oglebay’s Crispin Center hasn’t changed much since opening in the late 1930s. Built of locally-quarried sandstone, it’s elegant alongside the sky-blue pool. It’s closed now, but when the weather warms it’s a lovely place to take a dip.

We stayed two nights in a newly remodeled, lakeside room at Wilson Lodge, which has 270 rooms. The accommodation was comfortable and quiet, and we easily accessed the indoor pool, outdoor patios, Ihlenfeld Dining Room and wonderful upstairs sitting area.

Wintertime it’s a poplar site for the Winter Festival of Lights, a six-mile drive showcasing millions of twinkling lights on more than 300 hilly acres.

On the back nine at the Palmer Course

I played the Palmer Course with two of my childhood buddies on a brisk October Saturday.

The first thing you notice about this course is the lack of trees along many of the holes. The fairways are a bit wider, too, and there are multiple tee boxes that can allow you to play according to your handicap. You get the feeling that Oglebay tried to wedge the course in where it had room. There are six each par-3s, par-4s and par-5s, which certainly is unique, and you play three holes then drive quite a distance under a road to get to most of the rest of the course.

We found it well-conditioned and very playable. There are five set of tees, ranging from 4,569 yards to 6,725 yards. The men’s tees (second longest) measure 6,498 with a slope of 130 and a rating of 70.9. The comparable measurables for the Jones Course are 6,650, 134 and 72.5.

Having played the Jones Course multiple times, I can attest that it is tighter and can be more difficult. We’ve played it since our teens and prefer it to the Palmer Course. Crispin is fun if you want to give it a try. It is shorter, but bring your climbing shoes. The elevation changes are stark.

Oglebay offers golf packages from late March to early November. Call 800-577-9519 or visit for more information.

Oglebay Resort, Wendy Pramik

Oglebay Resort, Wendy Pramik

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Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Discover Ohio’s most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field It’s the middle of August, and I’m in the middle of a field, sun blazing overhead, sweat dripping down my back.

“Let’s pretend we’re paleontologists at the Mammoth Site in South Dakota,” I say to Rosie and Max, who are with me at Caesar Creek State Park in Waynesville, Ohio, an hour southwest of Columbus.

Although we’re far from South Dakota, where the kids once watched paleontologists delicately unearth woolly mammoth fossils at an excavation site, the game doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

We find fossil after fossil at the Caesar Creek Spillway, a swath of land that spans several football fields and contains some of the best opportunities for fossil finding in Ohio.

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil fieldThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the spillway and adjacent Caesar Creek Lake in the early 1970s to control flooding in the area. Doing so unveiled a layer of fossils that date back hundreds of thousands of years when Ohio was under water and near the equator.

Many fossils here resemble shells and coral, remnants of creatures that lived long ago on a large continent called Laurentia. Over time, specimens became sandwiched between layers of earth and formed fossils.

The spillway is open to explore any time of the year, but you’ll need to obtain a free permit first if you’d like to search for fossils. You do so at the Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center, just north of the spillway. There, ask for a fossil-hunting permit and a copy of the “Common Fossils of Caesar Creek Lake” pamphlet.

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil fieldAn employee will go over the ground rules, which basically are not to use any tools to dig for fossils or to break them apart, and not to take any fossils home that are larger than your fist.

We see signs reminding us not to climb on rock embankments. They’re steep, and the rocks are slippery and sharp. We amble through the open field, eyes fixed on the ground. I pick up a rock that resembles a cone. It’s smooth and pointy. I hand it to Max, who adds it to a collection in his pocket.

We grow thirsty as we hang out in the sun. We head to the nearby town of Waynesville. It’s one of the more picturesque small towns you’ll encounter in the Buckeye State, with rows of beautiful old homes, some of them set up as businesses including antique stores, eateries and candy shops. It’s also home of the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, held annually on the second weekend in October.

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil fieldWe enjoy lunch at the Hammel House, a bed and breakfast that dates to 1799 and happens to be one of the most haunted buildings in Ohio. We learn that President Martin Van Buren and Charles Dickens have stayed here. We also learn it’s a pet-friendly establishment, which is perfect because we’ve brought along my brother’s dog, Biscuit. (If you have a dog, also check out the Pretty Pooch Boutique, which offers a large selection of cute dog outfits.)

Caesar Creek State Park is located at 8570 E. State Route 73, Waynesville, Ohio. Learn more.

The Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center is located at 4020 N. Clarksville Rd., Waynesville, Ohio. Hours are 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday; and 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

Caesar Creek State Park; Discover Ohio's most fertile fossil field

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