Natural History 

Red Rock Bluffs


Red Rock Bluffs is surrounded on three sides by Hocking Hills State Forest and lies just one mile west of Old Man’s Cave in a richly forested and biodiverse region of Ohio. The entire region is a premiere example of a relatively healthy, intact Appalachian forest ecosystem.

Two State-listed Special Interest Birds Confirmed at Red Rock Bluffs. A breeding bird survey taken this past summer confirmed the presence of the Magnolia Warbler and Hermit Thrush, two bird species listed as special interest in the Ohio Natural Heritage Database. Both bird species were commonly heard by song by other observers this spring in the hemlock-clad hillsides of Red Rock Bluffs. Being birds associated with the northern forests of North America, the presence of both species is closely associated, if not dependent upon, the hemlock-forests and hemlock-hardwood forests that prevail on this site.

Habitat for Rare Dragonflies. Red Rock Bluffs contains the headwaters of four separate, deep ravines that flow into either Red Rock Hollow or Queer Creek. All four ravines contribute suitable habitat for the local breeding populations of two state-listed dragonfly species. Uhler’s Sundragon larvae are associated with small, rapidly flowing streams and Tiger Spiketail larvae inhabit small forest streams and seeps, often with skunk cabbage and interrupted fern, a fern species which is present on the site.

Suitable Habitat for Ohio’s Rarest Orchid. The most interesting rare plant discovered in the immediate Red Rock Bluffs region is the Small Whorled Pogonia, an orchid restricted to Eastern United States. The Small Whorled Pogonia is considered a rare species, often legendarily so. In Ohio it is known from only one location – Camp Oty’okwa – where it grow just a few 100 yards away from Red Hollow Bluffs and in habitat similar to that of Red Rock Bluffs.

Growing only in the Eastern United States, the Small Whorled Pogonia is listed as imperiled in 18 states and is exceedingly rare throughout its range. Only 104 populations are known to exist in the world, and most of those colonies bear less than 25 individuals. The habitat for Small Whorled Pogonia is hardwood and conifer-hardwood forests near braided intermittent streams. This habitat is supported by Red Rock Bluffs.

Pygmy Shrew. Like many of the plants, birds and lichen species that are associated with Red Rock Bluffs and the larger Hocking Hills Region, the pygmy shrew is primarily a boreal spieces. Many of the classically narrow ravines of Hocking Hills restrict sunlight and maintain lower average summer temperatures than elsewhere in Ohio, allowing boreal plants and animals to survive as “glacial relics.”

Salt Creek Watershed has a rich aquatic community – protecting an additional five state-listed species. Salt Creek Watershed, to which the ravines at Red Rock Bluffs and the main stem of Queer Creek belong, shelter two state-threatened species: the bluebreast darter and Tippecanoe darter, and three species of concern, the eastern sand darter, muskellunge and river redhorse. All species are vulnerable to aquatic impairment, but the Eastern Sand Darter particularly so. The Eastern Sand Darter lives partially submerged in sandy substrates and is therefore extremely intolerant of siltation. Its presence in Salt Creek is notable, and since siltation begins in the headwaters, the cleanliness of the main steam of Salt Creek is dependent on the forest cover in places such as Red Rock Bluffs.

Hemlock Forest at Red Rock Bluffs.
Tiger Spiketail Dragonfly.
Small Whorled Pogonia.
Pygmy Shrew.
Notable fish species of Salt Creek Watershed.