On a trip to a state park, I’m pretty sure my partner, my dog, and I stumbled into a video game. My own personal isekai.
Last weekend, my partner Travis and I took my dog and traveled three hours south to the Hocking Hills area of Ohio, where we stayed in a rented cabin for a tiny pre-Christmas Christmas retreat. We only stayed for a weekend, preoccupied mostly with lounging in the cabin’s hot tub, roasting marshmallows, and refreshing our memory of Attack on Titan before starting the latest season. Travis had been to the area before and suggested we use one of our days to visit Old Man’s Cave, nestled in Hocking Hills State Park. Now, I’m not the kind of person who looks at a natural landscape and goes “this is just like in one of my video games!” but there was something uncanny about Old Man’s Cave that made me think “this is just like one of my video games.”
Take a look.
After a short but distressingly crowded walk we found ourselves in a stone-walled, wooded valley that seemed almost too pretty to be natural. The view was perfect, from the fallen log, to the bright (but not too bright) natural light, to the sparse dusting of snow. As I snapped photos I kept saying to Travis, “This feels weird, like a video game or something” and he agreed.
Later, I showed the pictures to my colleagues, and fellow staff writer Zack Zweizen’s comment hit the nail on the head: “The cliffs and rocks seem too big and perfectly placed. Like someone is trying to keep you from leaving the area and seeing beyond the boundaries.”
Uncanny valley valley aside, another part of the park convinced me that not only was I in a video game, I was about to transition levels. Right there in the middle of all the forestry goodness was a section of a cave that looked like it belonged in a desert. See for yourself:
That’s a trail carved into the side of the cliff that hikers could take if they wanted to exit the valley and get back up to the visitor’s center and parking lot. There’s sand everywhere, and not a speck of green in sight, not even a mossy stone. I’m sure there’s some geological explanation for all of this, but if you were to walk forward into this rocky outcropping and not turn around, you’d be convinced you were in some kind of arid desert and not in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. The way this stone-hewn trail butts up against the greenery of the valley makes it seem like the developers dropped their desert zone right next to their forest zone but the loading zone that was supposed to act as a buffer between them all but completely disappeared. That’s my headcanon, at least.
Despite our wonder at the landscape and there being many miles more to explore, we didn’t stay long. My corgi’s 10 years old and his short, stubby lil legs were starting to get tired from all the steep steps he had to hop...he was also utterly filthy because that’s what happens when your chest is only four or so inches off the ground. But you could tell from his smile he had a good time exploring the level with us.