Monday, May 27, 2013

Scratching a 17 Year Itch

In June of 1996, I accepted a job with a new company.  Although the job was in Richmond, the company was headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, which is near Washington, DC.  They needed me to come up for the day before I started to fill out paperwork and get taken out to lunch, so I took a day off from my then current job to do so.  It was a nice day, so I threw some hiking basics in the car, and on the way back, I stopped at Prince William Forest Park (near Quantico, Virginia) for a hike of a few miles.

The hike itself was very nice, but what struck me was the cicadas!  As it turned out, the 17 year brood had morphed into adults and were everywhere!  The sound was deafening.  They were all over the trees, flying through the air, zipping past my head.  It was fascinating but a little creepy too, to have these large insects buzzing past.  But I made a decision that I would come back in 17 years once again.  I quickly did the math in my head, and came up with 2013.  Guess what?  It is now 2013, so yesterday, on a simply gorgeous day, I went back.

There were lots and lots of cicadas.  I could hear them everywhere as I hiked a 7.5 mile circuit, and I saw some.  The holes where they emerged from the ground were all along the trail.  But what I didn't see was them flying past, wings buzzing with tremendous sound.  So that was a little disappointing.  Maybe that would happen in June.  Here is the map of my route, hiked clockwise as shown by the arrows, and the elevation profile.  It is not a difficult hike, and is very pleasant.  I hiked mainly on the Turkey Run Ridge Trail (west side of the map) and the North Valley Trail (east side), connecting on the Mary Bird Branch and Lake Quantico Cascades Trails.

The hike is through very pleasant forestland and much of it is along two streams.  Other than cicadas and many butterflies, I didn't see much wildlife.  I heard a pileated woodpecker hammering away, and I saw a young northern fence lizard - very difficult to spot these - and a yellow billed cockoo.  I was thinking that the cockoo would make a great "what am I?" and I was maneuvering for a photo when a couple of hikers came by me and scared him away.

I am so glad that I lived these 17 years to come back here, surviving cancer along the way.  Think of it - the animals I saw yesterday were new life in 1996!  I saw their parents.  For 17 years, they lived under the ground by the billions.  Many of them died in that time.  Human babies born the same year are now going to be seniors in high school!  16 springs and summers passed by, and they stayed under ground.  And then somehow, on the 17th spring, it was time to mature, tunnel out of the earth, climb a tree, and shed their exoskeleton.  They will live a few weeks as adults, feeding hungry creatures all over the forest.  The luckiest will breed, lay their eggs, and then die.  I know that a lot of people think they are disgusting, and even had a couple of folks tell me they wouldn't mind if they all just disappeared, but I see it as a simply amazing biological phenomina, one with few equals.  My guess is that cicadas, and other insects, will still be on this earth when we humans have come to the end of our time.

I reflected yesterday that I have a decent shot, better than a coin flip, of seeing the children of these insects.  But my chances of me seeing their grandchildren is pretty remote.  I hope I can come back in 2030 and say to them, "Hey!  I knew your mom and dad!"  But life is uncertain, and I am just happy I got back their yesterday.  Here are a few photos from my hike.

Green was the dominant color yesterday.  It is my favorite color, so I was fine with that.

About as big around as a pencil eraser, these holes were everywhere I looked as I hiked along.  They are where the 17 year old cicadas tunneled out of the ground.
I liked the blue in this butterfly.
A lot of the hike was along two pleasant streams, some with small cascades.  The mountain laurel was in bloom during my hike.
There was lots of mature forest along the way.
This little northern fence lizard was just a couple of inches long, and difficult to spot.
Pyrite mining was once conducted here.  This shows a reclaimed mine site.
The stars of the show, and the reason I came here yesterday!  I saw these guys parents.  If I am very lucky, I'll still be walking this earth to see their children in 17 years.  And if I am fortunate beyond any reason, I will see their grandchildren!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Clues For My Next Adventure

I've worked out my next little mini-adventure, and am planning my gear for the trip.  I'm going later in June for three days and am planning this with two other guys.  It will be a fun - but at times difficult - trip.

I thought I would put out a new clue every 1-3 days and see if folks can hone in on where I might be going.  I'll update this post every few days with the next clue.

Clue # 1.  I'll be in the Tar Heel State, and hiking to a place where I have never been before.  This means that this trip will count towards three of my hiking goals for 2013: hike 10 places I have never been; go backpacking at least twice; and hike in a state I didn't hike in during 2012.

Clue # 2.  The Tar Heel State, and its neighbor to the west, the Volunteer State, have the highest mountains on the east coast of the USA.  Go on a multi-day hike in those mountains, and you will gain and lose thousands of feet of elevation.  But for my destination, although I'll be hiking some 20 miles, my elevation gain and loss will be measured in dozens of feet, not thousands.

Clue # 3.  I always bring a map and compass when I backpack.  But in this case, they are not necessary, and I won't bring them along.  Even though the area I am going to, managed by the National Park Services, is about 2,500 acres and has no marked trails, it would be impossible to get lost.  I will still bring my GPS so that I can mark our campsite if we explore at night and so I can map where I have been to show on this blog later.

Clue # 4.  Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.  We'll literally be surrounded by water, but there is no drinkable water (by humans) where we are going.  Each of us will carry our own water for any drinking or cleaning up, thus, cooking will be at a minimum on this pack trip.  I will carry 12 or 13 liters of water, which will translate to 26 - 28 pounds.

Clue # 5. Unless you walk on water - I don't, even without a heavy pack - a boat is the only way to get where we are going.  You can take a kayak if you are experienced enough to handle potentially rough weather.  I am not, so I'll be arriving and departing by water taxi: $25 round trip but well worth it.

Clue # 6.  Based on satellite images of this area, it looks like there is a well defined sandy beach for its length to the south, running west to east.  Behind this, there is an area of dunes.  Behind this is an area of what appears to me to be a mixture of meadow and open lands and low trees.  And finally, to the north, there is another coastal zone, probably muddy, backing up to a sound.

Okay, so if you have followed these clues, you are probably thinking - correctly, I should add - an island.  But which island?  Here are some more clues...

Clue # 7. There are no humans living on the island, even seasonally.  With no drinking water, that would be tough.  As far as I know, the only structures on the island are a boat dock and an outhouse near the boat dock, on the islands western end.  This is where the boat we are using to get out there will drop us off.

Clue # 8.  Despite no humans, the island is not uninhabited.  There are about 100 wild horses living on it.  They are believed to be descendants of horses that came ashore in the 1600's from Spanish shipwrecks.  They have adapted to drink from ponds of brackish water that humans cannot tolerate.

Clue # 9. I would have to be amazingly fortunate, but there is a chance that if I up late one night, I could see a loggerhead sea turtle returning from the sea to get the next generation started.

Clue # 10.  My final clue is this satellite image of the island.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Outer Banks Beach Combing

It does not take much to make me feel happy.  One thing that will do it for sure- put me a nice place to walk with interesting things to see.  Are there many better places than the beach?  So last weekend, when we were in the Outer Banks of North Carolina around Duck, I walked for miles and miles over five days.  Walks at dawn.  Walks in the middle of the day.  Walks in the late afternoon and early evening.  Even a walk in the dark of night.  I enjoyed every one of them, and thought I would show some photos of things I saw. 

As far as living animals, pelicans, sanderlings, gulls, and some dolphins were the most abundant sightings.  Unfortunately, most of the animals I got to photograph were dead.

The beach there in Duck is beautiful and, this time of year, not crowded at all.
I love loons, and it was sad to see such a powerful swimmer and diver dead on the beach.  I wondered if it got caught in a storm at sea and drowned.
I saw the remains of about four spider crabs on the beach.  One was quite large, but I didn't have my camera with me.
I am not sure what this crab is, but I found about a half dozen of them, alive but stranded on the beach.  I would pick them up and put them in the water.  Two were females with a large mass of eggs attached to the underside of their shells.
I would call this a puffer fish, but there is probably a better name.
I found two dead stingrays.  I wonder if they washed ashore and died, or were caught by fisherman and left to die?
This pretty little (about an inch across) shell with the purplish - cranberry blotches is a calico scallop.  I had never seen one before.
I collected a number of nice shells, but especially liked these (along with the one above):
My beach combing ended last Monday with a walk on the beach at sunrise:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Corolla Village

We spent several days in North Carolina, along the Outer Banks, and I walked many, many miles.  Some of it was around Currituck Beach Light and the area around it, including historic Corolla Village.  It was interesting to see this area.  I started by climbing Currituck Beach Lighthouse for some great views at the top.

Some of the 200+ steps one needs to climb to get to the top.
Here is a panorama looking south and west from the platform near the top of the lighthouse.  The wind was roaring at a steady 30 knots.
Here is a bird's eye view of some of the buildings on the property from the lighthouse.
There are great views from all directions.  This one looks west towards Currituck Sound.
And this is the view to the north.  Far away, but within view, is Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  It has been nearly three months since I took my "final" hike there.  I definitely miss that place!

After touring the light, we headed around Corolla Village.  It must have been an isolated and difficult way of life when this village was the main town in this area.  Some of the buildings were built in the 1880's.  The schoolhouse, recently used for education once again, was built in the 1890's.

I would have loved to go in the chapel, but it was closed and locked up.  It had a lovely stained glass window featuring a pelican and her chicks.

While walking along, we came upon this turtle.  She started digging a nest with her hind feet a few moments later, and we left her in peace.

Even when the eggs hatch, baby turtles face a difficult life.  I found this dead one a little while later in a parking lot.  He reached a curve, which would be as insurmountable as a mountain to a baby turtle.  According to my field guide, this is a baby slider, but the map does not show them in this part of North Carolina.
We walked along a nature trail through wetlands,

visited the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, and then, we toured the beautifully restored Whalehead Club, built in 1922.  At was the winter home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Knight.

Funny story - this extremely wealthy couple, unmarried at the time, both loved to duck hunt.  Duck, goose, and swan hunting was the rage among many wealthy people, and this part of North Carolina was the place to come for it.  At one point, the waterfowl were so thick that people called them "smoke."  So the Knights petitioned to join one of the many duck hunting clubs.  They were denied.  First, they were unmarried yet traveling together.  Second, the club members didn't want a woman in their midst.  So Mr. Knight didn't get mad, he got even.  He bought the 2,000 acres that the club leased for hunting, and evicted them.  Then, they built their beautiful home - something like 20,000 square feet, I think - on a prime spot on the acreage.  It is well worth a tour, and the Art Nouveau architecture and furnishings are very interesting.

We ended our three hour visit by walking past the restored boathouse for the Whalehead Club, with a nice view of the lighthouse in the background.