Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hiking at York River State Park

I had Friday off, and had a number of things to do, but I did have time for a short hike - 2.7 miles - at York River State Park.  It was a lovely day for a walk.  Here is my track, hiked counter-clockwise, and starting at the blue arrowhead towards the east of the aerial view.  You can see that there is a lot of estuary and marsh in that area.

Want to see what the big estuary at the top of the satellite image looks like?  Here it is from ground level, so the hiking took place to the left of this photo:

Here is a view from the trail looking back toward where the photo above was taken:

While I was hiking, I found the geocache totally by accident.  I'd never seen one before, but I bet it would be fun to hunt for them.  If you are out there, Troop 414, your geocache made my blog!

I opened the box, and inside was a paper to sign, which I did, and this odd little doll, which I left in the box.

At the same point where I found the geocache, I looked up to see this large flock of blackbirds or starlings go by.  That they can fly in unison is amazing!

A little while later, I heard two women chatting, and eventually, they came out from behind the thick vegetation in two kayaks.  There is more ways to get around than one's two feet!

Here is another view of the marsh and the estuary.

Most of our autumnal colors are gone now, but now and then, we can still get a taste of.

Going on a hike, even a short one, on a gorgeous fall day sure beat being at work!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Woods - Oh, Wow!

Wonderful, wild, woods walk! Why? Well, waterfalls! Wildlife!  Woods! Wow!

My hike yesterday to South River Falls in Shenandoah National Park was fabulous.  For starters, the 83 foot tall waterfall was roaring, and I think it was the most beautiful waterfall that I've seen in the park.  The frosting on the cake was the wildlife, all seen very close: three deer, two woodpeckers (not sure which type), and a very large black bear.  It was only my third hike ever that I managed to get a photo of a bear.  And this bear did not seem very concerned about me being there.  In fact, for a little while, I wondered - with just a mile to go to my car - if I would have to back-track four miles to avoid the bear that showed no interest on leaving the trail just 150 feet from me.  Did I mention that he was large?  More on the bear later.

Here is a map of where I hiked.  For some reason, my inReach did not do its normal great job of defining the track.  I started and ended at the South River Falls Picnic Area (pink arrow).  I descended on the South River Falls Trail, and although the map does not show the trails accurately, on the South River Forest Road.  Most people hike 1.5 miles to the overlook, but I kept going to the bottom of the falls, which was well worth the extra mile one way.  I lost about 900 feet on the hike down, and gained it all back on the return trip.  The total hike was about five miles, and was more or less a loop, as I returned on the South River Forest Road and the Appalachian Trail.  The arrows show my travel direction, and the red star marks the approximate place that I ran into the black bear.

The day was perfect - crisp fall weather, blue skies without a cloud, and lots of warm sun.  I started hiking about 9:30, and it was still quite cool at the start, but it warmed quickly.  With such a short hike, I was done by about 12:15.  My knee has been painful since June, and my ankle still hurts, so I didn't want to push it.

Here are some photos from the day, plus the account of the bear.

I was barely a quarter mile into the hike when this white tail deer, totally unconcerned by me being there, walked by about 30 or 40 feet from me.

In about a half mile, I heard the sound of running water.  This is the South River.  Often in fall, the streams are low but not this year, as we have had some really rainy periods.

I liked the rugged look of this part of the trail.

After about a mile and a half, the trail had a nice overlook of the South River Falls that was partially obscured but still nice.  I suspect that most folks turn back here, but I wanted to see the waterfall from its base, so I kept walking.

And about a mile later, here was my reward - a beautiful 83 foot tall waterfall, probably the nicest that I have been to in Shenandoah National Park.

Most of the route out was along the South River Forest Road, which this picture is representative of.  The trail climbed steadily but was not steep.

Suddenly, I spotted a black object about 200 feet ahead of me, right in the path.  It was a bear.  I stopped and took out my camera, and put it on maximum zoom, and snapped this photo.  At the time, I didn't think that the bear was aware of me, as I was very quiet and downwind, but seeing this photo, he seems to be looking my way.

I assumed that the bear would run away any minute, so I slowly and quietly moved ahead to this spot to get a better photo.  While I walked up, the bear was looking down and pawing the ground, digging in the leaves.  I snapped this photo.  And you can see - as I clearly did - that he is quite large, and looking right at me.

Unlike nearly every other bear I have encountered, this one would not run. No bars between us. We were about 150 feet apart. I yelled "Hey, bear!" thinking that he would take off. He stood his ground and gave me this look as if to say "You dare to speak to me that way? Perhaps I should teach you some proper manners!" A bear can outsprint a race horse (and I cannot), so running is not an effective strategy.

I pondered what to do.  Should I retreat?  I really didn't want to retrace my steps for nearly four miles with just a mile to the car.  So I stood my ground, and then took a couple of steps towards him.  He turned and ran after about 45 seconds from when I took the last photo - but not super fast, more of a jog for a bear. As I stood where he had been and keyed an inReach message about the bear, two deer walked up through the woods. They didn't see me until they got 40 feet from me, at which point they turned and ran. Then the bear came out of the woods again, only 100 feet away, saw me on the path and turned and ran. At that point, I thought it made sense to move on, which is precisely what I did. I kept a very close eye on the stretch of woods that he had run off into, but saw him no more.  My guess is that he had discovered some kind of a food source and was returning to it, and I didn't want to interfere with that.

Black bears are not normally dangerous, but they do on occasion attack and kill people. For example, a young man, while hiking with three friends, was killed by a bear in New Jersey a year ago, and a woman was charged and bitten by a bear in August in western Virginia, perhaps 100 miles from here in Douthat State Park.  I really enjoyed my five mile hike to South River Falls, but being on the menu was not part of my plans. So it was a thrilling experience and a joy to see this powerful animal up close, but I had no desires to be on a first name basis! If the bear had not retreated, I think I would have had to backtrack the very long way back to my car. No sense tempting fate. A person alone is no match for a bear, and this one was large, as you can see. This time of year, they are doing every thing that they can to put on weight for the winter.

I finished my hike without seeing anything else, and as it was lunch time, I drove to a park overlook and enjoyed the views and my lunch.  What a fun and memorable day on the trails!