Monday, May 22, 2017

Walnut Creek Park

Yesterday, I went on a delightful hike with a delightful group of four others - well, one of them was focused on geocaching and so ended up doing that on his own rather than hiking - at Walnut Creek Park south of Charlottesville. It felt like being in the mountains but with less elevation gain - same type of forests and birds, for example.  Here is a map of the track, which was a 5.5 mile circuit hike.  Arrows show the direction, and the red star marks the starting and ending point.

There was a nice lake and thus, the hike had water views for a decent part of it.  We walked past beaver activity and even went through a forest fire zone.  Some of the birds I heard as we hiked were oven bird, Eastern wood pewee, tufted titmouse, Acadian flycatcher, phoebe, and pileated woodpecker.

Here are a few photos from this pleasant hike.  It was a little sad to see this abandoned house in the woods.  It makes me think of how this was once someone's home, and I wonder what their life was like.

 Deeper into the forest was the remains of a fireplace and chimney for what must have been a cabin.  It had to have been a difficult life.  Maybe they had a little farm in the foothills.  No grocery stores back then out this way!

No, we are not in Tibet, but we did find these faded prayer flags.

There was plenty of mountain laurel in bloom.

Timber!!!!  I wonder if beavers yell that when they drop a tree?

This was the inlet into the lake.

An apparently quick moving forest fire burned part of the area a couple of months ago.

The lake had a number of nice viewpoints.

Here is the hiking group, minus Steve (who went geocaching.)

After hiking, we met up with Steve, ate lunch by the lake, and headed for home.  With a fairly short hike and a pretty short drive (about 75 minutes each way), I actually got home in time to relax a bit before dinner after getting a shower.  It was a fun day in the woods.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

My initial plans were to go backpacking in Shenandoah for yesterday through tomorrow.  But starting last weekend, I began to have some lower back pain, and even after a visit to the chiropractor Thursday, I felt as if this were not a great idea. But, thought I, I can still get up early on Friday, my day off, and do a day hike, getting done before the projected early afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.  But I came down with a migraine headache about 9PM Thursday and popped two Excedrin Migraine pills.  That knocked the headache out, but they have a super high does of caffeine, and as a result, I was wide awake by 1:30AM and never fell asleep again.

So my final plan was a short (5 mile) day hike in Powhatan State Park.  On this warm days with temperatures reaching 90 degrees (F), it was just the thing.  I saw and heard abundant wildlife - mostly birds and butterflies - and enjoyed a walk in the woods and fields of this nice park, just a 40 minute drive from my home.  Here is the track, parking at the star and following in the direction of the arrows, with a lunch break at the James River.

Some of the hike is in the deep woods, with grey tree frogs and oven birds, wood thrush, tufted titmice, and wood pewees calling,

and a cool stream or two where I saw this green frog.

This friendly butterfly, which might be a hackberry emperor, landed on my pack, and even on my hand!

Other parts of the hike went through large open areas, where field sparrows and common yellowthroats called continually, and I saw wild strawberries and brilliant flowers.

It was along the edge of the overgrown fields that I spotted this summer tanager,

indigo bunting,

eastern box turtle,

and this tiger swallowtail.

Down by the river, along the aptly named River Trail. is a dedication to my friend Holly Walker, who died of cancer a couple of years ago - way too soon.  Rest in peace, Holly.  Your dedication is at a wonderful spot.

I ate lunch by the river,

thought about Holly and how much she loved and knew about nature, and listened to the birds.  Then I partially retraced my steps to the car, where the air conditioning felt most welcome.

Yeah, my original plans didn't work out, nor did Plan B.  But Plan C turned out to pretty amazing in its own way!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes

I was in Michigan a couple of weeks ago for a granddaughter fix, and I managed to get in a morning of hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  I am going back to that area in August, and I promised to take my granddaughter camping or even backpacking, so I was scouting out a potential trip in the "Dunes."  It is a beautiful area to be sure.  Here (circled) is the location on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.

The specific area I hiked in is called Platte Plains and Otter Pond.  There is a back country campground a couple of miles in with six campsites, a fire pit, and a vault toilet.  It would be a good place to hike into, set up camp, do day hikes, and then hike out after two nights of camping.  It is one possibility.  Aja has only been camping once, and never backpacking, and really wants to go.  I am all about getting kids into the outdoors and away from televisions and such - not that she watches too much TV, actually. So, this was not just a hike but a scouting hike for a future potential trip.

One thing that I needed to learn was how we would get water.  I learned that from the campsites, it is a tough 1/3 mile slog to Lake Michigan, the only source of water nearby.  But it is doable if one were to filter a couple of gallons at a time so it only had to be done once or twice.  Here is the map showing my out and back track to the lake, starting and ending at the purple star (I also did a short leg to the north to get a look at Otter Pond - Lake Michigan is on the left side of the map.)

At the start of the hike, I walked a few hundred feet from the parking area to the shores of Bass Lake.  I love the northern lakes.  I listened to woodpeckers, probably pileated, drumming loudly as I stood by the shore.

The trail to the campground (White Pine Campground as it is called) is easy to follow and fairly level as it goes through the forest.  The trails are also used for Nordic skiing.

At the campground, the National Park Service has provided a metal box to lock up one's provisions from bears and raccoons.

There is a communal firepit for all of the campsites, one of which is visible in the background.  It looks like a pleasant area to camp out.  I could hear loons yodeling as I explored there.

From the campground, I hiked towards the big lake, leaving the forest and walking through the dunes.  If we end up camping there in August, it is not going to be an easy trip for water, that is for sure!

I walked through clouds of thousands of some kind of a tiny insect, probably a type of mayfly, and eventually reached the shore of the huge lake.  You can see lines of the little insect washed up on the beach!  They were all over me but eventually flew off when I headed back to the forest.

In the distance is South Manitou Island, another place I want to hike and camp on someday.

On the hike in and out, there are a few small wet areas along the pathway.  I am not sure if these are vernal pools that will dry up, or if they permanently contain water.

My guidebook said that Otter Pond was a good spot to see wildlife, so I did a short hike up that way to get a view of the lovely pond.  But no animals were seen.  Hearing loons earlier, and seeing a pair of common mergansers on Lake Michigan, would have to suffice in the critter realm.

Well, I have a few months to think about it, but this area is a definite possibility for taking my granddaughter backpacking in three months.  But either way, it is a wonderful area to day hike in.