Entries For: December 2010
Our family trip into the wilds of Florida is over. We're all back home where we're supposed to be now.
The highlight of the trip was certainly our day and a half into Big Cypress National Preserve with our granddaughter, Hannah. We walked the Florida Trail and she worked on her Junior Ranger badge. We saw alligators (the highlight for me) and a cormorant struggling with a catfish (Lenny's highlight).
But the real highlight was another trip into the wilds with Hannah - into nature, as she calls it. We only see her three or four times a year so I can't take any credit for her development - that credit belongs to her parents.
Our once a year trip to Family Summits can't sustain her interest in the outdoors for the rest of the year.
Every time I take her on a trail, show her a new flower or help her identify a new bird, I feel I'm making some contribution to her outdoor life. The flower on the left is a glades lobelia, a new flower for me.
And it's not that difficult. When she was three years old, we walked about two miles on a nameless trail in her neighborhood. We got ready for this "hike" by making a ritual of filling our water bottles, choosing our snacks and picking out a sun hat. And she loved it.
Now that she's much older, she seems to understand that her grandparents will take her on an outdoor adventure, someplace. The trick (and it's really not a trick) is to be fully present and fully enthusiastic as we want her to be. I have seen so many adults (parents and grandparents) who expect children to do things they wouldn't do. The family may be on a walk but the parents are on their cell phone or sitting on a bench reading a book expecting their children to run around. Why should children be interested in the outdoors if parents aren't genuinely as interested?
She has a National Park passport book where she collects her stamps from each national park unit that she goes to. And if she doesn't lose it, she'll have quite a collection before she's ready to explore the parks on her own.
We let her pick out a souvenir from the Big Cypress Visitor Center store and she chose a female ranger doll. The doll is almost but not quite in uniform. She's wearing green pants and a gray shirt, has a flat hat and binoculars around her neck. For some reason, her National Park Service arrowhead does not have the same design as on a real uniform.
All these incremental activities help to encourage an outdoor childhood. It's not that difficult.
Flat, flat, flat.
That's Big Cypress National Preserve, the West Everglades. Big Cypress refers to the large parcel of land that is protecting the water in the Everglades, not the size of Cypress trees. The Preserve is situated on the Tamiami Trail, US 41, between Miami and Naples.
We went through Big Cypress on Christmas Day, the only day the Visitor Center is closed. So we went back the day after.
The Preserve has numerous canals and streams full of birds and alligators. In front of the Visitor Center, we watched a cormorant with a catfish in its mouth. The bird had caught a fish and couldn’t seem to be able to manage it and eat it. It was trying to protect its fish from other birds and alligators.
The small Visitor Center was crowded. We asked for a Junior Ranger book for Hannah, our granddaughter, and they had run out of the English language ones; they only had Spanish and Creole. The rangers were embarrassed. I asked the ranger to give Hannah some tasks which will qualify for her badge.
Hannah had to look for five things: Cypress tree, sawgrass. Bromeliad (airplants), insects and water. Water was easy; it was right outside the building.
We walked three miles on the Florida Trail, the trail that goes through the heart of the state and west to the Alabama border. But first I had to fill out a backcountry permit. If you walk more than a mile, you need a backcountry permit. At one point, we saw a brown carsonite sign with the GPS coordinates and the altitude - 28 ft. I don't think my GPS could register 28 feet.
The land was so flat that any step that rose gave a completely different view. The land was a full of sawgrass, long, sharp grass, that inspired the phrase river of grass. See the picture above.
On the Florida Trail (orange blazes), we saw glades lobelia, tiny white asters.
Two backpackers had just started on the trail. They called this area the Highlands. Then Hannah became a Junior Ranger at Big Cypress - a different experience than the Smokies.
On the various other stops, the birds were abundant: great blue herons, wood stork, cormorant, snowy egret, iguana, tri colored herons, black vulture, little blue egret, morehen, and cattle egret.
The preserve has commercial businesses, private communities, Indian reservations and hunting cabins and the smallest open post office in the U.S. See the picture on the left. Hunting is allowed in the Preserve.
The area became a preserve in 1974 to protect the waters of the Everglades. It enlarged the Everglades.
When you take children to a zoo or an amusement park, are you spoiling them for the real thing? Will they be interested in the wild? What happens when they then go to a park?
A couple of days ago, we took our grandchildren (and children) to the Miami Seaquarium.
We saw manatees, dolphins and the killer whale, really a dolphin. We were close to alligators and turtles, though they were protected by fences and walls.
Dolphins jumped up for fish and sealions did tricks for fishy goodies.
But what happens when you go to a park? Will the thrill be gone?
In a park, you have to walk, look for birds and animals and identify them. It's work compared to watching a dolphin show or have your picture taken with a seal.
Above the picture shows manatees just laying there. All their needs are taken care of. In the wild, they have to work for their food and we have to work to find them.
What do you think?
Kings Mountain National Military Park on the North Carolina/South Carolina border was quiet yesterday. Having heard so much of the Overmountain Victory Trail, it was time to visit its destination, Kings Mountain about 30 miles southwest of Charlotte.
As in most of these small national park units, the visitor center is very well done. Most visitors stop in, get their National Park passports stamped, look in the gift shop and leave. We spent almost four hours there and we didn't begin to touch all the hiking trails.
Kings Mountain memorializes the battle between the tough Overmountain men who came down from Sycamore Shoals, now in Elizabethton, TN, to fight Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist Tories. Unlike Guildford Courthouse, this battle was not choreographed.
"Let each of you be your own commander," cried one of the leaders. That meant, "You're on your own, boys. Kill as many as you can." Guerilla warfare, as farmers and hunters brought down the Tories. Ferguson was the only Brit in the skirmish; all the others were Americans on one side or the other.
But I couldn't get a ranger's opinion because none were in sight. A volunteer staffed the desk and she couldn't even answer my "test" question. "When did this become a Park unit?" 1931 was the answer.
We walked the 1.5 mile battlefield loop. Two large monuments dominated the landscape. I was pleased to see that Ferguson who is buried here got a nice grave stone.
The passage of time and our friendship with Britain means that British soldiers are recognized in American Revolutionary sites.
How long will it be until our most recent enemies will also be memorialized?
Sometimes a short winter hike is all that's needed to revive the spirit or keep us moving in the cold.
Yesterday's Carolina Mountain Club hike in Pisgah National Forest promised 10 miles of moderate hiking in winter weather. Since we're close to the Winter Solstisce, the day was almost the shortest of the year.
We were on the trail at about 9:30 A.M. but had to walk over a mile more since the Forest Service was doing construction on the road leading to the trailhead.
We walked on a road going over and around large construction equipment.
Finally on Buckhorn Gap Trail.
We headed to Twin Falls which were magnificent. Icicles dripped off the falling water. Both falls could be seen without the distraction of leaf cover.
We found turkey and deer prints. See the turkey feet at the top of this post.
This trail has numerous creek crossings, most with bridges. But the log bridges were icy and precarious. We took it slowly. Some preferred to try their luck by rockhopping. Wet boots, even in this weather, is better than the thought of falling.
We missed a turn on our loop hike. By the time we realized it, we discussed whether we wanted to go back up, resulting in a 13 mile hike or just go down and finish much earlier. It was about 1:30 P.M.. The sun was already starting its downward slide and we were cold. So we opted for the shorter hike.
But we didn't waste our extra time. Some headed back to Asheville, probably to finish their Christmas preparations. A couple went to a restaurant.
But four us went to Kiwi Gelato in Brevard. Great gelato in a fun, friendly atmosphere.
Why aren’t there more folks out here enjoying these incredible trails just 15 minutes from most Ashevillians’ doorsteps?
That's what Trish Brown, elite Asheville trail runner, asked. Maybe people just don't know where to go. So she designed, planned, and wrote Asheville Trail Running: Taking Bent Creek and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Stride. But this book is not just for runners - With 25 loops in Bent Creek and seven on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, it's a major resource for hikers as well.
Consider the Lake Loop; it's 1.72 miles, a perfect loop if you have friends who say that "they don't hike." If you want to take nonhiking friends on a real hike, you can walk the 5.4 miles of the Cherokee Loop. I'll speed walk it and say I've exercised for the day.
But if you are a trail runner, try the Anne Riddle Lundblad Loop - 19.5 miles. Lundblad with two other women ran the Carolina Mountain Club SB6K last year and is the toughest runner in the area. This run could be good training for the Shut-In Race.
In college Trish majored in mathematics and went on to receive a Masters in Statistics. And her book reflects this desire for accuracy. She used a Garmin GPS, then biked the trails with a pedometer and then rehiked the loops with a calibrated wheel - the last also used by Walt Weber on his MST book. Every loop was “beta tested” by a runner unfamiliar with that particular trail so that directions could be checked.
The book is spiral bound so you can lay it down and photocopy a run before you go out. But the best part is Trish's Carry Cards in the back of the book. These are basic "turn left, turn right" directions that you can cut out, laminate, and carry on the run. Why didn't my publisher or I think of that with my hiking guides?
Asheville Trail Running is available at Malaprops, Diamond Brand, many other outlets and directly from Trish Brown on her website.
Of course, I said yes. In return, I'm supposed to fill out a questionnaire.
I haven't received the questionnaire yet, but I want to put down my thoughts about the jacket.
This past week has been brutally cold in western North Carolina. I couldn't have asked for better weather to test out a jacket. I didn't need another hiking jacket but that's all I've worn since I got it.
According to their promotional material, Omni-Heat® thermal insulation boasts the highest heat retention in the industry, along with a thermal reflective lining to capture and reflect your body heat. The reflective lining looks like aluminum wrap. Columbia has several jackets with Omni-Heat. They sent me the Women's Reach the Peak™ Down Jacket in black.
When deciding on an outdoor jacket, I look for comfort, warmth, repellency and last, looks.
So how does it perform?
Comfort - I am 5'2'' and wear either a small or a medium size, depending on the cut. I like my outdoor clothes on the loose side. They sent me a small size, which turned out to be perfect. It fits well but there is still room for a heavy base layer and a standard fleece jacket, if needed. I don't care how warm the jacket is; I still need to layer on a winter day hike. The jacket is lightweight and slim, which takes up less space in my backpack. Yes, I do go hiking in this weather.
Warmth - It has been below freezing for days in Asheville. The last few days, I've been out in 12 degree weather and I don't want to think about the wind chill factor. The jacket has performed well in all weather. In fact, when the sun came out in the middle of the day, I had to zip down the jacket. And that's fine.
Repellency - Let's start out with the fact that nothing is going to be waterproof, except for rubber. The jacket's insulation is 90% down and 10% feathers. In soaking rain, traditional down doesn't perform as well as synthetic material.
How bad does it have to rain for the water to go through the jacket? It has been so cold that I have not had the chance to test it in the rain. The material does look like it will repel water but it's not a substitute for a rain jacket. Even if I need to wear a rain jacket over the Reach the Peak jacket, it will be fine. The Columbia jacket is light and thin for its warmth.
Looks - It looks sharp. Its long line goes past the hips and makes me look slimmer.
But in its effort to look good and slim and to keep it light, there are two problems I need to point out.
The pockets on the Women's Reach the Peak™ Down Jacket close with snaps, not a zipper. The snaps are difficult to open and close with gloves on. They don't give me the security that zippers would. I wonder how long it will be before I pull the snaps apart impatiently and tear the material.
To make matters worse, I saw the men's version in a store and the men's had zippered pockets. Why the difference? This is supposed to be an outdoor jacket. Columbia makes a "Heat Elite" jacket that has zippered pockets. I don't know why my model doesn't.
The jacket lacks an inside pocket. Every outdoor jacket that I've owned has an inside pocket. This is where I put my hiking map to keep it in reach and out of the element.
Overall, I think that the Women's Reach the Peak™ Down jacket is a warm, comfortable, good-looking jacket. If Columbia would add zippered pockets and an inside pocket, they would have a dynamite product.
Apply for a grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
If you're interested in promoting, protecting and preserving the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, you are eligible to apply towards the $35,000 available in grants.
The grant cycle is made possible from the special Appalachian Trail License Plate in North Carolina. Of the $30 fee needed to obtain the plate ($60 for a personalized), $20 is returned to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to provide educational materials, preservation programs, trail maintenance, land protection as well as capital improvements for the portions of the A.T. that are located in North Carolina and along the border with Tennessee.
Examples of projects that have been funded include:
• Trail rehabilitation and relocations,
• supplies and equipment for A.T. shelters, kiosks and signage,
• research and monitoring on rare and invasive-exotic plants along the Trail,
• volunteer program development,
• and development of school trails that replicate the A.T. to enhance the implementation of place-based education in school curriculum, and for use by students, parents and members of the community.
For further examples of grant projects and to get the grant application form, please go to http://www.appalachiantrail.org/ncatlpgrant
The Southern Regional Office of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy views the tag program as one of the most significant positive actions affecting the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in North Carolina since the Trail’s inception.
Friday, I attended a Great Smoky Mountains Association board meeting in Gatlinburg. In the evening, Lenny joined me for a Christmas party given by GSMA for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff.
On Saturday, we took a drive to check out the new construction on the Tennessee side of the Park.
Our first destination was Cades Cove.
The loop road had been paved this past spring, using Federal Highway Funds. The road was really smooth and nice going. The Park had added new pull outs to try to ease congestion. It was early morning in the middle of December but traffic was already slowing down people. So were the deer and turkey. No bears - they had probably bedded down for the winter.
We stopped at the Cable Mill area at the half-way point to see the Visitor Center.
The mill was iced up, creating a great photo, I think.
After the spin around the loop, we drove back on Little River Road and stopped at the Sinks. The improvements in that area was funded by stimulus money. The Sinks was a messy rocky area, looking down on fast moving cascades.
The Park put in a wheelchair accessible overlook which allows visitors to enjoy the cascades without climbing on rocks.
Of course, there were still fools that climbed down to the slippery rocks.
The Sinks is also the parking area for the Meigs Mountain trail.
Our last construction stop was the new Jakes Creek Trail parking area. It's located by the Elkmont Campground. Again, before, parking for that trail was hit and miss and very crowded. They moved the parking down a little, adding about 0.3 mile to the trail. But it's worth it.
The Park got a lot more stimulus money for road repairs. I could have spent days checking out all the refurbished roads.
We drove through the park and stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Two rangers and one GSMA sales person were tending the desks but we were the only visitors.
It must have been even more empty today,with the snow and US 441 closed.
Winter is here!
Starting with 517.5 miles, 84,000 ft. ascent
Mountain Park Community Church to Dobson Library
10.75 miles, 750 ft.ascent
"Are you ladies doing this for fun or do you want to see who freezes first"? asks a guy in a pick-up truck?
If you're walking on the road when everyone else is driving, you always get a reaction. And when the temperature is below freezing, you really get attention. A concerned woman stopped and asked if we had a place to stay and did we need a lift. Did we look homeless?
That's the thing about hiking challenges. After a while, you don't question why you're walking a 1,000 miles from Clingmans Dome to the Atlantic Ocean. You just plan how you're going to walk the next section and just do it.
Walking on back roads might seem boring but it's fascinating. This section was a little more upscale than yesterday. Large snow covered farms with black steer looking at us very seriously.
Fewer churches than yesterday but the ones we passed were different. The church below is the Salem Fork Church which belongs to the Disciples of Christ.
The sign to the left required some explanation. I understood the "blood washed" part but what was the "blood bought". It evoked the Red Cross but they don't buy blood. Sharon educated me.
We picked up a beautiful golden retriever about an hour into our walk. She was friendly and let us pet her right away. Her tags didn't have her name, though it was obvious she was well taken care of. I called her "Beauty".
Once we made friends, she followed us for a long way.
That concerned us, especially since she insisted on crossing the road without looking both ways.
We felt she was going to get hurt. Cars and trucks braked to avoid her. We needed a sign, saying "This is not our dog, honest!"
After about two milles, she met a dog on a farm and left us abruptly. No goodbyes or any other indication. Just up and left us. We were relieved.
Five miles into our walk, we passed a DQ and gift store in front of the motel we stayed at. We stopped and had a midmorning snack.It was not easy to get back into the cold.
Walking toward Dobson, we passed a spot where we could see Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock and further on Fancy Gap in Virginia on the left. Looking right, we saw Grandfather Mountain. What a view! It put our walking in perspective.
I wanted to do something to commemorate finishing the mountains. I tried to do a video with my camera but it came out terrible so we'll have to wait until I practice a little more.
Finally, we reached the outskirts of Dobson and the Dobson Library.
Again we educated a few people about the MST going right through their town. They all said they were going to "look it up."
We've reached a major milestone. We've walked from Clingmans Dome to Hanging Rock plus about 50 miles around Falls Lake. Next year, we'll have a lot of road walking to do.
Jockey's Ridge, here we come!
Cumulative after Day 45, 528.25 miles, 84,750 ft. ascent
Starting with 502.3 miles, 82,750 ft. ascent
Stone Mountain State Park to Mountain Park Baptist Church
15.2 miles 1,250 ft. ascent
During the winter, the Park's hours are 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. The gate was closed and we decided to park at Elk Spur Church just outside the road. We didn't want to wait around until 8 A.M. and we were concerned that we might not be back to pick up the car by 6 P.M.
I had had all the drama I could deal with in that Park. You may remember that I left my car overnight and the Superintendent started a search for me. We would pick up the 0.7 mile to the Visitor Center when we got back.
We start walking on the John P. Frank Parkway. The wind was blowing and my feet and hands were numb. I thought that maybe walking today would not be a good idea but I certainly wasn’t going to say anything. We walked.
There was snow on the sides of the road. I was wearing long johns under my pants. On top, I had a polyester short sleeve shirt, then a polyester long sleeve thermal, a button down shirt (I don’t know what good that was doing me), a fleece and a rainjacket. Hat, neck warmer, and two pairs of gloves. And I was still cold.
The route seemed to take us from church after church after church – Elk Spur Church, Home Missionary Baptist Church, Faith Baptist Church. All modern, clean and antiseptic, mostly Baptist churches.
But we passed an old cemetery with just stumps for gravestones, fenced off. See the picture on the left.
On the side of the road was an old “Ice Cold Watermelon” truck – not exactly what I needed today.
The rolling hills were mostly farm land with beef cattle, chickens and even bee hives. Since we were not that far from Wilkesboro and the Tyson poultry processing plant, these chickens may be going to Tyson.
We walked through the community of Thurmond, a sad collection of small houses and abandoned buildings.
The nicest building was the small post office. The farms in the area seemed prosperous but most homes were modest with large “Private Property” signs. The smaller the house, the larger the signs and the meaner the dogs.
We walked against traffic as you're supposed to. But when the road made a tight curve, we crossed to the other side. Back and forth, the whole day. We found few problem dogs, probably because it was so cold. On the road, it’s hard to find a place to take a trail break or to sit down and eat. We got to State Road Primitive Baptist Church which had a shelter with a high table. We put our packs down and we ate standing up. Then the wind kicked up and we were off again.
Finally we reached Mountain Park Community Church where we had left one car. The Mountain Park Family Country Store was advertising used books and that lured us in.
Peter McGuire, the owner, seemed very happy to see us, especially when we told him we were walking the MST.
It seems that Scot Ward and Ian, the latest MST completer, stopped in. It’s a general store, the only one for miles, it seems. The store has a good selection of high-quality books and I bought one.
We got into Sharon’s car which we had left at the back of the Mountain Park Baptist Church and went back to Stone Mountain State Park. The gate was closed; I guess the road was too icy to open up the park and how many people were they going to get today in 20 degree weather?
So we ran up to the Visitor Center to close the gap. The photo above is of me inside the Park - well, the sign said the road was closed, not the Park. The Visitor Center was closed, even though there were State Park cars outside. We then ran back down. Goodbye Stone Mountain State Park.
According to my car thermometer, it reached a high of 32 or so by 2:30 P.M. when we got back to my car.
In preparation for tomorrow, we drove into Dobson to place my car opposite the library. Dobson is the "market town" and the County seat for Surry County, close to the Virginia border. That’s where we started our Dobson to Hanging Rock State Park trek last March.
We found The Lantern, an inexpensive diner with country cooking in town. We told the owner that the MST goes right through Dobson. He was very surprised that a trail was in his town.
Looking forward to tomorrow. It will be cold.
Cumulative after Day 44, 517.5 miles, 84,000 ft. ascent