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Danny Bernstein

Mountains-to-Sea Trail - In the fog

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 18, 2010 07:55 PM
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Starting with 469.1 miles, 77,350 ft. ascent


MST17-In the fog

Bamboo Gap to Jeffress Park

12 miles, 2,400 ft. ascent

Section hiking requires a lot of planning. For a few days of hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, I have to clear my calendar, coordinate with Sharon, my hiking partner, pack, decide where to stay and then actually go. There's no legal camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we either car camp, stay with friends or a motel.

MST17-B and SharonThe bottom line is that we can't worry about the weather.

On this stretch, we were lucky to be able to stay with "B" Townes, a Friends of the MST board member. He wanted to hike with us this past Tuesday. So the three of us met on  the US 321/221 entrance of the Parkway.

We were going to walk about 6.5 miles on the road but the fog was so thick that it was dangerous. Walking on the road is not that safe to start with but with the fog and rain, it would have been fool hardy.

So we started from Bamboo Gap at the western end of the 25-mile section that was just dedicated. It was wet and windy but not that cold in the woods. We hoped that the blazes were good because we didn't have Scot Ward's instructions. He wrote his book before this section was dedicated.

Someone had written an informal narrative of the Watauga County section of trail and I got a copy at the MST dedication. but it was difficult to follow. With the rain, the sheets of paper were turning to mush.

The trail kept returning to the Parkway and crossing it numerous times. At one point, the instructions has us passing Grandview Overlook. It sounded grand, but with the fog, we barely saw the pull-off to the Overlook, never mind the view. We only saw one group, two brothers on recumbent bikes.

MST17-meeting bikersIn the woods, we didn't stop much because we were uncomfortable.

We noticed the spittlebug foam. It looks just like it sounds - spit on tree bark. "B" is a hunter so he showed us the deer scraping. I guess we didn't see the section at its best.

We had the luxury of three cars. "B" had left his car at US 421 just in case we needed to bail out but we ended up at the entrance of Jeffress Park - two miles into the South Ashe County section - cold, wet but feeling good.

Cumulative after Day 41, 481.1 miles, 79,750 ft. ascent



Castillo de San Marcos - St. Augustine, FL

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 14, 2010 08:07 PM
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Castillo - Cannon firing

From Fort Matanzas south of St. Augustine, we went to St. Augustine and its national monument.

Castillo de San Marcos is a child's dream come true. The castle has a moat, thick walls, courtyard and lots of rooms to explore. And firing cannons.


Castillo - Lenny on bridgeThe Castillo (the castle of St. Marcos) was built by the Spanish to protect their interest in Florida. This fort was built of coquina, limestone of shells and sand. It was their tenth fort; the others were built out of wood and didn't survive. But with this material, the enemies' cannonballs just bounced off the walls. They started building this fort in 1672 and didn't finish until 1695. It is star shaped which is difficult to see from the ground but that means there are no blind spots when sentries patrolled on the roof.

The Fort was never conquered. It withstood all attacks. Still, it went from the Spanish to the British in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian Wars. Another treaty returned Florida and therefore the fort back to Spain in 1783. But by now, Spain couldn't really control its territory and in 1821 ceded Florida to the U.S. Lots more history occurs there - see the website for details - until it becomes a National Monument in 1924.

Castillo - Training in the courtyardCastillo de San Marcos is in the center of St. Augustine, just outside the walled part of the city. You can check out the rooms, see a movie, go to a ranger talk. And you can watch volunteers dressed as Spanish military fire a cannon.

Castillo - VolunteerBecause I was a volunteer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I noted that the park volunteer who roved at Castillo de San Marcos didn't have to wear the heavy buttoned-down shirts like I have to. She had a polo shirt and a sun hat with a wide brim instead of a ball cap - much cooler.

Quite by accident, Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion show were in St. Augustine on Saturday evening. We listened to some of the program driving home today (Sunday). He didn't focus on the historic significance of the city, just the condos around the town. He was funny!

Fort Matanzas National Monument in Northern Florida

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 13, 2010 09:21 PM
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Fort Matanzas

European settlement of the United State did not start with Jamestown (1607) or Plymouth Rock (1620). The Spanish created the oldest continuously occupied city of St. Augustine in 1565.

Fort Matanzas - close upBut of course, the Spanish were not the only ones who wanted this garden spot. The French had established a fort further north at Fort Caroline. They attacked the Spanish in St. Augustine and were wiped out in a few weeks. The word Mantazas means slaughter in Spanish.

The Spanish realized how vulnerable they were and built Fort Matanzas on the Matanzas River in 1740-1742 to protect St. Augustine. The fort became a national monument in 1924.

Fort Matanzas - down the stairsLenny and I visited Fort Matanzas National Monument located 15 miles south of St. Augustine. We took a ferry (all of five minutes) to explore the fort. You could go up to the top with a well-secured ladder. Here I am going down.

The Fort is intimately connected with Castillo de San Marcos, a major fort in the center of St. Augustine. More about this national monument in my next post. 

Biscayne National Park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Nov 10, 2010 09:28 PM
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Biscayne NP - Boca Chita Lighthouse

Lenny and I are in Miami to visit his mother. But we took a day off to see another national park - Biscayne National Park.

Only an hour south of crowded, noisy Miami is this underwater park. Biscayne NP is blue - blue water and blue skies. And even in November, it is hot. We arrived at the visitor center just as it opened. We had made reservations weeks ago to take a boat ride to Boca Chica Key but now it seemed like our trip was in jeopardy. The concession that runs the boat trip wants a minimum of eight people and so far only had four. Not a good start.

I stifled a desire to ask "What is there to do around here?". Instead we saw the movie promising us birds, turtles, manatees and more. But it was just a movie; I wanted to see the real thing.

They were able to get eight people so we were off - 15 minutes late. If the National Park Service ran it, things would start on time. But here in tropical Miami, things are casual. Why doesn't the Park Service run these boats? The answer is that private enterprise can run it cheaper but it's not the same experience. The first mate charged with giving us a talk did a superficial job.

Biscayne NP - BoatThe ride to Boca Chica took almost an hour. We saw herons, egrets, cormorants and brown pelicans on the way.

The island is very small. We walked the one 0.5 mile trail through the mangrove and saw plenty of black vultures close up. If we had rented a canoe and paddled ourselves, we could have gone through the mangrove swamp and gotten a more up close and personal look at the vegetation.

We climbed the lighthouse to see blue waters as far as the eye could see. The Miami and Miami Beach skylines were also visible. So were the beginning of the Florida Keys - Boca Chita being one of them.

I realize that without water skills we were at a disadvantage at Biscayne National Park. It's like coming to the Great Smoky M