Sunday, March 27, 2011

Boulders Access South to the State Line

It was a damp day that felt more like Winter then Spring so we chose a short hike for today.  We headed over to the Boulders Access area in Crowder Mountain State Park.  This area opened in April of 2009 and is reached from exit 5 on I85.  You take Old Dixon Road south and turn left on Bethlehem Road.  Do not park where the trail crosses the road but take a right just beyond this point following the Crowder Mountain State Park signs.  Before we began hiking we signed in where the trail passes through the building.  They ask you to sign in so they know where you were headed if you don't return to your vehicle by closing time.

The paved walkway turns to a dirt trail behind the building and the trail winds around and down off the hill.  This is the Boulder Access Trail and intersects the Ridge Line Trail in .23 miles.  You circle the boulders on the top of the hill but do not climb up to them.  The main boulders area that this trail head is named for are about a mile north on the trail but today we will head south.  As we approached the intersection we could see where hikers have cut straight down instead of following the main trail.  These shortcuts lead to erosion and damage the area.  If you are out for a walk in the woods why would you need to take a shortcut anyway?

A sign at the intersection tells us it is .52 miles to the state line.  We turned left and headed south toward South Carolina.  The trail is wide enough to walk side by side and is a moderate walk in the woods winding around the sides of hills with short uphill sections followed by downhills.  Spring is just beginning to show itself in these woods with a few flowers and leaves showing.  In places there are colorful broken rocks in the trail but it is is mostly smooth.  We heard crows as usual and were scolded by a squirrel but did not see any larger wildlife.  At other times we have seen deer and turkeys in this park.

At the state line there is a cleared  area for a gas pipeline. Across the clearing a sign tells about the mistake made by the surveyors.  The line was incorrectly placed in 1735 and not corrected until 1772.  I wonder how many people changed their state of residence without moving.  The trail continues south from here crossing another clearing for a pipeline and joining a fire road.  We stopped at the second clearing today but have hiked further in the past.  The trail follows the borderline between Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park in areas.  It is three miles from the state line to the intersection  with the Kings Mountain National Recreation Trail.

If you are looking for great mountain views or waterfalls this in not the trail for you.  If you are looking for a quiet walk in the woods that hasn't been discovered by the crowds then this may be what you are looking for.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wakadohatchee and Green Cay Wetlands 12/23/2010

Last December we returned to Florida for a week to visit family and enjoy our old home area. We took time out to visit an old favorite, the Wakadohatchee Wetlands.  Located at 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach, Florida.  The wetlands were created as a home for wildlife and a filter for highly treated waste water. They are very much like the everglades and one of the best places we have seen for viewing wildlife.  The advantages are that they are close to town and the 3/4 mile boardwalk is handicap accessible.  You could almost believe that you are in a zoo but these animals are all here by free choice.

There is a parking lot provided but there are no restrooms or other facilities.  This is a popular spot and the lot is often full and the boardwalk busy.  The first section of boardwalk is the busiest with people stopping to take pictures and enjoy the wildlife but you can easily pass on this wide boardwalk.  Very near the beginning we saw a crowd gathered watching a roseate spoonbill feed.  We find that gathered people usually means a large alligator or a less common bird is nearby.  On the left before you reach the loop is a shallow area with a log that is a good place to spot alligators or turtles.  When you reach the fork in the boardwalk you are at the beginning of the loop portion of the walk.

We usually walk to the right first passing marsh areas that are usually populated with wading birds, small ducks, and turtles.  Around the corner on the left are purple martin hotels that are very busy in late winter and an island on the right that usually has several great blue herons roosting.  If you come at the right time of year you may see several nests full of young.  The next section has much thicker growth and you must search harder to find the wildlife here.  At times we have seen marsh rabbits on the far shore in this area.  Around the next corner you leave the boardwalk and are on a concrete walk for a time before returning to boardwalk. 

 The left side of this last section of boardwalk is a good place to spot turtles and waterfowl.  Today we saw these guys eating "salad."  On the other side is an island that is usually populated by Anhingas and used as a rookery in season.  As you approach the end of the loop this is a good area to spot an alligator.  Returning to the parking lot we were able to stop and watch the spoonbill fishing in the same general area.  Most every trip here we have seen an alligator or two and many turtles and varieties of birds.  This place has never disappointed us.

A friend had told us about the more recently opened Green Cay Wetlands just a few miles away at 12800 Hagen Ranch Road  so we went there next.  This a newer area and has a larger parking lot and a nature center with facilities.  The nature center was closed when we arrived in late afternoon but the restrooms were open.  There are 1.5 miles of boardwalk here forming a sort of figure eight with the center of the eight leading back to the nature center.   There is a more open feel to the water here perhaps because this is a newer area with less mature growth.  We saw many of the same varieties of birds here as a Wakadohatchee.

At each of the two wetlands we saw one roseate spoonbills.  Another visitor at Green Cay offered an interesting suggestion.  Perhaps they were a pair that got tired of each other and were taking a break.  The one at Green Cay didn't seem at all disturbed by all the "traffic" passing him while he fished.  I would recommend visiting both wetlands if you have the time.  Wakadohatchee seems to have a little more variety of wildlife but Green Cay has a nice nature center to enjoy also.   This is an enjoyable place for all ages to learn about nature without getting your feet wet. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

3/12/2011 Turkey Pen Gap Loop Hike

This hike begins at the Turkey Pen Gap parking area at the end of Turkey Pen Gap Road off 280 in the Pisgah National Forest.  We were glad Turkey Pen Gap Road was only 1 1/4 miles long because it is narrow, windy, and rough.  We arrived about 8:30 in the morning so we could have lots of time for a relaxed hike.  We had plans to have a picnic lunch on the trail and look for a bunch of geocaches.  We would spend five minutes maximum searching for each cache and then move on if we hadn't found it.  We spent 8 hours total on the trails and ended up finding 20 of the 22 caches that we looked for.

The trail head for the Turkey Pen Gap trail is on the left side of the parking area as you drive in.  The first .1 miles is a steep climb.  After that we continued to climb up a gentler slope.  This trail is well maintained and easy to follow.  We were soon walking along a ridge with good views at this time of year.  After the leaves are out on the trees the views will be more obscured.  At about .6 miles we dropped down into a small saddle before beginning a second steep climb to the highest point on the trail.  This section is rockier and looks like it would be slippery when wet. 

About this time we heard dueling woodpeckers.  One would sound off to our left and a second would echo up ahead of us.  All would be quiet for a minute and then they would repeat. A small flock of crows flew by.   A mountain biker came up behind us walking on this steep hill and commented that he didn't know he would be taking his bike for a walk.  We only saw two other people on the trail until we were about a mile from the end of the hike.  Nearing the top we encountered another type of wildlife, gnats.  They were a nuisance but disappeared when we reached the top a few minutes later.  We could hear the river down below on the right in the background.

The actual peak was just another spot on the trail.  There were no views or large rocks to rest on.  There was a survey marker and a couple of signs.  The signs told us that this trail marks the boundary between private property on the left and a bear sanctuary in the Pisgah National Forest on the right.  We dropped down a steep slope with new views and enjoyed the slight breeze.   We took off our extra layers of clothes and enjoyed the sun along the ridge line below this hill.  This peaceful walk along the ridge was the reward for the elevation we had gained.  We climbed over a third hill that was easier then the first two and continued on the ridge. 

At about 2 miles into the hike we were approaching a fourth hill when we saw the sign for the Wagon Gap Trail on the right.  This is where we would descend to the river.  If this trail was ever a wagon road it must have been a long time ago.
 This is a narrow trail that is not well maintained and is not easy to follow.   It is a beautiful area with large trees, moss and ferns, and a small creek following along.  We made a total of six creek crossings.  The first couple were easy.  Then a couple of other little creeks joined the first one and they got rougher.  There had been a lot of rain this week so there probably isn't usually this much water.  One of the crossing had a primitive log bridge and one had stepping stones  At the final crossing we found a fallen log to walk across the creek on.

After the last crossing we were soon in a large campsite.  It took some searching to find the trail on the left side of the end of the campsite area.  Overall we were glad we had the gps to follow as this trail would be easy to lose.  The river trail and the river were just beyond this point.  We turned right on the S Mill River Trail, walked past the spot where it appears a road once crossed, and soon arrived at a suspended bridge across the river.  This bridge had quite a bounce to it and a sign saying one person at a time.  Part of the cable handrails were broken but the bridge itself seemed plenty secure.  The river was high and had a strong current so we were glad to use the bridge.

Once across the river we stopped for our picnic at a big log before moving on .  The next two miles of trail are along the river.  At times you are right beside the river and at times it is a couple hundred feet away.  The trail is an old road which is mostly level and easy to follow.  The land between the road and the river is level so you can easily walk back over close to the river.  In places the trail was wet from springs or runs coming down from the hills on the left but there were rocks or dry spots on the sides to help avoid the mud. 

 After a mile or so the trail climbs about 150 feet above the river.  Just before the hill we saw a group of men and boys camping.  After this we saw many small groups of people enjoying the area near the end of the loop.  Near the end of the river portion of the hike we passed a marsh area with the sound of many frogs.  There was a side trail down to this area but we continued past.  Soon after we took a right at the brown forest sign that says footbridge.  From here  we crossed another suspension bridge where a group of people were enjoying bouncing and walked .4 miles uphill to the parking lot.

I would recommend this hike to groups that are prepared for a long walk and some difficulty staying on the trail.  If I was to return here with the grandchildren I would take the trail down to the river and enjoy the bridges and water play rather then taking them on the whole loop.  Be aware that there is limited parking and this is a busy place in the summer.  On this March day the parking lot was full when we returned.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Triple Falls in Dupont State Forest 3/6/2011

Ronnie and Terri came to spend the weekend and we promised them some waterfall hiking.  The forecast was for rain starting tonight but the scattered showers had arrived this morning.  Maybe we would get to hike between the raindrops so we headed west to Dupont State Forest.  Our first stop was for a park and grab geocache at the Lake Imaging trail head.  The rain was light but it was cold so we found the cache and quickly returned to the van.  We drove the last mile to the Hooker Falls parking lot and considered whether we wanted to hike in the rain.  The rain should have made the falls pretty but did we want to get wet?

From this parking lot we had three possible falls to hike to.  Hooker Falls was a .36 mile walk downstream from here on an easy trail.  The falls are only ten feet high but there is a swimming hole below them.  A rainy day in early March is not a time to enjoy a swimming hole.  The other choice which we chose is to cross the bridge and road and hike upstream to Triple Falls.  It is less then a half mile to the falls.  The trail starts out level with views or the river on your left and a hill on the right.  Then the trail and the Little River took a right turn and we climbed the hill.  After a short climb we could first hear the falls and then soon see them from the trail.

The falls were on our left and there was a picnic shelter uphill on our right.  Since the rain was getting heavier we climbed on up to the shelter to stay a little drier.  The view of the falls were good from the shelter and we all agreed this would be a nice place for a picnic on a warmer, drier day.  The falls are indeed triple drops with the lowest drop parallel to the trail and the upper two facing the trail.  We decided that we were too wet and cold to continue another half mile or so to High Falls but Mitch and I did walk about 600 feet to the intersection of the Triple Falls and High Falls trails.  We found the geocache hidden near here by the INKY crew.

On the way up the trail beyond the pavilion we saw a set of steps (112 wooden steps to be exact) leading down to the river.  There are several landings along the way with benches if you need a break.  At the bottom you are at river level with a large level rock in front of you.  Two of the triple falls are in front and above you and the third is below you but visible.  We took some closer pictures of the falls here and climbed back up the steps.  The falls were pretty but we weren't having fun in the rain anymore.  Time to find a falls we could view from the road.

We returned to Highway 64 and drove west to Pisgah National Forest for a visit to Looking Glass Falls.  This falls can be viewed from the road.  There is plenty of room to pull off the road at this time of year although in the summer you may have to walk quite a distance along the road since this is a popular stopping spot.  There is an easy path down to the base of the falls as long as you don't mind a few stairs.  We made a short stop and went to find a warm, dry restaurant for lunch.  No picnic for us today.   We will return to Dupont and hike the waterfalls on a nicer day.  This would be a fun and safe area to bring the grandchildren to play in the water.