Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hike 2011.058 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Thursday, August 30. This was an "exercise" hike, meaning I didn't expect to have much in the way of views. I just wanted to get on the trail asap. Also, having visited Golden Pond twice in the previous three days (once for some astronomy outreach, and once on my own, to view Comet Garradd), I like the idea of getting to my destination in less than 1/2 hour.

The North-South trail runs the length of LBL. The Golden Pond Visitor Center is near the center of the recreation area, and also near the center of the trail. From here, it's 31+ trail miles to the north entrance station, and 29+ miles to the south entrance station. Of course, I had no intention of hiking the whole thing today!

To get to the Golden Pond trail head from US-68/KY-80, exit on The Trace and head south. Go past the main planetarium/visitor center entrance, and turn left about 1/8 of a mile later, following an arrow indicating "Administrative/Law Enforcement." Almost as soon as you turn, you'll see the gravel parking area on your left. A porta-potty and vending machines are also here.

The trail starts heading directly back towards The Trace. You cross the highway just north of the road you just took to get here. Once across, you soon intersect the main North-South Trail. A two-sided sign indicates distances to various points north and south of you.

If you head north, you weave around the area for maybe 1/2 mile before popping back up on the west side of The Trace, just 1/4 mile further north from where you crossed it the first time. The trail then runs along the west shoulder of The Trace, until shortly after you pass under US68/KY80. Your path then takes you west, again. For much of the hike, you parallel a fair-sized creek bed. Today, the creek was almost entirely dry, but erosion has clearly worn quite aggressively under some trees along the way. The water must run pretty strongly during the spring.

By late summer, however, the very small watershed of this particular hollow dries up. Many of the shrubs along the way looked stressed by the heat and/or lack of water. Red bud leaves were turning yellow, and what looked an awful lot like persimmon leaves were already red or orange.

Not much of a view along the way. For much of the hike, hills were on either side, and you couldn't see the forest for the trees. Just before reaching the turnoff for Dead Beaver campground, however, Kentucky Lake came into view.

At the end of my trail, I took a short walk a part of the way towards Dead Beaver camp-ground, and came across a field of soybeans. Corporate farmers have gotten permission to work some of the land in the LBL, which has annoyed the families of former landowners, which were forced out of the area when the NRA was created.

I also walked down one of the (mostly) dry creek beds, and got a peek at Kentucky Lake (pictured at top), before heading back.

Total mileage for the day was about 9.8 miles. The sign at the junction for the spur trail to Dead Beaver Campground said it was 4.8 miles back to Golden Pond. In addition to the there-and-back walk, I took two roughly 1/4 mile RT detours: one to see the soybean field, and one to see Kentucky Lake. However, on my return, once I passed back under US68/KY80, I figure I saved about 1/4 by just walking along The Trace rather than following the actual trail that last bit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hike 2011.057 -- Honker Lake and Woodlands Walk

Hiked Thursday, August 25. This is basically a re-walk of Hike 2011.053. I returned because it's been the most interesting of the area: Good lake views, lots of avian viewing, lots of deer, and a fair distance for when I get a late start.

As was the case the last time, I got here about 5:15pm, local time. The actual nature center (Woodlands Nature Station) closes at 5pm, but there are several parking areas outside of the gate that you can park at and walk the trails beyond. Today, as I approached from the south, I saw a large flock of deer, near the furnace ruins and across the street from the nature center drive. Between 10 and 12 deer were there, mostly appearing to be does and fawns.

I parked south of the Woodland Nature Station entry road, in a small lot adjacent to the main road and to an access road that heads on in towards the Honker Lake Trail. This is also the parking lot for the short, .2-mile, wheelchair-accessible, Long Creek Trail. However, I decided to just repeat my circuit of Honker Lake.

The trail seemed somewhat shorter today than it did the last time, in part because I knew the trail and didn't have to spend as much time wondering if I had gotten lost or something. Also, much of the bird life was almost exactly the same place that evening as it was the week previous. There was a grey heron near where I saw one last year (there were several other heron that were NOT there last time), and the egret was almost exactly the same place, too.

There were also many deer, again. They mostly went hopping off as soon as the saw me. The except seemed to be the ones within view of the road, at the start and end of my hike.

The only significant change I noticed was that the trail had been mowed in the interim, so several areas that were starting to get a little overgrown were no longer so.

After getting back to the car, I snapped several pictures of the large deer flock (pictured at the top of this post). When I finally got under way, I saw another grey heron, hanging out in the small pond adjacent to the road. I also saw the largest skunk I ever saw, rooting near the road, and holding his big, bushy, white tail like a flag to all who could see: Don't mess with me. Oh, yes, and I saw two wild turkeys along the road, too. This area is definitely a wildlife hotspot, at least on warm summer evenings.

Hike 2011.056A Nature Center, LBL, KY

Prior to my previous hike (Canal Loop, Part 2), I took an hour-long tour along the Woodlands Walk, near the Nature Station. They were doing a tree identification walk. Although I have to admit to remembering very little of what was said, I do hope to slowly gain some ability to identify the trees I am looking at.

After the walk, I stuck around and wandered the visitor center there. The Nature Station has several aquariums and terrariums with fish, amphibians, and reptiles on display. Several birds and mammals (usually rescues) are on display on the outside. It's always sad to see animals that should be wild in such enclosures, but, in most cases, they would not be able to survive in the wild. One of the owls, in particular, had lost most of one of its wings in a collision with a car.

I have to admit that, even on a leash, the great horned owl (pictured at the top of this post) gave me a look that was a little disconcerting. For all I know, he couldn't actually see what he was looking at, but he sure seemed like he was keeping an eye on me and that he would peck my eyes out if he could!

By contrast, the barred owl (pictured here) looked kinda friendly, while the barn owl (not pictured) looked rather shy and demure.

There were also bird feeders (both seed and sugar water) on the grounds, so the outdoors were frequented by both nectar and seed eaters.

This was a total walk of no more than a mile, so it doesn't count as a separate hike.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hike 2011.056 -- Canal Loop Trails (Part 2), Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Sunday, August 21. Short hike Sunday afternoon, after spending a few hours elsewhere in the park (that'll be in the next post).

On the linked map, I started right around where that "8" is, and headed east, under the bridge. Then it was south, past the "6" junction, and then a right turn at the "5" junction. Over to the "10," then up past the "9" and back to the car. Three miles, according to the map.

I think I picked up a mild case of poison ivy exposure. I know I had to walk through some, on a section of trail that was overgrown. I'm not sure, but I think even though the junction had very clear "B" letters on both sides of the trail, there was also a "Wrong Way" sign at the start of my trip on that segment. Since I actually walked on the last bit of "B" segment on my last trip (inadvertently), I should have crossed paths, but did not. Apparently, they rerouted that segment a few hundred feet to the south. But the old junction signs make it unclear to whom the "Wrong Way" is aimed. Is it for people seeking the "B" trail, or for those tring to stay on the main Canal Loop trail? I'm starting to think the former. But, not knowing any better, that's the way I walked. After a bit, that trail (which also had some very recently weed-wacked areas) became impassable without at least brushing the encroaching poison ivy.

Despite the rash (only up to where my boot socks covered my ankle--very odd), the itch hasn't been bad, so I'm thinking it was a pretty mild exposure. Or it could be a reaction to DEET, which I also sprayed on my boots and over my socks? I'm not sure.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hike 2011.055 -- Canal Loop Trails, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Saturday, August 20. Hiking trails in the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) are scattered among three primary centers. In addition to the North-South trail that goes from end to end, there are clusters of trails near Fort Henry (south end of the park), near the Nature Station (Hematite and Honker Lakes, near the middle of the park), and near the canal that links Lake Barkley with Kentucky Lake (at the north end of the park). Today, I hiked the last of these areas, up in the northern section of the LBL. The flyer for the Canal Loop Trails is here.

The Canal Loop Trails can be easily accessed either from the North Entrance Station or from the parking area for the Canal Overlook. Both are along "The Trace," which runs north/south through the park. If coming from I-24, look for KY-453 and take that south. Alternatively, from KY-80/U.S. 68, exit at "The Trace" and head north. The North Entrance Station is either about six miles south of I-24 or about 19 miles north of KY-80/U.S. 68.

Either because it was nice weather on a Saturday morning, or because of the relative proximity of the great megalopolis of Paducah to the Canal Loop, this trail was far busier than the others I have walked on so far. It's also open to mountain bikers, and most of the people I encountered were mountain bikers (not surprising, given the relative speed of bikes versus hikers). Most were relatively well trained (meaning, they hollered or made braking noises well in advance, and warned their friends behind them of a hiker ahead; also, I usually heard them before they saw me).

The Canal Loop trails are marked somewhat similar to what I saw at Fort Henry, with color-coded blazes and numbered or lettered signs. However, on this trail, the letters or numbers were not always at the junction. Also, at least one junction was very well-hidden.

On the linked map, you can trace my route today: From the North Entrance Station, I headed west, on the "D" trail, then north, towards the "11" main Canal Loop Trail. I intended to turn east at the "C" trail, but it was not marked. Instead, I continued north, crossed a narrow paved road that I later deduced to be Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive), climbed somewhat, and found myself at the base of a very tall radio tower that a turkey vulture was considering landing on.

Just a bit later, I reached the next junction. Turning left, I saw a "B" instead of the "C" that I expected, and stopped to ponder my next step. Although continuing along the "B" trail would only have added another 1.7 miles for the day, I was planning to make a return trip to walk the northern section of the Canal Loop (just as I plan to make return trips to the far western and eastern sections of the Fort Henry trails).

Instead, I backtracked .7 miles, and kept my eyes peeled for the "C" trail. I went back up a hill, passed the radio tower, crossed the road, and came to a couple of small bridges. Just after the bridges (on the south side), was a very faint but unmarked trail, which was really just a slight break in the foliage. I paused for a moment, contemplated my choices, then slipped through the narrow opening. Not 50 yards later, a short wooden crossing was there. Across a meadow (actually, the tree cut for a power line right of way), the trail continued, and I saw a few yellow blazes. This assured me that this was an actual trail and not just a use trail.

This "C" trail eventually crosses "The Trace" just south of where Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive merges with The Trace. The view down The Trace from here is peaceful, just as it is along pretty much the entire drive.

It still amazes me as I crossed The Trace and went from one section of trail to another, how different trail heads are here in Kentucky. The foliage is so thick that you could easily drive right by this section of road (as I had earlier this morning) and not even known that a hiking trail crossed right here.

I made a right at the next junction, and had a few peeks at Lake Barkley on this section of trail. Apparently, when the water is higher, a whole lot of floatsam makes its way into these pockets, and there was quite a bit of junk scattered around here: bits of styrofoam from coolers, empty bottles of water, juice, and motor oil, shoes, rubber balls, you name it. Don't know how much of this is from boaters and how much just gets washed or blown into the lakes from the shore.

After the turn, it was 1.8 miles (according to the map) back to the Entrance Station. There were a few nice views of Barkley Lake, but the best viewing spot was occupied by an RV with a generator: Right near the shore, overlooking a bay, and having several large boats bobbing near by.

Total mileage for the day (including the 1.4 mile unintended detour) was 6.6 miles. Despite the relatively short distance and near-lack of topography, the humidity just seems to sap my energy. Of course I could have gone somewhat longer, but I was feeling I had gone far enough as it was.

Few flower along the way. I guess it's high summer, now. I had previously seen some thistle like on this trail. It seems softer than the thistle back home. The small, datura-like flower, was new to me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hike 2011.054 -- Fort Henry Trails, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN (Part 1)

Hiked Sunday, August 14. There's a network of trails collectively known as "Fort Henry Trails." They're all associated with the Fort Henry area, which was an important early Civil War battlefield. The Union victory there gave them control of the lower Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which were important transit ways for western and central Kentucky and Tennessee. Of course, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley did not exist at the time. This area was instead known as "Land Between the Rivers." In fact, Fort Henry, which used to overlook the Tennessee River, was submerged by the reservoir that pooled behind Kentucky Dam.

The trailhead for the Fort Henry trails is on a spur road off of Fort Henry Road. To get there from U.S. 79, take "The Trace" north from 79 (it is signed for access to Land Between the Lakes). At the south Welcome Center, turn left (away from the Welcome Center), to the west. Take the second right (the second paved road on the right), which will be signed towards Boswell Landing. When the road makes a sharp right towards Boswell Landing, you should see a dirt/gravel road signed for Fort Henry parking, more or less straight for your direction of travel. After about 200 yards, the road will reach a little loop at the end. There will also be the remains of roads heading in several directions near this loop, but I'm pretty sure those roads are for authorized vehicles only (although they are not signed that way--they're just kind of narrow and bumpy).

I parked in this end loop. There were no other cars when I parked, but 2 or 3 other cars when I left, so I know I parked legally.

Although this was another "Land Between the Lakes" hike, I could not see any lakes on this hike. The forest cover is so thick that you can't see far in any direction. In fact, even though I could only rarely see any roads, I often heard the sound of trucks or motorcycles roaring quite nearby.

That's the main difference I've noticed in hiking here in the mid-South versus out West: Thick trees, and fewer expansive vistas.

Very pleasant day of hiking, even without the big open views. The high was in the low 80s and there was a nice breeze. The breeze wouldn't be so nice if I was trying to paddle a canoe out on one of the lakes, but it was wonderful up there in the hills.

Odd thing about these trails is that the signs are mostly coded. Trail inter-sections are numbered on the map, and numbered on the ground, so if you come to a junction with a big "2" on it, you have to look at your map to see that this is where you are. Then you often have to look at the color of the metal "blazes" hammered on to tree trunks to know which trail you're on.

On a few plastic trail markers, someone did Sharpy in a trail name. But most intersections lacked any indication of the trails. So, key factor number one if you hike this trail: Get a copy of the trail map!

Here's a link to the trail map that's available on the LBL website.

In reading the short trail descriptions, you'll see a color, followed by numbers after each trail name. That tells you which color blazes are on that trail, and which junction numbers the trail crosses.

To illustrate what you'll see, I've got a couple of pictures of forest with numbered junctions and/or colored blazes on trees for you to see.

Not much in the way of wildlife visible on these trails today. It did cross several mostly-dry creeks, where fish or tadpoles could sometimes be seen. One fuzzy shot of those fish is right here.

I also saw a few butterflies, ants, and some really weird things that I eventually learned were pods of Eastern tent caterpillars (I initially thought they were gypsy moth caterpillars). They were these large sacks, wrapped in silk. By large, I mean over a foot long. They were wrapped in a non-symetrical blob of silk, like a super-giant black widow might weave. You almost expected to see a giant spider in the trees above the sacks. Inside the sacks, you could see innumerable little caterpillars (1.5 inches long or so), occasionally wiggling or inching around in the sack.

Click on the picture above to enlarge it. Click it again to enlarge it even more.

In terms of my path today, I started out at the official trailhead, bore south and southeast (got my bearings from the sun) to get on the Telegraph Trail, heading east. Continued east to the Devil's Backbone trail, then headed south. (The picture below is from part of the Devil's Backbone--it was not nearly as amazing as the Devil's Backbone near Mt. Baldy!). Then east on the Artillery Trail, then east on the Piney Trail, then north on the Volunteer Trail, then the Telegraph Trail, west, back to my car.

Easy to follow that route if you have a map. It would be really easy to get lost without a map, however. As I said, most trails are not signed with names and directions, and with the thick tree coverage and lack of visible landmarks, one direction looks an awful lot like another.

Slightly over 7.2 miles for the day. Although that's short (and flat) by my previous standards of hiking, I've had a pretty long layoff of long, strenuous hikes. This one made me pretty tired, to the point where I got lazy and actually stumbled during a descent. Skinned my knee a little. And took a really long nap when I got home. Still, this did cap off a pretty busy period of hiking. Hoping to keep up a pace of 1-3 hikes a week for at least the summer and late fall period, when the sun sets late and I can squeeze in some hikes following afternoon classes.

Because of the large number of interconnected trails here, I anticipate probably 3-4 more visits, just to walk some of the other trails that I didn't do today.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hike 2011.053 -- Honker Lake, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Friday, August 12. Three hikes in a row, although I'm pretty sure I'm too far behind to possibly manage 100 hikes for this year.

Drove out in the afternoon. From KY-80, take "The Trace" north about nine miles, then turn right, towards the Woodlands Wildlife Station. Since the gate on the last 1/4 mile or so of road to get to the Station is locked at 5pm, you need to park outside the gate if your hiking will keep you later than that.

Also, there seems to be a dearth of speed limit signs on the northbound side of the Trace, from US 80 on north. I did not remember seeing any speed limit signs going that way on either of my two trips to this area. However, a few signs on the southbound side to exist, so it is apparently 50mph though the entire Trace, except if it's posted otherwise. The road towards the Woodlands Wildlife Station seems to be 35mph or less, as posted.

Just 1/8 or so from the gate that is locked, there's a picnic bench area with a flush toilet and water fountain. It's adjacent to A short gravel road that takes you behind the restroom area, to where a sign on a chain indicates a "wildlife viewing area" is here.

On the other side of the chain is a sign, pointing to the right if you want to reach any of the hiking trails in the Woodlands area. Walking left here would take you to the North-South trail.

I walked right. You soon reach another gravel road, with a gate across it, announcing, "Authorized Personnel, Only." I'm pretty sure that applies to actually driving your car, however. Otherwise, the trail signs make no sense.

Less than five minutes down this gravel road, you'll notice a fifteen-foot cut in the grass coming in from the left. Immediately on the other side of the road from that cut is a trail that heads into the forest on your right. Although I did not know it at the time (but I did suspect it), this is the Honker Lake Trail. You could head in either direction from here, and be back where you started just 4.4 miles or so later.

Since there was no sign facing the access road I was on to tell me what this trail was, and because I didn't bother walking down the trail looking for a sign, I just continued more or less easterly along the road, eventually hitting other roads, and a sign for the Woodlands Trail. I walked on the Woodlands trail for a while before running into the Honker Trail. I know I walked the Honker Trail in a counter-clockwise direction, but I'm a little fuzzy in my recollection about which way I walked on the Woodland Walk.

Since I'm not exactly sure where on the map I ran into the Woodland Walk, I can't tell how long I walked on that before hitting the Honker Trail. My best guess is I must have walked somewhat over 1/2 mile from my car before hitting Honker Trail. Honker is supposed to be 4.3 miles, so I'm giving my mileage for the day at between 4.8 and 5.0 miles.

A .pdf of the flyer for the Honker Lake (August 12) and Hematite Lake and Center Furnance Trails is here.

The landscape around Honker was obviously very similar to that of Hematite Lake. The main differences are that Honker is much larger, and it's basically an extension of the massive Lake Barkley. It also has several islands and lots of wetlands that larger migratory birds seem to like. It gets its name (Honker Lake) from the Canada Geese that both reside there permanently and use it as a pit stop on their migrations. I also saw several grey herons (or perhaps the same one about three times?) and a large, white, egret-looking bird.

The heron was photo-graphed successful-ly (not with the best of surround-ings, but you can't help that), while the egret was tougher. Its white body provided too much of a contrast with the dark background. The shots that were more zoomed in all came out fuzzy.

Both were taken on the far end of the trail, near the causeway or dam that separates Honker Lake from Lake Barklay.

Perhaps in part due to the timing of my walk (starting about 5:30pm and ending near 8pm), the deer were out in force. I got more fuzzy pictures than anything else, and didn't even attempt to take pictures of several that I startled. But some practically posed for me, or at least stood and gave me a long stare.

In contrast to the Hematite trail, this one was well-signed, with posts that clearly pointed the direction and name of the trail choices you had, and with mileage markers to let you know how much further you had to go.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hike 2011.052 -- Central Park, Murray, KY

Short hike on Thursday, August 11, through Murray's Central Park. Much of it is developed as a typical city park, with ball fields, manicured lawns, picnic tables, slides, etc. Other parts are less modified, and the forest can be quite thick in places.

Set inside this park is an 18-hole Frisbee golf course. Holes range in length from about 85 yards on up to 150 yards, with 20-100 yard walks between holes and the next tee. Some are mostly in the open, mowed grass area, while others would require tosses between thick stands of trees. I walked the 18 hole course and also wandered around enough that I hope to have managed three miles of walking.

Here's a picture of a squirrel. Not that big a deal, except squirrels in KY are hard to photograph. They're too used to being hunted, I think. Well, except these city park squirrels, where no hunting is allowed and they probably get plenty of handouts from the locals.

Hike 2011.051 -- Eaton Canyon Falls

Hiked Wednesday, August 10. I squeezed in a quick, short-notice trip back home at the start of the week. Many side stories involved on the timing, but the short version is I had some time, I was already going to be in Memphis, so I burned 50K frequent flyer miles to get a last few days at home before the school year starts. I burned another 50K miles just a week earlier, to get my wife to visit, so many years of accumulation in the Delta Skymiles program have been almost wiped out in just a few weeks. At least I could use them, though--not like the useless USAirways Dividend Miles Program, which have proven impossible to efficiently utilize over the past few years--black out dates, extremely limited seat availability, including on their partner airlines, etc. Totally useless. If given a choice, don't sign up for USAirways. Seems like everyone else has program rules that are easier to actually redeem your miles on.

Because it had been another week without hiking, I kept it close and short. That's how Eaton Canyon got picked.

The wash is now reduced to a thin trickle where the trail crosses it. It's amazing to think that there were days in February or March when the water was absolutely uncrossable there.

Water still flows somewhat heavier under the toll road bridge, however. It still sounds like a river, although obviously the crossings are easy. Good thing, since I was just wearing my high tops.

For a weekday afternoon, the trail was about what I would have expected. When I got to the waterfall, I think there were only 3-4 other people in sight, however. There were also two trash bags, overflowing with trash, at the viewing area. I don't understand why people can't just carry out what they carried in, but at least several someones decided to bring bags, and probably filled them with trash.

I've written this hike up many times in the past, but for any newbies: I started at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, which is on the east side of Altadena Blvd, just north of New York Avenue. From the 210 freeway, you can exit at Altadena Blvd and head north a couple of miles.

The nature center lot is large, but does fill up quickly on weekends.

From the nature center, walk north, through to the end of the parking lot. Then continue past the gate along the dirt. A few hundred yards after the gate, the trail drops down a bit and crosses the wash, heading slightly to your right as it does. Once on the other side, continue north, making a left when you reach the main north-south trail.

This section of trail is wide and mostly flat. Occasionally, mature oaks provide some shade. Other times, you're exposed, and walking over a sandy trail.

When you reach the bridge that crosses the wash, go under the bridge. A hundred yards or so after the undercrossing, the trail makes the first of several crossings of Eaton Canyon Wash. Now, it's pretty straightforward, though it will require some balance to keep your feet dry.

Just keep heading upstream, on either side of the river, until you reach the waterfall. It's about 1/2 mile from the bridge.

On the return leg of this hike, I got to see another one of those little rabbits that live near the visitor center. I also got a picturesque view of a rising gibbous moon, which I can rarely resist photographing.

Resist the urge to scramble up either canyon wall. It's dangerous to you if you fall, and dangerous to people in the canyon if you knock any rocks down while you're hiking up there.

Shot some video of the falls. For mid-August, it definitely is running strong.