Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hike 2011.068 -- Energy Lake, Land Between the Lakes NRA,KY (Blue Trail)

Hiked Tuesday, September 27. Had to fit a hike in today because I'm going to be busy the rest of the week. That may put a bit of a dent in my march to 100 hikes.

Today's hike was from Energy Lake. I was actually planning to go to the north end of the North-South trail, then got distracted by roadside flowers and thought about maybe hiking Hematite Lake. Didn't shift my attention to Energy Lake until I reached the turn.

From KY80/US68, I exited on the Trace and headed north. I turned right on Mulberry Flat Road (LBL Road #135), which is the first road that would take you to the Nature Station). However, instead of turning left at Road #134 and heading to the Nature Station, I turned right, towards Energy Lake. Just after crossing the narrow causeway that is Energy Dam, I parked in the lot on the left. There's a portapotty there.

From the lot, there's a mowed pathway south, to the Energy Lake trail head. Small grasshoppers were flittering all over the place as I walked towards the trail.

A large egret and a grey heron were sitting on a downed tree. Several turkey vultures were cruising the tree line across the lake.

When I reached the trail, the clearer path (which had blue blazes nailed to trees facing me) was slightly to the left. A fainter path headed to the right. Turns out that would be my return route.

This path begins by paralleling Crooked Creek Bay, before turning inland and crossing a 1/2 mile wide peninsula. When it approached the water on the other side, it turned sharply to the right, climbing for a while, then descending. At the bottom, it crossed a paved road.

This confused me, because the recreation map I have for LBL shows me crossing only a gravel road. On the other hand, it also shows the widened KY80/US68 route as "under construction." When I got back to my car, I drove south on LBL #134 and confirmed that it is now paved, all the way south to KY80/US68. This would have shortened the drive to this trailhead by 3-4 miles, I think.

I had to walk left (southeast) along this road for a few dozen feet before seeing the continuation of my trail, on the other side. After briefly paralleling the road back towards the northwest, the trail then climbed to the left for a while, before eventually joining a dirt road for a hundred feet or so. I kept looking for trail blazes, and eventually saw some blue ones along a trail that split off to the right. More sharply to the right, I saw yellow blazes for what I later learned was the shorter (Yellow) loop trail from Energy Lake Campground. That's why I say I hiked the "Blue" Energy Lake campground. My entire path was marked by regular appearances of blue metal blazes on trees.

After another mile or so of walking, I eventually found myself heading up a hill, towards a campground. That's where the blazes led, so that's where I went.

Upon reaching the top of the climb, I was on a paved road that was part of Energy Lake Campground. The blue blazes were no where to be found. Fortunately, a camper at the top pointed me down the road (to the right). Extremely intermittent blue blazes indicated the trail went along the right shoulder of this road. I just walked on the road.

I eventually passed a boat house and the entrance station for the campground. When this road finally intersected with LBL Road #134, I could see blue blazes inviting me to rejoin the trail, on the other (east) side of #134. After a short time, I was back at my entry point.

If I'm reading this map correctly (which I didn't discover until after I got home!), I walked about 5 2/3 miles, including the short walk from the parking lot to the trail. Blue blazes marked my entire route, and were almost always located right about when you started questioning if you were still on the right track. At a few places, down trees required short detours.

Surprisingly tired for such a modest walk. It was a little bit hillier than most walks in LBL, but it's still not anything strenuous.

Both here and at Honker Lake, I wasn't sure which side of the dam was retaining water. Was the dam supposed to keep the arms from flooding, or did the dams impound water in the arms to keep them deep enough for these protected coves to retain deeper water fish habitat throughout the summer? While standing at the end of Energy Dam, I had my answer: They retain water in the arms. Energy Lake is on the left of the dam, while Crooked Creek Bay of Lake Barkley is on the right.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hike 2011.067 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY (7)

Hiked Friday, September 23. Having walked the last southern segment of the North-South Trail on Tuesday, I was back north of KY80/US68 today. Unfortunately, I only walked a very short segment of the trail today.

Starting from KY80/US68, I exited on the Trace and headed north. I passed the Elk and Bison Prairie (on the right) and the Jenny Ridge Picnic area (on the left). Passed another road on the left, then approached the sign for Jenny Ridge Cemetery. While the road for the cemetery requires a right turn, just before (as in literally dozens of feet before) reaching it that road, there's another road that heads to the left. That is LBL Road #141. It's a gravel road that is generally fine for passenger car travel.

Stay on #141 as Road #143 splits off to the left. Stay on #141 (turning somewhat to the left) as Road 336 peels off to the right. This section of road is almost entirely single-lane, so if you run into on-coming traffic, someone's going to need to back up. Fortunately, I hit no traffic either coming or going.

About 1 mile after the 141-336 split, the road crossed a small trickle of water, which I am pretty sure must be Dead Beaver Spring (one of the water points for North-South trail through hikers). There was no sign there, but almost immediately after crossing this water, I noticed yellow blazes on trees along the road. Yellow blazes are what they put on spurs that connect to the North-South trail. That means this part of the trail is open to car travel.

At the first opportunity, I parked on the side of the road. If I had known better, I probably would have continued another 1/2 mile or so, to a much wider junction point where several cars could park without blocking any possible farm traffic. I mention farm traffic because the fields here were planted in soy beans. It's also where I ended my first day of hiking on the North-South trail, way back on August 30. This was adjacent to Vickers Bay. Even from near my car, on my return trip, I could hear the roar of boat motors from the nearby bay.

Once on the North-South trail, I walked a mere 1.5 miles north before turning around. Several factors for the early turnaround, including a late start and dead camera batteries. This was less than half as far as I intended to hike today, and I'm kind of bummed about that.

On the plus side, there were several first-time and interesting sights.

When I got to my turn around point (unlabeled on the maps I have, but probably Savells Bay (because there's a branch of a stream and a cemetery near this bay called "Savells," and because all of the other bays along these lakes seem to be named after the stream and/or cemetery that is adjacent to them).

I stopped at a convenient overlook and enjoyed the view. I took lots of pictures (one of which is at the top of this post) and watched for fish and birds that might be in the area. Don't remember seeing much in the way of birds (besides crows) there, but I did see several large splashes in the bay. Undoubtedly here, as on other places along this lake, there were some BIG fish.

As I looked across the bay, I saw a small object moving across the surface. I was pretty sure this was a snake, so I zoomed my camera in and took numerous pictures. It's funny, because when you blow those pictures up, they look an awful lot like pictures you see of the Loch Ness monster.

The monster (only its head stuck out of the water, but in the pictures, I could see the undulating body) slowly made its way across the bay. I was wondering what it would do when it reached the other side. Would it come out of the water?

No, instead, it started making its way parallel to the shoreline, heading towards me. So I tried to stay reasonably quiet and clicked off several pictures. It kept coming closer, and I kept shooting. Until my battery died.

My camera takes 4 AA batteries, and it eats through them pretty fast. I'd guess after about 120 or 140 shots, it starts getting iffy. Usually, after it "dies," you can turn off the camera, then turn it on again and get a few more shots off. But each time it goes on then off, it makes a pretty audible beeping noise. In this case, the beeping went off as the snake made its closest approach.

It then froze. Rather than having its body on the surface, it submerged itself. The head still stuck out of the water, so if there was no water there, it would, perhaps, looked a little bit like cobras do when they're being charmed (at least the ones in movies and on tv). I tried to get my camera on again for a few more shots, but this next set of beeping sent it under water and very quickly off. I learned that snakes can move underwater a lot faster than they move along the surface. Not sure how long they can stay under water, but I did not see the snake again.

While cursing my failure to bring a spare set of batteries, I kept watching the water, looking for the snake or other interesting things. I saw a large object moving under the water. It definitely wasn't a snake. While the snake was probably 2 or 2 1/2 feet in length, it was no more than two inches in diameter. This other thing, I thought perhaps to be a large bass. It moved slowly and turned slowly.

But then it surfaced. Definitely a turtle, though bigger than any freshwater turtle I had ever seen before. I figure its shell was 18-20 inches in length.

Hard to be sure about the length of both the snake and the turtle, however. On open water, there's no frame of reference to judge their size against.

Got two shots of the turtle before my battery died again and the camera beeped. And, as with the snake, the beeping sent the turtle under water and away.

The dead battery was my cue to head back. I managed to get a few more shots off along the way, but most efforts were interrupted by the beeping of dead batteries, again. One decent shot of an aster made it, and one of some leaves.

Just under an hour to get back from the lake to the junction with the spur trail I took. From there, it was another ten minutes to my car. One hour at a moderate pace, with very few stops for pictures on the return trip, means about two miles of walking, one way.

One odd thing I didn't photograph were a couple of bugs, grappling. One looked like a very large bee, stinging a large, winged creature (different species). Not sure what the plan was. I always thought bees were nectar eaters, but this one was trying to kill another insect. Guess some of them are carnivores.

I also saw several spent shotgun shells. I assume this means it's squirrel hunting season. Not sure when the season is and if it's limited to certain times of the day. I didn't hear any shots while hiking.

Not too worried about squirrel hunting, because I figure they're shooting up and they're using shotguns. Short-range, and not likely to get hit with shot. Deer hunting season, however, I'm going to have to stay in areas where hunting is not allowed. Gotta figure out when that is.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN (Part 6)

Hiked Monday, September 20. Despite the weather forecast of "mostly sunny" for the afternoon, it started drizzling on me almost as soon as I left town. On the drive down, I got some periods of pretty heavy rain, and other periods of drizzle.

With the rain continuing after I got to the trailhead, I killed some time in the South Welcome Center, hoping the rain would stop. Would up buying a couple of books as well as a bit of country style bacon. Yeah, I wouldn't have expected bacon at a national recreation area bookstore, either. ;D

[The picture here is of the South Entrance Station; the Wet, drizzly, and not sunny. The "blue sky" at the top of the picture is actually an artifact of the tinting at the top of the windshield; there was no blue sky at this time!)

Still, the rain continued, so I gave up on the planned hike and started driving up to the Golden Pond Visitor Center, with the intent of watching a planetarium show, then checking the weather after the show. However, just two miles or so north of the entrance station, the rain stopped. So I turned around and returned to the South Welcome Center area. The rain hadn't stopped there, but I figure (hoped) that it would stop soon.

The south terminus for the North-South trail is kitty-corner, to the South Welcome center, on the opposite (west) side of "The Trace." There's a fair-sized parking area there, with room for about a dozen cars, but the lot was empty when I pulled in, as the rain continued. From this lot, you can either head to the northwest (forward and to the right, if facing away from the Trace) to get on the North-South Trail, or to the south (left, if facing the parking lot from the Trace), to get on the Bear Creek Loop. I went to the right.

The North-South trail climbs consistently but not too steeply as it slowly rises above and parallel to the Trace. As I climbed, the rain continued, though not too heavily. I was also mostly beneath the tree canopy, so I really only got wet when the wind blew the leaves above and knocked the water loose.

After a quick half-hour (I was walking quickly, in part, to stay warm, and in part to get out from under the rain), the rain stopped, and I reached a green trail junction sign. Turning left here would send you south, on the Bear Creek Loop, and would eventually take you back to the opposite end of the parking lot that you just left. Looking on the other side of the sign, I saw I had traveled two miles from the trailhead.

Meanwhile, forward and to the right was the continua-tion of the North-South trail. I took a few pictures (pretty much the first of the hike, since I had kept the camera in its bag and in my backpack earlier, to keep it dry from the rain), then continued on my way.

In another 30-40 minutes, I was at my destination. I reached the trail marker sign where I had piled some rocks to mark the southernmost point of my previous day's hike on the North-South trail. Based on my hiking time, this was just 3.5 miles or so from the south trailhead, meaning my estimate for the previous day's hike was probably low. I had actually gone between 15 and 15 1/2 miles round trip the last time on the trail.

I took some more pictures, and turned around. Again, it was just about 30 minutes back to the sign. Since there was plenty of time before dark, the rain was still stopped, and I wasn't tired, I decided to extend my hike by taking the Bear Creek Loop. This route sent me south about a mile and a half, before the Bear Creek Loop arced back to the east, then to the northeast. Between 9.8 and 10.2 miles total for the day.

During most of the hike, the skies were overcast and the ground was wet. For about 20 minutes, however, I got a little sunshine, which came in at a low angle and lit up a section of trees I was walking through. That's the one advantage of broken weather--you get nice lighting effects and some drama in your views.

This trail had a wide variety of views. Along the way, I crossed the Fort Henry Road, crossed several large fields, then spent the last 3.4 miles on the Telegraph trail. Along the way, I also walked adjacent to several large corn fields. There's also an extended segment along and through the bed of Bear Creek (which was almost entirely dry at this time in the season), then a bit along a ridge that (if the tree cover were not so thick) would present a pretty impressive overview of the area around the southern end of the park.

I saw many different flower species that I had not seen before, and have included pictures of them in this post. I also saw a couple of interesting insects, which are also pictured, usually on flowers. Spooked several deer, including one that stared right at me for several minutes before high-tailing it across a field. So in addition to the realtively clear picture of him staring at me, I took (but did not post here) some really blurring pictures of a deer bounding away.

I also spooked at least one very large bird, probably a turkey vulture, possibly an eagle. The wingspan was definitely over six feet. Saw a hawk or two, plus many smaller birds and a small number of squirrels.

One of the books I bought (and a free hand out I got) are of wildflowers of LBL, so I'll spend some time going through my pictures and identifying some of my catches of the day. Many of those pictures are also just tacked on to the end of this post. One plant I did succeed in identifying is called a "Touch Me Not." It's posted at the start of this paragraph.

Interesting flower. It's almost like it's a pitcher, hanging as from a thin thread below a step.

With today's hike, I have completed the southern portion of the North-South Trail (with the exception of the 2.24 mile segment between Point K and L on the North-South Trail map, which is closed for a timber sale.

I've also hiked the majority of the Fort Henry trails system, with the exception of certain segments that were also closed. Most of the Canal Loop trails have also been covered. Mainly, in terms of new trail mileage, I've got maybe one more hike in the Canal Loop I could do, and maybe one more around Fort Henry (depending on exactly which trails turn out to be closed). Then, it'll just be the north section of the North-South trail left.

Of course, I can always retrace some steps, as I have already done with the Honker Trail and will do several more times there and on the Hematite Lake trail. I want to watch the leaves change. There are also other trails for which I don't have handouts, and other dirt roads that could be walked.

In short, there's still plenty of hiking available to me. I figure the north segment will require at least as many hikes as the southern segment did. Between that, the other trails I've come across, the the desire to repeat some trails, this will definitely be enough to keep me busy through November. And once the leaves fall, many of these trails will probably look quite different.

Only thing I need to make sure of is when hunting season opens, to make sure I'm not on any trails where that would be an issue. I love hiking, but I would hate to get shot!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hike 2011.065 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN (Part 5)

Hiked Sunday, September 18. Today's hike started at Point L on the North-South Trail map. Because of the current trail closure, the trail from K to L is inaccessible. If you wanted to hike the entire distance, from Point K, you'd have to head east .9 miles along LBL Road #205 to the Trace, then walk south on the trace for 2 miles, then head west on LBL Road #210 for 1.5 miles. That you put you at Point L.

At Point L, I parked my car on the shoulder of the road and headed south. Within minutes, I came upon the Iron Mountain shelter, which was much less impressive than I thought it would be. Guess it would keep you dry, but it also looks pretty buggy.

The distance from L to M is listed at 3.24 miles on the map, but as 3.3 miles on the green sign at the "M" junction. That sign also says it's 20.7 miles back to the Golden Pond trailhead. Since I skipped the closed section of trail but also walked 5 miles north of Golden Pond, that means I'd traveled about 22 miles of the North-South Trail. I would travel about 3 more miles further south from there.

I'm not exactly sure how far I went, however. That's just an estimate, based on it taking about 75 minutes to walk back from my turn-around point back to the 3.3 mile point. Even with a few stops for pictures, I likely covered 2.5 to 3.0 miles in those 75 minutes, so I figured 5.8 - 6.3 miles each way, total. My best guess, then, is about 12.3 miles, round trip. [Edit--9/22/11--Based upon the short remaining hike I had when I went (on my next hike) from the South Entrance Station to the pile of rocks I left here, I actually traveled about 4 miles south of Point M, meaning about 15 miles walking for the day].

The reason for the need to walk beyond Point M on the map is that the final segment, from Point M to Point N (the south terminus of the North-South Trail) is 7.6 miles. That would be doable as a round trip day hike, but it would be on the long side. To make my final segment more manageable, I decided I would walk somewhat past Point M heading south today. Then, on my final south-end hike, I'll start from Point N and continue to today's turn-around point.

I kept hoping to find a sign or nice view point where I could easily remember as my turn around point. However, nothing of the kind appeared after about 1.5 hours (mostly hiking, but with some extended stops for picture taking). By then, I was getting somewhat tired, and somewhat nervous about when rain might start falling.

I ended up settling for a place where a resin or plastic trail marker was set in the ground. I piled some rocks around the base of the sign, and noted a small "cedar" (juniper) growing across the trail from the marker. I also noted that there were three while "blaze" marks on a tree on the other side of the meadow. This should be distinct enough to confirm, assuming I get back here within a week or so.

Lots of meadows and flowers, though mostly plants I've seen before. My big prize for today was capturing a few decent pictures of monarch butterflies. Several kept floating around me, but their color only fully shows if they show the top side of their wings to you, preferably with some backlighting. I took about 25 pictures, and got a few that look okay.

I also inadvertently captured a shot of what looks like a praying mantis. I was so focused on the flowers, I didn't even notice him until I looked at the pictures after I got home. Of course, that means if I were a bug, I'd be dead!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hike 2011.064 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN

Hiked Friday, September 16.

On my last hike along the North-South Trail, I went from Road #170 south to the crossover of the Trace, a distance of about 6.5 miles. At that point, there was a trail closure sign, with an announcement that the closure was "strictly enforced." Today, I planned to start from the Road #205 crossing and head north, to the closure. I wasn't sure how far that would be, but I figured if it was too short, I could always pick up the trail again further south.

Road #205 is just south of the South Bison Range, which I hiked around earlier in the week. The North-South Trail is also closed heading south from Road #205, so the trail southbound from 205 has a temporary detour that comes back down (east) on Road #205, then heads south along the shoulder of the Trace for about 2.5 miles, before heading back west on Road #210. In the meantime, however, there is no closure sign on the North-South trail heading north from Road #205. That's where I started from today.

Just 1/2 mile or so in, there was a fork in the trail. The sign said the North-South trail was to the left, while the Model Loop trail was to the right. The Model Trail (named after a former town at that location) is not on any of the LBL maps, however. Very odd. It does appear in a book on recreational trails in the LBL (it came up on Google). Not sure if I'll buy that book, though.

I continued on the North-South trail. After about 1.5 additional miles, I crossed a large field. It had already been plowed, so it was just bare dirt. Little hard to stay on the trail there.

Not long after clearing that field and going down into a gully then back up, I was within sound of the Trace, again. In fact, I came out exactly where I had finished my southward progress on my previous North-South trail excursion. That should have been impossible, since the gate across the trail facing north still said the trail was closed.

This means either the north-facing sign at the Trace should have been removed but was not, or that there should be a south-facing closure sign somewhere along the path I had walked. There was not.

This presents a quandary: Hike back along the path I had just taken, even though the sign at my back said it was closed and "strictly enforced," or just walk south along the Trace to Road #205. While I contemplated my options, a third choice presented itself. Tucked between the Trace and the closed gate was a trail I narrow trail I had not seen my last time here. It also headed south, and had a small, hand-lettered sign saying it went to "The Homeplace" (a living history exhibit, which is on the Trace, just north of the South Bison Range).

I went with Option C. Unfortunately, after less than a mile, this trail is obstructed by numerous downed trees. I thought I could make my way around these trees and then reacquire the trail. However, this was not the case. After about 20 minutes of picking my way carefully around the dead and decaying wood (looking carefully for poison ivy and trying to avoid tick exposure), I came out on the other side of the trees. I also seemed to be on the trail, but the apparent path soon petered out. After about ten more minutes of trying to pick my way around, looking for the trail, I finally just decided to just head up the slope on my east, since I knew the Trace was only a few hundred yards that way.

IFrom there, I walked along the shoulder of the Trace, eventually making my way past the South Bison Range (It being early evening by now, the bison were actually on the move). Once past the Bison Range, I turned west on Road #205 and walked back to my car.

Lots of flowers on the southern end of my hike today, and lots of bees and other insects gathering nectar. Also saw a really long-legged, spider-like creature. Didn't see any wildlife larger than a squirrel today. This is in contrast to my last trip down this trail, when I saw several whitetail deer and several wild turkey.

Wild turkey are an interesting sight. Because of the forest cover, they can't count on flight as a means of escape, so they run, and look surprisingly like emu or ostrich as they do it. Their legs are longer than you'd expect. They're also pretty fast. Not very quiet, though!

My best guess on mileage for the day is between 5.5 and 6.0 miles. About half of that was on the North-South trail. The trail maps they have available do not give segment distances for the area I hiked, nor do they even show all the trails I was on. Also, I have determined based on my past few weeks in LBL that many of those trail maps are obsolete, and the path on the ground does not match the path on the paper.

Overall on the North-South Trail, I've hiked from Point H to Point K on the South map, and from Point H to Point F on the North map. That's just about 18 miles on the North-South trail (nearly all of it twice, of course). That means I'm about 1/3 of the way done with those trails. Not sure if I can do the whole thing in bits, though. It depends on the placement of near-trail parking, which I have not fully investigated.