Monday, October 31, 2011

Hike 2011.078 -- Fort Henry Trails, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN

Hiked Sunday, October 30. Trail map linked here. I started my hike where the Fort Henry-North-South Connector Trail crosses LBL Road #230 (Piney Road). From the Trace, you take the road immediately opposite the driveway entrance to the South Welcome Station, which is Road #230. Approximately 2.1 miles from this junction, the Connector Trail crosses Road #230. On the map (and on the ground), it says this is Road #399. However, in practice, as you drive by this spot, you won't recognize this as a road. It drops right off of #230, and looks more like one of the many unnamed, unnumbered access roads to the small field (which will be on the left, if you're heading up Piney Road from the South Entrance Station).

Best thing to do (if you want to start your hike here) is to pay attention to your odometer, and be looking for this field as you pass the 2 mile point. The turn is a sharp one, and there may be a bit of a drop from road level to this dirt passage to your south. On either side of #399, right below the shoulder of Piney Road (#230), there's room for a few cars to park. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you could also drive along this road for less than 1/4 mile, where it dead ends adjacent to another field. When I returned from my hike, two pickup trucks were parked there.

For those in passenger cars, however, this road is not easily passable, and you'll probably prefer to park right on the shoulder (assuming the ground is not too wet--otherwise, you might get stuck down there).

The Connector Trail runs on either side of the Trace. At this point, the Connector Trail is also part of the Bear Creek Loop, although it is not labeled in any way. Indeed, had I not walked this section of trail previously, I probably would have driven my car right by, without even realizing the trail passed here.

I headed south from here on foot, along Road #399. After a hundred yards or so, the road curves to the west, then back to the south. It also climbs a bit, depositing you at the edge of the aforementioned field. Once there, your trail bends back to the south, and cars are not longer going to be sharing the route.

Just over 1/4 mile after the end of Road #399, you reach junction "10." There's a green mileage sign at this junction, the only such sign you'll see on this particular day hike. The other junctions along this trail are only indicated by a letter or number. Someone may have added destination directions in Sharpy pen on the road signs, but those are sometimes faded and illegible. That means it's a very good idea to have the trail map (linked above) so you can figure out which way to turn and what's ahead along each branch before you.

At this junction, I turned right (on my previous hike in this area, which included the Bear Creek loop, I turned left). After 3/10ths of a mile, you're at junction "9."

I made a left at junction "9," which is the Tennessee Ridge trail. This trail starts out low, but slowly climbs and runs along a "ridge" (Like most ridges in LBL this one is pretty rounded-- not very ridge-like). When you reach a crest (after about 1.3 miles), the sounds of US highway 79 (which runs directly south of LBL) become more frequent.

The previous picture is a pretty typical hollow of trees on this hike. There are a number of places with similar views. Occasionally, the dip is a little steeper, but it's pretty typical.

At junction "16" (Artillery trail), I made a right. The highway is at this point under 1/4 mile away, but you only very briefly get a glimpse of it through the trees (I'm sure earlier in the year, you can't even get that glimpse, though the sounds seem very close).

Somewhere along the way, I stopped and snapped this picture, of a tulip tree leaf. I took a tree i.d. nature walk in LBL a few weeks ago, and they mentioned this leaf. Had to go on-line to figure out which tree it belonged to, though. The reason for the recollection? They're shaped like a cat's face. I think they're cute.

Seven-tenths of a mile after junction "16" is junction "17." Arrows point you to the right to stay on the trail. However, if you choose to go left, you'll reach US highway 79 in only about one-tenth of a mile. There's a gate to the dirt road here, and no apparent space to park there to access this trail without illegally blocking the gate. However, across highway 79 is an entrance to "Old State Highway 76." There may be parking near this junction, if you wanted to pick this trail up here.

Once I got back to junction 17, I then proceeded straight ahead and additional 3.2 miles, to junction 18. There, I made a right. After another 1/10th of a mile, I made another right, to get on the Shortleaf trail (a right would have put me on Devil's Backbone trail, which I covered on my Hike 2011.054, also in the Fort Henry trail system.

The end of the Shortleaf trail is at junction "6," which is where it intersects with the Telegraph trail (when ever I walked on this trail, I start humming a song by Dire Straights: Telegraph Road). Less than 1/10th of a mile later, Telegraph trail intersects with LBL Road #400. From there, a left turn would send you back towards other LBL roads, while a right turn keeps you on the Telegraph trail. Cars can travel this area, so you should pay attention to that possibility as you walk this section.

The trail/road descends briefly and somewhat steeply. When the trail levels out, you'll see a large field to your left. Adjacent to the field, there's a flat, cleared area that has clearly been used as a campsite by people driving high clearance vehicles.

A bit ahead, there's a forest on the left (and a hill to your right). Through the forest on the left, I could see a fair-sized pond.

Soon (as in just about 1/4 mile after the trail flattened out), the road ends. A berm has been constructed to block cars from going any further, although I get the idea that cars not too long ago did drive through the water and on towards a small cemetery, ahead.

Now, there's the berm, and a recently-constructed pedestrian bridge across a rather large stream (large, in the sense that you would probably get your feet wet crossing it, even now--but it's still only 8-10 yards wide in spots). Of course, this is deeper and wider than most of the steams in the park this time of year, so this stream was very densely filled with small fish. I taped a bit of video of the fish, which I've uploaded, below. I shot it leaning over the bridge railing on the downstream (left side) of the bridge, pictured above.

Two pickup trucks were parked here, too. I'm sure they (and the pickup trucks I saw when I got back to near my car) were hunters. Never saw them, though.

After crossing the stream, the trail runs to the left (north) of the stream briefly. I suspect the hunters must have been hidden somewhere nearby, waiting for deer to return to the stream to drink.

Don't even remember passing a trail marker or junction "8," but That should have been right here, where the dirt road ended and the trail began. I assume "Blue Spring" is just the bridge crossing.

About a half-mile later, I saw evidence of a relatively recent wild fire here. Several charred stumps or scorched tree bases were visible here.

One and three-tenths miles after Blue Spring is junction "9." A left turn there, and I was back on ground I had trod earlier in the day. Three-tenths of a mile there, then it was junction "10." Left turn yet again, and another two-thirds of a mile or so, and I was back at my car.

Total mileage for the day was probably a bit under 12 miles.

The difference in appearance between this area now and when I first walked it in August (or even the second time, in September) is pretty dramatic. Then, it was green, with many flowers. Now, there are very few flowers blooming, many leaves are on the ground, and the leaves still in the trees are yellow, red or brown.

It's also interesting how differently areas may look just a few hours apart (with the sun at a different angle, or the light a little dimmer or warmer. As with my Nature Station Connector trail hike, I've got a picture at the top and bottom of this post that shows pretty much the same view, several hours apart. The second to last picture, meanwhile, is the same view as both, but closer up, focusing on the sign and the maple that overhung the sign.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hike 2011.077 -- Canal Loop Trail area, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Friday, October, 28. Autumn-like weather today. High only in the mid-50s, and windy. I hiked in long pants, a sweater, and a shell, which is pretty rare for me (but may become more common as the year progresses!). The blustery wind is blowing the colorful foliage off the trees pretty quickly, but there's still plenty of color in the LBL.

The Canal Loop Trail(s) loop all around the northwestern section of Land Between the Lakes (LBL). The trails stretch from the canal that links Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake (the north boundary of LBL) down about four miles along the Trace, to the North Welcome Station. I've hiked there twice before, on August 20 and August 21.

On the first hike, I covered most of the southern trail segments, while, on the second, I covered the northern loop. The only significant section I had not yet covered was the section from the (3) to the (5) on the linked trail map. I planned to hike that area (around the Nickell Branch Backcountry Area) today.

On the way to my hiking destina-tion, I stopped on the west side of the Tennessee River (Kentucky Lake) to take some pictures of the LBL. That's the bridge that crosses the lake, cropped to appear in panorama mode.

Most of the plants growing on the rocky shoreline looked to be going into winter hibernation mode. This one bush, with all branches dried up, had this one large flower (would probably be two or 2 1/2 inches in diameter if it could open flat).

After crossing the bridge, it's about two miles to the Trace exit. There, I exited, and headed north, approxi-mately 18 miles. Near the end of the Trace (just before I would have left LBL), I turned left on LBL Road #101 (Lake Kentucky Scenic Drive). I didn't have to drive that far for my hike plan, but I did want to see how the foliage looked along the drive. The recent blustery winds and glare of the sun (already getting somewhat low in the west-southwest) made views looking over Kentucky Lake difficult.

The Scenic Drive is a short, maybe two-mile, one-way road, that travels from north to south. When I got back to the Trace, I parked my car. I knew from past experience that I could access the Canal Loop trail system there. (You can also access the Canal Loop system from a large parking area near the beginning of the Scenic Drive, or from the North Entrance Station, or from several other places where the trails cross paved or gravel roads).

I parked on the west side of the Trace, walked across the road, and started walking northeast. On the trail map, that would be the second that leads from the Trace to the boxed #3. After only 1/4 mile or so, this trail reached a fork. A wooden bridge crossed to the right, while another trail headed straight. I took the path on headed straight, since I had already walked the segment that cut to the right.

Three-quarters of a mile later, my trail took me across a gravel road. This was the raod heading down to Nickell Branch Backcountry Area. To get a better view of Lake Barkley, I walked down the road and took a few shots of the lake. Cigar boats zipped back and forth in the distance. Colorful foliage stood out on the other side of the lake. But, with the sun getting low, I only paused for a few minutes before continuing on my way.

I enjoyed the views of Lake Barkley and Barkley Dam, off to my right. But, eventually, the trail curved back towards the southwest. I then reached a junction. A large letter "B" was in front of me, and that's the way I wanted to go. I followed that trail to the "10" marker, and made a left. Somewhat amusingly, a large sign told me this was the "Wrong Way."

Well, it wasn't the wrong way for me. But, tomorrow, there's a big mountain bike race going through here, so several signs pointed out the correct route for the racers.

My route took me around a large antenna, which I remembered from last time on this trail. I also remembered my next turn, right after crossing a couple of wooden bridges. This junction had also changed, however. On the positive side, this "C" trail, which was practically invisible my last time through here, had been cleared and made much more obvious than last time. On the negative side (okay, not that negative), there was another "Wrong Way" sign that I would need to ignore to get back to my car.

However, despite knowing which way I needed to go, I was enticed to head at least a little of the way the other direction, because the lighting there was just amazing. The sinking sun was throwing a warm orange glow on to the foliage, high above.

There aren't any places I know around LBL that let you get a "big picture" view of foliage. There aren't any high, cleared areas that will give you that. But there are plenty of individual trees and sets of trees with very beautiful foliage. I took plenty of pictures as the sun dropped further and further towards the horizon.

Once I felt I had gotten the most of this evening light, I headed the remaining 2/5ths of a mile or so, back towards my car. Not long after passing the "C" signs (on paper signs, by the way, so I wouldn't count on those signs being there next year), there's a low, rail-less wood planking that crosses what must be a muddy patch of ground in the spring time. Right adjacent to the bridge was a small, purple-flowered plant. I've seen these guys a number of times the past few weeks, and often photograph them. Still not sure of their identification. They look somewhat similar to a number of varieties of flowers that fall into a family called "lobelia," but they do not look exactly like any of the ones whose pictures I have seen.

They weren't in Kentucky wildflower books I bought, nor in the free wildflower identification poster I picked up at an LBL bookstore a few weeks ago, either.

A recap on my route, if you're following along on the map: From the Trace (LBL Road 100) to junction "3," to junction "4," then walked down and around the gravel road loop into Nickell Branch Backcountry Area, then back, then to junction "5," then to junction "10," then to junction "11," then perhaps 1/5th of a mile southwest, then back to "11," then back to LBL Road 100. Mileage wise that should be somewhat more than 5 miles, total. Easy couple of hours of walking.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hike 2011.076 -- Nature Station Connector Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Tuesday, October 25.

Yes, this is three days in a row. I'm both trying to make up for lost time (only one hike last week) and to take advantage of what may be the last near-80 degree day of the year. As noted in my last post, temperatures will be dropping into the 50s over the next few days.

Today's hike links up with my last North-South trail hike. Just before crossing a field, and probably less than 1/2 mile from the end of that day's hike, I passed the signpost for the Nature Station Connector Trail. Obviously, it's intended to connect with the North-South Trail. The sign at the junction says it was 4.8 miles to the "Nature Station Trailhead." It's not entirely clear to me if the trailhead is actually up near the Nature Station, or down, outside of the gates. You might think the former, but I don't remember seeing any signs for the North-South Trail up near the Station. In any event, my return time (fairly good clip, relatively few stops for water and pictures) was 1:50 minutes, meaning 4.8 miles is definitely in the ballpark of how far I walked.

To get to the trailhead, it was the usual US68/KY80, exit at "The Trace." Headed north about nine miles, and took the (second) road towards the Nature Station (Silver Trail Road, or LBL Road #133. When road #134 intersects from the right (it will be the first paved road intersecting your route), continue straight for about 100 feet, and turn on to the gravel road that is just before the picnic area. This will deposit you in a small parking lot. Flush toilets and running water are behind you. The trail is (assuming your car is headed into a space, facing north) forward and to your right.

A gated, "Authorized Personnel Only" gravel road drops briefly and heads north. That's your trail. After about 60 yards, you hit a T-intersection, with a sign telling you the N/S trail is towards the left, while the Nature Station Trails are to your right. This is the same trailhead I used for my first and third trips to Honker Lake.

As you make your way to the west, a semi-restored tallgrass prairie is on your right. It's all dried up, now, but I think it's sup;posed to bloom nicely in the spring.

The trail works its way around the prairie, turning to the north. The early part is on a nice, wide dirt road that's still used by maintenance personnel, but otherwise sees little traffic. Trees with pretty yellow leaves (probably sycamore) line the road.

After a short incline, I saw several large storage sheds on the left. More climbing, and I came to suspect (then, later, confirmed by looking at a map) that the Honker Lake Loop was just a smidgen to the east of where I was walking.

After what seemed on the return trip to be just 1/2 mile (but seemed longer as I was climbing), there's a locked gate that keeps cars out of this area. On the other side of this locked gate, immediately to the east, was another locked gate blocking a road that headed up a hill (don't know if it had a view, or if it just leads you to another cemetery). Meanwhile, LBL Road #315 (dirt, passable for passenger cars) is in front of you. Your trail heads west (left) on Road #315.

About 3/4 of a mile later, there's a dirt road that drops down and to the north. Ignore it, and continue on your road (which has now become Road #314). Some 1/4 mile later, your path leaves Road #314 and heads to the north. During most of this section (and most of the way to the Trace) you are walking along a ridge line, although your path does eventually drop somewhat, crossing a small drainage.

On the other side of the dry (today) creek bed, the trail ascends, again. Once more on a ridge line, you may suddenly feel as though you are in a dwarf forest. I suspected (and, again, later confirmed) that this area must have been subjected to a timber harvest, as there were very few trees taller than 30-40 feet. In some sections, there were no trees taller than 20 feet. There were also several pockets of young eastern cedar and short leaf pine, which you usually only get when there's open area. Turns out this area was clear cut in the mid-1980s.

The trail rather unceremon-iously dumps you on Silver Trail Road, with only an arrow to tell you which way to go. There's also a sign announcing what I just wrote above: the area was clearcut in the 1980s.

For the next 3/10ths of a mile, you walk on the surface or shoulder (un-mowed) of Silver Trail Road, heading west. Obviously, keep an eye out for traffic. When you reach the Trace, cross carefully, and the Connector trail can be picked up just a bit south of where Silver Trail met the Trace.

Once across the Trace, the Connector Trail drops down somewhat quickly, into what I assume to be Duncan Creek's drainage. And, today, I caught things just right. The yellow of sycamore, hickory and maple were wonderfully lit up. Pictures don't do it justice. But I've got several pictures of this area on this post, nonetheless. Most of the leaf pictures (except the first and last on this post) are from this area of trail, near the confluence of the Connector Trail and the North-South Trail.

As I made my way the 1.5 miles from the Trace to my turnaround sign for the day, I knew I was getting close when I saw the large field to my right. Tapped the sign with my hand, like a game of tag, then turned around.

Obviously, the scenery on the return was the same as the scenery on the way out, but with different lighting. For example, the last picture I have on this post is a very similar perspective to the one at the top of this post, but taken later. The leaves on the ground show up nicer. The color is pleasing at either time.

9.6 miles roundtrip, assuming the signs are correct.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hike 2011.075 -- Model Trail "Loop," Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN

Hiked Monday, October 24.

I came across a sign for the "Model Loop Trail" on my Hike 2011.064, last month, along the section of the North-South Trail that linked the Road #205 crossing with the Trace crossing. Found no references to it on-line, other than an entry in a book that popped up on Google. Since you can't print those books out, I just roughly skimmed the entry, and figured I'd find out more details after walking it. I did see reference to the trail circling the South Bison Range, however.

As last time in the area, I took the Trace south from US68/KY80, headed south, and turned right (west) at Road #205. After about one mile, the road crosses the North-South Trail. From that point, the there's a short section of North-South Trail that heads south, to Road #211. That area was closed the last time I was in the area, so I was hoping to hike that section today. Unfortunately, it was still closed for a timber sale. So, instead, I headed north, recalling that the sign for the Model Loop Trail was just a bit to the north.

After about 1/10th of a mile of climbing, I reached the sign: North-South Trail, to the left, or Model Loop trail, to the right. On the Model Loop Trail, it said 0.8 miles to "Bison Hideaway." I headed right.

Turns out this trail basically heads west, back towards the Trace. After about 1/2 mile, I could see Road #205, down, to my right. Shortly thereafter, I ran into the South Bison Range, with the "Model Loop Trail" just crashing in to the fence that runs along the perimeter. There was no sign indicating whether the loop trail went right or left here.

I decided to head left, just to see if I could see the bison, again. This was part of the same trail I took on my Hike 2011.063, the South Bison Range.

Then, as now, the "trail" here is a mowed area that had not recently been mowed, so I had to push through some taller grass and woody herbs. I got plenty of scratches on my leg, and I didn't have much fun (same as last time).

The South Bison Range has two fields, separated by a fence, and each enclosed by a fence. Last time, they were on the far eastern end of the north field. This time, the bison were on the southern field, all bunched along the gate that separates the two fields. This made it impossible to get scenic shots, since there was no way to hide the fact that they were surrounded on three sides by fencing. The colorful foliage in the background was pretty, but overshadowed by the fencing.

This south field is smaller and narrower than the north field, although, either way, they're still fenced in. But seeing them being all bunched in that corner, it's kind of sad. Also, having them bunched like that, I didn't want to piss them off by spending too much time walking right by them. Some of the bison made woofing noises. Also, I knew from past experience that if I continued on the loop, the going would become all but impossible in another 1/2 mile or so, anyway. Hence, I returned the way I came.

I'm calling this one 3 miles. Hard to be sure, since I don't know officially where "Bison Hideaway" is located, but I'm assuming that's where the "Model Loop" hits the trail around the South Bison Range. If so, then it's about .9 miles from my Road #205 trailhead to there. If it was .6 mile from there to the end of that south field (which seems about right), that makes it 3 miles, roundtrip.

If this is all correct, then I still don't understand the "Model Loop" trail. Supposedly, it starts at the Homeplace, and does loop around the bison field. But then what? How does it relate to the spur that I followed from the North-South Loop? The only way that makes sense is if there's another spur somewhere further south on the North-South trail (in the area that's currently closed off for a timber sale). No way for me to verify that now, with the area closed. In any event, this whole idea seemed like a bust. "Model Loop" trail doesn't seem like a practical day hike. Probably easier on horseback, when you don't have to deal with the weeds and stickers.

There's another spur trail I remember seeing, that headed west off the North-South Trail, further north from the Model Loop spur. Not sure if I'll investigate that one later in the year. What I do plan on doing for my next hike (later today) is to hike the Nature Station Connector trail, which would link near where I hiked on Sunday with the Nature Station trailhead. From there, I could continue into the Nature Station trails, or just head back the way I came. It'll be just under ten miles, and a pretty long day.

Whether-wise, today is supposed to be near 80. Tomorrow is supposed to rain and cool about ten degrees. Then, it's back in the 50s forecast for Thursday and Friday. Also, this next weekend is when guns start shooting at deer in the LBL, so I may decide not to hike in there this weekend.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hike 2011.074 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, Part 11

Hiked Sunday, October 23. Today, I walked what is probably the last segment of the North-South Trail I will be able to walk: From Sugar Bay lake access (LBL Road #140) to near where LBL Road #132 crosses the trail.

Apparently, several sections of this trail have been realigned since the recreation map was published, so the angles at which the trail crossed the roads along the way did not entirely line up with what the map suggested. Nonetheless, with the exception of the short southern segment (From LBL Road #205 to #211), which was closed for a timber sale when I tried to walk it, I'm done.

Next time I'm hiking (probably early next week), I'll drive down to Road #205, again. If that segment of the North-South Trail is open, I'll do it. If not, I'll head north and walked the "Model Trail." I'm not sure if that whole loop is still maintained, since the only description I have found of the loop is from a google book hit, and that one talks about walking the perimeter of the South Bison Range fence. However, I know from past experience that this perimeter is not reasonably passable any more. That means I might just walk part of this trail, then return the way I came.

That is for a later trip.

Today, I parked my car the same place I did for my Hike 2011.073: Off of LBL Road #140, just about two miles west of the Trace. Today, there was one other car parked there; it had a bike rack attached to the back. They either headed south or made a loop of it, because I did not see any mountain bikes on my hike, although I did see relatively recent bike tracks.

From this trail head, the trail begins with a modest climb. It pretty much goes up and down drainages, while keeping a modest distance from the so-called "backcountry camping" of Sugar Bay. At one point, a faint use trail links from a nicely-shaded campsite up to the trail.

You get no good views of the southern-most arm of Sugar Bay. It's only after about a mile that the trail parallels the main section of Sugar Bay. Trees still largely obstruct the view here, however.

Across the bay, shooting between tree branches, I saw distant views of egrets and turkey vultures.

At the far eastern end of the bay, it would not be hard to pick your way from the trail to the muddy lake shore. However, I chose not to make that detour today. Instead, I just wanted to complete my hike.

The trail ascends away from the water, eventually crossing a bridge. A bit of climbing eventually brings you to a sign that says RD 139. I actually think this must be a directional sign, rather than an actual road crossing. The trail leads from here to your right. If you go left, instead, there's a largish and well-maintained cemetery. I'm thinking this must be Pinnegar Cemetery. This cemetery, like many others in the LBL (and there are a LOT of other cemeteries here!), is maintained by a volunteer group, "Between the Rivers," largely comprised of the descendants of those who used to live here, before the land was federalized and turned into a national recreation area.

After about 1/2 mile along this dirt road away from the cemetery, you intersect a more-defined road. Judging by the map, this must be the actual Road #139. A left turn on this road takes you in a northerly direction. A right turn would have taken you back towards the Trace. This means this is another potential access point (along gravel road) to get to the North-South trail if, like me, you're trying to do the trail in day hike slices.

After perhaps 1/4 mile, the North-South trail leaves the gravel road, heading off to the right. It generally descends from there towards Duncan Creek. As you approach the flat area, your path takes you across or adjacent to several large agricultural fields (now, fallow, it being fall). Just before you cross the "last" of these fields, the Nature Station connector trail (yellow blazes) diverges, off, to your right.

Instead, I crossed the field, knowing I was very near the Duncan Lake area where I had started a previous hike. In that case, I headed north.

Shortly before getting back to the road that attaches to LBL #132, I reached the green mileage sign where I had ended a previous day's hike. That sign said it was 5.4 miles back to the Sugar Bay Lake Access. Assuming they measure the mileage to the actual lake, I still walked pretty much that whole distance. After I parked my car at the trailhead, I walked into the campground to use the porta-potty before starting my day. That means 10.8 miles for the day, which is actually somewhat longer than I thought remained.

As noted above, except for the less than two miles between Roads #205 and #211, I've now hiked the whole North-South trail. Just for completion's sake, I hope that last segment has reopened, so I can do that before the end of the year.

Because I did this in staggered fashion, I didn't get any great sense of accomplishment, nor any great finale of a sight to see at the end. Still nice to have accomplished a minor goal on my way towards what may be a second year of 100+ hikes, though. It's also been nice watching the season shift, from high summer to middle fall. The leaves have changed from dark green to either dried and fallen or yellow, brown, orange, or red. Flowers have entered and, now, largely exited, their fall blooms. I've also come across a number of newly reconstructed bridges on this trail, things that look to be less than a season old. It's been a pretty good season of hiking.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NPS Report on the San Gabriel River Watershed

Although I am temporarily living in western Kentucky, I expect to be returning to southern California before too long. One of the things I was tangentially involved in back there was following the National Park Service study of the upper San Gabriel River watershed.

Well, finally, the draft report is out.

There's a short AP blurb on the Tribune website, although it suggests the area under study is a "wilderness." Far from it, of course. The study area includes very little statutory wilderness or wilderness study areas. It does include a large chunk of the Angeles National Forest, as well as the Puente Hills (two places I've done a lot of hiking in over the past few years).

The National Park Service newsletter describing the draft report is here.

Locally, a hearings on the draft report are scheduled at a number of different southern California locations, beginning in late October and continuing into November. Scheduled meetings are listed on the last page of the newsletter, which is linked above. There's also a link to the full report (several hundred pages worth of report) on the NPS web page for this study project, here.

I obviously can't attend the hearings personally. Not sure if I'll write up comments. Basically, I'm in favor of any alternative that will bring more resources to managing, improving, and improving access to trails in my old stomping grounds. Various National Recreation Area designations might be the ticket, though I'm open to persuasion on other alternatives.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hike 2011.073 -- North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY (Part 10)

Hiked Sunday, October 16. I walked about 7.5 miles of the North-South Trail today, from Road 140 to Savells Bay, where I stopped my Hike 2011.067, on September 23.

To get to the trail head, I took the Trace north from from US68/KY80. After just over 7 miles, I made a left at LBL Road #140, which is signed for Sugar Bay. This road is mostly gravel, with just a short segment paved. After just over 2 miles from the Trace (just about 1/5th of a mile past the paved segment), there's a sign on the right side of the road, announcing that you are entering a "backcountry camping area." It's not "backcountry" in the sense that I think most normal people would use it (wilderness), but that's the term the Forest Service uses for camping areas in Land Between the Lakes that have only pit or chemical toilets and no running water.

The North-South trail crosses Road 140 just before (east of) the sign. There's a wide, grass-covered shoulder on the south side of the road, and that's where I parked. (Obviously, I missed the trail the first time, and drove around the Sugar Bay campground before coming back out and finding the trailhead!).

I started on the trail at about 10:30am. From Road 140, the trail heads into the woods, then turns to the left, paralleling Road 140 briefly before turning further to the south. After what I suspect is just a bit less than one mile, you come to the first green mileage sign of the day. It tells you that Coffin Cove is .2 miles to the right, Buzzard Wing Spring is 4.1 miles straight ahead, Dead Beaver Spring is 8.5 miles ahead, and Golden Pond is 12.7 miles ahead.

Although not indicated on the green sign, I turned around on my September 23 northbound hike at Savells Bay, which I estimated as 2 miles north of Dead Beaver Spring. That meant my destination for the day was about 7.5 miles or so total from where I started my hike (6.5 miles from this sign, plus the mile or so I had already walked).

My first extended lake-side segment of the day was along the southern shore of Higgins Bay. Patches of trees across the bay were in color, and I took plenty of pictures there.

After traveling southeast for nearly a mile, the trail oversees a small peninsula. It was obvious by looking at the erosion patterns that this peninsula is an island during much of the year. However, today, with the water low, it divides the two main arms of Higgins Bay by as little as ten yards.

Several tents were pitched near the isthmus. A 40-foot (or so) boat was anchored off-shore. I assume it's the boaters that brought the tent, probably transporting the stuff to shore via a smaller skiff The beach at the isthmus was smooth and ideally for landing a flat-bottomed boat.

I enjoyed additional peeks at Kentucky Lake as a made my way along this other arm of Higgins Bay. Then I made my way up an incline and into the drainage for Rhodes Bay. This drainage must be lower lying, because it smelled of wet mud. A ring of empty plastic containers along the trail suggested that, at high water, much of the trail could be under water.

After the first approach to Higgins Bay, the trail briefly joins LBL Road #141. As it meets, there are large agricultural fields on either side of the trail.

The North-South trail soon turns back to the right, back towards Higgins Bay. However, I continued a bit further along Road 141, admiring some nice color where this road crested the next hill. Apparently, this is also the road you'd walk on if, while on the North-South trail, you needed to resupply your water at Buzzard Wing Springs. I noticed this mainly by looking at the map as I sit here at my computer, and also, when looking at my pictures of the area, I noticed some show a yellow blaze, which is the color they use in LBL for spur trails off of the North-South trail.

The picture above is pretty much the same as the one at the top of this post, except I exposed it by metering off of the sky. I think I prefer the brighter version, but the dark one looks pretty nice too, I think.

Once back on the North-South trail, I encountered my second green mileage sign of the day. It told me it was 4.5 miles to Dead Beaver springs, so, therefore, about 2.5 miles to the part of Savells Bay where I turned around last month.

This segment pasted rather quickly, and before long, I was overlooking the same spot I stood at last month. The lower water level was obvious. Whereas, in September, I looked down into the bay and photographed a snake and a turtle, both in what would have been about five feet of water, today, there was a fairly wide, flat beach between the lake and the trail.

I took a photograph of the same young bald cypress that I photographed last time I was here, then walked down to the waterline. I took plenty of pictures here, including several more of the bald cypress. There were a few deep red maple leaves laying on the beach, so I maneuvered myself and my camera to frame my shot. No moving of leaves or anything; I just shot what was there.

During my walk, I saw no deer and only got a glimpse of a squirrel or two. I also saw a large bird (probably a hawk, possibly an eagle) fly silently away. Over the past few weeks, I've sen a number of owls, eagles and hawks, and I have really come to appreciate the amazing silence with which they can launch themselves from trees and make their getaway. I see them, but do not hear them at all. It's not like the turkey vultures or the occasional heron or Canada geese, which make noisy (flapping of wings, breaking of tree branches, and vocalizations) departures. The owls and raptors are completely silent, and I don't know how they do it.

I also saw a number of butterflies. The monarchs are still passing through, generally heading south for the winter. The ones I used to call "cabbage" butterflies (green or white) are also common. In addition, I saw a number of common buckeye butterflies and what are probably viceroy butterflies.

Got back to the car just around 4:30pm. Relatively easy pace, as I'm taking plenty of pictures. I'm pretty sure I have less than five miles of North-South trail (less than ten miles of round-trip walking) to cover to complete my coverage of this trail (except for the area that was closed). After I complete this, I'll return to the closed area to see if it's opened, yet. If not, I'll walk the "Model trail," which I saw a sign for down near the closed area, and have seen written up on-line and in books. Probably also likely to return to several areas I've covered for return engagements.