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.

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