Journal/Blog

Boulderfield Falls Attempt

posted Aug 8, 2018, 3:42 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 12, 2018, 1:39 PM ]

Sunday, we left Waynesville and headed to Shining Rock Wilderness.  Parking at the national forest area in Camp Daniel Boone, we got on Little East Fork Trail (#107) and headed into the wilderness.  The trail is all uphill following its namesake upstream but it was a gentle slope and very pleasant hike.  In about a mile, we followed a path down to the creek and took a break, enjoying views of the cascades.

At 1.3 miles, there was a gnarled old tree and another path down to the creek.  This one was very steep and difficult but there was a nice little waterfall on Little East Fork Pigeon River here.

I was glad we got this one today as it probably wouldn't be worth the difficult descent in low water.  Continuing on the trail another mile, the unnamed tributary for Boulderfield Falls was across the river.  Getting down to river level, however, wad not so easy.  The bank between the trail and river was almost a sheer drop and totally overgrown with rhododendron.  After a few attempts, we found a way down just above the confluence.  We went downstream to just below the confluence and found a safe place to cross and then tried to bushwhack upstream along the tributary.  It was really steep and totally overgrown with rhododendron.  We tried several different routes, but kept getting stuck and eventually decided to give up.  The hike back was pleasant and we spotted a bunch of pipevine swallowtail butterflies on the way.

Soon we were back to the camp and parking area.  Heading back, we took NC215 to the parkway and went northbound to start the drive home.  We stopped at Pounding Mill Overlook for beautiful sweeping views of the Blue Ridge escarpment.

Looking Glass Rock was visible in the distance.  Further down, we made another stop at Walnut Cove Overlook.

After this stop, we got on the interstate to head home, stopping for Las Salsas on the way.

Flooded Falls

posted Aug 6, 2018, 1:26 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 2:54 PM ]

It had rained almost nonstop for the last week and there was flooding in the mountains so a great time to chase waterfalls.  We left at 5 and headed to NC-215 north of Rosman.  Our first stop was a gravel pull off 2.6 north of US-64.  We continued on the road a hundred feet or so to a smaller grassy pull off and then bushwhacked down towards Big Bearwallow Creek.  There was some semblance of a path, but it was very steep.  As we got close to the creek, we could see something upstream, but there was no path at all.  We had to cross the creek and wade through dig hobble to the base.

It was a fairly nice drop, though it was really covered in rhododendron and dead trees.  And this was not the waterfall, though it could be considered the upper section.  A little further downstream was the top of Big Bearwallow Falls.

It was very steep and slippery getting down to the base and across the creek, but it was a very nice waterfall, especially in high water.

A tree growing here had a number of mushrooms growing on it.

Our next stop was just up NC-215 off Macedonia Church Road.  Lemon Falls was just down from the road and some stone steps made a path down.

Not a high waterfall, but very scenic.  The water was too deep to cross for a picture.  The water was too deep to cross for a picture.  From here, we continued north on NC-215 to Courthouse Creek Road (FR-140).  Along the way, we stopped at Sumney Cove Falls.  An unnamed tributary in Sumney Cove drops into North Fork French Broad River on the other side.

It was mostly obscured by summer foliage, but was really flowing in the high water.  North Fork was way too high to wade to the other side.

We then drove to the parking for Courthouse Falls.  A short hike along Courthouse Falls Trail (#130) and Sumney Cove Trail (#129) led to a split where Courthouse Falls Trail goes left and Sumney Cove Trail goes right.  We went straight and followed a scramble path down to Mill Station Creek near the base of Cody Falls.  Cody Falls is very similar in appearance to Courthouse Falls but smaller.

I waded the creek to the other side for some pictures but the sun had come out.  Climbing back up to the trail, we made a quick stop to see Courthouse Falls.

We've visited several times before but this was definitely the highest water.  Near the falls was a weeping rock with a number of downy lobelia blooming.

Butterflies were all about about, pollinating the flowers.  Back to the main road, we continued up to the parkway and went south about 3 miles to the pull off at Haywood Gap.  A lot of cutleaf coneflower were blooming along the parkway.


Heading eastbound on MST, the trail split almost immediately and we went left onto Haywood Gap Trail (#142) and into Middle Prong Wilderness.  The trail descended steeply eventually picking up Haywood Gap Stream and followed it downstream.  About half a mile down, we crossed the creek and the trail leveled off a bit.  Just over a mile from the parkway, the trail forded Middle Prong.   Here, we got off the trail and creek walked a shortways upstream to the confluence of Haywood Gap and Buckeye Creek.  It was another 1000 feet or so to Buckeye Falls, but the creek walking was tough in high water.  Three decent size cascades were quite challenging to climb up before we made it to the base of Buckeye Falls.

As we approached the waterfall, we could see the whole thing, but at the base we could only see the lowest section.

We decided not to try and climb any higher and turned around from here.  Along the hike back, we spotted some Indian Pipe, an interesting plant that does not photosynthesize.

It was all uphill back to the car, but only the last part was particularly steep.  On the way to Waynesville, we stopped for a couple easy waterfalls along NC215.  First, we stopped at Little Wildcat Falls.  An unnamed tributary drops under the road and flows into West Fork Pigeon River near the confluence with Bubbling Springs Branch.

Normally, there's not much to see, but it's a nice roadside waterfall in high water.  A pipevine swallowtail butterfly was next to the road here.

Next, we stopped at Sunburst Falls.  Upstream of the bridge, the river was raging.

So much so, that we couldn't get down to see the lower section.  Finally, we made one more stop where the road crosses Green Creek.

A lot of wildflowers were blooming here including beebalm and impatiens.

A short hike led to the scenic Little Bird Falls.

The water was higher than the last time I visited and the setting was reminiscent of a tropical rain forest.

By this time, it was getting late so we headed to Waynesville for dinner and checked in to the Econo Lodge.

South Mountains Day Hike

posted Jul 30, 2018, 1:39 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 2, 2018, 2:28 PM ]

Sunday, we headed west to get away from the heat in Raleigh to South Mountains State Park.  The forecast was a high in the mid 70s and it was around 65 when we started.  Our first stop was the visitor center to get Alex's passport stamped.  From the Jacob Fork Parking area, we took High Shoals Falls Loop Trail to Chestnut Knob Trail and began a steep ascent.  Fortunately, it was still cool out so the climb wasn't too bad.  In just over a mile, we came to the Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook.


The view from here was really beautiful of the gorges formed by Jacob Fork and Shinny Creek.  High Shoals Falls was partly visible even with summer foliage though just barely.


In another mile, the trail split and a left took us to Chestnut Knob Overlook.  This spot arguably has the best views in the park.


The overlook itself is a rocky outcrop below the summit of Chestnut Knob.


Heading back, we went straight to cross the high point of Chestnut Knob and then left on Sawtooth Trail.  About half way down was a nice open area with a picnic table, so we stopped here to eat lunch and take a break.


It looked like a fire had burned the area recently, providing more open views than on most of the trail.  Continuing on, we turned left on Horseridge Trail.  In a short ways, we caught up to a box turtle who seemed to be hiking along the trail.


The trail passed by an open meadow where lots of goldenrod was blooming.


Further on, a single Carolina lily was blooming - the only one on our entire hike.


At Possum Trail, we turned left and started heading down the ridge towards Shinny Creek.  Sandy spotted a large grasshopper along the trail.


At the next junction, another left took us on Shinny Trail.  There were two crossings, the first had a footbridge and the second was over a rocky section.


In the water was a large blue crayfish.


When the trail reached the Shinny Creek backcountry campsites, we turned right on Headquarters Trail.  It was really steep heading up and we were starting to feel it.  A clearing provided nice views and we took a short break here.


Once we reached Upper Falls Trail, it was pretty much all downhill back to the car.  We followed Upper Falls Trail down to High Shoals Fall Loop and stopped to see some mushrooms growing along the trail.


Turning right towards High Shoals Falls, the trail came out near the top and some nice cascades are right above the waterfall.


The park has installed plenty of fencing to keep people away from the top of the waterfall, but it's not too effective.  We climbed down the stairs to the overlook for High Shoals Falls.


Being a nice weekend day, the area on the falls was packed, so after I got a couple pictures, we continued on.


It was about a mile from here back to the car.

Lotus at Harris Lake

posted Jul 21, 2018, 2:02 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 21, 2018, 4:18 PM ]

Saturday was a little cooler than the rest of the week, so we took Alex and headed down to Harris Lake County Park for a hike. It was mostly overcast, but no rain and while the temperature was a little lower than it's been, it was still quite humid.  After parking, we started hiking the Peninsula Trail in the clockwise direction.  Several people were fishing and a few boats cruised by.  The water level was low but the lake was still very scenic.


About half-way through the loop, the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant came into view.  I went out to the lake at one spot for pictures of the power plant.


A couple were taking pregnancy photos here - I thought a nuclear power plant was a rather unusual backdrop.  Towards the end of the loop, we started to see a lot of really American lotus in the lake and they were flowering.


Even in low water, it was too swampy to really get out and see them, but the flowers were beautiful.


The seed pods were really cool as well.


Finishing up the loop, it was still early so we got in one more short hike.  It was about 30 minutes to White Pines Nature Preserve, a Triangle Land Conservancy property.  We started off on White Pines Trail and took River Trail down to the Rocky River.  Here we took the short Schoolkids Loop out to the old cable bridge that once spanned the river.  With low water, the Rocky River was really living up to its name.


Back to River Trail, we followed the river downstream to the confluence with Deep River.


The sun finally poked out from behind the clouds, but this just made it hotter.  So we took River Trail to Gilbert Yager Trail and followed this back to the parking area to complete out hike.

Sunflowers at Dorothea Dix

posted Jul 13, 2018, 4:34 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 13, 2018, 4:34 PM ]

Sunday, I went for a hike to see the City of Raleigh's sunflower fields.


Parking at the State Farmers' Market, I hiked up Centennial Bikeway Connector, part of the Capital Area Greenway, to Blair Drive and followed that to Dorothea Dix Park.  Last year, I had hiked the Neuse River Greenway to see the sunflowers near the wastewater treatment plant.  Since so many people were jumping the fence to take pictures, this year they planted them in a park and even made paths through the fields to see the sunflowers up close.  Much less photogenic soybeans are now planted at the treatment plant.  I got to the park around 10 and it was already crowded as the sunflowers in Raleigh have become a real hit.


I walked up and down the paths to get pictures of the sunflowers.


People weren't the only ones enjoying the flowers - a lot of bees were busy collecting nectar.


I think the sunflowers were just a little past peak and storms the night before had knocked down a lot plants.  After some pictures, I continued on, making a big loop out of Centennial Bikeway Connector, Rocky Branch Trail (which would have been the easiest way to access the park and sunflowers), and Walnut Creek Trail.  There's a nice view of Raleigh's skyline from the trail near Wilmington Street.


As I was finishing up the hike, I saw some hibiscus blooming along the trail back by the farmers' market.


It was getting hot and would take some getting used to North Carolina's heat and humidity again after a week of relief in the Rocky Mountains.

Garden of the Gods

posted Jul 13, 2018, 4:27 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 13, 2018, 4:27 PM ]

Saturday was our last day in Colorado, but our flight home wasn't until the late afternoon. So before leaving Colorado Springs, we headed to Garden of the Gods.  Arriving a little after 8, it wasn't too crowded yet.  We started off hiking the Gateway Trail, following Gateway Road to the loop road around the garden.  Turning right on Bretag Trail, we followed it to the main parking lot and then followed the paved trails through the garden.  Right away, we passed the Kissing Camels high above - it was clear how they got their name.  Passing around North Gateway Rock, there were some rock climbers ascending.  Heading into the Central Garden, the red rock formations were just amazing.  And to think that this is a Colorado Springs City Park.  We climbed around for a while a got some pictures from different angles.  After a while, we continued on, taking Scotsman Trail past its namesake rock.  Here we crossed the street and picked up Siamese Twins Trail.  This was my favorite of the rock formations.  Two spires were connected at the bottom and middle, making a window between them.  Looking through the window, Pike's Peak was visible.  I really enjoyed this one.  Looking down below, I could see Red Rock Canyon past the highway where we had hiked the evening before.  We finished up the loop, stopping for some nice views of the Pike's Peak and the Front Range.  Heading back, we took Palmer Trail, which parallels the loop road.  The Giant Footprints was another cool rock formation we passed along the way.  From here, the trail ascended and we had great views of the Central Garden from above.  Looking across to Kissing Camels, they still looked like their namesake.  We finished up Palmer Trail back at the main parking lot and took Bretag Trail back towards the visitor center.  We made a short detour on Dakota Trail.  It's closed towards the end, but passes by some cliffs and rock outcrops that were white in color.  We were hoping to see some wildlife, but no such luck.  So we headed back to the visitor center and did a final packing, before heading back to the airport.

Pike's Peak

posted Jul 13, 2018, 1:38 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 13, 2018, 1:38 PM ]

We slept in a bit after an early morning yesterday and had breakfast at the hotel.  Then we headed to North Cheyenne Cañon Park for some waterfalls in Colorado Springs.  We parked at the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center and could see the waterfall from the parking area.  Even with last night's storms, the water level was pretty low, but it was still a nice waterfall.  From here, we hiked up the Silver Cascades Trail a little over 0.25 miles to the waterfall.  There are two falls marked on the topo map, but the water level was so low that neither was much more than a wet rock.  We next tried to park for St. Mary's Falls Trail, but the parking area was completely full.  So we decided to head to Pike's Peak for another 14er.  This one would be a lot easier as we could drive to the summit.  After paying admission, we first stopped at Crystal Reservoir for some nice views of the lake in the shadow of Pike's Peak.  Next, we made a quick photo stop at Brown Bush.  Driving as far as Devils Playground (mile 16), we had to park.  Due to construction at the summit that limited parking, they were only allowing a few cars to drive to the summit.  The rest had to take a shuttle.  It was a bit of a wait, but soon we made it to the top.  We got some of their famous donuts that flatten at lower elevations due to the pressure differential.  Then we hiked around a bit at the summit to get some pictures of the great views of Colorado Springs.  When we were done up here, we took the shuttle back down and spent a little time climbing, scrambling and playing around at the Devils Playground.  Heading back down the mountain, we made a couple more photo stops at some of the scenic overlooks.  It was still fairly early, so we made a stop at Red Rock Canyon Open Space.  Hiking the Contemplation Trail, we went right through the beautiful red rocks for which the park is named.  We also had a great view of Garden of the Gods from here.  That was our destination for tomorrow.  At the far end of the trail, we took Mesa Trail to make a loop back to the parking lot.  It was starting to get late and we were getting hungry so we stopped for dinner at Colorado Mountain Brewing for our last dinner in Colorado.  Then we retired back to our hotel for the evening.

Mount Elbert

posted Jul 12, 2018, 3:34 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 12, 2018, 3:34 PM ]

Thursday, we woke up before 5, packed up and checked out of the hotel.  We stopped at a 24-hour gas station to grab breakfast and then headed north to the trailhead for North Mount Elbert Trail.  Mount Elbert would be our first 14er; in fact our first mountain higher than Mount Mitchell.  The Rocky Mountains are notorious for afternoon storms in the summer, so we wanted to start early and arrived at the trailhead just after 6.  The first part of the trail was only moderately steep as it headed up through a forest.  In a little over a mile, the trail split and we went right on North Mount Elbert Trail.  The trail got a little steeper, but still not too bad and it was still forested.  In about 2.5 miles, we reached 12,000 feet and got above the tree line.  At this point, the trail got significantly steeper, but we had great views.  The summit of Elbert was not visible, but we had clear views of Mount Massive.  The best views were around 12,800 feet where we had a clear view of Mount Elbert and snow near the summit.  Snow in July!  It was also clear just how much further we had to go up.  As we got closer to the summit, it got really steep but there were still some hardy wildflowers blooming amidst the loose rocks.  Soon, we made it to the top, getting there just before 10.  Quite a few people were up here as well as dogs.  The view looking east was really hazy from the wildfire smoke, but it was clear views in all other directions.  We spent some time up here enjoying the panoramic views from Colorado's highest point and had a light lunch before heading back down.  The first part of the descent was tricky as it was so steep down loose rocks and gravel.  Eventually, the slope decreased and it was downhill, so the going was fast.  Soon, we were below the tree line and made it back to the car a little after noon.  Our next destination was Colorado Springs, so we drove back to Buena Vista and took US-24 east.  We passed the road that was closed due to the fire.  A little over half-way to Colorado Springs, we made a detour to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  In the visitor center, they had some nice displays of fossils that had been discovered in the park.  No dinosaurs or large animals, but lots of plants and insects.  The insect fossils were surprisingly recognizable - orb-weaver spiders, wasps, and other bug fossils in stone.  Outside the visitor center, were some of the petrified stumps.  These massive petrified tree stumps were from redwoods that grew in Colorado millions of years ago when the climate was warmer.  The Trio were three huge stumps right next to each other.  Next, we hiked the Petrified Forest Trail to the Big Stump.  This was a truly massive tree that had left a stump so large.  A few more petrified stumps were along the trail but none as large and impressive as the big one.  Finishing up the loop, we drove back towards the highway and made a quick stop to check out the Homestead.  The weather was getting worse and a storm was rolling in, so made for great pictures.  As we continued to Colorado Springs, a hail storm rolled in and the temperature plummeted.  At one point, we had to pull over as visibility dropped to zero.  After the storm passed, we stopped in Manitou Springs for dinner at the Loop and then continued to the Hilton Garden Inn to check in for the evening.  After a very long day, the hot tub was very relaxing.

Rafting the Numbers

posted Jul 10, 2018, 5:14 PM by Justin P   [ updated ]

Wednesday was Independence Day and to celebrate, we headed to the Numbers on Arkansas River.  I mistakenly thought our trip started at 8, but when we arrived at Performance Tours, I was reminded it wasn't until 9.  So to kill some time, we headed to McPhelemy Park back in town.  A little festival was starting and though most of the booths weren't yet set up, we walked around to check it out for a little while.  A trail on the other side of the park led along the artificial lake on Cottonwood Creek with a small waterfall at the dam.


After a bit, we headed back to Performance Tour and met up with our guide Curtis.  We got our stuff together and then boarded the van to head out to the Numbers put-in at Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.  Curtis went over safety and other information on the drive.  We carried the raft down to the put-in and set off.  The Numbers, as the name implies, are a series of seven numbered Class IV rapids on the upper section of Arkansas River.


The only section above, Pine Creek, is a lot of Class V and few outfitters go up there due to risk.  In quick succession, the Numbers weren't named, like just about every other runnable rapid, because they were too close together.  And sure enough, we got to 1 right off the bat.  The water level was a little low due to the ongoing drought at about 600 cfs.  This actually made the rapids appear bigger and more powerful.


In between the Numbers were the Fractions, smaller Class II and III rapids.  There was one relatively flat spot where Curtis offered to let us swim, but the water was so cold, no one took him up.  It took about an hour and a half to complete the rapids and when we got out, Rocket our van driver was waiting to pick us up.  We headed back to town and since it was early, Sandy and I headed off to find a waterfall.  Heading south of Buena Vista, we drove to the Browns Creek Trailhead (#1429) in San Isabel National Forest.  Browns Creek Trail (#1429) leads about 3 miles to Browns Creek Falls and and then continues another 3 to the lake, but we were only going as far as the falls.  Hiking in we talked to a couple heading back from the lake who said the hike past the falls wasn't worth it.  The trail was moderately steep at the beginning but leveled off.  A couple open spots in the trees provided nice views of the valley.


Near the end, the trail crossed through an open meadow with wonderful views of the mountains.


Soon, we made it to the beautiful waterfall.  I first went down to the base, but it was difficult to see the upper portion.


A little further up, I could see most of the waterfall, but still not a great view of the upper section, which was the most scenic.


At the base of the upper section, the lower drops were not visible, but it was beautiful nonetheless.


I climbed around on the rocks to get pictures and then we had a snack.  For most of the time, we had the falls to ourselves, then other people began to show up, so we made our way back.  Hiking back down, we went slowly to check out the wildflowers.  Colorado blue columbine near the waterfall were especially pretty.


Along Browns Creek, a number of prairie bluebells were blooming.


We spotted a single mariposa lily.


Yellow stonecrop was blooming in small patches.


Beardlip penstemon had pretty little red flowers with candy stripes on the lower lip.


Although much of the hike is forested, a few breaks in the trees provided lovely views.


Soon we made it back to the car.  Driving out of the forest, as the trees thinned, we could see smoke from the wildfires in the distance.


We headed back into Buena Vista and had dinner at House Rock Kitchen.  After dinner, we stopped at Deerhammer Distillery and tried some of their whiskey.  But we had a very early morning, so headed back to the hotel and started packing up.

Canyoneering Oak Creek

posted Jul 10, 2018, 2:18 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 13, 2018, 3:54 PM ]

Tuesday morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel then headed into town to Canyoning Colorado.  The other girl in our group - Libby - showed up just after us and then our guide Andrew.  After a quick introduction, we took off in the jeep driving up to Ouray's perimeter trail.  After parking, Andrew showed us how to make a backpack of the wetsuit and then we took off, hiking up Perimeter Trail.  In a short ways, we turned left to get on Oak Creek Trail and followed that for a ways, heading up via switchbacks.  Then we turned on Twin Peaks Trail and headed down to Oak Creek at a crossing.  There was a small falls just above the crossing.


Here, we put on our wet suits and went over some canyoneering techniques before heading down the river.  It was a little bit of creek walking and down climbing before our first rappel down a 20-foot or so waterfall.


Shortly after this was the big one - 135 feet high.


Andrew said none of the waterfalls were named since canyoneering is the only way to see them, so I'm calling it Oak Creek Falls.


It was a really spectacular waterfall.  It was so big, we could see it for quite a ways down canyon.


Below Oak Creek Falls was a smaller waterfall, I'm calling Lower Oak Creek Falls.


Continuing on, one of the next drops was an overhang and we rappelled down without kicking off of anything.


A little further, we stopped for a short snack break in the beautiful canyon.  Andrew had meat and cheese, snack bars, and a thermos full of soup for our break.  Another waterfall dropped into a narrow grotto of sculpted rock - I'm calling this one Grotto Falls.


There were a couple more rappels before we came to a footbridge over Oak Creek at the Perimeter Trail, where we left the canyon.  It was just a short hike back to the jeep to change out of our wetsuits and head back to town.  After saying goodbye to our new friends, we left Ouray and headed east towards Buena Vista.  Passing through Curecanti National Recreation Area, we stopped at the trailhead for Dillon Pinnacles, right off US-50, for a hike to break up the drive.  The trail started off along the shore of Blue Mesa Reservoir and the pinnacles were visible in the distance.


Soon the trail started to climb up Dillon Gulch approaching the east end of the pinnacles.


As we got higher in elevation, we had sweeping panoramic views of the reservoir below.


In about 1.5 miles, we came to an open spot with a bench and took a break here.  I think this spot had the best views of the pinnacles.


The sun was peeking through the clouds causing the water below to glisten.


It was starting to get late and we had another 2 hours of driving, so started headed back.  We spotted a little snake along the trail.


Closer to the trailhead, some type of thistle was blooming.  There were a lot of bees on the bright purple flowers.


We finished up the hike and continued driving east.  When we reached Buena Vista, we had dinner at Jan's Restaurant and then checked in to the Best Western.

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