Journal/Blog

Flat Tire

posted Feb 11, 2019, 4:37 PM by Justin P   [ updated Feb 13, 2019, 5:02 PM ]

Sandy had this past weekend off, so we took Alexander out for a weekend of camping and hiking.  Our plan was to head out to Dismal Swamp State Park and then camp at Merchants Millpond.  We left early Saturday morning and about 30 minutes from Dismal Swamp, we got a flat tire, conveniently in the middle of nowhere.  I was able to change it out for the donut and we continued to the park, which is right next to a rest area so hopefully a better location to deal with our tire issue.  I went into the visitor center to get Alex's passport stamped.


Since I was here, I asked the ranger where we might get another tire since we couldn't make it back to Raleigh on a donut.  He suggested a couple places that might be open on a Saturday.  Alex was getting very frustrated being stuck in the car for so long, so before we left, we took him for a short hike around the Swamp Boardwalk trail.


It makes a figure-8 through the Great Dismal Swamp.


Then we headed back across the bridge over the canal.


This canal runs from Virginia south and is part of the intercoastal waterway managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  From here, we headed to Tom Perry's in Sunbury.  He had a used tire that he put on the car that would get us home and was a real life saver.  By this time, we were hungry so went to China King for take-out and had a picnic lunch at Merchants Millpond State Park.  After lunch, we checked in and set up our tent at the family campground.  It was still early and Alex needed to get some hiking in, so we took the campground spur to Lassiter Trail.  The trail crosses a tributary on a boardwalk at one of the most scenic parts of the millpond.


Further on, there were some more scenic views of the swamp.


We would be hiking this trail tomorrow so, used the fire roads to mix it up a bit.


As we finished up the loop, the sun was getting lower in the sky.


The pond was really pretty in the evening light.


Lots of cypress knees all along the shore.


When we finished up, we started a fire back at camp.  It was nearing sunset so I headed back to the Millpond for some last pictures.


It got really cold after the sun went down so we made a big fire to keep warm.  Even Alex wrapped up in a blanket to sleep - not too often that he gets cold.

Birding on Clayton River Walk

posted Feb 2, 2019, 4:22 PM by Justin P   [ updated Feb 3, 2019, 3:56 PM ]

Saturday, we took Alex for a hike on the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse River.  This greenway is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and East Coast Greenway.  Parking at the Sam's Branch Greenway trailhead off O'Neil Street, we followed the trail along its namesake to the confluence with Neuse River.  There is a lot of development along the trail and we spotted a red-shouldered hawk in an open area.


The Butterfly Garden is near the end, with benches and bike racks shaped like butterflies, but it was too cold for actual butterflies.  At Neuse River, the trail led upstream to a big bridge over to the river left side.


Past here was the Covered Bridge Road trailhead.  With the leaves down, we saw a number of birds along the trail.


A male cardinal was pecking in the grass.


There were a number of robins out as the weather was starting to feel like spring.


A couple of cedar waxwings were among our most exciting find.


We hiked as far as the Wake County line, where the it becomes Neuse River Trail and turned around here.

Winter Hike at Hanging Rock

posted Jan 28, 2019, 5:17 PM by Justin P   [ updated Feb 2, 2019, 4:31 PM ]

Sunday, we headed to Hanging Rock State Park for a late January hike.  Arriving around 930, we first got Alex's passport stamped at the visitor center.


After that, we hiked down the short trail to Upper Cascades Falls.


Usually, this one is very crowded but early in the morning, we were the only ones here.


Although melting quickly, there were some icicles right beside the waterfall.


After some pictures we started heading back.  At the stone bench where the trail turns sharply, we got off the trail and bushwhacked down towards the creek.  There's no trail and it's very steep, but it was obvious to follow the path.  About half way down, we came to a small cave with icicles hanging.


Continuing down, we came out at the creek at the base of Tise Falls.  It's a very pretty waterfall and much bigger than Upper Cascades, but lots of downfall on it.


And it's much more difficult to reach.  There were some interesting icicles forming off a branch right in the middle of the waterfall; I bet this is really exceptional when frozen.


We enjoyed the waterfall for a few minutes and then climbed back up.  Back at the top, we followed the campground road and got on Moore's Wall Loop Trail and headed up to its namesake.  It's a pretty steep climb, but at least it was cool out.  We stopped for lunch at the top and enjoyed the views from the highest point in the Sauratown Mountains.


Then we continued along the trail.  It follows a ridge line for a while then starts heading down.  Where Moore's Wall Loop and Tory's Den Trail split, we turned right to head towards Tory's Den, which stays on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  The trail is mostly flat at first, passing by Huckleberry Ridge, then descends down.  It was steep at first, but got more gradual towards the end with a couple switchbacks.  Moore's Wall was visible through breaks in the trees.


After crossing the road, we headed first to Tory's Falls.  It's the highest waterfall in the park, but on a small stream and its impossible to see the entire thing.


The water was up today, so it was looking pretty nice.  Then we made a quick stop at Tory's Den, a small cave.


After a couple pictures, we started hiking back.  It was steep on the hike up to Huckleberry Ridge, but all downhill after that.  It was particularly muddy on the last portion of the trail passing by the lake.  Alex got really dirty and his toes were orange with the clay mud by the time we got back to the car.  He enjoyed resting on the way home, but didn't enjoy taking a bath when we got there.

Jordan Lake Hikes

posted Jan 26, 2019, 3:45 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jan 29, 2019, 3:38 PM ]

Saturday, Sandy didn't have to go to work until the evening, so we took Alex for a day hike to Jordan Lake.  First, we headed to the New Hope Overlook at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area to get a stamp for Alex's passport.


We started off on the New Hope Overlook Trail, blazed both blue and red.  The lake was little foggy early in the morning as the temperature was still below freezing.


Right off the bat, it was pretty swampy as the lake level has been way up from all the rain we've been having.  Soon, the trail went up enough to get out of the swampy mess.  Going right at the split, we headed towards the overlook.  There were some nice views of the lake along the way.


We made a short detour out to the New Hope Overlook for views across Jordan Lake.


Continuing on, eventually the blue and red trails split and we followed red for the longer loop.  Throughout the trail, there was evidence of damage the area had taken from storms and flooding.  There was a lot of garbage along the trail that had been left by high waters.  I had a grocery bag in my backpack so picked some up, but it barely made a dent.  There were also several trees down over the trail, including one that was really massive.  As the trail departed from the lake shore, it headed steeply up and followed a ridge back to join up with the blue trail and then back to the start.  From here, we headed north on NC-751 along the eastern end of the lake.  At Stage Coach Road, we parked for the trailhead for Eagle Spur, part of the American Tobacco Trail through Jordan Game Land.  This trail follows the original route of the American Tobacco Railroad.  When Jordan Lake was created, the railroad was rerouted to the east, the current path of the American Tobacco Trail.  Right at the start, the trail crosses a tributary of New Hope Creek.  The water was pretty deep, but there were rocks to hop across.  Unfortunately, the rocks were very wobbly, but we made it across.  The trail follows the old railroad route and like our other hike, there was lots of garbage and evidence of flooding.


After about 2 miles or so, the trail ends at Jordan Lake, with the rest of the route underwater.


A piece of land sticking out on the other side marked where the railroad line used to go.  We took a little break here and then made our way back.  Along the way, we spotted a turtle just off the trail.


Kerr Lake Hikes

posted Jan 19, 2019, 5:49 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jan 20, 2019, 4:26 PM ]

Saturday, we took Alex for some hikes up to Kerr Lake on the Virginia state line.  Our first stop was the visitor center for Kerr Lake State Recreation Area at Satterwhite Point Recreation Area, still in North Carolina.  After getting Alex's passport stamped, we set off for a short hike.


Kerr Lake State Recreation Area is comprised of seven access areas around the North Carolina side of the lake.  Most of the amenities are for camping and lake activities, with just a couple of short trails.  We hiked the Forestry Trail, the park's Track Trail.  The trail starts off paved and spur led out to a bench with a view of the lake.


Being winter, the views were enhanced by the lack of foliage.  Continuing on, the trail turned to natural surface after the amphitheater and followed the lake shore.  There were a couple other spots to go out for a view of the lake.


There was also an old cemetery off the trail with the grave marker for Richard Henderson, the father of North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Leonard Henderson, for whom the nearby city of Henderson is names.


The trail ended after about 3/4 of a mile and we turned around here.  Back at the car, we continued north into Virginia to Greenwood Wildlife Management Area at the western trailhead for Robert Munford Trail.  This trail led along the lake's shore on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir.  The trail is named for Robert Munford III, a prominent citizen of Mecklenburg County in the late 18th century.  The main trail was blazed purple and followed an old road.  In under a mile, we turned right where the blazes were blue to lead out to the cemetery where Robert Munford is buried.


To make a loop, we followed a white-blazed trail back to the main trail.  There were some nice views of the lake along here.


We also found what seemed to be the remains of and old home site.


Back on the main trail, we turned right to continue following the purple blazes.  The trail leads to a trailhead near Eagle Point Recreation Area after about 7 miles, but we didn't go the whole way.  We turned around at a tributary near the Taylor's Ferry Road and made the hike back.  Some holly trees still had berries on them.


To make the hike a little shorter, we stayed on the purple-blazed road and bypassed the trails leading back out to the cemetery.

Crowders Mountain Day Hike

posted Dec 30, 2018, 2:43 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jan 4, 2019, 5:14 PM ]

Wednesday, Sandy and I both had off, so we took Alex for a day hike at Crowders Mountain State Park.  We got to the park around 10 and first got Alex's passport stamped.


Then we set out on Crowders Trail to the park's namesake.  Across the road, we turned right to get on Rock Top Trail and started climbing steeply up the ridge.


There are some great rock scrambling sections along this trail.  We took a break once up on the ridge to enjoy the views.


At one spot, there was a nice view of the cliffs along Crowders Mountain with the Charlotte skyline visible in the distance.


Then we continued on to the summit of Crowders Mountain.  It was crowded here with hikers and rock climbers so we didn't stay long.  Taking Backside Trail back down, we turned left on Crowders Trail and took that back towards the visitor center.  Going straight, we got on Pinnacle Trail and headed up to the highest point in the park.


The last rock scramble to get up to the top is a little tricky and Alex was having trouble.  So I found an easier way to get up and we had a nice break up here.


There were some nice views up here, but it was pretty crowded too.


On the way, to make a loop, we took Turnback Trail to go back to the visitor center.  This trail was a lot less crowded than the others.  Before heading home, we stopped in Gastonia and had a great dinner at Hickory Tavern.  The staff were very sweet to Alex.  After dinner, we made the drive home.

Cedarock and Eno Riverwalk

posted Dec 30, 2018, 2:34 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jan 2, 2019, 4:51 PM ]

Monday was a holiday so I headed to Cedarock Park south of Burlington for a hike.  I parked near the Park Office and restrooms and picked up Rock Creek Trail near the picnic area.  The trail descended down to the creek and then made a loop - I went left, crossing rock creek twice and reaching another split.  Rocky Branch, a small tributary tumbled down into the creek at a bridge.


Across the bridge was a second loop on Rock Creek Trail and I went left again.  A little further, I passed the old mill dam.


Although not natural, the waterfall over the dam was quite scenic and higher than I expected.


Continuing on the paved Curtis Mill Trail, I stopped for some pictures on the other side of the creek.


Then I got back on the first loop and continued on.  Near the end, I took the Connector Trail to hit the other side of the park.  The connector trail is a loop and I first went on the lower portion.  It was really muddy and swampy being in the Rock Creek floodplain.  I was glad there was an alternative for the way back.  At the other end, I picked up Spoon Branch Trail and went left, following its namesake up.


Then I looped back around the other side of the stream and took the bridge over Rock Creek.  The trail led up to the parking at Garrett Historical Farm.  Along the way, it passed a nice little waterfall on Fox Branch.


Finishing up the loop on Spoon Branch Trail, I took the upper Connector Trail to avoid the swampy mess and then Rock Creek Trail back to my car.  Sandy was still working and I wanted to get another hike in, so I stopped in Hillsborough along the way at Gold Park.  The town's Riverwalk along the Eno is now part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  From Gold Park, I followed the trail eastbound through Hillsborough along Eno River.  Right past the park, the trail passed under an old railroad bridge.


The paved greenway trail follows right along the river with nice views.


And it passes right through downtown Hillsborough, so a great way to get around town.  A Sight to Behold, a Stickwork sculpture was right off the trail.


Where the Riverwalk ended, a gravel road led through the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust sites, including the Historic Occoneechee Speedway.  Past the speedway, the trail led through James M. Johnston Nature Preserve.  The trail was a bit more rugged here - narrow, steep and rocky.


It wasn't a long section, but very scenic and I enjoyed it.  The trail ended at US-70 and it's road walking from here to Eno River State Park, so I turned around.

Haw River State Park

posted Dec 23, 2018, 3:59 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 30, 2018, 1:19 PM ]

Sunday morning, it was quite cold when we woke up.  Alex had kept us warm in the tent, but it was rough getting out.  After breakfast, we broke camp.  Alex seemed quite disappointed that we were taking down the tent - he really loves camping.  Sandy had to work in the evening, but we wanted to get a hike in on the way home.  Our original plan was Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, but it was closed with the federal government shutdown.  So instead, we went to Haw River State Park north of Greensboro.  First, we went to the visitor center at the Summit Center area of the park.


After getting Alex's passport stamped, we hiked the Piedmont Loop Trail.  Heading down, we stopped to see Robins Nest Lake.


Continuing on, there was a split with Wetlands Boardwalk.


The boardwalk to the north headed out to a scenic view of Haw River.


The main trail then looped back around to the lake and back to the visitor center.  Next, we headed to the Iron Ore Belt Access Area to hike the Great Blue Heron Loop.


Although the trail didn't get too close to Haw River, the flood plain was completely underwater.


North Carolina's gotten so much rain this year.  After finishing up the loop, we started making our way home.

Lake Norman Camping

posted Dec 23, 2018, 3:53 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 28, 2018, 5:11 PM ]

Saturday, we took Alex to go camping at Lake Norman State Park.  We got there around 10 and parked at the Visitor Center to get Alex's passport stamped.


Then we started hiking the short Alder Trail.  This trail follows the little peninsula behind the Visitor Center between Norwood Creek and Hicks Creek, staying very close to the lake shore.  With all the recent rain and melting snow, the water level was way up.  A short spur went out to the dam and spillway that formed the Park Lake.


It was a scenic little spot with the visitor center visible across the small lake.  After a short break, we got back on the main trail and continued around the loop.


There were several other spots along the trail to go out for a view of the lake.  With the water so high, it was very brown and full of sediment.


Where the trail looped back to the beginning, we took the paved Dragonfly Trail to an overlook.


Then it was back to the parking lot.  Continuing further into the park, we next stopped at the trailhead for Lake Shore Trail.  This is the longest hiking trail in the park at about 5 miles in a loop.  We started hiking north along the trail.  The lake was very scenic.


After crossing the park road there was a split where left was a spur to the Group Camp.  We took the short spur to add a little distance.


This spur crossed a scenic little tributary - it wasn't marked on the topo map but there was a little water flowing today.  Continuing on, the trail passed the Boat Launch and then looped around the southern part of the park.


Across the lake were some really huge lake homes.  I really enjoyed this trail - it was hilly enough to be a nice workout but not too strenuous.  And the trail never departed from the shoreline, there were a lot of great views.  I spotted some orange jelly fungus growing on a pine tree.


Past here, a short spur led up to the campsite where we would be spending the night.  Soon the trail came back to the trailhead where we had parked.  It was a little too early to check in to camp, so we headed into Troutman and had dinner at Kyjo's.  We split hibachi and a sushi roll.  Then it was back to camp to set up at site #1.  Being winter, the park was not crowded, so no one else camping near us.  But the sites were really spacious - it was a very nice campground.  We got the tent all set up with just over a half-hour to sunset.


So we took the little spur trail down to the lake to a great spot looking west.  It was a really beautiful sunset!


The sky lit up in pink, orange and purple as the sun went behind the horizon.


As it started to get dark, we made our way back to the campsite and built a nice bonfire.  It got real cold over night so the fire was great to keep us warm.  Then we retired for the evening.  As a husky, Alex makes an excellent space heater for the tent!

Goose Creek Hikes

posted Dec 1, 2018, 4:43 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 3, 2018, 3:12 PM ]

Saturday, we took Alex for a day hike to Goose Creek State Park.  First, we stopped at the visitor center to get Alex's passport stamped.

The park had taken some damage hiking Hurricane Florence and the far end of Palmetto Boardwalk was closed.  So we did this one as an out and back.  The boardwalk leads through a beautiful swamp and then a more open marsh area.

At the caution tape was our turnaround point.  Since the boardwalk doesn't connect to the other trails we parked at Ivey Gut Trailhead and started hiking Tar Kiln Trail.  As the name suggests, the trail passes the remains of several old tar kilns. Some were hard to discern with all the newly fallen trees.  At the end we turned left on Mallard Creek Trail and went out to the overlook.

From here, we got on Live Oak Trail to head towards the beach on Pamlico River.  I think this is the nicest part of the park and that's saying a lot.

Live oaks with branches draped in Spanish moss hang over the Pamlico River.

We found a nice spot to sit and have a break enjoying the views.

Past the Swim Beach, we took Goose Creek Trail that parallels Pamlico towards its namesake.  Boardwalks traverse a gum and cypress swamp.

Although most of the leaves were down, there were still a few patches of color.

At the far end, there is a tree with the ground around it completely eroded away, but it's still standing strong - even with another tree haven fallen on it.  Past the campsites is a canoe launch for Goose Creek.

We backtracked a short ways and then got on Ivey Gut Trail.  We did the loop with a couple spots to go out for views of Goose Creek.

There was a lion's mane mushroom growing on the tree here.

Some of the boardwalks here had been damaged by the hurricane, but were passable.  This trail finished back up at our parking lot.  One the way home, we stopped at Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, so Alex could get a hike for TLC challenge.

It was raining now, but only lightly.  We hiked out to the end of the property and back.  The south-facing bluffs along Moccasin Creek support an unusual population of Catawba rhododendron.

They weren't blooming now, but are still noticeable.  The only leaves that were still orange were the beech trees.

We finished the hike back at the car and drove the rest of the way home.

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