Wake County Wildflowers

posted Apr 15, 2018, 11:27 AM by Justin P   [ updated Apr 15, 2018, 3:20 PM ]

Sunday morning, I headed out to check out the wildflowers locally.  Being mid-April, they should really be popping.  My first stop was the Reedy Creek entrance to William B. Umstead State Park to hike Company Mill Trail.  There were a lot of spring beauties flowering along the trail, especially where it followed the creek closely.

Along Crabtree Creek, there were a couple spots where Pinxter azaleas were blooming over the creek.

I also spotted a great blue heron fishing in Crabtree Creek.

It had been raining when I drove in this morning, but the sun had come out and it had become a beautiful day.  After finishing up the trail, I headed into Cary to Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.  First I hiked down to the East Hemlock Overlook to see the massive old trees for which the area is named.

Normally found in the mountains, Eastern hemlock live here due to the microclimate of the steep north-facing bluffs.  Continuing down the stairs, I hiked the Swift Creek loop.  Down in the floodplain of the creek, a lot of spring beauties were blooming.

I spotted this wildflower, maybe a sorrel, right at the end of the boardwalk.

Further on the loop, I also spotted some wild geranium.

Then I hiked the other loops before finishing up.  But I had one more place I wanted to stop before finishing, so made the short drive over to Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve.  This preserve is small at only 23 acres, but big on wildflowers.  There were a ton of wild geranium blooming right near the trailhead.

I got on the Swift Creek Loop and saw a couple atamasco lilies, one of my favorite wildflowers.

Hiking up along the creek, I saw lots of spring beauty blooming right along the creek.

A lot of star chickweed as well, but none of the geranium by the creek.

I also saw an Eastern Comma butterfly next to the creek.

After hiking along Swift Creek, I took the Stairway to Heaven up past the huge beech trees.

It's finally gotten warmer out and I was feeling it climbing up the stairs.  The steep bluffs feel really out of place for being right in Cary, but once at the top, houses are visible - a reminder of the preserve's suburban location.  After finishing up, I hiked back to the car, stopping one more time to see the beautiful geranium.

Swift Creek Bluffs is definitely a great local place to see spring wildflowers.

Spring Beach Day

posted Apr 1, 2018, 12:39 PM by Justin P   [ updated Apr 5, 2018, 3:49 PM ]

Sandy had Saturday off, so we decided to take Alex to the beach.  We left around 630 in the morning and made it to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area a little after 9.  First, we got Alex's passport stamped at the visitor center.

Then we set off on the Basin Trail, starting off through a maritime forest.

The dense trees, stunted by the harsh environment made a tunnel to hike through.  The trail then popped out at an open beach area adjacent to where 4WD vehicles can access the beach.  It was really windy in this open area and kind of a relief when the trail headed back into the woods.  The trees and shrubs really made a difference.

We passed through a beautiful salt marsh, traversing much of it on a long boardwalk.  After the second boardwalk, we made it to the WWII bunker.

From 1956 to 1972, Robert Harrill, the Fort Fisher hermit, lived in this bunker, surviving off oysters and other food he could scavenge and his death is still a mystery.  Right past here, Sandy spotted some yaupon holly with its bright red berries.

Continuing on, we had more nice views of the salt marsh.

Several birds were flying over head, having some difficulty in the strong winds.

It was another quarter-mile or so to the end of the trail and an overlook into Zeke's Island Reserve.

We enjoyed the view from here and then started making our way back.

Heading out onto the beach, it was really windy, but aside from that, it was a really beautiful day.

It was close to high tide, so we walked close to the water.  Alex had fun chasing the waves - he tried not to get his paws wet, but got as close as possible.

He also tried to catch some sea foam whipping about in the wind.  We went about 2 miles down and then turned back as it was so windy.  Back at the car, we made the short drive to Carolina Beach State Park.  Again, we stopped at the visitor center to get Alex's passport stamped and then parked at the Flytrap Trail parking.

It was really crowded here as the weather was beautiful.  We started out on the Flytrap Trail and I took Sandy to see the Venus Flytraps as she had never seen them here before.

Also made a quick stop to see the pitcher plants.

Then we took Swamp Trail to Sugarloaf Trail to start a big loop around the park.  The trail was really sandy and it was a beautiful white sand.

Soon, we passed three aptly-named limesink ponds.  The first was Grass Pond and this one was more grass than pond.

Shortly after, we came to Lily Pond.  This pond had more water though most was covered in water lilies, through it was too early for blooms.

Next, we came to Cypress Pond, which was more of a swamp with many cypress trees.

All three were close to one another yet very distinct.  After passing the ponds, we continued a ways and turned onto Sand Live Oak Trail, the newest trail in the park.  This looping trail had some surprisingly steep sections heading up and over the dunes.  There were several spots with nice views of the river and I spotted some young longleaf pines with candles growing out of the top.

They'll soon hit a growth spurt and really gain some height.  Near the end of Sand Like Oak Trail, we went out to a nice spot on the river.

Looking upstream an old barge had washed up against the beach, perhaps in one of the recent storms.

Then we climbed up to the top of Sugarloaf Dune.

Heading back, we continued on Sugarloaf Trail and made a detour on Oak Toe Trail.

This short trail leads out to Marsh Overlook on Cape Fear River.

Continuing on, where Sugarloaf Trail intersects with Swamp Trail, we turned left and followed the combined trails past a beautiful tidal swamp.

Right past here was another scenic spot on Cape Fear River and we took one last little break here to enjoy the view.

We continued towards the marina and saw some yellow jessamine flowering.

From here, it was just a short walk from the marina back to our parking area.  On the way home, we stopped for dinner at Rucker Johns in Wilmington and had dinner outside with Alex.

Bike Trails at Medoc Mountain

posted Mar 17, 2018, 5:04 PM by Justin P   [ updated Mar 18, 2018, 2:55 PM ]

For St. Patrick's Day, Sandy and I took Alex for a hike to Medoc Mountain State Park.  We left around 730 arriving a little before 9.  The visitor center wasn't open yet, so we did a short loop around the Air Awareness Trail.  By the time we finished, it had opened and I got Alex's passport stamped.

From here, we crossed the street and picked up Bear Swamp Trail.  It starts out in an open area next to the road then descends gradually to a crossing of Bear Swamp Creek on a big bridge.

Past here, the trail led to a split at the Saponi Mountain Bike Trail.  This trail is one way for bikers and the opposite direction for hikers, so we went right.  The trail then joined with Dam Site Loop and we came to the old dam site shortly after.

The bike trail continued on for another couple miles, coming to a bridge, where Pyrite Trail picked up on the other side.  These biking trails are new since the last time I visited, so we crossed and followed this long and windy loop for about 5 miles.  We stopped and sat at an old dead tree for a snack and gave Alex a treat.  Then we finished up the loop, crossing the bridge to finish up Saponi Loop.  Before we headed back, we took Dam Site Loop Trail where it split away from Saponi Trail and then came to Summit Loop Trail at Little Fishing Creek.

Turning left, we made the steep climb up the mountain to the summit at 325 feet above sea level.  There's a big tree and a couple benches here for us to take a short break and enjoy the view.

Then we headed back down.  On the way back, I noticed a number of trout lilies blooming along the forest floor.

I don't know how I missed them on the way out - there were a lot.

Maybe the very chilly weather was distracting.  After some pictures, we made our way back to the car and drove home.

The Big Easy

posted Mar 16, 2018, 4:04 PM by Justin P

Friday, I couldn't wait to get out of the hotel.  I left early and headed west on I-10 towards New Orleans.  I wanted to visit the French Quarter, but didn't want to deal with the traffic and parking.  So I parked at Crescent Park, with ample safe and free parking and walked into the city.  Crescent Park is a linear park, essentially a greenway trail along the river leading to the French Market.  There were a few joggers and dog walkers, but otherwise not crowded at all.  In a shirt ways, I passed by the rusty rainbow, a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.  The views of the New Orleans skyline were great from across the river.  At the other end of the park, I crossed a pedestrian bridge over the railroad and street to the French Market and it was just a short ways further to the French Quarter.  Unlike Crescent Park, this area was extremely crowded.  I headed over to the beautiful Jackson Square with great views of St. Louis Cathedral.  Then I walked around some of the famous New Orleans streets.  On Bourbon Street, most bars were not open yet, but Fat Tuesday was.  Like Wet Willie's in Savannah, this bar mainly sold high-alcohol frozen drinks.  And like Savannah, drinking in public is allowed.  So I got Victoria's Secret to go and enjoyed the beautiful weather with a cold drink.  After I finished my drink, I went to Voodoo Authentica to pick Sandy up a souvenir and got her a voodoo doll.  Then I headed back to the car.  I drove south to Barataria Preserve, part of Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.  Parking at the visitor center, I got on the boardwalk Palmetto Trail leading through the Louisiana swamp.  There was a lot of wildlife along this trail.  Near the start, I saw an otter, but he disappeared in the swampy waters before I could get a picture.  And towards the end, I watched two raccoons dart across the trail.  Palmetto Trail ends after about a mile at another parking lot and I got on Bayou Coquille Trail from here.  This trail had a lot of alligators in the canals and bayous.  Fortunately, it's a boardwalk so they can't get the pedestrians.  Where the trail ended at Lower Kenta Canal, Marsh Overlook Trail leads to an overlook at Upper Kenta Canal, where Bayou Coquille flows into it.  The overlook provided nice views of the canals and swampy wetlands all around.  Then I headed back.  Near the visitor center, I spotted another alligator, this one missing his right front paw.  I started heading back to my last hotel, but made one more stop at Twin Canals.  A half-mile trail runs between the two canals out to Upper Kenta Canal.  Heading back into New Orleans, the traffic was really bad.  I checked into the Comfort Inn by the airport and got packed up for a very early flight home.

Tuxachanie Trail

posted Mar 15, 2018, 3:37 PM by Justin P   [ updated Mar 15, 2018, 3:38 PM ]

Thursday, I continued heading west.  After breakfast and checking out, I took I-10 west back into Mississippi.  Near Biloxi, I got off on MS-67 to US-49 and parked at the trailhead for Tuxachanie Trail.  This trail leads around 22 miles through Desoto National Forest, though I wouldn't be hiking the entire thing.  Hiking east, the trail follows old roads and was easy to follow with white diamond blazes.  In about a mile, the traffic noise diminished and all I could hear was wind rustling through the leaves.  In about three miles, the trail crossed the county line from Harrison to Stone county.  The Forest Service map showed a pitcher plant bog near here but I was unable to find it.  Bushwhacking through the dense vegetation was too difficult.  Continuing on, it was about 6 miles to Airie Lake and a small campground here.  The lake was pretty small, more of a pond.  I went about another 3 miles to a small pond filled with lily pads and stopped for a break to eat lunch before the long hike back.  I found a couple of pitcher plants along the way.  Back at the car, I headed to Bay St. Louis and stayed at the Silver Slipper.  For a casino, the staff were really rude and unhelpful.  So instead of gambling, I walked along the pretty beach here.  Great blue herons were wading in the surf and I saw some pelicans as well.  At sunset, I headed to the upper level of the parking garage for a nice view.  Then I snuck back to my room to avoid the casino staff and retired for the evening.

Gulf Coast Hikes

posted Mar 14, 2018, 5:04 PM by Justin P   [ updated ]

Wednesday morning, I had breakfast at the hotel and after checking out, made the short drive over to Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park.  After getting my stuff together, I first set off on the Tarkiln Bayou Trail.  This half-mile trail is initially paved and then leads to a long boardwalk.  There were some beautiful white-topped pitcher plants right along the trail.

These pitcher plants have variable color, with some being a deep crimson.

A few had started producing flowers.

The boardwalk ends at an overlook at Tarkiln Bay.

A large bird flew overhead, maybe an osprey or kistrel, but he was too fast to get a picture.

It was kind of windy so after a couple shots of the bay, I headed back.  Near the start, I turned and took the longer Perdido Bay Trail.  This trail follows old roads, but many spots were swampy and I had to find a dry way around.  There was a lot of saw palmetto growing in this area.

Eventually, the trail split and I went right to where the trail runs parallel to the shore of Perdido Bay.

A couple short spur trails led out to the small beach with beautiful white sand.

Perdido Bay separates Florida and Alabama and I could Alabama across the bay.

Continuing on the trail leads to DuPont Point where a sandbar made a narrow tip at the point.

Sea oats were starting to form some small dunes here.

This was a particularly nice spot without the excessive development of Pensacola and Gulf Shores.  The trail then departed from the shore and headed further inland through a pine savanna.  As the trail looped back around, I took a spur trail to Tarkiln Bay.

I got a couple pictures of the scenic bay and then headed back to the main trail.  I spotted a baby palmetto on the way back.

After finishing the loop, I left the park and crossed into Alabama, heading to Gulf Shores.  I parked at the trailhead for Catman Road in Gulf State Park.  Part of the Hugh S. Branyon backcountry trail, this network of paved and boardwalk trails lead throughout the park and provide access to the beach.  Following this trail for about 2 miles, I took Rosemary Dunes Trail towards the gator swamp.  Unfortunately, there were no gators here today, but a local couple said this was the best place to see them.  At the end, I got on the Beach Mouse Bypass boardwalk heading further west.

Along here, I spotted a couple of nine-banded armadillos rooting around.

They're kind of cute but glad they don't live near me.

They eat grubs and insects but their burrowing really tears up the ground and makes a mess.  Plus, they can transmit leprosy.

Soon I came to the scenic Middle Lake and the boardwalk trail provided great views.

In the near future, an elevated boardwalk will lead over the road and provide beach access, but it's incomplete and not yet open.

So I continued on the boardwalk for some more views of the lake.

At the campground, I turned left and spotted a mourning dove along the road.

I followed the campground road out and turned left to reach the beach access.  It ended up being a pretty long hike, but the white sand beach was really beautiful and there wasn't another person in sight.

I took off my shoes and got about ankle deep in the water.  It wasn't particularly cold, but I wasn't going in any further.

After drying off my feet, I started heading back.  I spotted two more armadillos on the way back; not sure if they were the same or different than those I had seen earlier.

It was over 5 miles back to the car, but such nice weather made for a pleasant walk.  Near the wooden lookout structure, I spotted an eagle nest high in a tree near Little Lake.

It was too far away for a good picture, but there was an eagle in the nest.  After some pictures, I finished the hike back to the car.  I headed through Mobile to the Comfort Inn at Tillman Corner.  It was surprisingly nice and Tameka, the lady at the front desk was really sweet and helpful.  I had tacos for dinner at San Jose Taqueria and then went to bed.

Geological Wonders of Florida

posted Mar 13, 2018, 3:18 PM by Justin P   [ updated Apr 11, 2018, 4:38 PM ]

Tuesday, I woke up and had breakfast at the hotel before checking out.  My first hike of the day was just a short drive to Falling Waters State Park, home to Florida's highest waterfall.  After paying admission, I drove to the main parking lot and set out.  It was just a short walk on a concrete pathway down to Falling Waters Sink.  A small creek tumbles down 72 feet deep into a sinkhole - Florida's highest waterfall.

The overlook is partly down in the sinkhole and provides great views looking down into the sinkhole as the water disappears into an unknown cavern.

This is a really unique waterfall - Florida may not have many, but this one sure is cool.  After some pictures, I figured I'd hike around the small park.  I got on Wiregrass Trail and shortly came to the capped oil well.

One of the first oil wells in Florida was drilled here.  They drilled down more than 4000 feet, but never found a commercially-feasible quantity and capped the well in 1921.  Past here, the trail came out at Falling Waters Lake.

From the lake I took Terrace Trail up towards the campground.  There were quite a few azaleas in bloom.

I think these are mountain azalea.

I also spotted some longleaf pine in the grassy stage.  One had a candle sticking up from the top, indicating it would start growing vertically soon.

After finishing up the short trails, I headed back to the car.  I got back on I-10 east towards Tallahassee and into Apalachicola National Forest.  Parking at Leon Sinks Geological Area, I got ready to hike the loop and see the many sinkholes in this fascinating area.  Starting on the Sinkhole Trail, I went right at the T-intersection and passed the first couple sinkholes, which were dry and barely noticeable.  The first one I could really tell was a sinkhole was Turner Sink.

It had some beautiful flowering dogwood blooming around it.

Next, I came to Palmetto Sink - obvious how this one got its name with the saw palmetto all around.

Past here was Back Sink and then I came to the gorgeous Hammocks Sink, my favorite of the holes.  This sinkhole was wet and filled with the most beautiful blue-green water.

Professional cave divers had explored the underwater caves below this sinkhole, discovering more than 28 miles of caves that connect to Wakulla sinks, 10 land miles away.  Shortly past here was Tiny Sink, which as the name suggests, was very small.

The next one was not small at all - Big Dismal Sink.  Big Dismal is the biggest in the area and the viewing deck was way above the sinkhole.

The view was partly obscured by foliage but it was pretty amazing to see it.  Continuing on the Sinkhole Trail, the next one was Big Eight Sink though there wasn't much to see.

Magnolia Sink was just past this, but it was so full of downed trees, the sinkhole wasn't even visible.

A little further on was Black Sink, presumably named for the dark, tannic water in the sinkhole.

Next I came to Fisher Creek, the lost stream, which disappears into another sinkhole after flowing for less than a mile.

Duckweed Sink was on the other side of the ridge.

From here, it was just a short ways to finish up Sinkhole Trail near where Fisher Creek rises.

The trail had passed over a natural bridge that crossed over Fisher Creek, where it drops into a sinkhole and flows under the trail.

Fisher Creek rises on the other side then flows down to where I had been earlier.  At this point, I got on the Gum Swamp Trail and hiked through a very different landscape.  There were lots of palmetto growing along the trail and I spotted some mountain azalea blooming.

As the name suggests, there were several swamps along the trail.  The first was Bear Scratch Swamp with really beautiful tupelo gum trees.

The next was South Swamp along the southern boundary of the area.

And the last was Shadows Swamp.

Past here, Gum Swamp Trail ended at the junction with Sinkhole and Crossover Trail.  Turning left, I got on Crossover Trail to a long boardwalk.

It led across Center Swamp with nice views of the giant trees.

Finishing up this trail, I got back on Sinkhole Trail and made a quick detour on Hutchison's Spur to Gopher Hole.  This was really more of a cave than a sinkhole.

It was just a short ways back to the parking.  Back at the car, I started heading west, making a stop near Bristol at Apalachicola Bluffs & Ravines Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property.  The Garden of Eden Trail starts out following an old road through a pine savanna.

The first half mile or so was very flat, but then it entered a more forested area and dropped steeply into a ravine.  Hard to believe such a drastic change in topography.  The trail followed a ridge and then dipped back down into another ravine at Kelley Branch.  The Nature Conservancy removed a dam and is restoring this tributary of Apalachicola River.  There were some beautiful Florida anise blooming down here.

Across the ravine, the trail headed steeply up and then through another flat savanna.  I some some longleaf pine saplings in the grassy stage along here.

At the edge of the savanna was a split and I went right.  There was some Spanish moss draping from branches over the trail.

Then it came out on the high bluff above Apalachicola River.  The view from up here was great and I could see Alum Bluffs in the distance.  The trail followed the bluffs for a ways with a couple more nice viewpoints high above the river.

At the edge of the bluff, the trail dipped back down into a ravine and climbed back up to finish the loop.  A surprisingly strenuous hike for Florida with a lot of elevation change.  It was a really cool and beautiful area, though the mosquitoes were really bad.  From here, I drove about 2 hours west to Pensacola and spent the night at the Holiday Inn.

Clark Creek Waterfalls

posted Mar 12, 2018, 3:41 PM by Justin P   [ updated Mar 28, 2018, 3:58 PM ]

Monday, I was going to get some waterfalls in Mississippi.  After checking out of the hotel, I drove south from Natchez on US-61 to Woodville and headed west on Pinkneyville Road to Clark Creek Natural Area.  Although it's just a couple miles from the Mississippi River, this area is extremely hilly and contains a number of waterfalls.  After paying the day-use fee, I started down the Clark Creek Trail.  It's an old road but heads down steeply, so I knew it would be a steep hike back up on the way out.  Soon I made it to spur to the 1st waterfall, flowing down in three ribbons.

Although it didn't have high water flow, it was taller than I expected and the small gorge was really scenic.

Next I headed to the 2nd waterfall.

Mississippi really needs to work on waterfall naming.  The trail ended at an overlook and I had to climb down a rope to reach the base.

I was really amazed at how rocky this little tributary was.

Some of the boulders were huge.  From here, I got back on the main trail and spotted some pretty butterweed blooming next to a wet area.

I finished up the Clark Creek Trail at a tributary, downstream from the first two waterfalls.  No waterfalls here, but there were some nice patches of wild blue phlox.

From here, I took the Waterfall Trail towards the northern part of the park.  At a graffiti-covered shelter, I found a path that headed down to the gorge at the 6th waterfall.

It was a fairly easy climb down to this one and there were some wildflowers blooming in the creek by the falls.

Next, I creek-walked downstream a short ways to the 5th waterfall.  This one was pretty big and I wouldn't be able to just climb down.  A scramble path along the wall of the gorge led to a rope tied to a tree and I was able to climb down into the gorge using the rope.

The 5th waterfall was a big one and very scenic though all of these waterfalls were pretty low flow.  It would have been tough to climb back up so I just creek-walked down this tributary.

Where it flowed into Clark Creek, I turned right and creek-walked up to the 4th waterfall.

This was my favorite in the park.  It may have been the biggest one and the setting was just beautiful with lots of wildflowers blooming all around.

I was also able to walk behind this one.  Creek-walking back, I got on the Primitive Trail and continued following Clark Creek downstream on dry land.

In under half a mile, the trail forded a creek near the property boundary and then headed steeply up to a summit with a shelter, but it was so overgrown, there were no views from here.  I did spot some beautiful red buckeye blooming along here.

Continuing down, the trail shortly passed two unnamed waterfalls, I'm calling them 7th and 8th.  The trail passed right over the top of the 7th waterfall and it was a small one, so easy to climb down to see it.

Then the trail passed the 8th, which is just downstream of 7th.  This one was a bigger falls in two sections and it was quite strenuous getting down.

I didn't go all the way down to the creek, but had a decent straight-on view from the steep slope.  Soon I reached the southwest corner of the park and the trail turned to the east following another tributary upstream.  Where the trail turned north away from the tributary, I tried creek-walking further up but didn't find another waterfall.  There was one on another tributary where the trail turned, which I'm calling the 9th, and I was able to get up to the base of this one.

From here, the trail got really steep heading up.  I really couldn't believe how steep these Mississippi trails were.  In under a mile, the trail crossed the top of the 3rd waterfall.  This one had another really steep descent into the gorge.

I had almost completed the loop and this would be my last waterfall in the park, so I had a snack down here enjoying the views.

Then I made the steep ascent back up to the trail and finished up the Primitive Trail near the 1st Waterfall.  The rest of the hike back was just a half-mile, but it was steep and I was definitely feeling it in my legs by now.  Not expected for Mississippi.  Back at the car, I had a long drive ahead of me.  I had gotten waterfalls in Louisiana and Mississippi, so my next target was Florida.  I took back roads back into Louisiana and got on US-61 south to Baton Rouge.  Then it was I-12 to I-10 and the long drive east.  After three and a half hours or so, I needed to stretch my legs so got off I-10 at exit 61 in Mississippi for Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.  The visitor center was closed on Monday, so I just hiked the C.L. Dees Nature Trail.

The trail makes a three-quarter mile loop through a wet pine savanna, the habitat of the critically endangered Mississippi subspecies of sandhill crane.  This subspecies is non-migratory and lives year round in these savannas.

I didn't see any cranes, but did spot some pitcher plants and wildflowers blooming, like these yellow jessamine.

There was also a lot of saw palmetto in the understory.

Looping back towards the start, the trail runs along Bayou Castille.

Towards the end, there was a marsh overlook at a swampy portion of the bayou.  A cypress tree draped in Spanish moss was just past the overlook.

Then I finished the trail back up to the parking lot.  I reluctantly got back in the car and continued east for about another 3 hours to Chipley, Florida and stayed at the Comfort Inn.

Sicily Island Hills Waterfalls

posted Mar 10, 2018, 4:10 PM by Justin P   [ updated Mar 21, 2018, 3:19 PM ]

For the first week of March, I headed to the Gulf Coast region.  Sounds a bit crazy, but I was going there to find some waterfalls!  I flew out of RDU on Saturday to New Orleans.  After getting my rental car, I drove north to Natchez, Mississippi and stayed at the Hampton Inn.  Sunday morning, I headed back into Louisiana to JC Sonny Gilbert Wildlife Management Area.  Formerly known as Sicily Island Hills WMA, this unique area is an oasis of hills in a desert of flat.  I took US-425 across the river and into Louisiana to Sicily Island and then followed LA-8 past Leland.  The terrain along the drive could not have been flatter and it seemed remarkable that I would soon be hiking steep hills to waterfalls.  The turn was hard to spot and I initially passed it and had to make a U-turn.  Fortunately, there's not much traffic around here.  On the second pass, I spotted the sign and turned onto a gravel road.  Immediately, there was a fork and I went left where right went to a flea market.  The road was quite steep but easy to drive.  I stopped at the check station to fill out a self-clearing permit and went about another mile to the Rock Falls Trailhead.  A kiosk and shelter make the trailhead easy to spot.  From here, I started hiking the red-blazed trail.  It headed steeply down to the rim of a small ravine and soon I could hear the waterfall and spotted it from the trail.  I scrambled down into the ravine to get some pictures of this small but scenic waterfall.

At 17 feet, it's the highest in Louisiana.

The watershed for this little tributary is very small and I imagine it completely dries up at times.

But it was flowing pretty good today and I knocked another state off the 50 States Waterfall Challenge.

I finished up the surprisingly steep trail back at the road and headed back to the car.  From here, I backtracked to LA-8 and turned left on LA-913 and then again on LA-915.  The turn for the northern entrance was easier to spot and I headed back into the WMA.  In about 2 miles was the trailhead for St. Mary's Falls.  This green-blazed trail is another loop of about a mile.  Almost immediately, there was a split and I went right.  The trail headed steeply down and came to another small ravine with two tributaries.

St. Mary's Falls was visible directly across, so I climbed down to get some shots.

St. Mary's Falls drops about 10 feet and there was a small grotto behind the falls.

I climbed around to get behind the waterfall.

After a couple pictures, I noticed the other tributary that flows into Sandy Bayou also has a small unnamed waterfall just upstream.

It's about a 5-foot cascade over a rock face and had a big pool in front of it.  Continuing on the trail, it followed Sandy Bayou downstream.  Despite the name, the creek was very rocky with some nice cascades and didn't seem like a "bayou" to me.

Then the trail departs the creek and heads back up to finish the loop.  Although well-blazed, there wasn't much of a trail and it was more like a bushwhack.  Back at the car, I drove about another half-mile down the road to the trailhead for Big Creek Trail.  This is the longest hiking trail in the WMA - a 7 mile loop.  The trail split shortly and I went to the left.  For less than a mile, the trail follows an old road then heads into the woods.  The remainder of the trail, if you can call it that, was mostly a bushwhack, but with plentiful blazes, it was easy to follow.  But it was quite steep in places, really surprising for Louisiana.

Initially, it was a lot of downhill, but that means plenty of uphill at the end.  And there were numerous creek crossings, though most were very easy.  Being early March, the wildflowers were not at their peak, but I did see a lot of little violas.

I also saw some pretty yellow wildflowers, some type of ragwort, but I think it's still too early for them to really pop.  Eventually, I got to a swampy area at one of the main tributaries to Big Creek.

Following this downstream, the trail leveled off and soon I was following Big Creek.

There were a couple of really scenic cascades along Big Creek and I stopped at one for lunch.

The trail followed Big Creek for a couple of miles and then follows another major tributary of the creek upstream.  Heading downstream, the floodplain along big creek got more and more swampy.

At one point, the blazes were along submerged trees but I was able to bushwhack along the side and stay dry.

Then I came to a crossing of the tributary where there was no getting across dry.  So I took off my boots and started to wade, but realized it would be at least waist deep so turned back.  I was way over half-way through the loop and didn't want to turn around.  So I bushwhacked up a steep bluff and was able to get around the crossing - should have tried that first!  A little further was another real nice cascade along this tributary and I stopped for some pictures here.

Continuing to follow the tributary upstream, the little creek soon petered out and then trail then started to get really steep heading back up to the start.  Back at the car, I started making my way back towards Natchez.  It was still relatively early, so near Ferriday, I stopped at Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge.  Being Sunday, the headquarters were closed, so I hiked the short trail to the Cypress Creek Boardwalk.  This trail was a lot flatter and more like I would expect in Louisiana.

The trail runs through an interesting forest of palmetto along the hike to the boardwalk.  The boardwalk leads out to a viewpoint of Bayou Cocodrie.

The observation deck itself was built around a huge cypress tree and it seemed like a good place to take a rest beneath this ancient giant.

After a couple pictures, I headed back.  I believe there are more trails in the refuge, but it's kind of confusing and the visitor center was closed, so I just headed back to Natchez.  Plus I was getting hungry so stopped for fast food in Vidalia.  After dropping my stuff back at the hotel, I took a walk through Natchez.  There are a number of beautiful old historic homes in town.

It was too late for a tour of Rosalie Mansion, so I followed the winding road down to the river then took Silver Street up.  I walked along the Nature Trail below the bluff down to the casino and then the Bluff Trail above to the Natchez Gazebo.

Heading back, I stopped at Under the Hill Saloon for a beer and sat outside to watch the sunset.

It was a really beautiful one over the river and the bridge.  After finishing my drink, I headed back to the hotel.

First Signs of Spring

posted Feb 25, 2018, 3:16 PM by Justin P

Sunday was my last hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the Triangle.  We parked at the Pleasant Green access to Eno River State Park and hiked to Pump Station and back.  To mix things up a bit, we went right at the splits at Eno Quarry Trail, Cabe Lands Trail, and Pump Station Trail and then took Mountains-to-Sea Trail the whole way back.  Although it's still February, we saw some of the first signs of spring - trout lilies.

There were nice patches of them blooming all along the trail.

Another early spring flower was blooming as well - daffodils.  These ornamental flowers are not natural, but a patch of them indicates a former homestead.

The bulbs come back year after year for decades.  There was a nice patch of them next to an old tobacco barn.

Pat spotted two buildings that I had never noticed before.  The roofs on them appear new, so maybe something for park operations.

Our turnaround spot was the old Durham Pump Station, which had a huge number of trout lilies blooming.

We had a snack here, before heading back.  It rained just a little on the way back, not enough to get wet but kind of refreshing.

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