Raven Rock Hike

posted Jun 15, 2019, 3:20 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jun 15, 2019, 4:31 PM ]

Sandy had Saturday off, so we took Alex to Raven Rock State Park for a day hike.  First, we stopped at the visitor center to get his passport stamped.

Then we started hiking the Campbell Creek Loop Trail.  The trail descends to the creek, crossing on a bridge.  We went right to hike the loop counterclockwise.  The trail follows the creek down to the confluence with Cape Fear River.

The river was way up today.  Continuing on, we took the Lanier Falls Trail to its namesake.  But high water prevented us from getting down to the falls.

We took a short break at a bench near the top.  I climbed down to see the river and falls, but there was a lot of foliage in the way.

After our break, we continued along the loop.  There was an interesting rock with water dripping down - too small a tributary for a waterfall, but scenic with the little overhang.

We finished up the loop back to the visitor center.  It was still early so we took the Raven Rock Loop Trail.  Fish Traps would be underwater so we didn't go down there.  Along the main loop, we took another break at the overlook at the top of Raven Rock.

The river was definitely high but we could see Northington Lock and Dams way upstream.  Shortly after the overlook, the stairs led down to the base of Raven Rock.  We found a cool spot under the rock to take a little break and have a snack.

Then we climbed back up the stairs.  Alex was getting a little hot, so we took a short detour on Little Creek Trail and let him get his feet wet.  Then we finished up our hike back at the car.  On the way home, we stopped at Aviator in Fuquay for a late lunch and drinks.

Charles River Reservation

posted Jun 7, 2019, 3:58 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jun 8, 2019, 4:09 PM ]

I had to go up to Cambridge Massachusetts for work this week.   I flew up Sunday and stayed at the Royal Sonesta.  I work up early Monday morning, but didn't have to be to work for a while.  So I went for a hike along the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path in the Charles River Reservation.  It's a really nice greenway trail along both sides of the Charles River.

The views of the river were really scenic.  And early morning sun was very pretty.

The entire trail is about a 17 mile loop, but that's a little long to hike.  Fortunately, there are a number of bridges that provide pedestrian access across the river to make a short loop.  At one spot, a number of large number of daisies were blooming.

I could see the white patches from all the way on the other side of the river.  There were also a lot of Canada geese and their goslings.

The weather was very nice, a lot cooler than back in Raleigh.  I went for another walk after work and enjoyed the New England weather.  There were a lot of birds in and along the river.  Besides the geese, I saw ducks, gulls, cormorants and even a night heron.

It was nice to able to be able to walk everywhere for a few days.

Starved Rock Waterfalls

posted Jun 2, 2019, 10:10 AM by Justin P

Sunday, I had breakfast at the hotel, then checked out and headed to Starved Rock State Park. The park is extremely popular, so I wanted to get there early and beat the crowd. Light morning rain also helped. Several parking lots were closed due to flooding so I parked at the lodge. I first headed to French Canyon. A little spur led into the canyon but I couldn't get all the way to the base due to wet rocks, but could still get a decent view of the falls. Then I passes the lodge and headed towards St. Louis canyon. Along the way, I passed Aurora and Sec Canyon. There's no way to the base of Sec Canyon, but I got an obscured view of the falls from the trail. Continuing on, there were a lot of wildflowers blooming along the trail. At the end of the trail, a spur led into St. Louis canyon. The waterfall at the end of the canyon was really high and flowing really well in the high water. And I had it all to myself. Hiking back towards the lodge, I made a short detour into Aurora Canyon. The water was low, but still a nice canyon. Back at the lodge, I got on the Bluff Trail and headed towards Wildcat Canyon. There were two overlooks along the rim, but for a good view, I had to climb the stairs down. The waterfall in Wildcat Canyon was another really beautiful one and there was another smaller flowing down too. More people were entering the canyon so I departed to keep my lead ahead of the crowds and climbed back up the steps. Continuing on, the trail became really muddy and slick. And with very steep drop offs, no good options to avoid the mud. I hiked through the mud along Bluff Trail for a ways and eventually got back down to the river at the spur to LaSalle Canyon. I think this was my favorite waterfall and canyon. The water made a veil and then a small cascade into a pool. The trail led behind the waterfall and continued to Tonty Canyon. There were actually two waterfalls in this canyon, at least today in the high water. Back on the main trail, I hiked along the river and through the mud to the next canyon - Owl Canyon. A spur led into the canyon, but this one didn't have too much water flowing. Continuing on, it was more mud to Hennepin Canyon. The trail passes over the waterfall, but there's no way into the canyon and actually see it. The rim was too overgrown to see anything from up here. Hennepin Overlook was not much further but it was a view of the Illinois River, not the canyon. From here to the road crossing, the mud was exceptionally bad with almost no breaks. Shortly after the road, however, I came to two more canyons. First I headed into Ottawa Canyon and a the nice waterfall in here. Then I went up Kaskaskia Canyon. This waterfall had some down logs on it, but was scenic nonetheless. I was going to continue on to Illinois Canyon, but I had had enough of the mud and it was a long hike back. I stayed close to the river on the hike back and stopped at Eagle Rock Overlook for views of Illinois River. I also hiked around the park's namesake, Starved Rock. The sun had come out now and it was really crowded so I took off. After returning the rental car, I checked in to the Holiday Inn and took a shower to get the mud off. I walked to Giardinos for some Chicago deep dish pizza and then packed up. The flight home was uneventful and I actually arrived early.

Midewin Prairie

posted May 30, 2019, 3:42 PM by Justin P   [ updated May 30, 2019, 3:42 PM ]

Saturday morning I had breakfast at the hotel and checked out, then drove back to Illinois. My first stop was at the visitor center at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. I spoke with a ranger to get an idea if where I might see the bison. They have a webcam on the prairie and it looked like they were in the north of the pasture, but might be difficult to see. He suggested I hike from the Iron Bridge Trailhead. Before I left, I looked through the scopes they had set up to see a bald eagle nest. I could see one parent in the nest and the other on a nearby tree. A young eagle was also in the nest; he had not yet developed white feathers on his head. Then I made the short drive to the trailhead. Right off the bat, there was a pretty field of golden Alexanders in waves of yellow. I like the name of these. I first hiked the Bison Trail toward the overlook. Near the northwest corner of the pasture was a huge bull. I stopped for a couple pictures of this magnificent beast then continued on. At the southwest bison overlook, I saw a pair of deer but they took off before I could get a picture. I hiked almost back to the visitor center, but turned around when it started to sprinkle. It never really rained, but drizzle most of the way back. The bison was in the same spot so I got a couple pictures under better light. Near the start, I got on Group 63 Trail. The trail is named for a group of bunkers used to store munitions when this was a military facility. Bunker 1 was open and it was nice and cool inside, as the sun had come back out. I took the spur trail back to the start and hiked a short ways along the southern end of the loop. More bunkers were visible from the trail. I also spotted the Bison herd but they were too far away for a picture. Then I finished my hike. Heading west, my next stop was at Matthiesen State Park. Although not as popular as Starved Rock, the parking here was almost full and it was very crowded. I hiked down to the big bridge over the creek at Cascade Falls. The bridge was very muddy so I crossed on the railing. Going upstream, I hiked to the lake and climbed down to the creek below Lake Falls. With the high water, the falls was really flowing. But there were a lot of people here, so I didn't linger too long. With the high water, heading downstream was mostly creek walking. The Giants Bathtub was another very scenic small waterfall. At the end, I climbed back up and continued on the trails. I headed down to the lower dells area, but the trail to Cascade Falls was closed due to flooding. Unfortunately, there's no way to see it from the rim. So I headed back to the car and headed to Peru. After checking into the La Quinta Inn, I took a dip in the pool to relax a bit and then had dinner at Jalapenos.

Indiana Waterfalls

posted May 30, 2019, 3:41 PM by Justin P   [ updated May 30, 2019, 3:41 PM ]

For Memorial Day weekend, I had United miles that would expire so I flew to Chicago to get waterfalls in a couple more states. Being United, my flight was delayed, Avis was incredibly slow in getting my rental car, and Chicago traffic was terrible. But finally, I made it to Indiana. My first stop was at Fall Creek Gorge, near Williamsport. A short trail led into the gorge. Soon I came to a crossing of a tributary at a little chute. Just upstream on Fall Creek was the most narrow section of the gorge. There were a lot of potholes in the creek here and it was really scenic. And very out of place here in rural Indiana. The trail continued a little further to a small waterfall on Fall Creek. Although it wasn't very high, it was creek wide and scenic. There were some pretty wildflowers blooming here as well. After some pictures, I headed back. My next stop was Williamsport Falls, the highest in Indiana at 90 feet. The view from the overlook was mostly obscured by trees, but it was flowing well. I continued past the fence and found a place to scramble down to the base for a better view. The lighting wasn't great but the waterfall was really nice. Hard to believe such a big waterfall in such an otherwise flat area. After some pictures, I climbed back up. My next stop was across the Wabash River at Portland Arch Nature Preserve. A short trail led to the arch, one of only a very few in Indiana. In high water, the small tributary was flowing under the arch. Continuing on, the trail led past some nice rocky cliffs along the stream. There were some wildflowers blooming along the trail and I saw a cute raccoon as I was finishing up. Just a short drive further was the trailhead for South Trail. This trail also followed the creek and had nice views of the rocky cliffs. After finishing up the hike, I drove to Lafayette and checked into the Hampton Inn. Just across the street was access to the Wabash Heritage Trail. I followed this trail southbound passing the wastewater treatment plant and then a beautiful field of yellow wildflowers. I had seen a couple of these fields driving in but nowhere to stop. So this was a good opportunity to get some photos. The paved West Lafayette section ended shortly and I got on the unpaved Tippecanoe County portion. Flooding on the Wabash River prevented going much further. So I turned around and headed back. I was getting hungry by this point so went to Scottys Brewhouse for dinner then back to the hotel.

Duke Forest Hikes

posted May 18, 2019, 3:08 PM by Justin P   [ updated May 18, 2019, 3:08 PM ]

Saturday was going to be hot, but I wanted to get a hike in before it got too bad.  I headed to the Al Buehler Trail in Duke Forest.  This trail is on Duke Campus and technically not in the forest, but it's maintained by the forest.  From the parking area off NC-751, I hiked clockwise around the loop.  The trail first passed through a wetland area where stream restoration is underway.

Just off the trail was a wildlife blind, though I didn't see anything in the wetlands.

Shortly past here, the trail crossed over a dam that created a retention pond to improve water quality.

A connector trail led to a short fitness loop and then I got back on the main trail.

It makes a big loop around the golf course and eventually back to the trailhead area.  It was still pretty early so I drove north a mile or so on NC-751 and parked near Gate 3.  Hiking in on Gate 3 to Gate 7 Road, I took a short detour on Pine Thickets Forest Trail and then looped around to Gate 7.  There were some sundrops blooming along the trail in open, sunny areas.

I made a loop on the Gate 5 Road and then headed back.  Before leaving, I hiked Gate 2 to Gate 4 Road, making a detour on each of the little spurs.  It was around noon when I finished up and had really gotten hot by this point.

Alex's Birthday Hike

posted May 11, 2019, 3:08 PM by Justin P   [ updated May 11, 2019, 3:12 PM ]

Saturday we Alex's 10th birthday so we had to celebrate.

First, we headed to Eno River State Park for a morning hike.  Parking at the Fews Ford access to the park, we first hiked the Cox Mountain Trail up and over its namesake and then along the river.  There were a lot of mountain laurel blooming along the river.

Then we crossed back over the suspension bridge and hiked the Buckquarter Creek Trail.  There were still lots of wildflowers blooming along the river.

Coreopsis and fire pink were adding some color to the river.

It was pretty hot and humid by the time we finished but we missed all the rain storms.  Heading back to Raleigh, we had lunch and then took Alex to Goodberry's for an ice cream cone.

Especially on a hot day, ice cream was a perfect treat to celebrate his birthday.

Calloway Forest Wildflowers

posted Apr 27, 2019, 5:01 PM by Justin P   [ updated May 17, 2019, 4:40 PM ]

Saturday, we took Alex for a hike in the Sandhills.  We took US-1 south to Southern Pines and then NC-211 past Aberdeen to Calloway Forest Preserve.  This area of longleaf pine forest is being restored through prescribed burns to support the red-cockaded woodpecker and other rare species dependent on the longleaf.

The land was given to the Nature Conservancy by the NCDOT in 1981 and is now part of Rockfish Creek Game Land.  A wildlife road runs through the preserve and makes for a great hike.

The spring wildflowers were really blooming in the forest.  Bull nettle has small white flowers, but I kept a distance from this stinging plant.

There were lots of blue sky lupine blooming in patches throughout the area.

There was also a lot of vetch growing.

Although many sides roads split off, we stayed on the main trail, eventually reaching a loop.  Going right, we hiked the loop counterclockwise and saw many more wildflowers.  The thin canopy from the pine trees allows a lot of sunlight to reach the forest floor.  Grayhairy wild indigo is a yellow species of indigo that we saw blooming.

Near where we turned around, there was longbranch frostweed flowering.

Looping back around, there was an interesting section where the left side of the trail had recently been burned and the wiregrass was just starting to grow back.

On the right, it had been a while since the last burn and the wiregrass was much more grown out.  The wiregrass was the only thing popping up on the burned side.

Hiking back, there were more wildflowers, including some we has missed on the way out.  Piedmont staggerbush makes small white bell-like flowers.

Grassleaf roseling is related to the spiderwort.

By the time we made it back, it was starting to get pretty hot out.  So we made the drive home as Sandy had to work in the evening.

Hot Day in Phoenix

posted Apr 26, 2019, 4:55 PM by Justin P

Saturday morning, we had a nice breakfast at the hotel then made the short drive to the Mormon Trailhead parking for South Mountain Preserve.  By 9 in the morning, it was already hot, but at least it wasn't humid.  The Mormon Trail heads straight up the mountain, but it wasn't too steep.  As we got up higher, there were great views of Phoenix and the valley.  Although the mountains were steep, the valley was almost perfectly flat.  We saw a number of lizards on the hike, including some "carrot tail" chuckwallas.  They seemed to be enjoying the 90 degree weather.  When we got to the top, we took the National Trail to Hidden Valley Loop and went left to hike in the clockwise direction.  Shortly, we came to the natural tunnel through the mountain.  There were some petroglyphs on the wall at the entrance.  Past the tunnel, we had to scramble up the rocks to the next section.  We then saw some people coming down a very steep and difficult section.  When they got down, we noticed a much easier way to get up and down.  Then we reached Fat Man's Pass and had no trouble squeezing through.  We finished up the loop and started heading back.  On the way, we stopped to climb up the small peak along Mormon Loop Trail that had more fantastic views of Phoenix way below.  Then we continued back to the car.  Our next stop was Mystery Castle.  The castle was built by Boyce Gulley who moved to Arizona in the 1930s from Seattle after being diagnosed with tuberculosis.  It was built almost entirely with local and recycled materials.  It was a really fascinating place.  After the tour, we got lunch and then headed to Papago Park and the Two Butte Trail.  It was quite hot by now, so we climbed up to the butte and took a rest in the shade.  After a rest, we headed back and drove over to the Hole in the Rock.  It was really crowded but a neat natural feature to see.  From here, we headed back to the hotel.  Embassy Suites had a happy hour with free cocktails so we took advantage.  Then we had dinner at the hotel and started packing for a very early flight home.

Canyoneering Parker Creek

posted Apr 26, 2019, 4:43 PM by Justin P   [ updated Apr 26, 2019, 4:43 PM ]

Friday morning, we checked out and headed to Ma's Kitchen for breakfast.  Then we made a short drive to the diversion dam and met our guide, David.  From here, we followed David into Tonto National Forest.  Along the way, he pointed out a crested Saguaro cactus along the road.  We parked at a pull Off, got our stuff together and hiked towards Parker Creek canyon.  When we got to the start of the canyon, we put on our wet suits and descended into the canyon.  The first part was just creek walking and pretty easy.  The first real obstacle was a water slide.  We could have gone around but it was a lot more fun sliding down.  We were pretty deep in the canyon now with the walls towering high above.  And now the rappelling began.  Our first two rappels weren't too big - pretty much a warm up for what was to come.  Then we rappelled down a 60-foot waterfall that was quite impressive.  Shortly after, we came to the big one - an 80-foot waterfall.  As David was setting up the ropes, I noticed that there were a lot cacti growing in the basalt cliffs.  They were really beautiful and looked like manicured cactus gardens.  But not too much time for photos as we had a big one to head down.  It was really fun.  At the base, we got out of our wetsuits and started making the climb out of the canyon through a very steep draw.  It reminded me of the Devil's Slide in Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  Soon, we made it to the top.  I was shocked looking at my phone that we had been in for over 6 hours.  Hiking back, we got some awesome views of the canyon from above.  Lots of cacti and wildflowers blooming along the way.  Back at the cars, we said good-bye to David and started making our way back towards Phoenix.  We stopped for Mexican for dinner and then checked into the Embassy Suites.  It was a very nice room, but we were tired and went to bed.

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