Owahee Trail

Several people had mentioned I could make this trip, but few people had actually done it. That always makes me a bit suspicious and curious at the same time. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should….

The trip I’m talking about is Owahee trail which connects Apoxee Park to Grassy Waters Preserve located just west of the Northlake Blvd and Beeline Highway intersection.

Unlike Apoxee, the trail is accessed by exiting the Grassy Waters entrance and heading east on the sidewalk. Just before the Beeline intersection, there is a dirt road on the right. The main gate is locked, but just to the right is an unlocked pedestrian gate.

The trail is a packed dirt road with occasional tree roots, so walkers, hikers, and cyclists with hybrid or mountain bikes, can easily make the trip. Many sections of the trail are shaded by trees which makes it nice on these warm afternoons. Water on the west side provides scenic views and periodically there are benches.

I was surprised what I found near the midway point of the trail. Several canals converge and then flow into the trees and wetlands. It would be the perfect place to launch a kayak or canoe and there is even a launching area. The only problem is the portage to this launch area would be very long.

A short distance from here, was a very long boardwalk that went deep into the preserve. (It’s not the boardwalk in Apoxee) It started out over grassy wetlands, continued through a small forest area, and then exited into an open expanse of crystal clear water. The boardwalk dead ends, but the walk is worth it and a great place for stunning photos.

With all the water, there was plenty of wildlife making an appearance. Wood storks glided over, soft-shell turtles sunned on the bank, herons and Roseate Spoonbills waded through the water. Roseate spoonbills have rose colored torsos and wings, which makes them easy to spot in flight.

spoonbillsmall

I’m unsure of the exact mileage, but the return trip from the Apoxee parking lot to Grassy Waters parking lot took an hour which included a few photo stops.

There are plenty of other side trails that are on the list for the next visit. Regardless of where you start, Owahee is a scenic, easy trail that allows everyone to experience the diversity of nature.

Here’s a link to the trail map: http://www.wpb.org/grassywaters/trail_information.php

The Waterfalls of DuPont State Forest

I love hiking to waterfalls; the walk through the forest, the rushing sound of the water as you approach, and the anticipation that builds. Will the waterfall be gushing off the top of a mountain? A series that cascade into a plume below? Or something simple but elegant that just is perfect?

When a friend invited me to hike a trail that included three popular waterfalls, I had to say yes!  As we grabbed our gear in the parking lot, the sound of the flowing river was so inviting I couldn’t wait to hit the trail.

Our route today would take us by High Falls, Triple Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls all located in DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.  According to the map, the mileage for this round trip adventure would only be 3-4 miles so that gave us plenty of time to thoroughly explore.

The Route:

Starting from the Hooker Falls parking lot, the trail takes an unusual route; up the stairs, across the two lane road (look both ways), and then along the opposite side of the bridge. The road is not busy so the walk is easy, still be careful. Stopping on the bridge is a great place to get a view of the clear river flowing over the rocks.

After crossing the bridge, the trail goes down the stairs and then stays right. If you go under the bridge, the scenery is still beautiful, but it’s not the right direction to find the falls.

The wide trail and crystal clear river make for a beautiful hike through the forest. The river looks so calm you don’t realize the power of the current until you stop and look intently. Toss a stick or leaf in and you’ll easily see just how fast it’s flowing.

Triple Falls:

Our first stop was Triple Falls and wow, what a view from the trail!  The falls start at the top of the mountain and then cascade down three high ledges into the valley.  The view from the trail is amazing, but you have to take the boardwalk down to the falls to get the full effect.

As you exit the last stairs, you hear the deafening roar of water and feel the mist on your face.  Perfect! I like to venture as close as possible to get that unusual photograph or just because I can. Well waterfalls create wet rocks and it wasn’t long before I was imitating a cartoon character that stepped on a banana peel.  All four limbs were flailing in all directions with the hope of somehow not falling. Fortunately, I didn’t fall into the water. I wouldn’t have gone down the falls, but I would’ve been wet and cold.

High Falls:

Further up the trail, we came to another opening and the entire side of the mountain was a steep waterfall.  Unlike Triple Falls which cascades over a few ledges, High Falls just falls almost vertically about 125 feet to the bottom.  There isn’t a trail down to the base because of the steep incline but at the top there appeared to be a covered bridge. Of course I wanted to know if we could there.

Sure enough, as we followed the trail, we exited in front of that quaint, photogenic bridge that crossed the river just before the falls began.

The bridge was a great lunch spot and perfect place to admire the dichotomy of views.  On the forest side of the bridge, it was just a peaceful river that I’d love to kayak on. The water is clear, calm, and the trees are tall.

On the other side of the bridge, the river flows for a short distance and then just disappears. I could see myself kayaking down this river, admiring the covered bridge from below and then suddenly wondering where the river went. By the time I realized it, I’d be in for an unforgettable ride. Note to self; I need to pay more attention when I’m kayaking.

Bridal Veil Falls:

We left the bridge and continued down the dirt road to reach the final destination. Along the way there are trails into the forest, but we saved those for the return trip.  A couple of cyclists passed us and I noted that for next time. This is definitely a peaceful place to ride and explore.

A short while later, we took a right turn down another trail and were greeted with the sound of rushing water.  As we emerged from the trail, we saw an awesome sight; a sloped granite face, with millions of gallons of water, blasting down in full force.

Thanks to natures design, there is a spot you can sit on a rock and face the falls.  You are on an outcropping and the falls go just below that so you’re literally just a few feet away from the rushing power. Myself and others captured some fun photographs there.

Sitting facing the thunderous waves of water is quite thrilling. There’s something magical about being in the wilderness and safely enjoying the beauty of nature’s power.

One last view:

As we walked back, we decided to take one of the side trails that go up a levy. We followed the trail to the top and the view was like a postcard!  Stretched before us was a large, glass smooth mountain lake.  The crystal clear water revealed the bottom was covered in a layer of leaves which added a unique effect.  It was so peaceful, I could see sitting here for hours and letting all my cares melt away. However, the only thing melting at this time was the daylight so it was time to make our way back.

The final portion of the trail crosses the road before the parking lot.  As I looked down the two lane road, I had to wonder how many people speed cross the bridge and never know the magnificent beauty that lies beyond.   I wonder how many times I’ve been one of those people…..

http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/bridal_dupont1.htm

White Ranch Park

Ever had the feeling that you just wanted to be outside? Doesn’t matter where, just get outside. That’s the feeling I had! It was a sunny winter day and I just wanted to go hiking, like right now.  Sure, an hour or so in the car would yield me some spectacular views, but I wasn’t up for that much windshield time.

I found the perfect place about half an hour away; White Ranch park.  It is conveniently located on the outskirts of Golden Colorado and easily accessed via North Highway 93.  Take a left at the big brown sign, head west for a couple of miles on a two lane road. The road ends in a T intersection and the park is on your right.

At first glance, the trail doesn’t appear to be that secluded. There are a couple of large homes immediately visible from the trail head. I figured if it went past the homes and up into the mountains behind, it’d be a nice hike.

Initially, the trail follows a fence, crosses a road and then enters private property. Here the trail begins to become less civilized as it meanders through boulders and under trees. To the left, there were several beautiful horses hanging out in their fenced area. They were privately owned, but I enjoy seeing animals of all types.

Past that area, the trail exits private property and takes on the rustic aspect I was looking for. Covered in a few inches of snow, the trail was still easily hike able and I encountered many people enjoying the beautiful day.  It may sound snowy and cold but it wasn’t.  The sun was out and I was plenty warm in a pair of jeans, wool socks, hiking boots, two long sleeve winter shirts, a coat and gloves.

As I made my way up the trail, a hawk silently soared overhead. I can only imagine the view he was enjoying!   The trail continued to ascend up the mountain and the further I went the more serene and scenic it became.

At one point, I found a big rock near the trail and just sat there enjoying the warm sun. All I could here was silence. Occasionally I’d hear a fellow hiker wander by or the wind blow through the trees, but more often it was just the sound of silence. If you’ve ever heard that, it’s really an odd but comforting feeling.

I made my way up the trail for about an hour or so and then decided to turn around. I could’ve hiked all day, but I was getting hungry for more than just trail mix so I turned around and enjoyed a different view. That’s the fun thing about hiking in the mountains; the views are different each direction.

Next time you’re in the Golden, Colorado area, check out this easy hike. More info is here:

http://jeffco.us/openspace/openspace_T56_R57.htm

Denver Botanical Gardens Trail of Lights

One of my favorite holiday pastimes is to grab a mug of hot chocolate, drive around the neighborhoods and check out all the creative light displays.

As I was driving home on C470 last night, I saw a huge display of lights so of course I had to go check it out. It was one of the Denver Botanical Gardens Trail of Lights displays. This one was at Chatfield which brings you over 1 million twinkling lights that illuminate a winding path through the Colorado countryside.

The temp gauge in the car said it was 25 degrees outside. That’s going to be cold, but that’s why I have a jacket, gloves and a hat. With a light snow falling and the cold weather, it was the perfect setting to enjoy the display. It wasn’t crowded, but there was a steady stream of people strolling in to enjoy the scenery.

As I walked in, I was amazed at how all the trees were uniquely decorated.  There was a fire pit and hot chocolate stop to warm you up before you embarked on the trails. There are two trails; a long and short one. I took the long one so I could see all the lights.

There are displays all along the trail, even in spots you don’t expect, like the frozen creek. I particularly liked how the pedestrian bridges were decorated.  About midway through there is a warming hut. That was a welcome stop! Sometimes you when go inside to get warm and you still feel a bit of chill. Not in here, it was completely toasty!!

Continuing along, I had to admire their creativity and how they installed the lights up so high and in such nice designs. I know stringing lights around my home and fence is enough of an adventure.

It was a fun walk and I made my way around more than once to be sure I saw everything. There is also a small ice skating rink near the entrance which several kids enjoyed. When you go, dress warm and prepare for a nice stroll through some creative light displays.

There are two displays one at 10th and York Street and the other at Wadsworth and C470, which is where I went. The displays run nightly till Jan 1st  from 5:30pm – 9:30pm. For more information:

http://www.botanicgardens.org/events-exhibits/special-events/trail-of-lights

Myakka River State Park

Numerous friends had recommended that we visit Myakka River state park.  They said we’d love it because of the kayaking and all the wildlife. After all the recommendations, we had to check it out.

Located about 2 hours from the East coast of Florida, it is an easy drive through the center of the state. Along the way you’ll see the historic section of Florida; wide open prairies and cattle ranches.

We had reserved a cabin and sometimes those are a hit or miss depending on the amenities. This one was perfect; decent size kitchen, with a large great room that housed a fireplace, dining room table, and bed.  Out back was a small porch and a picnic table. Of course, it had the most important thing; air conditioning.

Once unpacked, we set off on our bikes to explore. I really enjoy biking around parks because I see so much more by going slow and I can explore trails along the way.  We peddled down the main grade past a bridge with an overlook into a canal. A perfect place to view alligators, but they were not to be found this time.

Continuing on, we saw vast grassed prairies that would be perfect for a giraffe or Rhino to roam. Further along, the road is enclosed by a canopy of trees with that beautiful hanging Spanish moss. Hanging like a sheer curtain, the moss gives the trees such character.

In the “middle” of the park is a large lake complete with a boat ramp and boat tours. A large concession stand and store are conveniently located there too.   A variety of foods were available, but on this hot summer day it was two words: ice cream!!!  Sitting upstairs, we had an unobstructed view of the lake and boat launch. Anhinga, a small gator, herons and the like were easily spotted.

Continuing on, we ventured further away from civilization and found a long boardwalk that had a panoramic view of the area. There wasn’t anyone else out there so it was perfect. Course, I’m sure in the winter when the weather is nicer, more people wil l be there.

The afternoon was winding down so it was time to head back to camp. Late afternoon is always a great time to see wildlife and this was no exception. Numerous hawks flew over and sat in the trees just above us.  A few deer trotted across the road and into the woods.

As we entered the cabin, sweaty and hot from the long ride, we were thankful for the air conditioning. We had heard about a drum circle and great restaurant at Siesta Key so we cleaned up and headed out for a more “civilized” evening.  About 30 minutes away was everything you could want in civilization. Great restaurants, pristine beaches, and more.

Arriving back at the cabin around 9pm, we still had a sense of adventure and knew that there would be wildlife out at night.  A blast of the bug repellent, a couple bottles of water, and a camera and off we went exploring.

I opened the moon roof for a view of the stars and gently drove around the park at a meagerly 10mph. Wow!!! The things we saw that night were unforgettable.  Frogs, snakes, and all kinds of crawly things were everywhere. We couldn’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing something interesting.  We stopped so much and saw so many things, I felt like I should be shooting one of those wildlife by night shows.

One of the most memorable scenes was a barred owl that flew down from the tree into the road, picked up a frog and flew up into the tree. To see that right in front of you is truly unforgettable. I had my camera, but there are times it’s just better to watch life unfold. Yeah, I miss a few shots, but I have some fond memories.

And this was just day one!  The next day we did even more exploring of the trails including a boardwalk that provided a 360 view above the tree canopy.

So my friends were right; Myakka River state park is a very fun place to visit. You can kayak, bike, experience nature first hand and civilization is not far if you need it. For more information, check out their website:

http://www.myakkariver.org/index.php