Enjoy a nice walk to Cascade Falls

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I had explored several old mining and off-road trails around Ouray (pronounced u-ray) Colorado and was looking to explore on foot. It was late afternoon so I wasn’t up for anything too long; just something scenic to finish the day that didn’t involve driving.

I saw a sign on the North side of town that said Cascade Falls with an arrow pointing up the hill. I turned up the road aptly named “Cascade Falls” and headed up less than a mile to the parking area.

A large sign greets visitors with a brief history of the falls and a trail description. The falls are named after Cascade Creek which is the primary drainage for Cascade Mountain. The course of Cascade Creek takes it over a series of 7 waterfalls and Cascade Falls is the final series. If this is the 7th series, I’d sure like to see the first 6! Maybe that’ll be tomorrow’s adventure…

Shortly after starting up the trail, I found a couple of benches and a wooden bridge. At this point the trail forks; the left fork heads for the falls and the right fork heads to the Amphitheater campground.

I almost just walked left toward the falls but decided to wander over to the benches. Wow!! I could see the entire waterfall cascading from the top of the mountain all the way to the rocky bottom. If I hadn’t stopped, I would’ve missed a great view. These benches are a great place to observe the grandeur of the falls without taking the full walk to the base.

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Like most people, I had to get closer to the falls and walked over the bridge and followed the short trail the falls. The trail forks again and I took the right fork which follows the stream, but appears to be a little more jagged than the left trail. Either one will get you there.

At the base of the falls, you can feel the mist of the water, look up and see the several layers of the falls. The side of the mountain has rock shelves that are horizontal and appear to lead right to behind the falls. I found the rocks too slick for my comfort level. Besides, I wanted to enjoy the falls, not become part of them!

While at the base, look a little up and to the right and you’ll see a square, cave like opening. A couple of people were enjoying a unique perspective from inside there.

I enjoyed getting out on foot and experiencing the beautiful falls without the need to drive far or even carry a back pack. When you’re in Ouray and looking for scenic stroll in town, be sure to stop by Cascade Falls.

Observing baby Carolina Wrens

I love baby animals so imagine my surprise to find a nest with brightly colored eggs. She built the nest in a box with old automotive belts and hoses. I almost moved the hoses for better filming, but didn’t want to disturb the babies or risk imprinting them.

The bird is a Carolina Wren and has some interesting habits. For example, the babies sleep alone in the nest at night. I’m not sure where the mom and dad go, but they’re not here. During the day, they’re both around and feeding is appears to be as fast as they can find a baby lizard, worm, or bug.

When they arrive to feed the babies, they don’t just fly into the shed. They’re very methodical and land on the fence first, on the shed, on the ground, and eventually get in there. It’s like they’re trying to be sure they’re not being followed.

I guess when you’re only a couple of inches high with babies, those are normal precautions.Here is a short video I composed that shows the babies first hatched till now almost ready to fly.

Otterbox 3500, is it really waterproof?

It’s been raining here for literally weeks so I took this time to field test the Otterbox 3500. The Otterbox 3500 securely holds a handheld Canon HD video camera, GoPro camera, Garmin handheld GPS, and a handful of other small accessories. At 8x5x4 (approx) it easily fits in my backpack and I’ve used it for a couple of months without any problems.
I really wanted to test the waterproof claims and this rainy weather gave me the perfect opportunity. Enjoy the video below:

Crabtree Falls Hike

Crabtree Falls“Services closed” was the first sign I saw when I pulled into Crabtree Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those signs always make me a little sad because being outside and enjoying nature is good for the soul, no matter your age or background.

Thankfully, the parking lot was still open which provided access to the hiking trail. The trail starts out as a paved trail and as it descended became a dirt path. Passing an empty amphitheater, I couldn’t help but wonder what shows had been there and if it would be open again.

Continuing through a grassy area, the trail then takes a right turn and goes through part of the former campground. Nestled among the trees, and away from the road, this would be a great place to camp!

After the campground, there was a sign that said Crabtree Falls loop, 2 miles, strenuous. Hmmm….it is late in the day, but it can’t be that bad. Taking the right fork of the trail, we headed into the forest and began our descent.

Through the lush forest, the path descended via a long series of stairs made of stone and logs. Nothing unusual there, a lot of mountain hiking trails have stairs. This trail was different because each turn brought on more stairs that continued the trail’s steep descent.

Downward we continued and the amount of stairs reminded me of walking down a lighthouse, just not as steep. Ok, I think I know why this trail is called strenuous; going back up is really going to suck! Hiking is a blast, but you know whatever you go down, you’ll probably have to come back up.

The decent continued through the forest and I felt like I was on a quest more so than a hike. Around one more corner and the sound of rushing water and a muddy trail signaled we were close. A wooden bridge came into view and we had made it!!

Aside from Looking Glass falls, this was one of the widest waterfalls I’d seen in the area. The mist of the falls highlighted the sun beams as the afternoon sun broke through the tree tops.

I’m not sure what it is, but you always have to get closer to a waterfall. Fortunately there are two short trails on either side that provide some inspirational photo ops. The area isn’t that large so once a few people arrive, it can feel crowded.

After a few photos and being misted by the falls, it was time to head back. The question was which way? The ascent from hell or the unknown other half of the loop, which could be just as steep.
The choice was quickly made to take continue on the trail and see where it exited. Greeted by steep stairs, this trail appeared to be similar as the other one. Up it went through the lush green forest, but the stairs were short lived.

The path became a dirt path among the trees with a waterfall view to the left. The trail was still steep here, but it wasn’t stairs and a few benches along the way provided water stops.

Once the trail made it past the falls, it leveled out significantly and was more of “normal” trail. As I crossed a wooden bridge, I looked at the creek below and commented “I know where that’s going!” We always see waterfalls at their end, so it’s intriguing to see them at their beginning.

The trail continued to ascend on the way to the old campground. Here I got a little confused because I recognized the campground and knew we came in from across it. Cutting across the campground, we found the original path and made it to the parking lot.

The entire loop is 2.5 miles and rated strenuous, but with enough time and plenty of hydration it can be done. For more information: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=38

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The Preserve Welcomes a Long Lost Friend

As I opened the gate to the preserve, a rush of emotions flooded my mind. The crisp blue sky of the fall afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to the green trees and shrubs enjoying the warm sunshine. Why don’t I come here more often, I sternly asked myself? It’s not far, it’s in my backyard, literally.

Location, location, location
I live in a community that is bordered on the south by a state preserve and on the east by the intercoastal waterway. How many times have I sat at home and said “I want to go experience nature and pondered where to drive?” Now here I was, only a short 10 minute walk, in the midst of what I crave every day.

With camera in hand and a sense of purpose, I began meandering down the trail. Yep, meandering, something I don’t do very much anymore. I pride myself on getting places the shortest way possible and hopefully before others. Slow was the word today and my sense of purpose? Just soak up everything like the cracked drought stricken ground eagerly soaks up the gentle rain.

I approached the signs for a hiking trail and wondered “was this a new trail?” or had my absence been longer than I remembered. Either way, I took in the sites like a child’s first visit to a museum. What I call the “boring” signature Florida landscape of scrub brush and sand welcomed me like a group of long lost friends.

It’s the little things:
Along the trail I heard a rustling ahead. I raised my camera in anticipation of a wild boar, a snake, or the ever elusive panther. It was just small sparrows flitting about and enjoying their community tree. I stopped and watched them hoping they didn’t see me and instantly fly away. They flew without a care and just went wherever they decided. I soon moved on and experienced more wonders along the trail.

Like nature itself, the trail changed along the way. Scrub brush gave way to a mixture of trees which gave way to mixture of growth so dense, I felt like I was in a South American jungle rather than a few minutes from home.
Rounding a corner, I saw a glimmering thread across the trail.

A tiny spider’s web was catching the rays of the afternoon sun. Spider webs aren’t unusual in these parts, what was unusual was that I going slow enough to see it.


I hadn’t seen any footprints in a long time so who knew the last time a person walked this way. Making sure my passing wouldn’t damage the shimmering web; I gently placed my camera bag on the ground and slowly crawled under. All day long I solve complex problems, but figuring out the simple act of not disturbing a spider’s web was much more rewarding.

Leaving it all behind:
The more I explored, the lighter I felt. All the usual noise in my head was being replaced with peace and wonderment of the world around. It’s a good thing mental clearing isn’t visible; otherwise I’d still be picking up trash from that trail. All the running around I normally do didn’t seem to matter anymore. Just being and enjoying the moment right here, right now was the most important thing.

Along the way, several open places just begged to be stretched out in. Sitting and letting whatever thoughts come and go through my mind was surely relaxing. If I drifted off to sleep, it would be one of the nicest naps in ages.

Coming home:
Losing all track of time as I explored, I finally decided to slowly make my way back. I hadn’t told anyone where I went or how long I’d be gone. I walked slowly and took in all the sights in reverse. Everything looked different on the way back.

Reaching the gate, I paused before going through. Like leaving a world of peace and beauty and stepping into one of chaos, I took a long look at the preserve.

Thankful for this time to rejuvenate and become clear, I confidently stepped through and shut the gate behind me. Often we look long and hard for answers, peace, or just solitude. Often, what we want is closer than we think and it’s been right there all along.

Sea turtle moonlight crawl

Looking down Juno Beach at twilight, I saw a large dark blob slowly emerge out of the rolling surf. More ocean debris, I thought. When the surf subsided, the object continued to move forward. That’s definitely not debris; it’s a sea turtle!

Sea turtle background:
There are five different species of sea turtles that visit Florida’s beaches; Loggerhead, Green Turtle, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and Hawksbill. A sea turtle’s life is challenging from day one. As a new hatchling, it has to dodge hungry birds, curious humans, and the hot sun on its way to the ocean. If they make it the ocean, they have to outwit the ocean’s larger predators. Throw in the probability of getting stuck in trash or other man-made obstacles and it’s easy to understand why all five species are listed as endangered or threatened.

Privileged viewer:
As you can imagine, the prospect of being able to witness such a magnificent, yet fragile species lay her eggs was quite exciting. After the slow trek up the beach, she found a spot under one of the boardwalks and began digging. It is critical that she is not disturbed which means no lights, flash photography, or even talking.

With amazing quiet and reverence, the impromptu crowd watched her. Surprisingly for almost an hour, people were in total silence or barely a whisper. No annoying ringtones, zero lights or flash photography, even a couple’s little dog was perfectly silent. I was inspired to see a group of strangers show such respect.

One final challenge:
After she finished laying her eggs, it was time to head back to the ocean which was another challenge. She had laid her eggs near a couple of pylons and moving forward required her to navigate a very tight space. Each move, placed her shell against a pylon which was enough resistance to prevent forward movement. The soft sand provided zero traction as she flapped her flippers to move forward. If you’ve ever been stuck in the sand or snow, you understand the scenario.

She’d fling sand everywhere with little progress and then just stop. The only illumination was from a full moon, but you could still see her breathe hard. This was no easy task.
With much effort, she rearranged her position perfectly and had a straight shot to the ocean. She didn’t get that big by giving up and tonight was no exception.


Freedom:
Once free and on the packed sand, she was promptly on the move. While turtles can’t run, I’d classify that last burst as fast walk. She stopped at the water’s edge, waiting for the next wave, which gave everyone a photo op.

She crawled into the next wave and disappeared into the moonlit night amidst applause from an reverent group of onlookers.

As I walked the moonlit beach, I felt humble and yet privileged to be able to view such an amazing feat of life. Life will definitely find a way…..

Green River guest post

I spent 11 days in Asheville and wrote about many hikes. Here’s a fun hike, I submitted as a guest post. Enjoy!
http://blog.exploreasheville.com/2013/06/green-river-hike.html

Linville Falls

Linville Falls
“Wow, look at that water flow down the canyon!” The roar of water screaming between the tall rocks and then falling down into the unknown echoed in front of us. Just before this canyon was a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a pool that looked quite inviting. Course, there were signs everywhere saying “no swimming”.

This was just the beginning of our hike up Linville Falls. We had gone past it on the way to Grandfather Mountain and decided to take a quick walk on the way home. The trail continued further up the mountain and promised more scenic views so up we went.

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Did I mention we were walking up? The views from the top are always good, just sometimes the walk up is a bit challenging. That’s okay, it helps you slow down and enjoy the view. We came to place with a stone wall on the edge of a cliff. Looking right over the edge, you could see the valley stretch out below and merge with the green mountains in the distance. Definitely picturesque but not the final destination.

Taking a left up some stairs, we made the short climb to the other overlook. Wow!!
The roaring falls and lush, green valley lay before us in full view. The first place we stopped could be seen waaay down in the distance. Remember the roaring water through the canyon? You could see where it went from here; it exited the side of the mountain and fell into the valley below.

Even though the falls and area looked small from up here, we could still hear the roar of the water. Looking out into the valley, we could see the entire scene unfold; the waters exited the forest, down through the rocks, falling freely into the valley and then meandering through the forest floor.

As the afternoon slowly turned into evening, we pondered the possibility of sunset pictures, but the sun was behind the rocks. I’d think that sunrise would be better, although I didn’t return to find out.

Regardless of the time of day, the hike is only about a mile round trip and the views are incredible.
For more information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5188440

Blue Ghost Fireflies

“There’s one” I whispered, as we watched the little bluish white light up the darkness in front of us. It disappeared, and a few seconds later another appeared. Then another, and another.

The dark forest would be lit up by these little lights that flew to and fro. It really did look like we were watching fairies.

It wasn’t fairies we were watching, but the rare Blue Ghost Firefly. I grew up playing with the flashing, yellow glow of fireflies and assumed they were all the same. Not quite…. The Blue Ghost fireflies are different for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious is their bluish white light. Hence the name, Blue Ghost.

This adventure was a night time tour that was led by a Blue Ghost firefly expert whom provided entertaining and tremendously detailed information about these little creatures. Several features delineate the Blue Ghost firefly from other species; such as lights that steadily glow instead of flash in sequence and both male AND female have lights. Our guide explained that they’re mostly found in the North Carolina, Tennessee areas because the forest floor is the perfect condition; damp, but not saturated.

We spent about an hour enjoying the peaceful forest and the light show. Most everyone was quiet, even the kids, and enjoyed the opportunity to peer into a different world.

BlueGhost fireflies are mainly visible in May/June and watching them light up the forest was an experience I won’t soon forget. Nature is always amazing, day and night.

For everything you ever wanted to know about Blue Ghost fireflies but were afraid to ask, go here:
http://www2.brevard.edu/jefrick/Blue%20Ghost%20pub.pdf

Cedar Rock trail video

I enjoy composing short, informational T.V. stories at work, so I decided to do one for a beautiful hike. The video is only a couple of minutes, but you’ll get a sense of the trail and what to expect. I call it the “man on the ground” perspective.

For directions and more info:
http://www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/dupont2

http://youtu.be/1bn9aR-WuE8.