Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly video

Butterflies are always interesting to watch; their vibrant colors, unique designs, and how they float almost effortlessly. I’m used to seeing them fly, so when I found a cluster of them huddled over damp ground near a creek, I had to stop and film them.

They are Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and all the info can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipevine_swallowtail

Here’s the short video that shows their unique colors, fuzzy heads, and how they use their front legs for rooting around.

Four days, one back pack….can I really do this?

This isn’t going to fit……I said as I looked at the pile of clothes and gear on the bed. I was heading to North Carolina for the weekend and was determined to take just my back pack. I’m not a light traveler, so this was going to be a challenge, but that was part of the reason for the trip.

I could see myself getting on the plane, placing the pack under the seat, and easily disembarking upon arrival. No bag check, no fees, no waiting at the baggage claim, and no worries about trunk space. Just grab and go.

Making it work:
A little clarification is in order; my back pack is not like the large, steel framed one I carried for four days in the Grand Canyon. It’s what I call a commuter back pack that is the perfect size for traveling because it snugly fits (gets close enough), under the seat on commercial flights. In spite of it’s small size, it has been to a lot of cool places and as I write this, it’s packed for another adventure.

I was heading to the mountains, which were cold so I carried layers. First were my clothes: zip off pants, shirts, rain jacket, and socks. Next up was my DLSR with 18-200mm lens, and a water tight container that housed two video cameras and their mounting/cabling accessories. Ok, that took up all of the space. I still had my fleece jacket and a few other small items that just wouldn’t fit.

I reluctantly drug out my gym bag, which seemed to swallow everything up into a dark abyss. This isn’t going to fit under the seat at all. Plus, what am I going to take on the hiking trails? And then it hit me… I loaded everything in the back pack, and used a cloth grocery bag to hold my jacket and camera. Perfect!!

What a feeling to stroll through the airport with just my backpack and a small bag. To comply with the one carryon rule, I wore my jacket, stuffed my camera into the back pack, and rolled up the shopping bag. I made it with one bag after all; thankfully I didn’t have to open it till I arrived!

Freedom:
Wow, what a way to travel!! When it came to get off the plane, I just grabbed my pack and went outside to wait for my friend. No waiting for my luggage at the baggage claim, no lifting or wheeling thirty pounds of luggage around the airport.
At my friend’s house, I left the cameras in the pack, and swapped the clothes for snacks. Within a short time of arriving, I was on the ground exploring.

The rewards:
I’ve never traveled so light and it was fun. I enjoyed refreshing mountain streams nestled in the forests, scenic views from the tops of mountains, long waterfalls, and peaceful hikes through the forest.

Returning home was bittersweet, but now I know that I DON’T HAVE to take it all with me. Life is full of analogies and I couldn’t help but wonder if I could pack a little lighter in life. Hmmmm….that’s a whole different story.

If you get the opportunity to ditch the luggage and just grab your back pack and head out, you should try it. The freedom is addicting.

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

Pink Beds hiking trail

I hadn’t been to North Carolina in several years so I was excited for the opportunity to go hiking. As we followed the winding road through the forest, along the creek and waterfalls, the memories of the forest returned.

The Gatekeeper:

We grabbed our gear and head out on foot for the hiking trail. As we approached the trail, there was something different, or should I say someone different. With all due respect, the gentlemen reminded me of one of the Seven Dwarfs; chest length grey beard, round weathered face, and a hat. Leaning on a shovel, he softly said “the trail is temporarily closed”.

“Ok” we said and struck up a conversation and what a fascinating story unfolded. He was an Amish gentlemen responsible for about 5-6 teenage boys who were repairing the boardwalks on the trail. They traveled around the country and worked with the government to handle civic projects like these.

All the materials, lumber, nails, etc., were provided and they just supplied their skills and time. Considering how a lot of kids grow up facing a computer screen, it was refreshing to see boys out in the woods, using skills that their fathers had taught them. Skills that allowed them to create and build things; skills that allowed them to make a difference and leave a legacy.

We talked with the gentleman long enough that the boys came out with their supplies which paved the way for us to go hiking.

Looking for Pink Beds:

We encountered several boardwalks along the trail and I’m pretty sure I could easily drive my SUV over them without any problem. They were well built!!

What struck me is that these were more than just a boardwalk; they had history, meaning, and I had met the people who built them. Isn’t amazing how “normal” things become important once you know the history of them or meet the individuals responsible for their creation?

The hiking trail itself was a beautiful walk through the forest that crisscrossed a stream a number of times. At one point, there was a beach like area along the creek and we stopped and enjoyed the view of the crystal clear water and the forest. I put my hands in it and confirmed that the water was cold!!

I have yet to encounter a mountain stream that was warm, but that doesn’t stop me from putting my hands in itJ

We walked through places where the forest was thick and dark like an enchanted forest where you’d expect something to pop out. Other places the trees were sparse and plenty of wide open places perfect for picnics abounded.

Along the way, there are two different color trail markers and we wanted to stay on the loop trail. That worked well till we encountered an intersection that gave us the choice of “the other trail” or a trail with no markings. We quickly found that the trail with no markings dead ended at a stream, so we followed the only other option which was the correct way.

We made the entire loop, which seemed to go on for a lot longer than expected. Normally that’s okay, but the sun was starting to touch the tip of the mountains and once it goes behind, it’ll be dark quick.

Fortunately, all was well and it was a fun, scenic hike, with the added benefit of some interesting history.  And next time you cross a boardwalk, it may have been built by those group of teens.

For more information on the Pink Beds trail, go here and have fun!

http://www.exploreasheville.com/things-to-do/hiking-trails/pink-beds-trail/

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

Grassy Waters Preserve; a short photo tour

In my previous post, I shared the history and often forgotten hiking trails of Grassy Waters Preserve. I know if I was reading that article, I’d want to know what was on the other side. Below is a short photo tour of the “other side” of the preserve. Early mornings and evenings are great for placid views and wildlife sightings.

Beautiful isn’t it? There are many programs available so check here for more information:

http://wpb.org/grassywaters/

Hogs Hammock hike in Grassy Waters Preserve

“You’re in the wrong place”. What do you mean I’m in the wrong place, the directions said Grassy Waters Preserve and I’m looking at the water right now? “You took a left, go further down and take a right.” What I wouldn’t give for good directions……….

So was the beginning of my hiking adventure through Grassy Waters Preserve.  Grassy Waters Preserve is located just west of the Beeline Highway on Northlake Blvd.  Correction, it’s on both sides of Northlake; heading west the first entrance is on your left. The second entrance is about two blocks further west on your right.

The Island Chain:

Grassy Waters Preserve is a 23 square mile wetlands ecosystem that serves as the freshwater supply for the City of West Palm Beach and the towns of South Palm Beach and Palm Beach Island. Historically, Grassy Waters was both a key component of the Greater Everglades watershed and the headwaters of the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River

Today’s trail was affectionately named Hog Hammock which made me immediately think of Pigs in a Blanket. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s time for lunch.

Seriously though, Hog Hammock trail sits on the Hog Hammock Island Chain, which is a geologic formation known as Pleistocene Sand Ridge.  During the Ice Age, at peak glacial stages, the sea level was  as low as 400ft below its current level and Florida was three times its size. When the glaciers melted, the sea level was as high as 100ft above its current level.

See, it’s not a trail, its an island chain. Thankfully, the sea is low enough and there aren’t any dinosaurs to chase around, although there is one creature left over from that era; the alligator. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for him.

The First Loop:

As the trail leaves the parking lot, it  runs parallel to a clear stream where small fish and turtles can be seen.  Shortly after, you’ll encounter a fork with several signs. One says this is part of the NENA trail system, the other has trail info. It’s a loop so it doesn’t matter, but staying right provides the more scenic options quickly.

Several long boardwalks zigzag over the wetlands and provide ample views of the forest. It’s always tempting to look down from a boardwalk, but remember to look up. Colorful air plants, birds nests and other displays of nature can be seen.

 

Promontory Trail connection:

As you follow the trail, you’ll soon find yourself at a crossroads. One sign points left and says Exit, the other points right to Promontory Trail which dead ends in 1.1 miles.

The trail may dead end, but you have to go see what’s out there. You’re already this far out anyway. The trail is a tree lined berm with occasional access points leading off.  Some lead off to boardwalks with covered overlooks and others just lead off into the water or grasslands.

I can imagine alligators, deer, and other wildlife using these as cross over points. One side of the trail has the familiar lily covered water that you just know is home to some alligators. I looked and looked, but didn’t see a one.

The other side is grassy wetland that has the potential to be a huge rookery at the right season. While I didn’t see much wildlife at mid- morning, I’m sure early morning or late evening would yield much better results.

Other amenities:

As you near the exit on the return, there are a couple of areas with picnic tables to enjoy lunch or a take a break. After exiting the trail, there are more picnic tables and another trail that I’ll have to explore on my next visit.

Several people I talked to didn’t know this trail was here. Everyone is familiar with the boardwalk at the first turn off but not the second one. It’s amazing what you find when you venture a little further down the road.

If you’re wondering what was at my first stop, stay tuned for some amazing photographs!!

For more information:

http://wpb.org/grassywaters/

World’s Edge hike

As we drove through the rolling hills dotted with apple trees and the occasional farm, the scenery did not lend itself to a hike named World’s Edge.  Usually when you’re driving to a hike named like that, the road is steep, the views are panoramic and the anticipation builds.

The paved road ended at a private property sign so we parked and walked the dirt road to the left. A little ways in, the road had a vehicle gate and a Carolina Parks sign, so we knew we were in the right place. 

Continuing on, the area still looked like a normal hike in the woods.  Unlike yesterday which was rainy and cold, today was the perfect day for a hike; deep blue, cloudless sky, warm sun, and a slight chill in the air to keep the temps perfect.

About four tenths of a mile in, the road makes a small loop to the right. This loop takes you right to the edge of a ridge. Wow!! What a view of the area!  We could look straight down and see the forest below or look out across the vast expanse and see homes, lakes, and an occasional town. The name World’s Edge made total sense now.

Here there are two options; follow a path along the ridge, or return to the road and follow the trail.  Other hikers were enjoying the ridge path so we returned the trail to see what else we’d encounter.

Even though we weren’t walking on the edge, we still enjoyed great views of the mountains to the left. I use the term ridge, but it’s not like Everest or other tall mountains were you’re straddling a drop off on both sides. This is “just” the edge of a mountain so you have plenty of space on one side. The “edge of the world” side, is where the mountain drops off

Continuing along we enjoyed the views of the mountains to our left and the beautiful cloudless day. Occasionally we’d take one of the access points to the ridge and enjoy the view again.

The final stop, for us, was a large rock outcropping that appeared to be balanced right on the edge. It was an optical illusion, but made for some fun pictures. The warm sun and expansive view made it another one of those memorable places. I am fortunate to  keep finding those places, often unexpectedly. All the more reason to keep exploring.

The total hike is about 1.5 miles round trip so it’s and is an easy one. You don’t need special gear or endurance; it’s just a nice easy walk and I’d recommend bringing a picnic lunch. Stay awhile and enjoy the view.

More details on the hike are here:  http://www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/worldsedge

The hike is part of the famous White Squirrel Patch. You know you want one and details can be found here: http://www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2

Apoxee Park

As I was soaking up the serenity of nature, I was amazed at how quiet it was considering the proximity to busy civilization.   Natural areas within the city limits are a great respite from the city, but they often can’t escape the noise of the city. Somehow this park did and it was nice to fully immerse myself in the surroundings without the distractions of civilization.  apoxee water

The park is named Apoxee Park.  Apoxee (pronounced Ah-po-ee) means Beyond Tomorrow in the Miccosukee language and is the first of the City of West Palm Beach’s urban wilderness parks. Unique to the park is they use the wetlands to provide a new water supply (maximum 10 million gallons per day) in order to achieve both urban and environmental water sustainability.

apoxee owlFrom the parking lot, the trail is paved and shortly after provides two options; a paved loop or a dirt path to the right.  The paved portion is a short loop through pine and oak trees.  If you go in the late afternoon, you’ll hear the calls of the Great Horned owls echoing through the trees.  I was lucky to actually see and photograph both of them.  It is amazing that such a large, majestic bird can fly so silently.

You can walk the paved path in about ten minutes or so depending on if the owls are there. The dirt path is a much longer trail that is suitable for hiking and biking.

The dirt path is narrow and tree lined with occasional openings to catch a glimpse of the water.  A boardwalk here and there provides unobstructed views of the lakes.  Benches are strategically placed along the way to sit and enjoy the view of the water or just enjoy the sunshine. One of these benches amidst some trees was the perfect lunch spot.

Shortly after crossing the power line road, the trail forks and fortunately there is a big sign and a map. I took the right loop and found a long L – shaped boardwalk that traverses one of the lakes. Throughout the water is a variety of plant life that provides a carpet like covering on the bottom. The plant life is so thick in areas, it looks like small canyons under water.  Most rivers in the area have tannin (decaying plant material) so the water isn’t clear. Here the water is crystal clear and all the fish, plants and other inhabitants were visible.

The boardwalk dead ends into another tree lined dirt trail which is flat, straight and the perfect place to ride a bike. According to the map this trail stretches for  few miles if not more.  On the other side of this trail is another lake full of lily pads, birds and trees.  The serene view, gentle wind through the trees, and warm sun made for perfect place to just relax.  A strategically placed bench was the perfect place to hang out and enjoy the view. apoxee trail

According to the map, the trails extend for many more miles so I’ll be back with my bike to continue exploring and will provide an update.   Apoxee park is a nice oasis for a gentle walk, a medium hike, biking, or birding all right in the middle of town.

Here’s a short video of the boardwalk: http://youtu.be/THrKrn9iRRg:

For more info on the park: www.wpb.org/park/apoxee-park/