North Table Mountain Park

I wanted to squeeze in one more hike for the day, but it was already 2pm so it had to be something close. As I sat in the parking lot looking at the mesa in front of me, I noticed a trail. That’s what I love about mountainous areas; you can usually see a road or trail from below and then find your way to it.

This one was really easy to find. It’s the North Table Mesa trail and it’s just North of Golden, Colorado on Highway 93. This isn’t your usual hiking trail that has a variety of terrain. The trail starts in the parking lot and is an ascent all the way.

It looks and feels steep while walking, but it was easily managed even with a covering of packed snow. I enjoyed the mountain bikers riding down for a bit and then turning off onto a trail that went into town.

I took a few breaks along the way and it was fun to turn around and see the view. Often when hiking, I’m so focused on what’s ahead, I forget the surrounding scenery. I don’t remember the exact distance, but it was less than a mile to the top so it doesn’t take long to walk up there.

DSC_0848sOnce at the top you can see the city of Denver to the East and Golden to the West. The top is fun because there are other trails to explore and the one above the rock climbing area is very scenic. The north side of the mountain had a herd of deer grazing and they were oblivious to all the people.

I followed the trails east for a bit and then headed back to the rock climbing area. Daylight was going fast so I didn’t want to go too far. I would love to go back early in the morning and explore the entire area. My guess is that it’d be an interesting place to watch the sunrise.

You’d see the silhouette of the city against the sunrise to the east and the mountains to the west would glow as the sun bathed them. That’s my guess anyway. I’ll put that on my ever growing list of things to do.

It was a fun short hike to end the day with ample opportunities to return and explore again.  For maps and current info:

http://jeffco.us/openspace/openspace_T56_R28.htm

Corn Maze fun…at night

It had been one of those cerebral days, aka: too much thinking. I called my friend and said it’s time to do something more fun with our mind, let’s do a corn maze…at night.

This will probably sound obvious, but just to keep everyone on the same page: a corn maze is a field of corn that the owners plow paths through in the form of a maze.  Just like a normal maze, the corn maze has dead ends, paths and often specific designs. If viewed from the air, it’d probably look similar to a crop circle.

I’ve wandered through ones in North Carolina and the corn was so tall you couldn’t see over it which makes it very challenging.  Here in the Florida winter, I wasn’t sure how high the corn would be, so I knew the night time option would be best. Plus, being outside and wandering around under the stars is just the ticket.

The corn maze covers seven acres and is located at D&D U Pick Family Farms in Palm City which is one of the largest UPick-em farms on the Treasure Coast of Florida.  We had to watch a video that described the different features of the corn maze including word games, educational games and the most important: a red gel holder that reveals the map on the flyer. The map is hidden with that funky ink (technical term, I know) that you can only see with a red light.

We had to bring our own flashlights so I brought  “man” flashlights; two Eveready tactical LED flashlights which have blue, red, white and infrared beams.  Did you catch I had a red light? You know what I’m about to say next…..I took the red light, shined it on the flyer and voila! The map of the maze was revealed!

The kids next to us thought it was the coolest thing ever, so we let them borrow one of my flashlights. They just loved playing with all the different LEDS and exposing the map. If you want to add some excitement to your adventure, just add a couple of kids. Especially when they’re not yours!!

The parents politely told us we didn’t have to stay with them, but they were fun to lead us around.  Nothing like child- like wonder to remind you to have fun.

It was a perfect night to be outside; cool and crystal clear with the sky dotted by stars and the familiar constellations.  It was fun to go where you think you should and then figure out where you really are. Oops! How’d we get over here?

At one point we crossed a bridge that had a view of the entire maze. It was pitch dark and you’d see little beams of light around from other people all over the maze.  With seven acres to explore, sometimes those lights were way out there.

We found our way out and said good bye to the kids and parents, but the adventure continued. As we walked back, there was another maze that we just had to do.

It was the fortune maze and the objective was to find the five different color stations. At each station, dip a different finger, from the same hand into a color. Once you had all five fingers colored, exit the maze and match the colors to see your fortune.

This maze was smaller in size and a little easier, but we still found a couple of dead ends. For me, the hardest part was matching my finger colors to the pictures on the board. Five fingers with five different color combinations was quite a selection to choose just one match.

One of the guides who had stopped to give us a ride made it easy; start with your thumb color and then work it backward.  My fortune was friendship comes easy to you. That works, I’ll take it.

We definitely enjoyed exploring the corn maze at night because of the mild challenge and being out under the stars. Next time you get a chance, check out a corn maze and enjoy a family fun way to enjoy the outdoors.

Here’s more info for D & D Family Farms:

http://www.danddfamilyfarms.com/maze.php

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

Camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness

I’ve visited Disney’s Ft. Wilderness campground and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. When I got the chance to camp there with a group for only $28, I was in!!

A quick disclaimer…..if you’re used to quiet primitive, back country camping this isn’t it. This a fun, lots of activities happening, place.  Even if by chance you don’t hear many people, you will hear and see the fireworks from the nearby parks. 

The campground is very pedestrian, bike, and golf cart friendly. In fact golf carts seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.  There are also free buses to take you around the campground or to other Disney locations.

My first evening of exploring, I ended up at an outdoor amphitheater. Kids, of all ages, were roasting marshmallows and the concession stand had cookies, popcorn, hot chocolate, and the like.  Shortly after I arrived, they began showing a Muppets Christmas movie.  Lots of families and kids milled around so it wasn’t perfectly quiet, but it was fun to watch a movie under the stars.

Then I headed back to camp and grabbed a shower. It was great; I had the place to myself and plenty of hot water.  The next morning I went to brush my teeth and there was a long line. The next night I did the same and there was no one there again.  Speaking of the shower, it was as nice as the shower at home. Wall to wall earth toned tile with an inset for shampoo, soap, and shaving supplies.

Comfy Shower Stall
Comfy Shower Stall

One of the advantages of camping at Ft. Wilderness is the proximity to all the Disney areas .The next day we caught the boat to the Contemporary resort. From there, took the monorail to the Grand Floridian for some exploring.

Now, if you’ve never been to the Grand Floridian at Christmas, you need to go. At the front, you’ll be served roasted chestnuts and apple cider. Once inside, there’s an incredibly large Christmas tree that can only be described as Disney in size. Every year, the crew makes a full size ginger bread house and you can listen to them describe how they built it.  On the other side of the house, you can buy all sorts of sweets and treats.

From there, we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney for lunch. After wandering around the shops, it was time to catch a bus back to the campground.

After seeing lots of people out holiday shopping it was time for a quiet bike ride along the trails.  There are two nature trails that run between Ft Wilderness campground and the Wilderness Resort. One is paved and follows the road between the two resorts. The other is dirt and is accessed from behind The Wilderness Lodge, just beyond the main pool off to the right. You’ll see bike rentals and such and the path begins there.  It’s common to see deer along this path and you can also enjoy some nice views of the Contemporary Resort across the lake. The dirt trail connects back to the paved trail so you can easily find your way back to the campground.

After exploring the trails at dusk, I headed back to the campground and quickly found the golf cart Christmas parade. Each cart was uniquely decorated with lights, figurines, sound systems and the like.   Definitely plan to explore the campground at night so you can enjoy all the holiday decorations.

Here are video links to the golf parade:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5oKx-SbdVs&feature=youtu.be
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho09lJPXNqg&feature=youtu.be

Afterwards, I made my way back to the beach for a front row seat to the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. The fireworks start at 10pm, but if you want a beach chair, get there by 9:15. Course, just bring a blanket and you can sit in the sand. It’s the same view.

At the beach, you can only see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. From the campsite you can hear/see the fireworks from Epcot at 9pm and Magic Kingdom at 10pm.

I was only there two days, but could’ve easily spent a few more. There is plenty to do for kids and adults at the campground and surrounding areas; bike rentals, boat rentals, kayak rentals, carriage rides, horseback rides, a show, multiple swimming pools, etc.

The winter season is usually the busiest because the weather is cool and dry. So plan to come and spend a few days. Even if you can’t camp, swing by and enjoy the festivities.

For more information: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/campsites-at-fort-wilderness-resort/

Halpatiokee Park

I was supposed to meet friends at Halpatiokee Park early this morning but they were really late. So I decided to explore the nature trails by foot. This park has plenty of biking trails and that’s usually how I explore the park. I love to bike, but this morning I was on foot and enjoyed a totally different perspective. 

Walking the trails early, there wasn’t the usual rush of people. A hawk flew over, landed in the ball field and began poking around at something. Since it was early, the sky was filled with all types of birds as they made their way to wherever they go. Have you noticed that birds leave early and return around dusk; they don’t have to work, so just where do they go? I guess anywhere they want:)

The nature trails wind through dense foliage and periodcally parallels the Lost River. Along the way, there are “unofficial” walkouts where you can access the river. Halpatiokee is Seminole for “Alligator Water” and I can personally vouch for alligators being in the water so don’t plan on jumping in. Early morning, the water is perfectly smooth and provides mirror like reflections of the overhanging trees and foliage on the adjacent bank.

One of the walkouts was just too good to resist so I sat for a bit and it was so peaceful! Being out in nature is a great way to clear the mind of useless clutter.

After some time, I continued on the nature trail which then connected to the main paved trail around the park. Since there weren’t many people around, it was a great time to just stroll, take some pictures and relax.

DSC_0442In addition to nature trails, there are mountain biking trails for all levels, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, and picnic areas. It’s a great place to have some fun on your own or with a group.

More information here:

http://www.martin.fl.us/web_docs/prd/web/docs/xx_halpatiokee_info

Riverbend Park Moonlight bike ride

Riverbend is a beautiful park with lots of recreation opportunities in the northern section of Palm Beach County. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, walking, and historical tours are enough to fill a day or two easily. I know I spend a lot of time biking there and enjoy the diverse trails, wildlife and natural scenery.

Like most county parks, it closed at sunset, but last night we enjoyed a special treat: a moonlight bike ride through the park sponsored by the Palm Beach County Parks and Rec dept. There were about 30 cyclists of varying ages and bicycles along for the ride.  We split into three groups and each group was led by a ranger.

Periodically the ranger, who was also a naturalist, would stop and talk about something unique to the area. At one point, he shined his light into the water to show us an alligator. That was the extent of the wildlife I saw.  I’m sure there was plenty I didn’t see.

Since it’s just a casual ride, it was fun to meet new people and share stories as we rode.  With a large group, we were spread out along the trail and all you’d see ahead is the blinking rear light of the cyclist in front of you.  That’s fine when the trail is straight, but when the trail turns or forks and you lose sight, it got challenging.

At one point I had fallen back to talk with someone. We rounded the corner and there weren’t any lights.  The lady in front of me didn’t see which way the group went either. So here were a few of us cyclists at junction  with 3 different ways to go and it’s dark. We headed straight for a few yards, but didn’t see anyone, so we went back to the trail junction. One gentleman read the map and we embarked on a trail that would lead toward the campfire. dsc_0590

Just a few minutes later we caught up with the group; they had only made a loop so by turning around, we just caught right back up. That was convenient!!

It was just a few more minutes of riding till we reached a spot with a campfire and smores. Now this is my kind of bike ride!!  It was a good chance to get off the bike, enjoy some smores and actually see the people I had been talking with on the ride.

As we headed back toward the entrance of the park, the moon was just peeking through the clouds. The trail led by a lake so it was a perfect photo op to catch the moon as it reflected off the lake.

A fun, easy ride, nice people, beautiful park, and smores, what’s not to like. The good news is this ride is held on a regular basis and the next one is scheduled for Dec.28th.

dsc_0308Even if you’ve visited Riverbend Park before, you should enjoy the Moonlight Bike Ride. Call ahead to reserve your spot; It’s only $5 and includes the smores. You can bring a bike or call ahead and rent one. If you bring your own, it is recommended to bring a headlight and taillight.

For more information on Riverbend park: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/locations/riverbend.htm

For a calendar of events: http://pbcgov.mhsoftware.com/

p.s. I included some day time shots so you can see just how pretty it is. Every corner brings something new.

A day in Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Sometimes you want to be able to do a little bit of everything and that’s what you find at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It’s one of those local places that are often forgotten about because it’s so close. Too often we’re looking to go far when sometimes your own backyard is good for some fun.

In my experiences there, I’ve camped, hiked, biked, kayaked, and even volunteered. Volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved and learn activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Ok, so now you want to go, here’s my take on how to spend the day.

First off, go all the way to the back of the park and head out on a kayak. Early morning, the river is peaceful and you can see Osprey nests in the trees and the occasional alligator in the river. At the docks the river is wide, but kayak back a bit and you get into the narrow winding section. You’ll find dark black water that reflects the canopy of large trees and foliage. Turtles and alligators are regular seen back here.

Once back on dry land, grab your bike and head out for a ride. If you have a mountain bike, you can bomb down the many trails that Club Scrub maintains. Sugar sand, hills, planks, and other obstacles make for challenging trails. If that’s not your thing, you can still have a very nice bike ride.

The main road is suitable for cycling and you can explore the entire park on bike. One of my favorites is the old road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s not technical, but you’re off the beaten path and occasionally will see a hawk or turtle around. It has offshoots to connect to other areas of the park as well.

Now you’re probably hungry so head over to one of the many picnic areas and enjoy lunch near the river. The store also sells food and there’s nothing like an ice cold popsicle on a hot summer day.  While you’re in the store check out the times for the Trapper Nelson boat tour. It’s a motorized boat tour that will take you the historic Trapper Nelson homestead. You’ll learn a wealth of history of the park and its early caretakers. No paddling required, just relax and enjoy the ride. There is an extra fee for the boat tour so inquire before reserving.

After you’ve enjoyed lunch, visit the Kimbell education center and learn more about the park’s history, the variety of plant and wildlife, as well as the many programs offered. Kids welcome!  If you’re there in the summer, you’ll enjoy the air conditioning for sure.

For the rest of the day, it’s time to stretch your legs on the different hiking trails around. The Kitching Creek trail is a nice walk along the river. It connects with other trails so you can walk a nice loop by the river and return to the parking area. There are other trails near the Kimbell center and near the park entrance as well.

The finale of the day will be the walk up the observation tower to watch the sunset. The observation tower is a large platform with a 360 degree view. You can see the ocean Atlantic Ocean to the East and the expanse of the park to the West.

Well that was a full day; kayaking, cycling, boat tour, hiking, and sunset from the observation tower. With two large camping areas and cottages, you can spend the weekend and spread these amenities over a couple of days.

Next time you’re in the Jupiter, Florida area, be sure to spend a day at Jonathan Dickinson State park.

More info here:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/

RiverBend Park

This past Sunday I revisited one of my favorite parks, Riverbend Park. I call it one of my favorites because it’s not like a park at all. You won’t find concession stands, ball fields, bleachers, acres of concrete, or the usual signs of civilization.

It’s a place to get away from it all without being too far away. I can totally immerse myself in nature and not contend with tons of people. Sure the parking lot is full most of the time, but thanks to its size, you don’t encounter a lot of people.

This Sunday was really nice because the park was brimming full of water. While the rest of the country is in drought, we’ve been fortunate to have rain every day. The canals and ponds are full which gives the park such character, color, and of course brings in more wildlife.

One of my favorite spots is at the end of bridge that dead ends. When you first ride or walk up, it just looks like another bridge over water. Stop for a minute, drink your water, take a few pictures and the natural beauty will appear. You’ll see Garr swimming, turtles coming up for air, Apple snails on the bank, or the reflection of the hawk soaring overhead. It’s like stumbling into a play in the middle of a scene; the actors may pause while you sit down, but once you’re settled the story resumes.

My second favorite place is a trail opposite the picnic area and across the canal. It’s a place where the trees are surrounded by glass like water which makes it perfect for capturing beautiful reflection pictures.

Course one of the main attractions is the variety of wildlife. I always see hawks, wild turkeys, deer, and the ever present vulture. Each visit is unique and this time I stumbled upon a group of woodpeckers enjoying their community of trees. I particularly enjoyed watching one skip along the railing of the bridge. Every so often he give it a few resounding raps with his beak and move on. 

If being on land is just not your thing, you can also kayak through the park and down the Loxahatchee River. Kayaking, wide smooth trails for walking, running, biking, lots of photographic opportunities, and a variety of wildlife. Now you know why I think it’s almost perfect.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone.

For more information go here: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/riverbend/index.htm