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The Best-Laid Plans

“In battle, what cannot be predicted is the enemy’s reaction; in exploration, what cannot be predicted is what is around the next bend in the river or on the other side of the hill.  The planning process, therefore, is as much guesswork as it is intelligent forecasting of the physical needs of the expedition.  It tends to be frustrating, because the planner carries with him a nagging sense that he is making some simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage, but may cause a dead loss when the mistake is discovered midway through the voyage.”

—Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

 

The journeys I take are not Voyages of Discovery, and they do notDCP_2966 involve dozens of men for several year.  Yet, I feel some sympathy for Ambrose’s description of Meriwether Lewis’s struggles in planning for the unknown.  Though it can sometimes be stressful, I deny that it is in fact frustrating – at least not during the planning phase itself.  I actually get a certain energy from the planning, spending much more time on it than necessary, and getting more excited for the trip ahead with every moment.

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I love reading a map – planning the route of a road trip is one of the best parts.  Deciding which personal effects to pack for a journey helps me realize my priorities.  Determining meals for a backpacking trip makes me examine my true needs.

However, it is true that I usually pack too much.  Maybe I am afraid of those “simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage.”  Of course, I’m sure most of you can attest that bringing along unnecessary items can be as big an error as omitting a useful tool!

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The frustrating part for me is when the journey is not an adventure.  Making hotel and plane reservations do indeed try my patience.  I prefer to travel in a way that does not require advanced planning for every step of the way.  Yet, even planning the complicated logistics of a longer trip or one with multiple participants or specific objectives to accomplish can stimulate me.  In that case, it may be less excitement that I am feeling, and more a positive type of stress.  It is that feeling that I imagine Captain Lewis to have had while planning his famous journey to discover what would become the western two-thirds of the United States.

What about you?  Do you find planning and packing to be exhilarating or frustrating?  Do you have tups to make the process go more smoothly?  What is your favorite part about planning for a journey?

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The photos on this page document the packing portion of a research project that I worked with in Chile, ten years ago.  We not only had to pack our personal items, but also quite a bit of our food for four months, as well as materials for the project, including fence construction.  These photos show us packing the gear once in Santiago, then bringing it to the boat yard in Valparaiso, where it was loaded into crates for its journey to our island destination.  That was, indeed, a frustrating project!  And yes, we packed many things that we never used, and not enough of some items we couldn’t do without!  Luckily, we were not in uncharted waters, and were able to make things turn out alright in the end.

 

The Falls

It goes to show that change is good, every cloud has a silver lining, etc. I may have had to alter my travel plans, but they wound up leading me instead to the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States!

Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States.

Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States.

Fall Creek Falls is striking not only because of its proportions, but also as a result of its beauty. I’m glad that I got to see it in the fall of the year, with low water levels. I find that it brings out the facets of falling water best, when there isn’t too much rushing over at once. I loved seeing the different shapes of the rocks, the cracks and troughs that the water had formed and flowed through.

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Very of surrounding bluffs from the Fall Creek Falls overlook.  The trail back to the visitor's center offers a "challenging" variant, that will allow you to walk out to the edge of the bluff near the middle of this photo!

Very of surrounding bluffs from the Fall Creek Falls overlook. The trail back to the visitor’s center offers a “challenging” variant, that will allow you to walk out to the edge of the bluff near the middle of this photo!

The falls, along with several others, are located within Fall Creek Falls State Park, which offers a ride range of recreational amenities and lodging options.  If you just want to see the water and move on, you can park in a parking lot which is approximately 300 paved feet from the falls overlook. I recommend the somewhat rough 1-mile walk from the interpretive center, though. A waterfall as impressive as this one can be appreciated even better if you work for it a little bit! Though, I admit the hike would be easier if I hadn’t done 12 boulder-strewn miles the day before!

Holly bedecked with berries helps to make the Tennessee woods a beautiful place in autumn!

Holly bedecked with berries helps to make the Tennessee woods a beautiful place in autumn!

Rock doves seemed to enjoy flying around and perching behind the cascading water - fun to sit and watch at the mid-way point in the hike!

Rock doves seemed to enjoy flying around and perching behind the cascading water – fun to sit and watch at the mid-way point in the hike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are even more adventurous, or a glutton for punishment like myself, you can take the half-mile hike/staircase down to the bottom of the falls. It was lovely, and a great workout! Perfect preparation for the trip home – fourteen hours of sitting in a car, eating gas station food. I earned every bite!

View from the bottom of the trail down to Fall Creek Falls; I chose to rest rather than clamber closer on the rocks.

View from the bottom of the trail down to Fall Creek Falls; I chose to rest rather than clamber closer on the rocks.

The park contains several more waterfalls, including this one, which fell as a mist and was only visible as it hit the pool below

The park contains several more waterfalls, including this one, which fell as a mist and was only visible as it hit the pool below

 

Savage

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Though my goal had been to get to the Smoky Mountains, I never made it… but had great fun exploring the Cumberland Plateau instead.  Covering much of central Tennessee, this plateau is nearly 1,000 feet above the height of the Cumberland River (to the southeast), and contains an incredible diversity of plant and animal species.  It has been carved over millenia by many creeks, and the geology of the area is apparent at every turn.

I decided to take a short backpacking trip (one night… though now I’m convinced to go back for more), and decided on the Collins Gulf sector of the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which covers nearly 16,000 acres on the western edge of the Plateau.  On a longer trip, I could have traversed the area, which is cut through by several rivers and creeks, giving it the aerial appearance of “a giant crowfoot.”  If you are handy at reading a topographic map, you’ll find this one quite impressive.

Despite the topography, I figured that a twelve-mile hike in one day was do-able, if potentially exhausting. The volunteer at the ranger station had told us that in the drought and late fall conditions, there was “no water” on the trail, so we packed in all we would need.  It turned out that there was enough water to filter in several places, so I will do my research better next time.

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

Twelve miles should have been do-able... if several sections of the trail hadn't looked like this!

Twelve miles should have been do-able… if several sections of the trail hadn’t looked like this! On several signs and in the park brochures, we were repeatedly admonished, “No hiking after dark.” Foolishly, I didn’t think much of it until we started encountering sections these rickety boulders!

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included "the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek" in a wetter year.

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included “the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek” in a wetter year.

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The loop trail we took crossed the "Gulf" (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

The loop trail we took crossed the “Gulf” (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees.  We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone.  The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees. We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone. The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Mammoth Cave

I found myself winding through the hill country south of Louisville as the sun began to set.  There was no need to get off onto side roads – the scenery was amazing from the highway (and the same was true on the trip back north through Lexington).  I was having trouble deciphering the Kentucky State Park campground information, so decided to spend the night at Mammoth Cave National Park.  After a sub-freezing night among the oaks in the campground, I decided to wake up early, pack up quickly, and get in line for the first cave tour of the day.  The second accidental detour of the trip was another wonderful experience!

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The park was busier than I would have expected for a weekday in October, and the tour I was hoping to take sold out with the customer in front of me.  After chatting with the very helpful park staff, I decided on the “Historic” tour, which was also enjoyable.  After my limited experience, I would recommend that you not visit the park as I did!  Plan to spend two full days, and include some above-ground hikes and maybe two different cave tours, one each day.  It really is an amazing natural wonder, and worth a little bit more attention!

The lobby at the park was lovely - a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture.  The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

The lobby at the park was lovely – a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture. The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

Mammoth Cave, unlike many of the other “show caves,” is largely a “dead,” or dry cave.  That is, in most of the cave there are no showy stalactites and stalagmites, no pretty colors with minerals trapped in the calcite, or water dripping into pools.  In fact, as the Historic tour showcases, the cave was dry enough to have had many uses throughout history.  The cave was carved as a channel of the Green River passed underground, eating away at the limestone in the process.  Over millennia, the above-ground river carved a deeper and deeper passage through its valley, and the altitude of the underground portion of the river decreased accordingly.  This created several layers of passages, connected by vertical tunnels, and in the lowest of these, the river continues to flow today (in the cave, they call it the River Styx).   As a result, Mammoth Cave is, with 365 miles of known passages, twice as long as any other cave in the world!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

It is possible to take a hike through the oak- and maple-dominated upland to the point where the River Styx comes out of the ground and re-joins the main Green.  I wish I would have taken that hike, as well as one to areas of the park which contain older-growth forest.  If you go, spend more time than I did, and tell me all about what I missed!

Something Great in the Hoosier State (after all)

I left northern Wisconsin after a half-day of work, hoping to arrive in northern Indiana before making camp for the night.  I picked a spot on the map that was both far enough from the Chicagoland area to mean I was really on vacation, and that had a little campground symbol.  This place was Tippecanoe River State Park, and it turned out to be just far enough out of urbanity that my eyes had trouble staying open by the time I got there.  It also turned out to be a pretty cool stopover.

Large oaks in an open woods

Large oaks in an open woods

 

Arriving in the middle of the night, this state park did not seem very promising, from an “experiencing nature” perspective.  Although a Tuesday evening in October, the campground was quite busy.  Busy with large RV’s, generators running because temperatures were near freezing, and decorated for Halloween.  Apparently there is some sort of annual competition for the best Halloween decorations at this park.  And by “decorations” they apparently mean copious lighted objects, string lights, flashing lights, and other light-type apparati in the orange-and-purple spectrum.  Think your neighborhood’s obnoxious Christmas decorations… in October… in a campground.  Not that appealing for those of us in a tent, but so be it.

By morning light, though, the party lites lost their luster (and got turned off), and there was time for a quick walk to stretch the legs before getting back in the vehicle and driving south.  Turned out to be not so quick, partly because the trail system was a little bit confusing, and partly because it was so darn

Uh...what?

Uh…what?

cool.  The park had a variety of ecosystems, from floodplain forests along the Tippecanoe, to a wetland impoundment, upland white oak woods, grassland, etc.  Most of my hike meandered through the oak woods, and even into a (very) small section of “barrens.”  A few white pines grew here and there in the area, at the southern end of their range, and white oaks grew alongside post oaks near the northern end of their range.  The barrens had many of the same trees and wildflowers that we see in sandy soils of central and northern Wisconsin – neat to see, a few hundred miles to the south.  From a land management perspective, it was immediately apparent that the park staff were doing an excellent job of maintaining an open woods, and keeping invasive plants under control.  Go Hoosiers! (Might be the first time I’ve said that).

Barrens habitat and changing fall colors... several weeks behind northern WI!

Barrens habitat and changing fall colors… several weeks behind northern WI!

Wetland at Tippecanoe.  They had drawn down the impoundment, so only shorebirds were using the mudflats... but I was a little too late in the year for shorebirds!

Wetland at Tippecanoe. They had drawn down the impoundment, so only shorebirds were using the mudflats… but I was a little too late in the year for shorebirds!

If walking around a labyrinthine trail system in deep sand looking at trees isn’t your bag, I’ve heard from a friend that the Battle of Tippecanoe historic site is also in that area.  I missed it in the middle of the night, but if I had it to do over again, I would want to stop there.  Check it out and let me know how it is!

On the Road Again

IMG_1356Recently, I’ve been yearning to get out on the road again, see some new sights, and just generally get out of “Dodge” for a while.  I wanted to experience mountains again, and as the year wore on figured that a warmer climate wouldn’t hurt any.   The solution, I decided was a road trip to Tennessee!  Since I am trying to act like a responsible adult, I had to squeeze this in around workplace and extra-curricular commitments, and I wound up traveling from one Tuesday to the next, during the last week in October.

Crossing the Ohio in Lousiville

Crossing the Ohio in Lousiville

As with any good driving adventure, some of the expedient stops turned out to be more valuable than the planned destinations.  I never got to the Smoky Mountains, where I’d hoped to spend three days, but instead extended some other parts of the trip.  Purely by accident, I saw the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies and the World Championship Invitational Barbeque.  More on those later.  Natural sights made up a large portion of the trip, but historic sites, museums, music, and tasty diversions balanced it out.  I sampled just enough of everything to make me want to go back and try them some more!

For me, the trip really began when I passed through Chicago.  It may have been a year since I was last in the Windy City, and driving in and out at 9:30 on a Tuesday night is a wonderful way to be reminded of its beauty and excitement without any frustration.  I love seeing downtown all lit up at night, and am looking forward to a visit at Christmas time!

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I drove down through Indiana and Kentucky, which held some of the most interesting sites of the trip.  Nashville was the first stop in Tennessee, and as it was shortly after lunch time I looked up the trendiest hole-in-the-wall for a bite to eat, and ended up at Prince’s Hot Chicken IMG_1529Shack, on the north end of town.  Was it worth the hype, and the wait?  Maybe not, but it was pretty good, and certainly nothing like the fried chicken we have in the frozen north!  Two days in Nashville were full of music and culture, then it was on to learning about Tennessee’s natural history, and the tasty whiskies it made possible.   Check out the next few posts for more details!

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White Sand Beaches

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a perfect fall weekend late last September, I found myself exploring the “North Coast” of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  My chosen timing was a little bit of a crapshoot – it could have just as easily been 40 degrees and drizzling, as the sunny and high-in-the-60s that I got instead.  Unfortunately, that brought with it the complication of itinerary-planning.

At Pictured Rocks, as at many National Parks, backcountry camping is allowed only at designated sites, and only by permit.  Pictured Rocks is a day’s drive from both Chicago and Detroit, not to mention all the points between, so its 15 or so backcountry sites can be booked far in advance.  I figured that with my post-Labor Day travel, the sites wouldn’t all be reserved.  Though I wasn’t wrong about that, by the time I arrived at the Visitor’s Center late on Friday, the pickings were slim.   I had to scrap my initial plan, as the more popular sites had already filled up for all three of the nights I had planned to be there.  I wound up making a tour of the Beaver Basin Wilderness, a valley of inland lakes and maple-beech forest, and spending the bulk of the weekend in a less-busy area of lakeside cliffs.  I never really saw the eponymous “pictured rocks,” except from a distance, but got a good taste of the rugged beauty of the landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI arrived at the Beaver Basin Overlook in the late afternoon, and met a group of bear hunters coming off the trail.  I couldn’t take long to chat, though, or to observe the fabulous view – I had four miles to go before the sun set!  I walked down an old road grade into the valley, and flushed a couple grouse in a grove of young aspen near the crossing of Lowney Creek.    I couldn’t stop by the babbling rapids, but pushed on, up a rise, and onto a broad plateau of maple woods.  This was the least interesting part of the walk, but it eventually transitioned into an older-growth forest, with large beech and yellow birch interspersed with knobby old sugar maples.  Finally the flat woods ended, and I began to push uphill – the end of my power-hike finally near!  I meandered along the increasingly-sandy trail, and the hemlocks that had transitioned into red pines became white and jack pines in turn.  The ostrich ferns and wildflowers wereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA replaced with bracken ferns, blueberries, and short grasses.  Within moments I had gone from a northern mesic forest to a sand barren and finally to a north-facing cliff….where I arrived just in time to watch the sun set over Lake Superior!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First view the next morning

First view the next morning

I spent that first night, as well as the second, at Pine Bluff campground, along with three other groups the first night, and only two the second.  I could hear

My campsite

My campsite

the waves crashing from my tent, but was sheltered enough from the wind.  There’s plenty of fresh water there, too… the only catch is you have to wade out waist deep in the big lake to get at it! So I waited in my tent until I was too warm in the morning, then I ran down there clothed in long underwear, clutching my water bottles and filter.  In late September, the lake is still pretty close to its high temperature for the year… but the air temperature has gone down a

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

bit.  After a few minutes of pumping my filter, trying to keep it under the waves but above the sand, I had a couple bottles of water, but couldn’t feel my toes anymore!  I ran back up the hill to get my blood moving, changed into dry clothes, and prepared for the day.  I hiked east to Sevenmile Creek, enjoyed lunch by the creek, and walked around on the beach.  The beaches looked tropical, with white sands and clear, bright blue water… but the winds were a good reminder of fall in The U.P.!    I filled up all of my water bottles in the creek and hiked them back to the campground… didn’t want to take another chilly dip that night!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

The next day, I hiked westward towards the Coves campground, named for the numerous rocky inlets near it.  I took a couple of breaks along the way, one of whch was over an hour of lying on a sun-baked rock, reading a book in one of these sheltered nooks.  I got closer and closer to the outcrop of the pictured rocks, and though I never got all the way there,  I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAenjoyed the colors and the formations of the cliffs I was on.  The Coves campground was nearly deserted on a Sunday night in late September, so I was able to relax after my long and exhausting hike.  The next morning, I regretted not

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

having swim in Lake Superior since my arrival, so I decided to take a real dip – I kept my long underwear on again (a poor substitute for a wet suit!), but I actually ducked all the way under the water for at least a few seconds.  It was a lovely morning, and the “swim” was only part of it, but it helped to energize me for the trek back to civilization.  The hike out was long, but mostly pleasant,  I took the west side of the inland lake this time, with somewhat more varied woods, and a break for lunch on the swampy shores of that lake.  When I got back to my car and looked out at the Beaver Basin Overlook, I found that the foliage had become noticeably more orange since my first look a few days earlier.  As I drove south away from the coast, I saw the “fall colors” begin to “peak” as I neared home.  A beautiful end to a lovely weekend!

The "Pictured Rocks" at sunrise on my last morning

The “Pictured Rocks” at sunrise on my last morning

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon