Tag Archive | trail

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!

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Still Winter

It has been warm for the past few days, but today snow fell again, to remind us that winter hasn’t let go just yet.  I’m getting antsy for spring to begin, but in the meantime I’ll continue to showcase the joys of the winter wonderland we live in, here in the frozen North.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a morning to go cross-country skiing on a trail system I’d never visited before, in Niagara, WI.  Afterwards, I headed across the river to Michigan to hike the trail in to Piers Gorge, and check out some more frozen waterfalls.  I thought I’d share some of the experiences of that day.

IMG_0056The trails in Riverside Park feature 17 winding km of groomed classic skiing.  Despite living only 20 miles away, I hadn’t even known that this trail netweek existed, until I went onto SkinnySki to look for some new adventures.  I highly recommend that site for information about trails near home or in unfamiliar locations, at least in the upper Midwest.  The trails lead through some pretty scenery, from IMG_0053recent aspen clear-cuts and red pine plantations, to fields, spruce swamps, marshes, and riverfront.  There are some hills, but most of the terrain is flat (in the Menominee River floodplain), or rolling at best.  Despite being just outside of town, it feels like skiing in more remote parts of the Northwoods (which I’ll get to in later posts).  My only criticism is that it could use some maps.  There are a lot of loops, most of which eventually connect up at some point, but it would have been nicer to have been able to plan the journey better.

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

 

IMG_0074Though tired from skiing, I wanted to see how some of the more turbulent portions of the river were looking in frozen condition.  I crossed over into Norway, MI, and hiked up the snowy trail to Piers Gorge.  It is beautiful in any season, and this was no exception.  It’s hard to capture the intricacies of the ice buildup without more sunlight to provide contract… which should be an excuse for you to come and visit it yourself sometime!IMG_0078

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Five Months Later… A Different World

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A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Pictured Rocks to see the spectacles blanketed in snow and ice. Munising, MI had gotten quite a bit of snow, compared

Miner's Falls Road, Munising, MI

Miner’s Falls Road, Munising, MI

to points just a little farther inland, but even so it was nowhere near the potential for that area in late winter. “Lake effect” snow falls on the band of land along the Great Lakes, a result of slightly elevated temperature and moisture content, as well as air currents. Munising’s average annual snowfall is around 152″.  I don’t know exactly what the snow depth was on March 3rd, when I was there, but I would estimate around 2′ or slightly more. Today, Munising comes in at 34″ on the ground; the deepest snow depth ever recorded for Marquette, just down the road, on March 15th, was 63″and today they’re at about 20″- so we’d have a long way to go this year. Still, I was less interested in exploring the snow than the ice – frozen water at its finest covering the largest lake in the world and its surrounding waterfalls.
I only had a couple hours between when I arrived and when the sun was scheduled to set. I stopped in at the Interagency Visitor’s Center, and the woman at the desk said that the best waterfall to see would be Miner’s Falls, but that the road was only plowed part of the way in. The rest, she said, was used as a snowmobile trail, and it would be a two mile hike down it to the falls. At least that was how I understood it… reality turned out to be a little different, with the full hike to the falls over 3 miles. The snowmobile “trail, ” too was more heavily-used than I’d expected. It was really a road, long and straight, and as I hiked along the edge, snow machines came whizzing by at over 60 mph, stirring up a mist of snow and leaving an acrid exhaust in their wake. I was happy to finally turn off onto the side road to the falls after 40 minutes of trudging anxiously alongside them.

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner's Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner’s Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

I got to Miners Falls as the sun was setting, so I didn’t have much time to explore, just to stand in the observation area and shoot a few photos. The formations of ice and snow on the falls, the frozen river, and the trail’s ridge were beautiful and amazing!

Miner's Falls and Miner's River, viewed from above

Miner’s Falls and Miner’s River, viewed from above

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When I got back out to the snowmobile road, it was getting dark, and the traffic had slowed considerably – in fact only one group of four sleds passed me on my walk back to the car. By the time I arrived, full dark had set in, and the stars had come out in the peaceful cold stillness of the Upper Peninsula. Miner’s Falls is beautiful in winter, but I’m not sure it is worth the hike all the way in. However, snowmobile seems like an excellent way to explore the National Lakeshore in winter- you can access many sites in a day. Hiking out on the rugged lake ice (with plenty of windproof clothing!) would be a unique way to see the beautiful rock formations. There are far fewer people than in summer, and the austere light and colors of winter make for great photographs. I may just have to try renting a sled next year and seeing what I can find!

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Lake Superior’s Shelter Bay, dotted in fishing shacks, with the beginning of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the northeast.

We Have a National River?? Part 1

Snowball, AR to Silver Hill, AR

Miles 9051-9071

Nov 3-5, 2010

I turned north onto US Highway 65, intending to cross the Buffalo River, take a look at it, and then continue the last 25 miles or so into Missouri, which would ultimately put me home in Chicago the following night, at an easy pace.  However, as the grade steepened for the descent to the river, the semi in front of me applied the brakes and slowed down to a crawl… er, a safe speed.  Antsy behind the big truck, I noticed a big sign off to my left, leading to the Buffalo National River Visitor’s Center, and at the last moment I swung the wheel and turned down the drive.

I’m pretty knowledgeable about the various classifications of public lands in our country – I can tell a National Park from a National Monument, a State Park from a State Recreation Area, a Wildlife Refuge from a Wildlife Area – but I had never heard of a “National River.”  I figured that it was probably something a little different from the federally-designated “Wild and Scenic River,” maybe something to do with historical significance or something?  In any event, I hadn’t expected the huge sign, landscaped parking lot, museum displays, or campgrounds that greeted me at the Tyler Bend Visitor’s Center, so I thought I’d look around for a minute.

I drove around the premises, found a campground that was uninspiring but offered spigots for refilling my dry water bottles, then took another fork that I hoped would lead me to the river.  Instead, it seemed to dead end in a huge mowed grassy field, and I went to turn back around again.  As I did so, I noticed a small cardboard sign leaning against a stop sign, reading, “Trail Crew Park Here.”

Back when I had begun planning this trip, four or five months before, I had thought that I might volunteer for several days at a time in a few spots around the country, trading my knowledge of recreation and ecological management for the opportunity to learn something new about a place I’d never been.  That part of the plan never materialized, largely due to my own lack of persistence, but also to the ridigly-scheduled nature of most volunteer opportunities.  Plus, and I can say this because I have led more than my share of well-meaning but inexperienced volunteers, if someone walks up to you off the street and offers to help you out for a day or two, chances are that you will spend that whole time supervising the “help” and never get around to what you would otherwise have gotten done that week.   You wind up a little skeptical of how beneficial these temporary volunteers actually are.

Now, though, I was at the end of my journey… and it had been totally selfish, barely a moment of the last 2.5 months spent on someone other than myself, none of my 9 thousand miles of exhaust spewed into the atmosphere for social or environmental good.  So I hurried to the visitor’s center, straightened my ball cap and worn sweatshirt, and went inside.  After looking around the museum for a moment, I went up to the woman at the desk and asked about the sign.  She explained that the trail crew work was an annual event, organized by a friends’ group, and that if I wanted to help, I should go down and talk to them at the end of the day, in a couple hours.  I spent those hours on a hiking trail through an old homestead and out to an overlook, and by the time I got back to the parking lot I was sold on the desire to work on one of these trails myself. …

Along the Buffalo River, with Cliff Goldenrod and Juniper on the bluffs, I felt like I was 500 miles farther north, on the Mississippi.

Along the Buffalo River, with Cliff Goldenrod and Juniper on the bluffs, I felt like I was 500 miles farther north on the Mississippi.

St. Croix State Park

Days 3 – 4         September 2-3, 2010

Mile 437-463

Hinckley, MN

St. Croix State Park is, according to their literature, the largest Minnesota state park (with over 34,000 acres), and contains two wild and scenic rivers (The St. Croix is a National Wild and Scenic River, and the Kettle River is designated as such by the state).  It was originally developed as a park by the National Park Service and mostly constructed by CCC workers, and was intended to showcase excellence in recreation development.  That is does, as the facilities here are by far the most varied I have ever seen in a state park.

Kettle River Highlands

St. Croix River

In addition to two backpack camps (Crooked Creek, where I stayed, and Bear Creek), there are several maintained canoe campsites, a large campground, and an equestrian campground.  There are probably a hundred miles of multi-use trails criss-crossing the area.  Moreover, there are two fully-equipped guest houses for rent, two “trail center” pavilions with fireplaces, tables, and shower facilities, and a lodge and nature center. The former CCC camp now houses the Minnesota Conservation Corps, as well.  Without doubt, you can find something to suit your needs here!

Barrens in St. Croix State Park

The park also has some ecological interest, though it is not quite as remarkable in this regard.  Most of the area was cropland before being purchased from failing farmers during the Great Depression, though the federal wild-and-scenic designation now restricts any development (or even parking) along the St. Croix.  The reason the farmers didn’t do so well may have been due to the sandy soils in the area (in large part a result of glacial outwash, according to one interpretive display), and those same poor soils now support a limited array of vegetation.  Jack pines, adapted to grow in those dry areas, are the primary species of the majority of the park today – in the form of forest, woodland, and barrens.  In my meanderings, I did not see any great examples

Restoration in progress (left side of the road) at St. Croix State Park

of the first two, but there are some bits of barrens along the St. Croix that I spotted.  For the most part, the park was very overgrown and was not putting as much effort into ecological management as into its recreational facilities (pretty much the norm for a state park), and I found maple and aspen to be the dominant species throughout much of the area.  One interesting feature, though, is that the entire park is in the low-lying river valley, so that any time the level of its well-drained sandy soils dipped down a few feet, it became damp enough for an entirely new set of species.  One could go from barrens to wetland to forest over the course of a few hundred feet, which I thought was pretty cool.

All in all, I liked St. Croix State Park, but I think the facilities really tipped the balance for me.  The mosquitoes very nearly tipped it back – on my six mile hike out on Thursday morning, I killed at least 600 of the buggers on just my hands and forearms!  I had been planning to take a little break, but no dice – they

Maples (small-diameter trees) invading woods (larger-diameter tree is a red oak).

swarmed me if I slowed up at all.  And counting them was about the only way to break up the monotony of the uniform scenery.  It’s definitely a great place to go if you want to practice backpacking – since you don’t have to pack a tent, they supply firewood out there, and the trail is super easy (one caveat: water is not easily available at the sites).  I think the Bear Creek backpacking site would be a little more exciting than the one I was at, and I would definitely recommend going in a drought year – or really early or late in the season.  Actually, I bet it would be a pretty nice place to see some fall colors, and the bugs should be mostly gone by then!

 

 

Dear Readers: This is one of the most often-viewed posts on this site, and readers seem to often get to it based on internet search results.  So I’m curious:  Did you find what you were looking for here?  What information would be more helpful?  What was the most useful or entertaining?  Thanks for sharing your thoughts!