Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cox Hall Wildlife Management Area

Today Noelle, Sierra, Mom, Dad and I headed over to the Cox Hall Wildlife Management Area to check things out. The area is the location of the former Ponderlodge Golf Course,
golf course closed
which my Dad has fond memories of playing back in the day. The course closed about 10 years ago when the owner failed to pay his taxes on the property. The state of New Jersey turned the land into a wildlife preserve by planting the sterile fairways with native grasses, trees, and forbs.

After parking the car we set out on a paved path that looked to me like an old golf cart path.
Sierra and grandparents
We saw some turtles in a small pond,
looking in pond
an interesting butterfly,
butterfly on flowers
and even Sierra's favorite: a frog. There is a large pond nearby where the clubhouse once stood. In the middle of the pond is an island on which sits a gazebo.
creepy gazebo
There had once been a bridge leading to the island, but due to vandalism the state tore it down some years ago. We walked all the way around the pond and headed back to the car on a different path through oaks and pitch pines.
trail through woods

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cape May Point State Park and South Cape May Meadows Nature Preserve

Today Noelle and I went on a date to explore Cape May Point State Park and its environs. We headed to the park and immediately looked for birds at the observation deck near the parking lot. We didn't see a whole lot from that area and so we headed over to the trails. We opted to start our hike on the yellow trail. We passed some nice views of the Cape May Point Lighthouse
Cape May Point Lighthouse
and over to some ponds
pond and birds
birder Noelle
where we spotted some mute swans, northern shovelers, and Gadwalls. We also saw two muskrats and a lonely cottontail rabbit.
rabbit in leaves
We walked some boardwalks,
Noelle on boardwalk
then passed an area that is closed for nesting birds
closed area
before heading over to the nearby South Cape May Meadows Nature Preserve.

The preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy and contains similar habitat to what you find in the state park. The area was once a neighborhood that was often flooded. We walked the trails and looked for birds.
birding again
We saw another muskrat
and a Canada goose on her nest right off the trail.
goose on nest
Then we headed to Wawa for lunch which we ate at a picnic table near the Fisherman's Memorial
fisherman memorial
and the Coast Guard station. We saw lots of interesting birds including brants, a short necked goose species, lots of mergansers, and double crested cormorants.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

East Point Lighthouse

After doing a little bit of shopping in Millville and grabbing some lunch; Noelle, Sierra, Mom, Dad and I headed over to East Point to check out the lighthouse there.
East Point Lighthouse
The lighthouse is very interesting. It was built way back in 1849 at the mouth of the Maurice River. We braved the strong winds to explore the area a little bit, but didn't spend too much time reading the interpretive signs
Mom reading sign
or enjoying the beach.
cold wind

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fort Washington Park

It's cherry blossom time in the Washington, DC area! While Noelle, Sierra and I opted to avoid the big crowds near the tidal basin, we got a chance to see some cherry trees blooming at Fort Washington Park, just south of our nation's capital.
cherry blossoms
under cherry tree
We woke up in Staunton, Virginia this morning and made the drive east to the DC area. Then we headed south to Fort Washington, Maryland. We arrived at the park hungry and ate lunch in the parking lot
parking lot picnic
before beginning our exploration of the fort, formerly the Warburton Manor estate.
warburton manor

After lunch we passed Battery Decatur
Battery Decatur
and checked out the visitor center, inside the old Commandant's House.
yellow house
We stamped our passport books and headed out to the fort.
fort entrance
You pass over a dry moat, through a large door
walking into fort
and into the parade grounds. We checked out the fort jail
in jail
and then headed down into the casemate.
old casemate door
After climbing back up to the parade grounds we admired the view from the gun positions.
old cannon
There was a great view of the interior of the fort
and down to an old battery.
people exploring
We walked around some,
Sierra and Noelle walking
exploring little nooks and crannies of the fort.

Soon we headed out of the fort itself and down a hill towards the Potomac River.
We stopped at the battery we could see from the fort.
daddy and Sierra
There were two large earthen rooms that I'm guessing were ammunition magazines.
Then we headed down to lighthouse 80.
After looking at the lighthouse we climbed the hill back towards the visitor center and past the fire control tower
Fire Control Tower
to the parking lot for the resumption of our trip to New Jersey. It was another great off-the-beaten-path visit to the DC area!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Newton Bald Trail

Today was my last hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at least for a while. As I mentioned in a post back in February, the Grunwalds are headed north to Minnesota in a few weeks. Today, however, I thought I would savor one more hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. I arrived at the trailhead for the Newton Bald Trail just before 8 am.
I gathered my pack and hit the trail. The hike was a long, but gradual, ascent. I saw the first wildflowers of 2016 along the way: some hepatica.
1st wildflowers

Before I knew it, I was at the intersection with the Mingus Creek Trail.
at mingus creek
I sat and ate a snack at the junction and then continued on. The trail skirted the summit of Newton Bald. I decided I would make the short bushwhack to tag the summit on the return trip though. I passed Campsite 52 and continued on to the Thomas Divide Trail. At Thomas Divide I made a right to hike a short .4 mile section that I missed the other two times I had hiked in this vicinity. I reached the junction with Sunkota Ridge
last junction
and then promptly turned around to head to the summit of Newton Bald.

The bushwhack involved a hike along an undefined ridge up to the highest point of the mountain. It is no longer a bald though, and so there are no distant views. I took a photo at the highest point,
Newton Bald summit
rested a bit, and then made my way back to the Newton Bald Trail for the descent back to the car. The hiking went very fast. There's not a whole lot to divert one's attention yet this time of the year. most wildflowers have not yet emerged and the wildlife is not very active yet. I did find a nice snail shell though.
snail shell

Once back at the car, I changed into my sandals and headed over to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to claim my Hike the Smokies reward pins. Over the course of our 3 years in Tennessee, I've manged to hike just over 500 miles in the National Park and have therefore earned all three pins.
hiking pins
After claiming my prizes, it was a long drive back to Greeneville. Of all the things that I will miss about living here, perhaps the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be the greatest.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Bradley Fork, Cabin Flats, Lower Dry Sluice Gap Trails

I awoke early this morning, sneaked out of the house as quietly as possible, and hit the road bound for the Great Smoky Mountains. After a stop in Newport for gas and a yummy gas station breakfast I made my way through the curves on Interstate 40 and into North Carolina. I passed through Maggie Valley, Cherokee and into the National Park to find that the Newfound Gap Road was closed. Luckily it was open to the Smokemont Campground and the trailhead for the start of my hike.

While the Bradley Fork Trail starts in the the D Loop of the Smokemont Campground, only the first loop is currently open and so I drove over to the parking lot at the Luftee Baptist Church, parked, and hit the trail from there. Actually, I checked out the old church
Luftee Baptist Church
and its outhouse
first and then hit the trail. The first section of trail I hiked is signed as the Smokemont Stables Trail. It was one mile to its junction with the Bradley Fork Trail.
to Bradley Fork sign
Along the way I passed an old abandoned amphitheater.
overgrown amphitheater
I'm sure many an evening campfire program occurred here back in the day, but today it looks like the apocalypse has wiped out human civilization allowing nature to reclaim the earth.

After a short time, I reached the Bradley Fork Trail. The lower sections of the trail are really an infrequently used road.
road trail
The smooth surface and gentle ascent made for some fast hiking. Every now and then I stopped to admire the view of the trail's namesake Bradley Fork. The lower sections of the stream were relatively tame,
Bradley Fork
but the higher sections churned and cascaded over boulders and tree branches.
another cascade
I quickly reached the intersection with the Chasteen Creek Trail
1st junction
and continued on the Bradley Fork Trail. Soon the trail hugged the edge of the stream.
trail and creek
Eventually the trail reaches a spot where a small creek cascades into Bradley Fork.
cascade into creek
Soon after the trail reaches its junction with the Cabin Flats Trail. This is where I would leave the Bradley Fork Trail.

Almost immediately after it starts, the Cabin Flats Trail crosses a stream on a sturdy steel bridge.
on bridge
There were several big old-growth trees along the Cabin Flats Trail and I stopped to admire a few of them.
big tree
I made my way to Campsite 49
campsite 49
and then turned around to head back to the junction with the Dry Sluice Gap Trail. It would be quite an ascent on the Dry Sluice Gap Trail. Luckily, there were a few more large trees to break up the climb.
big tree looking up
While I didn't see much wildlife on the hike, I did at least see evidence of wildlife, including these holes drilled into a tree by a pileated woodpecker.
pileated woodpecker holes
Besides the steepness of the trail, the climb on the Dry Sluice Gap was made difficult by snow. I had come unprepared. I didn't think to bring my microspikes.

The lower parts of the trail featured just a thin, but slippery, coating of snow.
However, as I approached my turnaround point at the Grassy Branch Trail, the snow was about 3 inches deep.
deep snow
After tagging the sign at the junction,
turnaround point
I slipped and slid back down the trail and made good time all the way back to Bradley Fork. On my way back to my car I noticed a side trail, complete with a "no horses" sign,
no horse trail
that I had missed on the ascent portion of my hike. As I had expected, this trail led to a cemetery. There was only one marked grave, that of the daughter of Tom and Clarinda Huskey.
Huskey daughter grave
After paying my respects I continued on. This time, rather than taking the Smokemont Stables Trail, I opted to continue on the Bradley Fork Trail and make my way through the campground.
Bradley Fork trailhead