Friday, June 19, 2009
Hit the trails - but don't forget your hiking poles!
There's no better way to explore nature than to lace up a pair of hiking boots and hit the trails. Whether you're in a park or a national forest the variety can be amazing. Even the same trail can look completely different travelled in the opposite direction or at a different time of the day. We found this to be especially true of Blackwater Falls. What a variety of trails!
We hiked about eight miles within the park during our three-day visit as well as a four-miler round trip into the Monongahela National Forest on the Allegheny Trail. Put on your virtual hiking boots and pick up your poles and walk along with us.
The Balsam Trail starts at the Blackwater Falls campground and meanders through a green wood absolutely covered with Christmas Tree ferns. You could have called this the Christmas walk as a matter of fact. Growing up my dad always bought a balsam fir to decorate and they were everywhere. I never realized how large they could grow as you can see from the photo below where I'm absolutely dwarfed by the tree (and you can't even see the angel on the top!). The branches were all weighed down from the heavy rains during the night. I was tempted to lift them up and see if any of Santa's elves were hiding there.
We walked the Elakala Falls and Balanced Rock trails which both meandered through dark woods which reminded me of Bilbo Baggins adventures in Mirkwood. The deep shade from the hemlocks allowed very little underbrush to grow but the rhodadendrons didn't seem to mind the gloom as much. They proliferate throughout the park. It would be a glorious sight to be there when they are in full bloom, but they had already finished.
The trail head of the Balanced Rock path was in the cabin area where someone or a group of someones had built a visual of the trail's name.
My favorite walk of our trip was a cross country ski trail (a portion of the Gee Haw) that intersected to Spudder Track. We picked it up on the road to the nature center and turned right on Spudder Track to head over to Pendleton Point lookout. The track was a grass path cut through a meadow bordered by woodland overflowing with blooming mountain laurel, one of my favorite flowers.
The walk out of the park was an adventure in itself. Once we got into the woods, the Allegheny Trail was narrow and much of it along a rocky, wet track that obviously becomes a streambed in heavy rains. We called it the shlerp trail because we often found ourselve in muddy footing with a sucking slurping sound at each step. We definitely needed our poles and boots for this hike. Even so I lost my footing on a wet rock and went down, but softly and didn't hurt anything but my pride. It did get me thinking about what to do if one of us got really hurt on a hike. You wouldn't walk out with a broken hip, that's for sure. We trecked as far as the first shelter which was about two miles from the point we left the park. It looked like a nice dry place to spend a night in the woods for overnighers. We are day hikers with no interest in carrying the kind of equipment needed for sleeping in the woods. (I love my bed!)
Our last hike of the trip was a circuit made from a section of the Yellow Birch Trail, the Red Spruce Riding Trail (The name is a holdover from the time the park operated a stable.), and the Water Tank Trail (yes, there's a huge water tank). The portion of the Yellow Birch was the most difficult of the trip with lots of fallen trees, very rocky, and several places where we had to look for the blazes to stay on the path. One spot required climbing through a narrow opening between two rocks with a three foot drop on the other side. Wow! I was sure happy we didn't leave the poles in the car.
Once we got to the Red Spruce and Water Tank sections it was a walk in the park -- with a wide path and easy footing. Near the petting zoo we met a group of guinea hens also out for a walk. They didn't mind pausing for a photo shoot.
And then, of course, we found the water tank. Do you think we could have missed it?
If you are hikers like we are and enjoy the great outdoors, if you aren't afraid of getting your feet muddy and having hat hair -- take a walk in the woods. There's plenty to see at Blackwater Falls. I'll finish with a photo taken from just one of the overlook spots (Lindy Point). It doesn't get better than this.