Meadow Brook Preserve – Hauk-Fry Trail

Over the years, I had come to realize that if I want to explore the outdoors I needed to do so early in the day. There have been too many times when I assumed that I would go on a hike after lunch and it somehow never happened.  So when the second weekend in December brought clear weather and seasonable temperatures, we decided to explore the Hauk-Fry trail of the Meadow Brook preserve in Swanville.

The Meadow Brook preserve consists of three separate tracts of land with a mile long trail on each of two of the tracts. Since the local land trust has been placing highly visible signs on the various preserves, we assumed that we would locate this spot and a parking pullout without any problem. Alas, after we drove way too long, we were forced to turn around and looked more closely for the preserve designation on our return trip. We eventually found a small off-road sign for each of the two pieces of land but neither one provided a pullout. The directions to this piece of land did indicate that we should park on the road and we did so with some reservation since the lane was a bit curvy.

The day was still cold enough that the morning frost had not yet lifted and as we walked along the trail, I marveled at the icy designs on the surrounding vegetation. We walked along a narrow path and across some slippery bog planks along our journey towards Hurds Pond. As we traveled, I realized how each preserve we have hiked has its own unique character. This particular spot of land was punctuated by moss covered rocks scattered around the trail, which created its own challenges for moving around these obstacles. On one rock, I counted at least 3 different types of mosses (actually 2 types of moss and reindeer lichen) and found a 4th on a nearby stone.

As we got closer to the water, we found a number of trees felled by beaver activity. The sharpened stump of the downed trees were all the remained. Of those logs that remained, they were all stripped of their bark and left behind. Walking around this area, we soon arrived at a picnic table overlooking the pond. Directly across from us, we had a wonderful view of a rather larger beaver lodge. We stood admiring the water views for a bit before retracing our steps to another fork that would take us to a stone dam, which according to our guide book could take us to the island across the river. When we arrived at the dam, we looked across at a series of blue blazes but did not feel comfortable crossing the ice covered stones and the beginnings of what appeared to be new beaver construction. I was not sure if this construction raised the water level across the stone dam but it was high enough for me to deem the crossing unsafe. It was interesting to note, that another blogger who had explored the second trail of this preserve, commented that the back end of the loop was difficult to maneuver because the beaver activity in the area had made that portion of the trail very wet. We studied our options for a little bit before deciding to call it a day and turned back towards the preserve entrance and lunch in Belfast.

On the way back I reflected on the frost covered vegetation, the variety of mosses and lichens, the water views and beaver activity and realized that it had been a wonderful, discovery filled morning.


Gibson Preserve

During the first weekend in December, the temperatures were still fluctuating between a balmy 50 and more seasonable night-time lows in the 20’s. On one of those spring like moments, we decided to explore a section of the Gibson preserve. Since the two sections of the preserve were not connected, we opted to explore the larger area, leaving the 1 mile trail for another day. Our exploration for this outing would also give us the option of exploring a portion of the Ridge to River trail if we so decided since the two trails were directly across from each other.

First, we had to get to the trail-head. The directions on the Georges River Land Trust site indicated that after turning on to Ripley we should park off the road, walk across a bridge and veer right at the fork. Unfortunately, we misinterpreted the road as Riley and had to turn around when we reached the second section of the preserve. Once we corrected our mistake, we made our way to the dirt road that would lead to the two trail-heads. Well, it may have been dirt lane at one time. We stood for a moment, gazing down a long river before making our way alongside this large expanse of water. The thought crossed my mind that I would sure hate to see what this preserve looked like during the wet season, not only because of the water but I also thought about the number of black flies and mosquitoes that must inhabit this area!

Examining our map, we decided that we would be able to create a nice loop by combining the Orange, Yellow and Blue trails. Once on the orange trail, we found the ground was still spongy beneath our feet. In fact, most of Gibson consisted of a lush ground cover of a variety of mosses. Not far into our walk, we found a downed tree covered in Beard Lichen. The long whitish-green hairy growth was lovely to behold. Directly across from this artwork, I found another fine specimen of the orange jelly fungus I had first seen during our exploration of the Mount Pleasant preserve.

Not long after our discoveries, the orange trail began to follow the St. George River. From where we stood, I assumed that we were looking at the second section of Gibson preserve just across the river. For a number of years now, there has been statements on the land trust web site that they have been trying to find ways to connect the two sections but nothing has ever happened. Judging from the width of the river I am not sure that they could easily connect the two parts. For now, we continued towards the orange loop.

Soon, we arrived at the beginning of the orange loop. There was a lot of blow down and damaged trees in this area and we decided to deal with the tree blocking one portion of the loop at the end of our adventure. For now, we continued straight, stopping to admire the artistic swirls within another freshly downed tree.

At the first intersection with the yellow trail, we opted to continue on the orange trail but did side-step onto this trail to study a vernal pond not that far in. Making our way around the orange loop, we noticed that this section of the preserve consisted of cedar, white pine and spruce trees. There were quite a few elongated pine cones on the ground which we assumed to be from the white pines.

Turning on to the yellow trail, we continued to notice the various conifers above and the mosses below. At some point we crossed a bridge and I noticed from my map that we completely missed the blue trail. We turned back towards the bridge and looked across the water where we could see blue blazes deeper in the woods but there had been no sign of a turnoff towards that trail either at the bridge crossing or further up the trail. Since we had already passed both places where the trail intersected the yellow, we decided to abandon the exploration of the blue trail and headed back towards the entrance. We made our way around the downed tree where the yellow trail met the orange, managed to avoid falling into the river that made up the road leading back to our car and heading home for lunch. It had been a beautiful hike.

Happy Holidays 2017

It seems like December is just flying by as we rush to finish our holiday preparations. On the 9th of December we had our first snow fall, followed by another 5 inches of snow on the 19th. We continue to watch the weather forecast and hope for a white Christmas but right now a wintry mix of ice and rain is forecast for the 23rd. Still we hope.

This week we had to deal with an oven that decided not to heat and for a while it looked like we would need to put plan B into action which would entail wrapping up all the dinner ingredients and heading 2 hours south for the use of our daughter’s oven. The important thing is to spend the holiday season with family. The new relay board arrived in time and our original plans are still in place.

And as 2017 comes to a close, I wish you all a holiday of warmth and love and shared times with your families. For me, that is what it is all about. I look forward to perhaps spending some quilting time with one daughter and listening to the adventures of my other daughter and appreciating, respecting and loving the differences between them; for the world would be a pretty dull place if we were all the same in temperament and personality.

For the New Year, I hope that we all come to a better understanding of each other and the world around us. May we also exhibit more compassion towards those who are different. Finally, may we appreciate and respect the gifts that the natural world has to offer and do what we can to protect these freely offered gifts.

May you all have a wonderful holiday!

Bald Mountain Challenge

Last spring, I mentioned to my husband that someday I would like to attempt Bald Mountain. Bald Mountain, located near the Camden Ski Bowl,  was not to be confused with our favorite hike up Bald Rock Mountain in the Camden Hills State Park. We had not trekked up this mountain, because so many people had told us that this hike was difficult and there were places were you had to climb up exposed ledge. Needless to say, I was pretty hesitant about this challenge of mine but we had gotten too complacent and lazy of late so the week before Thanksgiving we decided to give Bald Mountain a try. If the climb became too difficult we would abandon the goal for another time.

Our first task was to locate the parking area for the trailhead, which the local land trust relocated a number of years ago. We continued past the old pullout on our right, blocked off now by large boulders, and soon found a clearly marked parking field on the left just near the Hope town line. From here, the trail went through the field for a short distance before we had to continue across the road to pick up the path again on the other side. Soon we were in the woods, making our ascent.

Although the day was supposed to warm up into the 50s,  overnight we had experienced 20 degree temperatures and frost. We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 and since it was still on the cool side, we did find some ice on our route. In fact, we probably spent the next 20 minutes, studying the variety of ice heave formations that were covering a good portion of the path. One young girl we passed along the way was giving this art work a very close inspection, touching the delicate curly cues and straight angel hair thin pieces of ice.

Pretty soon, the blue blazes took a sharp turn upwards, and, as I looked up at the trail I though “you have got to be kidding”. There at the top of the ledge, right where we needed to go was an ice sheet just waiting to end some traveler’s hiking career. We studied our options for a bit before finding a route that would take us around this danger. Once on the more level section of the ledge, we still needed to find an alternate way around additional patches of ice. I took a moment to look across at the next hill and noticed the ice spotted exposed areas there, as well. What I didn’t know was that I was looking at the continuation of our journey.

We continued working around the icy areas for a short while before entering the woods once more. Along the way, we stopped from time to time to meditate on the views before us. Across the way was Ragged Mountain, closer to us along the trail was an interesting tree formation; each item was enough to give us pause and give thanks for the gifts of nature. A little further up the trail there were some tricky areas we needed to climb but soon we found ourselves on the exposed summit. We studied the landscape all around us; the Camden Hills in one direction, Camden Harbor in front of us, the previously mentioned snow bowl, and Hatchett Mountain. As I basked in the beauty around me and the successful completion of another challenge, I thought about another hiker’s comment when he was asked about visiting friends in a congested New York area. He replied “why would I want to be there when I already live in paradise”. Indeed, the views certainly reminded us that sometimes paradise is closer than we think.


A Different Exploration

Due to weather and other obstacles, not much hiking or exploring occurred from the end of October thru the beginning of November. However, Veterans Day Weekend found us in Fort Lauderdale on a different type of exploration. Six months ago, our daughter had moved down to Florida so when the temperatures reached a tolerable level, we decided it was time for a quick visit.

Once we met up at the hotel, our daughter thought it would be rather cool to explore the Everglades via an airboat tour. Our drive towards the park followed a canal that I noticed from the map ran from the Everglades to the coast. As a mother I felt some amount of fear knowing that my daughter could get to both places via her rubber kayak, where she could get lost in the Everglades and attacked by gators in one direction or washed out to sea in what in my mind amounted to a rubber raft in the other. These are the types of thoughts that keep many mothers awake at night. So, you can imagine I how relieved I felt when I noticed fences along the way. Later on she also admitted that she would be afraid of getting lost in all the different waterways making up the park.

During the tour, I kept studying the volume of waterlilies along the way. I was intrigued by the almost closed yellow flowers that were open just enough to reveal an orange center within. Our guide was very informative, providing us with information about the various inhabitants and threats to the Everglades, as well as spotting alligators and iguanas for us. One statement caused our daughter to comment to us that “so all of Florida is basically invasive”. I later tried to confirm some of the information. I was unsuccessful in verifying our guide’s comments on salt water within the park but I did find quite a few sources that indicated 26% of the species within the Everglades was considered exotic or invasive.

After our visit to the park, we headed to the downtown area where we had a fabulous lunch before walking along the canal. We spotted a few lizards along the way. At one point, we sat on a bench and watched a pair of squirrels running around a rather odd looking tree. I was so caught up in this that I failed to spot the interesting bird beneath the tree. When the heat began to bother us, we headed back to the hotel for a brief respite before heading out again.

We ended the day walking along the boardwalk at Hollywood Beach. It was enjoyable strolling along a well-lit walkway that provided access for both pedestrians and cyclists. We wandered around studying the various shops and restaurants on one side and the waves breaking on the shore on the other. After dinner, we strolled back along the beach to our starting point and called it a day.  It had been a great fun filled day made even more special by spending it with our daughter.