Thursday, December 1, 2022

APPALACHIAN TRAIL EXPEDITION!

In October 2022, I left Arkansas to drive to North Carolina, to participate in  Road Scholar program ( www.RoadScholar.org) #17288, called "Nature Hiking in the Southern Appalachian Mountains".  I had participated in this same program in 2017, but many of the hikes that were planned for the 2017 trip got cancelled because of severe weather as a result of Hurricane Irma. ( You can read all about the adjustments that were made in that itinerary in the article I published on this blog, dated October 12, 2017, and titled "Southern Appalachian Hiking Expedition.)  As I was driving on a stretch of highway between Helen, Georgia, and Hayesville, North Carolina, I came across an expansive parking area that was designated for Appalachian Trail hikers, and their shuttle drivers.  I wanted to get a feel for what lay ahead, so I stopped to take a few photos, including this glass-covered map at the trailhead beside the highway:





There was a table there supplying "Trail Magic" for exhausted through-hikers, and a group of hikers resting while they waited on their shuttle drivers.  A "through hiker" is defined as a person who hikes the entire trail during a 12-month span of time.  The Appalachian Trail (abbreviated A.T.) is a 2,194 mile-long footpath that crosses the hills, valleys, and ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountain Range. It  has the honor of being the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, and traverses 14 states.
"Trail Magic" refers to the act of a "Good Samaritan" volunteer, setting up a relief station with water and other treats for hikers as they pass by the area. Such assistance is just a small sampling of the 240,000 volunteer hours per year, that enable the A.T. to endure about 3 million visitors per year!

Part of the trail came down to the area on the same side as the parking lot, and then continued across the highway.  Intersections such as this--where the trail intersects with a highway--are popular as MEET UP locations.  A foot trail as long as the A.T. is going to have LOTS of "intersections" with state  borders, various government agencies, volunteer organizations, etc.; I consider it a miracle that this trail, conceived in 1921, built by private citizens and completed in 1937, still exists today, in a society that has increasingly lost the desire to spend time outdoors!

And speaking of MEET UP locations, I was happy to MEET UP with other Road Scholar hikers on a Sunday afternoon, at the Hinton Center, in Hayesville, North Carolina (www.hintoncenter.org).  It is worth noting that this facility is also open for lodging for individuals, and not just groups. I would highly recommend you consider it, if you are ever in the area!  As we did every morning during the week, we met on the deck of the dining hall before sunrise on Monday morning, so that we could do stretching exercises, as we watched the sun come up over the lake:

The deck where we stretched is adjacent to the Hinton Center Chapel, which has this amazing view to those who are seated inside::
In addition to serving the purpose of stretching our muscles, the early morning time on the deck gave us the opportunity to listen carefully for bird sounds, which naturalist Liz would then identify for us, as to the name of the bird making that particular call. 
After breakfast, we would gather in front of our lodging, beside the vans, and get a review of the area we would be hiking on that particular day:

At the time of this program, Road Scholar was requiring masks when we were indoors, riding in the vans, or in close contact with others. 

This is a close-up of the map:

I will not give a detailed account of the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday's hikes, but will state that we hiked a different part of the Appalachian Trail each day, and the following were "place names" listed for the week:  Standing Indian basin, Rock Gap, Glassmine Gap, Long Branch Trail, Deep Gap, Standing Indian Summit, Glade Gap, Chunky Gal, Boteler Peak, Winding Stair Gap, Swinging Lick Gap, Panther Gap, Siler Bald, Wayah Crest, and Winding Stair.  It is a very good thing that I was with a trained, and experienced hiking guide, because after the first "Gap" nomenclature, I was confused, even though I had seven more "Gaps" to navigate!

One of the mountains we summited I am able to remember because there was a marker at the top that showed its name and elevation.  (the marker is next to my feet in this photo)

There were several other hikers at the summit, so we were able to get a group photo:



The following photos are just some interesting features of nature that we saw along the trail, that I want to remember, and so I am including them in this blog.  After all, the name of this program was "NATURE HIKING", and our leader was Naturalist, Liz Domingue (www.JustGetOutdoors.com).  My goal was to enjoy (and photograph!) some of the fascinating aspects of the natural world---not just race from "Point A to Point B"!  The other hike leader was Linda Flynn, and both ladies were valuable sources of information about the outdoors. I used both a Canon pocket-size digital camera, and my iPhone.  The nice thing about the iPhone, is that you can easily get that "fuzzy" look for a waterfall, without having to use a tripod (which is the way it was done in "days of old"!) 

I remember my high school science teacher, Mrs. JoAnne Rife, teaching us that where we lived in Arkansas, was part of the "Oak-Hickory Biome".  However, the area in North Carolina where we were hiking, was part of the  "Oak-Heath Biome or Forest".  This is a type of deciduous forest with well-drained, acidic soil, containing plants from the oak family and the heath family (Ericaceae).   Ericaceae would include heath plants, mountain laurel, blueberries, huckleberries, sourwood, azaleas, and rhododendron.  There are numerous sections of the A.T. in this area that pass through "Rhododendron Tunnels", and the photo below shows a hiker entering a rhododendron tunnel. 



One of the interesting features Linda pointed out along the trail was the "Eiffel Tower Tree":

 Another tree I spotted along the trail, had an unusual "crossed fingers" formation near its top:
We learned about a substance called "Rock Tripe", that our leader said was used by early settlers for food, whenever all other rations had been depleted (aka, a "famine food").  Several of us tasted it, and did not find it delicious, but perhaps acceptable if nothing else was available.  I would describe the taste as "bland", and I read later,  that it is often used in Asian cuisine, as well as traditional Chinese medicine. 
Rock tripe looked like "dark chocolate" peeling off a rock, as seen in photo below:

Our leader also pointed out this unusual "art work" of nature along the trail, that resemble hiking boots!
 
This profile photo of a hiker with her two hiking sticks (also called "trekking poles")  is a reminder to encourage the use of these walking aids when doing the A.T., as they can help take pressure off your knees as you ascend and descend.  Plus, they are very helpful for stability when doing water crossings. 


The photo below shows our entire Road Scholar group:

The group photo of all of us was taken by Bev Richardson, who along with her husband, Rod, had the role of "Host Couple" for our Road Scholar program.  They are pictured below, with birthday cake, as we got to celebrate Rod's birthday during our week at the Hinton Center.


 Appalachian Trail guidelines recommend no more than ten people to a group, so each day,  we split into two groups of ten each.  This photo shows one of the groups of  ten, that I was with on the first day.





When you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is POSSIBLE that there will be a sign as you enter the trail.  However, don't count on it!

Some of the trails show a sign on a post at the trail head, with AT standing for Appalachian Trail, and N, standing for North.  That is what I am pointing to, in the photo below:


Most "through hikers" on the A.T., start their trek at the southern end, at Springer Mountain in Georgia.  They go in a northerly direction, to where the trail ends in Katahdin, Maine.  Signs like the one below are very helpful, but one also needs a paper map to help navigate the numerous twists and turns the trail makes (many necessitated to circumnavigate private property, and keep the hikers on public lands).  Skill in using a GPS would also be a valuable asset for backpackers!
Since friends I know who backpacked on the A.T. said they preferred to sleep on the exterior of an A.T.  shelter, rather than the interior, it made me curious what they looked like, so  I was glad that our group  was able to take a side trail to examine a shelter:
The shelter had an elevated area in the back, (presumably for placing a sleeping bag), a sitting bench, a counter-height bench, a roof, and a concrete floor. 


This particular shelter also had a "potty" of sorts, several yards away from the roofed in structure:


For the most part, The A.T. trail is marked by white rectangular metal "blazes", nailed to a tree.  The blue blazes could indicate a side trail to a shelter for overnight use:

I used my Fit Bit to record the steps I took each day, and every day was a new personal record for me! The most steps per day I ever logged was 28,143.  I was feeling really proud of myself, UNTIL I came across this figure, as I was researching information for this blog:  "It takes roughly 5 MILLION steps to hike the entire Appalachian Trail"!!    Those numbers reminded me of the verse in the Psalms that talks about "steps".  Psalm 37:23 says, "The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him."  I was delighted I was able to complete the number of A.T. steps that I did, even though they are a LOOOOOOOOONG way from five million!  Making it to four separate summits, on the four days of A.T. hiking, means four photos of me with hands uplifted to God, in gratitude for being able to take the steps needed to make the summit! 
One reason I was so joyous about participating in the 2022 program is because so many of our hikes were cancelled when I did the same program in 2017.  However, one aspect of both programs included a visit to the Wayah Crest area.  Hence, I was able to get my photo with the same sign, but with me five years older, in one of the photos!:

To find out more about the Appalachian Trail, check out the website for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) and the National Park Service ( www.nps.gov).
  I am thankful for every step I was able to take on the Appalachian Trail for this program, and it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

SILVER FALLS STATE PARK EXPEDITION!


Silver Falls State Park is located near Silverton, Oregon, which is about twenty miles southeast of Oregon's capitol city of Salem.  It is the largest state park in Oregon, with an area of about 9,000 acres.


About six months before my visit, I had gone to their lodging reservation site (www.reserveamerica.com) to rent a cabin, in hopes that family members living near there, would be able to meet up with me at the park.  Sadly, those family members developed COVID, and were still in their quarantine period on the night the cabin was reserved.  So I was on my own for exploring this new-to-me destination!

As soon as I scoped out the cabin location, I headed to the main parking lot, for the hiking I wanted to do, on the Trail of Ten Falls.   The photo shows the kiosk where one needs to purchase their parking permit, and this can be done with a credit card. 
On the way to the trailhead, one will pass this historic structure, now known as the Silver Falls State Park Concession Building Area.  It was originally called simply, "Silver Falls Lodge".  It was started in 1934, and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that the Silver Falls area would be turned into a Recreational Demonstration Area..  This was a program during the 1930's run by the National Park Service that built 46 public parks, in twenty-four states, chiefly near urban areas.  The NPS used labor from a variety of Great Depression federal relief programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, to build these recreational demonstration areas.  This building's architectural style is called "National Park Service Rustic", sometimes called "Parkitecture".

The goal of "Parkitecture" is to create buildings whose interiors and exteriors, harmonize with the natural environment.  By the end of World War II, the recreational demonstration areas had all either become National Park Service units, or been given to their states for use as state parks, which was the case for Silver Falls.

The South Falls theater shows how native stone and native wood can blend into the landscape, more than a starkly modern, neon-colored structure would. 
Inside the South Falls theater, there was a wonderful display of native wildflowers and plants, with the names and descriptions, accompanying each clear glass display vase.   As a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist (www.arkansasmasternaturalists.org), I have a great appreciation for the amount of work that must have gone into preparing this exhibit! 
I made a slight detour from my path to the trail head, to visit the Silver Falls Nature Store.  My goal was to purchase a souvenir metal hiking stick medallion, and I was delighted to find out they had them in stock!  Of course, there was also myriad of additonal souvenir items, snacks, and camping supplies. 
 




Next I started on the path that was the beginning of the Trail of Ten Waterfalls, and within just a few feet, I could see one of the viewing areas for the mighty and majestic South Falls. 
When I made it to the view point, where tourists were taking turns getting a photo in front of the falls, I was so happy to be at this long awaited location, I lifted my arms in gratitude!


I have visited waterfalls in other states where I was able to walk underneath the falls, but none of them had such well-designed pathways, complete with wood and/or stone railings.  The South Falls is a 177-foot cascade, has an average flow rate of 75 cu ft/s,  and is the park's most visited waterfall.  

I read stories that said before this was a state park, a local entrepreneur sold admission to the falls area, with attractions such as pushing cars over the falls, and even hosting a stunt, with a daredevil riding over in a canoe. 


Around 1900, a Silverton photographer, named June D. Drake, began to campaign for park status, using his photographs of the falls, to gain support.  However, in 1926, an inspector for the National Park Service rejected the area for national park status, because of the numerous unattractive stumps left, after years of logging.  Thankfully, a decade later, the area did finally come under government protection. 


The Trail of Ten Falls is not wheel-chair accessible, although I did see one couple with a stroller enjoying the scenery with their toddler, near the beginning of the trail.  No other strollers were seen the rest of my hike.  (It should be noted, that the mom and dad were carrying it over several spots along the trail, rather than bouncing their stoller-bound child on the very rocky surfaces.)
After the bridge that crossed South Fork Creek, the trail made its way beside the creek, and between massive evergreen trees.

If you have an area with ten waterfalls, then you can assume that means there are several areas of extreme elevation changes to navigate!  Fortunately, the CCC and WPA built stairs that made this possible, without the need for rockclimbing gear!
This was my first time to see a hiker with a hula hoop!  I asked her what it was for, and she replied, "FUN!"



There is another set of stairs that leads to the Lower South Falls, which has a height of 93 feet..

Lower South Falls is one of four waterfalls in the park, that has an "amphitheater-like" formation underneath it, which allows visitors to walk behind the falls.   Can you see the people underneath Lower South Falls?
Several creeks gush their way through the narrow canyon, often causing the hiking trail to be muddy in some low-lying locations.
There are no "Golden Arches" along the trail, but this arching evergreen tree provided a nice archway that I could easily pass under.  Taller folks would probably need to bend over a bit.
This photo shows another one of the ten falls, that is formed from the run-off of a small tributary creek into the canyon. 

Notice a bridge has been built across the top of the waterfall in photo below.  It is called Drake Falls.
Since Drake Falls was named after a photographer who promoted the park, I wanted to have my picture made with it!  (See below) Drake Falls is called a "Plunge Type" waterfall, and has a height of 27 feet.  Its average flow rate is 100 cu ft/s , and is the smallest of the ten waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls.  If you reach Drake Falls, you know you have hiked a bit over  two miles,  past Lower South Falls.
A "long shot" view of yet another  one of the ten waterfalls in the park:.  (I have to admit, I lost track of which fall I was seeing at some of the locations, even thought the trail map listed all of them in sequence.  I wanted to experience looking at the actual flows, instead of a written guide, telling me the statistics of each flow!)

I was also concentrating on NOT missing the sign leading to the WinterFalls Trailhead, because that is the "cut-off", that would make my hike about seven miles long, instead of about eleven miles long. My plan was to complete the hike that would include the North Falls location, on the next morning.

Winter Falls has a height of 134 feet, yet it is not the tallest in the park.  It has an average flow rate of 100 cu ft/s  .  In researching information about this park, I learned there are several different types of waterfalls: Plunge; Horsetail; Cataract; Multi-step; Block, Cascade; Segmented; Tiered; Punchbowl; Fan, and Ephemeral.  Definitions of these various classifications can be seen on Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org)
As I started my ascent out of the steep canyon, the trail has many switchbacks to "soften/decrease" the angle of climbing!
 
As I reached the higher elevations, the trail began to flatten out, and there was more the feel of a rain forest, than what one experiences at the bottom of the canyon.  Notice the trees are shrouded in moss, and ferns are abundant.




I could tell I was getting close to the lodge area, when the trail turned from dirt to bricks.  This paved trail took me back to the parking lot, where my car was awaiting!

Now that I was able to get into my rental cabin, I snapped a few photos, before I had it completely covered with my hiking gear, sleeping bag, and luggage strewn everywhere!  I enjoyed a quiet and restful sleep there, and awoke the next morning ready to have another trek into the park.

However, the weather did not cooperate, so I decided to explore the remaining areas of Silver Falls State Park, by car---rather than on foot---since a steady downpour of rain was making it evident why everything here is so green!
Although I did not get to hike to North Falls, there is an excellent view point I was able to drive to, for the photograph below.  North Falls is 65 feet in height, with an average flow rate of 100 cu ft/s .
After a most enjoyable exploration of Silver Falls State Park, it occurred to me that I had searched the park, trying to get to know its heart.  Being along its well-marked trails, had helped me get rid of my anxious thoughts.  I saw nothing offensive within the park, and I pray that it will be a  parkway everlasting, for generations to come.  Hence, this blog post serves as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com) memory verses that says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Psalm 139:23-24

If you would like to plan a visit to this amazing location of  numerous waterfalls, you can learn more at their website of www.stateparks.oregon.gov .  This trip gave me "MILES OF WATERFALL SMILES!"  Tricia