Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Hikes

November 23: My beloved REI Elements rain jacket gave up the ghost after a run through the washing machine, and I was forced to get a replacement. On Tuesday, I headed out solo to try the new jacket (a Patagonia shell), and I wound up running into an old friend. Last year, I encountered a large eight-point buck on Ganier Ridge Trail. I didn't have a camera that day, but for the longest, I watched him browse about thirty feet away. When I finally decided to move on, he walked along beside me almost as though he wanted a handout. Finally, after about fifty yards, he sped up and cut across the trail in front of me. On Tuesday the 23rd, I saw him again, this time earlier in the trail but still in the same general vicinity. I watched him for a while, snapping some pics as he tracked off the ridge. A little further up, I ran across his "harem," two does browsing for food and playfully nudging each other. In all, I saw nine deer, including a little spike buck (see video below) and a buck and doe in flagrante delicto. Clearly, the rut was on in late November.

Thanksgiving Week - Hike 1

November 24: The next day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, C and I decided to head back to Radnor and make the same hike. It was downright rainy, and my new jacket got a real test, which it passed with flying colors. On our loop of Ganier Ridge, we only saw a couple of deer, but one of them was (I think) the same little spike buck from the day before. Near the end of the hike, C was getting cold because of the rain, so we decided to stop at one of the trailside benches and cook up some hot chocolate.

Thanksgiving Week - Hike 2

Monday, November 22, 2010

Harpeth Woods Trail Redux

With fall starting to fade, the family headed over to Edwin Warner State Park for a hike of the Harpeth Woods Trail. We made it around the near-three-mile loop in about two-and-a-half hours, but that time included a stop at the picnic area at the southern tip of the trail. There, we had snacks and drinks, and E reveled in her liberation from the child carrier. She had the best time playing on the small bridge nearby (see video below).

At the end of our hike, C and E played in a designated children's area close to the park's Nature Center, and as an observer, I found the whole scene thought provoking. I recently read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, a book that claims we're becoming a nature-deficit culture, and I was struck by two things about this playground. The first was that this "natural" space was still cordoned off by a log fence, ostensibly to keep children contained and somehow delineate the area as "safe." Louv writes about how children's play has become increasingly organized, circumscribed, and sanitized. The second noteworthy element involved how much fun the children had playing in and around a big lump of dirt, free of strictures about how they should play. This scenario supports core principles of Louv's book, which argues that children need unconstrained play in natural settings and that such play has important cognitive and social benefits.

Harpeth Woods Trail at Edwin Warner

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Savage Gulf Overnight Trip

Saturday morning was devoted to Mr. C's soccer game, so Jimmy and I didn't hit the road until about 11 a.m. Originally, when we talked about hiking part of South Cumberland State Park, we'd considered covering the roughly 8.5 miles to Hobbs Cabin on day one. However, with limited daylight and an unfamiliar trail ahead of us, we aimed lower, instead shooting for the Dinky Line camp area about four miles in. To get to camp, we made our way up the east side of the Savage Day Loop (2.2 miles), took a right onto the North Rim Trail (0.3 miles), and then connected up with the North Plateau Trail (1.4 miles to camp). On the GPS capture below, our path on day one can be traced by starting next to State Hwy 111, following the track up the right-hand side, and reaching the thumbtack (waypoint) placed at the camp site.

Savage Gulf Trip
Click on the thumbtacks below for photos from those spots.

After registering at the Ranger Station for a site, we made good time to camp. On the way, we crossed several suspension bridges and wound our way through both low-lying foliage and more sparsely vegetated woods. We were a little disappointed to learn we'd be sharing the camping area with a Boy Scout troop, but we were at least able to secure the site furthest away from the noisy boys. We pitched tents quickly and set about scrounging for fire wood. Just down from our site, a 10" diameter fallen pine was perfect fire material, but I'd forgotten my saw, and the entire tree was a little tough to budge. Lesson learned on the saw.

Click photos to enlarge.
Later, with fire blazing as we finished our dinners, we quickly found out why you should obey the carry-in/carry-out policy at South Cumberland. Yes, there are environmental concerns, but perhaps more immediately, the Rangers lurk. I'd already read on a discussion board that the park Rangers there tend to pop out of nowhere and even monitor the trails at night. Sure enough, just as one of the people in our party (hint: it wasn't me) decided to burn a Mountain House aluminum pouch, a Ranger waltzed out of the darkness and into our camp. After we showed our permit, Jimmy strategically stoked the fire while I attempted to engage the Ranger in conversation and hold his gaze. Meanwhile, the offending lasagna pouch continued to sizzle and flutter. We did procure some good intel about the next day's hike, and luckily, we weren't issued a warning or ticket for a flagrant fire violation.

The night brought rain, and in the morning, we had to forego a leisurely breakfast in lieu of a quick pack-up. Slurping down water and scarfing energy bars, we cut west across the short Mountain Oak Trail which connects the North Plateau Trail to the North Rim Trail. Based on the Ranger's information, we were expecting spectacular scenes right away, but it wasn't to be. Fog had rolled in with the rain, and visibility was severely limited. As we traced the North Rim Trail southward, we began to wonder if we were going to see down into the Gulf at all.

In a number of spots, the North Rim Trail bumps up to the bluffs and allows for sightseeing into the Gulf. Finally for us, the fog lifted, and we were treated to some great scenery of the canyon, its rugged cliffs, and the late fall foliage. Though the wet weather made the rocky outcroppings slicker than usual, we edged out to a number of overlooks and took in some amazing panoramic views. One particularly excellent vista held a plaque noting how Samuel H. Werner and his wife Ellen Young Werner bought 3800 acres of the land in 1924 and protected it until it became a state natural area in 1974. To this monument, I would like to add a postscript: thank you, Samuel and Ellen.

With the same scene as a focus, Robert H. Mohlenbrock's "Through the stone's door" (Natural History, November 2002) traces the early development of South Cumberland's geology and provides a taxonomical breakdown of its flora. Mohlenbrock writes:

Viewed from the air, Savage Gulf looks like a giant footprint, with five deep canyons radiating from a central point. The canyons—or gulfs, as the local people call them—are each about five miles long and 800 feet deep and are rimmed almost continuously by sheer sandstone cliffs. ... Savage Gulf has been carved out by the Collins River as well as by Big Creek and Savage Creek. All these streams flow underground in places, though when the rain gets heavy, excess water is forced across the surface. Many miles of trails give hikers access both to the top of the plateau and to the streams below; several trails lead to overlooks of scenic waterfalls.

Our hike took us past one such waterfall, Savage Falls, so we dutifully trekked down a side path to the designated vantage point. My first reaction was that it wasn't very savage (see video below); only a thin stream of water cascaded off the rock face, though I imagine that more flow could make Savage Falls an impressive display. However, since Savage Creek looked inviting and since I needed more water, we decided to detour onto the South Rim Trail and visit the creek and falls up close. I rocked hopped down Savage Creek while Jimmy followed the trail down to the falls, where we snapped a number of pictures and enjoyed the rocky scenery.