Hike Ohio: Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

Yesterday was another perfect day for hiking in central Ohio. It was sunny and clear, with temperatures starting in the 50s and ending up in the 70s. We decided to drive east, to Heath, Ohio, to the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve. Our car’s GPS took us on a circuitous route to get there, even directing us down some gravel-topped one-lane country roads, but it was such a beautiful day, and the rolling countryside was so pretty, we really didn’t mind. By the time we reached the preserve, however, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs as we followed a couple with a youngster down the main trail.

Blackhand Gorge features miles of different trails, some of which are paved and some of which are natural. We turned off the main, paved trail to take the first natural trail we saw, which was the Buttonbush Swamp trail. The trail meanders for more than a mile and gives you glimpses of swamps, like the one shown above, natural wetlands, and small streams, like the one seen below. The sun was so bright that the countryside seemed to be stippled with gold in the sunshine as we hiked through the woods among the towering trees.

The Buttonbush Swamp trail isn’t a difficult trail and is well marked. It offers the opportunity for a pleasant, and quiet, walk through the woods on a meandering journey. In some spots, there are elevation changes where two stout walking sticks or grabbing a handhold is a good idea. Eventually the trail joins with the Quarry Rim trail, leads upward, and presents you with a view of an old quarry and pools of water through the trees. Yesterday, the bright sun through the trees left the ground, water, and cliffside striped with black shadows.

After you wind around the rim of the quarry and back down to ground level, you can go off the main trail and follow an ancillary trial down to the shore of the pool of water that has collected in the quarry bottom. It’s a bit of a scramble down and back up again, but the view at the bottom is well worth it. Yesterday morning there wasn’t a breath of wind, and the water below the quarry cliff, framed by the surrounding trees, reflected the colorful scene like a mirror. This view, alone, made the trip worthwhile–but there was more to come.

Shortly after the spectacular quarry view, the Buttonbush Swamp trail rejoined the main trail. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources website indicated that parts of the paved trail ahead were closed, so we decided to turn back and try to get a good look at the Licking River. The trail almost immediately took us straight through the Black Hand sandstone formation, which towered above each side of the trail. It was dark and cool in the shadows as we walked through the crack between the two sandstone cliffs.

The sandstone walls are dark and textured with chips and indentions, and the almost black color made for a striking contrast with the colorful tree leaves far overhead. Fortunately for us, the Ohio countryside is still at close to peak fall colors, and many of the leaves hadn’t yet been knocked off the trees by wind or rain. The yellows, reds, and oranges stood our sharply in the bright sunshine above as we strolled through the shadows below.

The main trail at Blackhand Gorge follows the Licking River for a while, with the river to one side and stone and wetlands to the other. There are sandstone formations throughout the area and wetlands in between, like a silent and still black pool, shown below, that is wedged in a crevice between smaller sandstone mounds, just off the main trail.

The main trail gives you many opportunities to appreciate the immensity of the sandstone formations, which were cut by the Licking River long ago. The photo below provides a sense of the scale of the sandstone ledges along the trail, with the Licking River, screened by trees, just off the left side of the frame.

There are several opportunities to follow ancillary trails off the main trail and get down to the banks of the Licking River. Some portions of the river cut right through the sandstone, while others present a more pastoral scene. According to the ODNR website, this portion of the Licking River was part of the Ohio-Erie Canal (and, unfortunately, during construction of the canal in 1828 a black hand petroglyph that gave this area its name was destroyed). Yesterday the river, too, was like glass, without a riffle to be seen.

The area around the river also presented some interesting bonatical signts. Ohio’s State Nature Preserves are intended to simply maintain the natural beauty of the areas, without interference. One section of the river was bordered by a marshy field of bright green reeds, seen below.

As we headed back along the main trail, the sun’s rays made the woodlands to each side glimmer and glow, and the thermometer moved upward toward 70. It was a brilliant fall day at one of the more spectacular settings you will find in the Buckeye State. We’ve taken a number of really wonderful hikes in Ohio, but the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve might just have been our favorite.

Hike Ohio: Infirmary Mound Park

Yesterday the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon took over the downtown Columbus area. The road closures, crowds whooping and shouting encouragement, police sirens, and general commotion spurred us to hop in the car, find a way out of downtown, and head due east. Our goal was the Infirmary Mound Park in Licking County, near Granville.

The Infirmary Mound Park is part of the Licking County park system. It has lots of trail choices, as well as other amenities, including a number of shelter houses, open fields, and kid spaces. Some of the trails even permit riders on horseback. We chose a trail winding around a wildflower meadow for our initial hike. We didn’t see any equine friends, but we did see some happy dogs romping around with their human pals. The meadow trail was wide and made for an easygoing morning hike and an enjoyable ramble through the countryside on a cool, cloudy morning, with lots of interesting and colorful plants to examine.

And speaking of color, the trees were doing their part to remind us it is indeed fall. The classic autumnal palette of rust, tan, orange, and yellow had been liberally applied to the trees at the Infirmary Mound Park, as well as to the trees lining both sides of Route 161 as we drove east from Columbus and then headed west to return after our hikes were over. Yesterday was probably close to the peak fall foliage point in central Ohio, and there was beautiful color to enjoy everywhere you looked.

After we finished our stroll through the wildflower meadow loop, breathing in hearty gulps of fresh country air, we explored other parts of the park. The cloud cover started to break up, some blue skies contributed to the day’s color, and the temperature got warmer. We got a glimpse of Ohio’s agricultural heritage when we came across an old woodshed with a classic split-rail fence in the background.

We wandered along another trail that wound through some woodland and a small ravine. It was quiet and peaceful as we walked along, enjoyably shuffling through the leaves and smelling that high, somewhat spicy scent of leaves that have fallen to the ground and are just starting to crumble to dust. Our feet got another workout when we came across an area where the trail was covered with Osage oranges (technically, maclura pomifera, and also known as horse apples), which look like round green brains and weigh a few pounds. We booted them off to the side of the trail to clear the way for the walkers to follow, variously choosing the soccer-style and straight-on Lou Groza approaches to our kicking. It’s fun to kick Osage oranges–and toss them, too, if they’ve just fallen and you can do so without getting your hands sticky.

By the end of our hike the blue skies had appeared in earnest. As we walked back to our car, we passed an area where the grasses were permitted to grow to prairie length and were adding their subtle hues to the autumnal color fest. It was time to head back, but we enjoyed our visit to this pretty park and a chance to experience some more of the best season central Ohio has to offer.

Hike Ohio: Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve

Yesterday, on a cool and lovely fall morning, we drove to the Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve near Lancaster. It’s about a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbus that takes you on country roads that wind through the heart of some of the beautiful, rolling farmland found throughout the rural areas of central Ohio. The GPS finally deposits you at a small parking lot near the entrance to Oil Mill Road, which you follow back to the entrance to the preserve.

We were in the mood for a peaceful trek through the woods–and at Christmas Rocks that is exactly what we got. It was just over 50 degrees and dry when we started our ramble, which made for ideal hiking weather. We took the orange trail to the blue trail, which will give you several good miles of moderate hiking through very pretty woodland–although there were several uphill and downhill sections where we wished we hadn’t forgotten our walking sticks. (In our experience, at least, walking sticks are seemingly designed to be left behind and forgotten until you see another hiker using them and kick yourself for the oversight.)

There are a few interesting rock formations on the blue trail, like the one above, but for the most part Christmas Rocks is all about trees, glimpses of shimmering sunlight, blue sky, whispering green leaves, and the kind of refreshing, highly oxygenated air that you only get in a forested area. It’s a good place to amble slowly, quietly take in the scenery, cross a mossy wooden bridge over a small stream, and remember what it was like to go into the woods when you were a kid and wonder what you might find there.

We saw the first signs of the fall colors to come, with some leaves already down on the trail and a few sugar maples displaying their trademark scarlet autumnal finery. For the most part, though, the leaves were green on the towering trees. We heard some birdsong as we moved along, following switchbacks up and down and a winding trail that takes you through several gorges.

The blue trail at Christmas Rocks is a loop, and at one point you come to a juncture with Armey Run, a small brook that cuts through the bottom of one of the ravines. You can walk out onto the rocks in the middle of the stream and enjoy that gurgling sound of slowly moving water, which makes for a change from the silence that swallows you up on the rest of the trail. From that point, the trail moves upward, with Armey Run falling away to your left, as you complete the loop.

As we emerged from the tree cover and left the Christmas Rocks property, we were dazzled by the cloudless azure skies, the sparkling sunshine, and the bright green lawn surrounding an old barn positioned close to the entrance to the nature preserve. We agreed that, once again, a Saturday morning hike was a great way to kick off the weekend.

Hike Ohio: Conkle’s Hollow

The autumnal equinox has come and gone, the weather has cooled off, and the feel of fall is all around us. That means it’s time to don the thick socks, lace up the Oboz hiking shoes, and head out to one of the cool hiking trails you can find in and around central Ohio. Our destination yesterday was Conkle’s Hollow, a state nature preserve located in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio.

The Hocking Hills region is a sprawling and beautiful area of woodlands and interesting rock formations that is home to many camps and hiking areas. Located about an hour and a half south of Columbus off Route 33, Conkle’s Hollow is one of the many potential destinations in the area for someone looking to get outdoors, enjoy some scenery, and breathe in some big gulps of fresh autumnal air. Not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones who decided to visit Conkle’s Hollow yesterday.

When you arrive at Conkle’s Hollow, you’ve got a choice–you can take the gorge trail, which runs along the bottom of the hollow, beneath the canopy of the towering trees, or you can take the longer rim trail, which takes you up to the top of the rock walls that make up the gorge. The rim trail is apparently more rugged and also requires more care, as it winds past some spots where there are sheer falls in the event of a misstep. We decided to take the gorge trail to kick off our hiking season, and leave the rim trail for a later trip.

The gorge trail is an easy hike, and some of our fellow visitors were families with young kids. There is lots to see on the gorge trail, too. Almost immediately, you notice the sheer rock cliffs to each side, towering hundreds of feet overhead. The photo directly above, with the trail and the trail sign, gives you a sense of the immense scale of the rocky walls. Many of the trees growing from the bottom of the gorge were dwarfed by the cliff faces.

After a half a mile or so, the paved trail ends, and a dirt path takes you farther back into the gorge, where you see many of the most interesting rock formations. The air is decidedly cooler in the gorge, and you don’t get much direct sunlight in view of the towering rock outcroppings and tree cover. The filtered sunlight almost makes you feel like you are underwater as you follow the trail, and makes the green shades of the tree leaves, moss, and plant life seem a lot greener.

At many points along the trail there are small caves and grottos, as well as areas where water from above is falling to join the small stream running along the floor of the hollow. In the past, you apparently could explore more of these formations, but the damage done by hikers (and, sadly, some people who can’t resist carving their initials into rocks, as shown in the photo above) has caused the preserve to limit hikers to the trails. That’s okay with me: I’m willing to forgo an up close and personal look if it means that the pristine state of this beautiful area will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

As you approach the end of the trail, the walls to each side close in, bringing you to the end point of the gorge. The middle of the floor features a small winding stream, with lots of rocks to hop on and felled trees. The kids in the family groups that were with us in this area had a riot leaping from rock to rock and balancing on the logs.

On this part of the trail, the contrast presented by dark shadows of the caverns make the green tree leaves and plants seem even brighter and greener. Whether you look forward, as in the picture above, or backward, as in the picture below, this part of Conkle’s Hollow was a study in black and different shades of green. Chartreuse, emerald, lime, fern, olive, seafoam, juniper–an artist would need a pretty loaded palette to do it justice.

The end of the trail takes you to the last cleft in the gorge, shown below. Water drips down from above into the pool that has accumulated below the cleft, and the dripping sound echoes against the rocky walls. A small ray of refracted sunlight illuminated the point at which the falling water hits the pool. It’s a beautiful scene, and it made us glad to choose the gorge trail for our first visit to Conkle’s Hollow. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss this serene little scene on a crisp early autumn day.

Hike Ohio: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

Hike Ohio: Kokosing Gap Trail

Hike Ohio: Dripping Rock Trail

Up The Slope Of Mt. Etna

Yesterday’s hike up the slope of Mt. Etna began with a volcano primer from our indefatigable guide, Marco. We stopped at this spot on the slope, where an old lava flow has cooled and been broken up into a collection of razor-sharp black stones and gravel. There Marco explained that a volcano is not inert like a mountain, but instead is ever changing, like a living thing. Mt. Etna, which has been active for generations, has been through countless transformations and is changing even now.

We then drove a short distance, parked our van, and started the trek up the slope of the volcano. The trail followed a series of switchbacks as we trudged ever upward. The gardener in me thought the black rock, gravel, and sand looked like the finest black mulch imaginable, bringing out all of the colors of the plants growing in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil. Marco noted that Mt. Etna’s eruptions have helped nourish countless vineyards and fruit and vegetable farms in the area. He also noted that the plant life in the vicinity of the volcano can help you recreate the flow of lava from past eruptions. Little plants reflect recent eruptions, whereas trees mean territory that has not been touched for much longer periods. The photo above, for example, tells you that the most recent eruptions in this area flowed down and to the left.

The rocky soil made for a challenging climb. In some spots the ground was covered with tiny rocks like very coarse sand, where your foot would sink in, and in other spots the loose rocks made footing treacherous. Our doughty band of hardy hikers exercised due case and fortunately avoided falls, spills, twisted ankles, or other mishaps. We did end up covered with dust and with sharp rocks in our shoes, however.

Marco explained that the area we were climbing was once densely populated and covered with beautiful gardens—until an eruption buried the area in fiery molten rock. Only one house, shown above, was spared. The lava reached up to the roofline on one side but left the other largely unscathed. Marco noted that the owners still use it for cookouts and hiking rest stops.

Just past the half-buried house you come up to a summit of sorts, and when you reach the top you are treated to an awesome, otherworldly scene that could be the lost world or an alien landscape. The summit is a ledge that looks down on an area formed by the collapse of a caldera long ago. The rocks are covered with lichens, the first step in the circle of life, and only the toughest plants grow in the rocky ground. Behind it all is the smoking, steaming cone of Mt. Etna, and when the wind shifts you can see crooked fingers of lava reaching down the exterior of the volcano.

Marco convinced us to go the extra mile—actually, he said it was only a few hundred meters—to find an even better view. We then followed more switchbacks upward, finally scrambling up a 45-degree slope of loose rock and gravel. We emerged on a rocky promontory, 4500 feet above sea level, that looked down upon a valley 2000 feet below. Because one false move could send you hurtling off the precipice to certain death, I didn’t get close to the edge. Marco, who is apparently part mountain goat, and the Swiss Shutterbug had no qualms about venturing out to the edge while the rest of us wished they would come back to solid ground. That’s Marco in the photo below, taking in the extraordinary view.

The sun was starting to sink behind the clouds of smoke and steam billowing from Mt. Etna’s crater, casting a golden glow over rocks, hikers, and the entire landscape. It was time to go. We grabbed fallen branches to serve as walking sticks, skidded down the gravel-covered hill, and headed back to our van, knowing that fine wine and a fine meal awaited at Barone di Villagrande vineyard.

Hiking Back To The Road

To get to Ti Kaye you take an access road that winds about a mile and a half through the jungle until you reach the resort. This morning Richard and I decided to work off our breakfast and hike to the point where the access road reaches the main road.

I say “hike” because, although the access road is paved, there are many steep hills and sharp turns and it feels like a hiking trail. And the last incline before you reach the road is the mother of them all: straight up a hillside at a constant 45-degree angle in 80-degree heat under bright sunshine until you reach the intersection. By then your heart is hammering, your hamstrings are screaming, you’re gulping air, and your health care app has concluded that a billy goat has run off with its cell phone home.

But when you reach the top you get to experience a strong sense of pointless accomplishment and useful justification for tipping back another Piton when lunchtime rolls around. And the view from up there is pretty good, too, as the photo below reflects. That’s a neighboring fishing village that tumbles down the hillside to the Caribbean.

The Mushroom Trail

On Sunday we headed off the island to the nearby Holbrook Sanctuary for a hike. The Sanctuary has a lot of trail options that we haven’t tried yet, and the middle of a three-day weekend was a good time to experience a new one. We chose the Mountain Loop trail, which promised to offer what we like about hikes: a pleasant ramble through the cathedral of trees, where you can enjoy surroundings so peaceful and quiet that even a whisper seems like a shout.

It quickly became clear that, at this time of year at least, the Mountain Loop trail could also be called the Mushroom trail. We saw lots of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors, from a bone white that stood out sharply against the prevailing browns and greens, to a bright orange shooting up from the moss, and finally a harvest gold to brighten the side of the trail.

When we started our hike we wondered if any of the leaves on the trees would be starting to turn. They really weren’t, although some of the ferns in the forest were showing some colors along the edges of their fronds. But who needs fall foliage when you’ve got mushrooms to brighten the forest floor?

Pine Hill Preserve

After our visit to Scott’s Landing on Sunday we drove the short distance to the Pine Hill Preserve on Little Deer Isle, another of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust that we had not visited before. The contrast between the two locations could not have been greater. Scott’s Landing allowed for a pleasant ramble on gently rolling meadows and beaches. Pine Hill Preserve is a lot smaller and a lot more . . . abrupt. After a short walk on old quarry road you reach its central feature: a rock outcropping that rises dramatically from the pine forest. It’s a big, steep hill, and you can get a sense of its scale if you look carefully at the photo above and see the two figures at the top who are taking a picture.

The short hike up Pine Hill is a lot more challenging than anything Scott’s Landing requires of a hiker. The key word is “up.” The trail is almost entirely vertical, as the photo above shows. Be prepared to haul yourself up the steep, rocky incline and—because, as any veteran hiker knows, coming down is usually more hazardous than going up—be prepared to get on hands and knees and carefully back down when you are descending on some stretches of the trail.

But when you reach the top you are rewarded by some magnificent views. In one direction you gaze over the rock face, where they quarried some of the stone that makes up the causeway between Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle, and acres of pine trees beyond. In another direction, you can look over the forest to the Eggemoggin Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

Scott’s Landing

Over the years we’ve hiked around most of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust, but one of the sites that we hadn’t yet checked out was Scott’s Landing—until yesterday. It’s located on the edge of the island, at one end of the causeway that connects Deer Isle to Little Deer Isle. And that means some good waterfront views, in this case of the Eggemoggin Reach that separates the islands from the mainland. You can climb up White Rock Point—an outcropping of sun-bleached Ellsworth schist, the bedrock of this part of the island—and enjoy a good view of the Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

The property includes a long stretch of rocky beach. We were there when the tide was out, and a family was digging for clams at the waterline down the beach. Clam digging is a popular activity here, especially in the area near the causeway.

Scott’s Landing is an easy hike, with wide grassy trails and gradual inclines. The trails branch off in multiple directions, and inland the site features pretty meadows filled with wildflowers. The property is a popular spot for birders, although we didn’t see many of our feathered friends yesterday. We did, however, see lots of honeybees buzzing among the flowers. That’s a good summer sound.

We also saw some sailboats on the Reach taking advantage of a good breeze to let the wind fill the canvas and take the ships along at a good clip. The Reach is a long narrow channel that is popular with boaters, and it seems like there is always a sailboat on the horizon. At one end of the Scott’s Landing preserve the wildflower meadows rises up an incline, affording a good views of the flowers, the Reach, and the sailboats moving past. I found myself wishing there was a bench at that spot, so I could sit for a spell and just enjoy that scene.

Hiking Isle Au Haut

Yesterday we took the mailboat out to Isle au Haut for some hiking. We disembarked at Duck Harbor at the southwest corner of the island, which is largely unspoiled forest and hiking trails, with a handful of camping sites available. Although I have been on the mailboat multiple times, this was the first time I had actually set foot on the island, and I was eager to see what it was like.

It turns out that Isle au Haut is like most of coastal Maine—only more so. There was lots of rugged and dramatic scenery, sheer cliffs, pine trees and ferns, and plenty of granite. There are lots of different hiking options, too, from simple trails with only small elevation changes to much more difficult hiking that requires you to clamber up rock faces. I enjoyed the view, in the photo above, looking south from a promontory a few hundred feet above the ocean, and the inky black pool of water, shown below, that was perfectly reflective and framed by rock outcroppings.

By the time we reached Squeaker Cove, shown below, we realized that our visit to Isle au Haut would not only feature memorable vistas, but also an unprecedented swarm of biting black flies. According to the park rangers, the flies had just appeared the day before, and no doubt the swarm would be gone a day or two later. But the flies were there yesterday, in force and ready to chomp, descending on everything that moved and giving vicious bites if you didn’t swat them away in time. There were so many flies that the legs and backs of fellow hikers would be virtually carpeted in flies. The little bloodthirsty bastards were easy to kill, in their singleminded zeal for a meal, but for every one that got swatted another ten were circling and ready to land.

Eventually the pesky flies became so annoying and unpleasant that they drove even the most ardent hikers back to the mailboat dock, where the breeze off the ocean kept the fly swarms to a minimum. As we waited for the mailboat to arrive we swapped fly tales with other hikers and sympathized with the dogs that had suffered mightily from fly bites. And as we waited even the boat dock offered some pretty views, like the one below.

I’d like to go back to Isle au Haut to do more hiking and exploring—but before I do I’m going to call the Duck Harbor ranger station for a fly report.

On The Trail At Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park

Yesterday morning we enjoyed a hike at Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park, an enormous, sprawling park on the outskirts of Austin. It had rained early in the morning and rain was forecast for the early afternoon, so our plan was to dodge the raindrops and do our hike when the air was cooled by the rain that had just passed through.

The Searight Park encompasses lots of different kinds of habitats. There are wooded areas, meadows, and even a shallow canyon that was carved out of the native limestone by a small creek. There are dozens of different trails, one of which follows the rim of the canyon and features some impressive drops, as shown above. No guardrails or fencing, of course!

The creek bed itself is a very pretty area. The creek has formed small pools that feature lots of small fish and some colorful algae. Richard and Julianne’s dog Pretty enjoyed a refreshing dip in the water, as did another dog. The limestone was still wet after the rain, and in some algae-covered areas it was slick and you really had to watch your step.

The park includes an area where the creek has been dammed, creating a deeper, wider stream. This area is popular with kayakers, although none were out on the water when we passed by.

Much of the park consists of large unmoved meadows that are designated wildflower areas, as shown below. In some areas the native grasses are nearly shoulder high, and give you a sense of what the prairies must have looked like long ago. There were still some wildflowers in bloom, but we apparently had just missed the prime time to visit, when the whole area was bursting with color.

Still, there were some flowers to appreciate. One variety I had never seen before, shown below, is the Castilleja plant, colloquially known as “Indian paintbrush” or “prairie fire.” The plant is native to the western part of the Western Hemisphere and is found from Alaska to all the way down to the Andes in South America. It’s a pretty and distinctive flower with bright petals that look like a paintbrush, which explains its nickname.

The Mary Moore Searight Park is a great park to have nearby, and our hike yesterday barely scratched the surface. We’ll be looking forward to heading to other parts of the park on a future visit.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

On The Upper Javelina Trail

Yesterday afternoon I tackled the Upper Javelina Trail at Dove Mountain. It is categorized as a medium difficulty trail, and it was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve taken this week—but it offers a great payoff of some stunning views, like the one shown above, as you walk along the summits of some of the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains.

To get to the Upper Javelina Trail, you first follow the Wild Burro Trail, then a segment of the Lower Javelina Trail, both which are relatively flat. Once you link up with the Upper Javelina Trail, you immediately start to ascend—first gradually, and then more abruptly.

The trail becomes rocky, and there are a lot or tight squeezes between some of the rock formations. For the most part, the trail is well-marked and easy to follow—provided you like climbing, because there is lots of climbing. It is narrow, which made me glad that I went out in the afternoon, when other hikers weren’t out. There wasn’t a lot of room to pass hikers headed the other way.

I wasn’t quite sure where the trail led, so I kept my eye on the rock shown above as a likely goal. The trail is a continuous climb with lots of switchbacks, and with each turn of the path I came closer to the outcropping, until finally I reached the ridge line and left the rock formation behind me, as shown in the photo below.

When I reached the summit, I was rewarded with spectacular views in every direction. The sky was crystal clear, the sun was bright, and you could see for miles. The trail wound along the summits of several of the peaks, so you got the chance to enjoy views that changed with every bend in the trail. The view above looks east, toward other peaks in the Tortolitas.

As the trail passed between the foothill peaks, it skirted a kind of Saguaro forest, shown below, with dozens of the big cacti spread from one hillside to the other. Very cool! As I hiked on, a huge hawk circled overhead, drifting lazily on the heat updrafts and scouting for a potential meal down below.

The trail comes perilously close to some sheer drops, as shown in the first photo of this post. If you are afraid of heights or freaked out by a lack of guard rails, this is not the trail for you! The view below looks south and shows another mountain range on the far horizon.

The trail gives lots of photo opportunities, with some interesting rock formations and many sweeping views. There’s a constant temptation to get right to the edge to maximize the view, but any false move would send you crashing to the rocks far below. I stayed a respectful distance from the edge and didn’t take any blind steps forward or backward.

The Upper Javelina Trail extends for almost three miles and the trail map says it has a 450-foot elevation change— but it sure feels like more than that as you trudge directly uphill and enjoy commanding views where you feel far above ground level. At about midpoint the trail links with two other longer trails with even more elevation changes. If you take the entire Upper Javelina trail, it deposits you on a community trail that is about a mile and a half from the trail head. In all, my hike was about five miles and took about two and a half hours. It was well worth the time and effort.

On The Wild Burro Trail

The Wild Burro Trail is one of the primary trails in the Dove Mountain network of trails, and is also one of the longest. It’s the trail that you find at the trailhead, and it stretches for 6.5 miles and links up with many of the other trails.

The trail begins flat, and winds through and around some of the dry washes on the floor of the canyon between the mountains. It’s an easy hike, and it was not hard to imagine herds of braying wild burros trotting down the canyon and kicking up a cloud of dust as they followed the trail.

Once you reach the ruins of a stone house (shown above) about a mile into the hike, however, the trail becomes a lot more challenging, and heads up the hillside at a pretty good incline.

The trail even goes between two giant Saguaros that look a bit like praying hands as it progresses up the hillside. It’s a narrow trail that has a steep drop-off to one side, which is common on the trails here. I took my hike in the afternoon heat, when only a lunatic would be out on the trails, so I didn’t see another soul and had the trails completely to myself. As a result, I didn’t have to share the narrow passes with anyone.

As you gain in altitude you see some interesting desert plant life, like the furry plants shown below. I also saw eagles, lizards, jack rabbits, chipmunk-like creatures, and a number of birds. There were no large critters, though.

The Wild Burro Trail heads straight up and out of the canyon and intersects with other long and challenging trails. I didn’t have the time for a real lengthy hike, so when I reached the ridge line on one of the hills I stopped and turned around to head back. You have commanding views up there, but you need to be careful where you put your feet lest you go careening down the hillside. Selfie takers, take note!

Pictures from the heights really don’t convey the view. You are far above the canyon floor, but it is hard to give a good sense of the drop to the wash far below.

You also need to be careful about where you place you feet heading down. Stumbles could be disastrous. And Midwesterners like me need to remember that you have to watch what you touch to brace yourself on the way down. Rocks are okay, obviously, but you’ve got to remember that those objects that seem like telephone poles as you pass by have thorns, and so do many of the other plants.

By the time I reached the canyon floor and the dry wash, the sun was starting to sink, and it backlit the Saguaros on the rocky hillsides as I headed home. These Saguaros almost looked like they were trying to spell something. “It’s too hot to hike,” perhaps?

Wild Burros And Javelinas

Some of the trails at Dove Mountain, in Marana, Arizona, are named for animals. There is a Wild Burro trail, and there are two Javelina trails–the Upper Javelina Trail, and the Lower Javelina trail.

I recognized the burro as a donkey, shown above, but I was not acquainted with the javelina, which is pictured below. The name makes it sound like a kind of antelope, but actually it is a “collared peccary” that looks a lot like a wild boar. Javelinas apparently can be aggressive, so I’m glad that I haven’t encountered a javelina on the trails, or for that matter a rampaging herd of wild burros, either.

If the name of the trails is any indication, I know one thing for sure about wild burros and javelinas–they are sure-footed climbers who don’t mind scrambling over rocks or walking along steep ledges.