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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
There’s really no need for a big thermometer on a hiking trail—especially in Arizona. Hikers know what the weather is like, obviously: it’s hot as blazes! And if you’re not already well-equipped with a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, a few degrees aren’t going to make a difference.
The last few days the temperature has hit 90 degrees and stayed there. When I took my hike today, starting at about 1 p.m., it was 90 out, and there was no one—literally, not a single soul—on the trails. When I looped back around 3 p.m. it was still 90 out, and I saw two intrepid hikers as I neared the trail head. Those were the only people I saw on some very cool trails.
People around here call it a dry heat, because there is no humidity. Unlike the Midwest, where 90 degrees would mean you’re dissolved in sweat, 90 is much more tolerable here— but it’s still hot. If you don’t have a good hat and water, you’re begging for a case of sunstroke and cramps.
Yesterday morning we went for a hike at the Catalina State Park, one of the many parks in the Arizona state parks and trails system. The Catalina State Park is located in the Oro Valley, a rapidly growing area just north of Tucson, and is part of the Coronado National Forest. The park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a classically craggy desert mountain range. We went in the morning because it gets blistering hot in the afternoon, and morning hikes are more manageable for people who aren’t accustomed to hiking in sun-blasted 90-degree temperatures.
We took the canyon loop trail at the park, which winds for several miles along the foothills of the mountains and offers lots of opportunities to see the native plants in their natural habitat. I was surprised at the number of plants, large and small, that have adapted to life in a dry, dusty desert environment. There were plenty of Saguaro cacti, barrel cacti, prickly pears, and a lot of other hardy plant life. We didn’t see any desert animals, however.
The first part of the trail meandered through the landscape and was dry and dusty , , , and hot. We were glad we brought plenty of water. The views were great, though, and the hiking wasn’t too strenuous, other than dealing with the heat, without a lot of elevation changes. There were a lot of people out on the trail, some with dogs. There were a few obnoxious hikers–including a gang of loud, shirtless guys who were hiking with a radio blaring bad ’80s rock songs–but for the most part the hikers were quiet and friendly.
As the trail continued, we descended into the canyon and rounded the sun-bleached rock outcropping shown above. After the trial turned and descended, we were surprised to find a stream and running water at the bottom of the canyon, notwithstanding the heat and the otherwise dry conditions. It was hard not to think of travelers in the Old West being happy to find a stream of running water to fill up their saddlebags and water their horses. The stream made an interesting contrast with the Saguaro cactus plants, which I normally don’t associate with water.
The trail followed the stream bed for a while, where the foliage was notably greener than the plants on the hillside. The trail ultimately veered away from the streambed and took us back to the dusty desert landscape. With the Saguaro cactus plants on top of a ridge framed against a cloudless blue sky, we got to enjoy a classic Arizona vista as our hike came to an end.
Yesterday was another ideal day for a hike in central Ohio, with clear skies and temperatures that started in the 50s and eventually touched 70. We decided to stay a little closer to home this time, and ventured just a few miles north of I-270, to the very conveniently located Highbanks Metro Park, to try out the Dripping Rock Trail. The Dripping Rock Trail is one of a series of interconnected trails in the park, which also features a designated dog trail, picnic areas, and open meadows where kids can run around and work off some of that inexhaustible kid energy.
The Dripping Rock Trail is so named, I suspect, because part of the trail follows a small stream that has cut through rock, as shown in the two photographs above, and groundwater leaks from the rock formations into the stream. The trail follows a loop that is a little over two miles, but if you want a longer hike you can link to adjoining trails that will take you to an Adena Mound, some ancient earthworks, and an overlook area The flexibility offered by the intersecting trails is a nice feature, because you can design your hike to suit your interest in exactly how much exercise you want to get.
The trails are natural earth and well-marked, and wide enough to allow for comfortable social distancing from passing hikers if everyone move to the edge and goes single file. Because the Highbanks park is so close to Columbus, the Dripping Rock Trail and other trails are very popular–or at least they were on our visit. Yesterday we got there at about 10:30 and had no problem finding a parking space next to the nature center, but when we left in early afternoon the parking lots were full and people were waiting for departures to find a parking space. If it’s a pretty day you’ll want to get there early if you want to be sure of getting a spot.
One section of the Dripping Rock Trail will give you a glimpse of a sluggish and muddy segment of the Olentangy River through the trees, but for the most part the trail is just your basic walk in the Ohio woods, winding through and around the trees with the small creek for company. There are some easy inclines and declines, but most of the trail is level. So long as you stay away from gangs of chatty hikers, it is blissfully quiet and makes for a very pleasant stroll. And if you are a big forestry fan, the Metroparks people have labeled some of the different kinds of trees that you will see along the hike.
We liked the Dripping Rock Trail, and think it would be worth visiting again in the fall when the leaves start to turn.
Yesterday was another beautiful day in central Ohio, with cloudless skies and rising temperatures, so we decided to give our hiking shoes another breaking-in session. This time, we headed north to Mount Vernon, Ohio–about an hour’s drive away–to walk along the Kokosing Gap Trail, which winds its way from Mount Vernon to Gambier, then Howard, and finally to Danville.
The Kokosing Gap Trail is one of a number of Ohio trails that have been converted from old railroad lines to hiking and biking trails through the “rails to trails” program. And the clues to the railroad history of the path are apparent everywhere along the trail: from the width of the paved trails, to the gradual inclines and declines, as shown in the photo just above, to the railroad trestle over the Kokosing River that you cross about a mile and a half from the Mount Vernon trail head. The fact that the trail is paved and largely flat makes it a favorite route for cyclists–including families with little kids on their bikes–who are looking for a Sunday ride. I would point out, on behalf of my biker friends, that most of the cyclists who whizzed past us gave us notice with “on your left” calls as they approached, so we could move over and they could pass with plenty of room.
The first part of the trail runs along farm fields and a creek that is a tributary of the Kokosing River. Once you hit the first railroad bridge and cross the Kokosing (which apparently means “where there are owls” in the language of the Delaware tribe) the river becomes your travel companion, just to the north of the trail and visible through the trees. Unlike the Little Miami River that we hiked along yesterday, the Kokosing has no whitewater and is apparently quite shallow. We did see some fishermen out on the river as we loped along.
We walked along the river for several miles and shared the trail with lots of cyclists and some other walkers, until we were getting close to Gambier, then turned around and walked back to our car parked at the Mount Vernon trail head. It’s interesting how turning around and walking back over the same path nevertheless gives you a different perspective on the landscape. In this case, it gave us a chance to check out the river in more detail.
The entire Kokosing Gap Trail is about 14 miles long, so we only did one part of it. Our plan is to return in the future to walk the entire route in segments, but first we’ve got some other trails to explore.
When you’ve got new hiking shoes, you’ve got to break them in properly. So yesterday we donned our hikers, hopped in the car, and drove to the Clifton Grove State Nature Preserve. It’s located less than a hour from Columbus in southwest Ohio, close to the village of Yellow Springs, and it offers some of the most beautiful scenery and interesting geology you’ll find anywhere in the Buckeye State.
It was a perfect day for hiking — cold enough to keep you from overheating but manageable with simple layering, and breathtakingly sunny with bright blue skies — and there were a lot of people out on the trails, which are well marked and easy to follow. We started by heading west on the north rim trail, which winds along the edge of the gorge and gives you peeks at the Little Miami River, which runs through the bottom of the gorge far below. The little streams rushing off the edge of the cliffside on their way to join the river, as shown in the picture just above, give you a hint of what you’ll see when you get down below.
The Clifton Gorge is so rocky it reminded me of Maine, but in the case of the Clifton Gorge the rocks are limestone and dolomite, rather than the familiar Maine granite. The path from the north rim trail down to the trail that hugs the river is made of natural rock and makes you appreciate having a sturdy pair of hiking shoes.
This time of year is a good time to visit the Clifton Gorge if you like the sound of rushing river water and enjoy looking at interesting rock formations. With the continuing snow melt and early spring rains, the Little Miami River was running high, and because the trees haven’t leafed out you can get good views of the river and the rock formations as you hike along. We didn’t see any spring flowers out yet, though, and the only real green on the landscape was the moss on some of the rock formations, as shown in the second photo above.
After we joined the riverside trail, we headed back to the east. The trail winds along the river’s edge, with the river to your right and the rock formations and cliffside to your left. In the bottom of the gorge the air is cool and sweet and worth as many deep breaths and hearty gulps as you can manage. Many of the rock formations are finely etched by erosion and almost look like modern art sculptures. And to the left the north rim of the gorge looms behind, as shown in the photo just above.
As you head eastward the Little Miami River has its calm spots, where the sound of the water moving past is very gentle and almost soothing. It is wonderfully quiet down there, and the other hikers along the trail for the most part respect the silence. This stretch of the river looks like it would be an ideal location for a peaceful canoe excursion — but that changes dramatically as you continue east along the trail.
As the river cuts through some of the channels between the rock formations in the river bed, the sound of the tumbling water rises to a roar, and you see some pretty aggressive whitewater. This may be a spot where the time of year really makes a difference in the views and the hiking experience. This particular area would undoubtedly look and sound a lot different during the hot and dry August doldrums, when the water levels on the river are sure to be much lower.
There were a lot of people out on the trails, including some student groups. Some were wearing masks, some donned masks as they passed other hikers, some made sure that they stepped to the sides of the trails to socially distance from people headed in the other direction, and some seemed completely oblivious to the fact that we’re coming out of a pandemic and people might be sensitive to not having other hikers shoulder past them on a narrow trail. Fortunately, those people made up only a tiny fraction of the people on the trail.
By taking the route we did — first heading west on the north rim trail, then heading east along the river — our hike ended with a cool waterfall. The trail circles the waterfall so you can see it from every perspective, as shown by the photo above and the first photo in this post. We also saw little stream that is the source of the waterfall plunge off the cliff, which is the second photo above. Shortly after we passed the waterfall we headed back up to the north rim, having enjoyed a delightful hike through one of the Buckeye State’s most scenic areas.
The Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is well worth visiting. Having seen it in the early spring we might decide to pay a return visit in the fall, when the leaves are turning and we can get a different perspective on this beautiful spot.
We did a fair amount of hiking last summer and really enjoyed it, and this summer we plan to do even more. But this time, we decided to go out and actually buy some legitimate hiking footwear to better deal with the rooty and rocky trails of Maine.
We visited the L.L. Bean store at Easton and were helped by a very knowledgeable staffer who is a hiker himself. (That’s a good reason to go to L.L. Bean for hiking and outdoor gear, in my view — you are helped by someone who knows what they are talking about from firsthand experience.) After assessing the various options and important qualities like weight, tread, and heat retention, I decided on the Oboz Sawtooth II low summerweight hikers. I also bought two pairs of the excellent, well-padded LL Bean socks.
Since then, I’ve been wearing the hikers around the neighborhood in order to break them in before using them on the trail, in hopes of avoiding unwanted blisters when we start hiking in earnest. The Oboz are heavier than my sneakers, obviously, but they are very comfortable and really hug your foot when you get them fully laced up. And the difference in the sole and tread, and the kind of grip you feel, is quite noticeable. So far, though, I’ve resisted the temptation to step in puddles just to test the waterproofing and have limited myself to tromping around on the sidewalks and streets, and the only climbing I’ve done is stepping up on curbs. Still, I think the breaking-in process is working pretty well.
Kish had to prod me a bit to buy the hikers, because I am a notorious cheapskate by nature. But I’m glad she prevailed on me to do it, because I think they will make the hikes more enjoyable, and having the shoes makes me think with pleasure of the approaching summer and the hiking to come.
The weather gods looked kindly upon us today, giving us one last beautiful day in Stonington before we head back to Columbus. The skies were clear, the sunlight sparkled on the waters of the Penobscot Bay, and the temperature hovered around 60. It was a perfect day to hike the trails of the Settlement Quarry and take in a breathtaking view — and we weren’t the only ones who thought so.
A day like this makes you sad to leave, but eager to return.
This part of Maine is blessed with some fine hiking trails, and thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, Deer Isle has more than its share. A good hiking trail is a great place to rediscover the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, and reengage with that inner child who has been buried under decades of life and countless layers of adult obligations. You can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you balance on some two-by-fours laid over the boggy areas or are tempted to skip a stone on the still waters of a pond.
It’s been a busy summer for us, and the occasional hikes have been an effective and much appreciated stress relief mechanism. As the summer draws to a close, we always regret that we didn’t take a few more, and vow that next summer we won’t make the same mistake.
Maine is, almost by definition, off the beaten track, and it has a lot of parks and natural areas that are not very well known. One of them is the Holbrook Island Sanctuary. Yesterday morning Kish and I went “off island” to the mainland to visit the Sanctuary and get in some hiking on a sunny, late summer day.
The Holbrook Island Sanctuary is a huge nature preserve in Brooksville that has been kept in a natural state for decades. The property was acquired by a nature lover, Anita Harris, who donated the land to the state of Maine in 1971, and things seem to have been kept as they were then. The area is so rustic that the roadways in and out are packed earth, rather than asphalt, and the only facilities are a picnic area and a few outhouses. But it offers lots of interesting trails, the ruins of abandoned buildings, some old family cemeteries, and a chance to explore some of the different Maine ecosystems, from rocky coastlines to mud flats to steep hills, marshes, ponds, and deeply forested woodland mixed with intermittent meadows. It’s a favorite destination for birders, hikers, and nature lovers. The Maine state park website says that “alert visitors can see abundant signs of deer, fox, muskrat, beavers, otter, porcupine, bobcat and coyote.” We apparently were not sufficiently alert — hey, it was pretty early in the morning, after all! — because we didn’t see any of those critters, but we did see a lot of birds.
The Sanctuary has nine trails, none of which seem to be super-difficult. We took the Back Shore trail, which is well-marked and winds through forest and meadows and takes you past one of the cemeteries, where the gravestones date back to the 1830s, down to a rocky shore on the Penobscot Bay. We got to the shore at close to low tide, which meant we got a good look at the shellfish shells and the seaweed-covered rock beach. From the shoreline you can watch sailboats glide by and catch a commanding view of Castine, Maine, on the opposite side of the bay.
The Holbrook Island Sanctuary is a pretty place, and a kind of hidden gem. With eight more trails to check out, we’ll definitely be back.
When you get a chance to get away from it all, you should take full advantage of the opportunity. I’ve been trying to follow that principle and get in a few last hikes around Deer Isle before we have to head back to civilization.
The Edgar Tennis Preserve is a pretty good place to appreciate nature in all its quiet, colorful glory. We’re at the tail end of the season, so there aren’t many hikers to share the trails — which means the Preserve is as quiet as the world gets. It is as if the moss and the ferns and the pine straw on the trail swallow any random bits of noise, and all you’re likely to hear is the whisper of the breeze through the branches of the pine trees towering overhead. If you like silence — and who doesn’t, from time to time? — this is a good place for you.
And the colors are brilliant — even if they are, for the most part, shades of green. The leaves of the trees and the ferns are clinging to the last bit of 60s temperatures to maintain their green finery to the last, until the fall colors finally emerge. If you were looking for a particular shade of green, this would be the place to come — the Preserve has the entire spectrum covered, from the deep green of the pine trees in shade to the bright, sun-dappled green of the moss and ferns as they are hit by rays of sunlight.
You can follow an old country road down to the foundations of a long-abandoned salt water farm where apple trees planted by the settlers — with green apples, of course — mix with the encroaching forest. A small footpath winds down to a tidal pool, where the water is clear as crystal and looks green itself, thanks to the algae-covered rocks below.