Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Piney Creek Ravine State Natural Area

Piney Creek Ravine




So the other weekend we decided we were ready for yet another adventure after taking a little hiatus over the holidays. Our destination was less than 3 hours from home one way and with several stops planned we opted to find overnight lodging. Who wants to drive that far all in one day after hiking several miles? Not us, anyways.
The morning started with what is typical for us.....trouble. My husbands newer pair of jeans ripped out before we could even pull out of the drive. Nothing new, just a hiccup, head down and plow ahead, right? We'll this time we should have taken it as a sign but hindsight is twenty-twenty.
The drive up to Piney Creek Ravine was uneventful and we were thankful I had opted for a more scenic route along the Great River Road. Bald Eagles, Snow Geese, Canadian Geese and many more types of birds thrive in this flood plain that abuts the rocky ridges of the Southern Illinois Ozarks.
The weather was cold but we had layered up in preparation so when we arrived at the trail head I only needed to grab my pack. I almost forgot the trail map but my husband stated he got one off the trail head kiosk so I locked the car and we headed off.


To access Piney Creek Ravine you must stroll a mowed path between fields before reaching the actual reserve and trail head. Turns out it was a deceitful entrance to a RUGGED trail. The sun was shining but the wind blew a cold breeze against us, making me thankful I had layered up and grabbed my new crocheted beanie I had just gotten for Christmas.
Upon reaching the official trail head the mowed path disappeared beyond the preserve signage and a worn dirt path lead us into the forest. Downward into the ravine we went, spying frost flowers along the way, an unusual sight so late in Winter. We marveled at the rock bluffs beside us and soon found ourselves having to ford what I assume was Piney Creek. Our pooch Kennedy has never been fond of water and today was no exception. He refused to follow my husbands footsteps along the stepping stones and was soon in the creek. I used my Kelty trekking pole for balance and managed to keep myself from getting wet.



Soon we found ourselves at a crossroads of sorts in the trail. I remembered during my research that you had to take a dead end side trail to see pictographs and petroglyphs left by Native Americans on the bluffs but I wasn't sure if this was the trail. Signage seemed to indicate we where in the right area so I asked my husband for the trail map. I unfolded the little pamphlet to find the trail map inside only to discover it was simply an outline of the preserve showing the location of the trail head and no map of the actual trail itself.




My husband apologized profusely for the error but what was done, was done. There was nothing we could now but push onward, opting to focus on the main trail. We followed the well worn path around boulders, downed trees and eventually to the top of the bluff overlooking Piney Creek Ravine. We took a rest atop trees that fallen across the trail. My legs were cramping badly, I hadn't had my medical massage in a couple months and I was feeling it.



Hydrated and my cramps having relented we pressed onward again soon hearing the sound of a waterfall. We studied the creek below between the bare branches of the forest and found a waterfall flowing just upstream some way through undulating terrain. Taking a moment to enjoy it's beauty before we followed the trail down a steep slope that turned left into more steep slopping terrain.
The bottom of this large hill was again what I assume was Piney Creek and of course the trail crossed it once more. This time, fortunately, the rocks were actually large flat boulders and the water level was low enough that with a little jump across the cracks in the stones one could cross without getting wet. We entered the creek bed and began to explore a little when we caught sound of another couple hiking the trail in our direction. I paid little attention as I snapped a few photos before rejoining my crew on the upper boulder in the creek bed. It was at this point I realized that I had lost my new beanie!!! I had haphazardly shoved it into the front pocket on my hoodie and now it was gone, lost somewhere along the trail.
I knew I had it the last rest stop we'd taken so I immediately began bee lining it back up the steep slope as fast as my overweight butt could manage. I stormed the first hill like Grant leading a charge during the Civil War, my eyes scanning the ground along the way, but quickly ran out of steam and at the turn in the trail I had to stop for a minute to catch my breath. Huff, puff, huff, puff, sweat...where the hell is that breeze? Huff, puff, huff, puff....please let me find my beanie.......and onward we go. I managed to make halfway the next portion of the trail before I had to stop again. Hills are the devil, I thought to myself as my lungs sucked in air one deep breath after another. I started out yet again and spied my beanie laying beside the trail on a bed of moss. Exactly where we had stopped to admire the waterfall.
I picked it up, knocked the leaf litter off and did an about face, heading back down the devil hill. I made it back to the turn fairly easily and decided to rest a moment before tackling the next section. From this vantage point I could see my husband seated on the boulder in the creek and Kennedy looking up the hill at me, I waived my beanie at them, letting my husband know I had found it. I also spied the other couple a little further down the creek exploring it's nooks and crannies.
My face was red like a little kid from the effort, I was sweating, my thighs hurt just above my knees from bracing my weight on the downhill potions of the trail. The weather was still cold but warmer than we had started and now above freezing causing the ground to thaw. Feeling weary but ready enough I began the final descent of the devil hill. A few paces into my descent I planted my right foot and began to feel it slip out from under me. I tried to steady myself with my trekking pole but there was no stopping my foot from carrying my leg away from me and down I went.
I landed on the right side of my back, feeling a rock jab in my side just above my hip bone. I looked to my right only to see the other couple staring back at me like I was a Sasquatch throwing rocks at them. I looked down the trail to the creek bed where my husband looked back at me shaking his head and if a dog can show concern Kennedy sure appeared to be doing so.
For a minute or two I just laid there on the trail like a slug in winter. I sat up and studied the ground under my foot, finding a loose rock that had been hidden under the leaf litter. I kicked it off the trail like a pouting child then picked myself up off the ground. I started descending the devil hill again, the other couple beginning their accent, I assume now that the trail was clear for them to proceed. We politely greeted each other in passing them asking how I was doing. “Great, if I hadn't lost my beanie.” I replied making no mention of the obvious fall I had taken.
I rejoined my crew in the creek bed and took a seat in a notch on the boulder. The cold of the stone felt good as it penetrated my layers of clothes, after a quick rest and a selfie or two we started out on the trail again. The outside portion of my right foot began to hurt and we soon came to another trail intersection. Not having a map to check which direction we needed to go, I pulled out my cellphone and referenced the GPS tracking app I had initiated near the beginning of our hike. Thank god I had thought to do so as there had been no mention of any other off shoots along the trail so a 2nd intersection came as a complete surprise.



Looking at the GPS app I was able to determine we needed to continue on the trail to our right in order to loop back to the trail head. I could only guess the other trail went to the waterfall we had spied earlier and on a better day I would have been keen to explore it but that wasn't this day.
We followed the trail on a ridge overlooking Piney Creek from the opposite vantage point. I continued to check the GPS app on my phone to ensure we were headed the right direction and was grateful when we finally completed the loop portion of the trail. I tucked my phone back into my pocket and focused on getting myself out of the woods despite the ever increasing pain in my foot.
This wasn't my neuropathy acting up again, no burning, no tingling and no tiny needles stabbing me meant this was something else. The pain was not only in a different location but was a different nature all together. I protested to my husband about the pace he was setting or letting Kennedy set. Truth be told I would have much rather kept right on pace, out of that ravine but my foot was killing me. As we neared the trail head I questioned if I could keep going, the pain was becoming that bad.
I hauled myself up, out of the forest, off the trail on onto the mowed path. I was beyond thankful for relatively flat even ground with no boulders or trees to climb over. The pain persisted even once at the car. I spent twenty minutes trying to work what felt like a foot cramp out before climbing behind the wheel where I drove us to our next stop.
Historic Fort Kaskaskia on the banks of the Mississippi River where I hoped we could have our picnic lunch and get my shoe off for a few minutes. Once there we started to stroll about the grounds when it became apparent I wasn't going to be able to do much or anything more for that matter. The pain in my foot was so severe I couldn't bear weight on my heel and was forced to only use my tip toes on my right foot. I returned to the car and attempted to massage out some pain while my husband walked the dog.



There were no picnic tables at which to sit and honestly I wouldn't have done so, had there been. The breeze blowing up off the river was as cold as ice and no amount of sun that day could warm it. We dined in the car instead before setting out for the town of Kaskaskia, IL which is West of the Mississippi. My goal had been to see the Liberty Bell of the West with it's Revolutionary War heritage but again once out of the car I was relegated to hobbling and had no patience to wait for a care taker to unlock the building where the bell was housed.
We made our way to the hotel where a hot shower was more than welcomed as well as a good nights rest before setting out to Trail of Tears State Park but my foot had other plans. The pain was so great I couldn't sleep, my husband and dog were curled up comfortably sleeping away while I would lay down for 5 minutes before the pain would force me to sit up and massage my foot, time and time again. I was so tired at one point I almost fell asleep sitting up!
This was my routine until around 2 a.m when I finally relented to hobble back to the bathroom and let hot water run over my foot. It was enough relief from the pain that I was able to finally get a few hours rest before waking again. When I awoke it was daylight, me and my husband both agreed it was time to hit the road and head straight home which is exactly what we did.
On Monday with no improvement in my foot I took myself to the doctor, an examine, some X-Rays, and I sit here and type this 11 days later in a walking cast. Soft tissue damage was the verdict, no breaks or fractures. I'm hoping soon I can remove my walking cast and return to a normal gait but it maybe a few more weeks before I'm actually able to hit the trail again. Oh well, gives me plenty of time to research the next adventure!!
If you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on.

Adventure Awaits!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Natchez Trace Parkway-Tennessee

Sign for the Old Trace Walk along the Natchez Trace

The Natchez Trace Parkway

     Ready for yet another adventure my husband, Donald, and I scoured Google Maps looking for the perfect place. Just Southeast of Nashville, Tennessee Donald found David Crockett State Park and as it turns out, if routed correctly we could travel part of The Natchez Trace Parkway. Alright a great scenic drive on our way down to hike in David Crockett I thought. 
   Honestly my back and hips had been killing me lately, I wasn't sure if I was up for several hours in the car, let alone hiking. Lots of icing and hot baths over several days and I finally felt like I could manage, although how much remained to be seen. I was feeling reluctant to make the trip but had already committed and I'm a woman of my word, come hell or high water. 
   Feeling better I finally started researching The Natchez Trace and stumble upon an amazing site, Natchez Trace Travel. Clicking around through the site one can plan their entire trip, from traveling the entire 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee or by traveling sections at a time which we did. An interactive map highlights points of interests and "hot spots" or places of high interest along the way. History and nature collide on this National Scenic Byway which is maintained by the National Park System. 
    I was finally excited about our trip and quickly began using the interactive map on Natchez Trace Travel to learn about the history and discern which stops were in the portion we were traveling as well as which stops we wanted to make. Spreadsheet, I had to have a spreadsheet! There were so many and all carefully detailed, even the mile marker noted! 
    American History has always been one of my favorite subjects, since grade school I devoured anything under the subject and my interest has only grown with my age. Nature, of course, has always been a big part of my life, ever growing from family requirement to an interest and place of solace to a passion and devotion. Being able to combine the two is an awesome adventure to me. 
    Early, I mean EARLY, on a Saturday morning we headed South leaving the state of Kentucky and making our way down to Tennessee. It was dark; so dark there was no horizon, it was cold, and everyone was tired except for Kennedy, our Jack Russell Terrier mix. Donald and I both couldn't wait for the Sun to come up so we could see something other than what the car headlights would allow. 
   When the Sun finally did come up it was blinding as we traveled toward it and Nashville but I at least felt like I wasn't traveling on the Moon any longer. The terrain was much hillier, almost mountainous as we closed in our target. We picked up The Natchez Trace Parkway near an area called Kinderhook, south of Leiper's Fork  and around mile post 410. The Natchez Trace actually starts in Natchez, Mississippi so the miles go up as you head toward Nashville or down for vice versa. 
  The first stop on our list was Water Valley Overlook, a scenic overlook with a picnic area. We reach our target around 9 a.m., there was still a heavy chill in the air, and patchy fog slowly lifting from the low lying areas. Foliage forecast had predicated that we would be arriving during peak colors for the northern section.

View from Water Valley Overlook

  We couldn't have scripted better weather or colors for our day on The Natchez Trace. The Sun was shining, there was a bit of a cool breeze, and the colors were magnificent. Water Valley Overlook was stunning, the hills of the countryside laid out before us, green and brown fields border with rows of trees made a patchwork of the valley floor. Ponds with wisps of fog rising from their waters sat nestled among the steep forested hillsides of greens, reds, oranges, and rust colored hues. Thick patches of fog hovered above the trees in the recesses of the hilly terrain. Farmhouses, barns, and livestock completed the picturesque scene. 
  After stretching our legs a bit and taking the beauty of the first stop we made our way down to Baker's Bluff Overlook. Another stunning scene as described above was laid before our eyes. 

View from Baker's Bluff Overlook
    Large white Cows bellowed below us, their calls echoing up to us off the hills. We meandered around and found a trail that lead to Jackson Falls which was our next stop on the list 1/3 of a mile away. Donald prodded me to take the trail and after snapping a few pics I joined him near the trail head. A sign immediately warned "Steep Incline", all one simply had to do was look past the sign to see you were literally going to be face to face with the ground as you ascended. Nope, no thank you. I quickly shook my head and turned around. I don't mind hiking in the least bit but when I'm going have to claw my way up, you can forget it. I advised Donald we could just drive, if I remembered correctly and cut out a large portion of the death by mountain style hike. He and Kennedy rejoined me at the car and we drove to Jackson Falls.
   Jackson Falls provided a bit of an overlook, most of the view being blocked by trees and foliage. There was another picnic area and another trail head down to Jackson Falls as I had suspected. We trekked our way down a concrete sidewalk along the steep hillside. Navigating over a small wash with a wooden bridge and further down too the foot of Jackson Falls. Unfortunately much of Tennessee is experiencing the same drought conditions that Kentucky is and there was very little water flowing over the falls.

Jackson Falls
   What water was flowing echoed off the high stone bluffs that surrounded us, green moss still clung to the rocks along the creek, the leaves were a kaleidoscope of colors against the sky and Earth. We milled about, I taking pictures, Donald and Kennedy exploring. A bench sat just off the creek, facing the falls so we took advantage and soaked up the sounds of the forest and the trickling water, all deliciously devoid of human noises.

View from the bench at Jackson Falls
   The bad part about descending is usually you must ascend at sometime or another. For us it was obvious as we trekked down that would be our path back up and I knew it was going to suck. Despite knowing that I had gone down, now I had to go up. I have been working on my inclines, trying to keep my posture correct while traversing them and thereby hopefully reducing any low back pain. All in all, it wasn't too horrible, a few craps, some huffing and puffing, and I was back at the car.

The not so steep section down to Jackson Falls
    Next stop was one of my favorites, Old Trace Walk, where you can actually walk a portion of the original Trace. The Old Natchez Trace dates back to the 1700's when sections were animal or Indian trails.


Sign at the trail head

     Here we strolled down the sunken path worn by many before us hundreds of years before. The Autumn colors abounded as the Sun peered through the forest canopy at us. Leaves crunched under our feet as we retraced the steps of so many along The Natchez Trace. On our way back we came to a spot where the birds were chirping loudly and squirrels were milling about the branches. We stopped a moment, took a seat upon a downed tree and just took in the forests sounds. Suddenly a Chipmunk jumped out just 20 feet down the path and darted across the forest floor. We watched for a few minutes as he darted in and out of the downed leaves on the forest floor before taking our leave.

Section of Old Trace Walk
     A large expanse of undulating forest spread out before us at Swan Overlook, dotted with the water tower for the town of Hohenwald. Hills, splashed with the varying colors of Autumn, that rolled till they smacked right up against the horizon.
Swan Overlook
       Fall Hollow Falls awaited us next and I hoped it wouldn't be as dry as Jackson Falls had been, nor as steep. We pulled into the parking area and headed down a dirt path,  that lead to a wooden bridge over a small stream. The sound of the falls was apparent as we headed down the path. After crossing over the bridge the trail turned, becoming muddy at times and made it's way to a wooden observation area overlooking the falls.

Fall Hollow Falls
     We took the time to snap a few pictures before an older couple joined us. After making small talk we made our way back to our vehicles and as we began to pull out the man held up a drink, offering it to us. We politely waved off his offer, being well prepared. It can be some distance for fuel, food, water or lodging along The Natchez Trace so his offer was understandable, although not needed, but very much appreciated. It was nice to see such consideration from a complete stranger we hadn't spoken to for more than 10 minutes.
     The Natchez Trace Parkway is like any other road, requiring maintenance and upkeep. Current maintenance meant that a portion of the parkway was closed. We had hoped it had been completed prior to our arrival but we hadn't been so lucky. There was a marked detour and I did print off the map so there was no issue getting around the closure.
     Highway 20 intersects with The Natchez Trace and here you will find the death and burial site of Meriwether Lewis. A pioneer cemetery with a monument of a lone broken shaft reaching toward the sky to commemorate the historic figure. An old pioneer log cabin sits, abandoned, a shuttered site for information. More portions of the Old Trace can be walked here as well as the site of the homestead where Lewis met his demise.
 
Pioneer Cemetery
      Our next stop was Metal Ford and Buffalo River, the historical site where pioneers forded the cold waters of the Buffalo River and former home to Steele's Iron Works. A charcoal burning furnace was used on site to manufacture pig iron, though there are no remnants. We strolled the little trail that followed the shore of the Buffalo River, it's babble ever present. The little trail eventually turned and went down into a dry channel once used to funnel water off the river for the furnace. The channel walls were only 8 to 10' in height and it's floor lined with dry leaves of the season's colors. We followed the path back to it's start and explored a little more before taking our leave.

Buffalo River

   The final item on our list was Old Trace Drive, where one can drive a 2.5 mile portion of the original route. I was a little nervous about taking my Malibu down this drive but after talking to a few others who had driven it on motorcycles I had little worry. It wound it's way through the woods, brilliant from Autumn's brush. There were several spots providing scenic views to the surrounding hills full of yet more Fall splendor. It's certainly a must if you ever find yourself along the Natchez Trace.

Old Trace Drive

   Back out on The Natchez Trace the remaining five miles we soaked in the beauty every second we could. Donald nor I wanted to leave it behind us but a new adventure laid ahead in David Crockett State Park.  We arrived to find a 5K race going on and people everywhere. Navigating back through the park was difficult, with runners, hikers and other traffic dotting the way like an obstacle course. It was quickly decided to abandon our original plan to hike to the falls and instead we drove up and parked nearby. Parking wasn't easy either, the circular lot was full of cars and people. I managed to find an empty slot and parked.
  It was a simple stroll to David Crockett Falls, several people were playing and wading in the stream. I hurried down to the shoreline, snapped several pictures and then dashed back to the car eager to get away from the onslaught of humans after a tranquil morning of virtual solitude.

Crockett Falls
    We had decided to take advantage of the the pet friendly dining area at the restaurant in the park, Crockett's Mill. Donald and Kennedy took a seat in the outdoor dining area while I went and let the staff know our wishes. We were quickly accommodated with silverware and menus being brought out to our table, the waitress even served Kennedy a bowl of fresh water. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but was nice to see a sit down restaurant with a pet friendly option.
   It was time to start making our way back toward the hotel we had reserved a room at. I had chosen a different route to return along, Highway 13. As it turns out, it was a Scenic byway through mountainous terrain with winding curves and steep hills. It was a beautiful drive through the scenic Tennessee countryside.
  By the time we made it to our hotel we had been on and off the road for 10 hours and I couldn't tell you how many miles we had logged. Everyone was definitely ready to be out of the car for more than a few minutes at time. Our hiking plans for the day had been thwarted so we sat down and did a little more research for where we could hike that was en-route home.
  We quickly found Big Sandy Wildlife Refuge, it was still open for another couple weeks and had a trail that interested us. Plans were made to be up early again the following morning and with Daylight Savings Time ending, we got plenty of rest.
   Another couple hours of driving had us landing in the Big Sandy Refuge where we made use of Bennett's Observation deck on our way back towards the trail head. Ducks, geese and even American Pelicans could be spied along the shores of the Tennessee River.
   Gingerly driving down dusty gravel roads we pulled into the trail head parking only to find that the trail was closed for hunting season. Disappointing to say the least, we had saw no notice on the website but definitely didn't want to be accidentally shot by someone game hunting. I turned the car around and we drove the remaining distance back home.

Bennett's Observation Deck
   I fell in love with the Natchez Trace while there and despite any other disappointments in our adventure it was more than worthwhile to explore such a gem in the heart of Tennessee. Next time I travel the Parkway I hope to be completing the remaining miles in Alabama and Mississippi.
  It's important not to let little setbacks and disappointments overshadow something that was so spectacular. In today's world it's easier to look towards the negatives but I choose to dwell in the light of the positives and revel in my experiences, good or bad.

Adventure Awaits!
 




    
     

   







 



 





Fall Camping in Land Between the Lakes


Fall Camping in Land Between the Lakes

    Every year we meet up with my parents, our best friend, Nick, and his daughter. Sam, for a Fall camping trip. This year we selected Land Between the Lakes and carefully chose our weekend for an overnight trip.  My husband, Donald, and I even went the weekend before and scouted back country camping sites, picking several in case others had the same idea. 
   Finally the weekend arrived but life started interfering with our plans. Issues arose that didn't allow Sam to come and more still that would prevent Nick from joining us until much later in the day. Alternative plans were made and directions given with a plan to text which site we ended up at. 
More life happened and my Dad started feeling a bit ill. Okay no problem, just a little under the weather but reason enough for him to stay out of the chilly air. My Mom opted out also but we resolved to continue on, minus the canoe we had already loaded into the truck. Once we had conducted what felt like a fire drill on loading and unloading the canoe I decided to call my Mom back. We changed our plans again this time requiring my Mom to load up her Chevy Cruze with all her camping gear plus my 13 year old cousin, Ira, who had started living with them and meeting us at our home.  My Dad just had a brake line repaired on the truck and wasn't comfortable letting Mom take off with it.
    Once she arrived Saturday morning we transferred all of Mom's gear into our extended cab Chevy and headed off into Land Between the Lakes. Checking the events listing we noted a race in Grand Rivers and opted to enter through the South end. Making our way down Highway 68 we reached Aurora where everyone was setting up for the annual fall festival, Aurorafest. Everything seemed to be working against us but we pressed on through the throngs of people and traffic.
    We stopped at the Golden Pond Visitor's Center for our back country camping permits and was again foiled by the fact they didn't sell fishing licenses. Plan modified once more, luckily my husband already had his and Ira was young enough not to require them so my Mom and I decided not to drive back out to Grand Rivers or Aurora to get ours. 
   Driving North on The Woodlands Trace we finally turned onto Old Ferry Road where we made our way towards the shores of Lake Barkley. Another turn after several miles had us bobbing down a rough, mostly gravel road till the lake was visible through the trees. It also quickly became visible our first pick for a back country campsite was taken. 
  We lumbered through a three point turn on the narrow road and headed back the way we had came. As luck would have it, our second pick was just a few miles away so we wheeled back on the blacktop of Old Ferry Road and deeper into Land Between the Lakes. Navigating several turns we were back on gravel and several minutes later we arrived at the second site to find it unoccupied. 
  Ira had never been camping, he had "camped" in a friends back yard but had never been on a real camping trip. We were all excited to have the honor of taking him on his first trip and quickly set about laying down the rules.
   #1 No playing, no fishing, no laying around, etc till camp was set up. That means tents, fire pit, back country bathroom, and firewood collection all had to be done first. 
  #2 No whining or complaining, either will just earn you a hard way to go. 
  #3 Do not light the camp fire till closer to dark to conserve wood for the much cooler night.
  #4 Once you think you have enough firewood, go gather 3 times more. 
 We set about to erecting camp on a small grassy area adjacent to the lake shore and in front of a dry inlet. The lakes had already been dropped to Winter pool by Tennessee Valley Authority and added to that Kentucky was in a bit of a drought. The lake shore here was muddy but firm enough in most areas to tread upon without sinking. It would do for fishing and that's exactly what Ira and Donald started doing once camp was completed. 
  My Mom and I set about putting the finishing touches on camp, organizing things, lighting Citronella candles to fend off the flies, and clearing away leaves from around the fire pit we had constructed. We spent the next several hours in camp fishing, milling about, and enjoying the beautiful Fall day we had been granted.
  Someone, who shall remain nameless.....Mom, forgot her camp stove. I always try to bring a grate and as it happens it had been remembered this trip. When the time was right we started the camp fire then by using some large stones placed around it to form the pit with another smaller stone on the outside to trap the coals I made a campfire stove. Mom had been gracious enough to prepare homemade Beef stew in advance so all that was required was reheating. 


  After I doled out heaping bowls of steaming Beef stew with the sun getting low in the sky, Nick pulled into camp. We finished our meal before Donald began to help Nick set up his tent while the remainder of us piled into the truck and headed to the Elk and Bison Prairie.  Not only had Ira not been camping but he had never seen Elk or Bison. There had been talk of a field trip at his school in Southern Illinois but nothing ever came of it so we made our own field trip. 
  The prairie had a line of cars waiting to enter, as usual in the Fall when the Elk are in rut and Ira speculated if we would get to see any. I let him know they animals were used to limited human interaction, such as vehicles and being in vehicles. He read the warning signs aloud as we took our turn entering the large motion sensor gate and over the metal grate that prevents the Elk and Bison from escaping. 
  We were immediately greeted with a large bull resting off the road several yards. Further on we heard a large bull Elk bugle and spied yet another in the tall dry grasses of the prairie just 40 yards off the the little one way road. Many people passed right on by, not noticing as the bulls natural colors camouflaged him. We pulled off the road, onto the shoulder so we could watch him for a bit and take a few pictures. 
  Continuing on we came to a full on Bison back up, along both sides of the road and meandering across it in places Bison were everywhere. We took full advantage of the back up, snapping pictures, taking a live Facebook video and watching young calves feed. Finally the Bison moved enough so the vehicles could start moving themselves, stopping every now and again to let another Bison cross the road. 


   Elk could be randomly spotted standing on the top of a ridge or grazing in open prairie, every now again you could hear the large bull calling somewhere off in the distance. Nearing the back side of the prairie, after a dry creek crossing, there were several cow Elk milling about just yards off the road with one even coming right up to the informative exhibit. 


  Ira had such an amazing time on the first trip around he wanted to circle the prairie again, so we did. This time the Bison had worked themselves into a field and off the road except a few who lingered behind wallowing in dirt, kicking up dust. 


 Making our way by them we once again spied a few Elk dotting the prairie but this time on the backside the large bull was visible, standing high on a ridge overlooking his heard and bugling on occasion as if to gather them up as darkness began to descend upon them. 


As we made our way towards the exit we once more encountered the Bison herd making their way across the road again back towards the more forested area of the prairie. A text came across my phone so I took advantage of the stoppage only to see it was from Donald. He was informing I had his back country permit in my wallet. I quickly realized he wouldn't be legal if checked without me there. I immediately responded with an "OMW". We ended our field trip and as we headed back toward the gates we passed the Wildlife official coming to close the prairie down. 
  As darkness descended I hightailed it back North to our campsite arriving to find that thankfully no Wildlife official had been by. We sat around the fire as the chilly night settled in around us and begun a bit of telling ghost stories of sorts. Ira wasn't very keen on it so we kept the stories to local lore of the area and interestingly enough a pack of coyotes began to howl shortly afterward. 
  Throughout the evening the coyotes would call out, one pack to our West and another to the East, talking back and forth on occasion.  Donald, Nick, and I had never heard coyotes in Land Between the Lakes in the numbers we heard them that night. I had scarcely seen or heard one since moving to Kentucky nearly 20 years previous. They were of no concern to us even with our little pup, Kennedy with us. Nearing bed time the coyotes started their revelry with the East pack sounding very close to camp. We still paid no mind, Kennedy thought about barking back at them and then thought better of it. 
  Donald, Kennedy, and I took ourselves to bed in our tent with my Mom turning into her tent not shortly after. Ira and Nick stayed up for some time talking around the campfire then trying some night fishing to no avail. Finally after some time they turned in for the night and the camp was quiet. 
  I don't know about you but even with an air mattress I don't sleep well when camping. I wake up periodically throughout the night before falling back to sleep and repeating the cycle. During one of these awake periods I could tell Donald wasn't asleep either but said nothing. I just laid there listening to the soft snores coming form the tents around me when suddenly I heard something walking in the woods behind the tents. It was a steady, four legged gait just beyond the dry wash. The sound of leaves crunching steadily through the forest until it stopped just quickly as it started. I knew it had entered the wash behind the tents and whispered to Donald to confirm he heard it as well. Moments later it could be heard entering camp from along the lake shore, crunching on the leaves that were scattered about behind our camp chairs. The sound of a grocery bag rustling, a bag Ira had left lying next to his chair, it rustled only for a few seconds before the sound ceased.  The animal then made it's way out of camp exiting towards the West and I made my way back to sleep. 
  The next morning I made a bathroom call while Donald scouted the lake shore for tracks and he found paw prints, the tracks of a coyote. The pack had sent in a scout in once camp had been quiet for some time, finding nothing, they had left us alone the remainder of the night. 
  We took some time to rebuild the fire and warm up before Nick had to break down his tent and bail off back into life. The rest of us set about to some morning fishing, breaking camp and cooking a breakfast of sausage links and flap jacks. Our bellies tamed we finished tearing down camp, packing everything up and headed out of Land Between the Lakes. 
  Ira had such a wonderful time on his first camping trip he's ready for another. I'm so glad we pressed on despite everything. There were so many obstacles to overcome and so many times we had to change our plans but again we have learned you just have to roll with things or they will knock you off course. In the end we had an amazing time camping, enjoying each others company, the wildlife and being in nature.

Remember, Adventure Awaits!!
 

Fall Camping in Land Between the Lakes


Fall Camping in Land Between the Lakes

    Every year we meet up with my parents, our best friend, Nick, and his daughter. Sam, for a Fall camping trip. This year we selected Land Between the Lakes and carefully chose our weekend for an overnight trip.  My husband, Donald, and I even went the weekend before and scouted back country camping sites, picking several in case others had the same idea. 
   Finally the weekend arrived but life started interfering with our plans. Issues arose that didn't allow Sam to come and more still that would prevent Nick from joining us until much later in the day. Alternative plans were made and directions given with a plan to text which site we ended up at. 
More life happened and my Dad started feeling a bit ill. Okay no problem, just a little under the weather but reason enough for him to stay out of the chilly air. My Mom opted out also but we resolved to continue on but minus the canoe we had already loaded into the truck. Once we had conducted what felt like a fire drill on loading and unloading the canoe I decided to call my Mom back. We changed our plans again this time requiring my Mom to load up her Chevy Cruze with all her camping gear plus my 13 year old cousin, Ira, who had started living with them and meeting us at our home.  My Dad just had a brake line repaired on the truck and wasn't comfortable letting Mom take off with it.
    Once she arrived Saturday morning we transferred all of Mom's gear into our extended cab Chevy and headed off into Land Between the Lakes. Checking the events listing we noted a race in Grand Rivers and opted to enter through the South end. Making our way down Highway 68 we reached Aurora where everyone was setting up for the annual fall festival, Aurorafest. Everything seemed to be working against us but we pressed on through the throngs of people and traffic.
    We stopped at the Golden Pond Visitor's Center for our back country camping permits and was again foiled by the fact they didn't sell fishing licenses. Plan modified once more, luckily my husband already had his and Ira was young enough not to require them so my Mom and I decided not to drive back out to Grand Rivers or Aurora to get ours. 
   Driving North on The Woodlands Trace we finally turned onto Old Ferry Road where we made our way towards the shores of Lake Barkley. Another turn after several miles had us bobbing down a rough, mostly gravel road till the lake was visible through the trees. It also quickly became visible our first pick for a back country campsite was taken. 
  We lumbered through a three point turn on the narrow road and headed back the way we had came. As luck would have it, our second pick was just a few miles away so we wheeled back on the blacktop of Old Ferry Road and deeper into Land Between the Lakes. Navigating several turns we were back on gravel and several minutes later we arrived at the second site to find it unoccupied. 
  Ira had never been camping, he had "camped" in a friends back yard but had never been on a real camping trip. We were all excited to have the honor of taking him on his first trip and quickly set about laying down the rules.
   #1 No playing, no fishing, no laying around, etc till camp was set up. That means tents, fire pit, back country bathroom, and firewood collection all had to be done first. 
  #2 No whining or complaining, either will just earn you a hard way to go. 
  #3 Do not light the camp fire till closer to dark to conserve wood for the much cooler night.
  #4 Once you think you have enough firewood, go gather 3 times more. 
 We set about to erecting camp on a small grassy area adjacent to the lake shore and in front of a dry inlet. The lakes had already been dropped to Winter pool by Tennessee Valley Authority and added to that Kentucky was in a bit of a drought. The lake shore here was muddy but firm enough in most areas to tread upon without sinking. It would do for fishing and that's exactly what Ira and Donald started doing once camp was completed. 
  My Mom and I set about putting the finishing touches on camp, organizing things, lighting Citronella candles to fend off the flies, and clearing away leaves from around the fire pit we had constructed. We spent the next several hours in camp fishing, milling about, and enjoying the beautiful Fall day we had been granted.
  Someone, who shall remain nameless.....Mom, forgot her camp stove. I always try to bring a grate and as it happens it had been remembered this trip. When the time was right we started the camp fire then by using some large stones placed around it to form the pit with another smaller stone on the outside to trap the coals I made a campfire stove. Mom had been gracious enough to prepare homemade Beef stew in advance so all that was required was reheating. 


  After I doled out heaping bowls of steaming Beef stew with the sun getting low in the sky, Nick pulled into camp. We finished our meal before Donald began to help Nick set up his tent while the remainder of us piled into the truck and headed to the Elk and Bison Prairie.  Not only had Ira not been camping but he had never seen Elk or Bison. There had been talk of a field trip at his school in Southern Illinois but nothing ever came of it so we made our own field trip. 
  The prairie had a line of cars waiting to enter, as usual in the Fall when the Elk are in rut and Ira speculated if we would get to see any. I let him know they animals were used to limited human interaction, such as vehicles and being in vehicles. He read the warning signs aloud as we took our turn entering the large motion sensor gate and over the metal grate that prevents the Elk and Bison from escaping. 
  We were immediately greeted with a large bull resting off the road several yards. Further on we heard a large bull Elk bugle and spied yet another in the tall dry grasses of the prairie just 40 yards off the the little one way road. Many people passed right on by, not noticing as the bulls natural colors camouflaged him. We pulled off the road, onto the shoulder so we could watch him for a bit and take a few pictures. 
  Continuing on we came to a full on Bison back up, along both sides of the road and meandering across it in places Bison were everywhere. We took full advantage of the back up, snapping pictures, taking a live Facebook video and watching young calves feed. Finally the Bison moved enough so the vehicles could start moving themselves, stopping every now and again to let another Bison cross the road. 


   Elk could be randomly spotted standing on the top of a ridge or grazing in open prairie, every now again you could hear the large bull calling somewhere off in the distance. Nearing the back side of the prairie, after a dry creek crossing, there were several cow Elk milling about just yards off the road with one even coming right up to the informative exhibit. 


  Ira had such an amazing time on the first trip around he wanted to circle the prairie again, so we did. This time the Bison had worked themselves into a field and off the road except a few who lingered behind wallowing in dirt, kicking up dust. 


 Making our way by them we once again spied a few Elk dotting the prairie but this time on the backside the large bull was visible, standing high on a ridge overlooking his heard and bugling on occasion as if to gather them up as darkness began to descend upon them. 


As we made our way towards the exit we once more encountered the Bison herd making their way across the road again back towards the more forested area of the prairie. A text came across my phone so I took advantage of the stoppage only to see it was from Donald. He was informing I had his back country permit in my wallet. I quickly realized he wouldn't be legal if checked without me there. I immediately responded with an "OMW". We ended our field trip and as we headed back toward the gates we passed the Wildlife official coming to close the prairie down. 
  As darkness descended I hightailed it back North to our campsite arriving to find that thankfully no Wildlife official had been by. We sat around the fire as the chilly night settled in around us and begun a bit of telling ghost stories of sorts. Ira wasn't very keen on it so we kept the stories to local lore of the area and interestingly enough a pack of coyotes began to howl shortly afterward. 
  Throughout the evening the coyotes would call out, one pack to our West and another to the East, talking back and forth on occasion.  Donald, Nick, and I had never heard coyotes in Land Between the Lakes in the numbers we heard them that night. I had scarcely seen or heard one since moving to Kentucky nearly 20 years previous. They were of no concern to us even with our little pup, Kennedy with us. Nearing bed time the coyotes started their revelry with the East pack sounding very close to camp. We still paid no mind, Kennedy thought about barking back at them and then thought better of it. 
  Donald, Kennedy, and I took ourselves to bed in our tent with my Mom turning into her tent not shortly after. Ira and Nick stayed up for some time talking around the campfire then trying some night fishing to no avail. Finally after some time they turned in for the night and the camp was quiet. 
  I don't know about you but even with an air mattress I don't sleep well when camping. I wake up periodically throughout the night before falling back to sleep and repeating the cycle. During one of these awake periods I could tell Donald wasn't asleep either but said nothing. I just laid there listening to the soft snores coming form the tents around me when suddenly I heard something walking in the woods behind the tents. It was a steady, four legged gait just beyond the dry wash. The sound of leaves crunching steadily through the forest until it stopped just quickly as it started. I knew it had entered the wash behind the tents and whispered to Donald to confirm he heard it as well. Moments later it could be heard entering camp from along the lake shore, crunching on the leaves that were scattered about behind our camp chairs. The sound of a grocery bag rustling, a bag Ira had left lying next to his chair, it rustled only for a few seconds before the sound ceased.  The animal then made it's way out of camp exiting towards the West and I made my way back to sleep. 
  The next morning I made a bathroom call while Donald scouted the lake shore for tracks and he found paw prints, the tracks of a coyote. The pack had sent in a scout in once camp had been quiet for some time, finding nothing, they had left us alone the remainder of the night. 
  We took some time to rebuild the fire and warm up before Nick had to break down his tent and bail off back into life. The rest of us set about to some morning fishing, breaking camp and cooking a breakfast of sausage links and flap jacks. Our bellies tamed we finished tearing down camp, packing everything up and headed out of Land Between the Lakes. 
  Ira had such a wonderful time on his first camping trip he's ready for another. I'm so glad we pressed on despite everything. There were so many obstacles to overcome and so many times we had to change our plans but again we have learned you just have to roll with things or they will knock you off course. In the end we had an amazing time camping, enjoying each others company, the wildlife and being in nature.

Remember, Adventure Awaits!!
 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Kentucky Two Fer


   I decided to title this blog The Kentucky Two Fer for the simple fact we hiked in two different parks in West Central Kentucky in one day.
     The Fall temps keep spurring me on to explore more, go new places and spend lots of time in the forests. Another weekend coming up and I was hitting the internet researching places to hike and explore. I stumbled upon Panther Creek Park, near Owensboro and learned that their walking/hiking trail had a suspension bridge. Well that would be a new experience for us, so when we started discussing plans I mentioned Panther Creek and to my delight, Donald was up for a little trip to check it out.
     We made reservations at a chain hotel, not willing to risk the uncertainty of an off brand motel again as we did at Reelfoot Lake. Early on Saturday morning we loaded up my car and headed East towards the rising sun before turning North at Madisonville and making our way towards Owensboro. The morning temps hovered in the low 50's, making for a chilly start to the day but it felt good after a long Kentucky Summer with sweltering temps and humidity. 
   Panther Creek Park, we found, sits back behind an upper middle class neighborhood. Estate style homes with carefully manicured lawns lining the freshly blacktopped street. We made our way inside the park, Donald noting bridge sightings through the woods as we went. After a quick trip to the bathrooms we set out from the Nature Shelter trail head with hiking the Marksberry Special Trail in mind. 
    A large portion of the trail system is a long raised boardwalk through bottom lands that leads to a gazebo. The gazebo had been noted on the map with a symbol that was white with pillars, a typical representation of a park gazebo. The gazebo we found was more rustic, full of graffiti and the sign for our trail head placed at a angle where there was no trail or boardwalk. 
  We ambled down the boardwalk trail to the left only to come to a road with no indication which way the trail continued. Turning back we returned to the gazebo and decided to make our way along the covered bridge portion of the boardwalk.
 Not long after passing under the covered bridge the boardwalk came to an end and we were back on solid ground, but not for long. Hiking along the packed dirt path we were able to spy homes and manicured lawns along with a large breed dog barking at us as we made our way along.  Several yards later we came to the suspension bridge noted on the park map and I rather nervously made my way across with Kennedy leading the way. The bridge swayed very little until you reach the middle portion. All the swaying left me trying to get my "sea legs" once back on solid ground.
  Once across "The Swinger" we were met with more blacktop and another suspension bridge laying in wait for us on the next portion of the trail. Debbie's Dream Catcher as it's named was bigger and longer than The Swinger. The park map indicated we should be turning at this point to stay on the Marksberry Special Trail but again no trail markers to help us discern the direction of our selected trail. We made our way across Debbie's Dream Catcher only to find a sign pointing us straight on for the Marksberry Special Trail and so we followed.
  Hiking along on solid ground again we found ourselves at the edge of the disc golf course.....??? What? Wait a minute. We pulled our map out again to find that the trail sign had routed us onto different trails. I wasn't up for this game of trail hide and seek. I was honestly sick of playing it over the past few weeks.
  Two young trail runners made their way past us, all of about 9 and 11 years of age. I was glad to see some youth hitting the trails, doing so quietly and with respect. After the boys passed, we turned ourselves around and headed back to the trail sign at the end of Debbie's Dream Catcher.
  Once there we noted the direction of the sign again and checked our map. It appeared from the map we were to hike along the blacktop road between the two suspension bridges. Donald nudged me and made me take note of the fact the two boys from earlier near the disc golf course, were now on Debbie's Dream Catcher. How the hell did they do that so fast? I could only shake my head and comment on how it sucked getting old and fat. Clearly they knew the trails and weren't having to rely on the material we were. Before we knew it the two boys darted off in the opposite direction and were gone. We decided to do the same, tired of trying to figure out the trail system between signage and the map.



  Panther Creek Park while beautiful, with novel suspension bridges and boardwalks but it had left a lot to be desired for a person more accustomed to hiking National Forest and Recreations Areas. Turns out Donald had done a little research of his own on the way up and chimed in with a new destination, Lake Malone State Park in Dunmor, KY.
  It was located over an hour south of our current location so we decided to make our way there with a stop for lunch along the way. We made our way through the countryside just outside of Owensboro before skirting the city limits and turning South towards Central City.  We took aim at the Sonic in Central City and after wolfing down a fare of fast food we headed South again toward Dunmor.
  There was some debate between my Garmin GPS and Donald's Google Maps application on his phone. My Garmin seems delusional at times so I opted to follow the directions Google Maps was providing only to find myself on some little one and half lane road meandering around a Kentucky hillside. No big deal, no schedules, no curfews and no time limits. We are just going to enjoy the drive through the countryside and....oh hello! Is that huge massive farm equipment coming at me head on? Yes, yes it is. Buckle up, Buttercup, time to get skinny!! As the tractors approached I edged my car as far over onto the shoulder of the road as I could, coming to a stop to keep from plowing down mailboxes or hurtling down into the little ditch next to the field. We sat and waited as the tractors edged their way up and finally past us, giving a friendly little wave to the farmers inside the cabins as they went by.
  Clear of the farm equipment but still on this little road that we both wanted off of, we followed it  a few more miles before we finally made our way onto a typical two lane highway where we soon turned into the entrance of Lake Malone State Park. There was some confusion between where the downloaded map showed the trail heads and where they actually were in the park. Finally after circling what I assume was the lodge area, then heading into the campground and turning around, we drove down toward the picnic area. It was marked as such in the park with signage but listed on the map as back country camping area, we pulled in and parked.
 We spied both trail heads from the picnic area and opted for the longer Laurel Trail that skirted along the shore of Lake Malone. A cool Fall breeze was blowing from up off the water and rustling the dry leaves in the wind as we set out down the trail. The trail was described as easy to moderate but we soon found ourselves hiking along a steep rocky hillside. The trail was uneven and at one point the roots of a tree were used as a set of natural stairs in the trail.
  Pressing on we came to area that overlooked a small bay of the lake. I took this opportunity to head back into the woods to take care of some business, leaving my husband and dog to wait for me. Apparently greasy food wasn't a good idea for me to eat before hitting the trails again. Since having my gallbladder removed it can be a guessing game. It happens, we all have to deal with it some time or other if we are out in the woods enough and I was going to have to do just that, there was no other option.
  Now it had been a couple years since I've been forced to handle such a task in the back country. Things typically work out were it's not needed other than maybe a quick pee but I find taking care of the other business requires more balance for a longer period. Here lies a problem for someone whose knees hates them and they have a well, crappy sense of balance. My Kelty hiking pole couldn't help me here. I chose my spot wisely, next to a tall sturdy tree with a thick base. I dug my little hole, removed my pack, and using the tree as support, I got things done. I was proud of myself, I used what I learned through other blogs and some really funny videos, to get done what HAD to be done.
  Feeling better I rejoined my pack at the base of the hill in the overlook area and found a large tree down in across the trail. I stayed back with Kennedy while Donald went ahead and scouted the trail. He shook his head, it didn't look like the trail beyond the tree. There had been a little side trail up the hill so we figured that must be the main trail and turned around. Up we went, through a small pine grove, seeing more rocky bluffs and hillside ahead as the trail turned left, leveling off along the hillside.
  On occasion we could feel the breeze blowing through the trees and others it was completely devoid of any air movement. The trees were mostly green still although dead and dried leaves crunched under our feet and lined the forest floor. Late Summer had been dry and it's going to make for some disappointing  Fall colors, I believe although I still hold some hope for a vibrant Fall.
  We followed along the mostly packed dirt trail marveling at the steep hillside as we made our way across a small wooden bridge over a dry creek bed. The trail turned, following the curve of the bay back out to the main lake. The amazingly tall hillside began to jut out with huge limestone boulders, the trail became rugged again, requiring us to navigate around and down large rocks.



  Pressing on we found many places to explore, overhangs and small caves abounded in the rocky bluff. I would like to tell you that we hiked to the end of the trail before turning ourselves around but our legs and ankles were sore from the terrain. We still had to make our way back and navigate the steep hillside close to the shore. As beautiful as the day was and as much as we both wanted to stay in the forest it was clear everyone was getting tired and the afternoon was getting late.
  By the time we reached the parking lot I was glad to have called it, easy to moderate was not an accurate description in my experience. Moderate to difficult or rugged, even somewhat rugged would suit Laurel Trail better. If that's even the trail we were on since once again in Kentucky, my own home state that I love, there was inadequate trail markings. They were actually non-existent along this trail in particular.
 Despite the lack of trail markings I would definitely like to return to Lake Malone.  Maybe we can camp in the "picnic area" and even bring our canoe! While there I can try to hike all of the Laurel Trail again hopefully without need to test my back country bathroom skills.

As always......

Adventure Awaits!!!



  


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hematite Lake Trail, Land Between the Lakes




  Another beautiful early Fall weekend in Kentucky and of course we just had to hit the trails. This time we selected an old favorite, once again we hadn't visited in some time. July had proven to be a very wet month, mainly around the Fourth of July weekend with Land Between the Lakes receiving a whopping 17 inches. As you can imagine the area had a lot of damage, from culverts and roads being washed out to flooding at The 1850's Homeplace. The US Forestry Service faced a ton of work and still does. Once we checked the alerts page for Land Between the Lakes and noted Hematite Lake Trail was not listed, we took this as repairs had been made and all was fine.
  We woke up before dawn, sucked down a cup of coffee, loaded our gear, and of course Kennedy. The drive only took us around 30 minutes and we wheeled toward the Woodland Nature Station. Donald, my husband, had decided to drive his truck, giving me a rest from behind the wheel. The temps were cool but not too cool, just right for hiking. Leaving the Trace and turning onto Mulberry Flat Road we knew to keep our eyes peeled for the Fallow Deer  herd. As luck would have it, we spied them at the trail head of the Center Iron Furnace Trail. Five of them milled about feeding off the wet grass, one I noted to be mainly white in color and watching for just a few minutes two fawns began to suckle from her. Magical was the only way to describe the scene and I felt privileged to witness it.

After taking a moment to take in the scene of the Fallow Deer we turned and headed past the remains of the Center Iron Furnace and into the Hematite Lake Recreation Area. We parked the truck near the creek that connects Hematite Lake to Honker Lake. As we headed down the remaining gravel lot we noted a sign on the vault toilet stating the boardwalk was damaged and that you may need to turn around on the trail. We figured we'd take it as it comes, as we usually do and headed across the spillway on the concrete stepping stones.
Walking across the mowed grass of the levy wall with the breeze blowing up off the lake felt amazing. We had a little startle from some Turkey Vultures roosting in the bottom lands between the levy and the road before we finally made our way into the woods on the far side of Hematite Lake.
The trail is packed dirt beyond this point, and follows the lake shore along gently rolling hills. The views were stunning from this side of the little lake, the leaves just starting to turn on some of trees with their reflections visible on the lakes surface.
We made our way past the area of the old observation deck, now gone, removed from lack of maintenance and not replaced. It was disappointing but expected. I have a difficult time understanding the US Forestry Services approach towards managing Land Between the Lakes. Little gems like Hematite Lake, close to the Nature Station, were left to fall into disrepair long before the monumental rainfall of July, while the Forestry Service spent time and money working to develop new areas. I suppose money is granted to them but with terms on how it must be spent. I would probably end up with a headache trying to figure it out.
As we turned to follow the trail along the backside of Hematite Lake the area becomes bottom land. Several dry creek beds fed into the lake, snaking their way down the hills and providing an avenue for run off during rains. Small wooden bridges carried us over these creek beds and we found the trail snaking around downed trees. Toppled over from ground saturation and winds, their massive root balls now exposed and turned up.
Finally we came upon the boardwalk that carriers hikers over swampy, muddy terrain. Late Summer and early Fall had been quite dry here in West Kentucky so despite the level of disrepair along the boardwalk we decided to press on, seeing just how far one could traverse. The boardwalk was uneven, warped in places and in other places missing all together. These spots where the boardwalk was missing had logs scattered in them providing path above the muddy ground. Thankfully the larger bridges that carry hikers over the bigger streams that still held water were intact and in fair shape.




We did find the boardwalk that juts out onto a small peninsula as a small observation area was in worse shape than we wanted to attempt to walk on so we turned back onto the main trail again.
The trail turns slightly, sticking to the shore of the lake and here we found the boardwalk and bridge to be in shoddy shape. Traversing the bridge was questionable at best, the main support beam under the foot boards clearly rotting. We stuck to the sides, walking several feet apart to disperse the weight. Further up more sections of boardwalk were missing, one having more logs to cross upon and another required a bit of a jump to cross which I had to make carrying Kennedy as he refused to get his paws wet and muddy.
Kennedy struggled on some sections, trying to pay attention to what was in the woods and along the shore instead of wear he was putting his little paws. His legs would slip down through the planks on the sections with wide spacing. I carried him for several feet and he was quite content as I did. Finally reaching a section with closer spaced planks, I set him back down and we continued on.
  After reaching the end of the boardwalk the trail turns away from the shore a bit and uphill into the forest. Here we found the forest open and not overgrown, allowing for a clear line of site through it.
Rock outcroppings appeared along the edges of the trail and there were now larger stones in the path to trip you up if you weren't careful. The lake still visible peering through the mostly green leaves.
We made our way along until the trail turned downhill again, back toward the lake shore. Here the trail was relatively flat and even ground again, making for a easy section but again it turned uphill and into the forest once more. As we descended the hillside a small observation area sat just off trail, overlooking the lake. It was overgrown with high bushes and tree branches blocking most of the view.
  Back on flat ground we could hear a vehicle on the road off in the distance and knew we were closing in on the end of the trail. I was glad to see the gravel for the drive and parking lot again. I wasn't near as spent as I had been after previous trails but I had housework to catch up on before returning to work the next day. My Keen's hadn't hurt my feet this time either, seeming to have finally be broken in properly after a few miles.
  It was nice to take a hike that seemed more like a stroll in the cool breeze of early Fall and I still hold out hope the Forestry Service will find the funds or time to repair the trail at Hematite Lake which with current detours in place is 2.4 miles long according to Map My Hike.
  Remember don't let your initial impressions stop you, if we had we wouldn't have hiked the entire trail. By taking all the factors into consideration; weighing the level of risk, noting weather conditions and being alert to issues we were able to safely traverse the entire trail without problems.




Adventure Awaits!!