Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exploring Reelfoot Lake

Exploring Reelfoot Lake

     Earlier this Spring I visited the Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tn with my husband, Donald, and my parents. We followed a recommendation to make the drive to the area of Reelfoot Lake and dine at Boyette's Dinning Room. Well it was definitely worth it! The scenic drive and eats had my husband and I vowing to return. 
    Finally late this Summer a plan was hatched to return for an overnight stay in local lodging and to explore what Reelfoot Lake really had to offer for outdoor adventures. I did some research on the local resorts and Inns before deciding on a little place called simply enough Reelfoot Lake Inn. We didn't need anything fancy, just somewhere to rest up with our pooch, Kennedy, before heading out for more explorations. 
    We headed first to Grassy Island and made a stop at the U.S Fish & Wildlife Visitor's Center. I headed inside for maps and info while Donald explored the grounds with Kennedy. Inside I found the attendant very helpful and informative. I was elated to find maps for several canoe trails but when I asked about hiking I was informed there was only one on the refuge with hiking not recommended this time of year due to bugs. "Okay, bugs?" I thought quietly to myself, I've dealt with their kind before and came armed with a full can off Deep Woods Off. After conversing a bit longer than I should have (that's me!) I used the facilities and headed out to regroup with my pack. 
    Donald had found a wide gravel path located on the backside of the parking lot and we decided to stretch our legs on it. It seemed it was a little informative trail leading back through tall meadows which were hemmed off near the trail with a mowed area allowing one to stroll without the meadow infringing on you. The path lead back to a small pond with  a small wooden deck of questionable durability overlooking it and an information kiosk about the importance of farm ponds just off the path. It was cute, scenic, and it was quiet but there was no wildlife to be seen so after a few pictures we headed back to the car. 
    Loaded up, we headed further into Grassy Island taking the Auto Tour. As we made our way back towards an observation deck we spied the hiking trail, appropriately named, Grassy Island Hiking Trail, and we just had to stop. We didn't plan to hike very far, just another little stroll to explore the trail a bit so I left my pack in the trunk. Strolling just fifty feet down a little boardwalk at the start of the trail we were inundated by mosquitoes, the likes of which I've never seen! I've hiked in swamps and have never had so many swarm onto me at one time! We immediately did an about face and high tailed it back to the car, swatting 20 mosquitoes away with one wave of an arm. I loaded in the dog as fast as possible then waved off another attack before getting myself back into the drivers seat. We had managed to only let a couple in and those were quickly shooed out. That lady wasn't playing around!! No hiking till after first frost in the Reelfoot Lake area!
Grassy Island Hiking Trail
  The a/c cranking I piloted us down Grassy Island further to the observation deck. Layering on more Off we heard thunder off in the distance and quickly made our way down the boardwalk. The darkening sky looming in the background of the observation deck we still took the time to snap photos, ooohhh and awe at the lily pads, impressive view and astounding Cypress trees before retreating back to the car again.

Grassy Island Observation Deck
    The wind picked up as I turned the car around and as we headed back down the Auto Tour Route the trees shook angrily in the wind their leaves falling about the car as we went. Finally the rain began to fall, I fully expected a full on down pour for hours but it only lasted a couple miles before it petered out to a few sporadic drops. By the time we reached the main highway the wind had subsided but the skies remained gray.
   As we turned south and made our way toward Reelfoot Lake State Park & Visitor's Center the skies remained menacing and the rain drops sporadic. We pulled into a boat ramp area to explore but found only a sculpture of a Blue Gill an old boat slip and ramp. Rain still smattering the windshield we decided to head down to the hotel, get checked in, get our bags unloaded and see what the weather was going to do.
    Finding the Reelfoot Lake Inn wasn't hard, it was located right off the main highway, a series of five small buildings, directly across from the lake with a field of chest high soybeans located behind it. Honestly the lodging was such a horrible experience I'd rather just skip discussing it but it deserves to be told to a degree. Cleanliness was lacking to such a level I went and purchased disinfectant spray and wipes, along with pillows, the ones provided were less than pancake thickness and we'd forgotten to bring our own. My card had already been charged, I didn't want to argue and fight to get credited back plus I wasn't sure if anyone else would take us with Kennedy on last minute notice. I had such a hard time finding some where that would accommodate a 17 pound Jack Russell mix to begin with. Insane pet fees combined with rules not allowing my canine kid to sleep with us as usual had landed us where we were. The linens were clean, the floor had been freshly mopped but other areas had clearly been skipped over so we relegated ourselves to waiting till we got home to shower, doing a little light cleaning ourselves and making sure things were germ free.
   We did manage to head over to Reelfoot Lake State Park and took a walk along the boardwalk trail that borders the lake. There were many people about enjoying the late Summer season but we found everyone to be extremely friendly. The boardwalk trail made its way through overgrown lowland areas before turning towards the lake and as the boardwalk turne
d again to follow the lake shore we were now walking among the knobby knees of the Cypress trees. The weather had cleared off and it was a beautiful afternoon although still humid. We made our way down the boardwalk passing people headed the opposite direction as we went and Kennedy had to smell every single one of them. There's not much option on a boardwalk, all I could do was let him sniff as we passed. We found an observation area and took advantage of it by snapping some pictures and soaking up a breeze off the lake before reluctantly finishing our boardwalk hike. It's definitely a must if you're ever in the area. The state park also offers guided Pontoon boat tours.

Boardwalk at Reelfoot State Park
   Boyette's Dining Room does carry-out so that's exactly what we did. We took our loot of hot Southern home cooking back to our meager accommodations. The plan was to refuel, crash out early and wake up with plenty of time to get to the Western shore for the sunrise. Our meal did it's job, with our bellies full and a slightly cleaner room we settled in for a little television while trying to slip off into slumber. We soon realized the mattress wasn't of much account but managed to doze off anyways.
    Around one o'clock in the morning we both awoke, uncomfortable and having a hard time getting much rest. The thought to throw in the towel crossed our minds but I was determined to explore the area more and watch the sunrise later that morning. We toughed it out and when my cellphone alarm went off at five o'clock we were up, getting dressed and ready to go. Thirty minutes is all it took us to evacuate hotel hell and head off into the darkness in hopes of new adventure.
     I navigated us through Tiptonville and over to Champion Point to watch the sunrise. The morning was chiller than expected and neither of us had brought a jacket, it didn't take long for the sky to lighten with the first hints of sunrise. We were able to quickly see a myriad of birds standing on Cypress knees in the lake or flying above. Heron, Cranes, Teals, Wood Ducks, Canadian Geese and more flew about. Soon the sounds of shotguns could be heard echoing from across the lake, duck hunters taking aim on their prey but the area we were in was not open to hunting.
    Waiting for the Sun to come up that morning, standing in a gravel boat ramp parking lot, tired as hell, with the wind blowing up off the water, was the longest sunrise I'd waited on in years. I seriously contemplated putting my arms inside my shirt but getting back in the car wasn't an option, I didn't want to miss a chance for a good picture and didn't want to retreat to the car a third time. We withstood the early morning chill, captured some amazing pictures, and made another lasting memory before heading off to the next location.

Sunrise over Reelfoot from Champion Point

   Our aim had been Choctaw-McCutchen Rd where another hiking trail was to be along with more wildlife viewing in what is known as the Black Bayou Area. When we finally found our target a barricade with signage informed us, Road Closed. Disappointed but not fully deterred I pointed us in the direction of the Air Park, along this highway was the other end of Choctaw-McCutchen Rd but it also was barricaded, Road Closed. We resigned to head down to the Air Park where there was a back country campground and another hiking trail. We found the Air Park and pulled into a spot where a small wooden deck overlooked an inlet of the lake. We explored this area and spied another larger boardwalk further up only to discover it was gated and fenced off. Driving around the campground we found it to occupied by one camper, sparse and back county..just what we like! We did find the trail but again the mosquitoes were on an insane level, it was odd how thick they could be in one area yet others they were virtually non-existent. The Air Park campground and trail would have to wait for a Fall adventure and possible camping trip.

Observation Area Air Park 
     As we made our way North and back into Kentucky we stopped at Long Point Wildlife area where yet another observation deck stood. I found it to be as described, overlooking a field of tall grass, while beautiful with the early morning Sun reflecting off the dew, there was not much to observe. We had actually seen more wildlife on the the drive in to the observation deck than we did while there but it was worth the drive through the countryside.

View from Long Point Observation Deck
   We will be returning to Reelfoot for more outdoor adventures, armed with a bit more education about the area; it will be after the first frost and we won't be staying at the Reelfoot Inn again. The state park is adding cabins which I look forward to seeing completed, maybe on the next overnight trip.
     Our trip turned into more of a recon mission for future adventures, it wasn't perfect, they never are, but I think that's what makes them adventures. There's something about over coming adversity, everything can't and almost never will go as planned but we try not to let it keep us from accomplishing our goals. I look at my adventures the way I look at life, you just have to roll with it.

Adventure Awaits!!

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