Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Estero Bay Preserve State Park, FL

For many years now I have not been one to stay up to midnight only to watch the bells strike twelve, cheer the new year, and then go to bed. This year was no different. What really gets me excited is the ranger led hikes through out Florida on the first day of the year. Seeing an organized hike at Estero Bay Preserve SP I was quickly on board. Susan didn't want to go and the dogs have already had their long morning walk so away I go. There's no camping allowed in this park just lots of nature trails with lots to see. 
Estero Bay Preserve State Park consists of approximately 10,000 acres and was acquired in 1966. The preserve was purchased in order to protect environmentally sensitive land from the impact associated with development. The preserve continues to grow as land becomes available.

The preserve has two locations to access trails. The Estero River Scrub entrance in Estero and the Winkler Point entrance in Fort Myers.  This hike happens to be only 10 km (6 miles) from where we are staying. Bonus! 

The parking lot is extremely small so I was glad I got there early. Parking Precious (my truck for those who don't know), is always fun. The trail head is fully equipped with a picnic area and bathrooms.
The Estero Scrub River location which is where we are has four separate trails. Each one offers something different. We are hiking the 2.5 mile Fiddler Crab Loop or Yellow Trail which winds through salt marshes. 
Right away we could see a recent controlled or prescribed burn on one side of the path. This one did not jump the trail. These burns are so important to Florida's ecology, they help with new growth. 
Bachelor Buttons
Pipe Wort

Florida spends countless amounts of money to control invasive species of plants and animals. One extremely invasive tree native to Australia and Malaysia introduced into Florida in 1906 is the Melaleuca Tree. This tree is so invasive that it causes almost total displacement of native species. It is illegal in the state to plant this tree. 
Melaleuca Tree
Walking through the mangroves we finally see evidence of the elusive fiddler crab. These crabs are easily recognized by their asymmetric claw. Male fiddler crabs have the larger claw which is used during ritualistic courtship.
Another invasive tree to Florida is the Australian Pine. First introduced in the 1890s from Australia, this aggressive fast growing non-conifer is resistant to salt-spray making it the perfect tree for windbreaks along canals, roads, and fields. Today, possession of this tree with the intent to sell or plant is illegal in the state.
We have finally arrived at the salt marshes. During the summer months this trail is usually under water.  Not so much water now. However, due to the high water levels left from Hurricane Irma, water is still present in this area. Good thing for hiking boots.
There are four different types of mangroves in Florida, white, red, black, and buttonwood. These happen to be white mangroves. 
This was like being a kid again, wading through the muck. I was having a blast.
Evidence of feral pigs in the area
Mangroves that have died for one reason or another, just makes for a pretty picture.
Another invasive species in Florida is the Brazilian Pepper Scrub. Pretty but very aggressive.
At this point the water is over our ankles and I'm lovin' it. Another great hike.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Barnwell State Park, SC

Yes, we arrived at Barnwell State Park in great time. The trip was pretty much unremarkable. If anyone wants to know how the pups travel all I can say is, most of the time we don't know they are back there. And of course Stuart is Stuart, he just goes anywhere Susan goes.

Barnwell State Park is located near Blackville, SC. The park is one of 16 parks built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). The CCC was a program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This program was designed to provide employment during the Great Depression while addressing national needs in conservation and recreation.
The park has 307 acres with recreational opportunities such as fishing, hiking, camping, picnic shelters, and more. We could tell right away the park emits a laid back feeling ...just what we wanted.

We arrived at the front office to check in and found the head ranger doing paperwork. He explained this time of year they are only open an hour per day. Luckily, we hit that magical hour.
The fall foliage leading into the campground was beautiful. The trees still had some colour and with the sun shining through made it even more spectacular. However, the road was a little narrow so I will wait to sight see.
Barnwell SP has a total of 25 campsites. Sites 18-25 will accommodate RVs up to 36 feet and have water, 50 amp service, and sewer connections. I knew we downsized for a reason. There is a dump station but it was destroyed during the tornado. 

The sites are a little hilly but definitely doable.
After setting up, I went out exploring with the pups in tow. Even though it was not a long drive we still needed to stretch our legs and the pups needed to wear off some of that puppy hyperness.

This is one of three small lake. This one hosts a variety of activities such as swimming, non-motorized boating, and fishing. Not sure if I would swim in them there waters...it's called alligators. This man-made lake was one of many made by the CCC. 
The dike system also made by the CCC is to hold back lake water allowing the lake to remain a certain levels.
A large activity area with volleyball nets. The volleyballs are provided by the park.
I had mentioned earlier a tornado. Two years ago a category 5 tornado rolled through this area destroying everything in it's path.  Even with a massive cleanup effort the damage is still quite visible. 
There are 5 cozy cabins available to rent located about 100 yards from the upper lake. Some are new...it's called tornado.
There are 4 picnic shelters like the one below available for picnic gatherings.
All-in-all this was a great park to hang out for a couple of days. Lots of areas to walk the dogs, it was extremely quiet, and best of all it was free. Yes, for helping/volunteering in the Amazing Challenging at Myrtle Beach State Park I received these 2 nights at Barnwell for free. Not a bad deal.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Heading South

Well, it's that time of year again where we pack up the 5th wheel and head south. This year the magical date was 1 November and the place is Bonita Springs, FL. Yes, our park took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma but they reassured me it's open for business as per usual.  

We moved into the 5th wheel the day before we left. That gives me time to winterize the park model and do the final cleaning. Normally I have the winterizing done in an hour. This year it took almost 5 hours. Let's just say different place, different things to go wrong.

We crossed the border at Fort Erie Peace Bridge. All of our ducks were in order so we were through in a matter of minutes. It started raining as soon as we crossed and didn't let up until Morgantown, WV our first stopover. We were noticing that many of the trees had not yet changed. We're hoping the leaves in the higher elevations are colourful this year.

The second days drive did not disappoint. The fall foliage was beautiful. Unfortunately it was rainy and overcast, but still breathtaking. Our climb was just over 3,000 ft at this point and the leaves are still on the trees. How unusual. We arrived at Fort Chiswell RV Park in great time, the sun was shining, the temperature was in the 70's, the shorts came out, and the pups are all pooped out from a long walk up and down the hillside. Life is good. Again a single night stopover.

The next day we woke to fog so we waited an extra half hour and it was like magic. The fog lifted, the sun was shining, the dogs are packed in the truck, and away we go. Oops forgot Susan. Here she comes 😓

When I was in Myrtle Beach last season I received a gift certificate for 2 free nights of camping at Barnwell State Park in South Carolina. It's not really out of our way so we decided to take advantage of it. More on that later. Coming down out of the mountains is always breathtaking. There's about a 7-10 mile descent out of Fancy Gap, about 2500 ft drop in elevation, and 10 degrees difference in temperature. Amazing.

We arrived at Barnwell State Park in great time, stay tuned for my blog on this great park. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Beaver Pond Trail

Well, it's another day in paradise. The sun is shining and we have a new trail to explore. Today is Beaver Pond Trail day. This trail is slightly longer than yesterdays and a little more challenging. Susan opted out but the girls (Calusa & Charlie) were raring to go.

Beaver Pond Trail is located at kilometer marker 42.2 on Hwy 60. It's 45.2 km from the west gate and 10.8 km from the east gate. This 2 km loop trail winds through rugged terrain and introduces us to the role of the beaver in Algonquin Park. I grabbed a trail guide ($ .50) and handed it off to Kathy since she is our official trail narrator.
We left the parking lot, which only had one other car, crossed a bridge, then stayed to the left to continue along the trail. You can tell we had some rain, the creeks which are normally dry this time of year are full.
It didn't take long before we saw our first evidence of beaver. In the distance was an old abandoned beavers den. The trail lead to a boardwalk which crossed a meadow. This meadow would not have been possible if not for the beaver. Originally, the whole area was forest. Long ago the beaver created a dam causing the area to flood and in turn the trees died and eventually fell. A good example of how the beaver can manipulate our environment.
In the distance we could see the lookout where our hike is taking us. At this point I wish I had some mosquito repellent. It was so still I could hear the mosquitoes buzzing around my head.
The trail gets a little more difficult but the reward is worth it. Crossing the tiny bridge the trail opens up to a very impressive beavers dam. Impressive because Amikeus Lake would not exist without this dam. The dam is steep on the downstream side and slopes gently into the pond. This is due to the beaver adding material to the dam on the upstream side which in turn causes a stronger dam.
There are several ranger-led programs that are being offered during our stay here. One is on the different varieties of fungus and mushrooms found in Algonquin Park. We will definitely go to that one.
Another look at Amikeus Lake before we started making the climb to the lookout.
This is where the trail gets a little more demanding. Lots of exposed roots and rocks to climb over but the view is so worth it.
From the cliff top we could see the beaver-created environment including the pond and meadow, which is located below the dam. Unfortunately we did not see any beaver. All-in-all it was another great day of hiking.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spruce Bog Boardwalk

Yesterday was a great day of catching up with friends and planning some fun things to see and do. Our first adventure was Spruce Bog Boardwalk located at KM 42.5 from the West Gate or 13.5 from the East Gate along Hwy 60. This 1.5 km barrier-free loop is considered an easy hike. The trail traverses two separate bogs introducing us to the history and ecology of bogs in Algonquin Park.
Due to the ease of the trail everyone including Susan, Kathy, Bob, the 3 dogs, and myself were in. We have 8 more days of hiking/exploring so starting slow and easy is a good thing. The weather was perfect, sunny with a touch of coolness in the air. No mosquitoes or black flies. It's a good day.

At each trailhead a sign and illustrated paper guides are available to introduce the hiker(s) to that specific trail. Now that's amazing.
At each numbered post along the trail Kathy acted as our commentator, reading the information from the trail guide.

What is a bog you ask! All Algonquin bogs started as either open water left behind when the glaciers melted 11,000 years ago or when beaver ponds formed since then. What was originally open water, along the edge, mats of floating sedges, mosses, and shrubs formed. Plants grew and died then sank into the mat. Semi-decayed plants fell to the bottom of the lake accumulating as layers of peat. Over time peat layers built up grounding the mat. Thus, forming a bog. Bog water is highly acidic, contains almost no oxygen, and has very few dissolved salts and minerals. Sunday Creek Bog owes its beginnings to beavers.
On the edge of the bog is a forest of spindly Black Spruce trees. Because they are in an acidic and nutrient-starved area, Black Spruce grow very slow. They produce small, slender branches that slope downward which bend under the weight of snow. Many on the smaller trees are over 30 years old.
As we continued along we came to Kettle Bog. This bog formed when a huge block of ice was stranded when the glacier continued to retreat 11,000 years ago. Today, there's no open water and Black Spruce occupy the outer edges. The bog mat consists of a thin layer with weak areas. Walking on it is strongly frowned upon. If you fell through your body would be preserved for thousands of years in the acidic, oxygen-poor peat nine meters below. Something to consider. Looks harmless but then so does a coral snake. 
A remarkable plant that once grew in the bogs of Algonquin Park is the Pitcher-plant. A serious problem facing any plant in the bog is a lack of nitrogen. The solution for the Pitcher-plant is to trap insects, digest them, and use their proteins to make Pitcher-plant protein. Our guide book said we would not see a Pitcher-plant because previous inconsiderate trail users have picked them. Bob found one. It was along the trail but I refuse to say where we found it. "People please don't pick the plants".
As we continued our hike the two pups were doing fantastic. Walking beside me, noses to the ground, wanting to chase chipmunks, and shying away from any water source. We all know they are not water dogs.
As we crossed the last bridge we could see Sunday Creek Bog in it's entirety. The slow moving creek, the two mats, the Black Spruce on the far side, and the lake created by beaver setting the stage for the development of the bog.