Thursday, November 3, 2011

We Return to Jordan Lake ... and to Happy Trails!

This past weekend marked a momentous occasion. I finally recovered from knee surgery enough to resume our love of hiking the Trails in the Triangle. To make the occasion truly special, we returned to the place where we did our very first trail together about a year ago – Jordan Lake.
We are situated in the New Hope River Valley, home to prehistoric and Native American sites. Modern settlement began in the 1740s by Scottish Highlanders. The disastrous hurricane of 1945 (they didn’t have names in those days – probably no spaghetti models either) damaged the Cape Fear River Basin. Congress commissioned the Army Corp of Engineers to study the water resource needs in the area. The result was the B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake, named for the former senator from North Carolina.

This lovely area includes over 46,000 acres. There are nine recreation areas in this State Park which offer camping, boating, hiking, and other similar adventures. We began this trail in the Seaforth Recreation Area.

That’s 1 – point – 4 miles. Not Fourteen. I know, the first time I saw it, I also thought it was 14 and thought, maybe not.  But at just under a mile and a half, this is a friendly and easy walk in the woods.
The trail winds through densely packed woods to one area of shoreline by the lake. This time of year is particularly colorful. You still see a lot of green along with the occasional wildflower, but the deciduous trees have already begun their showy splendor. Red, orange, yellow, gold. Every hue that describes “fall colors.”

We came across some muddy spots due to recent rains, but for the most part the trail was easily traveled for anyone, including one with an unsteady knee. Boardwalks cover the marshiest sections of the trail. The elevation remains fairly level, which also makes it a good trail for easing back into activity.
We’ve walked this trail more often than any other. We’ve seen it with fall colors, bare winter limbs and spring blossoms. We look forward to trying it with snow on the ground this winter.
A good plunge back into the happy world of North Carolina trails. Come out and join us next week!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That's a Lot of Bull!

Pending the results of an MRI on my right knee, we’ll be skipping the more rugged trails for a little while. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be fun things on which to report. North Carolina is full of outdoorsy stuff. Not all of it requires walking in the footsteps of Pocahontas. Or her Carolina counterpart.
Who likes baseball? Or who doesn’t like baseball? It’s the great American pastime. This week’s “trail” led us to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

You’ve seen the movie. Who hasn’t? Recently my oldest was dredging up quotes for her six-year-old’s T-ball debut. We quoted just about the entire “Bull Durham” movie for her.
“You gotta take it one game at a time.”
“I’m the player to be named later.”
“Breathe through your eyelids.”
“Open your presents Christmas morning, NOT on Christmas Eve.”
Okay, that last one isn’t really about baseball, but Crash was on a roll there if you remember the scene.
Anyway, the park has a Blue Monster, similar to the monster of Fenway Park. And there is a replica bull in the outfield who blows smoke through his nostrils when the homeboys hit one out of the park.

The real bull that was used in the movie is hung on the concourse level of the park.
There’s an old-fashioned scoreboard with the runs, hits, etc. changed by hand. A real person hides back there only to pop up when a stat needs to change. What a job that must be! Where do I apply?
The Bulls are the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Evan Longoria played here. And BJ Upton. Right now we have Dan Johnson who we all got to know well during the Rays’ run for the Series in 2008. So we’re right at home when we wear our Rays tee shirts to the games. We aren’t the only ones.
The ballpark is open. No dome, no cover, no controlled climate. Just good old-fashioned outdoor baseball in the summertime. Just like we grew up with. I’ve been to the Trop and seen the Rays. I’ve been to Camden Field to watch the Os. Give me this smaller, more casual venue any time.
It’s a family affair. Each game begins with a local Little League team taking the field with the players.  Many games end with all kids invited to run the bases. Between each inning we’re entertained with such games as Who Has the Worst Hat Hair, Sumo Wrestling, and Finish the Lyric. There’s always some child aged five or so who runs the bases in a competition against Wool E. Bull. The child wins every time despite how far around that is for short little legs.
It’s a fun outing, and at $9 per ticket, it’s one of the more affordable things we can do. If you love the crack of the ball against the bat, the roar of the crowd, the group singing of “Take Me out to the Ball Game,” this is for you.

Just another reason to be delighted to be in North Carolina.
Happy Trails!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Of Birds and Beatles

“I hear a symphony.....”
I have this old football injury to my knee, so we went for a shorter trail this week, just barely more than a mile.
Ok, I didn’t really injure my knee playing football, but it makes a more interesting story than saying I just turned it funny when I was getting on the bed.  See?  Football injury.
As I’ve mentioned before, Cary is crisscrossed with miles and miles of Greenway. This week we took the Symphony Lake Greenway. This circles a small lake and runs alongside the Koko Booth Amphitheatre where the North Carolina Symphony performs in the summer, along with many other fine shows such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Huey Lewis and the News, both coming up in the near future. Guess which one I already have tickets for?

But back to the trail. The wooded area features loblolly pines, alder and beech. A variety of ferns fill the undergrowth with a rich green. We managed to find a few wildflowers along the way as well. A small arched footbridge crosses Swift Creek.

The trail is asphalt, not my favorite kind of trail, but it is easier to walk on than the more rugged woodsy trail, and given the football injury, was probably a better choice this week. You will, however, be sharing this trail with a multitude of waterfowl. Not to mention their...umm...production. So step carefully. Most of our fellow hikers were Canada geese, but we did see a stately old swan and a tall egret.

We started at about seven-thirty on a Saturday morning. There were only a handful of other people on the circuit, but the crowd was increasing as we neared the end. Probably later in the day, it’s quite populated. It was a pretty day. The surrounding woods reflected easily on the lake surface.

We did return to the venue later that evening for the NC Symphony, featuring the Music of Paul McCartney. We took a picnic with us, but opted to pay the extra $5 for a table. And good thing, because that area was covered when the downpour came about a half-hour before show time. But the skies cleared quickly enough, and the show was great. We danced, we clapped, we sang along. The gentleman who portrays Sir Paul has been doing it since the 70s. You would think in all that time, he’d learn to play the bass left-handed. But it was still a great show.
Being that the date was June 18, the second (and final) encore was appropriately enough, “Birthday.” It would have been Paul McCartney’s 69th birthday. 
Had he lived.
But this is a blog about Trails, not about the irony that Ringo would be the last Beatle standing. And it was a lovely trail. Long enough to get a nice walk in, but short enough to avoid further injury. And we enjoyed the waterfowl. 
Happy Trails!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back in Time

“History is the memory of time, the life of the dead and the happiness of the living.”
        ---Captain John Smith

Sometimes our trails may take us backwards, back to a time before we know. Before the land was tamed and then destroyed by progress, by development, by careless disregard of our Mother Earth.
This week our trail took us to Colonial Virginia. When I visited in 1975, I was more struck by the emotion of Jamestown than by the reproduction in Williamsburg, although there is much to see and be moved by in the Colonial town. But having recently learned that I descend from pre-Revolutionary Irish settlers along the James River, I was most looking forward to my revisit of Jamestown this trip.

Jamestown owes its existence to two very real and well-documented people, Captain John Smith and the Indian Princess Pocahontas. Whether Pocahontas begged her father to spare the life of Captain Smith depends on whose version of history you read. Captain Smith’s own memoirs recount the story that we’ve heard since elementary school. The Indians who lived on the Virginia land say that she did no such thing.

Regardless, her mingling with the English men who settled on Indian land promoted unity between the two peoples (sometimes) and helped the little settlement survive. That she was held captive for a time is denied by neither side. That she married the Englishman John Rolfe is fact. It’s probably American spirit and nature to romanticize the legend and make it into a happily-ever-after story.
As the last time I visited, I feel that I tread on sacred ground when I walk along the James. It’s a short path, meandering from the waterfront to encircle the ruins that have been found there. In effort to preserve the actual foundations, modern brickwork has been laid atop them to mark the boundaries of buildings.  So one does not actually see small homes where English settlers scratched out a living. But the suggestion of the buildings is enough (for me, at least) to imagine all that I do not see.

No matter what happened here – and we will never know for sure – it is certain that Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement. And as such Jamestown is the birthplace of our nation. The spot from which all English civilization grew.

It’s a pretty and pleasant path, despite the summer heat that drenched us yesterday. We still enjoyed the quiet, the small breeze, the gentle lapping of the James against the shore.
Very nearby is the spot where the ruins of a 1608 Glasshouse have been found which would have served the settlement, producing all manner of glass items. The path leading to the ruins is very short but really nice with a canopy of trees providing welcome relief from the heat and sun. Again, it’s quiet and peaceful.

It was not a long nor strenuous trail we hiked this week. But sometimes it really is the destination and not the journey. Discover history. Visit Jamestown. It is for certain that Pocahontas lived there. When you walk along the James, you walk in her footsteps.   

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our Own Backyard

This week’s trail was close to home.  We traveled only three-fourths mile to Annie L. Jones Park in our new neighborhood of Scottish Hills in Cary.  This is a really nice community park with a baseball field, basketball and tennis courts, swimming, and trails.
We parked beside the baseball field (we would have walked there if it hadn’t been 90 degrees yesterday!) and started at the Coatsbridge section of the trail.  All of the trails in this particular park are short, totaling just over a mile combined. However, they are not loops, so you get double the distance in your trail hike when you turn around to come back.
The Coatsbridge section is a natural trail of crushed stone and dirt, nicely packed for easy footing. It winds leisurely through a dense canopy of very large trees. The branches provided a welcome relief from the high temperatures. It was cool and quiet along this trail.

We had only walked a short distance when we came upon these unusual structures:

We left the trail for a closer look, speculating as we walked. Playground equipment for really tiny children?  Fairies, perhaps? Thank goodness for the sign. We were smack in the middle of a Frisbee golf course! This is hole number six. The sign pointed the direction to holes 7 through 10 across the Greenway. I’d certainly never seen it before. I thought people played Frisbee golf on....well, golf courses. Guess not.
We continued on, and in a short distance, the trail ended at the Annie Jones Greenway.  I don’t know who Annie Jones is or was. Google doesn’t know either except to remind us about a billion times that she has a park named after her. My guess is she was on the City Council or somesuch in the recent past.
Anyway, the Greenway.  Cary has miles and miles of Greenway meandering around and through its public parks. They are quite nice, a good place to walk the dog or pedal an easy bike trip without traveling too very far away. I prefer the more rugged trails of the national and state parks, but these are good for busy weekends when you want to get your walk in but don’t have a lot of time available to do it.
This is a wide clean asphalt trail that winds through the backyards of homes in Scottish Hills. It’s far enough away and densely enough forested that you aren’t looking into anyone’s bedroom window. You can see the decks through the trees and leaves. Some of the homeowners have blazed their own trails from their backyard to the Greenway. And you see the evidence of children everywhere.

Having just finished listening to the Tom Sawyer audiobook, Steve was convinced Tom and Huck constructed this makeshift treehouse/pirate lookout/stairway to the stars:

We passed a small playground and a couple of picnic tables before the Greenway ended at Tarbert Street (one street over from ours). We turned around and headed back admiring the hydrangeas blooming in our neighbors’ yards. Then back to the natural trail, and on to the baseball field parking lot. A quick trail, but an easy one to accomplish given that our lives are still consumed with unpacking and organizing right now.
May all your Trails be Happy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This past weekend, our trail went from the old house to the new and back again multiple times. We didn’t get the chance to explore any woods because we were busy discovering the woods of our own backyard.
We have, however, run into something that I’ve never experienced before. Cicadas!
I’m not mourning the loss of love bugs since I moved away from Florida. I didn’t know I was going to get such a remarkable replacement.  This year, anyway. After the next few weeks, I won’t see them again for 13 years.
These creatures are everywhere right now. You can hear them any time you walk outdoors, whether it be deep in the woods or an upscale subdivision. It’s their mating call. And apparently, it works.
They live an interesting, if uneventful, life. They answer the mating call. The female lays eggs. Tiny larvae about an eighth of an inch long hatch as the adult dies. The larva digs into the ground about ten inches deep and stays there. For THIRTEEN years!
Then they make their way to the surface, and the whole cycle starts over again.
Here’s a video I took at Eno River State Park with the Cicadian Love Song in the background:

We found corpses everywhere in the park. Look under any leaf, and you’ll find evidence the cycle is at work.

So here’s my question:  How do they know when thirteen years have passed?  Is there a Head Cicada with a calendar?  Is someone marking seasons on a tree root with a piece of charred firewood? Did they simply call down to the front desk and leave a wakeup call?
Just another one of Nature’s great mysteries. It works because it works. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about it.
Or listening to them.

Happy Trails!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Watching the River Run...

Remember the Loggins and Messina tune, "Watching the River Run?" I couldn't get it out of my head yesterday. Here's why:
This week’s trail led us along the Eno River near Durham. This lush and lovely river was once the home to Native Americans of the Eno, Shakori, and Occoneechee tribes before European settlers arrived. In the 1700s, these three tribes merged and set up a village near present-day Durham.  When the settlers arrived, they established farms and mills along the river.
In 1972 the Eno River State Park was established.  We entered the eastern end of the park off Cole Mill Road where there are six trails totaling just shy of ten miles.  We chose the Cole Mill Trail, a 1.2 mile loop, and extended our hike with the Bobbitt Hole Trail for an additional 1.65 mile loop.
This is by far my favorite trail to date.  We start off with a well-packed level trail that gradually becomes more rustic as we descend to the river.  Both of these trails are marked “Moderate.”  Easy to see why.  You must carefully pick your way over roots, around stumps and occasionally under downed branches. This is good for many reasons, chief among them the fact that you don’t see as many joggers on a trail this rugged.  I’m all for people getting in their exercise, but when I’m out in the woods, I like to be as alone as possible. Popular paved jogging tracks are not for me, no matter how beautiful the lake it encircles.
Here we encountered no such crowds. It was quite easy to get into my Pocahontas mode and imagine the spirits that inhabited this area.
We’d had a hard rain the day before, so the path along the river was quite muddy. We had to carefully place our feet in some portions or risk “skating” down the hill to the water. That made it even more of an adventure.
A treat I hadn’t expected were the laurels. With most of the Spring blossoms long since faded here, I expected only green. The laurels were vibrant with their white and pink blossoms all along the bluffs beside the river.

The Bobbitt Hole extension (I insisted on calling it Hobbit Hole; much more fun!) took us farther along the river. The deeper into the woods we hiked, the faster the river seemed to run, crashing at times over rocks and boulders along the way.  There are several wooden foot bridges to get you across the little creeks that run toward the river on the trail. And there were a few mud puddles to negotiate as well.

If I have one criticism of these trails, it’s that they weren’t always clearly marked.  I like that they blaze the color on the trees.  That seems kinder than the metal markers we’ve seen nailed into the bark on other trails.  But we could have used a few arrows pointing the way from time to time. We didn’t get lost, but we did wonder about it now and then.
There are many other trails to explore in this State Park. We will definitely be back to sample more of them.

Hope all your Trails are Happy!