Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for March, 2012

Lake Catherine State Park Arkansas Horseshoe Mountain Trail

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The Horseshoe Mountain Trail in Lake Catherine State Park Arkansas is one of my favorite places to hike.  The trail winds through a wonderful variety of  peaceful landscapes.  Each season provides hikers with different points of interest and diverse wildlife.

My hike begins in a beautiful Pine Forest zigzagging up the side of Horseshoe Mountain.  Two Swallowtail Butterflies dance lightly across a Red Buckeye Bush illuminated by stray rays of sunlight.  Soon the Pine Forest is interspersed with broadleaf Trees as the trail hugs a large outcropping of Rocks. Winding higher up the mountain I pick my way through boulders and sparse Trees in a constant climb toward the first plateau.

Large Rocks and Pine Trees give way to a spectacular Deciduous Forest decorated with colorful Wildflowers.  The trail make me feel as if I am moving through a vast cottage garden .  The natural flow of the path is lined by Rocks, Grasses, Wildflowers and newly leafing Trees.  Tiny birds move rapidly among the Leaves of the spring canopy stopping only to feast on the plentiful insects.  An old log on my right is a launching platform for a swarm of white-winged termites. In the early morning light their translucent wings glow as they lift off drifting on a light breeze.  For a moment I pause and imagine them to be woodland fairies launching themselves into the beautiful spring Forest.

At the top of Horseshoe Mountain (782 feet) the trail traverses a ridge through the thinning Forest.  A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is hopping from Tree to Tree searching for its breakfast.  His red head markings are spectacular against the greenery surrounding us.  Large clusters of Rose Verbena are growing from the edges of Rocks that create a series of obstacles on the trail. Yellow winged Grasshoppers spring forth with every step creating an illusion of flying Wildflowers. Lizards scramble under the Leaves as my footfall disrupts their basking in the sunlight.

The trail leads me down into a predominantly Pine Forest dotted with spectacular blooming white Dogwood Trees.  A tiny Black and White Warbler peers cautiously at me as I pass beneath its hiding place in the leaves above.  When I reach the bottom of the trail it intersects with the Falls Branch Trail then continues up the other side of Horseshoe Mountain.

On the top of the next ridge Deciduous Trees give way to a meadow sprinkled with Spiderwort, Wood Spurge, Birds Foot Violets, Rose Verbena and Potato Dandelions.  In another month the dominant green ground cover will give way to a blanket of purple, pink, yellow and white.  An opening in the foliage at the end of the ridge affords a view of both Lake Catherine below and Dam Mountain to the right.  It is a perfect place to pause and reflect on the beauty Nature has painted for me today.

The trail rapidly descends toward the Lake through a forest floor blanketed by years of rust autumn leaves.  Beautiful Red Buckeye Bushes dot the side of the mountain drawing me toward the shoreline.  A sweet Chickadee sings a soulful serenade and glances shyly at me from a branch winding across the trail.  I continue on the path crossing both a suspension and small wood bridge that leading me past nearby lake front campsites. A short while later I reach the trail head from which I began my hike.

Love to ALL!
Lee

Lake Catherine State Park Horseshoe Mt Map


Lake Catherine State Park Arkansas Falls Branch Trail

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Lake Catherine State Park’s Falls Branch Trail provides a lovely hike with varied terrain, bridges and water features.  Although it is shorter than the other park trails it offers hikers of all levels a wonderful Nature experience.  There are three wood benches and several rocks along the journey for those wishing to take a leisurely pace. This trail like all others within the park is well marked and makes a loop leading you back to the trail head. Free parking is available for day hikers.

The trail begins with a series of bridges crossing over a narrow winding creek. These well maintained wooden structures add variety to the hike along this mostly flat section of the trail.  Lovely wildflowers add color on the banks of the slow moving water. Purple violets, pink oxalis and yellow goldenrod create a beautiful spring bouquet.  Old stone steps lead upward from the final bridge to a winding path traveling through a mixed tree forest and rock accented landscape.  Bird songs echo softly from the increasing spring canopy.  Beautiful white blossoming Dogwoods glow among the illuminated green Leaves.

Soon after a moderate climb the trail leads downward to a wider creek that separates Horseshoe and Dam Mountains.  The collecting pools of water created by the rocky creek bed reflect the bright new green of spring opening above them.  Waterfalls increase in size as you hike further down the trail. Each plateau is reached by traversing a cluster of stone steps built early in the 1900s.

When you reach the top of the main waterfall the trail head of the Dam Mountain Trail located on the other side of the creek is visible.  The main waterfall cascades into a clear pool below that is a popular spot for hikers to rest and cool their feet.  Several families arrived after a hike on the Dam Mountain Trail and were enjoying a chance to wade in the water.

Further down the trail I spotted a Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) swimming in the Lake Catherine. I watched as it floated, dove and swam at the shoreline.  As I finished taking a few photographs I heard screaming up at the falls.  The only word I could make out was “SNAKE” followed by frantic splashing and additional yelling.  Please note if you are hiking for the first time in the south the Cottonmouth is a venomous Snake that loves the water.  Although snake bites are rare in the park take care when you wade or swim as they are territorial and will strike if you don’t move away. (“Once threatened, a Cottonmouth may gape open its mouth to present a cottony-white warning. This is a warning that needs to be heeded because Cottonmouth will not hesitate to strike.  There is a common wives-tail about Cottonmouth not being about to bite underwater. This is completely untrue. They can, in fact, bite underwater, on top of the water, and out of the water.” http://www.herpsofarkansas.com/Snake/AgkistrodonPiscivorus).

The final leg of my hike along the Falls Branch Trail is along the edge of Lake Catherine.  The murky blue green water sparkles in the sunlight and is still easily viewed through the early spring foliage.  Butterflies and dragonflies weave in and out of the flowering bushes feeding on nectar in afternoon sun.  As you pass the lake shore campground you will cross the last creek on a suspension bridge.  Several minutes later I reach the trail head, it has been a glorious time in the park.

Love to ALL!
Lee

LCSP Falls Branch Trail Map


First Hike in Cedar Glades Park Arkansas

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The first thing I need to mention about this hike, the trails are mixed use.  Hikers and mountain bikes share the same narrow trails. For this reason my husband and I hiked the blue trail clockwise even though the markers are displayed counter clockwise.  We decided it was safer to see the cyclists coming so we could get out of their way. Although it was a Sunday morning we only encountered only 2 riders during our 3.84 mile hike. Both cyclist were come at a good clip so it is wise to be prepared to step off the tail. This said I feel fellow hikers should have this information before heading out. (see printable map below for list of trails)

This is not a full on mountain hike, it is instead a peasant hill and dale terrain.  I would highly recommend hiking boots as the blue trail is narrow, rocky with continuous exposed roots.   The free flowing streams have both man-made and rock bridges for all weather condition crossings.  Also be aware there are no benches for those wishing to sit and rest along the trail.

The Trees were alive with song during our hike, but we did not catch sight of any birds.  I believe the mountain bike usage may have made them wary of coming close to the trail edges.  Butterflies, Lizards and Hummingbird Moths were abundant throughout our hike.  As the weather heats up areas around springs should become a great place to spot turtles, snakes and frogs as well. Next time we will go a bit earlier in the morning as the trails numerous natural springs likely attract larger wildlife as well.  In late April or early May when all the Trees are in full leaf it should be like hiking in a mini rain forest.

Please note this is a multipurpose park and some areas will be noisier than others.  This said once we were on the back side of the blue trail we heard only sounds of Nature.  For a family seeking a variety of activities there is a rock wall, Frisbee golf, hiking, biking even a hike-in campsite.  Clean modern bathrooms are available at both entrances/trail heads.  This is a great road trip stopping point for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages or a fun FREE use day trip.

Love to All!
Lee

Cedar Glades Park Arkansas Trail Map


Spring Storms Herald the Return of the Rainforest

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Okay I have been a bit stir crazy for the past few days trapped inside by a string of storms.  When I went to bed last night the weather prediction indicated two more days of rain with possibility of lightning.  When I woke up this morning it seemed so light out I thought my watch had stopped.  No, I had not slept in.  While I was sleeping the clouds had parted and  there was a hint of a blue sky.  The new green was shimmering across the mountains of Hot Spring National Park.

In less than an hour I prepped my gear and was out the door to hike in the emerging Rainforest.  White Dogwood blooms and pink Red Bud blossoms glowed in the early morning light as I headed up into the park.  I was surprised the delicate petals had survived 3 days of heavy rain and wind.

Part way up the mountain I stopped to enjoy the sunrise with a crowd that was gathered at the Dead Chief Trail.  The glorious winged group included Cedar Waxwings  and Cardinals.  Each took a turn at summoning the light with songs to entice the sun over the top of Hot Springs Mountain.

As I hiked up to the top new growth was gently encasing me in a trail funnel of green.  Beautiful rain battered wildflowers dotted the edges in purple, pink and yellow.  Spectacular Swallowtail Butterflies flitted along the new green leaves and blossoms.  It was a perfect morning in the Forest.

Shameless Promotion: Please check out my new monthly hiking column and weekly photograph in Mature Arkansas (I had hoped to be in Immature Arkansas :) LOL).  If you are in Arkansas you can pick up a Free magazine at Krogers, Edwards, libraries, restaurants, tourist locations etc..  If you live outside Arkansas here is a link to this weeks edition with my column on pg 15 http://issuu.com/arkansastimesvisitorsguide/docs/ma032212_issuu  In case you missed it last week I was interviewed about hiking on page 7 http://issuu.com/arkansastimesvisitorsguide/docs/ma031512_issuu/1

Love to ALL!
Lee


Before the Storm Under a Dogwood Sky

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Hot Springs National Park will be changed by a huge storm today. Heavy rains, wind and lightning will create both destruction and feed new life.  Whenever we have an impending storm I Love to head  into the park and see the delicate blossoms one more time.  So breath in the beautiful dogwood sky and enjoy the Spring Beauty… more change is coming.

Love to ALL!
Lee

PS Special Thanks to Denise Turon Casey for identifying  Forsythia as the Yellow Blossoming Bush!


Spring Weaves Colorful Tapestry in Hot Springs National Park

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Spring is not waiting for the calender in Hot Springs National Park.  New green Leaves and and bright pink Red Bud blossoms are weaving a spectacular tapestry along the Mountain trails. Across the Forest floor new foliage has begun to change the texture and color in the park. Wildflowers push boldly upward seeking the increasing sunlight.  Among the purple, pink and white blooms delicate winged insects stretch their wings to bask in the warmth.

Birds have reappeared and are beginning to work in pairs preparing their nests.  Avian adolescents soar on gentle breezes as they battle for territory, landing only to sing of their triumphs.  A Spring awakening beckons to all who will listen. Have a Lovely day on the trails…

Love to ALL!
Lee

PS: Special Thanks to @JavaJuicellc (Java Juice extract), your organic coffee is wonderful.  Usually if my husband or myself have coffee in our hiking smoothies we have to use nut milk and agave to cover up the bitter taste.  Your product is so smooth and tasty it did not require anything other than fruits and veggies. Energy without the jitters too!  Tastes wonderful in all our favorite smoothie recipes.  We love the individual liquid filled packets, at home or around a campfire a tasty cup of organic coffee will always be at hand.


Wings and Wildflowers Paint the Forest Trails

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Change bursts forth as Leaves and Wildflowers awaken in the Spring Forest.  Delicate Butterflies float on breezes in search of tantalizing nectar warming in the sun.  Once bare Trees are gracefully decorated with blossoms of pink and white.  While the tips of branches begin to unfurl buds to reveal new Leaves. Each birth within the Forest celebrates renewal, change in it’s purest form.

In a few hours storms will be arriving in the park bringing nourishing rain. Change…

Love to ALL!
Lee


Wildflowers and Flowering Trees Around the Burn Zone

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Yesterday my blog centered on a fire that was cause by careless visitors in Hot Springs National Park (The Crime Scene in Hot Springs National Park).  It was a heartbreaking discovery for myself and my husband to find a burnt landscape. The blackened earth and rocks surrounded by crime scene tape blocked our favorite place to relax and enjoy the beautiful view of Indian Mountain.  Today I would like to show you what did not burn… a reminder of the beauty that could have been so quickly lost by the fire.

Hot Springs National Park has been on an alert for fire the past week.  Even though rain is on the way please take care to leave the Forest as it was found.  If you smoke please consider using a nicotine patch when you hike to avoid sparking a fire.

Much Love to ALL,
Lee


The Crime Scene in Hot Springs National Park

HSNP Goat Rock Trail Birds Foot Violet

Normally I would be posting a blog with newly emerging Wildflowers and Butterflies, but not today.  This weekend while I was on a beautiful hike with my husband we came across an unexpected sight.  As we neared the top of the Goat Rock Trail we encountered bright yellow crime scene tape.  A section of our Forest had been blackened by fire.  The side path leading to one our favorite places was scorched.  Before the roads were added to the park in the early 1900s the North Mountain overlook was located in a cluster of Rocks.  This beautiful gathering space was set alight causing the loss of wildlife and habitat. Judging by the number of cigarette butts often littering the Trails in Hot Springs National Park sadly this was bound to happen.

We have had a dry winter and spring has arrived early so the risk of fire will increase with each passing month. During our hike wind was racing up the trails and we were thankful this was not the case during the fire.   Please do not smoke on the trails and only light fires in designated areas when the risk danger is low. Please remember what Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent Forest fires.”

Happy Hiking :o)
Lee

HSNP Goat Rock Trail Fire Crime Scene

HSNP Goat Rock Trail Fire Crime Scene

HSNP Goat Rock Trail Fire Crime Scene

HSNP Crime Scene Tape


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