Celebrate in the Morning light, reborn in our Dreams we greet this new day. ~ Lee Hiller
It is fun to explore the least traveled parts of the park. To be honest I am not sure how far I hiked (at least 5 miles) as the last park marker was a metal post with no plaque. The trail continued and I assumed the section I entered was the “Fordyce Peaks” and after climbing up, up and more up I reached the tails end. The trails end is a relative term as it was marked by red neon nylon tape tied around two trees. It looked more like an arbitrary decision to call it the end and without a map I cannot say for sure. Yes I looked for a map but this is a side trip according to the NPS and judging by the trail is rarely used.
This is one of the best hikes in the park winding up, down and up again as you travel between ridges and peaks. It is a mixed Forest and will be beautiful in all four seasons. As I near the top of the first ridge on Sunset Trail I notice a spectacular display of Pink Oxalis lining the trail edges. Further along birdsong fills the air in the distance tiny Bluets begin to appear among the Oxalis. As in many places in Hot Springs National Park the ghost of a carriage road now sprinkled with Trees parallels the trail. Tiny yet to be identified white wildflowers and Pussy Toes now join the colorful display on the edges of the trail.
I pass a metal NPS post missing a plaque that likely once had valuable trail information, it saddens me that people often steal these important markers. The trail now steadily winds down from this first ridge and into a lovely valley, I love the silence of hiking on a trail of dirt, old pine needles and moss. Slowly the Trail begins to wind upward toward a once distant ridge I often photographed from the North Mountain Overlook. As I climb higher rocks appear and the Forest begins to change as Pines give way to a mix of deciduous Trees. This is a familiar landscape found on ridges throughout Hot Springs National Park and in nearby State Parks. The trail along the top of the Fordyce Peaks winds gently through the rocky Forest floor and now barren Trees waiting for Spring.
At trails end the first thing I notice is the silence, only myself, 20 or so moths and 4 Swallowtail Butterflies (3 yellow 1 black) are at the top. The Moths and Butterflies are engaging in a beautiful mating display flying in and around a glorious pink flowering Tree. For half an hour I stand within a perfect moment of serenity. A cool breeze begins to carry a sweet honey like scent as it circles the Flowers and blooming Trees. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and spread my arms as if to soar with the Vultures overhead. I will return often to see the the beautiful transition of this peaceful place.
On my return journey I spot a a sweet Tufted Titmouse moving and hoping on a branch, in it’s beak a lovely bunch of moss. It is nest building time in the park and I feel blessed to see this sweet bird. Further up the the trail to the next ridge a pair of Black and White Warblers are singing a joyful tune. The fly quickly together from Tree to Tree. Nature always reveals new sights along the trails once traversed earlier in the day.
Upon my arrival back at the Fordyce Ricks Pond Sunset Trail head a wonderful surprise from Nature awaited me. After I pack my cameras into the van I come around the back to the drivers side door. On a Tree next to my van door is a large green Moth. I slowly back up and get my camera. On my return the spectacular Luna Moth is still spread out across the trunk of the Short Leaf Pine. It is holding tight as winds tug at its delicate wings. This is my first chance to photograph one of these green beauties. Yesterday the Moon moved closer to the Earth than it has been in 20 years and I am a Moon Child, this Luna Moth is a wonderful sign… just not sure what it means, yet!
Thank You for traveling through the Forest with me.
PS I never know what I will see in the Urban Jungle heading out to go for a hike…
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Recently I received several emails indicating my wildlife shots were not perfect. I should consider setting up a feeder or perch so the bird, squirrel, chipmunk etc., the subjects would not be surrounded by vegetation. In my mind if I wanted shots at feeders etc. I might as well go to the zoo everyday and take photos. I prefer to present the wildlife of Hot Springs National Park in the actual environment in which they live. No stagecraft, illusion or lures, they are living beings not puppets for me to control.
The icy climb to into the park continues, I am glad my arms are strong enough to pull me up the ice ramp. It is a cold day 26 feels like 21 degrees and I decide to move to the Carriage Road to get a bit of circulation going. When I arrive I am greeted by a Eastern Phoebe and a Female Cardinal. It is a lovely way to start any day in the park.
As I head up the Dead Chief Trail I can hear the call of a Red Bellied Woodpecker coming closer. I turn my head and see him sitting in the tree next to me. It is a sight that always makes me smile. I quickly make my way to the Short Cut Trail and I hear the mischievous woodpecker again. I turn to see him on a distant tree looking at me. I am being followed.
I can hear voices and laughter as two young men come in to view. Richard and Jerry are visiting from Paris, Texas and have been enjoying the ice and snow in the Park for the past two days.
When I reach the top of the mountain I can hear the call of another woodpecker but have yet to locate them so I head over to the Pagoda for my view shots. It is like grand central station for birds. I see my first flock of Blue Jays but they are in the distance weaving in and out of bushes. Both Male and Female Cardinals drop in for a quick visit, pecking in the snow and grass gathering up a meal. Jay calls Ring out and they are in trees all around me, they are in a playful mood as gather seeds for their breakfast. The call of a Pileated Woodpecker rings out and I am able to spot him on the distant tree. I feel so blessed to see so many beautiful birds on my hike today.
I promised Rick (my Beloved Fiance’) I would be home earlier today so I can rest up for hiking on the two big up coming snow days. This mean I need to move down the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and exit via the Peak or Honeysuckle Trails. The hike along the HSMT is always enjoyable, it has varied terrain, wildlife and climates. I can hear both woodpeckers and Jay calls as I move down the trail, they are both still following me. The air has warmed a bit and I am finding the paths easier to navigate, the snow is not as crunchy. As I reach the the lower section of the trail I see a cardinal chasing sparrows. The snow and ice are forcing birds out of their normal territories to battle for food. My heart sinks as think of the next snow fall and the stress it will put on resources for the wildlife in the park. The air was rapidly cooling and I noticed the once soft snow was becoming icy again.
When I reached the fork of the Honeysuckle and Hot Springs Mountain Trail the path was now a thick sheet of ice both directions. The trail had warmed and refroze in the 1 hour I had been hiking along the trail. Camera safely in it’s case, I picked up a broken limb that was a perfect walking sick with a sharp point that I could jam into the ice. As I looked down trying to decide how to proceed I noticed a set of deep prints frozen in the ice. Like Cinderella I slipped my boot into one then I stepped forward into the next, the boot fit and stride distance was doable. I was grateful and wished I could thank the hiker who had left me their footsteps in which to follow. Slowly I made my way down the Honeysuckle Trail concentrating on matching my stride to the prints and stabbing the ice with my stick so I would not slide. It was a slow agonizing descent.
I had never been happier to see the Fountain Street Trail, it took me directly to Hot Springs Mountain Road. Although I would have to carefully pick my way down on the dry patches it was not a thick sheet of ice. The miracle footprints went down the two sets of stairs and were even on the road edges. That was when the penny dropped, these were my footprints from Feb 08, the day I was in both a blizzard and a sleet storm. The frozen slushy Slurpee splashes that iced my pants were perfectly preserved by the hard freeze that night. I was the mystery hiker that had blazed a trail that I would need later.
The Universe was looking out for me.
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Hot Springs National Park Facts: The floral trail is the only trail in Hot Springs National Park that you have to go up hill to access either of the two trail heads. The Floral Trail has a trail head on North Mountain and one on Hot Springs Mountain and it does matter which way you travel on the trail you have to go up hill to exit at trail heads.
As I entered the park at 10:30 am the sky was overcast, the Robins were sounding an alarm from the tree tops and there were no Blue Jays or Cardinals to be heard or seen. I immediately looked to West Mountain and saw a Hawk soaring above the trees. It looked like the Hawk was catching a good ride gliding straight and then in slow circles. If you want to clear the lower park of birds and small mammals a Hawk over West Mountain will do it.
I had planned an extensive hike of nearly 7 miles so I headed directly to the top take my Pagoda View Photo. No birds in site and the skies darkening I continued on my journey. As I stepped back onto the Hot Springs Trail a Blue Jay teased me darting in and out of the trees like a game of hide and seek, I love their companionship. Blue Jays are always so quick, I was lucky to get any photos of him/her.
The Blue Jay lightened my heart, I felt as it I was dancing along the many trails on my hike. I connected with the Gulpha Gorge Trail so I could hike the Goat Rock Trail. All night I had dreamed of the lovely wildflowers I had photographed for my blog. I hiked with great care checking all the trail edges and was rewarded with a chance to see a several new wildflowers. Beautiful little blossoms peeking out from dried grass, pine needles and rocks. So delicate in various shades of purple, each with it’s own unique shape.
I hated to leave the little flowers but there were more trails to hike before my return home to my beloved fiance’ Rick. Now for a confession, for the first time since I started hiking I was singing out load heading up the last section of the Goat Rock Trail. Near my connection with the Upper Dogwood Trail a sweet little Black-Capped Chickadee sang back to me and came close enough for me to see them sing. I was having a wonderful day in the forest.
I hiked the Upper Dogwood to the Lower Dogwood and them connected with the Floral Trail. I was excited, this was the only trail on Hot Springs and North Mountains I had not traveled. The trail was rough and it appeared it was not used often, segments of the path had gnarled roots and loose rocks making the upward hike slow. I photographed the rocks on the trail and when I edited the photo I discovered a sweet little yellow and black hover fly with it’s wings out stretched. So many little details in Nature, I wonder how many I miss each day. I was happy to see the honeysuckle trail, it felt like I had been going up hill all day.
The biggest surprise was to be revealed to me on one of my favorite trails. As I crested the first incline of the Honeysuckle Trail I was greeted by a flock of Robins, it was the first time I had seen them on this part of the trail. The bigger surprise was their traveling companion, a large Cedar Waxwing. I kept thinking when I got home my photos would really show it was only a pale Robin, a fine feathered illusion.
I connected with the Peak Trail and as I neared the Tufa Terrace still no birds in site. Walking bent over I checked under bushes and not one feathered creature was to be found. Walking the last of the Tufa Terrace I looked up at a tree on the Promenade and saw several Robins and another Cedar Waxwing, this one smaller than one I had seen earlier. It made me wonder if they had stayed when their flock left before the ice storm. As I was not looking for them amongst the Robins it was a possibility. I had seen Blue Jays and Cardinals together, so why not Robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Everyday in the park is a learning experience, Nature is a wonderful teacher.
Much Love to You All,
You can click on any image in my blog to see a full size enlarged Image.
“Best part of hiking is not know who you’ll meet or what tiny gift nature will give you.” ~ Lee Hiller ©2010
Cloudy skies and birds of prey kept the small mammals and song birds hiding undercover. When I entered the park the only sound was the distant call of a Blue Jay. Not even the Robins were out in force. I looked up to see two large crows fly overhead, the Jay calls became louder.
I hiked up the Dead Chief Trail, the skies darkened and I thought the rains were coming. Some days are meant to be dark so that we can see the beauty often lost to our sight in the bright sunlight. I looked up in the sky and smiled at the clouds. As I looked down I noticed buds were forming on the branches near to where I stood, so sweet the life about to burst forth.
Along the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails Nature wove a beautiful display in cream & white. Delicate fungus fans layered over the fallen logs on the forest floor. Again I looked to the sky, clouds swirled and branches became black silhouettes.
At the Pagoda the skies remained dark and the voice of a Eagle range loudly as it passed over Indian Mountain. Even the Blue Jays stayed deep in the the bushes sounding the alarm. As I scanned the horizon looking for the eagle Geoff and Chris arrived and let me know they had hiked up the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails. They were visiting from Florida and Pennsylvania and needed get down the mountain soon as their car was parked on Central Avenue. I suggested they use the Peak Trail for a quicker trip back down to their car.
I suddenly felt the need to go out to Goat Rock and hiked the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to the Gulpha Gorge Trail. The hike was peaceful but I missed the usual bird song. With an eagle so close who could blame them for staying still within the forest trees and bushes. I connected to the Goat Rock Trail and when I arrived at Goat Rock climbed up to the view platform. In the distance an eagle soared on the wind between North and Indian Mountains. It was so beautiful to watch, the eagle left when a small plane appeared over Indian Mountain. (Would love to know the make of the Aircraft see pictures below).
From Goat Rock I followed the trail heading toward the North Mountain Overlook. A jogger was heading my way and I moved to the side to let him pass. I glanced down at my feet, I saw a beautiful violet colored wild flower. As I was positioning myself to take a photo my eye caught site of a tiny lavender bloom. In the darkness of the day Nature revealed two beautiful wildflowers, a posy for my heart.
The memory of the pretty little wildflowers made the trip to the North Mountain Overlook seem mere seconds. The view up top was spectacular, dark sky made the trees seem greener. A car pulled up and lovely blue color (really a blackish gray) American Pit Bull Terrier bounded over to show me some love, she was a real sweetie. A couple from arrived next and I offered to take their photo with his Blackberry.
I looked at my watch and it was already 1:00pm, yikes I had been out three hours. I walked down Hot Springs Road to connect with the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, on to the Honeysuckle Trail, to the Peak, Across the lawn and out of the park.
Live with Nature in Love and she will embrace you.
Love All, Lee