Big Trees Forest Preserve | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 8

The Location

For Hike 8 I headed to Big Trees Forest Preserve. I’ve hiked in this area before, but not this trail or in this year’s challenge, so I can add it to my Explorer Series! Big Trees is about 30 acres of land located near Sandy Springs, Georgia. This area is extremely built up, and this preserve is a surprising oasis in the city.

The Hike

There’s not much to this one! It was a hot, sticky spring day, but I wanted to get out and do some easy hiking. This is a great option for me that’s close to home and easy to access (there’s always parking which is fantastic is a car city like Atlanta). So, I did a bit of nice, shady walking along the Big Trees Loop and that’s that. Not nearly as much drama as my last hike!

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Do you have a nearby go-to trail?

Pigeon Hill | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 7

The Park

Oh Kennesaw…every time I’m here, I have some kind of issue. This hike was full of all kinds of “adventures”…and lessons learned.

The Hike

Well. This hike was actually intended to be a short trail run. Starting at the Visitor Center, jogging along the Visitor Center Cutoff Trail, then cutting back at the Camp Brumby Cutoff and returning to the Visitor Center via the Kennesaw Mountain Trail. I got my run in, but missed my turn for the Brumby Cutoff. I should have just turned around and headed back the way I came, but I thought I’d head around the Camp Brumby Trail and take a short cutoff trail I saw on a map in my hiking app. Unfortunately when I got to that turn…there was no built trail. So I kept going. At this point I had settled in and knew it was going to be a much longer day, but I still thought there was a way around the Little and Big Kennesaw Mountain peaks. Wrong.

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The “Detour”

I preach the ten essentials, but for this hike I really didn’t do much prep, and suddenly found myself without enough food or water. I was hiking about 5 more miles, hundreds of feet of elevation and in much hotter and more exposed temperatures than I had planned and packed for. UGHHHH…lesson learned, Mother Nature.

As I rounded the Pigeon Hill Trail to start climbing Little Kennesaw, I was quickly warming up. I realized I would probably need to ration my water. Had I not been so wiped from the beginning of my hike (I ran, remember? probably another reason I was so wiped out), this would have been really enjoyable. I was on a new-to-me trail that was quite pretty, and I even stumbled upon a cactus! I didn’t expect to see that on a bald mountain top in Georgia. As I climbed French’s Rock Trail, I started to feel a little off balance. Not quite disoriented, but it was clearly time to stop, eat something, and drink some of the little water I had left.

The Return

After this break I felt a lot better, and headed towards the Kennesaw Mountain summit. From the top, there are two ways down. Although I wasn’t prepared like I should have been, there are still lots of little decision points along the trail (like picking when to eat and drink). Heading down the mountain was one of those points. I could head down the trail, or walk the road, which added distance to my hike, but in case I got into REAL trouble, I could signal one of the cars driving the road that connects the parking lots at the top and bottom of the mountain. I felt so terrible I went with the road.

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Luckily, I made it down just fine and made a beeline for the water fountain at the Visitor Center. After chugging water and scarfing down whatever food I had left on me, I felt well enough to drive the few minutes to get McDonald’s. It’s amazing how fast some salty fries and a sugary Coke can snap you out of a big bonk. At this point I felt fine and headed home, resolute to carry what I SHOULD when day hiking from now on…

Have you ever had a big bonk on a hike? What did you do? How do you plan for your hikes?

Bonus Bummer

After this hike I went to get my husband some soup. He was sick and had requested Panera. While leaving the restaurant, a car backed into mine, capping off a day of…”adventure” 😆

Hey snake

Palmetto Trail | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 6

The Hike

After my first visit to Barataria Preserve, I had to make sure Eric got out there to experience it before we left Louisiana. We headed to the preserve to tackle a little bit of a longer hike, connecting the Palmetto Trail, the Bayou Coquille Trail and the Marsh Overlook Trail. That ends up being about a 3.6 mile out and back hike. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day to hike. The real treat in this park, though, was once again the wildlife!

 

The Critters

Before the fauna, we took in some exciting flora, including white spider lillies and blue iris! But in no time we started seeing critters move along the flat dirt and boardwalk trail. We saw gators, we saw turtles, and then there were the snakes! There were so. many. SNAKES! I could have spent hours watching them slither around. What interesting creatures. Take a spin through the photo gallery to see some still shots of our new marshy friends, and check out the videos of these reptiles in action!

The Otter

The highlight of this hike, though, was the few minutes we spent with an OTTER! I never thought I’d see a wild otter in Louisiana of all places, but there it was. It was, as otters are, so, SO cute. I managed to get a few peeks of it on video!

 

"Summit" selfie!

Couturie Forest | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 5

Elevation

New Orleans is known for its below sea level status, so naturally we had to go find the highest point in the city. This point happens to be in City Park, a can’t miss sight in the Crescent City. NOLA’s highest elevation (43′) is the summit of Laborde Mountain on the Couturie Forest Trail.

The Hike – Couturie Forest

We prepared for our arduous journey by having a lovely Sunday brunch and casually deciding to go for a walk. The weather was perfect for a stroll along the well-kept mile-long path. Right off the bat we see a turtle train, sunning on a log. I love seeing wildlife while hiking so this was a great start. The rest of the trail to the summit wasn’t very crowded and it looked like there was some trail maintenance going on. The trail mostly follows the bank of some marshy water, surrounding hikers with green. We stopped at one point to check out a huge pile of snail shells on the bank. Not sure what, but some critter had a feast here!

We headed to the high point and hung out to chat with a friend for a bit, then headed back to the car through the forest and some impressive and beautiful palms. While this was a super quick hike, it was a nice way to get outside and move while staying conveniently in the city.

Have you hiked in the New Orleans area? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Relaxing in the warm midday sun

Barataria Preserve | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 4

When you think about wild animals and Louisiana, what comes to mind? Gators, of course. So for Hike 4 of my 52 Hike Challenge I headed to Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, to look for some of these local reptiles.

 

The Barataria Preserve

The Barataria Preserve is a large area of protected wetlands just south of New Orleans. The area is rich with plants and wildlife, especially birds and alligators. The preserve is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a group of six sites that highlight ecological, historical and cultural treasures of southern Louisiana.

 

The Ranger Walk

The Barataria Preserve offers free ranger-led walks five days a week, so I started my visit with one of these short hikes. Our ranger was extremely knowledgeable about the history, plants and animals of the area. He was also great at spotting tiny, camouflaged snakes along the boardwalk path. We walked the short Visitors Center Trail and learned about native plants, invasive animals and wetlands creation. Most interesting to me was the effect of Mississippi River flood control on these wetlands.

Guiding and controlling the river helps avoid the flooding of populated areas. When the river and its streams flow naturally, the waters deposit silts that build up wetlands areas. By redirecting water, sediments are not deposited and wetlands sink. As wetlands sink, the vegetation changes dramatically, which also effects animal life. The short Visitors Center Trail displays this change in a short and dramatic way. The beginning of the trail is lush and green, full of cypress trees and palmetto palm. By the end of the quarter mile boardwalk trail, you are standing in what looks like open grassland. Seeing this shift over such a brief distance had a big impact on me. It also highlighted the complexity of human impact on our environment. How can we protect people and property while maintaining these important wetlands?

Along this eye-opening trail we spotted several snakes. We heard there was an alligator further up the path it was gone by the time we reached the reported spot. Major bummer, although we did see a trail where an alligator had pulled itself through the grass, leaving a narrow, flat path. After this walk I decided I wanted to see a little more of this park and try to catch a glimpse of a gator, so I headed to the Bayou Coquille Trail.

 

The Bayou Coquille Trail & Marsh Overlook Trail

Bayou Coquille Trail and Marsh Overlook Trail combine to form a 1.8 mile out and back hike. The Bayou Coquille Trail has several markers along the path pointing out important historical and natural occurrences along the path. Beautiful old oaks and giant palm fronds line the wide, clear rock path.  This path seems to be popular with birders. While this trail was beautiful and interesting, the real action started once I reached the March Overlook Trail.

I had heard at the Visitor’s Center that a lot of gator sightings had occurred recently along this trail. I had read that you typically only see an alligator’s eyes peeping over the surface of water, so I was scoping things out, hoping to just get a glance of one. Turns out it’s not that hard.

About halfway down this path I had my first gator encounter. A sunbathing gator just off the boardwalk path, maybe about four feet long, kinda skinny. I also saw one swimming/crawling through the aquatic plants.

 

 

About 3/4 of the way down this path was a much larger alligator, maybe 6-7 feet in length and much broader. This guy/gal was sunbathing directly next to and parallel to the boardwalk. This one made me a little more nervous as I cautiously walked by. I would have loved a photo more at ground level of one of these prehistoric beasts, but gators judge others by height so it’s dangerous to make yourself look any smaller than necessary.

I completed this path, ending at an overlook point over a grassy marsh where I saw a feral pig running through the very tall grasses. These animals are a real problem for parks and hikers. They are destructive, eat just about anything and can be aggressive to humans who get too close.

 

The Return Hike

When retracing my steps to return to the beginning of this trail I heard a low growling sound. I stopped on a bridge with many fellow hikers to watch a pair of alligators growl a bit before settling back down in the marsh. It seems like this growling is part of a mating/territory ritual, but if you know any more about it, please leave me a comment below!

 

 

A bit further down the path I got a good look at an alligator climbing out of the water to sun itself. I could really see how it used its stubby little arms to crawl, and watching it swish its long tail was like being in a prehistoric time machine. They really are like living dinosaurs. Getting an up close look at the sunning gators was cool, but watching some in action was even more interesting.

 

 

The last creature I noticed was a turtle, hanging out in the water. Nature’s camouflage is really incredible and I’ve found that the only way I really notice these critters is to slow waaaay down. I was stopped along the trail, chatting with some fellow hikers about the growling gators when I noticed the turtle. It’s almost like when I slow down or stop my eyes can “adjust” and I’m able to see all kinds of new things.

 

The remainder of the hike on this gorgeous day was uneventful. Have you explored wetlands in the southeast US or Louisiana? Ever had a gator encounter? Scared of wild pigs like me? Tell me about it in the comments!

It is Louisiana after all...

Lake Pontchartrain | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 3

Ah, New Orleans. Great place to eat. Great place to drink. Not the best place to hike. For Hike 3 of my 52 Hike Challenge I had to get creative. Luckily I’m staying close to a wonderful pedestrian path along Lake Pontchartrain which became the site of this week’s hike! It may not be your typical hike through forests, mountains and waterfalls, but urban hiking can be just as fun!

 

 

Lake Pontchartrain

This “lake” is really an estuary in the Mississippi River delta. It features very large wetlands, swamps and marshes. The lake measures about 40 miles east/west and 24 miles north/south. Unfortunately the lake area has been affected by logging and pollution. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to view pelicans and bald eagles and is home to many types of fish.

The Path/Hike

Lake Pontchartrain is a popular place for outdoor recreation and features a great pedestrian/bike path along its south shore. I’ve become spoiled after spending so much time in the west and in Atlanta. In these places, hiking trails are easily accessible, even in urban areas. New Orleans doesn’t have as many super accessible hiking trails. I needed to get in a quick hike and realized I could walk to this path from my Airbnb, so I was off!

The path is nicely maintained and clearly gets a lot of use. There is a lot of green space surrounding the path for running, playing and picnicking. I didn’t see much wildlife while walking, but you can’t always get lucky! There were lots of families enjoying the warm Sunday evening weather, and the area felt quite safe. While I won’t be able to count future visits to this path towards my 2017 Explorer Series, I think I’ll probably be spending quite a bit more time on this great trail!

How do you get your hikes in when you’re in an urban environment? Tell me in the comments!

Civil War cannon on the way up to the summit of Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw Mountain | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 2

 

Before leaving town for a few months I was lucky to join a ranger-led hike at Kennesaw Mountain for Hike 2 of my 2017 52 Hike Challenge. Ranger hikes are the best. Not only do you usually get a great hike, but you also learn so much along the way that you’d never know without the wisdom of the ranger.

Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is pretty much what it sounds like…a mountain on which a battle took place. Namely, a battle that was part of the Atlanta Campaign, a push that Union commanders hoped would end the US Civil War. By joining the ranger hike I learned all about the battle that took place here on the way up to the top of the mountain. The Kennesaw area also played an important role in Cherokee and settler history before the Civil War as well.

The Hike

While Kennesaw is a “mountain”, in only one mile you can summit the mountain with under 600 feet of elevation gain. However, after not hiking for WEEKS over the holidays this was a challenge! The trail starts just behind the visitor’s center and quickly gains elevation. As you climb, you can see the rifle pits and earthworks soldiers used as a form of trench warfare.

The trail flattens out along a section of road used by the Cherokee and settlers. Later, soldiers used the road to move cannons up the mountain.

After a nice, flat break, the trail continues upward with views of Atlanta along the way. The incline covers much rockier ground. Soldiers were no longer able to wheel cannons along the rockier road. Instead, they had to carry the 1000+ pound weapons up the mountain by hand.

The reward at the summit is a wide open view of Atlanta and Stone Mountain. My favorite surprise at the top was Confederate graffiti carved into rocks. Most of the graffiti has been worn away by weather and visitors, but a few markings remain.

This is an out and back hike, so after spending some time at the summit I made my way back down the mountain. The ranger was only with us one-way, so the hike down was at my own pace. I really enjoyed this time alone on the mountain. While there were quite a few visitors in the park, the trail winds down the mountain in a way that I was occasionally alone. I love hiking with groups, but I also enjoy the quiet and solitude found in nature, and this hike provided the perfect mix.

The Lessons

This hike was a bit of a mental health outing after the 2017 inauguration and subsequent immigration and travel ban. I was feeling really stressed out and thought a day out would really help with self care. Nature sure doesn’t care what religion you practice, what color your skin is or where you were born. As I hiked, I passed people of SO MANY different ethnicities, ages, fitness levels, etc. It was so encouraging to see such diversity in the outdoors. When we’re on that mountain, we’re all facing the same challenges, and moving ahead the same way – one step at a time.

The Fire

In an ironic twist, my calming mental health day ended with a bit of chaos. I had just come off of the mountain, thought I’d take a quick bathroom break at the visitor’s center and then hop on the nature trail. While in the bathroom, a park employee ran into the bathroom and explained that we needed to leave immediately. The park was closing, including all trails and buildings, as there was a fire! The irony of a NPS site on fire after the week we had was such a metaphor!

As far as I know, the fire started as I exited my first trail, not affecting my hike. The park is still investigating the cause of the fire, and unfortunately it seems as if it was human-caused. Luckily all trails are now open and it seems like damage was minimal.

Since I’m doing the Explorer Series of this year’s 52 Hike Challenge I don’t plan to revisit this specific hike any time soon, but may do as part of a longer hike later this year, as Kennesaw Mountain has many trails to explore!

Have you ever hiked Kennesaw Mountain or another Civil War battlefield? Tell me about it in the comments!

Woohoo!

Cairn Box | January 2017

The Hiking Subscription Box

I’ve been wanting to try Cairn Box for ages, and I decided I’d finally pull the trigger this year. This is a subscription service for outdoor activities that you’re able to customize a bit. Since most of my activities are hiking-based, this turns out to basically be a hiking subscription box for me. So far, I’m super excited about the products sent in this fun subscription and thought I’d share the goodies sent in my January box.

 


The Goodies

My Cairn Box contained a great assortment of items this month including:

  • Craft Thermal Gloves: these gloves have touchscreen compatible fingertips that worked really well when I quickly tried them on my phone. I thought these were just going to be another pair of standard, black, touchscreen gloves until I saw the design on the palm. Rather, the entire palm (not just hot spots) is covered in these great looking stripes that I assume help with grip but also just look really great, almost like patent leather. When subscribing to Cairn Box, you fill out a detailed survey answering questions about interests, sizes, etc. I’m happy to say that these gloves fit……..like……a glove. 😀
  • deFunkit Hand Wash Pack: I’m intrigued by this. Apparently using this system eliminates odors from clothing for three months. I’m looking forward to trying this and seeing if it can stand up to its claims!
  • All Good Goop Healing Balm: Honestly, I don’t really “get” healing balms and have never purchased or used one before, so this seems like the perfect time to take the plunge. Another product that makes some pretty big claims, so hoping it can live up to them.
  • Phive bar Blueberry Bar: I already tried this one out on Hike 1 of my 2017 52 Hike Challenge. Not bad! Generally, I’m not a fan of date-based bars like this (think Lara Bars). However, considering that this was tasty and really helped give me a boost when I was seriously dragging, I’ll give it a thumbs up. While I probably won’t run out to buy them simply based on my preference, I would absolutely recommend these to people who do like this type of trail snack!

The Deals

As with most subscription boxes (it seems), I also received coupon codes to use towards the purchase of these and other products sold by these companies. Additionally, Cairn Box is running a promotion right now for 50% off of your first box with code “JOINTHEFUN”. I’m not sponsored or an affiliate or in contact with Cairn in any way, I just noticed the code while on their website today and thought I’d share!

The Verdict

In conclusion, I’m really pleased with the products and value in the two boxes I’ve received. Hoping for this to continue through out the year!

Are you interested in product reviews? Let me know below in the comments!

Cochran Shoals - Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Cochran Shoals – CRNRA | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 1

A New Challenge…

Back on the 52 Hike Challenge bandwagon! Today marked Hike #1 of my 2017 52 Hike Challenge, and I’m embarking on the Explorer Series this year! Today’s hike was a great way to start. I headed out to Cochran Shoals in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Since there are a ton of trails out here, this location may come in handy when I’m trying to add new trails throughout the year.

The Trail…

Since the Cochran Shoals area was to me, I stayed on the large, main hike/bike trail to get a feel for this park. It was pretty busy for my taste, even on a weekday afternoon, so I’ll definitely be checking out some of the more off the beaten path hiker only trails next time I’m in the area.

However, one perk to being on a busy trail is the interactions you might have, like I did today. A man on his bike passed me along the trail, then stopped shortly after at a culvert. As I approached, he asked if I had seen the snake. Uh, what? I certainly had not seen a snake, so he pointed it out. It took me an embarrassingly long time to find it, and I almost gave up. Consequently, my new biker friend had to get off of his bike to help me.

I finally found the silly thing and it was such a neat experience! I’ve rarely seen snakes in the wild, and I think they are such interesting creatures. Apparently this culvert is the main snake hangout in this area. My new trail friend informed me that sometimes in the summer there will be a dozen or so in this area. He also mentioned he’s careful who he tells about the snakes because so many people’s first instinct is to kill the snake! I was shocked and can honestly say that thought didn’t even cross my mind. That snake isn’t bothering anything – I couldn’t even see it – WHY would I KILL it?! Anyway, I’m pretty sure my Osprey backpack and hiking boots gave me away as “safe”, since most people on this trail were recreational walkers/runners with nothing on them but car keys and a cell phone.

We ended up chatting for almost half an hour before parting ways, and it was such an enjoyable experience. Glad it happened in order to not totally turn me off to hiking around other people.

Other Wildlife Encounters…

After this lovely chat, I stopped along the river to watch the water fall over the shoals for a bit and check out the geese whose chattering was impossible to miss.

At last I found myself alone on the trail, which was for only about two minutes. As a bonus to this alone time I had a pretty up close encounter with a couple duck pairs. Unfortunately a noisy group of runners quickly approached, scaring the ducks back into the marshy brush, but I was happy for the few moments I had alone with nature.

A 75 degree January day was not a terrible way to start this year’s challenge (much as I really wish I was hiking in snow!). My 2016 challenge was a huge accomplishment and truly life altering, and I’m excited to see what 2017 has in store.

Will you be joining me this year? Subscribe and leave me a comment below about your hiking goals for this year!

We completed the Mighty 5!

Landscape Arch Trail

We completed the Mighty 5!

We did it! We hit The Mighty 5 in our time in Utah! I know this isn't an actual accomplishment but...it felt like one to me. Although it was kind of miserable, we managed to get a hike in at Arches National Park. This was Utah park #5 and my 52 Hike Challenge Hike #29 to Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch

This arch, a natural geologic feature created mostly by various types of water erosion, is the longest arch in North America. It is also the longest span in the park. This long, very thin arch measures around 300 ft wide and is shorter only to four arches in China. Hikers used to be able to walk under Landscape Arch, but as this thin strip of rock continues to erode, slabs are falling from the span. Now hikers can only view the arch from a short distance.

The Hike

To even view at a short distance, however, you need to use your legs. The hike is about 2 miles out and back and is considered easy, but I found this hike to be a challenge. We had already been hiking in extremely hot, cloudless, August, desert weather for most of the day so I was quite fatigued (and sunburned, despite wearing sunscreen). Add to that the challenge of hiking on sand. Not only was the sand difficult to walk on, requiring more energy, it was incredibly hot. That meant I wasn't only feeling heat from the sun above, but also feeling heat radiate UP at me from the hot sand below. Frankly, this made for a very miserable trek to the arch and back. However, as you probably guessed, it was worth it

The arch was as incredible sight. Unfortunately our pictures just didn't turn out. The sun was at about the worst position in the sky for photographing this rock, but it was way too hot to hang around and wait for better lighting. Eric and I both thought this park would be really cool to hike at night, so maybe we'll head back for some night time photography someday. But on this day the arch was an impressive sight that had a humbling effect.

It's hard to comprehend the scale of time and power required to form these arches, especially one on this scale. The force required to move, fold and crack rocks in order to allow water to freeze, thaw and erode in those cracks is massive, and the process of eroding sandstone on a scale this large takes millions of years.

The Lessons

Despite my misery, I learned a lot on this hike.

  1. Hiking on sand stinks. It just does.
  2. I wore as little as publicly acceptable for this hike due to the heat. Some short spandex bike shorts and a tank top. I think this backfired on me when I was feeling the heat from above and below. In the future I think wearing a light, reflective layer would be more effective at keeping me cool.
  3. This hike nudged me to pick up an insulated Hydroflask because drinking really hot water on a really hot hike is just awful. When doing a short hike like this where I have access to cold tap water I intend to keep it cold as long as possible from now on.
  4. Hiking is convincing me more and more that challenging yourself is a worthwhile pursuit. I was proud of myself for grumpily persevering through this hike, getting a pretty cool payoff at the arch and making it back to the car in one relatively healthy piece. More than the easy, routine, uneventful outings, I reflect on this and my other challenging hikes. This seems to be a bit of a life lesson, too.

I can't wait to get back to Arches as soon as possible, hopefully in cooler weather. It is a weird, amazing place that seems like I could explore forever and never see the same thing twice. Have you hiked at Arches National Park? Tell me about it in the comments!