Thursday, June 30, 2016

Beall Woods State Park: Tuliptree Trail (Blog Hike #577)

Trail: Tuliptree Trail
Hike Location: Beall Woods State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Mount Carmel, IL
Length: 1.1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A short nature trail loop past some large poplar trees.

Directions to the trailhead: In extreme eastern Illinois, take I-64 to SR 1 (exit 130).  Exit and go north on SR 1.  Drive SR 1 north 11.9 miles to CR 900N; there is a sign for Beall Woods State Park at this intersection.  Turn right on CR 900N.  Drive CR 900N east 1.8 miles to the state park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and drive the main park road to the Visitor Center at the road’s end.  Park in the paved parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: Located in southeastern Illinois flush against the Wabash River, Beall Woods State Park (pronounced like “bell”) protects 329 acres of old-growth forest.  The park’s name comes from the Beall family, who owned this land from the mid 1800’s until 1965.  The Beall family farmed part of the land but left some of the original forest intact.
When Laura Beall, the last heir from the Beall family, died intestate, an investor bought the Beall tract at auction with the intention of harvesting the old-growth timber.  Due to local public opposition, the land was purchased by the State of Illinois from the investor against his wishes via eminent domain.  The park opened in 1966.
            The park has a developed area with a small fishing lake, a campground, and several picnic shelters, but the park’s five hiking trails explore the old-growth forest. I came here intending to do a medium-length hike of several miles, but I found all of the trails along the creeks and Wabash River closed due to recent flooding.  Hiking on closed trails is never wise (closed trails are usually closed for good reasons), so I hiked the park’s only open trail: the short Tuliptree Trail described here.  While the length was less than I desired, I had a nice hike, and the brevity was a blessing in disguise due to the mid 90’s temperatures I faced on that afternoon.
Trailhead: Tuliptree Trail
            Start by picking up a park brochure and trail map at the Visitor Center, which was closed on my visit.  (Aside: the park’s website said that the Visitor Center would be open when I was there.  I have often found information on the Illinois State Parks’ website to be outdated and/or wrong.)  Next, walk down the concrete sidewalk-like path that ends at the signed trailhead at the edge of the woods.  The dirt Tuliptree and White Oak Trails both start here, and they run conjointly at first as they head east into the woods.
            In less than 500 feet, the Tuliptree and White Oak Trails part ways at a signed intersection.  Angle left to stay on the Tuliptree Trail loop, which you are hiking counterclockwise.  True to its name, the trail passes some large tulip poplars, but some maple, beech, and cottonwood trees also live here.  Numbered orange carsonite posts correspond to a self-guided trail brochure that may be available at the Visitor Center provided it is open on your visit.
Hiking through the old-growth forest
            At 0.3 miles, you cross a narrow ravine on the first of two wood/iron footbridges with concrete supports.  Soon Coffee Creek comes into view in the distance on the right, and then the trail moves closer to the creek.  Coffee Creek is a small creek that drains a narrow watershed consisting mostly of farmland.  The sandy-bottomed creek was very shallow on my visit, but water levels can get high after a thunderstorm.
Coffee Creek
            At 0.6 miles, you reach your closest approach to Coffee Creek as you pass a pair of benches that sit at the top of the steep creek bank.  The trail now curves left and climbs slightly to leave the creek behind you.  Soon the trail joins an old road before coming out at the north end of the parking lot, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (Blog Hike #576)

Trails: Lincoln Boyhood Nature Trail and Trail of Twelve Stones
Hike Location: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Geographic Location: south of Dale, IN
Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A fairly flat double loop around the property on which Abraham Lincoln grew up.
Memorial Information: https://www.nps.gov/libo/index.htm

Directions to the trailhead: In southern Indiana, take I-64 to US 231 (exit 57A).  Exit and enter southbound on US 231.  Drive US 231 south 5.7 miles to SR 162.  Exit and turn right on SR 162.  Drive SR 162 west 1.2 miles to the signed memorial entrance on the right; the memorial entrance is opposite the entrance to Lincoln State Park on the left.  Turn right twice to reach the main parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: He was born in Kentucky, he became famous in Illinois, and he made history in Washington, D.C., but Abraham Lincoln spent his formative years in the low hills of southern Indiana.  Frustrated with Kentucky’s complicated property laws, in 1816 Lincoln’s family moved from their Kentucky home to a 160-acre land parcel in Indiana.  In those days southern Indiana was a wild, sparsely settled region, so Thomas Lincoln, assisted by his 8-year-old son Abraham, spent the first winter building a cabin and clearing land for farming.
            Life in Indiana was good at first, but only two years into their Indiana residency Abraham’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln died from milk sickness.  Nancy is still buried on this site today, and you will pass her grave on this hike.  Abraham spent only 1 year in a classroom due to the lack of educational opportunities in southern Indiana.  Sources say that he honed his legendary debating skills by participating in informal political discussions at Gentry’s, the local general store.
In 1828, Abraham got his first job away from his parents’ farm: piloting a river flatboat.  He would row people to the middle of the Ohio River where they would board steamboats for distant destinations.  Lincoln also guided produce-loaded flatboats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to market in New Orleans.  These trips gave Lincoln his first exposure to the slave trade, which in turn formed the strong abolitionist views that would characterize his political career.
            Lincoln’s family moved to Illinois in 1830, but the place where young Abraham spent 14 years of his life is today preserved as the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  The unusual horseshoe-shaped limestone memorial building was built by a group called the Indiana Lincoln Union in 1944 on land owned by the State of Indiana.  In 1962 the land was transferred to the National Park Service by the Indiana legislature and an act of Congress.  The memorial building contains some interesting exhibits, a film, a meeting house, and a chapel, and the site also contains a reconstructed farm on Lincoln’s original farm site.  The easy 2.2 mile hike described here explores these areas as well as a couple of short nature trails.
Start of trail through the Allee
            After a tour of the memorial building, walk across the parking lot and pick up either of the gravel trails that head toward a large flagpole.  The memorial map calls this area the Allee.  Walk past the flagpole to reach an old but well-kept cemetery.  The large white headstone marks Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s grave, but many smaller grave markers here also date to the 1800’s.
Nancy Hanks Lincoln's grave
            Exit the back of the cemetery on the wide dirt/gravel Lincoln Boyhood Trail, which heads downhill on a gradual to moderate grade.  At 0.35 miles, you reach a secondary parking lot that is used to provide handicapped access to the reconstructed Lincoln farm.  Restrooms are also available here should the need arise.
Cabin Site Memorial
            On the other side of the parking lot, you cross the southern boundary of Lincoln’s historic land plot just before crossing an active railroad track and passing along the edge of a meadow.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the spur trail for the reconstructed Thomas Lincoln Farm, which exits left.  Of the original buildings, only some of the hearthstones remain, and those stones are on display in the memorial building as opposed to here.  An area called the Cabin Site Memorial marks where the Lincolns’ original cabin stood.  A bronze fireplace and sill log casting have been placed on the site, which was excavated by archaeologists in 1933.  The reconstructed farm contains several log buildings, including a homestead and barn, and some live animals such as cows and chickens.  Costumed interpreters tell about the way the Lincolns lived here.  Take some time to tour the farm and imagine what it would have been like to live here.
Barn at reconstructed farm
            Back on the main trail, the trail curves right to re-enter the woods, pass the Spencer County monument to Abraham Lincoln, and reach a trail intersection at 0.6 miles.  Trails here go straight and left.  We will eventually continue straight to hike the Trail of Twelve Stones back to the Visitor Center, but turn left for now to begin the Boyhood Nature Trail.  The wide dirt/gravel trail crosses moderately trafficked, paved Lewis Street before reaching the intersection that forms the nature trail loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to angle right and hike the loop counter-clockwise.
            While the memorial’s other trails tie in some way to Lincoln history, the Boyhood Nature Trail is just a nice, easy forest hike.  This forest features lots of maple trees with a few sweet gums and dying red cedars.  The trail often stays close to the memorial boundary with a road just outside the east boundary and railroad tracks just outside the west boundary.  Some interpretive signs point out common plants in the forest.
Boyhood Nature Trail
            Some wide wooden bridges take you over wet areas as you make your way around the nature trail loop.  On the hot mid-June morning when I hiked this trail, a box turtle trying to cross the trail slid back into its shell as I approached.  At 1.6 miles, you close the nature trail loop.  Turn right to re-cross Lewis Street, then turn left to begin the Trail of Twelve Stones, the final leg back to the Visitor Center.
            The Trail of Twelve Stones gets its name from twelve rocks that have been placed beside the trail, each rock representing a different point in Abraham Lincoln’s life.  The first stone is from Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky, the second from Jones Store 3 miles west of here, the third from Illinois, and so on.  Each stone has a plaque that relates the significance of the stone, so walking past these stones is like reliving Lincoln’s life.
Stone from Lincoln's address podium in Gettysburg
            The trail climbs gradually as it passes the stones and re-crosses the railroad tracks.  At 2.1 miles, you reach the last stone, which is from Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois, just before you come back out at the Allee.  A left turn and short walk down the Allee will return you to the parking lot to complete the hike.  While you are in the area, check out adjacent Lincoln State Park.  Originally intended as a memorial to Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the state park offers 6 easy-to-moderate hiking trails totaling 12.5 miles and several historical sites relevant to Lincoln’s boyhood days in southern Indiana.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Table Rock State Park: Table Rock Trail (Blog Hike #575)

Trail: Table Rock Trail
Hike Location: Table Rock State Park
Geographic Location: north of Pickens, SC
Length: 7.1 miles
Difficulty: 10/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A long, tough climb to world-class views from Table Rock.

Directions to the trailhead: From Pickens, drive US 178 north 8.6 miles to SR 11 and turn right on SR 11.  Drive SR 11 east 4.1 miles to Table Rock State Park’s west entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and drive the main park road 1.3 miles to the Nature Center on the left and the large trailhead parking area on the right.  Park in the trailhead parking lot.

The hike: Perhaps no South Carolina natural landmark is more recognizable than Table Rock Mountain.  The mountain’s name comes from a Cherokee Indian legend about a hunter who used the mountain’s flat bare rock summit as a dining table after his hunt.  Table Rock Mountain towers nearly 2000 feet above the Piedmont to the south and sits on the very edge of the Appalachian escarpment.  Thus, the views from atop the mountain may be the best views in South Carolina.  These views come at a price: with 7.1 miles of length and over 2000 vertical feet of total climbing, this hike to the top of Table Rock may be the hardest hike in this blog.  I would have listed the difficulty rating at 11/10 if the math professor side of me would permit, which it does not.
            My personal history with Table Rock started in the classroom.  I live and work only about an hour from this park, and every year after showing my students my hiking blog I would have at least one student ask me if I had hiked to Table Rock.  The answer was “no” until an unusually cool Monday in late May (after my university’s graduation) gave me a good-as-I-will-ever-get opportunity.  I was not sure if I would have the stamina to make it to the top, but I did make it to the top and completed one of my “bucket list” hikes in the process.
            Table Rock State Park is an impressive site in its own right.  The 3083 acre park was established in 1935, making it one of South Carolina’s oldest state parks.  The park offers two campgrounds totaling 94 sites and two fishing lakes.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) left their mark here by building a lodge and several of the park’s trails, including the Table Rock Trail, the park’s signature hike, described here.  Other worthwhile hikes in this park include the Pinnacle Mountain Trail, which provides an equally long and difficult climb to Bald Rock, and the Carrick Creek and Lakeside Trails, which offer flatter, shorter, more leisurely hikes.
Start of trail behind the Nature Center
            The hike starts at the back of the Nature Center, where registration (one form per hiking group) is mandatory.  The common entrance trail begins as a wooden boardwalk with some steps that lead down toward Carrick Creek.  This entrance trail serves the Table Rock, Pinnacle Mountain, and Carrick Creek Trails, so the red blazes for the Table Rock Trail are joined by several other colors of blazes here.  Carrick Creek contains numerous scenic waterfalls, the first of which is reached almost immediately.  A wooden deck-type area provides some benches for easy waterfall viewing.
Waterfall in Carrick Creek
            Soon the wooden boardwalk ends, and the trail surface turns first to asphalt, then to gravel, then to dirt and rock.  Some more waterfalls and waterslides are passed before Carrick Creek is crossed on a wide wood and iron bridge.  At 0.2 miles, the Carrick Creek Trail splits to form its loop.  As indicated by the sign, angle right to stay on the Table Rock Trail.
            The climb starts in earnest now as you step up and over the first of many wooden waterbars and stone steps that lift you into the upper reaches of the Carrick Creek ravine.  Just after passing the 0.5 mile marker, a brown carsonite post, you reach a trail intersection where the Table Rock and Carrick Creek Trails part ways.  As directed by another sign, turn right to continue your journey toward Table Rock.
Some of many stone steps
            The Table Rock Trail’s red blazes climb ever higher through layer after layer of rock.  The boulders in the surrounding forest go from car-sized to cabin-sized the higher you climb, and partially obstructed views can be had from some of these boulders and rock ledges during the leafless months.  At 0.9 miles, the trail curves right as it exits the top of Carrick Creek’s ravine.  The grade mercifully lessens temporarily, and some rocks make nice benches to sit and rest.
            Four broad switchbacks carry the trail further up the mountain, around more large boulders, and up through more rock layers.  An uncountable number of rock steps aid the climb, and some larger rock outcrops can be seen through the trees uphill to the right.  At 1.9 miles, you reach a wooden shelter built by the CCC.  Though primitive in construction, anyone with back problems will welcome the backs on the wooden benches here.  At an elevation of roughly 2400 feet, the shelter sits more than half way up the mountain, but the steepest and rockiest trail sections are yet to come.
CCC Shelter
            200 feet past the shelter, you reach this hike’s first truly spectacular view.  Standing at the top of a narrow bare granite outcrop, the view extends a seemingly unlimited distance to the south and southwest.  The park’s two lakes can be seen 1300 feet below, as can some low knobs in the distance.  If you are starting to get tired already, then this view is a nice turn-around point and consolation prize to the broader views available higher up.
View just past CCC shelter
            Past the rock outcrop, the trail becomes rocky and rooty as it makes its final push to Panther Gap, which is reached at 2.1 miles.  The orange-blazed Ridge Trail exits left to follow a 0.7 mile ridgeline course with more up than down before terminating at the Pinnacle Mountain Trail.  As directed by another sign, you need to turn right to stay on the Table Rock Trail.  The next 0.5 miles is the easiest part of this hike, as the trail stays close to the ridge and passes over only minor ups and downs.  Some large tulip poplars live on this ridge, and the forest hiking is very pleasant.
            The easy going abruptly ends at 2.6 miles when you begin the steep, rocky climb to Governor’s Rock.  The elevation gain is only about 200 feet, but the terrain is steep enough to necessitate the use of steps carved out of the smooth granite rock.  I have read that these steps were built using a battery-powered jackhammer, but I could not confirm that fact.  A couple of small caves appear beside the trail.  Unfortunately, the entrances to these caves have been marred by spray paint graffiti.
Arriving at Governor's Rock
            At 2.8 miles, you top the last set of carved steps as you come out on the wide exposed granite that is Governor’s Rock, elevation 2854 feet.  Unlike the first viewpoint, which faced south, this viewpoint faces west, thus allowing you to look down the north side of the ridgeline you just hiked up from Panther Gap.  The narrow South Saluda River valley lies below, and most of your field of vision is filled with knobs and ridges.  The contrast between these first two overlooks is interesting, so take advantage of some seat-like boulders to sit, eat a trail snack, and enjoy the view.
View west from Governor's Rock
            The trail curves right to head back into the woods and continue climbing above Governor’s Rock, albeit on a gentler grade, before descending slightly.  Some mountain laurel was in full bloom up here when I hiked this trail.  Another brief, steep, rocky climb brings you to the top of another smaller rock outcrop.  This viewpoint faces south, but some trees growing below the outcrop partially block the view.
Sign at Table Rock Mountain summit
            A little more gradual climbing brings you to the signed summit of Table Rock Mountain, elevation 3124 feet, at 3.3 miles.  The mountain’s summit is covered by trees, and thus it offers no views.  To reach the world class views that make this mountain famous, continue past the summit and descend on a gradual to moderate grade.  After all of the climbing you have done, this descent is a little discouraging considering you have not reached the end of the trail yet.
            Just past 3.5 miles, the trail emerges on a wide, large granite outcrop that faces south.  The park’s website calls this overlook Table Rock Face, and this viewpoint has fewer trees to obstruct the view than the previous south-facing one.  A secondary summit known as The Stool sits directly below you, the park’s lakes appear as tiny ink blots at the mountain’s base, and the flatter Piedmont extends to the horizon.  I think I might have been able to see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance (OK, probably not).  You have worked hard for these views, so take some time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
The Stool, as seen from Table Rock Face Overlook
            Most of the people who passed me on the way up stopped at this overlook, but as I looked off to the left I saw another red blaze leading further east.  After briefly heading back into the pine woods, the only trees that will grow in the thin soil up here, the trail heads onto more bare granite, where the blazes are painted on rock rather than on trees.  Just before 3.6 miles, you reach a final wide granite rock outcrop the park’s website calls Watershed Overlook, which faces east.  Table Rock Reservoir, a much larger body of water than either of the park lakes, sits below you, while Paris Mountain and the Piedmont extend far beyond.  Across the reservoir to the extreme left you can see a waterfall known as Slicking Falls.
Table Rock Reservoir, as seen from Watershed Overlook
            The trail does indeed end at Watershed Overlook.  All of the overlooks on this hike are unprotected, and the granite gets steeper as you get closer to the edge.  Therefore, you have to be careful how far you walk to avoid tumbling down the granite.  After taking in the last view, retrace your steps downhill for 3.6 miles to complete the hike.  The hike back down is easier on the lungs but harder on the knees, and thus it should not be underestimated.