Sunday, December 31, 2017

60 New Hikes in 2017!

I have 2 more hikes to post from my Christmas break hiking trip to southeast Texas, but the turning of the calendar says it is time for my annual summary and reflection post.  2017 has been a bountiful year for me on the trail.  I did 60 new hikes totaling 185.6 miles, and I got most of the old picture-less hikes updated with photos.  Those high totals came as a result of a couple of extra hiking trips including two Christmas break trips in the same calendar year (necessitated by a quirk in my university's academic calendar).  The hikes came across 19 different states including two new states: Arkansas and Texas.  I also did my first Canada hike; more on that below.

Looking ahead to 2018, the upcoming year marks a milestone for me: I will be celebrating 20 years on the trail and therefore 20 years of writing trail descriptions, all of which are in this blog.  To mark the occasion, here are some memorable "firsts" from my first 20 years of hiking:

First trail description* (summer of 1998): Winton Woods County Park: Kingfisher Trail (Blog Hike #3)
First road trip dedicated to hiking (April 2001): Hocking Hills State Park: Grandma Gatewood Trail (Blog Hike #89)
First hike after moving to Georgia (to earn my PhD, August 2005): Georgia Botanical Garden: Orange Trail (Blog Hike #181)
First hike as a college professor (September 2009): Blue Ridge Parkway: Otter Creek Trail (Blog Hike #288)
First hike after moving to South Carolina (to take a different and better professor job, September 2011): Paris Mountain State Park: Sulpher Springs Loop (Blog Hike #359)
First hike with my students (on a trip where they presented their mathematical research at an undergraduate research conference, April 2014): Ijams Nature Center: South Cove/River/Discovery Loop (Blog Hike #463)
First hike outside the USA (July 2017): Pigeon River Provincial Park: Middle Falls (Blog Hike #647)

I will probably get fewer hikes in 2018 than I did in 2017, partly because of the extra trips in 2017 and partly because I have some (prayerfully minor) physical/health issues to address as the new year starts.  Nevertheless, I have some good hiking trips planned.  I hope to get to the Potomac River area in northeast Virginia/southeast Maryland, the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia, and Glacier National Park in Montana.  The Montana trip should also include another trip across the border to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and I should be in Canada for 2 days as opposed to 2 hours last summer.  I also hope to reach 700 blog hikes next year, probably while on my Montana trip this coming summer.

See you on the trail in 2018,

David, aka the Mathprofhiker

*In the unlikely event you are as obsessed about numbers and order as I am and are wondering why my first trail description is Blog Hike #3, the hikes in this blog are presented in chronological order based on when I first hiked that trail.  I did Blog Hikes #001 and #002 during my teenage years, but I re-hiked them and wrote the trail descriptions in my early 20's after I got interested in writing about hikes.  I have updated those descriptions over the years for changing trail conditions, but I have kept the writing style intact rather than doing a complete re-write in my newer (and hopefully better) style.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sea Rim State Park: Gambusia Nature and Dune Boardwalk Trails (Blog Hike #670)

Dedication: This hike is dedicated to my mom, who died exactly 3 years prior to the day this hike was posted.  One of her favorite vacation activities was to walk along a beach and pick up shells, so she would have loved the beach at the end of this hike.

Trails: Gambusia Nature and Dune Boardwalk Trails
Hike Location: Sea Rim State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Port Arthur, TX
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2017
Overview: A pair of boardwalks, one through a marsh and another to a beach.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 82 and SR 87 on the southwest side of Port Arthur, take SR 87 south 21.3 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and park in any of the day-use parking lots.

The hike: True to its name, Sea Rim State Park sits at the present-day intersection of saltwater marsh and the Gulf of Mexico, but such has not always been the case.  During the Ice Age’s lower sea levels, the Gulf of Mexico’s north shore was several miles south of its current location.  During this time, Paleoindians lived on the former gulf shore that is now underwater.  Artifacts from their civilization still occasionally wash up on the present-day shore of Sea Rim State Park.
            The park itself dates to 1972, when the State of Texas purchased the seaside land from the Planet Oil and Mineral Corporation and Horizon Sales Corporation.  As is common for gulf coast parks, the park’s facilities have been destroyed twice by hurricanes: Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008.  The park’s headquarters building is still a trailer, but the park’s recreation facilities have been rebuilt.  Amenities include a 15-site campground, over 16 miles of canoe routes, a day-use area with numerous picnic tables, and a pair of boardwalks.  The two boardwalks start at opposite ends of the day-use area, and combining them with a walk through the day-use area forms the 1.9 mile hike described here.
            To save the beach for last, I chose to hike the Gambusia Nature Trail through the saltwater marsh first.  If you are parked at the headquarters building like I did, you will need to walk the park road east through the day-use area to reach the marsh boardwalk.  The park road passes numerous picnic tables and ponds that contain large numbers of sea birds and ducks.  The signed start of the Gambusia Nature Trail is located on the left side of the eastern-most parking area.
Trailhead: Gambusia Nature Trail
            The entire Gambusia Nature Trail is a boardwalk, and though the wooden boardwalk starts in a grassy area it quickly reaches open water.  I was amazed by how much open water this marsh has, enough to make you feel like you are in the middle of a shallow lake.  The open water is great for bird viewing; I saw coots, egrets, herons, ibis, red-winged blackbirds, and a pelican (engaged in a successful fishing exercise) during my time in the marsh.  I was also amazed by the clarity of the water: I was able to see many guppies and two blue crabs under the water near the boardwalk.
Boardwalk through marsh

Blue crab
            Where the boardwalk splits to form its loop, I chose to continue straight and use the left boardwalk as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.  An interpretive sign located near one of the few clumps of grass explains the different kinds of grasses found in this marsh.  The Gulf of Mexico lies less than 500 feet to your right, and though you cannot see it because of the dunes its pleasant dull roar is your constant companion on this hike.  The utility poles of SR 87 can be seen about the same distance to your left, but the dead-end state highway sees little vehicle traffic.
Snake clinging to boardwalk
            The boardwalk curves persistently left as you round the eastern end of the loop.  I passed a small snake clinging to the boardwalk before closing the loop just past 1 mile from the headquarters building.  Turn right to head back to the parking area and complete the Gambusia Nature Trail.
Start of dune boardwalk

Fog-shrouded beach on Gulf of Mexico
            To reach the Dune Boardwalk, walk back through the day-use area and past the headquarters building to the signed start of the second boardwalk.  Only 600 feet in length, the Dune Boardwalk takes you up and over a single row of dunes to reach the beach along the Gulf of Mexico.  I was the only person on this wide, firm, and flat beach on the foggy mid-December afternoon of my visit.  Rows of seashells littered the beach waiting for someone to come and pick them up.  After enjoying your beach time, retrace your steps back over the Dune Boardwalk to complete the hike.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge: Willows Trail and Shoveler Pond Loop (Blog Hike #669)

Trails: Willows Trail and Shoveler Pond Loop
Hike Location: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: southwest of Winnie, TX
Length: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2017
Overview: A double loop mostly on asphalt road offering excellent waterfowl viewing.

Directions to the trailhead: From Beaumont and points east, take I-10 to SR 124 (exit 829).  Exit and go south on SR 124.  Drive SR 124 south 10.5 miles to Farm-to-Market Road 1985.  Turn right on FM 1985.  Drive FM 1985 west 10.5 miles to the signed refuge entrance on the left.  (Alternatively, from Houston and points west, reach the refuge entrance by taking exit 812 from I-10 and following SR 61 and SR 562 to FM 1985; the entrance will be on the right if coming from this direction.)  Enter the refuge, and drive the refuge entrance road 3.2 miles to the Visitor Information Station where this hike begins.

The hike: Consisting of 34,000 acres along the Intercoastal Waterway, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is one of a string of national wildlife refuges that protects the bayous, coastal marshes, and coastal prairies along the Gulf of Mexico’s northwestern coast.  This chain of refuges provides an important resting area for migrating birds before or after they make the 600-mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  The top birding season is October through March, when 27 species of ducks are commonly seen here.  As many as 80,000 snow geese have been seen in Anahuac’s marshes.
            Like many national wildlife refuges, Anahuac is a bigger birding destination than hiking destination, and most of the hiking trails offer only short excursions into the refuge’s wetlands.  On point, two short hiking trails depart the Visitor Information Station area: the poorly maintained 0.5 mile one-way Hackberry Trail (not described in this blog) and the 0.6 mile Willows Trail.  For hikers wanting more distance, the refuge’s roads are also open to hikers.  This hike combines the short Willows Trail with the 2.5 mile Shoveler’s Pond Auto-Tour Loop to form a 4.4 mile double loop through some of the refuge’s most scenic areas.
Concrete path exiting butterfly garden
            From the Visitor Information Station, head north around a picnic pavilion and follow the concrete path first north and then west.  The concrete path heads through the refuge’s butterfly garden, an area featuring plants that attract butterflies.  Unfortunately, I came at the wrong time of year to see butterflies, but I did see several dragonflies on my hike.
            Continuing west, the concrete turns to wooden boardwalk as you enter an area known as the Willows.  Although they look insignificant, this cluster of low willow trees provides important resting habitat for migrating birds.  I saw very few birds here on my visit in mid-December, but I have read that this area teems with neo-tropical birds during the spring migration in March and April.
Boardwalk at the Willows
            At 0.3 miles, you reach the west end of the boardwalk and an intersection with the asphalt auto road at a parking area.  If you only wanted to hike the Willows Trail, you could take the other boardwalk that goes right to form a very short 0.6 mile loop.  To head into the marsh area, angle softly right to begin walking along the auto road.  Although the auto road sees little traffic, it is open to private passenger vehicles.  As with any road walk, you should move to the shoulder of the road if a vehicle approaches.
            Soon you pass another parking area for the Willows on the right; this Willows access point will be your return route after you have walked the auto tour road.  A group of turkey vultures greeted me as I kept walking down the road.  Stay on the asphalt as it curves sharply left; the levee on the right is closed to all visitors.  At 0.8 miles, the road forks to form its loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to turn right and use the route going straight as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            The asphalt road heads due west with Shoveler Pond on the left and a water-filled ditch on the right.  Some road pull-outs feature wooden “guard rails” that also make nice benches.  Though expansive, Shoveler Pond features more grassy areas than open waters, so most waterfowl will swim for the grass as you approach.  Thus, the only waterfowl you will get to see are the ones you either sneak up on or sit and wait to come out of the grass.  The most numerous birds I saw were coots, but I also saw several mallards, ibis, egrets, herons, and cormorants.
Heron in Shoveler Pond

Ibis in Shoveler Pond
            At 1.4 miles, you reach the northwest corner of Shoveler Pond where the normally dead straight auto road makes a 90-degree left turn.  I saw a couple of adult alligators and some baby alligators on the left near this turn.  Now heading south, views west across the marshes to the right extend all of the way to Galveston Bay on a clear day.
Alligators beside Shoveler Pond
            Just shy of 2 miles, the boardwalk that is the main hiking feature of the auto tour road exits left.  This 750-foot wooden boardwalk winds over the grassy water to reach an elevated platform that offers a nice survey of Shoveler Pond.  In addition to the waterfowl I saw elsewhere around the pond, I saw some turtles and a colorful frog while walking this boardwalk.
View from boardwalk overlook
            Back on the auto road, soon you round the southwest corner where a greater than 90-degree left curve puts you on a north of east heading.  More of the same scenery, additional waterfowl, and another left curve bring you to the close of the loop at 3.6 miles.  Retrace your steps to the first parking area (going this direction) for the Willows, then angle left to leave the pavement and begin the dirt/grass Willows Trail.
Willows Trail
            Though only a couple of feet higher in elevation than the Shoveler Pond and marsh area, the extra elevation keeps this area dry enough for the willow trees to grow.  Where the boardwalk spur comes in from the right, angle left to maintain an eastward course on dirt/grass trail.  After negotiating a couple of potentially wet areas, you come out at the refuge entrance road, where a right turn and short road walk bring you back to the Visitor Information Station to complete your hike.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gulf Islands National Seashore: Davis Bayou Trail (Blog Hike #668)

Trail: Davis Bayou Trail
Hike Location: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Geographic Location: east side of Ocean Springs, MS
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2017
Overview: A mostly roadside walk with nice views of Davis Bayou.
Seashore Information: https://www.nps.gov/guis/index.htm

Directions to the trailhead: In extreme southern Mississippi, take I-10 to SR 609 (exit 50).  Exit and go south on SR 609.  Drive SR 609 south 2.8 miles to US 90 and turn left on US 90.  Drive US 90 east 2.9 miles to the signed entrance for Gulf Islands National Seashore on the right; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn right and drive the park road to its end at the Visitor Center where this hike begins.

The hike: Stretching for 160 miles along the Gulf of Mexico’s northern coast, Gulf Islands National Seashore is the largest national seashore in the United States.  The national seashore was established in 1971 to protect the area surrounding the chain of barrier islands off the coast of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.  The sandy barrier islands are constantly being molded and shifted by wind and waves, and they provide an important layer of protection for the mainland during major storms.
            While the barrier islands off the coast of Florida can be reached by automobile, the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi are accessible only by boat.  Fortunately for those of us without a watercraft, the national seashore also protects the area around Davis Bayou on the Mississippi mainland, which in turn features a nice Visitor Center, several fishing piers, and some short nature trails.  Some paths built along the national seashore’s roads allow you to combine Davis Bayou’s three short nature trails to form the slightly longer 2.3 mile hike described here.
Trailhead: Davis Bayou Trail
            After viewing the film and exhibits in the Visitor Center, walk to the left (east) across the parking lot to find the signed start of the Davis Bayou Trail.  The somewhat narrow sandy-dirt trail heads first north and then east through dense forest.  The forest along Davis Bayou consists mostly of mockernut hickory, southern magnolia, sweet gum, and loblolly pine with some saw palmetto in the understory.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach the park road, where you need to turn left to get to the next nature trail.  The seasonal pond located across the road contained several types of turtles on my visit.  A gravel path built on the shoulder of the road gives you refuge from vehicle traffic.
Roadside "boardwalk"
            Soon you reach the first of two roadside boardwalks that carry you over inlets of Davis Bayou.  These “boardwalks” are actually made of recycled plastic, and they provide excellent views of the wide and grassy bayou.  The expansive view makes for good wildlife viewing; I walked past a heron perched in a pine tree on the edge of the bayou.
Heron on pine tree
            After crossing the bayou inlet, you reach the signed spur trail to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) overlook on the left.  To get away from the road, take this out-and-back spur trail as it leads out a narrow peninsula.  The trail ends in 0.2 miles at the site of a CCC camp that existed here from 1938 to 1941.  Only the concrete block foundation of the camp’s dining hall remains, and trees have grown up to block any view that may have been had here.  Thus, history rather than scenery is the main attraction for this side trip.
CCC dining hall foundation
            Back on the roadside trail, continuing north along the shoulder of Robert McGee Road leads to the last short nature trail excursion, the Nature’s Way Loop Trail on the left.  This point is also signed but not with the trail’s name.  Turn left to leave the road again, and quickly reach the intersection that forms this trail’s loop.  I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.  Numbered posts indicate the existence of an interpretive guide for this trail, but none were available at the Visitor Center when I inquired about one.
Hiking on Nature's Way
            At 1.1 miles, the somewhat narrow trail reaches a wooden observation platform that overlooks Davis Bayou to the south.  While I could hear a lot of wildlife in the bayou, the dense tall grass allowed me to see only a couple of egrets.  Continuing around Nature’s Way takes you up and over a sandy ridge to reach a second Davis Bayou overlook, this one offering a similar view to the first one but toward the west.
            Just past the second overlook, you reach a short boardwalk and the Nature’s Way’s second entrance trail.  We will eventually turn right here to finish the Nature’s Way loop, but first walk out to the road where two points of interest await.  Directly across the road lies an alligator pond, which featured two turtles and a large alligator on my visit.  To the left lies the second roadside recycled plastic “boardwalk,” which yields a view directly down the length of Davis Bayou toward the Gulf of Mexico.  The national seashore’s campground and picnic area lie at the other end of the roadside boardwalk, so you can decide whether you want to turn around in the middle of the boardwalk or explore these areas.
Looking down Davis Bayou
            Back on the Nature’s Way, the balance of the short loop stays near the park road.  When you close the loop, continue straight to begin retracing your steps back to the Visitor Center and complete the hike.  Keep your eyes open on the walk back: you might spot birds and other wildlife that you missed on the walk out.