GEORGIA: Saving the Hemlocks at Angel Falls

The old adage you can’t just take, you have to give holds true for use of park service lands just like it does for warlords exploiting local villages. A warlord has to keep the peasants alive, and an avid hiker has to keep the forest alive.

Which is how I ended up treating hemlocks dying of wooly adelgid at Rabun Recreation Area Campground with Save Georgia’s Hemlocks (http://www.savegeorgiashemlocks.org/). Where I also found out about a nice, short waterfall hike at the campground that is worth a quick visit if you are at the rec area to begin with.

Is it goat approved? No. The Cradle of Forestry guy in the golf cart would probably run you over with righteous zeal for disturbing his domain (more about him in the “Beware” section).

How you get there: The trail head lies within the second loop of the campground, near site 53 (gps: 34.760750, -83.472252). The campground has a $5 day use fee for the trail and the beach. 

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 1 mile out and back. Really only suitable as a side trip if you are there to hang out at the beach, see the ritzy lake houses, kayak or view some of the other sightseeing locations listed at the bottom of this review. Or if you are out treating hemlocks of course!

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year.


Trails to Take

The trail starts off behind a kiosk at site 53 in campground loop 2 of Rabun Recreation Area Campground. It is pretty popular, and should be easy to spot. There is limited parking in the area, and more parking at the bathrooms in campground loop 1. You can use the access road at the back of the loop 1 area to take a 3 min walk into loop 2 to reach the trail head.

However you get there the trail follows the creek and crosses a small bridge. All the hemlocks in the campground and throughout this trail are treated and cared for by Save the Hemlocks – which is why most of them are still alive for us to enjoy!

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CCC camp spring box

The trail continues up, passing by a spring box built by the local CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps – a depression era “putting people back to work” program that built much of the park structures we use on the east coast). From there it continues to climb until at 0.5 miles you reach Panther Falls.

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Panther Falls

The trail switch backs, continues to climb, and begins to pass the hulks of hemlocks for whom help came to late. This area is hotter (no hemlocks for shade) and more erode (no hemlocks to hold the soil). At the very top is Angel Falls, a picturesque multi-cascade wedged among mountain laurel. The trail loops back on itself and then all you have to do is walk back down.

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Angel Falls
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Trail Map

OTHER PLACES YOU MUST CHECK OUT

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Nacoochee Dam

Nacoochee Dam Roadside Park (34.755796, -83.500819) – 1920s era dam with small power plant that impounds Lake Seed.

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Nacooche Indian Mound

Nacoochee Indian Mound (34.683690, -83.708985) – Indian mound that once held the Town House at the center of a large Cherokee town.

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Stovall Mill Covered Bridge

Stovall Mill Covered Bridge (34.711691, -83.657878) – covered bridge at a mostly eroded mill site. Has a great swimming hole popular with locals and picnic tables.

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited. You can park in loop 1 at the bath house if you need to, but be sure to display your day use permit.
  2. There is a $5 day use permit.
  3. In all honesty, the Cradle of Forestry guys who are in charge of this campground are a little…excessive. They will ticket your truck if you forget to display the permit. They will chase you in a golf cart. They will lay down the law with the all the bombastic force of someone who firmly believes they are cleaning up the riffraff. The only issue I have is they view “local people” and “riffraff” as synonyms. And by local, I mean all the people who lived here long before the Atlanta retirees came with their money, their lake houses, and their firm belief in their own superiority. Basically, if someone invites you to go to this campground and this hike, do it. But if you are a “local” or someone who lives like a “local” you may feel highly insulted dealing with these people and going to this place.
  4. Take time for the other places to visit! This area and the lake are beautiful and well worth spending a few days exploring. And the campground is well kept, if you can deal with the keepers.

In sum: 

If money moved mountains the whole world would be a mountain range.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Poetry of Goats at Carl Sandburg

Like most men, Carl Sandburg’s estate came to be home to goats because of his wife. He might have been a famous poet and biographer of Lincoln, but lets face it, we don’t go to Carl Sandburg’s house to read poetry or devolve into discussions of the Civil War, (I mean, technically Lincoln was on the other side from our perspective anyway).

We go for the goats. Mrs. Sandburg raised Saanen, Toggenburgs, and Nubians for showing and commercial production. Now the park service keeps a herd of about 15 around the place for photo ops and keeping the kids entertained while their parents go on hikes and house tours. So stop by and enjoy some goats that you don’t personally have to feed, raise, and keep in the fence!

As an aside – this is also a great place to go enjoy the rapidly disappearing Eastern Hemlock. These trees line the drive way and there are numerous gorgeous specimens around the property.

Is it goat approved? This isn’t a BYOG. They provide the goats.

How you get there: Park here 35.273330,-82.444616. Then walk in!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is at best 2.5 miles if you walk everything.  More of a fun day out wandering around than a work out except for 0.5 mile up to Glassy Mountain which is very vertical. Budget some extra time for goat hugs though!

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year. Remember you get baby goats in spring!


Trails to Take

The paved walkway down from the parking area immediately brings you up to the property’s largest (but by no means only) pond. You can hike around the pond on either side, or continue past the +20yr old concrete bathrooms, across the wooden bridge, and proceed up the driveway to the house in the distance. The driveway is lined with hemlocks and is a climb. If you don’t want as much of a climb go around the pond then up the back trail which comes back around to the house.

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The climb up the driveway through hemlocks

The original farmstead sits at the top of the hill, starting with the main house, (which can be toured – talk to the park rangers hanging out in the basement). There are various outbuildings near the house that were originally slave quarters and later under the Sandburgs became an overflow library and a chicken coop.

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Slave quarters turned chicken quarters

Following the gravel drive another set of restrooms in a white wooden building comes up, followed by a wooden spring house and an equipment shed. Behind the hedges further on lies a classic in ground greenhouse behind a hedge.  Across from green house is a green house that was once the abode of the goat farm manager – because rich people throughout history have always been too lazy to get up and actually deal with the less convenient parts of livestock ownership.

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Next comes the garage and behind it the most important part of the whole trip – the goat barn, (not pictured today because they are in the process of restoring it). When not being restored it has a large open loafing area with hay mangers. The old milking parlor is out back, along with acres of gorgeous pasture that has been managed for grass…because the park service doesn’t really get into goat management, but they know a good looking green lawn when they see one.  It is pretty…

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Buck sheds and vegetable garden

Anyway, the most athletic portion of the trip can be found by taking the path past the garden plots and the buck sheds, through the old fruit tree orchard, and past a small dammed pond.

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First pond behind the apple orchard

The trail splits, so go right and climb up Glassy Mountain on a snaking gravel walk way that pretty much never relents till you get to the top. There is a nice pond about 1/3 of the way up to stop and rest at though.

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Glassy Mountain Overlook

The overlook gives you a good view of the Hendersonville diaspora…then its back to take selfies with goats. Which is what you really came for anyway right?

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited and far from the main house. Come early!
  2. While the hike is dog and kid friendly, only the kids can go in to see the goats.
  3. It’s not really a warning, it’s a suggestion – if you like baked goods hit the bakery in Hendersonville before you head home. And the Mast General Store for hiking supplies. It’s a good spot to go on a quick supply run before you head back to the house after a day of goats…

In sum: 

Carl Sandburg’s only known poem about goats, despite a life time of living with them. I get the impression he wasn’t much on the species…

The sober-faced goat crops grass next to the sidewalk.
A clinking chain connects the collar of the goat with a steel pin
driven in the ground.
Next to the sidewalk the goat crops November grass,
Pauses seldom, halts not at all, incessantly goes after the grass.

—Carl Sandburg
from “Suburban Sicilian Sketches”

GEORGIA: Germany in Georgia

I once spent a very odd evening watching my husband play RISK (a board game of world domination) with his coworkers. The *ahem* winner *ahem* of this board game was a very nice and very german guy who choose to start out in:

A. Germany

B. Playing all the black pieces

C. Then proceeded to wage a nasty and bloody campaign of lightning destruction across the entire world map culminating in the unabashedly brutal subjugation of even his own wife while taunting the rest of the players for being inferior.

For a less…awkward…outing with your coworkers, check out Helen, GA – a rather embarrassing tribute to the only other things we Americans know about Germany – that it has fancy pastries, odd architecture, and lederhosen.

Oh, and outside this fake german town are some cool waterfalls.

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The German bakery in Helen, Georgia

Is it goat approved? I’d keep the goat at home for this one, unless you plan to teach it how to yodel.

How you get there: These hikes are all in the Helen diaspora. Google Helen,  then google Duke’s Creek Waterfall, its next door neighbor Raven Cliff Falls, and the famous Anna Ruby Falls north of Helen.

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Raven Cliff Falls Parking: 34.709535, -83.789066 (4.9 miles round trip out and back)

Duke’s Creek Falls Parking:  34.702030, -83.789232 (2.2 miles round trip out and back)

Anna Ruby Falls:  34.757196, -83.710484 (1 mile round trip)

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 8 miles to go out and back to Duke’s Creek, Raven Cliff, and Anna Ruby Falls in total. Plus however much walking of the pseudo-german town of Helen, Georgia you are interested in.

Best season to do this hike: Spring or Fall. Avoid Oktoberfest because it raises the DUI rate and the traffic. Avoid summer because, well, where else are people going to go for a good time than a beer garden in Helen?


Trails to Take

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS

An easy trail winding along the river from the parking area to a final climb to the falls.

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Raven Cliff Falls

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DUKE’S CREEK FALLS

A continuous downward run with several switch backs. The climb back out is not hard, but continuous.

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Duke’s Creek Falls

Duke's Creek


ANNA RUBY FALLS

An easy uphill culminating in a very busy end platform.

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Anna Ruby Falls

Anna Ruby Falls

 

BE WARNED

  1. Anna Ruby Falls is $3 a head to get in regardless of how you get in, (car, walking, etc.) and is very popular. Go during an unpopular time.
  2. Duke’s Creek Falls is $4 a car to park, (its self service pay though). Raven Cliff Falls, its next door neighbor is free however.
  3. Helen, GA requires a $5 fee to park, though if you park behind the Hofer’s Bakery and get a spot its free so long as you are on the premises.
  4. For those into wildflowers check out the trilliums on the Anna Ruby Falls Trail.
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Anna Ruby Falls Trail trilliums

In sum: 

RISK is a game of world domination that teaches you a lot about your coworkers and the countries they come from.

Never challenge anybody from Germany or Africa. Ever.

 

GEORGIA: Check Out the Drought at John’s Mountain WMA

You may hear the recreational areas not devoted to the procurement of meat at John’s Mountian Wildlife Management Area called such unpleasant things as “The Pit” or “The Pocket”. I personally kept waiting on someone to refer to it as the “pimple”. Outside of a tremendously dry Fall they are probably absolutely delightful with all the neat water features listed on the map. Right now they look a bit like a government funded commercial to encourage water rationing though!

Is it goat approved? Not if you have a big goat. The trails are tight, especially the stairs to the falls.

How you get there: Google Pocket Rd, LaFayette, GA 30728. Then, look for the icon for “John’s Mountain Look Out Tower” to the west of this road. Google doesn’t show you the full gravel road up to the look out, but trust me, it’s there. If you drive down Pocket Road from the Villanow end the turning is well marked with a big sign that says “Look Out”. For the unfortunately named Pilcher’s Pond the pull off is south of the Look Out turn off about 1/2 a mile on your left.

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Time for hike: These are short sightseeing bits, so the most you can do is 5 miles to Keown Falls and back, and not even a mile to Pilcher’s Pond round trip.

Best season to do this hike: Any season but deer season as this is a WMA. Winter would probably be better because the views are better from the ridge line without leaves. Also, winter is rainy season in Georgia, so the falls might actually exist then.

Trails to Take

KEOWN FALLS

For Keown Falls, assuming your car related assets are up to it, drive up to the overlook parking area. You will know you are there because A. Continued driving plunges you to your doom and B. There’s a nice wooden overlook platform.

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Keown Falls when dry. You can just see the overlook above.

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Mountain Overlook At Parking Area

Then, lazy people can take the 1 mile trail down to the Keown Falls Loop, which is boring. You will find it on the opposite side of the parking lot from the overlook. Or you can take the 2.5 mile trail, which takes you past and over fun rocks and will have better winter time views. This is at the opposite end of the parking lot from where you entered, behind the unused trail kiosk and just beyond the radio tower building.

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Fall’s Overlook in summer

Either way, you end up at the Keown Falls Overlook, which in dry conditions, isn’t much of a view in terms of water, but has a gorgeous view of the valley. The rocky point behind it is also wonderful for views and nice burned out rocky terrain. To visit the Falls, descend the stairs beyond the overlook, and at the bottom go RIGHT. This trail is supposed to be a loop, but I never found the whole loop…the trail petered off into sun bleached overgrowth. It looked like it would be quite a climb to go around the whole thing.

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Overlook from rocky point above falls overlook

The falls should be dropping down from the roof of the first massive grotto you walk into. If it is dry, you will instead be in a very nifty cave. After you’re done taking selfies, return the way you came. The 1 mile trail on the way back to the parking lot is almost entirely up hill. There is also a side trail to nowhere that comes off of it.

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Map to Keown Falls  (not to scale)

 

PILCHER’S POND

More like Pilcher’s Puddle, this decimated body of water hosts more grasshoppers than stocked fish. However, it’s a nice little flat walk to do some exploring on. The first little pathetic pool of water is not the pond. You’re looking for the sort of pond that features on the bleak advertisements where the state government is trying to guilt trip you into conserving water!

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Pilcher’s dried out pond
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The man made watering hole that I guess makes up for the pond’s dryness
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Unmarked grave of a Pilcher family member at the pond
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Map to Pilcher’s Pond (not to scale)

BE WARNED

  1. The WMA hunting map is essentially useless. I have tried to mock up maps that more closely resemble the trails at the time of publication.
  2. The road to the overlook is not recommended for low ground clearance vehicles (i.e. your girl friend’s Mazda), or those with  bald tires, (your son’s second hand pickup). Or for any vehicle in heavy rain.
  3. Don’t walk up the gravel road to the overlook. The dust will suffocate you if a car comes by. Instead, take an off road trail.
  4. There are two trails to the falls. the one behind the parking lot is 1 mile one way. The one past the radio tower is 2.5 miles one way. Make your decision wisely.
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This trail system is part of the larger Pinhoti Long Distance Trail

In sum: We propose that Pilcher’s Pond be renamed “Pilcher’s Puddle” for the duration of the water rationing. Other options include “Pilcher’s Plain” or “The Disappointment of Pilcher”.

NORTH CAROLINA: Get Lost in the Labyrinth at Panthertown

If you survived high school after the 80s and hung out with the art kids, you have probably seen a really strange movie called “The Labyrinth”. This movie, for those not so unfortunate as to have set through it, includes David Bowie of all people as a goblin ruler dancing around in skin tight pants and 80s hair while the movie flashes back and forth between his surreal dance scenes and a teenage girl running through a giant, ugly maze populated by bizarre puppets. What can I say. It was the 80s.

The only real connection between this dreadful movie and Panthertown is that you will begin to feel like you got transported to an impossible labyrinth populated with random campers by some malignant forest spirit if you don’t bring a map for this one.

I personally recommend the map “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown, Bonas Defeat & Big Pisgah” for this trip as it shows both social and forest service trails, and you will need social trails to reach most of these waterfalls. However, the recommended map does NOT include the blaze colors for the forest service official trails. You can pick one up at the Mast General Store in Hendersonville, NC.

 

Is it goat approved? Panthertown lies in the Natahala NATIONAL  Forest Ranger district. Unlike state forests national forests do not require permits in North Carolina to bring single pack goats onto the property, (I did actually contact them to check). In later posts I will be up here again doing different trails with a four legged minion in tow!

How you get there: Google Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead. This is near Lake Toxaway. Follow google! But ignore it’s directions when you are on Cold Mountain Road…it doesn’t seem to know exactly where you are when you are driving that one.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is only around 3 miles. It is mostly out and back with LOTS of social trails, bushwhacking, and orienteering opportunities. This means it will take a lot longer than 3 miles usually does.

Best season to do this hike: Autumn is gorgeous. Summer can be kind of muggy and unpleasant. Winter is a viable option. Spring will net you some nice rhododendron blooms. In terms of traffic, summer and autumn are the most heavily trafficked, but on this route you can be guaranteed of meeting few people anyway since it utilizes a lot of off main trail pieces.

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Autumn in Panthertown at the powerline cut on trail #474 just before the switch backs

Trails to Take

The easiest way to get started on this waterfall rich hike is to walk straight down the gravel entrance road, and directly forward on Mac’s Gap Trail. You know you are on the right trail if not three seconds after passing off the gravel you are walking in a powerline cut and the trail runs directly beneath a tower holding up the powerlines. Continue on this trail looking for a side trail that may or may not be marked with pink ribbon that leads off through the mountain laurel. If the trail runs beside the river you’ve gone a bit too far – go back up hill and keep your eyes peeled.

Once you find this little social trail, continue following it through the mountain laurel along the river, with your ears open for the sound of waterfalls. Not more than a minute of walking after you get on the social trail you will hear Mack’s Falls. You can get down to the river via another social trail to check it out.

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Mack’s Falls

After you’ve enjoyed Mack’s Falls, continue down the river. You are listening for another waterfall now! The trail will be hard to follow in places, and it does climb up the hill sometimes if there is a sharp bend in the river that makes the bank too steep to follow. The next waterfall is Pothole Falls, which can be reached after about 5 minutes of mountain laurel crawling.

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Pothole Falls

After Pothole Falls just keep walking the river bank. The trail will become easier to walk, (fewer overhanging limbs and crawls under mountain laurel), and eventually you will start to hear people and lots of falling water. You are approaching School House Falls. At this point the social trail really truly looks like a trail. You will need to keep an eye out for a well worn trail heading DOWNHILL. The social trail you are currently on is going up hill – and that’s not where you want to go! The downhill trail you desire is BEFORE you are really on top of School House Falls. It is well worn.

Take this trail down and you will come up along side of School House Falls on the opposite bank from where the forest service trail reaches the falls. Usually there will be a lot of people here, so probably not the best place to stop for lunch. But the falls are cool.

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School House Falls

The trail continues on the opposite side of the river from where you came in on the social trail. This is a very well maintained trail with a boardwalk. Follow it. This should be trail 474. You will come up to a river crossing to your right. Ignore it. You want the second river crossing where the wooden bridge runs directly in front of you. Cross the bridge or use the gravel horse ford to the right of it. Either way you come up to the intersection of 474 (Panthertown Valley) and 451 (Powerline Road Trail).

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Warden’s Falls

You want to go right onto Powerline Road Trail (#451). Go up the mountain, pass North Road Trail (#453), and at a bend in the trail is a noticeable social trail leading down hill. This one will become faint as you go down, but listen for the waterfall. You will eventually reach Warden’s Falls. There is another social trail on the other side of Warden’s Falls that should go up to Devil’s Elbow Trail (#448). As memory serves it is at the TOP of the waterfall where you need to cross to find it.

Climb the steep, but short trail back up to Devil’s Elbow Trail. Go left, continuing down the trail. Look for your next social trail – which will lead you down to Jawbone Falls and Pitillo’s Pool. I found this trail the most difficult of all the social trails to follow. If you get lost, just keep heading down hill. There is a handy creek that if you hit upon it you can follow out to the river.

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Jawbone Falls and the Pitillo Pool

At this point you can go back out the way you came, or if like me you got kind of lost on your way in, follow the river bushwhack style. You’ll stumble on a campsite. Walk out of the campsite and into the river. There will be an obvious cascade down river, (Riding Ford Falls – not viewable) and across the river a large expanse of rock face and an obvious trail dumping out onto it. Walk down the river a few feet and look. You will see the actual forest service trail crossing just at the top of the cascade, (big holes among the mountain laurel). Stay on the east side of the river and walk up Riding Ford Trail (450) to Devil’s Elbow Trail (448). Go left, continuing down Devil’s Elbow.

This one will be more difficult. There are several drainage ditches running off the trail that look like social trails. Hint: If the trail ends after 5 feet…it is for drainage, not for people. After the drainage ditches end and you’ve walked for about 3-4 minutes, you should find the obvious social trail going down to Elbow Falls.

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Elbow Falls in Panthertown

After all the bushwhacking, you can easily return to the trailhead via Devil’s Elbow. Devil’s Elbow dead ends into another trail (#474), so hang a left to go back to the parking lot. There is a nice powerline cut based view before you reach all the switch backs.

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Trail Map At Trail Head

BE WARNED

  1. You will get lost. Everyone gets lost. Bring a good map specifically made for Panthertown and insure you have plenty of time to find your truck again. Or, alternatively, bring some extra food and see if one of the many campers in the forest will let you bunk with them for the night since your car is still mysteriously MIA.
  2. Bring a headlamp or light if you are planning to hike late in the day. The sun goes down fast in the mountains, and again, you’re probably going to be lost at some point.
  3. The usual thing about only let the water fall off the top of the waterfall and not you, your dog, or your sucker eating dependents.
  4. The parking area is small. Plan to park on the gravel access road instead of parking at the almost guaranteed to be filled parking lot.
  5. Watch for pink or orange ribbons on trees as you walk. These generally, (but not always), mark the entrance to social trails that lead down to interesting things like waterfalls, pools, and good campsites.

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In sum: If your husband follows you through a blackberry and chimney thorn infested bushwack when he knows you are totally lost and don’t have a clue what you are doing – and still doesn’t complain, you owe him a pizza. Maybe 2 pizzas.

 

GEORGIA: Preserving History at Sawnee Mountain Nature Preserve

Need a short hiking fix? How about a morning out exploring some suburban history in Georgia? Just don’t go in the Fairy Garden…it’s the roughest neighborhood of Fair Folk around.

Is it goat approved? NO! This place doesn’t allow dogs or pets of any kind. Though oddly, it does allow small children, which are sort of the same thing.

How you get there: Google it. The parking lots are huge and easily spotted as you approach.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 3.5 miles round trip in a loop on Indian Seats. Don’t believe the trail map – this trail never gets above moderate. There aren’t any strenuous bits for those used to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Best season to do this hike: Any time. Though bare in mind the popularity of the place and the numerous events it holds if you want to avoid hiking the trail with half of Forsyth County.

Trails to Take

If you are parking at the main visitor center, go up to the visitor center, and on the right side of the building is a paved walk way with a ‘hiker sign’ you go down. Then take a sharp right away from the wooden swing and down hill to get on Laurel Trail Spur.

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The Tree House – That isn’t in the trees at all

This takes you past the “Tree house” which is really not in the trees but on a raised platform and seems to be not completely finished? Hard to tell, but an interesting building all the same.

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Entrance to the terrifying ghetto of winged thugs

Nearby is the “Fairy Garden” – the final proof that Girl Scouts isn’t nearly as cool as Boy Scouts. This is a small, winding trail to nowhere with a selection of bird houses, hot glue fairy houses, and a lot of what my husband and I termed “fairy shacks”, “fairy ghettos”, and “Fairy-ly Terrible Public Housing”. If so inclined, the area suggests you add onto this tent city of supernatural squatters by building some little stone and stick shacks of your own.

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North Goldmine Entrance

The Indian Seats trail heads off away from the entrance to the “Fairy Garden” to the left, and climbs up to the seats themselves by a series of switchbacks. Near the Yucca Trail intersection look to your left to see the entrance to a historical gold mine shaft. The southeast and the Appalachians was actually the location of the original gold rush. The quest for gold continued into the modern times, and South Carolina actually had active commercial goldmines until recently.

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View from Indian Seats outcropping

Beyond the mine shaft enjoy yet more switch backs until the trail comes up to a final intersection. You want to go left, towards the rocks and obvious overhang at this point. This is the location of “Indian seats” – a series of small but fun stone outcroppings crowning Sawnee Mountain.

When you’re done playing around, go back the way you came, back to that trail intersection, but then go straight. The rest of the way around, just stay on Indian Seats Trail. There is a small interpretive sign after you pass the lower parking lot talking about how the original gold miners on the property worked their claim that is a worth a visit. There is another mine shaft nearby, but in the summer with all the foliage I didn’t notice it.

Sawnee Nature Preserve Map

BE WARNED

  1. This place has only one weird rule – no dogs. But kids, crazy relatives, rednecks, and probably parrots should be fine.

In sum: Sometimes you need a short hike to deal with the damage you did on a long hike. This place is the perfect excuse to stretch the soreness out of your legs and spend a relaxing Sunday out with the less enthusiastic members of your family.

JAPAN: Tsuwano the Little Kyoto

Don’t get upset if you don’t have the cash to go to Kyoto. A great place to visit if you’re in the military (or if you are just in the area) is Tsuwano. Locally known as the “Little Kyoto” it gives you a taste of history and elegance without the trip on the shinkansen and the associated wallet drain and drama. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re the type of Japanophile that enjoys tracing the turbulent history of Christianity in Japan.

Location: Tsuwano, Japan

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Tsuwano valley

How you get there: At 2 hrs or so from  Iwakuni, this place is best located using GPS. However, if you get lost, remember that your local 7 Eleven in Japan is the place to get directions, even for those who only know a few words of Japanese. Americans could learn a thing or two from the patience of Japanese convenience store employees.

Time for trip: Plan on the whole day. If you are going during apple season, plan on a leisurely train ride too.

Best season to do this hike: My sister says during apple season (read: Fall) you can ride a historic steam train up to the town. She says it’s well worth the experience, especially if you’re from out of country. Avoid August, which is the month for the most miserable hot steamy weather in Japan, but otherwise this place is beautiful year around.

Overview of Places You Have to See

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Shrine to the  martyrs of Tsuwano, stature commemorating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a martyr left to die of exposure in an iron cage

The Historic Christian Locations

Christianity was not a tolerated religion in Japan up into the mid 1800s, (those in power feared that it would undermine traditional Japanese social structures, for instance, by not allowing ritualized suicide, among other less dramatic issues). When the last jesuit was kicked out of the country, though, some “hidden Christians” remained, continuing to practice the christian faith, (and some of these communities managed to persist until the reintroduction of Christianity to Japan hundreds of years later). Shogunate officials attempted to root out these Christians through various means, most of which were not exactly nice, (by crucifixion, starvation, death through exposure, etc.). Tsuwano is the site of the martyrdom of 25 (or 30 something, the numbers seem to vary) hidden Christians, mostly through starvation and exposure to cold. When the Buddhist temple that owned the land went defunct the Catholic church purchased it and placed a shrine there in honor of the martyrs and in particular in honor of a martyr who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary that gave him the strength to endure and not renounce his faith.

To reach this location you will need to look for a skinny, poorly marked trail going out past the walls of some houses on the outskirts of Tsuwano before you get into the main part of town. The trail weaves through the houses, then up a classic Japanese skinny concrete staircase, eventually reaching the little clearing with the chapel and shrine. This shrine is on the north end of town, at GPS coordinates 34.472759, 131.770760. There are modern Christians living in Tsuwano now, and they have their own church and worship facilities in the main part of the town.

The Inari Shrine

The local Inari Shrine has its own flight of twisting stairs covered in vermilion torii gates, reminiscent of the more famous string of gates in Kyoto. However, the shrine itself is still pretty famous despite not being in Kyoto.  Known as 太皷谷稲荷神社, (Taikodani Inari Jinja), it is considered one of the five greatest Inari shrines in the country. Drop by for a visit to enjoy the beautiful shrine grounds and maybe pick up a talisman or two for the folks back home. Make sure you keep an eye out for the stone foxes around the shrine – these unusual beasts are the traditional guardian of all Inari shrines. For a more traditional experience of shrine going in Japan, try O-mikuji. O-mikuji are strips of paper containing a fortune retrieved from a box after typically a 5 yen coin donation. If the fortune is good, you take it home with you. If the fortune is bad, leave it tied to the nearby rack (see photos), so the bad luck stays at the shrine and doesn’t follow you home! Alternatively, purchase an offering of fried tofu, (rumored to be the favorite of the sacred foxes), and a candle to light.

The Sake Breweries and Old Town

If you’re going with someone from the military, (or from the northeast), take time to visit the local sake breweries located in the old town. Free samples are available and brewery employees are used to dealing with tourists who only know a few words of Japanese. The old town itself is beautiful, (and very picturesque), with its stone streets, white washed walls, and koi filled water channels.

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Old Town

BE WARNED!

  1. There really aren’t many restrooms in town open to the public. If you go to a restaurant make sure you use it then!
  2. This is Japan. For those used to the Appalachians, expect more climbing, twisty, safety rail devoid stairs than any one island should ever contain. If you have a bad knee, bad lungs, or must avoid exercise for some other reason realize that there are no short flights of stairs in Japan – when you start up you are committing to a prolonged, steep climb. Know before you go!
  3. The heron dance (summer) and the horse back archery (spring) attract a lot of tourists. If you want a more leisurely experience of Tsuwano avoid coming on the dates these events are held.
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The thing American’s most associate Japan with (other than anime or sushi) could be koi. These guys reside in channels running down Tsuwano’s historic streets, and there are vending stations for koi feed on the south end of town if you just have to fatten them further.

In sum: It takes days to explore Kyoto, but just one day to enjoy this gem.

UTAH: Ponder Prehistoric Petroglyphs in Canyonlands

The desert is like a giant, open air museum, preserving things that have long since passed away. While the pueblo builders may be more widely recognized, near Moab, Utah is another, older mark of ancient human settlement in the form of petroglyphs at Horseshoe Canyon.

(I have used a map from Climb Utah as my park map has disappeared. They have some great information on this location too so check them out! http://climb-utah.com/Roost/horseshoe.htm)

Location: Canyonlands, near Moab, Utah. Specifically Horseshoe Canyon.

How you get there: You can reach Horseshoe Canyon trailhead with a 2 wheel drive vehicle, but you will have to be careful in spots doing so. Your best bet is to google the location and check the park website as road conditions change. The trail head has a kiosk which helps make it obvious, and you park practically right on the rim of the canyon.

Time for hike: The distance is 7 miles roundtrip, but expect to take about 2-3x as long as you usually do to cover this distance due to heat, the number of petroglyphs to check out, and the sandy bottom terrain.This is an out and back hike to the Grand Gallery. 

Best season to do this hike: Early morning, or really any time it’s going to be cool!

Trails to Take

When you get to the trail head the trail heads off down the side of the canyon, looping past an old stock water tank that used to be for sheep.

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Old sheep stock tank waterer

As you continue, keep an eye out on the trail for dinosaur foot prints. The park rangers who come through often arrange a circle of stones around them to make them easier to spot.

While the map below gives you a general idea of where the cool stuff is, the easiest way to find the petroglyphs is to just bring a buddy and one person takes one wall and another one takes the other. The buffalo panel is kind of behind a rock sitting below the canyon wall, and the alcove panel is actually in a cut out alcove on the side of the canyon wall.

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While you can travel beyond the Grand Gallery, keep in mind how much time you have to get back to the car and the fact that the forestry service won’t come rescue you if you go much beyond it.

BE WARNED!

  1. While this should be obvious from all the signage and stuff, the petroglyphs are no touch. And don’t carve your own initials in the wall next to them (like some guys in the 1800’s did). But I put it here anyway because you will be fined out the whazoo and I actually work with some people who would touch the petroglyphs. Note these are not the people I take hiking with me.
  2. Start early. If you end up starting the trail late, pick a nice shady spot and wait till the evening to hike out. I did quite an impressive near death experience on the hike out because I was too stupid to wait…and we never did see the Japanese guy with the camera we hiked out with come off the trail…
  3. Their is a semi-feral cattle herd wandering the area above the canyon rim, which includes a number of uncastrated bulls that have a distressing tendency to stand in the middle of the road.
  4. If you are driving a 2 wheel drive vehicle watch out for patches of sand on the road in.
  5. There is no water out here. None. Bring a lot, (we consumed over a gallon on the hike) and make sure you have a way to keep it cool, (overheated water plagued our trip).
  6. Dogs are not allowed (but equids are)
  7. There is a ranger posted at the Grand Gallery who helps keep the rock art in pristine condition and can lend you binoculars if you want an up close and personal investigation of the petroglyphs. He’s also the guru for other exciting petroglyph locations in the area.
  8. While you can probably do the 30 miles in with a 2 wheel drive vehicle if you have experience driving on challenging dirt roads and sand, bring the 4 wheel drive if you have it.
  9. A unique thing about canyons in this part of the world is they can flash flood when there isn’t a cloud in the sky if there is rain coming down in the mountains or further up the canyon. So check the weather before you walk into a canyon with walls so high you can’t climb out in a hurry.
  10. This is definitely a human only hike! While I may take goats in many many places that goats probably don’t belong, this area is home to goat related wild species. The park service will not appreciate the presence of domesticated caprines in the vicinity.

In sum: If Facebook existed in prehistory it probably looked something like the petroglyphs at Canyonlands. Imagine liking Mr. He Who Calls the Wind’s carvings of his most recent buffalo hunt.

MAINE: Cold in Acadia

Acadia is a strange place for weather. All winter it freezes and snows, and when the thaw comes it rains…pretty much forever. Then, just before tourist season the clouds part, the sun’s God rays descend, and all is right with the world for 1 glorious week. Until the hordes of campers, RVs, and senior outings begin and the silence of the forest becomes a cacophony of screaming kids, barking dogs, and exhausted parents that you just want to give a pat on the back to for putting up with all of it. .

For those into wildlife, the section of Acadia across the bay is well known for moose, and I personally had to break for a black bear right outside of Bar Harbor. There are cruises that leave from Bar Harbor for seals and puffins (or take your kayak out after the hike). For those into science, this is the home base for Jackson Labs. Finally,  for those into history and horses, this is a great stop to enjoy historic trails and buildings, and with a little creativity you can make this touristly tame trip both fun and challenging.

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Sand Beach stop on the park road

Location: Acadia National Park, Maine

How you get there: If you’re coming up for an overnight trip, check out Blackwoods Campground. With the tree cover it stays reasonably comfortable and protected from the early hiking season rain. If you come just before the tourist season this campground is pretty much deserted, and you have the place to yourself. But remember these campgrounds do not have showers! You’ll need quarters to use the showers just outside the campground gates, and this is expensive!

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Blackwood Campground

Time for hike: The distance is approximately 12 miles.This is a loop hike.

Best season to do this hike: Just before the tourist season starts in May. The winter is good for skii joring but a lot of stuff is closed. The summer just has too many people for me.

Trails to Take

While it’s been a while since this trip, (what? I’m working on updating things as they happen rather than like 5 years afterwards), I still say the best place to start a hike is the Tarn. The tarn is a little stagnate sort of pond off the side of Route 3 when you are headed into Bar Harbor from the campground. Has some beaver living on one end. There is a pull off to park on the Bar Harbor end, so park there and get ready to spend all day doing this hike!

 

 

The trail takes you along the backside of the Tarn, hoping from rock to rock (this is Kane Path). Mark East Face Dorn Trail because that’s how the trail will come back. This is a fun trail to also go up because of the huge rock fall which someone has arranged into rustic stairs and a hidden pool that if you are here in the summer would make an awesome place to cool off.

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Hidden pool off East Face Dorn Trail

Continue on Kane Path until you get to the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail. This trail is an easy peasy hike over rock faces to the visitor center at the top of Cadillac Mountain, which has food/drink/clothing, (the last is important if your hiking buddy came under dressed), as well as a great panoramic view. Another hidden gem though, is that at this trail intersection is a small, beautiful pond with a bench. There are also lady slippers (pink & white) in this area. Of all the places we visited in Acadia this pond is the only place I visited twice intentionally.

Hidden pond

Kane Path will eventually enter into this maze of smaller trails that are clearly intended for the more casual hiker (sand surfaced with steps). The point here is you just want to keep heading for the park road, so choose the trail that takes you that way. You want to cross the park road, and take the trail around Jordan Lake. You will pass by Jordan Pond House, which is at the end of a long field. This trail around the pond is great! While there are many many people, much of the trail is this odd raised boardwalk which is both novel and kind of fun at the same time (but may be difficult to traverse with dogs).

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Low end of the boardwalk..it gets up to several feet off the ground

At the far end of Jordan Lake is another parking area on the side of the park loop road. Get to this parking area, then cross the road, (you are now leaving the tourist areas). Ahead of you is the most challenging part of the hike. This trail leads up (if memory serves) to a short rock face, which you MUST CLIMB in order to continue. If it has been raining for several days this will require a rope, a friend, and possibly a bit of tenacity. The trail continues over rock faces that you can slide down and fall off of if wet, (and you probably won’t die but you will break something). Once these rock faces end it’s pretty boring and mundane though.

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Jordan Lake

You want to climb up to the top of Pemetic Mountain, then at the trail intersection go down again to Bubble Pond. This is a pretty pond with nice picnic areas, and a good place to leave a spare car if you only want to do a portion of the hike. On the other side of the pond the trail continues, and the climb to the top of Cadillac (the highest point on the island) begins. Continue up, and you’ll intersect with the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail and you can go up to the visitor’s center/overlook.

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Note rock face trail marker style

Once you’re done snapping photos, you can return down the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail to take the trails you took on the way in, or you can get on that little loopy trail at the top of the mountain, find where Gorge Path intersects, and take that on the more direct (but steeper and more challenging) path back to the tarn via Schiff Path and then East Face Dorr Trail. Then it’s just a little tired rock hopping back on Kane Path to the parking area.

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Rock fall stairs on East Face Dorr Trail

 

 

BE WARNED!

  1. You will need quarters to take showers – campgrounds in Acadia National Park don’t have shower facilities, but private facilities exist just outside the campground gates. These are pretty expensive though, so imagine you’re on a lunar mission with a limited water supply and soap up before you get in!
  2. If you are from a warm climate (anything below NC in the southeast) you need hoodies, rain coats, rain pants, and multiple changes of everything so you can change out of wet clothes, (it rains here – a lot). I brought along a Floridian who got wet, didn’t get changed, and got hypothermia while on a hike. This is an expensive and stupid thing to do.
  3. The park loop road is a great drive, especially if its rainy and cold and you wuss out on hiking. But be careful…it runs only in certain directions and has only certain turn offs.
  4. If you got tickets to go out on a boat to see wildlife and lighthouses and wave at the lobster fisherman your trip may be canceled if the water is rough.
  5. Some of these trails are not exactly intermediate level hiking when wet. I have noted where you might want to keep the dogs/kids/wussy adults at home.
  6. Buy everything you need BEFORE you get on the island. Stuff is really expensive here! There is a backpacking store in Bar Harbor (along with about a zillion multicolored stuffed lobsters) if you absolutely have to have something.
  7. Definitely check out the Wild Gardens of Acadia, but the Jordan Pond House is overpriced and over visited. Get your lobster fix in Bar Harbor instead.
  8. If you really need to see a moose this trip (because you live in a place that only has white tailed deer) you want to go across the bay to the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park, which is accordingly to a local I once worked with, a hidden gem.
  9. Bring a tarp so you can cook and eat out of the rain!
  10. Make sure your tents are water proof, including the floor! We went through 2 tents on this trip and had to buy a tarp to go over the second one because they were waterproofed enough for SC/NY but were not good enough for Maine. We had floor leaks and roof leaks and just lots and lots of general leaks!
  11. Don’t do the above hike if it has been raining for weeks. You won’t be able to get up the rocks in places.
  12. The gravel carriage trails in the park are amazingly boring
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A local puffin

 

In sum: Puffins are edible. But they only eat them in Iceland where, presumably, they would otherwise have to eat ice.