Once again the family has gone to the beach house to celebrate the coming New Year. Last year I intended to do some hiking on January 1st, but that turned out to be a bad idea as I was to hung over from the night before to even think about going for a hike. This year I got smart, I hiked before the festivities began while I still was still feeling good.
I was thinking about the Seashore Park but I couldn’t find it on the map, not sure if it is still around, and just decided to hike another park. To the north of Rehoboth Beach I found the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge which is over 10,000 acres of freshwater and salt marshes, woodlands, grasslands, scrub-brush habitats, ponds, bottom land forested areas, a 7-mile long creek, and agricultural lands. Only 30 minutes from the house this would provide all the nature I could handle for the day.
The weather was rather mild for being almost January, mid 50’s but overcast, so at times it did get a little chilly. I parked near the entrance and decided to combine a few trails and hike the perimeter of the refuge, taking in all the various types of terrain the park had to offer. One think I noticed early one was all the deer blinds positioned around the park. I could understand why they where placed there as I ran across two deer while trekking through the woods towards one of the ponds. I came across many birds like this, just stumble across them. I rounded one corner and found 4 turkey vultures sitting on an electrical pole, two of them with their wings spread wide. I was amazed at how large these birds are and that they allowed me to approach so close.
At the extreme end of the park there is an observation tower that overlooks much of the marsh. Here there are several bird blinds, one of which I saw was occupied. I was fortunate to go during the migration season and saw several flocks of hundreds of snow geese fly by. Several species of ducks were also using the pond. It was incredible to see hundreds of birds flying over head. As soon as one wave was done, another would come in. Fortunately for the ducks they stayed well clear of the bird blind.
In addition to the numerous bird blinds for hunting they have a singular photography booth along one of the marshes. It was empty when I arrived so I took the opportunity to smoke a cigar and wait for some birds to show up. All day I had seen only a few birds, most of the waterfowl would fly away long before I could get close enough for a picture. I could tell they are not use to humans so I figured the blind would provide plenty of cover and allow me to get some good shots. After almost an hour no birds came near the blind. The few I did see would land on the other side of the pond, well out of range of my camera. I could see coming early in the morning or even taking a small boat to the one of the bird blinds in the marsh and waiting for some birds. It would be long time to wait, but I think the shots I could get would make the waiting worth it.
By now the sun was setting and the temperature was starting to dip. I completed my loop of the refuge and headed back to my car. The final leg of my walk is a long straight fire road that reminds me of my hike at Pinckney Island. This is another wildlife refuge that has some great marsh land outside of Hilton Head, SC. Prime Hook didn’t have the low hanging fog with the sun streaking in like Pinckney Island.
My hike took just over three hours and I managed to hike 4 miles according to my GPS unit. I certainly could have hiked further but I spent much of my time going off trail trying to find some waterfowl and almost an hours in the photo blind waiting for birds that never showed. This is a great place to hike during migratory season as you will be able to see many many bird species as they pass through town on their way south.
I was hoping to hike Uwharrie National Forest in North Caroline but that plan got scrapped when my directions broke down and I couldn’t find any trails. I searched for almost two hours before I finally gave up and just headed to Raleigh. While in Raleigh I did a search for parks between Raleigh and Portsmouth founding the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, about thirty minutes from Portsmouth. A little research revealed the land was donated from a paper company, Union Camp Corporation, to “the American people forever.” I don’t know why they donated over 49k acres of land, but any time land is donated for the public domain, I am grateful.
The hike is only a few miles back and forth to a lake in the middle of the park and it took me just a few hours to finish it. Even thought it is a straight shot from the parking lot to the lake I found many things to photograph. I tried to get some shots of people enjoying the park and a few of the trail. I just loved the cart path look and feel of the trail. There were two gravel tracks with grass in the middle and either side. When the light was just right, the grass was bright green and everything just popped.
About halfway down the trail, I am just listening to nature, when I hear rustling of the leaves next to me. I look up and across the canal to find two bear cubs scurrying up a tree. I didn’t know it but I must have scared them and what I heard was the cubs climbing up the tree for safety. The first think that went through my head was “Kick ass, bear cubs.” My second thought was “Shit, bear cubs.” I know that mother bears can be very protective of their cubs and I was only 25′ from them. I quickly scanned the ground to see if the mother was near and I perked my ears to hear any rustling in the bushes. I soon realized, to my relief, that the canal was between the bears and myself. Not that she couldn’t swim, but I figured at best it would possible slow her down.
Realizing my opportunity was quickly slipping away, the danger of me being mauled a lot less, I quickly lifted my camera and started snapping shots of the bears in the tree. The foliage was thick so it was hard to focus on the bears, but I did my best. For a moment they both just grabbed the tree for dear life. Eventually they looked down, probably toward their mother, who gave them the all clear to come down. They shimmied down and disappeared into the woods. I wish I hadn’t snuck up on them, I would have loved some shots of them just being bears, doing what bears do. I was thankful for the pictures I did get and that I was not attacked. My heart was racing the whole time, it was amazing.
After my bear encounter the rest of the trail almost seemed boring. I got to the lake which was calm with overcast clouds so it gave everything a dark. I didn’t have access to a weather report so I was hoping that it was not going to rain at the show that night. I had a lawn seat and I hate getting rained on in my old age. I stayed for a while and took some pictures of the lake and surrounding area but needed to get to Portsmouth for the Phish show that night.
On such short notice it was a decent hike but with only a few things to see. Running into the bear cubs certainly made it a memorable trip, but not much else. There are other trails that wind through the forest so I might try one of them next time I am passing through town.
It is becoming a regular affair for me to take a vacation in winter to warmer weather. For the longest time I thought this was something only old people did, but I am starting to like it. Last year Nancy and I went to Honolulu and we missed a snow storm while gone. This year we headed to Hilton Head for a short family trip. My aunt and uncle, Rose and Mike, flew in from LaCrosse and along with my Dad and Pat we headed down for some fun in the sun.
Nancy and I got a rental car and drove down on Saturday. We couldn’t afford to fly and neither of our cars are good for long haul driving, so rental it was. I got a Dodge Caliber from Enterprise, not a very impressive car, but it got 30 miles per gallon and was comfortable to drive. After the 10 hour trek down to Hilton Head we were very happy to get out of the car and do a little partying. When we arrived the rest of the family was already there and waiting for us. They had brought with them some wine and beer, but we had the food!
After unwinding from the long trip and catching up into the wee hours of the morning, it was time for bed. Nancy and I as the odd couple on the trip, got stuck with the pull out couch. But considering room was free and a lot of the food and drinks were paid for it was still a hell of a deal. The biggest thing was just getting there.
Sunday we stayed pretty close to the hotel and got our bearings straight. We hit Harbour Town for a few hours and stayed for lunch. Well it was actually a bunch of appetizers as we bellied up to the bar. I had a great opportunity to walk around the harbor and get some pictures of the water, the boats in the harbor, and lots of water fowl. We also hit Coligny Beach for our first taste of sand and sea. Unfortunately the water temperatures was way to cold to enjoy it, but the perfect late afternoon weather made it fun to walk around. We also got our first ice cream from a local shop near the beach. Over the entire trip we got ice cream 3 or 4 times total.
Monday was a rain day. We checked the weather the night before and it was not looking good. When we got up it was absolutely pouring outside and we planned accordingly. We got a late start and headed to the outlet malls just off the island for a little shopping. Here I got some stuff from Banana Republic, I love that place, and of course some more ice cream. On the way back to the island we stopped at the only winery on the island to taste some wine. We knew they didn’t grow their own grapes, come to find out they get them from Virginia. We drove all this way to sample Virginia wine. After sampling we stopped at the Hilton Head Brewing Company for happy hour beer and appetizers. The place was empty and the beer was nothing to write home about. Fortunately the pub was in a mecca for restaurants. We ate at One Hot Mama’s which had excellent BBQ and our night cap at Reilly’s Grill and Bar, an Irish pub next to that. Having happy hour drinks, dinner, and after dinner drinks at three different place and not having to drive any where was great.
Tuesday was an early morning for myself. I wanted to do a little hiking while on vacation and picked Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge as my place to explore. Four thousand acres of marsh land, this collection of islands is protected land just over the bridge from Hilton Head. When I arrived it was just after 7am, the sun was peaking over the horizon and provided some great shots. The sky was bright orange and the calm water reflected the orange color from the sky.
I hiked for several hours around the island and had a blast. Birds provided the sound track for my hike and kept me company for most of my hike. Time didn’t allow me to walk deep into the island like I wanted. We where headed to Savannah for the day and I wanted to catch up with everyone as soon as possible. Just as I was leaving the park I sent a message to my Dad and Nancy letting them know I was on my way, and not a moment to soon. I got a reply back from Nancy saying they where just about to leave but would wait for me to arrive. After a quick shower we were off to Savannah with our own personal guide Nancy who lived there for many years.
The short drive through back country roads dumped us right in the heart of old town and the tourist district. We walked along Market Street which is several blocks of open air restaurants, bars and tiny shops selling all sorts of goods. It was lively, if it was summer and later in the evening the place would have been packed with people, filled with noise and a breath of life. We then walked down some steep steps to River Street and the water front. Here we did some shopping at some crazy little boutique shops and ate at the Shrimp Factory for lunch.
After several hours we headed back to the car with a quick stop at the Lady and Sons restaurant. Rose is a big Paula Deen fan so we stopped by to snap a few pictures. Being early in the afternoon we headed to Tybee Island on Nancy’s recommendation. We saw the light house they have there, and promptly got kicked out because of a private event. Oh well, we didn’t want to see your stupid light house any how. Then it was off to the beach and a walk along the pier with another scoop of ice cream for the drive back to the hotel.
Wednesday and our last full day on vacation, this time we had to blow it up like it was 1999. Another day trip, we headed to Charleston and some more old house and water front property. Getting there was much longer and we actually got lost getting downtown, once we made it to the parking garage things fell into place. We walked along a water front park and the pier taking in the spectacular view. Then along the city streets to get a better feel for the old city. Everyone wanted to take a carriage ride which Nancy and I elected to skip. We didn’t get all the history of the city, nor the guided tour. We just walked up and down the streets checking things out on our own guided tour.
We hit Washington Park, a small park with a monument to different confederate Civil War battles, kinda odd to me, but then again this is the deep South. We also hit several art museums to check out some local work. Only a few of the pieces we saw were worth buying, but not at the prices they wanted. We where also on the look out for a restaurant for lunch when we meet backup with everyone else. There were a ton of great places but most didn’t open till 4 or 5 in the afternoon. We eventually found an old church that was turned into a restaurant and bar. We kept joking about how we where all going to hell and that it was probably the Catholic’s that sold the church, to make a buck.
As the day wore on the weather turn for the worse. The clouds moved in adding a chill to the air and soon rain would start falling. We made one final stop at Market Street to check out what local vendors had to offer, unfortunately not a lot. A short walk back to the cars as it started to drizzle and then we where off. When we arrived back we relaxed and cooked our last meal together, none of us felt like going out for dinner. We did head out for a night cap back at Reilly’s Irish pub and closed the placed down.
The next morning everyone was up early to see Nancy and I off. The rest of the crew was headed to Williamsburg for a few days of history. We wish we could have joined them, but I needed to get back by 7pm for my DB class and we both had work to catch up on Friday. It was fantastic spending the five days with my family in Hilton Head. First time there, I would consider going back again. Maybe next time when it was a little warmer so we could enjoy the ocean a little more.
I normally don’t hike places back to back. But after last weeks hike with Nancy to Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge I thought I would hike it again and spend a little more time here. So I grabbed a cigar and my camera and set out for my hike. Again the lot was pretty empty. This time around the weather was back to an average 40 degree for February.
I wanted to do a little exploring so I started by hiking the back trails first, eventually working my way to the new observation building. I could see on the map that at the furthest point south there was another “observation deck” and wanted to see what it had to offer. According to the map it over looked another portion of the marsh with more of an cove. When I got there I was a little disappointed by what I found, it was not an observation deck at all. Mearly a bench that over looked the marsh, not even a good section of the marsh.
With a little exploring I found the trail continued on into the marsh. This portion of the trail has long sense been abandoned, but the foot path makes it obvious it once went this way. This section takes you right up to the edge of the marsh, much better view than the bench provided. From this spot you were eye level and I got some really good shots from here. At one time it looks like the trail might have crossed over the marsh to the other bank.
I have a feeling that when the Bald Eagles numbers started to recover they closed off portions of the park to protect their habitat. Part of the loop is actually cut off because of nesting Bald Eagles, glad to know they take this stuff seriously. I love that I can visit this park and walk around, but I wouldn’t want to “kick out” nature for my personal enjoyment. Closing off sections of the park is acceptable to me if I know the Bald Eagle has a better chance of recovery.
Back to my hike. After getting some good shots at the bottom of the loop I headed north to the observation building. I wanted to hang out here with my camera for a while and just relax. Since the park was empty I also wanted to relax with a fine cigar and just enjoy nature, take in the beauty and sounds of the wildlife refuge. I spent over an hour at the new observation building taking photos, chilling, and smoking my cigar. I even ate lunch while I was there.
After a lot of time in the wildlife refuge it was time to head back to my truck. It was a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. I didn’t really get much done, but I felt good doing it!
Had perfect weather over the weekend so of course that means hiking! In the middle of February we had 60 degree highs on Sunday so Nancy and I went to Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge for a quick hike. I have been to Mason Neck once before to hike the State Park, but not the wildlife refuge.
We got a late start on Sunday so I was afraid the tiny parking lot would be filled, on such a nice day there were only 5 other cars in the lot. We started down the Great Marsh loop trail headed towards the observation building. The trail was muddy as hell, even though it had not rained for about a week, but that’s what hiking boots are for.
When we made it to the observation building that over looks the great marsh it was a great surprise. This was a brand new building, so new you could still see wood dust from all the boards used to make it. A covered building about 10′ square, it has a great view of the Great Marsh. The building has some benches so it’s a great way to spend a little time with nature without roughing it to much. On this day the water level was pretty low with not much activity. All that was in the marsh were a few Canadian Snow Geese, just hanging out, sleeping in the mud.
After some time spent at the observation building we walked further down the trail making a big loop back to the parking lot. There is not much variety in the refuge, but as a short easy hike near my house it is a winner. I would love to see this place during migratory season. I can only imagine how many bird species would amass in the marsh at that time. I would also love to come back for a cigar and a little solitude.