Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Add Hearing the Elk Bugle to Your Bucket List

Since I discovered it was a thing, it was on my bucket list: hearing the bull elk bugle during rutting season.

I'd visited Clearfield County a couple times already and had seen a herd of elk cows and calves grazing in a meadow -- and yes, that was an amazing thing, in and of itself. Elk for us suburbanites, are a rarity.

Even black bears are more common than elk on the East Coast, unless, of course, you live near Elk Country.

A return visit to Clearfield County was planned around the elk. During the visit, I went several times up to the Elk Country Visitors Center, to see and hear them bugle.

Have I said it was amazing? I mean, goosebumps on the arms amazing. It's a cool noise.

And how ironic that local residents view the elk, and the visitors who come to see them, as nuisances -- probably the way we view the deer that annually nibble our hosta and petunias down to little sad nubs. But after having visited, I understand: cars pulled off on the sides of roads to view the beasts, or worse, just stopped in the middle of the road to gawk.

Thus, we're reminded that as visitors and tourists: we should bring more good than bad to those who live year round in Benezette, PA: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps and our dollars at local inns, hotels, boutiques and restaurants.

There are several viewing areas, but stop first at the Elk Country Visitors Center. Check out the exhibits, get the information about the elk and learn why they're so rare -- and learn about efforts to restore the herd. Then consider checking out the Winslow Hill Viewing Area, or continuing along the road to other viewing areas where elk are commonly seen.

Tips for your visit:
  1. Go early and go often. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing and listening times. Of course, it's less crowded in the morning, but still a surprising number of folks were there. 
  2. If you're headed up there at dusk, head up around 4:30 to 5 p.m. to grab a parking spot, but plan to stay a couple hours.
  3. Wear jackets and bring gloves. Even on a warmish day, it gets chilly quickly as the sun goes down. Dress for the weather.
  4. Wear sensible shoes. You'll be standing for a bit, waiting for them to come within sight (you'll hear them before you see them).  
  5. Elk are wild animals and with (or without) a full set of antlers, can be dangerous. Oh yeah, and they're big, so they've got the Law of Tonnage working on their side. Follow the directions of the visitors center staff, give these wild animals space, and don't get too close.

What to do while you're not viewing the elk? For a place "halfway to everywhere" but not really NEAR anywhere else, there's an impressive variety of things to do. For an overview of all there is to see and do there, click here or for more details about planning your stay, including where to eat, click here.
Know before you go: Benezette is a 25-minute drive from Dubois, where there are a number of places to lodge for the night. My recommendation? Definitely stay the night at Depot at Doolittles for an amazing experience in one of the cabooses or the Presidential Suite (which can accommodate up to 6 people). But there's also several bed and breakfast inns as well.

Getting there: Elk Country Visitors Center is located at 134 Homestead Drive, Benezette, PA; Winslow Hill Viewing Area is located at 2313 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette, PA.

Hours: Elk Country Visitors Center is open Thursday thru Monday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Website: http://elkcountryvisitorcenter.com

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hiking the Buzzard Rock - Sawmill Trail Loop in Patapsco Valley State Park

Buzzards Rock and Sawmill Trail Loop is a 5 mile loop trail in the Patapsco Valley State Park that has multiple "pay-offs," including a pretty view from Buzzards Rock, from which you can see the Patapsco River below; even from that distance you can hear the falls.

There are some breath-taking inclines and declines, but even so, it's only moderate difficulty.

However, this state park is sandwiched between densely populated suburban areas and is a heavily used park -- we're literally loving this beautiful park to death.

And because of the heavy use and probably because of all the mountain bikers, there are multiple trails that look totally legit but which are not blazed, and this makes it REALLY easy to take the wrong trail and find yourself heading somewhere else completely. It's frustrating.

We had to turn around a couple of times, and finally I turned on my Alltrails app and followed that instead of depending on blazes.

Don't let that deter you from experiencing this hike and the others that this incredible park offers. Just know you won't find solitude and ensure your phone has a full battery for when you need to rely on GPS to help you find the right trail.

From the parking lot at the trail head, head in, bearing straight, following the yellow blazes, which will shortly take you to Buzzard Rocks.

Then you follow the trail through some pretty hollows as the trail follows the contour of the mountain. There are mild ups and downs that get your blood moving nicely.

We saw two deer who were not particularly impressed -- or scared -- by us. Several mountain bikers passed us, but all were courteous and grateful as we stepped off the trail to let them by.

You come near train tracks before heading down to follow the Grist Mill Trail briefly, before taking a sharp left under the viaduct carrying the railroad. This is where we veered from the trail, as there were LOTS of folks on the Grist Mill Trail, and it was still a time of physical distancing, so we avoided the really steep trail drop down to the Grist Mill Trail and walked along the railroad tracks.

That's probably not a recommended course of action, possibly trespassing, so I don't advise doing this. Still, it was lovely being up there alone (just the two of us) and it was kind of magical.

I'm sorry a train didn't come by! As we walked along the tracks, though, we could see down to the Grist Mill Trail and saw where the trail cuts to the left under the viaduct.

Just on the other side of this tunnel is trestle bridge over the Patapsco River and Ilchester Road.

Obviously a lot of other have been taking the same route, as there was a little trail on the opposite side of the tracks, which led to the Saw Mill Trail. We descended the stairs down to the creek to take some pictures.

At that point, we picked up the Saw Mill Trail, following the black or red blazes. Continuing on the yellow-blazed loop is a bit shorter, but I think you'll really enjoy the Saw Mill Trail, because it follows a frolicking creek that is absolutely breathtaking in a few places with lovely little waterfalls.

Remnants of the Old Main Line (B&O) Railroad aren't hard to find. At one point, the trail
uses the old railroad bed, and then again when it joins with the Gristmill Trail for a portion of the loop.

In fact, the sound of the water falls and a cool breeze from the water carrys you back up the hill. None of the inclines are particularly steep, but pretty much from the creek on, you're heading gently up hill.

For the park's trail map, click here.

Getting there: 20 South Hilltop Road, Catonsville, MD

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Avalon/Trail-Maps.aspx

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sunset at Trap Pond State Park

There's a meme floating around that states "The two best reasons for owning a kayak is sunrise and sunset."

Early morning and sunset are my favorite times to hit the water and Trap Pond, already one of the prettiest places for a paddle, is even lovelier when the shadows are long and the fading evening light dances across the water. 

Of course, photographs have long flocked to Trap Pond, where the northernmost stand of bald cypress remain, the last remnant of the freshwater wetlands that once covered vast portions of southern Delaware. (The bald cypress is a wetland tree adapted to areas of calm, shallow standing water.) 

We passed several, headed out as they were headed back in to the boat ramp, just as the last long rays of the sun were beginning to drape themselves over the bald cypress trees. 

It's not often we get a chance to kayak in a forest, but kayaking on Trap Pond allows you to float among the trees. 

We saw red-bellied turtles, heron, bull frogs (both saw and heard them), and various other birds and critters.

Mostly we just paddled among the bald cypress, admiring them and enjoying being the only ones out on the pond. 

We caught the last rays of the sun peeking between the trees. 

In the remaining light, we sighed and headed for the boat ramp.

Trap Pond State Park offers camping, hiking, biking, and canoeing and kayaking while exploring the natural beauty of the wetland forest. Hiking trails surround the pond, providing opportunities to glimpse native animal species and many flowering plants.

Getting there: 33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel, DE 19956

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to sunset

Website: http://www.destateparks.com/park/trap-pond/

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

History and Wonder at the Natural Bridge

I remember a photo of my grandmother posing, pretending to hold up a rock bridge in Virginia. My grandfather would often tell my grandmother to "pack for cold" or "pack for warm" depending on whatever destination he had in mind. And then they would set off for an adventure. He took my Nana all over the east coast (they lived in Jersey City).

I've wanted to go to this rock bridge for years -- called the Natural Bridge. Back then it was a roadside attraction run by a private organization, but now it's a Virginia state park.

Stairs lead down from the visitors center to the path that leads to the Natural Bridge.

And I knew I wanted to write about the Natural Bridge in MidAtlanticDayTrips. It took me a minute to realize why the Natural Bridge is located in Rockbridge County, VA, or rather, why the county is called Rockbridge... Route 11 travels over the bridge, although you really can't see anything from the road as you pass over it.

Looking up to the rock bridge itself.

Natural Bridge has ties to two former US presidents: George Washington carved his initials below it while on a surveying expedition in 1750 and Thomas Jefferson once owned the land it's on, although James Monroe and Martin Van Buren also visited it (when Jefferson was president) and Calvin Coolidge, much later, of course. When you go, you'll be following in their famous footsteps.

The 215-foot high Natural Bridge is a limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek. It's hard to imagine that little trickle of water in Cedar Creek carved out that magnificent rock formation, although to be fair we visited during a late summer drought.

There are theories that the Natural Bridge was created by an underground river. Consisting of horizontal limestone strata, Natural Bridge is the remains of the roof of a cave or tunnel through which the Cedar Creek -- perhaps when it was a more mighty river -- once flowed.

However, the park is more than just the bridge; beautiful forests and rolling meadows showcase the area’s karst terrain, and vistas of surrounding mountains and the James River valley display nature’s splendor.

The original roadside attraction made a big deal about this "lost river," which could be heard
gushing through the rocks. At some point, they blasted through the rock to find it. Supposedly,
they have no idea where the water goes, as it does not feed into the nearby creek. 

Although it seems shallow, it makes a joyous sound!

Access the park's varied terrain of wooded forests and rolling meadows via 6 miles of hiking trails, which will also unveil vistas of the surrounding mountains and the James River valley. The accessible Cedar Creek Trail leads from the bridge to the Monacan Indian Village and Lace Falls with its 30-foot cascade.

Know before you go: There is 137 stairs through the woods that lead down to the bridge; however, the park offers a shuttle to and from the visitors center for those who cannot navigate the stairs. The path leading to the bridge is paved and accessible, as well as the path that leads to Lace Falls.

Lace Falls is barely visible at the end of the paved trail,
although when we were there, it was four weeks into a drought.

Getting there: 6477 South Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, VA 24578

Hours: Open year round, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Website: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/natural-bridge

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