Our brief foray into the Totem Heritage Center was enjoyable. Forest was so enthralled by some of the totems outside as we took photos with them that ran up the ramp and really wanted to go in. Chris and I both had a feeling this would not be the place for a rambunctious 5-year old. He loves going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and even then we are bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, not really able to focus on reading any of the exhibit signs or really getting to absorb it. But he was adamant about going in and since he was free and we only had to pay for me and Chris, we decided to go in.
The art that was on display was gorgeous and it was super frustrating that we weren’t able to really find a lot of local or indigenous art for sale in any of the towns we went through. I don’t know if we weren’t looking in the right places or what, but it would have been great to have found a piece that represented the trip for us.
The room that kept some of these old totems safe was very cool. I loved reading the cards and seeing the old photographs, trying to imagine life both tribal and of the white settlers during this time period. And just the sad stories that were shared on some of them, how the totems were taken for various reasons, and how the cultures began fading after colonization. I mean, it’s the same story of what happened in the Lower 48.
I really enjoyed the museum and if you find yourself in Ketchikan and have some time, do spend an hour there learning about the tribes of the Tongass.
Oof, we should have gone south for Thanksgiving. Instead we drove to Cooper Lake State Park for the long weekend to camp for the first time this season. We knew in advance that there was potential for rain, including thunderstorms, and for cooler to cold weather. So, we came prepared but I was heavily wishing this was one of those state parks that conveniently had covered picnic table areas at the campsites, but no such luck, our one pop-up tent had to suffice.
Before we left I wanted Chris to get our bikes together so that we could ride with Forest. He’s getting to the point that I can’t keep up with how fast he wants to ride when I’m walking with him and I’d rather just ride along. Our bikes turned out to need more fixing than anticipated as they were probably about 17 years old, having been bought when we were newlyweds living in Melbourne, Florida! And we haven’t rode them at all since we moved back to Texas and before that it had been several years in Florida where they hadn’t been used.
Chris managed to get his working but mine was bad enough to warrant a new bike and he found one on sale at Academy and texted me to see if I wanted him to buy it. Sure, I said, and here we were with a bike! Due to the weather we didn’t ride as much as we wanted but it made getting to the bathroom easier than our typical walk and Forest was able to go faster and get more experience. I think if we can get more rides in between now and spring he’ll be able to take the training wheels off!
It was fairly pleasant when we arrived on Wednesday late afternoon but by Thursday morning the rain and chilly weather had arrived. We set off on a hike (lots of Hercules Club in this park) in the morning, and then detoured into Commerce via the tiny town of Cooper to get Forest a nugget happy meal at McDonalds and something for us to snack on as well. He went 5 years without McDonald’s and out of necessity in Alaska we stopped and he’s become a McDonald’s nugget fiend ever since. And being that it was Thanksgiving and everything else was closed, McDonald’s was the choice—plus it was dry and had the Playplace and Forest was in heaven! We’ve since had to remind him that it is a treat and rarity and not a place we will be going often.
So, we made the best out of a dreary situation by hiking when the chances for rain were the lowest and getting in some trail explorations where we could, bundling up in layers in the process of it all.
One thing this state park did was were several really large post oak trees! Forest calls lumbering live oaks ‘elephant trees’ because the way the limbs can dangle down and look like elephant trunks, but because we’d been talking about how the state park might be a great place to find wild turkey he began calling the post oak trees ‘turkey trees’!
At the trailhead parking area we noticed this tree leaning over into the ROW, with limbs low enough to get fruits. From a distance we though persimmon and I put it in iNaturalist as placeholder but the taste and shape and such obviously didn’t lean that direction. It seems to be some kind of pear, though how it got there I don’t know. Bird? Human? I don’t believe there are any native pear species in North America.
We were the only tent campers* until Friday evening, when after we’d spent half the day in Sulphur Springs, we noticed a tent had been set up down the road. We’d gone for a hike that morning and the rain chances for the afternoon were higher and not wanting to be stir crazy in the tent all afternoon we got Tex-Mex in town, found a Braum’s for ice cream (OMG, I miss Braum’s! They aren’t in the Houston area), killed some more time because the showing for Frozen II that still had tickets available wasn’t until 4:20. I think Chris thought Sulphur Springs would be a smaller town than it was and the movie theater wouldn’t be busy, but it was definitely big enough to sell out Frozen II on Black Friday.
*By this I mean, everyone else was in an RV or camper-trailer. It’s rare that there are a lot of tents at a state park.
How was your Thanksgiving?
I’ve noticed a few people attempting to do a blog post a day for December. I don’t think I can swing that but I’m going to aim for a post every weekday. I think I can manage that!
It suddenly hit me about a month ago that we’re wrapping up a decade here in a few weeks. To be honest, and I’ll elaborate more on it in my end-of-decade post later in December, my brain is still stuck somewhere in 2014-2016. It hasn’t caught up to 2019 yet. And then I realized that this Thanksgiving week is our 10th anniversary of our hike of the Ocean to Lake Trail, a side trail of the Florida Trail. Typically most people start on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee and then walk to the Atlantic Ocean on Jupiter Island at Hobe Sound Beach. We did this as a prep for our 2010 AT Hike (don’t get me started on that being nearly a decade since we hiked that!) and it was the first and only time I’ve hiked in a hiking skirt. Lesson learned—hiking skirts are not for me.
So, I’ll ‘walk’ you through some of what we saw. I’m doing this mostly because I came across the photos last month when looking for some photos for my friend Eliana and I didn’t realize we had a ton more photos than the handful I’d uploaded onto Flickr. There’s also a ton of videos because we were going to produce videos for YouTube—at that time very few people thru-hiked the O2L section. It is increasingly popular to hike now. I may put together the videos eventually but they are with our older point and shoot and the quality isn’t great. We’ll see.
Our friend Tom, aka: Gator Man from our geocaching days, met as at the parking lot at Hobe Sound Beach where we left Chris’ car for the Thanksgiving weekend. He drove us to Port Mayaca and dropped us off on top of the Lake Okeechobee levee where we walked down to the water and officially started our hike. It was a drizzly Thanksgiving morning and a smidge chilly as we hoofed it back up the levee and down the other side to started our road walk along SR 76. I think the trail has been re-located since then to start a bit further south but at that time we had to roadwalk before we could get into the main trail at DuPuis WEA
After our roadwalk we turned at the Port Mayaca cemetery and stopped to read about the mass grave there from the 1928 hurricane which killed several thousand people across south Florida. It is the reason there is now the Herbert Hoover dike around Lake Okeechobee.
By the time we started off down the trail the rain had let up somewhat. If I recall it might have drizzled a bit more throughout the day but the rest of our hike was smooth sailing on the weather front.
There aren’t a lot of sightings of this on iNaturalist so I was glad to add another entry. My locations are estimates based on where we were hiking each day. And we did take quite a bit of wildflower photos as you will see in the post.
Over the three nights we camped we stayed on the eastern edge of DuPuis the first night, towards the eastern edge of JW Corbett WMA the second night, and just west of Jonathan Dickinson State Park on our final night. I have visions of where we camped for the last two nights but I couldn’t tell you were we stayed that first night. Oh wait—I’m getting vague memories now! But I couldn’t describe them but I see it a bit. Hrmmmmmm.
Traveling through Corbett the following day we had similar habitats as the day before, a mix of pine flatwood prairies, cypress domes and prairies, and oak hammocks that we hike in and out of. Despite being the tail-end of the wet season there wasn’t a ton of water on the trail and I don’t remember having wet shoes.
Pygmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius —-late edit because iNaturalist (read: people who know better than me) tells me this is actually Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius ssp. barbouri and I am not a herper so I’ll trust them.
We wound down our second day on the trail by camping about a mile from the eastern Corbett boundary. Our friend Chris aka: FootTrax from geocaching days was planning to visit us the following morning and we didn’t want to have to walk terribly far before we had to meet up with him.
Chris met us at the end of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and the C-18 Canal, bringing us Egg McMuffins from McDonalds and refilling us up on water. It was the first time he would trail angel for us and definitely not his last. He helped us out twice on the main FT in 2011, too.
We said goodbye to Chris and meandered our way through Hungryland Slough Natural Area, weaving in and out of what you can see on aerial imagery was once an area slated for development. This is certainly not the only example of this in Florida. Drain and build, drain and build.
Next, after crossing SR 710, we walked through Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area, which in some areas had some of that evidence of developers wanting to drain the land and of course you don’t have to zoom out far to see where actual development abuts the LSNA. Loxahatchee Slough is part of the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River.
Once we popped closer to civilization it was time to levee walk along the C-18 Canal until we arrived at Riverbend Park. (We paddled on the river in the park in 2014) Riverbend Park is popular for launching to paddle on the Loxahatchee River but also has several miles of improved trails, which the O2L follows some of those paths. We couldn’t hike fast enough through the park because we were itching to get to Indiantown Road so we could hike a bit down the road to a gas station and small strip-mall where a couple of restaurants were located. It was hiker re-feed time! After dinner we walked across the street to continue on down the trail and stealth camped for the night.
Narrowleaf Silkgrass, Pityopsis graminifolia
Our final day was going to be spent mostly through the expansive Jonathan Dickinson State Park, one of my favorite state parks in Florida. We had hiked a lot of the trails in the park including this section of the O2L before we so knew what to expect for most of this section.
And then you enter the wonderland that is JDSP! Mostly sandy uplands with just wonderful native plant species throughout the area. I think this outhouse is at the Kitching Creek campsite—a great campsite if this is your stop for the night.
It certainly felt like a great feat to have walked 63 miles over four days, our longest hike to date at that time. Only four months later we’d be embarking on a 2,179 mile journey from Georgia to Maine that was significantly more difficult than this hike. It was a great trial run, though and it certainly really helped sparked the interest in long distance backpacking.
And as I mentioned earlier, the O2L is now quite popular with the local trail clubs organizing group hikes, trail runners heading out to tackle the trail, and it makes the rounds on social media. This little known side trail is now pretty well known in Florida hiking circles. I’ll end with some updated links about the trail from other folks:
+Ocean to Lake Trail via Florida Hikes! — Sandra and John’s website is where all the Florida hiking knowledge is located. Definitely hit up their website if you are planning on hiking in FL.
+Ocean to Lake Trail via the Loxahatchee Chapter of the FTA
+So you’re interested in hiking the Ocean to Lake Trail & Everything you need to know about hiking the Ocean to Lake Trail via Jupiter Hikes. Jupiter is well-known in the hiking world. He set an FKT record on the main Florida Trail a few years ago (it has since been broken) and the O2L is in his backyard in south Florida so he hikes it often.
+Ocean To Lake Trail via FreeFreaksHike
Let’s rewind back to early July and our trip to Austin. We visited Westcave one sweltering morning after having not been there for several years. We had some time before our tour to the grotto and cave began so we hiked their upland trail. It was a trail we had not been on before so everything was new to us!
I noticed this plant in the two photos above and was unfamiliar with it. It was obviously a cucurbit of some sort but I had no clue what it was. I was right about the cucurbit part and the plant is mostly relegated to central and slightly west Texas, up into the plains leading to the panhandle.
I took a bazillion photos of this bordered patch, Chlosyne lacinia, but I’ll save you the photos and share just the one. It was my first sighting so I was kind of excited! Also a more central Texas and westward species.
I photographed several damselflies and apparently the tossup was between two different Argia species—powdered or blue-fronted. It’s always fun when you think you’ve got enough to identify something and someone who really knows their stuff comes through and wants to be able to see the wings better or something else to clearly figure out a species and even then sometimes it can be hard to tell because a lot of insects need microscope work. *shrugs*
Lemon Beebalm, Monarda citriodora
Looking back at all of the wildflowers that were still going in July and comparing it to how brown and ready for winter everything is—well, it makes me ready for spring again.
I’m not sure I’m ready for July heat again but looking at the plants and wildlife does have me yearning for growth again. I’ll bide my time though, and enjoy the slow season for a few more months.
Oh! In my bushwhacking post from a week or two ago I had an unidentified plant. I finally figured it out when I stumbled across a plant while trying to identify and ‘agree’ with identifications on iNaturalist one day. I like to just randomly go to east Texas counties that don’t get a lot of activity and go through and confirm or identify things for people and while I was flipping through plants I saw my unidentified plant. I googled it and looked at more images and it was definitely it—Greater Marsh St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum walteri. Scroll to the end of the page from that link at the start of the paragraph to see it. So glad to have figured that out!
After our hike at Carlanna Lake, we called a taxi and told the driver that we wanted to see the salmon run and ladder in town. She drove us to Deermount Street at the north end of a city park and sure enough, there were plenty of salmon in Ketchikan Creek. We got out and paid her and then watched the fish for a while. Forest wanted to play in the park nearby so we walked over and scouted that out while Chris finished oogling at the salmon.
At the far end of the park is the Deer Mountain Hatchery which was open to the public to view and learn about salmon and the hatchery.
We stopped at the Totem Heritage Center next, but that will be a separate post. After visiting the center we then had to find our way to ‘downtown’ Ketchikan. Roadwork was being conducted on some of the streets right around that area and we were forced to try to figure out a way around it after talking to workers who suggested we try to find a small trail that follows the creek into town. After getting a bit lost we managed to find it behind the skatepark on Park Avenue. It was a peaceful walk that eventually dumped us back out onto another street with houses and we roadwalked from there over to town where we made a beeline for Annabelle’s. Our taxi driver had recommended it to us and we were not disappointed. It was my initiation into salmon chowder and is still the best salmon chowder I had in Alaska. Mmm, I could go for a bowl now!
Ketchikan was very walkable and easily accessible for the cruise ships as you can see in the two photos above. Our boat was a bit further to the west but still not very far from the main part of town at all.
After lunch we still had several hours to walk around town, shop, and sightsee. This town wasn’t nearly as bad as Juneau and Skagway, but what is up with the gold and diamond jewelry stores in port towns? I remember seeing that somewhat on our honeymoon cruise to the northern Caribbean but I wasn’t expecting that here. Juneau was the—well, maybe Skagway was the worst. They were both bad on that front. Who goes on a cruise and says, “Let’s buy some jewelry that I can buy at any jewelry store in a mall back home!” ? It was weird.
That said, we did find some neat local shops and I wished I had bought a few more locally created art or jewelry pieces when I saw them. I kept thinking I’d run into more but really never saw a wide selection of that.
After, we had just enough time to kill to get some dessert before getting back on the ship, so we stopped at an ice cream shop and ordered some, sitting around and reflecting on our short day in Ketchikan. Back on the ship, we dropped our stuff off at the cabin and meandered up to the deck to watch as we departed port. It was a relatively quick affair, maybe twenty minutes after the final call to board. And then we were off heading for Juneau.
I’m always noticing the moths that hang out by our front door. This particular one was on the back door to the office at work one morning when I got there. It was precariously close to the hinge so I nudged it over a little bit and then took a few photos. It turned out to be an assembly moth after I put it into iNaturalist.
There’s not much to glean about them from Google but I found out their range is North Carolina to Florida, west to Texas, and south in the neotropics to Brazil. Adults fly year-round in the southern areas of their range. This scientific article has some more information but still not a whole lot. I did figure out that their host is Richardia brasiliensis. If you are in the south you’ve probably seen it but may not have known what it was: photo here. It’s a common yard ‘weed’. And most sites are saying it is native to North and South America though that link says it is native to South America, but that’s wikipedia so take it with a grain of salt.
Eventually I need to go through some of the photos I’ve taken of the moths by the door and do a little series!
We have been meaning to get out for a short overnight backpacking trip the last few weeks but our initial weekend in October didn’t work out—I think rain was forecast. Last weekend we had it pinpointed once again but cold air and rain was a factor. As the weekend loomed closer it appeared it would be a great weekend for a short overnight hike. I looked up the Lone Star Trail maps with an eye on an hike I did with our friend Red Hat (trail name) when she still lived in Texas back in 2011/2012. Sure enough the Richards Loop looked like the length we were looking for–about 6 miles, half of it on the official Lone Star Trail path and the other half on a portion of what is the Little Lake Creek Loop. Topo map of interest here. We’ve done other portions of both trails over the years.
Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes cernua—the trail side was dotted with orchids the entire way! I mean, not lush beds of orchids, but enough where you saw handfuls of them every quarter mile. A highlight for sure!
A red-cockaded woodpecker nesting cavity. There was bird activity around but I didn’t get a photo of them. RCWs are listed as endangered.
Because we’d planned to go hiking a few weeks ago I’d already picked up a meal from REI and we didn’t really need to put much together. All of our backpacking gear was together and so we pulled it out Saturday morning and shuffled things in and we were set to go. Much easier than packing for a car camping trip!
The trailhead was rather full with cars when we arrived. It being a pleasant weekend plus hunting season, there was quite a bit of activity. That said, we didn’t encounter huge crowds of people either, certainly nothing like people out west deal with. But a few folks here and there as we made our way down the trail and then after a certain point it was pretty quiet.
Peak fall wildflowers was about a month ago out here as evidenced by most plants having gone to seed. That didn’t stop it all from being gorgeous out there—the sunlight in the woods shining down on the seed heads was pretty spectacular.
The little bluestem was the highlight of the grasses out there. My favorite, the bushy bluestem, wasn’t really all that present but the little bluestem made up for it.
This pond a little over 2 miles or so down the trail was the main source of water along with another pond on our way out the following day. I hadn’t really thought to check the water reports because we’d had some rain recently but it was definitely not enough to fill up any of the creeks out there.
Chris found a large patch of indigo milk caps which made me happy. They are my favorite mushroom!
It was a long night in the tent as we got in not long after dark and though we tried to play a few rounds of Uno, we quickly wanted to lay down and rest. I was coming down with a cold, too. I played an audiobook for Forest as I read my e-book on my Kindle and after Forest rolled over and fell asleep I read for a while longer. Sometime around 4-5 am someone walked by the tent. I noticed the flashlights beaming on the ground. They faded into the distance only to come back 20 minutes later. I’m sure they were hunters but it was still a little nervewracking. There was no evidence of them in the morning.
We were up early because we’d been in the tent so long, but it was chilly. And we aren’t used to sleeping on our pads so we generally slept terribly. Both Chris and I forgot just how much our arms go to sleep when we’re in the backpacking tent.
It was a fairly steady walk back to the car with only one stop not that far from the car for Forest to rest. He was entertained by naming the different ‘lands’ we were entering as we crossed habitat changes or later any time we crossed a fallen log. This is his favorite, “Forest Beautyberry Land”.
In all, we were back to the car by 9:20 that morning, leaving us with time to grab some donuts and kolaches on our way home. I’m definitely a fan of these types of hikes and camping experiences. You can put them together quickly and still have time to get some things done over the weekend. Here’s hoping we can get a few more of these in this winter!
A few weekends ago we went bushwhacking in Sam Houston National Forest again. You may remember our hike last year while attempting to look for the Bartonia texana. It was coming up on blooming season for them again and we hadn’t been hiking in quite a while (and haven’t been hiking since!) so I mentioned to Chris that we should try once more.
We reached the creek and it was lower than last year. We could easily walk across the creek if we’d decided to as there was minimal water. Compare this year in this photo versus last year in nearly the same location.
Forest once again inched towards the water, peering in to see what he could play in. I wish I’d brought a change of clothes for him out there so he could have really just had fun along the creek. We had his mud boots but that was it so I didn’t want to risk him getting totally soaked.
I have no idea what fungus these are but this log was covered in them. They are very cool looking! I’m not sure if this is the end of the fruiting body cycle and they are flopping over or if this is their usual state. Someone advise!
Chris and I had both been trying to poke around the creek edges looking for the Texas screw-stem, within eyesight of Forest sitting on a log up slope but Forest didn’t want me going too far so I came back to entertain him while Chris was looking around. The goal was to switch out every so often so we could search with fresh eyes and hang with Forest. While Chris was looking he found something else, a different plant that he hadn’t seen before but only knew about because a friend of ours in Florida had recently come across it. He wasn’t even sure if there was even a sighting here in Texas. Eventually the name came to him, Northern Bluethread, Burmannia biflora. I managed to find some signal and opened iNaturalist to see what the records said—three in Texas, 1 each in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and the majority (but still not a ton) sprinkled across Florida. Definitely a rarity.
That said, consider its size and habitat. I should have put something up for comparison but the plants were maybe 3-4″ tall and if they weren’t in bloom you would have just thought they were sticks of nothing. Chris found two clumps and he didn’t directly take me to them, only pointing out the hummock one of the groups was located on, and after my eyes finally focused I was realized you really had to be looking to find them to even see them. I never found the second clump even though he told me which hummock it was on! So, you have a diminutive plant residing adjacent to a creek in a boggy area that also includes hillside seeps—not really a place many people are hanging out to look for plants, right? So while the sightings may be rare there’s likelihood that this plant is more abundant than noted.
While walking down to the northern bluethread location I stumbled across an orchid in seed, a Crane-fly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. I stuck a stick next to it so I would be able to find it when I came back up slope but of course it still took me a few looks to find the stick and the orchid.
Later, I went walking further down to another area and found this fading plant. I thought it was a tiny stick stuck in the moss but I tried gently tugging on it and it was definitely a plant of its own. A bluethread that’s faded? Something else? I’m not sure.
While Chris finished out the last bit of time searching for the screw-stem, Forest and I trekked up the side of the hill a bit to the rocks we found last year. I checked on the ebony spleenwort and of course Forest found the rocks to be excellent climbing and jumping structures to play on.
Another bushwhacking trip in the books but again, no Texas screw-stem. Though, finding the northern bluethread was a good highlight and something you don’t come across every day.
BONUS MYSTERY PLANT
What is this? It isn’t in any of my books and iNaturalist isn’t suggesting anything viable. I feel like I’ve either seen it before (probably out here) or have once known its name. HELP! I may have to try to roughly key it out. Hey, I figured it out by happenstance–Greater Marsh St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum walteri.
Jumping ahead in our Alaska adventures (mostly because I wanted a simple set of photos to edit. I looked at Denali photos and the billions of bear photos and thought that was too much at the moment!) we’re going to hike on the Thunderbird Falls Trail just outside of Anchorage in Eagle River. We’d arrived in Anchorage that morning via the Alaska Rail into Anchorage, rented a car, checked into the hotel, and headed for a few hiking adventures on the outskirts of Anchorage in Chugach State Park.
Since it was Labor Day, the trailhead was rather busy. In my assessments online it seemed like this was in a quieter setting but there were some houses abutting the forest at the beginning of the trail and due to its proximity to Anchorage, the trail was quite active. And you could tell the trail got a lot of use by the packed dirt along the way.
Looking back now at this first week of September when it felt like autumn in Alaska and now comparing it to this first week of November when we’re dipping between autumn and early spring like temperatures here in Texas, it is a little jarring to see where we were a few months ago. I think this beautifully red shaded bush is squashberry, Viburnum edule, but I’m not completely certain.
There was an initial rise from the trailhead along the trail and then a descent towards the falls. Leaves were coloring the path as we walked. Forest enjoyed running full-force down this hill after a morning of being confined to a train and car.
I’m semi-ok with the love lock phenomenon in places like Paris but I’m really annoyed when I see them in places like this. And even cities like Paris are removing them and trying to stop the practice. So, don’t leave a lock on a gate like this, folks!
Several people were cautiously rock hopping around the end of the ‘beach’ area to get a better look at the falls, or just braving the chilly water and wading in. Chris was one of those people, taking photos and opting to spend some time fishing.
And the warmth we’d felt as we’d hiked along the trail started fading as the sun went behind the clouds and the canyon cooled down. We wanted to sneak in another hike before we had to meet our friend Eliana for dinner and do some chores in town, so we said goodbye to Thunderbird Falls and hiked back to the trailhead.