Warm Springs Cypress in Display Pool

Warm Springs Cypress in  Display Pool
Warm Springs Cypress in Display Pool

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Waterfalls and Wildflowers at Cloudland Canyon State Park

April 8-9, 2018

I feel particularly close to the youngest one of the staffers, Trent. Both he and I love birds, being outside in nature, photouugraphing nature, and  hiking. He also did a lot of my training. So when he said I really needed to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, I took his advice to heart and started planning a visit. But winter has meant that most of my days off are rainy or with very dark clouds, not the stuff I want to go camping, hiking or photographing in.

Finally it looked like my luck was changing so I started planning my trip.  There are no actual tent sites that you can drive to but there is a walk-in tent campground. When I called to ask exactly how much walking this entailed, I was told something between twenty yards and a half a mile. I no longer backpack because of back, hip and knee problems so don't have good equipment to use for hauling. However I do have  mesh bag that corrals my camping stuff so I packed that. I tried to book for the first Sunday/Monday in April but was told that was spring break and the campgrounds would be mostly full and loud. So I booked two nights for the following weekend.

I didn't want to waste any good light, so planned to get there as close to the opening time of seven. That  required me to leave by three-thirty.  I didn't quite make that but was on the road by three forty five. I got there at seven -thirty on a clearing morning. I drove  around and did some short hikes while waiting for the visitor center to open so I could register.  I realized that no one was actually leaving yet, so decided to do the hike to the two falls for which the park is famous. This is a short hike, only 1.8 miles but involves climbing up and down 600 steps.  And this is also part of the Sitton's Gulch trail so I added a few more steps and a little more mileage along Bear Creek, both because there was pretty scenery but also because there were lots of different wildflowers than I had found previously.

An unnamed waterfall that only appears after a rain

View along the hike to the waterfalls

Bluets were the the most numerous flower blooming

Not sure what these blooms are - some fruiting tree

I found several of serviceberry trees in bloom

After reading the disclaimer about falling rock, I wondered if the bench under this rock was actually
 a spot for human sacrifice to the mountain god. 

This lady had to carry her dog up and down the steps which were open metal grids. 

One of the yellow violets

One small part of the trail was icy.  Fortunately it was on the boardwalk and steps so I could hold on to the rails.
On the way to Cherokee Falls

View along path to Cherokee Falls
Cherokee Falls

I went on down part of the Silton's Gulch Trail

Rue anomone


Think this is Trillium sulcatum
Can't remember what this is

What colors and shapes
Hemlock Falls

Dolls eyes, Acetaea pachypoda - saw it growing under a set of stairs

Some of the oak leaf hydrangeas has old blooms juxtaposed with new leaves

I ended up hiking almost five miles.  Then I drove to the walk-in camp site and looked for a site. I was impressed with most of the sites.  They seemed to be almost alone in the woods and many of them were on one side or the other of a little creek.  I started at the restroom and worked out until I fell in love with site twenty-eight.  There were lots of bluets, the wildflowers de jour, plus some tiny short, irises. The creek, a bit swollen from rain the previous day, was singing a happy, gurgling song.

I hauled all my gear in in two trips and quickly set up camp, including hanging my hammock.  Then I spent hammock time reading and enjoying the creek, breeze, and birds. There were only five sets of campers in the thirty campsites, and most of them were still out playing so it felt like I was the only one around. I spent part of the evening downloading and editing my pictures.

My camp - the hammock hung behind where I stood to take this picture

That night, we had a little unexpected rain and the morning was fully cloudy and turned foggy after sunrise. I had planned to go see the sunrise but instead puttered around camp, before deciding to at least hike through the campground.  I started back at the parking lot so I would not have to cross the creek by hopping rocks.  When I got to the far side, I thought I might get a good view if I climbed further up the hill. All I saw was more woods and a little bit of the RV campground, so I started back. But I got a little turned around and eventually cut the West Rim Loop trail and took it back to the intersection with the walk-in camp trail connector, then back to camp.

I started my second morning by walking in the woods around the walk-in camp site

Intriguing fungus

A quiet pool 

A bumblebee was checking out these buds of crabable

One of the native azaleas

Closeup  of the buds

The day was starting to clear, so I decided to go look at the meadow and catfish pond to see if there were different spring flowers blooming.  There weren't but I heard my second red-eyed vireo as well as a couple of warblers I could not identify. (Migration is in progress.) I enjoyed the new cones on the pine trees, blooming trees, and the woods behind the pond. The I cut the Bear Creek Backcountry Trail and took it to the Overlook Trail then cut across to another trail to get back to my car. By the time I got back to my camp, I was starving so ate a late lunch and took some hammock time. My next plan was to hike and be at the west side for sunset, which promised to be good.  I spent some time packing up my camp, eating an early light supper, and getting organized to get an early start. I hoped to be mostly or completely packed up, showered and in clean clothes.

The blackberry meadow and catfish pond

What caused this?

Pennywort - the only one I saw in bloom

Then I started my hike along the west rim. It was a beautifully lit area with a couple of new flower species. It also had a few scenic places where the trail wound through huge boulders.  And it had a wonderful overlook where one could see east, north, and west.  I hiked until I got to another overlook, looking east and north before the trail petered out.  I thought this was supposed to be a loop trail so backtracked a little to look for another turn. I soon got tired of looking and decided to cut through the woods. I was further south than I had calculated and came out on the highway. But in only about a hundred yards of walking back north and west along the highway, I saw markings indicating a pedestrian crossing.  It was the trail from cabins to the west rim.  I took it up the hill and to the West Rim Trail where I turned south  to reach my car in a quarter of a mile. It was still just a little after seven, and sunset was not until eight-fifteen. But the western sky was already whitening out so there would be no colorful sunset.

I found these spring beauties on my evening walk along the west rim

The prettiest part of the west rim trail

Closeup of serviceberry 

These are the blooms of the sassafras tree - first time I've found one in bloom. Thanks Ellen Honeycutt

View over the valley - that white area may be a solar farm

I headed back to my tent and enjoyed my book before shutting my eyes to get to sleep around nine. As I was dozing off, I got a call from my daughter and enjoyed a several minute phone call with her.   I took a while to get back to being sleepy but around ten, I was dozing off again.  Then my phone made a raucous sound I'd never heard before. I jumped up and  grabbed my phone to find it was an Amber Alert. I had to read my book for another hour before I relaxed again .

I got a good, early start Tuesday and packed up the inside of my tent before walking to the bath house. Then I got distracted by my book, which was too close to the end to put down.  At the last few pages to go, the morning bird song started. I finished the book, left my clean clothes in a shower, and went out in my dirty pants and jacket, and even sock-less to check the quality of the sunrise. It looked promising, so I quickly grabbed my keys and billfold and drove off.

 I was still locked behind a gate but it opened as I approached it.   Then I hit a second gate from the outside that was still closed.  It had a car sitting behind  it.  I started to get out and put in the code, put it opened just as I arrived,  and I followed the driver to the high point on the park which overlooks the catfish pond, although it is hidden by intervening woods.  I started looking for the best composition for the sunrise picture. The other driver soon had a drone flying. After taking a few pictures and waiting  for a more spectacular shot, I went back and visited with the young man.  I asked him if he was seeing any reflections of the sky from the pond.  Although he was a local and liked to hike through the canyon, he didn't know about the pond, but soon found it in his pictures as he sent the drone to where I directed him. A few minutes later, the sunrise petered out and I drove back to camp to finally get bathed, dressed, and to take down my tent. It took another two trips to get everything out.

Sunrise on Tuesday morning

I planned to visit an Indian burial mound site on the way home, so stopped for breakfast and then at a library to work on my pictures and this blog. I've been here a few hours after eating both breakfast and lunch at Shoney's  buffet. I had forgotten that I no longer like their food, but ate some scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and a salad plus sugared strawberries and bananas with whipped topping on them. Now I need to hike another ten miles to burn those calories.

After this comes out, I'll probably only work one more full day but will continue to do my morning and evening feeding chores and open and close the Aquarium a few more days. I expect to be on the road again early the morning of the 19th. I will have sporadic posts while I'm traveling. But I'll be having lots of adventures and plan to visit the High Island Rookery on the way to Galveston.

I decided to release the native azaleas that are grown over with trees and shrubs. So far, I've cut about a pick-up load worth of branches. Still have a long ways to go.