Fort Mountain State Park…my latest hiking adventure. My trusty hiking companion, Dixie, and I set out for another grand adventure last Saturday. Two and half hours and one nervous Aussie Mix later, we left the comforts of civilization (meaning all cell phone signal was lost) and entered the mountain wilderness.
Atop the mountain are several trails that link and criss-cross and such. Now, the map shows that these trails should equal a little less than a mile; however, that only includes two of the five trails up there and certainly does not include walking them more than once. So, I managed to turn that less than a mile into somewhere between three and five. I’m not really sure how far I traveled as I was conserving phone battery and not using my handy-dandy endomondo tracker app. I managed a good many steps on my fitbit pedometer though.
Well, the first place Dixie and I checked out was the Stone Tower at the mountaintop. There was quite a bit of caution tape about the place. I’m not quite sure what they were working on up there, or even what was supposed to be roped off, but we explored a bit. I went to the right of the tower, and there was a window on the lower level. If you looked through the window, you could see straight through the window to the back of the tower and out into the woods beyond. I thought it made for a good photo opportunity, so I snapped a few shots. I tried one of the shots out in a chroma key software demo, and it makes quite a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. In fact, after trying out the software, I may see about doing some chroma key work for photo shoots. Rabbit trails…ok, back to the topic.
After, exploring and photographing the stone tower, Dixie and I decided to head down another trail to the back and right of the tower. The path led around and, I assumed at the time and correctly by the way, back across our original trail. We heard something crashing around in the trees out to our left. I saw the limbs crashing around, but I never saw what was causing the commotion. A little further down the path, we came across a family. As I was about to turn to the right down the Stone Wall Trail, the guy in the front calls out, “There’s a bear down that way! I saw it, and we headed in the other direction.” Of course, I was like, “Cool, I think I’ll go get a picture.” I headed, well, in the direction of the bear. (As a side note here, animals scare me way less than people do.) I had traveled about a hundred feet or so, when the family we met started in our direction. Now, whether that was to keep an eye on the crazy woman with the camera who wanted to photograph a bear to make sure she didn’t get eaten, or whether to get a closer look at the bear I didn’t seem afraid of, I’m not sure. But they followed behind, and sadly to say, we didn’t see that bear. I did, however, see a Great Spangled Fritillary and got several pictures of his pretty self. After all, who can resist a big beautiful orange and black butterfly.
We explored the trail and the Stone Wall a bit, all the while keeping an eye out for bears. I say we, but I think Dixie was just interested in anything that moved really. We crossed over the Stone Tower Trail, and we headed on out the Stone Wall Trail. A little way down the trail, Dixie got a scent and kept trying to run after something. I’m not quite sure what she was after, but I heard a lovely little twitter in the trees in the direction she was heading, so away we went. I spotted a lovely little yellow bird flitting about and twittering, so we sat down on a rock outcropping and watched and photographed. It took me three days to identify this little guy from the photographs I took, but I think I finally identified him. I believe he is a Pine Warbler. He was quite lovely and had a captivating little tune to sing.
From there we headed out to the overlook. The view was breathtaking. The blue-gray of the mountains in the distance, the sun rays streaming through the clouds to bathe the mountains in light, and the hawk flying about looking for a meal. The sun was bright, and it was a bit warm out, but we lingered about for a spell to take a few photographs.
After leaving our lofty perch, we headed back up to the Stone Tower, then circled back down to the bottom where we were parked, and then we followed another trail that led us right back to the overlook. I took a few more photographs, playing with the exposure settings and such. Then we took one more trip around the Stone Wall Trail and headed back to the car.
At the car, we looked at the map (which, by the way, I didn’t bother taking with me on the trails). The Lake Loop Trail and the Big Rock Trail were both near the picnic shelters and cabins, so we headed in that direction. The first trail we came up on was the Big Rock Trail. It was listed as a very long trail, only about three quarters of a mile, so I figured it shouldn’t take too long. We walked the trail for a little ways, and I was beginning to get the feeling that the name might be misleading. I hadn’t seen any sign of a big rock, at least not one any bigger than the others I had seen. But then we found it. It wasn’t really a big rock, per se, but more of a stream along some smoothed rock that cascaded down the side of the mountain. Pools formed in the rock in places where the stream flowed, and someone had stacked some stones in the stream. (I’ve seen these little stacked stone towers in many places now, and I’m still not sure what they mean or why people do it.) It was so peaceful here, and I stood out on the rocks and got several pictures up and down stream. Dixie and I stayed here for quite some time before moving on.
After leaving the stream, we followed the trail on out to the roadway. There was a bench facing an open area near the storm drain outlet. I assumed, and rightly so after reading, that the bench was there to sit and watch for birds and deer (and squirrels). As we walked up the hill, I spotted a butterfly. It was a Spicebush Swallowtail. I got several pictures of this little guy before heading on. I have quite a habit of chasing butterflies.
As we reached the top of the hill, I realized that we could cross the street and get to the Lake Loop Trail. It was late in the evening by now, and I decided that it would be a nice way to end the day. So, around the lake we went. It was a peaceful walk until we neared the beach. Being hot that day, many people apparently decided that going for a swim was a good idea. You could hear laughter and splashing all the way across the lake. There were several people enjoying the evening in kayaks, canoes, and on paddleboards. I don’t think anyone had the paddleboats out though. I took quite a few nice photographs around the lake.
By the time I got to the side of the lake where all of the people were, the sun was shining through the trees creating an ethereal glow. It was almost as if you could gaze through a veil into another world. It made for some lovely photographs, along with a canoe sitting just off of the beach awaiting its rider’s return.
All in all, it was not a bad day. In fact, it was quite a beautiful day. I can’t wait to go back and try out the Gahutti Trail (8 miles of wilderness beauty).