Appraising Parks

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As long as parks are appreciated and beauty on some level is found within them, I assume they can withstand economic hard times.  I’m not sure I could say the same when natural resources and land become extremely scarce.

Sometimes my appreciation for a park isn’t immediate. Crater Lake, after the cold numbed me and the snow fell, grew on me. I appreciated the Badlands immediately. Redwood is slowly but surely growing on me, too. But it’s the smaller urban parks that take me the most time.

Hiller Park in McKinleyville is near my home. I walk through it nearly daily. It features a dog park full of dug-out gopher holes, baseball fields, and a sometimes rancid smelling set of water treatment ponds. Sounds like paradise, right?!

This park is neither exotic, overly scenic, nor free of invasive species, but I have to say, it’s growing on me.  I’d attribute this growing love to toting my camera and dog around so much in it. It seems to me that the more you spend time in a place, the more you like it. In fact, that probably could be said about many things; the more time, the better the appreciation.

Here is my photographic appreciation for Hiller Park:

A West Coast Lady [thanks Katie!] enjoying the January sunshine.

An American Robin gobbling a worm near a treatment pond.

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee hunting for pine seeds.

A female Northern Shoveler getting ready for a dip in a treatment pond.

Goats and geese are fenced in and trim the grass around the treatment ponds.

Enjoying the view.

There are various forms of the Canada goose tribes inside the fence. Most have broken wings, like this fellow, who might be a Aleutian goose. [Supposedly, the white band has to be 10mm wide. I never have a ruler on me!]

The ravens are skiddish.

Sunbeams and Sitkas.

‘Old Man’s Beard’ looks lacy in the canopy.

Mass Commute of Mallards

An Anna’s Hummingbird in December. I saw my first hummer at my feeder today [1.9.2012].

A cold shoulder from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Some ninja needs to come knock the camera out of my hands when I go for sunbeams again–they’re going to eat up half my hard drive!

Mad River View. I believe that is Pampas grass to the left. An invasive pain in the neck.

Same view at night. I think that’s Venus.

A sunset on the riverbank

That large log has long washed out to sea by now.

A drying sandbar under a fiery sky

A Cormorant enjoying a dip in the river.

Back up on the trails.

Banana slugs cross over the trails often. They don’t withstand feet well. That hole you see is where the slug exchanges gases [breathes] and its feces also exit through that same hole. Rough life.

To sum up this overwhelming bombardment of pixels; the land surrounding the treatment ponds could have remained unaltered forest, or they could have been developed, but instead they serve as one of the rare accessible green spaces. While maybe the wildlife would have preferred untouched land, this little urban park offers something for everyone; little leaguers to dog park goers. And while many may not consciously appreciate the park on the same level as others, I’m sure they have at least one fond memory within its boundaries.  Perhaps enough fond memories are what it takes to keep parks large and small off closure lists!

Autumnal Beach

I’ll admit I am a bit jealous when I see photography of beautiful fall colors, even the monochromatic yellows of the cottonwoods and prairie grasses in South Dakota. South Carolina isn’t known for its fall color in the Lowcountry, but even though I can’t find any eye-popping chlorophyl around here, I have noticed some changes…on the beach!

During the Spring and Fall there are larger tides and when paired with an off shore breeze, they create some dramatic images, like this wave breaking with Ft Sumter in the background.

These higher tides seem to alter the topography of the beach, moving tide pools and cutting into the sand, as the Sanderling is pondering.

There has been a shift in visitors to the beach, which is probably the most telling of all signs that Fall has arrived. Instead of throngs of people playing bocce ball and relaxing in beach chairs, there are again seashells on the beach, birds en masse chasing food in the swash, and migrating birds stopping to visit. One of these visitors is the Ruddy Turnstone. These clever birds nest in the Arctic, where few humans visit, and winter on coastlines on every continent aside from Antarctica [read more here].

Another ‘visitor’ isn’t so much new as where it’s been spotted. Dragonflies are washing up in the surf and flying among the sand dunes. During the Fall, Common Green Darners are spotted migrating down the coast.

Above is a male, below is probably a female. Both sexes have a ‘bullseye’ or small dot in front on the frons, or between the eyes and face.

Another male pulled out of the surf. Green Darners are the official insect of Washington state and range throughout the United States south to Panama.

Another coastal visitor that can be seen crowding the beaches in Fall migration is the Gulf Fritillary. [Read *here* for an interesting article documenting Common Green Darner and Gulf Fritillary migration in FL] In FL, there can be as many as 3,000 of both Frits and Darners spotted in one hour! I don’t believe the numbers are that high here, but if you are on the beach during windy periods, it’s not uncommon to get a butterfly in the face every now and then. If you happen to have a maypop or passionfruit flower vine in your yard, you’ll definitely notice the Frit’s presence: vines this time of year are completely stripped bare of any foliage as hungry caterpillars race to become their winged-selves!

Lastly, as another tell-tale sign that Autumn has reached the beach, though not as dramatic as the northern displays, is the changing color of beach flora.  Unfortunately, the reddish-pink color belongs to a plant that I’m not convinced is native…it looks suspiciously like the ‘tumbleweeds’ in South Dakota, also known as halogeton and kochia, both species invasives from Eurasia. A quick search yielded no findings though, since beach vitex hogs all the headlines in the invasive beach arena.

If you look carefully you’ll notice one of the Fall migrants in this photo!

So though not as classic as the colorful chlorophyl in other parts of the country, the beaches of the Lowcountry have their own way of welcoming Fall, some being dramatic, like the Neap tides, and some more subtle. Hope you enjoyed!

Hiked It Smokies-Style!

A Busy, Busy Place!

Made it to the Smokies right before Labor Day. The first night we camped we were the only ones in our loop! We decided to get all the touristy spots out of the way before the crowds showed up, so we did Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome the first day and there weren’t too many people [still not few enough for me!]. 

Newfound Gap

Clingman's Dome

I found that a circular polarized filter did wonders to cut through some of the smogginess. Whether I remembered to use it was an entirely different matter! 

The Sinks

Cades Cove

 The Ol’ Dusty Trail’s Calling!

After seeing the sights, we decided to hit the trail. It’s difficult to interpret the trail guides and what they define by ‘moderate’ and ‘strenuous’. Taking faith in the fact that they wrote these guides for hikers, and not the average park visitor, is the best way to go, but as you walk up Clingmans Dome with the rest of the world huffing and puffing in your ear, you start to think that the trail marked ‘strenuous’ is calling your name! 

We started our second day late…we don’t have watches and cell phones in the Elkmont Campground are about as useful as a rock [actually less so]. By the time sunlight reached the tent, it was 10 am! I was hoping to get in two smaller trails, but we settled for Rainbow Falls. It went on for quite a while, had beautiful scenery, and some bear sign. The construction workers who were on the road that leads to the trailhead said they’d seen so many bears while working and some other visitors asked if we brought our bear spray. But alas, no bears, just their scat! 

Some critters we shared the trail with: 

Pelecinid Wasp

Pipevine Swallowtail


The trail gained 1500 feet in 2.6 miles and was labeled ‘moderate’, which I would agree was fair. It wasn’t too rough of a trail and we only saw 4 other people, I believe. When we finally reached Rainbow Falls we realized that 1, it wasn’t late enough in the afternoon to see the rainbow, and 2, that there wasn’t enough water to make a rainbow! 

Rainbow Falls

It was still a lovely place eat our lunch. As we did, I pulled out my cell phone to turn it on and check the time and aparently, that wasn’t a move appreciated by the hornet nest right above us! They started to swarm and we traded our lovely spot for something more on the safe side. 

Although the Park is renowned as Salamander Capital of the World [no joke!], I think this fellow below was a newt. Shucks! 

Newt, I presume

The Roughest of Them All!

We started out on Ramsey Cascades Trail later than we hoped, but pretty sure we’d make the 8 mile round trip with plenty of time to spare. This trail is labeled ‘strenuous’ due to the 2000+ feet of elevation gain in 4 miles, which doesn’t sound all that bad. What they don’t mention is that about 1500′ of that elevation gain  is in the last quarter-mile of the trail. Of the ten people we saw on the trail, all of them said it was worth it, but I’m pretty sure no one would turn around at that point anyway! 

The Trail Goes Up!

The trail starts out smooth enough as what seems to be a road! Eventually it shrinks into a one-laner, then goes up and down a couple of times and finally, you get to the boulder-laden trail, the last bit of which nearly requires all four limbs in some spots. We were very glad to see this sight: 

Ramsey Cascades

Just like Rainbow, there wasn’t much water falling, but it was beautiful none the less. And we were warned at the trailhead that this would be a very wet trail if it rained, so I was glad that amount was falling and no more! These are the tallest falls in the Park. 

A Lower View

Again, the polarized filter came in handy and I learned from the previous day’s hike at Rainbow that a tripod was necessary, so I hiked all 8 miles with one strapped to my back and I was very glad I did! 

Oh Bother, Why Bother?

If you aren’t a trail-pounder and if you’re like me and don’t love crowds of people with you on your vacation, you’re probably wondering why should you go to the most visited National Park in the country [though I’ve NEVER heard anyone ponder this, but just in case!].

Cabin in the Woods

It’s an amazing park that has something for everyone, from long, scenic car drives to nice road-side strolls, wildlife, wildflowers and history. If you’re more adventurous, there’s backcountry camping and strenuous hikes to amazing vistas and waterfalls. And there are tons of car campgrounds to fit anyone’s fancy.

One of Millions!

The most alluring aspect of the park is, of course, the topography and the flora and fauna it hides. There is something ethereal about the way that twilight seeps out of the ground and tree trunks as the sun sets, keeping the tops of the trees glowing long after any light can reach the ground. It’s as if the hills have protected this place from passing time, harboring the ancient trees and denizens of forest creatures in deep, vibrant green valleys.

Setting Sun in the Treetops

The Butterfly Family in My Backyard

Still working on the Berlin post! So much ground to cover…it’s difficult picking out the highlights! I could certainly write a short novel on our trip!

I had spotted the butterflies on the lantana and laying eggs on the maypop. Once the caterpillar grew, it was hard to miss it! I finally found the eggs and later what might be the first instar! Below are the family portraits.

Gulf Fritillary Savoring a Lantana

An Insatiable Caterpillar


 Visible at the top right of the photo, an empty egg [dull yellow], just below, a red egg [they are usually bright yellow], and at the fork in the vine near center of the photo, a tiny, probably first instar caterpillar!