Saturday, June 8, 2019

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Bottomland Hardwood Forest:  a type of deciduous and evergreen hardwood forest found in US broad lowland floodplains along large rivers and lakes. These forests are occasionally flooded, which builds up the alluvial soils required for the gum, oak and bald cypress trees that typically grow in this type of biome.

         In the mid 19th century 35 million acres of Bottomland Hardwood Forest dominated the landscape from Virginia to Texas.
         But then came the settlers and lumber barons; in five decades virtually all of the old-growth forest was cut down—the lush forests transformed into farms, pastures and cities, and the timber sold for ships, buildings and railroads.
         We humans are remarkably efficient at destroying the natural world to suit our purposes.
         Today, less than one percent of Old-growth Floodplain Forest remains; 11,000 acres of it is protected in Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
         Bordered by the Congaree River on its southern edge the park provides the perfect habitat for this lowland forest and, as such, contains the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest in the United States.
         Representative trees include Sweetgum, American Beech, Swamp Chestnut Oak, Bald Cypress and Loblolly Pine, with individual trees reaching heights of 150-200 feet.

A Loblolly Pine reaches for the sky along the boardwalk trail.

Bald Cypress Trees.  Notice the small stumps, known as Cypress "knees" alongside the trees.
These "knees" function as both anchors and snorkels for the Cypress.
As anchors they help to stabilize the trees; as snorkels they get air to the submerged roots
when the tree is surrounded by water.  Pretty cool, huh?

         The diversity of plant and animal life in the tiny 26,000 acre park is astonishing; at the same time it's an atrocity that such a tiny remnant of this once-magnificent forest remains.
         I didn't know a thing about bottomland hardwood forests until visiting Congaree National Park in May of 2019.
         And I didn't plan to become righteously indignant about the plight of old-growth trees in the south.  Really.  My intention was only to discover a lightly-visited national park I hadn't been to before. 
         But after visiting this little-known gem of a park in South Carolina I can only hope to inspire others to raise their voices to protect old-growth groves—wherever they still exist.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forest of Southeastern Utah

         For many years I drove by the turn-off for Avintaquin Campground and two questions came to mind:
         What's up with the unusual name?  and,  What's it like to camp there?

         According to the book Native American Place Names of the United States the word Avintaquin is "presumably from Ute, the translation is not clear".   So the answer to the first question is basically an unknown.

         To answer the second question I finally camped at Avintaquin, 15 years after first driving by that US Forest Service sign.  What's it like?  Splendid!
         And I now feel qualified to hazard a guess as to the Ute interpretation of Avintaquin.  How about: "Where the Earth Touches Sun and Stars".
        At an elevation of 9000 feet this campground-in-the-sky certainly embodies a heavenly spirit.   The morning sun sets the tree-tops afire and the night sky glitters with starlight.  Situated among towering Douglas Fir trees and quaking Aspens, the sites possess commanding views of rolling valleys and distant mountains.

        Last summer our group of seven women and four dogs spent a dazzling June weekend in the group campsite at Avintaquin.  Nighttime and early morning temperatures dipped below freezing but a blazing campfire provided warmth and good cheer.
        We had such a good time that we reserved the group campsite for the July 4th holiday this year.

The spaciousness of the group campsite was an attractive feature of this campground.
Notice the large "kitchen", far removed from the sleeping quarters.

Temperatures drop in the early evening.
The campfire is ready to go!

Morning sun warms our tent site.
Bring your dogs!
Annie, Lucinda, Jax and Kala (left to right) had as good a time
camping as we women did!

       Avintaquin is not really on the way to anywhere but that's part of its appeal—far from the madding crowds.  If you've had enough of the mob scene in National Parks like Zion and Arches head for our National Forests.  You might discover a hidden gem like Avintaquin Campground.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Rock Art of Nine Mile Canyon, Price, Utah

         It's been called The World's Longest Art Galley.  Nine Mile Canyon cuts through the Book Cliffs Region and West Tavaputs Plateau of Eastern Utah, and the rock art it contains is intriguing and mysterious.

The Great Hunt. 

         My curiosity is piqued when viewing The Great Hunt Panel.  Who carved this?  How long did it take?  Was this done just to pass the time, or to convey information to passers-by?  Is the figure between the sheep at the top of the panel a "god of the hunt"?  Why is the hunter on the right—with bow and arrow—much larger than the hunters to the left and below him?  A Dad and his sons hunting together perhaps?  Why does a figure appear to be walking away from the hunt (lower right), and one of the sheep appear to be falling from the group?
       Part of the mystery of rock art is that we'll never know the answers to these questions.   The Fremont Indians who carved these figures lived in the canyon from 900 to 1200 A.D and then disappeared.
        For one thousand years though, their outdoor artwork has endured.

       Consider the panels below.  In the first one a giant bison-like animal appears alongside smaller animals and a person or two.  In the second one, people and animals are scattered about.  And why is one person lying on his side?  What are the scribblings between the two people and the animal in the center-right of the drawing?  Are some of these chiselings just a type of ancient graffiti?  Or could it be that the Fremont peoples continued to add to these al fresco drawings throughout their tenure in the canyon?  More intrigue, more mystery.

Apparently, large buffalo used to live here.
They were all exterminated by the European settlers.

A lot of incongruous activity is going on in this scene.

           Most people visit Nine Mile Canyon to see The Great Hunt Panel, but there are hundreds of rock art sites scattered along the canyon's 40 mile length.  Why is a 40 mile long canyon named Nine Mile Canyon?  The canyon is named for Nine Mile Creek, which cuts through it.

Picnic area under the shade of Cottonwood trees.

         When visiting Nine Mile Canyon during the spring, summer or fall, bring along a picnic lunch and relax for awhile.  The shaded picnic area provides the perfect spot for pondering the fascinating works within The World's Longest Art Gallery.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Feeling the Heat in Death Valley National Park, California


          Furnace Creek Campground on this mid-May morning is all furnace and no creek.

         As the mercury climbs I drag my camp chair into the meager shade of my Toyota Venza, take a sip of coffee, and ponder today’s options.  Where to go when I have only one full day to tour Death Valley National Park?

         A walk from the campground to the adjacent Visitor Center is in order.  I hastily wash the breakfast dishes, then collapse my tent with everything in it and place rocks on top of the whole pile—high winds are forecast for today and I’m not keen to return to camp and find an empty campsite, my tent and its contents scattered across the desert.

My Furnace Creek Campsite.  You can see the frame of my collapsed tent
behind the picnic table.

         At the visitor center I study the park map.  Death Valley N.P. is immense; at 3.4 million acres it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states.  I formulate a plan to see as many highlights as I can. 
        A bout of lightheadedness and dizziness while in the visitor center—most likely the result of dehydration—convinces me to fill my water bottles and thermoses at the outdoor fountains, and to experience the park’s sprawling grandeur mostly from the comfort of my air-conditioned vehicle.  Today’s high temperature will reach 109°.

        First stop: Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below sea level.  I’ll never stand atop the highest spot on the continent, 19,685 ft. Mt. Denali in Alaska, so might as well plant my feet in the lowest.  And it’s easy to do, as you can drive right up to the parking area, exit your car and walk a few hundred feet to the basin.  Mission accomplished! 

Here it is, the low point of our Western Hemisphere!

         From Badwater Basin I travel the park’s undulating roller coaster roadways, making stops at The Artist’s Palette, Natural Bridge, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, and Mesquite Springs.  During short hikes at each stop I guzzle more water and return to the comfort of my car.  I now understand why this is not high visitation season in Death Valley.  One upside: No crowds.

The dunes stretch for two miles and are fun to climb.
Few visitors brave the broiling sand today though.

Along The Artist's Palette scenic drive.

         Back at the campsite winds are raging and I notice a neighboring tent has blown into a clump of trees.  
        At dusk the winds subside and temperatures dip into the 90s.  I re-erect my tent and crawl inside. After gulping a pint of water, I aim a battery-operated fan at my head and drift off to sleep inside my 5’x7’ furnace within Furnace Creek.

Early morning is the time to photograph the shadows of Zabriskie Point.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Historic Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

My sister (lower left) outside Lancaster's Central Market on
a cloudy November morning.

         Farmer's markets are all the rage.  Every city and town seems to be vying for the title of Coolest 21st Century Farmer's Market, describing themselves with adjectives such as "organic" "original" and "artisan".  But how about an authentic 18th Century Market?  
         Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the hands-down winner in all of the above categories, providing market-goers with the bona-fide farmer's market experience in the same location for a remarkable 288 years.

         Here is how Wikipedia defines Central Market:

A public marketplace was deeded on this site in 1730 as part of the settlement of Lancaster. The marketplace was officially chartered by King George II on May 1, 1742, officially designating Lancaster as a market town. The Central Market occupies a portion of the original marketplace, with the first permanent building erected in 1757.

        You can't beat a farmer's market chartered by King George II.  And you can't beat the shopping at Lancaster's Central Market for all your holiday culinary needs.  The photos below provide a mouth-watering taste of Central Market's offerings.

Need celery?  This stand has you covered.

Gotta have a fresh turkey for your holiday table.

Don't forget the baked goods.

There's always room for whoopie pies!

Has this post whetted your appetite for old-fashioned country cooking?  If so, get out there and patronize a local farmer's market—even if it's one that hasn't been around for almost three centuries.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Scarecrow Bash, Del Norte, Colorado

         During its annual 'Scarecrow Bash' the town of Del Norte, Colorado invites local businesses to display their inspired creations.

         Enjoy a selection of this year's creative contest entries:

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Vermont Maple Madness

Every "Mom and Pop" business in Vermont sells Maple Syrup!

         You’ve heard of the Five food groups.  
         The State of Vermont has added a Sixth:  Maple

         Vermont is the number one maple syrup producing state in the country.  They're proud of it, and while you’re touring the state they don’t let you forget it.  During my last couple trips to Vermont I sampled these foods:

         maple cream, 
         maple sugar sprinkles,
         maple-leaf sugar candy,
         maple creemees (soft-serve ice cream),
         maple shakes,
         maple malts,
         maple french-roast coffee,
         maple-bacon ice cream,
         maple-bacon cream cheese,
         maple-chocolate topping,
         maple ricotta,
         maple-mustard dressing,
         maple scones,
         maple sparkler (a dessert liquor),
         maple sticky buns,
         maple sugar-coated walnuts and, of course,
         maple syrup.
         Let’s see, have I forgotten anything?  Oh yes, maple lemonade.
         Not surprisingly then, maple syrup is for sale everywhere.  There are the large “touristy” maple farms sure, but every small farm stand and general store sells maple syrup too.  As does almost every other business.   I saw signs reading “Hay and Maple Syrup”, and “Farm Supplies and Maple Syrup”. I expected to see a business advertising: “Tires and Maple Syrup”.  Perhaps I did.

        All of this maple madness begs the question:  "Is there such a thing as too much maple?"  
        My answer is....."No".  When in Vermont, saturate yourself in the Sixth food group!
        Readers, do you agree?

If I could, I would probably bring a jug this size of syrup home with me.