Usually the leaves in Pendleton County WV reach peak fall color around October 14-21, but the whole month of September into October was so dry this year that many leaves have dried up and fallen before obtaining their normal vibrant colors. There are still pockets of color to be found though, especially in the valleys, so you still catch some color, if you don’t wait too long.
On October 14th, at Spruce Knob Lake, the usual magnificent reflections of color on the water were not to be had, but with the sky such a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature at 70 plus degrees, there were no complaints from us.
We have never seen so many folks fishing at the lake as we did this past Saturday, as we walked the easy, level trail around the lake, taking photos and enjoying the balmy weather.
I found that the lack of leaf colors caused me to look more closely at everything else as we walked.
Interesting textures and the odors of warm fall earth, still water and decaying plants became more important.
After leaving the lake we drove up the partly gravel road to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. We were a little sad to see that most of the trees towards the west had already lost their leaves. The wind was not bad and it was a gorgeous view of the West Virginia hills, regardless.
We followed a trail down from the lookout tower that goes through some loose rocks onto a small level meadow. The views to the east and South were excellent from there.
A few huge boulders you can climb on walked the meadow.
I thought this one looked like a lumbering short legged creature from the stone age. I did climb up and sit on top pretending it was a horse sort of thing.
There were Mountain Ash on top of the mountain, with brilliant scarlet berries, dark green Spruce trees leaning out of the constant western wind, and the wonderfully textured sandstone aggregate rocks to admire.
You can never go wrong with a trip up to Spruce Knob and the drive back down on the east side is paved. Route 33 East to Franklin has the Germany Valley overlook as another highlight.
This maple was one of the few colorful trees we saw up close and it looks great with the sumac and Germany Valley beyond.
The Potomac Valley and other lower elevations should be pretty in the next week, especially since we finally got a rain last week. Even after the leaves fall, Spruce Knob, in Pendleton County, West Virginia is a magical place to visit. (Click on the Link for photos from 2016)
For our 24th wedding anniversary we stuck with tradition and headed out to the mountains and Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. We have a cabin not too far away in the same county of Pendleton and stayed there for the long Columbus Day weekend.
The weather started out dreary, drizzly and cold and we were glad to warm up by our wood stove and the first fire of the season. A hurricane was pounding the southern states with rain and wind and we were glad to have it only bring a few heavy showers our way.
By Sunday, the skies were clear and blue with a cold, brisk wind blowing any lingering thoughts of summer far away. It was definitely Fall with all the rich smells and colors to go with it. October is such a beautiful month in the mountains.
We drove out past Franklin on Route 33 west and stopped at the Germany Valley Overlook, which is pretty no matter what time of year it is.
The road to the top of the mountain is paved these days, which has made it less of a dusty chore than it used to be. It is still narrow though, and we had to pull way to the edge to let those coming down pass by. Every now and then we glimpsed a flash of color, from a Sugar Maple or a tree harboring a bright red Virginia Creeper vine.
We drove on by the turn to the top and made our way over to Spruce Knob Lake to see how much color might be there.
It was gorgeous and the trees were further along than they had been in the valley below. It was so cold and windy that I needed to put my ear warmers and fleece on as soon as we got out of the car. We did not stay long because we wanted to get a hike in and had gotten a late start.
Backtracking towards the trail head we stopped at the campground to check it out, just because we never had . There are 42 primitive campsites-with outhouses, picnic tables and fire rings- on a one way loop in the woods. No views but still nice looking, fairly private sites.
There were only a couple of cars parked at the Allegheny trail head as we loaded our day packs and adjusted our boots.
We had hopes of finding some good views from the main Allegheny Ridge trail but were disappointed in that, and also because the gated trail had been recently traveled on by some huge vehicle that left mud and water filled ruts. It was difficult to get around some of the deep mud and I had it go over the top of my boots at one point. We decided to leave the main trail and take a side shoot instead, turning onto North Prong Trail and following it down into a quiet open valley.
Crossing the shallow creek numerous times, the trail became almost to narrow to find, through high summer weeds and amazingly thornless brambles. We eventually came out to an intersection with the Gandy Run Trail and followed that back towards our starting place. We saw hardly any wildlife and only two people the whole 3 1/2 hours we spent on the trail. Still, it was a beautiful day and much warmer and less windy down on the lower trails.
We got back in the car and drove up to the Spruce Knob viewing platform, the highest point in the state.
It was only 42 degrees F and the wind was blowing, as it always is up this high. Looking out from the top of the platform there is nothing but mountains and more mountains as far as you can see.
The Spruce trees sound like the ocean as the wind blows through them. Sometime, I hope to be up here to watch the sun set. Not today though.
Fall color is just starting and should be gorgeous in another week.
You can catch a tiny glimpse of the lake in the top left of this zoomed photo and the most color we have seen all day.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped for another great view to the East.It is always invigorating to experience Spruce Knob and we had another good day.
Back to our little cabin for dinner and warmth by the woodstove.
We left Sapphire Springs in search of a really big Kauri tree that was supposed to live nearby. Kauri trees have beautiful, tightly grained, durable wood and huge forests of them used to cover the islands, but the original stands were decimated in the 1800’s and have not recovered. These days the oldest trees are given their own individual names and protected within parks and people are attempting to cultivate new groves of them.
The sign at the trail head has a cleaning station, with a boot brush and an underground tank with a spray nozzle to clean your boots before you enter the forest.
Every Kauri stand we come across has these stations in an effort to prevent the spread of a soil borne fungal disease, Phytopthora agathadicidia, that is now attacking the trees. It is good to see them trying so hard to prevent the disease, even though the chances are slim that it will help much.
After hiking for an hour and a half we figured out that we were on the wrong trail, and were instead in a young Kauri forest, so we had to go on down the road to the next trail head.
Once on the correct path, we quickly arrived at this tree, named Tuahu, which was huge and towered over the surrounding forest. We met a local man and his well traveled grandson while enjoying the tree. The boy was ten years old and had already been to the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore in the States.
As we resumed our drive towards the coast we came to an interesting looking park in a narrow gorge, with swinging bridges over the river, and decided to stop.
Originally a protected Maori gateway, this steep walled canyon became an industrial gold mine from 1883-1933. Thirteen levels of tunnels were chiseled through the mountain, and rails carried the broken quartz rocks along narrow ledges to wood fired kilns. The surrounding hills were totally deforested to provide fuel. After eighty some years, the trees and ferns have reclaimed the area
Today, the woods have grown back over the old mine buildings and some of the tunnels have walking trails through them,with swinging bridges criss crossing the river.
Giant tree ferns, flowers and lichens add color.
We finally make it to the coast and a stop at Hot Water Beach, a very strange place which seems like a normal beach until you realize that there are a lot of people and everyone is carrying a shovel.
We follow a string of folks out to a tightly bunched crowd, all madly digging holes in the sand and sitting in them as they fill with water.
It is pretty amusing to watch this whole process and although I am not digging, I can see where if you had a bunch of friends and some beer, it might be fun. Hot water seeps onto this section of the beach from a couple of 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) springs, for two hours either side of low tide. It is a small area and there is a fair amount of jostling for best position.
A flourishing business has evolved with shovel rentals, paid parking and cabin rentals nearby.
Our campground for the night, the Hahei Holiday Park is just a short drive around the cove. A couple of boys are doing a great job of miming a rope pulled taut across the road as we approach the entrance gate. We pretend to be held back for a few seconds before they collapse to the ground laughing and we give them a “Good job!” and a thumbs up. All the people that work at the park are in the middle of an outdoor Christmas party, so they tell us to park in an empty section and catch them in the morning. A thunder storm is brewing up black clouds as we find our spot and then quick head down to yet another beautiful beach before it hits.
As usual on most New Zealand beaches (except the hot water one) there is hardly anyone around and it is breathtakingly beautiful, with little islands off shore, long vistas, clean water, and clean sand. When the sky starts turning an alarming shade of green, we high tail it back towards the camper van, but the storm beat us back and we get totally drenched. The rain is coming down in buckets, wind is whipping the trees and we pile into the van and wait it out. Dinner does not happen tonight because the storm did not let up until late, so we just had a snack and lay on the bed reading and downloading camera cards for awhile. When it finally stopped raining we got out and set the tent up over the tailgate, went to the bath house and washed up and crawled into bed.
When I went to the kitchen in the morning for my coffee water, I was disappointed to find no table inside, only picnic tables outdoors, and since they were all wet from the storm, there was no where to eat and no one else around to talk to. I ended up using our own little table and chairs, which we hardly ever use, back at the van. This place looks like it is going to be a big party spot in a couple of weeks and they are booked solid. There are lots of different showers, a covered airing room to dry bathers and such and I notice how different the plumbing is here than at home.
The water pipes are all exposed and not insulated in any way, which probably means it does not ever freeze here. They are able to have wash stations and fish cleaning sinks and all outside all year round.
There are hiking trails and cool destinations close by and today we are walking out to Cathedral Cove so we get an early start.
Lucky that we did because the parking area is already getting
crowded and I imagine in peak season it is impossible to find a space. we have packed a lunch , swimsuits and sunscreen, since it is sunny and warming up fast.
We walk through tropical forest with openings into sunny meadows and views of the ocean.
Then down a steep path to a white sandy beach cove surrounded by cliffs and sea caves with the clearest blue water.
At his point we had to duck into a sea cave and change into swim suits.
We waded around and walked through the cool shady archway into another secluded beach with sea stacks.
It seems like this huge shady cave would be an excellent place to cool off on a hot day at the beach. It is open on two sides with great views of the water.
The day was warm and sunny, the water clear and still a bit cold, but we waded around, relaxed, and checked out the caves and cliffs until the tide came in too much. There were a few people here picnicking and a group of kayakers wandered in but it was not crowded yet. I wanted to stay here all day, scrabbling over the rocks and exploring further up the coastline but we had to walk back out through meandering pathways to the van and continue our journey. Darn it.
We headed around the Coramandel Peninsula on the road. There are tracks at the far north where no roads go which would be good hiking.
Colorfully painted beehives are randomly parked all over roadsides throughout New Zealand and we passed some of these on the way. I never saw any that were all one color.
Then we climbed a steep hill and dropped down the other side for a nice view of the west side of the Coramandel Coast.
We started to see fleets of fishing boats in the harbors.
Then there was a whole group of a Cormorant type bird called a Pied shag. I love the way they stand around and dry their armpits.
Jeff wanted to go into Auckland to get more information on the northern part of the island, right into the center of the city.
When the pedestrian lights are GO they come from all directions at once and totally clog the center of the intersection. No cars move, only people. There were a lot of people.
The i-site was a few blocks walk from where we parked, in the base of the big needle tower. Gathering travel information was a bust because the internet was down all over the city. No body knew what to do. I just wanted out. On the way, we watched crazy people suit up in flight coveralls to jump off the tower– from really high up. They were tethered to bungee cords and guy wires but it looked pretty scary. I just wanted to get out of town and our talking GPS kept turning us around in circles. We finally made it out and headed north again. Seemed like we drove all day long and we did not stop until we got to Waipu Cove, except for a quick stop at a super windy beach camp that was full anyway.
The camp at Waipu Cove was one of the nicest ones, with a cozy kitchen and shiny new bathrooms. Tonight is our twenty first night traveling around in New Zealand. We have another five days here and then we have a week in Perth, Australia.
We pulled into camp fairly late in the day and as usual, wanted to go right out on the beach. We had to cross a wetland to get to the dunes walk and they had a hand powered rope ferry to pull yourself across on.
I loved crossing the water on the little floating ferry and walking the winding path through the dunes. The wide open and deserted beach was one of the few where we actually found shells. There was no one out there but us.
There is only one other tent there tonight, although closer to the road there are quite a few cabins with folks that look like they are staying for long periods.
We cook our dinner at Waipu Cove and make ready for another day. It is peaceful and quiet and we can see a lot of stars out and hear the ocean. Tomorrow, there are the Waipu limestone caves that we have to explore
Boathouse on Rainbow Lake
The glassy water mirrors a perfect picture of the tangerine sun setting in the western sky. Trees stand on their heads in the shimmering upside down land. A loon cries nearby, answered by one further off, the haunting sound skimming over the flat water. Absolute tranquility. Two mallards land out near the middle of the lake, circular ripples finally reaching shore with a quiet nod. A tiny puff of breeze riffles up and dies again, slowly rocking and bumping the boats below in their moorings.
Sitting out on the deck, the stars come out and then the entire Milky Way is visible across the sky. The sky is big and dark and there are millions of stars. A couple of cabins away, some kids are getting excited about maybe seeing UFO’s , but they finally get settled in around their campfire, their Dad softly strumming his guitar. Snatches of quiet song drift over and float away. A nighttime breeze moves in off the lake and cools the cabin down for bedtime.
In the morning, a loon calls and a hot mug of coffee steers me out on the deck. Low fog is shrouding the lake as I lower into the Adirondack chair. As the sun rises, the downy cloud slowly floats upward, revealing a Great Blue Heron out in the shallows. He gracefully bends his long backwards legs then goes completely still. A lone duck swims quietly by, a V trail marking his wake. By the time sunlight reaches the far shore I am down on the yoga mat, getting ready for the new day.
After a breakfast of yoghurt and local peaches, it is time to explore with a relaxing paddle across the lake. The weather is just right, warm and calm. We lower ourselves into our boats for an easy glide over silky water. We head for the long, esker island, from a long ago glacier, that divides Rainbow Lake lengthwise. There are some cabins out there that are only reachable by boat in the summer. Some are small, rustic summer cabins, simple little hideaways, but there are a couple that look like they might be substantial enough for four seasons. In the winter folks have to traverse the frozen lake on foot or snowmobile (called sleds up here) to get out there. Last year it went down to 40 below zero, and high winds drifted the snow waist deep on the leeward side, scouring the land dry on the other. Sounds brutal, but maybe wonderful, to feel this place in the winter, hear the high shooting sounds of ice expanding, as long as you can cozy up to a nice warm wood stove.
Paddling out around the other side of the island, towards where a small creek flows in, and then zig-zagging upstream, there is a beaver dam, and it looks like a dead end. Back tracking into the lake again, we spot a tiny break out on the esker just big enough to get a boat through. It turns out to be a nice picnic spot with good sitting rocks and a fire pit that looks out to a section of lake where there seem to be more people and boats.
A family comes through the gap in four well-crafted kayaks in purple, red, green and yellow. We admire them as they go through and are told they are made of rosined fabric stretched over wooden frames, and weigh only 25 pounds. They seem to be perfect lake boats, easy to maneuver and light. I would not want to take them through a rocky river though.
We finish lunch and paddle up the other side of the island to where there is a place to pull canoes or kayaks up on shore with a trail heading off through the woods. The path is barefoot-soft with pine needles, winding through an amazing array of picture perfect fungi, and ends at a secluded pond with an empty campsite and a spare boat ready for fishing. We enjoy the peace and quiet for awhile and then retrace our steps to the parked boats. We could spend days exploring all the nooks and crannies on this lake. When the shadows start to lengthen we find our way through the water, back home to another beautiful warm evening, and a tiny slice of moon added to the sunset.
Awakening to another new day, we fill our water bags and pack food for a drive out to the Loon Mountain fire tower trailhead. Boating one day and hiking the next evens the muscles out- kayaking works arm muscles, hiking up mountains works legs and heart- especially a steep hike. The first part of the hike is an easy grade up an old logging trail until the blazed trail turns off and suddenly narrows into a muddy, rocky footpath. Moose tracks, only a day or so old, are pointed down as the trail heads up. Someone has been doing a lot of trail maintenance on the initial steep part, building footbridges over mossy, rocky waterways and past a few small waterfalls. After five or six little bridges the path gets seriously vertical and the trail climbs right up the middle of a drainage, gaining 1500 feet elevation in the process.
There are lots of colorful mushrooms and wet mosses, and it is much damper than you might expect, considering the rocky elevation. This hike was called “moderate” in the hiking book but the second half of it is fairly difficult, both for footing and for pitch.
We finally reach an almost level path, where the shady woods gives way to a sunny, rock bald at 3340 feet elevation. There is a fantastic clear view from up here which makes it worth the trek.
The fire tower, a decrepit, rusty, erector-set-looking thing perches on the bare rock. The tower stairs have been removed but you can see fine without any more climbing. There are full views to the North, East and South. There is something barely visible on the horizon to the North. Zooming in with a camera, it turns out to be windmills on a ridge way out in the distance. Otherwise, there is a just a hint of a gravel road and a barely visible bit of power line cutting through the endless layers of green hills and flashes of lakes.
For some strange reason, there is a cloud of giant drone-like damsel flies hovering around the summit while we rest. They won’t sit still long enough for me to get a decent photo and it is hard to figure out why they are up here. One hawk cruises by, a little ways off, at about eye level, but that is about it for visible wildlife. After the exertion climbing up, we aren’t really hungry for our lunch, so we nibble on a few pumpkin seeds and cherry tomatoes, and drink some water before heading back down the way we came.
There is a side trail on the way with a view to the West so we detour over. From there we can see more lakes and even more green hillsin the distance. The total hike is 5.4 miles long on our GPS and takes us 4 hours, including the nice rest we had at the top.
By the time we get back to the car, we are drenched in sweat, so we change into dry clothes for the next leg. Our guide book says there are board walks on this short hike to a waterfall called High Falls, so my hot hiking boots get pulled off and replaced with sandals and a skirt. The “boards” turn out to be hand-hewn logs draped across the muddy patches, and the walk is an easy mile through the woods along the Salmon River. We pass no one on the way in. There hasn’t been anyone on the trails with us all day, actually. There are a few nice cascades along the way and the biggest waterfall is about thirty feet high and fifty feet across , with massive amounts of slightly tannin colored water flowing over it.
It would be a nightmare to go over in a kayak, but somebody brave or crazy has probably done it. At the bottom of the thundering falls the water makes an abrupt left hand turn and races downstream without bothering to stop and form much of a pool. There is a large, solid landing of rock to hang out on down at the bottom, facing the falls. It is not a very good swimming hole, too much volume and speed and churning about. Someone has built a throne of rocks to sit and gaze from on and we take turns sitting there for awhile, absorbing the sound and feel of the water. It is a great waterfall, mesmerizing to watch.
On the way back we pass a woman with two kids wearing swimsuits and carrying towels. They ask if they are headed the right way for the falls. We say yes, and then wonder later if we should have warned them about swimming there. Hopefully they were careful. We passed the dad a little further upstream, fishing.
Once back at the car we stick to the paved road, instead of the wash boarded gravel we came in on, and happen upon a little village on a lake with a sign for 24 hour gas, which seems like a good idea. There aren’t that many places out here to buy gas and a whole lot of back roads to use it up on. It turns out to be just a big gas tank with a single electric pump, set out back of a not-very- lucrative-looking store, but the lonely machine took our credit card and we felt better for having topped off our tank. There is a For Sale sign on the deserted building and another sign in the big dirt parking lot that says “Parking for sleds and ATV’s only”. It took us a while to figure out that a sled is a snowmobile and that in the winter it gets crazy with them up here. We get home just in time to see another nice sunset from the deck.
We must be finally relaxing, as we are getting up earlier in the morning now, sleeping deeper and more rested. Sunrise is not directly visible from our vantage point in the boathouse as it looks south and hugs a hill on the east side, but the lake is beautifully serene each morning, still and glassy, as the ducks and loons begin to talk and move about. Today we are resting up somewhat and going to the Wild Center Museum down in Tupper Lake. We have heard it is definitely worth doing.
As we are getting ready to leave, our boathouse owner comes walking up the path from his other boat house -he has three tiny ones in a row. The other two are more like boat garages on the water, no rooms above it like ours. He has a friend with him and they are in the midst of a recycle run after having his son’s family visiting for the past week out on the island. New York pays a nickel for each can and bottle you bring in, but you can’t crush the cans, they have to be able to read the bar scan. We ask him how the boathouses and docks faired in the winter, with all the ice heaving and snow, and he says they take a lot of work to maintain every year, and basically have to be constantly rebuilt. Last winter the ice grew 3 feet thick and it pushed a lot of the docks and boathouses askew. He pointed out a couple we had seen that were all jacked up on one side and leaning. It is just something you have to deal with and get used to around here.
When we get to the Wild Center it has a big field roped off with flags for parking and looks like a county fair sort of celebration going on. It turns out that they have just opened up a whole new exhibit area this July 4th and are getting a lot of new visitors because of it. The new part is called the Wild Walk and after buying our tickets ($20 each for adults) we decide to do it first. The Wild Walk is a tree top walk over raised boardwalks and swinging bridges leading to alcoves depicting different animals habitats.
One has a giant spider and web, made of ropes and netting stretched across a hole in the deck, that you can climb around on which is fun. Nearby displays teach cool spider facts. Did you know that static electricity plays a role in attracting insects into spider webs?
Another area has a giant stick-woven Eagles nest, built up high on stilts, with stairs leading up and viewing spots of different mountains. There are swings hanging down below and a swinging bridge takes you to a giant hollow tree trunk with all sorts of hidey critter homes in it. The rendition of the tree looks and feels incredibly real. There are realistically carved creatures, lurking in nooks all along the walk. One is of a porcupine and the artist is in the process of adding others on the massive wood posts supporting the walk structure.
Metal is also creatively used and the whole thing is great fun for kids (and big people) to explore and play around on.
It is getting pretty warm by now, being right at noon, so we head down a trail, through shady trees, onto two docks overlooking a marshy section of an oxbow on the Raquette River. There are too many people around to be able to see any otters and it is probably siesta time for most critters anyway. We had paddled on this same river the last time we were up here, but had not done this section. The St Regis Outfitters in Saranac Lake will rent you a boat or they can shuttle your boats if you want to use your own. Or you can paddle upstream from various put ins and float easily back down, the current is not hard. A boat is a good thing to have up here and there are lots of places to explore.
Next, we walk back around to the Museum by way of a manmade but natural looking pond that butts right up to the south side of the building. This property was once a commercial sand pit and they have used the already open space to create a wild looking pond and marshy area, with native plants and turtles and frogs. Once inside the museum, we realize that the floor sits below water level of the pond and there are huge windows, with wide wooden ledges and stools, looking out over the water. We buy a soft pretzel with maple mustard and drink some free water to cool off. The museum has a daily schedule of different live animals being brought out with an interpreter. When we first arrived it was a snake, and now, some turtles. Live river Otters come inside to their natural looking splash pool, from their private refuge outside, every day at 2 pm, and we are mesmerized as they glide around below water. You can get right up to the glass and watch them enjoying themselves, barely moving their limbs as they move underwater, pushing off rocks, rolling around and then slipping to the surface for some air and back down in one smooth motion. I could watch River Otters all day.
The Wild Center is full of interactive areas for kids to touch, smell, and hear woodland critters. They can grind on some rock like a glacier, put their hands in trickling streams of water, or even paint pictures. There is a search game to follow along, and lots of live fish and turtles and frogs in natural habitats.
There is also a huge, interactive, 3D globe suspended in the middle of a room that will show you about 800 different world happenings in real time. It will light up every place in the world that is having earthquakes, show the ocean currents and temperatures, and volcanoes that are erupting right now. There are shark tracking routes, radioactivity patterns from the Japanese earthquake, tsunamis’, hurricanes, even other planets. We spent a lot of time in there as there were so many different programs and the interpreter was very good at controlling the program. If no one is interpreting you can also control it yourself from a touch screen. The Wild Center is a great place for families to spend an afternoon and everyone will enjoy it. It is a fun way to learn and not stuffy at all like some museums can be. You can break up the inside and outside time as much as you need so you can keep the whole family happy.
There is so much to write about our trip that there is a second part coming later.
-Wendy lee Maddox
writing at http://www.edgewisewoods.com
Getting a word in edgewise through storytelling and pictures