Friday, September 21, 2007

Butterflies, Butterflies, and more...

SPIDERS!!! That pretty much sums up my hike at Warrior's Path State Park on September 7th.

I had wanted to go back to Roan Mountain as soon as possible, but I was also aware that there was a big naturalist gathering going on the 7th through the 9th. Fearing a lack of solitude on the trails there, I fled north to explore Warrior's Path instead. Lucky for me, Warrior's Path does offer an online trail map, and with it I was able to decide in advance that I wanted to check out the Sinking Waters Trail. This is actually a series of loop trails that supposedly totals about 3 miles in length. Perhaps these trails were just too easy for me, or perhaps I'm getting used to walking more and more, but I would swear that these trails amounted to far less than three miles. And I even walked a little more than what is shown on the map, as I'll explain later!

Of course, my misunderestimation of the trail length could also be due to the level of my distraction along much of it. It seemed as though as soon as I would put my camera away, more photo-worthy moments would present themselves. So much so that I resorted to carrying my camera (my heavy DSLR, even) in hand for long stretches at a time; not a practice to which I am usually given, as it tends to throw off my gait, having 2.5 extra pounds swinging about out there at the end of my arm.

Actually, the first leg or so of the hike was somewhat uneventful. In order to ensure that I didn't miss any nooks or crannies of the trails, I systematically worked my way around them, taking every right turn that presented itself to me. The first thing this took me to was a little shelter over a rocky, wet area that looked like a spring, but there didn't seem to be much water flowing from it, and I haven't checked my maps yet to be sure. It was quaint, but it was also a dead end, so I retraced my path and continued on to the next right, which turned out to be the beginning of the first loop on the map.

This was probably the most challenging loop of the trail, and not only because of the, ahem, local wildlife. Shortly after making my right onto the loop, I began encountering spiders webs, and plenty of them. Most of the spiders I saw in/on them were of the smaller variety, though there was one quarter-sized one that I stopped to watch for some time; he was in the process of taking up his web, I guess getting ready to re-build it. I lamented at the time that I had to break his web and disrupt him from the process. Now I'm lamenting that I didn't dig out my camera and take a bunch of photos.

The other challenge of this loop lay in its terrain; it ascended to a ridgeline, followed it for a bit, and then dropped back down. There was also an informative sign along the ridge, about how it serves as a dividing line between types of habitat. Actually, I think this would make a great family hike, as there are several very informative interpretive signs, and they're all written in easy-to-understand language and leave the reader with questions to think about as they walk through the area. In addition, although there is some climbing to be done, it is moderate, and of course could be taken slowly if need be. Just make sure one of the big people walks in front and swings a big stick. This is what I eventually had to resort to, similar to my escapades in Winged Deer Park, in order to avoid being covered in sticky webs.

Just out of curiosity, is there any skin or other health benefit to be derived from the proteins and other compounds in spider silk?

But I digress. As I emerged from the first loop, and made my way into the second one, the hike got a bit more claustrophobic, but in a good way. Instead of open, tree-canopied trail, I was hemmed in on both sides by tall-growing flowering plants, which of course attracted many, many butterflies (and had a pleasant aroma, as well). The trail itself was often carpeted in grass, and as seen here, butterflies:

The flowers also attracted various buzzing insects, but these were of little bother to me. Perhaps I was just too busy paying attention to (and taking photographs of) the butterflies. Or maybe this is a moth.

One of the interpretive signs, I believe, made mention of how this trail had once been a major highway through the region. Although there was nothing that I noticed to specifically explain this little marker, judging by what I've seen in other countries and regions, I'm guessing it's an approximation of what the original "King's Highway" distance markers looked like.

Just for your edification, this is what most of the spiders I encountered looked like. My apologies for the blurriness, but this little guy was moving fast, and he's barely as big as my fingernail. Kudos for my camera for getting anything in focus, the way I was swinging this stick around.

After polishing off the first and second loops, the trail descends into a marshy wetland area, but the park service has thoughtfully built a boardwalk through it so that a. we humans needn't get our feet muddy and b. the animal inhabitants needn't have their habitat destroyed by our tromping feet. This "boardwalk" is actually made of plastic. A combination of plastic lumber made out of recycled bottles, and a gridwork walking path that looks (and feels) considerably more brittle (though I hope I'm wrong). Somehow the presence of plastics didn't spoil the effect of the nature walk, though.

The boardwalk had its fair share of spideriffic inhabitants as well, so there was no opportunity to stop swinging my stick. It also had a few other inhabitants, most of them looking like this furry fellow:

According to the map, the boardwalk makes a loop that ends the trail. In reality, however, there is yet another connector trail. This was broad and flat and tree-lined, and for a very short distance reminded me of the sections of the Ice Age Trail I had hiked near the Dells of Eau Claire in Wisconsin. I should've known it was landscaped. Yes, literally, mowed. You see, at the other end of this little connector trail was the park's golf course. The saving graces of this let down were the wildflowers that lined the course edge, and of course the butterflies that inhabited them (though I couldn't seem to get any "on film").

I saw the golfers, but I doubt they noticed me, as I was on the far side of one of the course's bumps. Or whatever they're called. After taking in the, ahem, scenery, I retreated, and continuing to take the right-hand options, covered the remainder of the trail system in what seemed like record time.

In addition to encountering this thistle-loving butterfly, there was also some farmland off to the right of the trail. Interestingly I noted that they appeared to be growing grapes there. I'm guessing there might be wineries hereabouts, but not being much of a connoisseur myself, I probably won't be doing any research on the matter. I ambled back to my car, and the day had warmed rapidly, so emerging from the cool shelter of the woods into my portable blue oven was a bit of a shock, but there was a cool shower awaiting me at home.