Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pickle Creek

This past weekend I took my oldest daughter, Kimberly, to Hawn State Park and we hiked the Pickle Creek trail. The Pickle Creek Natural Area, which is within the borders of the park, is apparently very special because of the variety of plants, birds, and animals that live near the creek. The trail begins at a very nice picnic area in a stand of pines.

Then the trail follows the creek for about a mile. The creek bed is very boulder-strewn and quite pretty. Apparently there are few places in the state where so many types of rock formations are visible. The creek itself is described as "tea colored" which is a very good description. However the water is also described as "high quality". We couldn't figure out whether it was the water or the creek bed which gave the color. We were carrying plenty of water so we didn't bother tasting it for ourselves.

The terrain is quite rugged and so there are some nice views to be had. The forest is also very pretty and apparently has been managed using occasional burning so it is comparatively open and free of invasive species.

At the end of the trail we decided to bushwhack to a campsite we saw on the map. The camp is along another trail which picks up at the end of the pickle creek trail but we would have had to follow it around a loop which was several miles long and it was getting dark. Finding the camp took us a while because the map was only approximate. But then we realized that our GPS did show the trail which leads to the camp. So we used the GPS to intersect the trail near where we figured the camp must be and then followed it to the camp.

Often I just camp wherever the mood strikes me. But there are advantages to an established site, even a backcountry site like this one with no services. One advantage is that there is open, flat space. We were sleeping on the ground under a tarp rather than in hammocks so the flat space was welcome. In addition an established camp has a fire ring and so you can make a fire. That helps to make the night seem more cheery. We ate our dinner by the fire and then watched a movie on Kimberly's iPod and went to sleep.

I did get one shot of our camp the next morning. I pitched our tarp between two trekking poles. I really like this pitch because it's so easy to put up and provides 360 degree views. In the picture below our bug bivies are draped over the trekking poles to dry.

We didn't hike a lot of miles on this trip but we had a nice time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


My brother came to visit me over Labor day weekend. He is a tarantula enthusiast and so we went hiking around various places in Missouri looking for them (they aren't found in northern Illinois where he lives). I like to think of our trip as the tale of three arachnids

1. Aphonopelma Hentzi, the Texas Brown Tarantula. This is what we were looking for. They appear in glades in southern Missouri under rocks. At least that's what we heard. We failed to uncover any even after flipping many rocks.

The first place we looked was fairly close to home. The Valley View Glades Natural Area in Jefferson county was rumored to have tarantulas. It's a small glade complex but it did offer us with a view of the second arachnid.

2. Centruroides vittatus, the Striped Scorpion or Plains Scorpion. This is apparently Missouri's only scorpion. They were quite plentiful under the rocks in the glades. However I think we only saw young scorpions because they were sort of a yellow color rather than the dark brown color that the adults are supposed to have. We also saw several skinks and several small snakes which I think are Western Worm Snakes. They are really small and hide under rocks.

After spending several hours we decided to head to southern Missouri to the Hercules Glade complex. Here is a picture of the glade top trail which I stoke from the forest service web site.

We camped in an area called the Tidwell area which is very nice. During the night it rained really hard. So much so that we had to abandon our tarp and retreat to the car. Wind blown rain was getting in. We were trying to share an 8x10 tarp with me in a hammock and my brother on the ground. The tarp didn't provide enough coverage for two.

Although the Hercules Glades are nice looking we thought we might have better luck a little further east at Caney Mountain Conservation Area. We enjoyed hiking in this area but failed to find any tarantulas. We saw a few more snakes but I'm not sure which species they were. However the patches of grasslands provided an enounter with the third arachnid.

3. Trombicula alfreddugesi, Chiggers! I don't normally encounter many chiggers when I hike. But that's because I tend to stay in woodlands. Chiggers infest grassy areas. You never see them (they are tiny) or even feel them bite. You just begin to itch after a few hours. This scratching dislodges the chigger but that is just the beginning. Chiggers do not burrow into your skin or suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject a saliva that dissolves skin cells. It also causes the nearby cells to harden into a tube that the chigger can drink through. It is this tube that causes the discomfort later on. Your body will eventually break down this tube but until then you have an itchy welt. At the moment I have something like 100 on my feet, ankles, and the backs of my knees. Oh well.