Category Archives: Nature

Pitchers, Catchers and spring wildflowers

When I was growing up in Colorado, my countdown to spring began when pitchers and catchers reported for training. It wasn’t warm enough to play baseball where I was, but it would be in six weeks or so. Spring was on the horizon.

Today, I use a different standard to count down to spring: the appearance of the first trout lily. read more

Ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy: How to avoid ‘em (and how to deal with ‘em if you don’t)

tick

We’ve made the transfer from cool and budding to warm and lush. The weather is great for hiking — the associated annoyances we face along the way, specifically ticks and mosquitoes,  and poison ivy. 

Here’s a quick look at prevention and treatment for both.

Ticks & mosquitoes

Ticks and mosquitoes are being shown to cause a growing number of maladies, from Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (ticks) to viruses including Zika and chikungunya. Ticks, according to current thought, need to be attached for 24 hours before they become a problem (though removal as soon as possible is best); mosquitoes can do their damage immediately.

Avoid

  • In summer, seek double track trail, especially trail piggybacking on old roadbeds
  • Stick to the center of the trail, avoiding brushes with brush
  • Wear long pants (tucked into your hiking socks) and long-sleeve shirts, especially in tight passages. Yes, we’re heading into summer, but there’s plenty of lightweight clothing out there that will create less of a sauna effect.
  • Especially for mosquitoes, avoid areas that tend to be wet and boggy (remembering that wet and buggy can occur at even the highest elevations),

 

Repel

  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Other options: Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD), 2-undecanone.
  • Follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.

  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin, which remains protective through several washings. 
  • Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer. Farm to Feet, for instance, now has a No Fly Zone hiking sock that is, says the company, “treated with insect repellent that affects the insect’s nervous system causing ‘hot foot’, making it fly away before it may bite.” Greensboro-based Insect Shield not only makes a spray-on version and treats clothes for major outdoor clothing lines, but you can send in your favorite adventure clothing and have it treated. Prices start at $9.95 for a single item, drop two $8.33 per item for three to 19 pieces, and to $7.95 per item for 20 or more pieces of clothing.
  • Unsure about the best repellant for your needs? The Environmental Protection Agency has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family (see below).

Post hike

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming off the trail, preferably within two hours.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. If you have a close friend who can assist with the search, all the better. Parents should check their kids for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets.Ticks can ride on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes require washing first, use hot water.
  • If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately

If you find a tick

Follow this four-part removal process recommended by the CDC:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Poison Ivy

ID the plant

Your best bet in avoiding poison ivy is to know what this culprit looks like (see photo) and steer clear — way clear. In general, the vine has leaves that grow in threes; usually, but not always, one side of the leaf is smooth, the other has three serrations. Also, the vine itself is furry: if you see a fuzzy vine growing up the trunk of a tree, resist the urge to pet it. A good rule of thumb is to avoid “leaves of three,” which also covers the poison oak and poison sumac.

Avoidance and prevention

  • Again, do what you can to avoid contact, which includes:
  • Avoid green ground cover along the trail
  • Wear long pants. And immediately upon getting home, gingerly slip them off inside out and toss into the wash.

If you get it …

Even if you only think you’ve been exposed — keeping in mind that it may be hours before symptoms in the form of a rash and really itchy skin — clean the area thoroughly in question thoroughly. There are various recommendations on what to use, including:

  • Soap and water. Preferably a soap with some grit in it to help remove the poison oils from your pores.
  • Hand sanitizer. If you’re on the trail and think you may have brushed up against poison ivy, the alcohol in the hand sanitizer you may well have in your pack should help.
  • Alcohol pads. Ditto the alcohol pads found in most first-aid kits.
  • Tecnu Outdoor Skin Cleanser. Specially formulated to deal with poison ivy oils; keep a small bottle in your daypack if you’re hiking in dense, brushy woods. You can wash your clothes with it as well. Also comes in a scrub.

Treatment

If some poison ivy manages to penetrate your best defenses and you develop the really itchy rash, the more popular treatment options include calamine lotion, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide. Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are also suggested itch remedies. Calamine lotion, though, is easy to apply (dab a little on a cotton ball and apply).

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Experience Old Growth Forest in a New Light

The first time I went to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest—a 3,800-acre tract— I was awe of the concentration of old growth trees along the 2-mile trail takes you through one of the last remaining virgin cove forests in the Southeast. Here grow behemoth yellow poplar, oak, basswood, beech and sycamore, some believed to be more than 400 years old. Put in perspective, some might have been saplings when Hernando De Soto and the first Europeans passed through. The massive canopy limits the amount of plant life below—thought it does make room for an impressive spring wildflower display of cohosh, trillium, crested iris and more—giving the forest an ethereal feel.

But just across Little Santeetlah Creek— outside the memorial forest but within the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness— hikers can find true wonders. From the shared parking area, follow the Naked Ground Trail up Little Santeetlah, through a long draw that culminates in something approaching a box canyon. Along the way, you may glance up on occasion to take in these more subdued hardwoods and then — Whoa! look at the size of that tree! For whatever reason, the Babcock Lumber Company working the area a century back missed a few prime specimens: some giants are more than 100 feet high and more than 20 feet around. Occasionally, you’ll see a handful in close proximity. It’s a fine reward for a walk in the woods.

Below, you’ll find some of the remaining stands of old growth forest in North Carolina and Virginia. Additional information on exploring each area can be found below.

North Carolina

Nantahala National Forest

Hickory Branch Trail

According to the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, there was no logging here above 3,680 feet, leaving impressive montane-oak hickory and high elevation red oak forests. Protected as “Large Parch Old-Growth” by the Nantahala National Forest, trees here date back more than 200 years.

Pettigrew State Park (coast)

Moccasin Trail

Head down the Moccasin Trail from the park office and you’ll quickly be surrounded by some of the largest existing trees of their kind. Bay trees, sweet gums, persimmons and pawpaws all reach heights you’ve not seen before; bald cypress with trunks 10 feet in diameter and poplars reaching 130 feet are not uncommon, as are 100-foot-high Atlantic white cedars.

Pisgah National Forest

Snook’s Nose Trail

This trail begins below 1,800 feet in elevation, and within a mile and a half reaches the 3,200-foot mark, above which no logging took place (overall elevation gain on this 3.9-mile trail is just under 3,000 feet). Look for chestnut oak, black gum, red maple, black birch, table mountain pine, and Carolina hemlock, if you can see them through the mountain laurel and rhododendron lining the lower portions of the trail. Find more info on Snook’s Nose and our weekend visit in May below.

Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve (coastal plain)

Weymouth woods loop

There was a time when longleaf pine was the dominant forest in the Southeast. Today, the full majesty of this tree once coveted for its resin and sturdy trunks used as ship masts can only be found in places such as Weymouth Woods, where the longleaf still reaches heights of 100 to 120 feet. The oldest trees — up to 450 years old — can be found on the preserve’s Boyd Tract.

More info here.

Virginia

Jefferson National Forest

Cornelius Creek — Apple Orchard Trail loop

It took a train wreck that bankrupted the local lumber company in 1910 to spare portions of the North Creek watershed from logging. This trail combines with the AT for a 7-mile loop hike.

Jefferson National Forest

Garden Mountain — Appalachian Trail

Garden Mountain is part of the Ridge and Valley Province, and the surrounding forests include old-growth upland oaks. You’ll also get good views from atop Garden Mountain and Chestnut Knob.

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Explore old growth with GetHiking!

On our GetHiking! Classic Escape in May, we will explore old-growth forests in the Pisgah National Forest. On Saturday, May 19, we’ll climb the challenging 3.9-mile trail, going over Snook’s Nose and Laurel Knob, and search for old-growth forests above 3,200 feet. On Sunday, May 20, we’ll explore more old-growth in a shorter hike that’s more off-trail. Both hikes originate from our base camp for the weekend, the Curtis Creek Campground.

Learn more about our May escape and sign up here.

Resources

“Ancient Appalachian: the Southeast’s Old-Growth Forests” appeared in Blue Ridge Outdoors in 2005 and provides a look into the extent and location of old growth forests in the Southeast. Read the story here.

For more on exploring the old growth tracks listed above:

  • Hickory Branch Trail

Directions: From the town of Andrews, take Junaluska Road to Junaluska Gap and park. Hike northeast on the Junaluska Gap Trail for a little more than a mile, then head northwest (or go left) on Hickory Branch. (You can return via the London Bald Trail).

  • Pettigrew State Park
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    Next week, Take a Child Outside

    In 2005, author Richard Louv came out with his groundbreaking “Last Child in the Woods,” an account of how our kids have gone from being weaned in the wild to garrisoned in the great room in less than a generation.

    Within a year, Liz Baird, director of school programs for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, had launched Take A Child Outside Week, an effort to ensure that for at least one week a year, kids had ample opportunity to play outdoors. By 2010, her effort had been embraced by more than 400 partners — various agencies with a stake in kids, the outdoors or both — in all 50 states and four foreign countries.

    At the time, Baird said: “I recently compared it to a ball rolling down hill. We just gave it a push and it continues to spin faster and faster. I now have people seeking me out to become a partner.”

    Today, Take A Child Outside Week, which begins on Sunday, Sept. 24, and runs through Sept. 30, continues to flourish. Hundreds of opportunities to get your kids outdoors are planned in North Carolina alone. For instance, in North Carolina’s State Parks alone, you’ll find:

  • Painting the Mountain, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2 p.m., Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson: Using tempera paints and brushes, kids spend an hour painting scenes from atop Mount Jefferson. All supplies are free.
  • Canoe Excursion, Monday, Sept. 25, 9 a.m., Lake James State Park, Nebo: Paddle the Paddy’s Creek Area with a ranger.
  • Hike Jude’s Gap Historic Trail, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 10 a.m., Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock: two-mile hike that’s part of the Carolina Land Conservancy’s hiking badge program.
  • Fishing Occoneechee, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m., Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Hillsborough: Learn to bait a hook and cast; all equipment provided.
  • Natural Side of Fort Macon, Thursday, Sept. 28, 10 a.m., Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach: Leisurely hike exploring beach and trail at the fort.
  • Mammals of Stone Mountain, Friday, Sept. 29, 1 p.m., Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap: Join a ranger to learn about the animals that call Stone Mountain home.
  • Sunset Hike, Saturday, Sept. 30, 6:45 p.m., Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap: A mile and a half hike topped by sunset atop Stone Mountain.
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    Grow the awe of the eclipse

    Hard to say which was the most spectacular phenomenon Monday afternoon: the moon blotting out the sun or the event itself blotting out everything else.

    For a couple hours on Monday afternoon we were all focused on the awesomeness of nature. Some made a holiday of it, ignoring dire warnings from the NCDOT about driving to the Zone of Totality. Some simply stepped out into their backyards when the time came. But we all joined in the experience of the eclipse. As a friend put it, “Facebook hasn’t been this politics-free since before there was Facebook.”

    As the moon began its slow — or seemingly slow; it was traveling at about 1,800 miles per hour — journey, we dropped what we were doing and grabbed cereal boxes punched with holes, perforated pie pans, whatever we could improvise to view the rarity of the moon passing between Earth and sun.

    At our gathering, at the Horton Grove Nature Preserve, we were fortunate to hang out with Dan, who brought his dad’s mid-century surveying transit, which cast a crisp image of the event on white posterboard. Our buddy Chuck gave us a pair of sanctioned (we hope) viewing glasses. Cool as it was to view the eclipse directly, especially cool were the crescent-shaped shadows cast through the tree leaves. As the event peaked, the air cooled and the ambient light dimmed in a way that defied comparison. From Portland, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., a huge swath of the country dropped what they were doing and went out to experience the eclipse. And, for many, seven years might pass before they again venture into the wonder of nature, to watch the next total eclipse visible from the United States on April 8, 2024.

    But you, of course, know that nature provides a spectacular show every hour of every day of every week of every month.… And you have the power to carry on the enlightenment of the eclipse.

    Timing is on your side. We’re headed into fall, a season perhaps best suited to enjoying nature here in the South. It’s cooler, it’s drier. The air is crisp, the trees change color. A stillness much like that during the peak of the eclipse settles in. It’s a season that can be every bit as spellbinding as an event such as the eclipse. But people often need a nudge to get out and make that happen.

  • Take a couch-bound friend on a hike. Make it short, on a foot-friendly trail. Bring snacks and cold water. When you return to the trailhead, they’ll likely want to know when you can head out again.
  • Offer to lead a hike for beginners. Some folks are hesitant to hike because they don’t want to go out on their own and they’ve heard stories about how group hikes often leave beginners in the dust. That’s not how we operate at GetHiking! When we lead a hike, unless clearly stated otherwise, our commitment is to the last hiker.*
  • Talk up your adventures. Focus on how the trail leads away from deadlines and bosses, and bills and toward reflection, relaxation, and answers to life’s persistent questions.
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