Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snake and Rocks of Raven Rock State Park

This is my second blog about my and Judy's
day trip to Raven Rock State Park.  Be sure to
 view the preceding one if you haven't already.

As we descended toward the Cape Fear River
on the Raven Rock Trail, we followed and
criss-crossed Little Creek.

Signs of coming attractions
(I hope you're reading this, Liz!)

Though the park map designates this trail as
"Easy," and Judy and I had no difficulty with
it, most people would not call this 100-step
wooden stairway "easy."

I always love the anticipation of first sight
of a river or waterfall.  Here's the majestic
Cape Fear River, integral to North Carolina's
history from the early years to now.

The formation known as Raven Rock is as
 high as 150 feet and stretches for about a mile
 on the eastern shore of the Cape Fear River.

I guess this "End of Trail" sign is to prevent
over-zealous hikers from marching right off
into the river.

Now it's time to introduce the marvelous
specimen that made my day.  Someone in
the crowd of law enforcement officers there
that day pointed out a large snake in the water.
When it approached the bank, I was able
to verify that it was a black rat snake, my
perennial favorite (for all its good qualities).

Though these pictures give you nothing to
reference its size, please take my word that
this snake was at least seven feet long, the
largest that guide books say it attains.  I've
handled plenty of 5 to 5 and a half footers,
and this one dwarfed them.

Please take time to enjoy these two videos
of our time with this ruling reptile of the river.

Judy and I both felt that God had timed this
appearance just for me.  The snake was fully 
cooperative, posing and performing as if on cue.

Please note that the snake disregarded the
"End of Trail" sign that had halted us bipeds.
The "slippery slope" of the bank would have
made it treacherous indeed for me to get any 
closer. But it was a rare moment to treasure.

The sense of being away from civilization
is what evokes the sense of serenity here.

The next four pictures are of various sections
and views of the massive rock formation.

With the Raven Rock formation stretching
about a mile, I suppose you'd have to be on
the other side of the river to get a nice
panoramic view.  In fact, there are bridle trails
 across the river, but no access from our side.

As the trail looped back toward its beginning,
it ascended to provide a view of the flood plain.

No sign of civilization here.

Lillington is nine miles to the east, but
not visible from this point.

Here we are catching our breath before the
last leg of our journey.

As we neared the picnic area, we had 
one last sight-- a fence lizard on a pine tree.
This week, I have made friends with a 
similar specimen who likes my woodpile.
Pretty good camouflage, eh?

All in all, Judy and I would highly recommend
Raven Rock for any of you who like to hike
and don't live too far away.  We look forward
to doing other trails on our next visit, and will
perhaps go in the fall, when everything will 
look different.
And this is not just the end of the trail,
it's the end of my tale.  Happy Trails!

Raven Rock State Park: a great day trip

My next two posts will elaborate on our
day trip to Raven Rock that I mentioned
briefly in Friday's blog.  This lovely state
park was only a 50 minute ride from our
house and even closer for some of my 
readers.  It's 20 miles east of Sanford, NC
off U.S. 421.  After turning off, follow
Raven Rock Road for three miles to the
park entrance.

It has been about 25 years since Judy and
I have visited the park and the facilities are
vastly improved.  There is a well-appointed
visitors center, nice rest rooms, and spacious 
picnic area where most of the trails begin.

There are informative displays and helpful
staff in the visitors center.  It pays to ask
specific questions about the trails, etc.

Before lunch we hiked two short trails,
The Longleaf Loop Trail and the
American Beech Trail.  After a great
picnic we were energized for the 2.6
mile Raven Rock Loop Trail.

A variety of wildflowers lined the trail.

I'm always on the lookout for oddities in
nature.  If you'll look closely, the sign post
identifying this unfortunate pine tree is
Number 13! There's a lesson to be learned.

Beautiful Carolina Jasmine was abundant,
just as it is in our own Moore  County.

We encountered the largest patch of ground
cedar, a creeping cover plant, that I had
ever seen.

Here's a closeup.  I love this stuff.

Hollow trees fascinate me and 
trigger my imagination.

Alongside a stream were these single-leafed
Cranefly Orchids.  Because it's a state park
I couldn't dig one up to show you its pearly root.

These "fiddletops" are the emerging new
fronds of ferns.

As we approached the descent to the 
Cape Fear River, I spied a familiar favorite
plant covering the huge branches of a tree.
This is Resurrection Fern, the most unusual
fern I know.

This fern attaches to tree limbs, from which
is draws moisture.  In dry weather the small
fronds totally dry up and appear dead.

But with a refreshing spring rain, they
"spring" back to life again.  Their resurrection
is a timely reminder of the Easter season.

Here was another single-leafed plant that
I could not verify was the Cranefly Orchid.
The leaves were similar but not identical.
Further study required.

Here's our obligatory picture beneath the
famed Raven Rock.

Another unique hollow tree.

These standing dead trees, called snags,
are vital to the ecology of all woodlands.

Judy spotted a budding tree that neither
of us were familiar with.  Not until I returned
home to consult my guide books did I 
decide this is a Paw Paw Tree, which often
grows at water's edge among other tree varieties.

The roots are the lifeline of all trees, and 
it's amazing how they go to great lengths
(literally) to get that life-giving aqua vita).

Adjacent to these ferns are the low-growing
Galax plants, once harvested and sold by
the trainload near Galax, Virginia.

Judy promptly christened this unusual
formation as a "Reading Tree."

That name is most appropriate, and if
I had had a book or the time to read it,
I might have tried harder to climb this
tree.  But having neither, I decided it
wasn't worth injuring myself.  We still
had miles to walk.

In the post to follow, I'll feature the incredible
snake that made my day, plus many more views
of Raven Rock itself.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Whirlwind Week

Before I begin, I will say that I know I'll leave some things out.  Going back to last Friday, Judy and I have had a very eventful seven days. Here are some highlights:

  • Friday  ~  picnicked and hiked at Raven Rock State Park, dined at the Pik 'n' Pig, and watched Carolina win in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Saturday  ~ nothing unusual, just a great day, lots of time outside
  • Sunday  ~ church, family dinner, afternoon service at Pinehurst Nursing and Rehab, watched Carolina's season come to an end in an exciting game
  • Monday ~ all day in Chapel Hill, great medical reports for Judy, hit a few stores, home in time to do some yardwork and so forth
  • Tuesday ~ special breakfast at Cracker Barrel with Gail and her sister Pam, played piano at First Health, lunch with Amanda's crew and a fun afternoon of babysitting
  • Wednesday ~ much progress on next year's woodpile, afternoon singalong at Manor Care (one of my friends there is a former Rockette-- I love playing her requests, like "Pretty Baby")
  • Thursday ~ out to Farm Life School for a rock and mineral show with fourth graders-- what a blast!  Checked out the nature trail and found it in great shape for hiking, Home for lunch with Judy and Thelma, evening babysitting with Brianna and Hunter-- what a bunch of precious moments!
Back to the first item on the list:  our day at Raven Rock was filled with excitement and is deserving of its own post.  If it rains tomorrow as expected I'll have time to compose that post-- or posts.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of teaser photos from this glorious whirlwind week.

The longest snake I've ever seen in the wild,
a seven foot black rat snake at Raven Rock!

The beautiful Cape Fear River

L to R: Jack, Thelma, Gail, Judy, Ken, Pam
at Cracker Barrel

Hunter: "What do I do when my Easter egg hatches?"

The Farm Life Nature Trail keeps calling me back!

The wisteria reigns at Judy's Grandma McKenzie's
house, one of the oldest in Moore County.

More about Raven Rock's wonders very soon.