Monday, April 30, 2012

Trail Discovery for Kids: Hazel Mountain Trail, SNP

Waterfall and swimming hole

May 2012 Highlighted Hike
Hazel Mountain Trail

Trail Description
ü This 5 mile out and back hike gently descends the ridge top with its final destination being a cave and waterfall off the White Rocks Trail.
ü The trail head is just after the 33 mile marker on Skyline Drive.
ü The total elevation loss and gain is 800 feet.
ü At the trail head, turn right onto the Hazel Mountain Trail and descend the ridge line 600 feet for 1.6 miles until you reach the trail intersection with the White Rocks Trail. Turn left on to this trail. Follow it as it stays level with the ridge for three-quarters of a mile. The White Rocks Trail then descends 200 feet the last quarter of a mile before you reach a small sign on the right that point to the waterfall and cave.
ü To access the cave and waterfall, follow a steep and long set of stairs down the ridge (150 feet in .2 miles). Both the waterfall and cave are to the right at the bottom of the stairs. Once there, allocate an hour to discover the natural wonders.
ü You can reach the waterfall and cave from the other direction on the White Rocks and Hazel River Trails from the base of SNP on Rt. 600.  Read August 2010 Discovery for Kids.

Age Appropriateness
This hike is best for active children over the age of 6 due to the length, elevation gain and the steepness of the stairs to the waterfall and cave.

What is fun for kids?
ü  Finding and entering the mouth of the cave. The Appalachian Mountains are littered with limestone caves.
ü  Cooling off under the waterfall and in the swimming hole.
ü  Rock scrambling along the Hazel River at the waterfall.
ü  During spring, observe the wildflowers, such as Dutchman's Breeches and Lady Slippers in April and Mountain Laurel in May.
ü  A few unofficial camping sites are across the trail from the cave and waterfall trail head.

ü  Don't venture too far into the cave. It is best to explore caves with a guide (someone who knows the routes within the cave), a guide line, helmet, head lamp and emergency supplies.
ü  There are no bathrooms at the trail head. The closest ones are 3 miles away at the Thorton Gap entrance station.
ü  There are no trash cans; therefore, trash must be packed out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Bug's Losing Battle

Female Brown-headed cowbird
  During this school year, I have led my middle school students on two nature journaling field trips to our local stream valley park. They journaled about what they observed during the fall and winter drawing connections between the Earth and sun relationship and how temperate climates respond during the seasons. During the field trips, students focused their observations and journaling on the macro, the landscape, because it is more literal to see what is in front of them. On Monday's field trip, I will ask them to observe a small creature for 10 minutes to gain insight on their habits of survival.

    Today, I had my own experience of observing a small animal to learn its relationship in the food web of my backyard. As I was pulling weeds in my vegetable garden, a female, brown-headed cowbird landed next to my rhubarb. My squat become a permanent statue.While removing the lesser celandine that dominate my garden, she drew closer and braver showing no inhibitions to the possibility that I could be a predator.  I could have reached out and grabbed her. My weed peeling revealed many pill bugs. However, she wasn't interested, maybe because they are all crust and no juice. She spotted a brown, quarter-sized spider and snatched it. She struggled with it for a few seconds before she crushed its body and devoured it. There is nothing like the predator prey relationship in nature, no matter how big or small the creatures. It is still fascinating to watch. She is not a carnivore but an omnivore, occasionally feasting on the plentiful helicopters that litter my yard. It is the bugs she preferred though. Saving the best for last, she caught sight of a bug larva. With precision, she plucked the cream-colored larva from the fresh soil. It wiggled to gain its freedom from her beak but lost the battle within milliseconds. Larva to birds are like gummy worms to kids; irresistible sweetness. As I noticed lactic acid build up in my quads, I didn't want to move for fear of missing the show. She occasionally tilted her head to the sky to check for predators, not being afraid that I could be one. After devouring the available protein, it was time for her to fill her tummy elsewhere in my neighborhood. She spread her wings and took off. My matinee performance ended with a smile.