Category Archives: Hiking

Lions and Tigers and Bears

I realize I said I would write about how I managed to get Sydney from Texas to Oregon with her doggie mental health intact. But I just don’t feel like writing about that. Plus, I was not exactly successful – we’ve been in Oregon for 6 weeks and I still don’t think she’s fully recovered. And really, it is my blog, so if I don’t feel like writing about something, I kind of don’t have to. Maybe another time.

One of the things I have most loved about living in Oregon is the ready access I have to numerous hiking trails. Given that I intend to spend many of my weekends exploring Oregon, I recently decided that, in the interest of personal safety, I should perhaps develop a level of awareness about potential risks I could encounter while hiking.

Of course I decided to research this vitally important topic the night before I was planning to hike to four of the six waterfalls collectively known as the Little River Waterfalls. That is how I found myself searching at an increasingly frantic pace “things that can kill you while hiking in Oregon.” At midnight. There was both good news and bad news.

On the one hand, there was the surprisingly reassuring fact that the only venomous snake in Oregon is the rattlesnake. That is reassuring to someone who is accustomed to also considering the possibility of death by copperhead or water moccasin. First, because there is at least the possibility that a rattlesnake will give you a warning. Second, because, unlike water moccasins, who are obviously on earth only to viciously attack and kill all humans, rattlesnakes are not naturally aggressive. At least that is what I told myself.

Of course, on the other hand, there are bears and cougars. Oh, and as some websites felt the need to remind me, the possibility of “human predators.” I was briefly reassured that Oregon has only black bears and does not have grizzly bears – black bears are generally less aggressive. But I don’t think that would matter all that much if a black bear changed his mind when I happened to be in the vicinity.

Then I realized I had no more than a vague concept of what a cougar was (a large cat, obviously) and how it could kill you. I tried to be reassured by the statistics I found (because stats never lie…) that in Oregon the wild animal that was most likely to cause my death was a wild horse (yes, I actually read some type of official report documenting wild animal deaths in Oregon) and that there were no known human deaths by cougar and very few documented deaths by bear in Oregon. But then again, how many lone hikers like myself had been killed by one of these animals without anyone ever knowing? However, like a good psychologist, I allowed myself to be reassured that the statistics at least were on my side and that I was overwhelmingly likely to be just fine. At least that is what I told myself.

Armed with statistics, repetitious reassurances, and a laundry list of tips for preventing wild animal attacks, I set out for the first of the four waterfalls I planned to see that day. My first stop was Wolf Creek Falls. Incidentally, this was the only trail where I saw an actual human being. Thankfully, he was very friendly in a not-a-human-predator kind of way.

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My relaxed, smiling face belies the worry-filled and sleepless night I had just experienced.
My relaxed, smiling face belies the worry-filled and sleepless night I had just experienced.

As I walked along, I could not shake the feeling that something would inevitably go wrong. I repeatedly rehearsed the advice from the night before. “If I see a bear, I should not make eye contact, no I should make…no that’s if I see a cougar, okay, well either way I should definitely not run and I should do my best to look like I am not easy prey, which would probably be easier if I were taller than the average 6th grader, darn it, why can’t I be taller or at least have a more intimidating voice if I need to yell at something, maybe I should sing, well that would be silly, I will just walk loudly, I should have brought the hand sanitizer that does not smell like Japanese Cherry Blossom, I’m going to die” Basically, it was one run on sentence of worry. Thankfully, that did not stop me from being completely awed by the beauty around me.

The trails to the next two waterfalls – Hemlock and Yakso – were both located near the Lake in the Woods Campground. This was also a great spot for a picnic. The campground was empty, so I grabbed a lakeside picnic table at one of the campsites and enjoyed the view while I ate.

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Honestly, I felt somewhat reassured by the seemingly flimsy and so-not-bear-proof nature of this trash can. If such a trash can was appropriate, then certainly bears could not be a problem in this area. Right?
Honestly, I felt somewhat reassured by the seemingly flimsy and so-not-bear-proof nature of this trash can. If such a trash can was appropriate, then certainly bears could not be a problem in this area. Right?

Of course, there was the moment when I realized I was walking in the middle of a berry patch, which is of course something you should never do when you are avoiding bears, especially in the fall when their job is basically eating berries. I considered trying the berries once I verified that there was not a bear lurking nearby. They looked like wild blueberries, which are delicious. But then I realized that the one thing I forgot to search the night before was “poisonous berries in Oregon.” Why on earth had I not thought of that? I have since remedied the oversight.

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The final waterfall was the most out-of-the-way and wonderful of all. The trail to Grotto Falls is located off a gravel road that winds around several miles of mountain. Thankfully, my little car has had lots of practice driving on gravel roads, so that was no deterrent. It was worth the effort. Not that I am ever very good at picking a favorite of anything, but if I had to pick a favorite waterfall that day, it may have been this one. There were caves behind it, which would have been much more interesting if I were not imagining all of the things that could have been hiding in them. Regardless, it was incredible to walk behind and under the waterfall.

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I am still trying to fully grasp that I now live in such an amazing place – a place where I can wake up on a Saturday morning and hike to any number of scenic places. I’m pretty sure I will never get tired of hiking to waterfalls, even if I do have to face my fear of bears and cougars.

A Tennessee Weekend: Sunday Hike

And I’m back to (finally) wrap up the series of posts about my (now not so) recent trip to Tennessee. If you want to read any of the previous posts, they are:

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

Rarely in life is anything truly perfect. I think that is a good thing. At least for myself, I know that if the great and wonderful moments in life were not frequently tinged with imperfection or followed by things less wonderful, then I would spend too much time looking back, wishing to return to that “perfect” moment or day or time rather than living in the present. That is a reality that I appreciate even more as I continue to learn how to fully live in and experience the present, whatever it may be. However, there are a handful of times in my life that I would consider to have attained that elusive perfection – meals or hours or sometimes even days where life was, simply put, transcendent.

My weekend in Tennessee was one of those times. It is no surprise, then, that Shannon and I found the ideal way to end an already remarkable weekend. Sunday afternoon we drove to South Cumberland State Park. About an hour from Murfreesboro, the park was worth every second of the drive. Of course, we could not begin the drive without the necessary supplies, which in this case were coffee and CDs from our freshman year in college.

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Two songs in and we were suddenly transported to the many previous car trips that had occurred with the same soundtrack.

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Between the coffee and the music, which prompted countless “do you remember whens” and seemingly endless laughter, the drive to the park passed quickly. It didn’t hurt that the scenery was beautiful, either.

Our first stop was the visitors center, where the helpful lady at the desk gave us various information about hiking recommendations and sites we could see.

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Given that the reason we had chosen this park was that it was on a list of “Best Waterfall Hikes Near Nashville,” seeing a waterfall was kind of a goal. She also provided us with this lovely and not exactly to scale map.

The highly technical map of the park
The highly technical map of the park

We only got turned around once, so I would say it was an effective map despite its rather rustic initial appearance.

Shannon and I thoroughly enjoyed our hike. We chose to hike the 2-mile Grundy Forest Day Loop and part of the Fiery Gizzard Trail (at around 13 miles one-way, this is a common hike for overnight hikers) to get to Sycamore Falls. At a little over 3 miles, it was a perfect afternoon hike. Although on any day South Cumberland State Park would be a wonderful place to be, and I highly recommend it (plus, unlike state parks in Texas, it’s free; totally worth a hand drawn map instead of a glossy brochure), on the day we were there it was particularly magical. The temperature was perfect and the light, oh the light. It was like we entered another world – one with waterfalls and trees and a light that made everything glow beautifully as it filtered through the trees. Sadly, the exquisite luminosity was impossible to capture in a photograph. But the experience was enchanting and only added to the already perfect weekend.

I'm ready to go...
I’m ready to go…

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We kept trying to get a cute picture together. This was the best we could do. Shannon looks cute, but I’m not sure what’s happening with my face.

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We of course could not leave without seeing Foster Falls. Not having time to hike down to the falls (another day…) we contented ourselves with watching a bit of the sunset from the observation deck. Even from a distance, it was breathtaking.

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Again, I can highly recommend a visit to South Cumberland State Park. Although we did a relatively short hike,  there are longer, more challenging trails designed for overnight hikers. There is also an area that is supposed to be excellent for experienced rock climbing. If we had thought to wear swimming suits, many of the areas below the various waterfalls make excellent swimming holes. I could imagine that being lovely later in the summer or on a hotter day.

By this point, Shannon and I were hungry. We had asked for local recommendations from the friendly lady at the visitors center earlier in the day. Her top choice was the, hopefully not too aptly named, Gizzard Grill.

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Although they did, in fact, serve gizzards, thankfully their menu did offer some variety. One of my (flexibly applied) rules for life is that hiking deserves a hamburger and french fries. After hiking is just about the only time I eat such a meal, which is probably somewhat ironic. I am so glad I decided to splurge after this hike; I had one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. It had all the necessary basics for a quality hamburger, but the toppings took it to the nothing-short-of-amazing level.

There were candied jalapeños
There were candied jalapeños. Candied jalapeños! 

Enjoying a really good meal in the middle of a random small town in Tennessee just added more charm to the weekend.

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As we headed back to Murfreesboro, somewhat more subdued than earlier in the day, we reflected on the weekend and our friendship. Later that evening and early into the next morning, we would continue to reminisce while looking through old scrapbooks instead of sleeping. Times like this weekend are rare gifts. So often, our friendship is characterized by hurried text messages and brief Facebook interactions. We do not often take time for a phone call (and, seriously, we both hate talking on the phone), but we look forward to the times when we can be together. We have lived and celebrated and grieved together, we have loved and supported one another just as we have been frustrated with and hurt by one another. Nothing in life, not even the best of friendships, is without its flaws. But, every once in a while, there exists a fleetingly perfect moment or day or time and this weekend with this friend was absolutely, unquestionably perfect.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Obviously I did not write a post last week. I had really important things to do instead like watching season 3 of Dexter, making my way through a 1,000+ page book, and eating pizza before I give up grains (and wine and sugar – yikes!!) for three weeks. Well, to be honest I will still be drinking sugary flavored creamer in my morning coffee, which I should technically not be drinking. But I have my limits – foregoing my morning coffee with creamer is where I draw the line. So, other than that I will not be eating/drinking sugar. Anyway, all of these things were vitally important activities that improved my life immensely and completely explain why I was too busy to blog last week.

This week, I feel the need to be moderately more productive, so I thought I would share what has thus far been my favorite place to hike near Dallas: Dinosaur Valley State Park. I use the term “near” Dallas quite loosely given that the park is located in Glen Rose, which is about 1 1/2 hour drive from Dallas.

The day I went, I did what any reasonable person would do. I woke up one rainy morning and thought, “Today is the perfect day to go hiking. And, even better, I should drive somewhere that is not even close to home so that I feel like I have to keep hiking even if the weather becomes more miserable.” Makes perfect sense, right?

So that’s how I found myself walking for miles in the rain. Again. Fortunately, for most of the morning the rain could be described as a light drizzle.

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Despite the rain, the park was beautiful. A nice bonus of the rainy weather was that the park was practically deserted. There were trees and a river and quiet. I was happy.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

The park has about 20 miles of trails, but I estimate that I probably hiked 9 – 10 miles. There are many activities other than hiking available in the park, including horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, fishing, and, most importantly, finding the fossilized dinosaur tracks that are the namesake of the park.

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Yep – I crossed this river more than once…without losing my balance, slipping on a rock, and falling in. It is practically a miracle.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

And of course I had to take obligatory bluebonnet pictures.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

As the day wore on, I finally found some blue sky. How could I not feel happy and thankful when I got to spend the afternoon here?

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Also, I found $20. That could have impacted my happiness level.

Ice cream also positively effects my mood. 9-plus mile hike + finding $20 = a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Don't judge.
Ice cream also positively effects my mood. A 9-plus mile hike + finding $20 = a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Don’t judge. Also, this was not in the park, in case you were wondering.

As my time in Dallas is (most likely) winding down, I am glad that I impulsively decided to spend a rainy day hiking in Dinosaur Valley State Park. Hopefully, I will have a chance to go back again. Regardless, I am trying to make the most of my remaining time in Dallas. Any suggestions for things I must see or do are appreciated!

Dinosaur Valley State Park