Monday, September 28, 2015

Hiking Delaware's Atlantic Beaches - end to end

From a quiet walk here on Delaware Seashore State Park to the bustling Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Delaware's Atlantic Ocean beaches feature plenty of variety for the foot traveler.

Beach hiking is something I do a lot, having lived on the beach since 2011.  I love being out in the open where I can see the sky, monitor the evolving weather, and stay in touch with the 'big picture' of the landscape that surrounds me.  So often in wilderness hiking in the eastern US, you are encased in the 'Green Tunnel' of the woods.  Beach hiking provides a counterpoint to that - For me it creates Balance, and Balance is good.

Delaware has about twenty-five miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches.  I happened to be spending a couple weeks visiting with family at an oceanfront cottage in South Bethany, so I undertook to hike all of them.  I've already reported about the beach hike in Cape Henlopen State Park.  This report is about the rest of it.

Let's start at Deauville Beach, just south of Cape Henlopen State Park.  This is a public park in the northern pert of the popular resort town of Rehoboth Beach.  Hiking south from there for about 3/4 mile brings one to the mile-long Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, shown here early on a September weekday before most of the joggers and walkers were out.

The focal point of Rehoboth is where Rehoboth Avenue meets the Boardwalk.  There's a big gazebo-like bandstand there and a Veteran's Memorial further back on the median.  And of course there are plenty of shops and restaurants to browse.

I did my usual out-and-back hike segments, so besides walking every inch of beach, I had a chance to walk the other way on bike paths, roads, and highways.  In south Rehoboth that means skirting around the west side of the wonderfully picturesque Silver Lake, which is just a strip of sand away from the ocean.

Adjacent to Rehoboth, the next town south is Dewey Beach.  It's town-center feature is on the sound side--the faux lighthouse and restaurant and enough sandy beach for volleyball.  The lighthouse is a replica of the old Cape Henlopen light.

South of Dewey Beach I left civilization and started the first leg of roughly eleven miles of public beach in Delaware Seashore State Park.  Tide had been high, washing away all signs of other footprints, so my trail was easy to identify--see the photo up top.  This quiet five mile stretch of beach north of Indian River Inlet does have several access points.  The first is the Bathhouse on Tower Rd.  There you find two of the eleven WWII military observation towers built to protect the mouth of the Delaware Bay.  The bathhouse architect took full advantage of the situation.

There's only one other ocean-side structure on this five mile beach before it is interrupted in the by Indian River Inlet.  That's the historic lifesaving station.  Here on the quiet beach, away from the crowds, nature took center stage.  I passed gulls feasting on what looked like a prehistoric creature--its huge white back and side plates gave away its identity.  It's a 200 million year old species--the Atlantic Sturgeon.  This is a rare find.  Because of persistent over-fishing and pollution this species has been listed under the Endangered Species Act.

This time of year the birds love to congregate on the beach.  Here's a crowd of common terns.  I'm tempted to caption this "One good Tern deserves another".

The bridge over Indian River Inlet was replaced in 2012 by a state of the art cable-stayed suspension bridge that reminds me of a fleet of sailboats.

The distinctive blue color of the cables was chosen in a referendum by the people of Delaware.  The bridge is wonderfully hiker friendly, with a wide pedestrian walkway with night lighting that is separated from traffic by a concrete barrier and guard rail.

To me this bridge is more than a utilitarian structure.  It is a work of art.

South of the inlet there's another couple miles of State Park beach, followed by three miles of "private beach" with no public access and a continuous line of expensive homes, and then you come to Bethany Beach, with its 1/3 mile boardwalk.  I passed there during the annual Bethany Triathlon and the downtown area was abuzz.  The parking spaces along central Garfield Parkway were all filled with the 850 bicycles of the race participants.

I got to see the swimmers emerging from the ocean--plenty of lifeguards and emergency personnel on hand.

And if that was not enough excitement, there were a couple of whales spouting and breaching out beyond the surf.  I tried, but didn't get any decent photos.  Later I was passed by the first of the runners.  The race route came right by our cottage in South Bethany.  Beyond I passed WWII observation tower number one - the southernmost - with a bit different architecture.

Then there is York Beach, another short stretch of public beach, which allows vehicle access and was packed with fisherman on a warm Saturday.

Finally the trek ended at 146th Street in Ocean City, MD.

There, right on the state line and inland a few blocks, is the Fenwick Island Lighthouse.

On the way back, I caught a lone Great Blue Heron fishing in the sound.

It was a fun-packed walk, done over several days and in a variety of weather conditions from stormy, with some serious beach erosion ...

to sublime.

Well, that was a pretty long report.  Thanks for persisting to read this far.  Below is a map of the route, with push-pins marking many more photos.

Delaware Atlantic Beaches at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Delaware

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cape Henlopen State Park - a comprehensive hike

Snazzy new half-mile boardwalk on the Gordon's Pond Trail, just opened in June 2014

At over 5000 acres, Cape Henlopen State Park has a lot to offer.  It's an ocean park with miles of sand beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.  It's a wildlife haven, for both education and conservation.  It's a fisherman's mecca with a huge long fishing pier.  And it's a military history park.  During World War II it was not a park at all but a base built to protect the Delaware Bay from invasion by the enemy.

Best of all, Cape Henlopen State Park has a comprehensive network of walking and biking trails, the crown jewel of which is the 3.2 mile Gordon's Pond trail.  And the crown jewel of the Gordon's Pond trail is the nearly half mile of high-tech elevated boardwalk built with a special aluminum treadway that allows light to pass through, so that it has minimal impact on the environment.  It's ten or twelve feet wide with sturdy handrails the entire length.  Just opened in June 2014, it makes the Appalachian Trail's famous Pochuck Swamp boardwalk look like a kiddie ride by comparison, though the latter is five or six times the length.

As a fit hiker on a budget I chose to park my vehicle outside the park itself and walk in.  The Cape May-Lewes ferry has a vast foot passenger parking lot that is just 3/4 mile from the main park entrance, and down on the north side of Rehoboth beach, the Deauville Beach parking area is the same distance south of the southern park entrance.  It may be important to note that there is no vehicle road connecting these two park entrances.  The only way to comprehensively experience the park from end to end is on foot or by bicycle.

My exploration of the park went in three phases:  A long distance trail hike, a beach hike, and an inland hike via the bike trails.

The first phase followed the route of the American Discovery Trail, which has its eastern terminus in the Atlantic Ocean beside the Hawk Watch--a unique spot that combines all three of the park's features.  The hawk observation point is set on top of an old Bunker.

The trail skirts the bunker on what looks like an artillery pad and then heads over the dune where I took a 'trail terminus selfie'.

Then it was time for feet in the Atlantic waters.

I have plans to hike nearly all of the ADT from here to Colorado, and perhaps eventually to get a companion shot--feet in the Pacific--at its western terminus at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County just north of San Francisco.

Part Two of the three-part hike then commenced--the beach walk.  It came in two sub-phases.  From the ADT terminus I headed north to the tip of Cape Henlopen proper where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and I met a flock of seabirds.

The 1926 vintage Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse is just offshore here.

I rounded the cape, took a detour around a closed (for bird nesting) section of bayside beach, and continued on west all the way back to where the beach ends at the ferry terminal.  This whole section is presided over by the much older Delaware Breakwater Lighthouse, built in 1885 and still using the original fourth-order Fresnel lens installed that year.

Now I hiked a bit more of the ADT to the town of Lewes, then returned and got in my borrowed vehicle and drove down to Deauville Beach, where I resumed my beach hike by going north toward the ADT trail terminus.  Immediately I encountered these two venerable old sentinels.

They are two of eleven watch towers built in the late 1930's and early 1940's as part of the effort to defend the Delaware Bay from invasion.  They're the only ones now stranded on the beach, threatened by ongoing erosion.  Several of the towers come in pairs like this in order to perform precise triangulation on suspicious targets.  Here's an interpretive sign - full of great info.

The beach walk finished soon after I passed the elaborate bathhouse with its boardwalk to the beach.  Then I began phase three, heading inland on paved bike paths.  I passed Fort Miles--the nerve center of the WWII operation, with its Spartan barracks buildings and examples of artillery on display.

They're upgrading this section of the park, with completion scheduled next spring.

I visited the one observation tower that is open to the public -- view from the top, looking north toward the cape, is above -- then started down the Gordon's Pond trail, travelling north to south.  The first thing I encountered was the boardwalk, discussed above.  Then came the pond itself, resplendent on this sunny breezy afternoon.

Across the pond were those two observation towers standing on the beach.  And in the foreground of this shot is what looks like a mini-savanna -- an open forest of tiny trees all decked in their fall color.

In fact, these are the little salt-marsh plant called American Glasswort, Salicornia virginica, a succulent which puts on this display in the fall.  It's edible.  The stems are pickled and considered a delicacy.  Here's a close up of one of the little saltpan-loving plants.

There were birds in abundance and quite a few photographers out on this perfect afternoon with their huge telephoto lens rigs.  But even with my little hiker-friendly Canon Elph (it has an 8x zoom) I managed a nice shot or two.

It was a twenty mile hike in all, but I never felt tired.  I was too busy enjoying the day.

Below is a map of the route, with links (the red push pins) to many more photos.

Cape Henlopen State Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Cape Henlopen State Park

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pinhoti Trail, the Trail of Tears road walk

Chief Vann House, a focal point of Cherokee entrepreneurship and success until gold was discovered in Cherokee autonomous lands near Dahlonega in 1828.  Ten years later, 4000 Cherokee tribe members were killed and thousands more were forcibly evicted from their homes and made to march to Oklahoma through one of the most bitter winters in memory.  The Cherokee people called this "nu na hi du na tlo hi lu i" -- The Trail where They Cried.

"Florida or Bust" - Days 13 and 14

My surname is Wetzel, and although I know of no direct relation, the most famous person named Wetzel was an Indian hunter named Lewis Wetzel, who ranged the Ohio Valley in the late 1700's.  He was a loner who took pride in his hatred of native Americans.  He scalped his victims.  The Indians gave him the name 'Deathwind' because of his skill at reloading his rifle while running at full speed.

Lewis Wetzel was accused of murdering peaceful native Americans, but he escaped to New Orleans before he could be brought before a court.  In the south he spent several years in prison for counterfeiting.

In all, this is not a person I am proud to be associated with.  And my walk through pre-1830's Cherokee Nation autonomous territory on the Pinhoti Trail reinforced the shame I feel for the way these people were treated by people of my ethnic background.

The 'Indian Removal Act of 1830' began the process of stealing Cherokee Lands and forcibly relocating those who would not assimilate to Oklahoma.  The resulting journey has been dubbed the Trail of Tears because of the hardship the relocation caused.  It's beyond the scope of this hike report to go into the history, though it's fascinating and, to me, deeply saddening.  This Wikipedia Article, might be a good place to start to learn more.

The Pinhoti Trail goes several miles out of its way to visit Chief Vann House--built just after 1800 by a wealthy Cherokee leader named James Vann.  Here's another view, the out-buildings, and the interpretive plaque. 

Vann was also instrumental in establishing the Old Federal Road, which the Pinhoti Trail also follows for several miles.

For me, the house, and a nearby memorial also along the Pinhoti trail in the town of Spring Place served to open the door to my awareness of this episode of local history.  I'm sure that's why the trail went there, and why it was more than worth the extra few miles.

Overall, between Dennis Mill Road and I-75 in Dalton, GA, the Pinhoti Trail follows paved roads for twenty five miles.  Dennis Mill Road is a quiet country lane, with this creaky one-lane, vine-adorned bridge over Rock Creek.

And there are some nice views of the Cohutta Mountains that I just hiked through.  Here's a view at sunrise in the little crossroads of Ramhurst.

And here's a daytime view from beside the Spring Lakes Golf Course:

But by the time you get to Dalton, the route along Walnut Avenue is a bustling four-lane commercial highway:

Fortunately there's a sidewalk here.  And I was delighted to see the turns well marked with those big green trail signs with many more of the small white diamond signs at intervals between.  Other trails, including the Appalachian Trail, don't do this good a job of marking their road walk sections.

I covered the road walk in two hot days, getting very early starts -- we're talking 4AM -- when the only light was that of the waning moon and the occasional porch light or business.  Here's what the bridge over Coahulla Creek looked like to my camera, illuminated by an adjacent gas station.

The early start worked.  I got the vast majority of my miles accomplished before the temperature reached 80F, though even in the pre-dawn hours the humidity was an issue.  I'm taking a break now for a family vacation and to accomplish some business in Florida (in a round-about way, it's the reason I'm hiking to Florida).  When I get back to Dalton in early October, I'm hoping for a bit more of a fall feel to the air.  Stay tuned.

A map of the route appears below.  I walked one way and used my bicycle for the return trip, dividing the 25 miles into ten small out-and-back segments.

Pinhoti Trail - Dennis Mill Rd. to Dalton at EveryTrail
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