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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hiking the Horse-Shoe Trail from Pinacle Drive to Brecknock

These days the Horse-Shoe Trail is our go-to hiking destination, because it is so close and we haven't really exhausted very many sections near our campground.  Today, the forecast is very hot, perhaps 90F, but we wanted to get out for at least 6 miles.  So we were up early, gave the cats a quick walk, Kathy prepped breakfast burritos for our turnaround meal, and we drove the 12 miles to our trailhead.

Here it was, where PA 625 meets Pinacle Drive.  This part of the trail has beautiful wooden markers at each road crossing, and we paused to admire this one before we set off up Pinacle Drive.  You can tell it was early, because we each had our mug of iced coffee for the trail:

Pinacle Drive is a gravel road that climbs a ridge as the trail works eastward.  There are houses secreted along the road, but not many, and no housing developments.

After about a mile, we found the spot where the Horse-Shoe Trail climbs a ridge away from Pinacle Drive.  David points the way:

This sort of trail is more to our liking:  soft dirt and fir needles underfoot, greenery all around.  All that was lacking was a cool breeze to cool the already climbing temperatures and cut the humidity.

People are generally very respectful of Eastern trails, and that includes the Horse-Shoe Trail.  But there are spots where desire gets the better of responsible trail citizenship.  Whoever these lovers were, they didn't appear to be giving love to this tree:

After about 2 miles, we crossed a private driveway and spotted this old horseshoe imbedded in the growing bark of this tree.  More recent blazing has painted it yellow, but the horseshoe has been nearly swallowed by the tree's enlargement.  We speculated that horseshoes may have been the original blaze design when the trail was laid out in the 1930's.

In other places, woodpeckers, bugs, resident birds and other natural forest inhabitants may have also used the trees that so proudly wear the yellow blazes:

We crossed two powerline easements, filled with tall grass and wildflowers, thorns and blackberry bushes.  It's still too early yet for blackberries, but Kathy found a few that have already grown dark and were "nearly" sweet.

We passed cornfields and wheatfields --

-- for much of this trail is laid out through farmland from where it leaves the Appalachian Trail in Dauphin County, through Lebanon and Lancaster and Berks Counties, into Chester County and Valley Forge.

Beyond the wheat field, we reached the top of a rise where we had a powerline on one side and views north toward the Appalachian Ridge on the other:

This looked like a mighty nice breakfast spot to us!  Breakfast burritos with fiddlehead ferns, black bean salsa, egg, potatoes, cilantro, sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese...yum!  It felt good to get off our feet and doff our sling bags to feel the cool air on our sweaty heads and backs.

After eating, we wandered a little way further west to try to get a view down into the next valley, but as soon as we started walking, Kathy spotted this turkey making his way across our path.  At first, he didn't see us, but when we started talking excitedly about him, he raised his head, turned, and did his turkey trot into the trees.

In the Appalachian Forest, which is so close to civilization, wildlife is chiefly of the small kind.  There can be black bear, Eastern coyote, bobcat, and even elk, but generally the largest wildlife are deer, with the vast majority being squirrel-size or smaller.  This specimen, a dragonfly, Kathy later discovered with research was a widow skimmer.  If you look closely, his wings stretch out, colorless and clear, from the beautiful black wing sections that are immediately apparent:

Most hiking trails in Pennsylvania stretch through State Game Lands, state forests and other private hunting areas.  This section of the Horse-Shoe Trail is no exception.  However, it was remarkable that, as we passed through these private lands, we saw three hunting blinds.  We're sure we could have found more had we looked more diligently.   Of the three, this one -- a palace -- was by far the most impressive:

The Horse-Shoe Trail was conceived with both foot and equestrian travel in mind.  We were pleased to see that one of the landowners provides a little trail magic to horseback riders who pass through.  This was a rest station for horses, with a huge jug of water, two watering buckets, and places to tie the horses up.  Didn't see any cookies for the riders or hikers, though.

These woods are thick, and relatively little light gets reliably to the forest floor, so it is not too common to find wildflowers.  But they do show up periodically, as did these little white aster-like flowers:

We missed it hiking out, but as we worked our way back along our path, we spotted another horseshoe nailed to our tree -- which pretty much confirmed our theory that horseshoes were the original blazes on this route:

We were almost back to Pinacle Drive to walk the last mile on gravel road, when we made this last turn and were greeted by a little group of aletris.  We saw many individual blossoms of this variety on this section of the trail, but we don't think we've seen aletris before on any of our hikes.  They are quite striking.

It was only another half hour until we found the Jeep where we left it.  Other than our hikes on the two sections of the Horse-Shoe Trail heading east and west of our campground, this was the closest trailhead for any hike this year.  

In a matter of 10 minutes or so, we were home -- welcomed by our weekly vegetable box straight from local farms.  Kathy eagerly set about inventorying and washing all the veggies, while David worked on this blog entry.  Almost immediately, it was lunchtime.  We don't usually hike in the mornings, but with the hot weather, it is more comfortable.  What's more, we have the bonus of a whole day left to get other chores done.

May your fresh vegetables be many and your rotten ones few.  Look for another blog entry we're planning for you!  Cheers.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Harrassing Herons on Blue Marsh Lake

Hi Blog!

As you know, we have been hanging out in Lancaster County during the Covid-19 shut down. With our county going green, we were able to visit family and friends in New York. This past Sunday, Katie was able to finally visit us at our campground. We spent a great day with her and the puppies here in camp, walking around the fishing pond and enjoying the goodies from our Stoudt's Restaurant Box.

On Monday, June 29, 2020, we decided to take the kayaks back to Blue Marsh Lake. We launched from the picnic area next to the State Hill Boat Launch. Kathy was the first to shove off.

Dave soon followed.

There was a bit of a breeze, but not enough to discourage us.

Because our kayaks have a very shallow draft, we can snuggle right up next to the banks of the lake. Kathy stopped to examine these round red berries. Many red berries are not edible, so there was no temptation to sample them.

As we paddled, we kept running into this heron. It was not our intention to harass the poor bird.

But each time we approached, the heron flew off in the same direction we were paddling.

As we made our way around the lake, we had to keep an eye out for the motorboats. As the weather has gotten warmer, we noticed more and more water skiers and jet skis. This boat is pulling a wake boarder.

The fun part of circling the lake is the ability to slip into the shallow bays that speedboats dare not journey. As we worked our way into the cove, we left behind the roaring motors and boisterous wakes.

We noticed this unusual bird nesting box. The platform was surrounded by chicken wire.

We are not sure what is the purpose of this design. It didn't look like it was currently occupied.

While we struggle with the complexities of Covid-19 (Will there be a vaccine? How can we travel safely? Is it wise to visit with family and friends? Is there another lockdown in our future? Will it ever end?), it is important to just unplug and surround ourselves with nature. Green is good!

No matter how quiet we tried to be, the heron just kept getting interrupted.

On our hikes, Dave loves to collect colorful fungus. We rarely encounter them on a paddle.

As most of you know, Dave is the official photographer of our blog. While we take turns writing the narrative, Dave is usually the one taking the photos. Every once in a while, Kathy gets hold of the camera and Dave just hangs his head.

Here, Dave demonstrates the appropriate way to take a lunch time selfy.  Yet, as good as his selfies are, he is constantly teased by our adults children about his poor selfies.  In the photo below, Kathy seems to anticipate a not-so-perfect photo:

After lunch, we paddled around a small island. Dave found a Petco Frisbee floating in the lake. We scooped it up and brought it back to the boat launch.

Just before we returned to the launch site, Dave found he had a hitch-hiker. It look several attempts, but Dave was finally able to capture a photo of the elusive stowaway.

As we brought the kayaks out at the picnic area, we left the Petco Frisbee near a picnic table in case any puppies arrived. No sooner did we begin to loadour kayaks than a couple arrived with a chocolate lab, complaining that they forgot to bring their Frisbee. We pointed out that we had found one -- and their puppy was happy to play with it.

With temperatures in the 90s, we are finding we have to get out earlier and earlier in order to beat the heat. We hope to be able to get a hike in this week, so stay turned and stay safe.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Tale of Two Visits - Galway and Albany, New York

Normally, we don't devote our blog to visits with friends and family, because we're not sure how interesting that would be to all our other friends and family.  We think the outdoor adventures are generally most blogworthy and, because we hope the blog will serve as our memory, those are the adventures we are most likely to need help remembering in detail.


This situation is different.  Due to Covid-19, we've been sheltering in one Pennsylvania campground for the last three months.  Our decision to move up to a campground in the Adirondacks to visit some close friends and family was therefore an important event.  Things have opened up enough that we had confidence we could plan and make the trip without stumbling over coronavirus restrictions.

The friends we visited, Eric and Ginny LaJuene, are also full-time RV'ers.  On top of that, they are the RV'ers we have known the longest, and were the first full-time couple we met, at an Escapees rally in North Carolina in March 2012.  They are from Schenectady, New York and are camped up in that area to visit family and attend to various personal matters.

The family we visited was David's brother Laird, his wife Risa, and their two children, Isaac and Hannah.  They have lived in Albany for decades and we always enjoy driving up to see them.  We hadn't seen them for nearly 2 years and were eager to catch up on things.

Eric and Ginny are staying at a campground in Galway, New York, in the gateway to the Adirondacks.  It's called McConchie's Heritage Acres Campground, and it is quite pretty:

We moved up on Monday, June 22, 2020.  The cats all yelled, "What is a Move Day!?!?"  They had forgotten what a move day involves.  Everything get's packed up and their home rocks and rolls down the road -- in this case for over 6 hours.  We arrived in Galway mid-afternoon, got set up, took Baxter and Ruby for a walk, and settled in to a very folksy Happy Hour and dinner with Eric and Ginnie, who offered to provide dinner.  Being burned out from the road, we gratefully accepted.

Tuesday, June 23, was "Eric & Ginny Day."  After they finished some personal business in the morning, we met their son Adam, chatted briefly with him about Star Trek and other important issues, then set off (appropriately socially distant in our respective cars) on a mission Kathy selected to pick up some scrumptious smoked sausage at Oscar's Smokehouse in Warrensburg, New York.  It was a drive of a little over an hour.  We got some pretty views of the Hudson River --

-- before finding that our GPS's had taken us on a very "scenic" route to Warrensburg:

In fact, it was quite pretty.  A highlight was Viele Pond, which we paused at to admire and photograph before we started down the mountain into Warrensburg:

It was not long before Oscar's appeared and we turned at its unique sign:

We picked up some smoked sausage, some 7-year old smoked cheddar and one or two other things, then paused in front of one of the old brick smokehouses for a selfy before piling back into our cars to start the drive home:

To say that Oscar's makes the best sausage we've ever tasted is no bull --

-- We first tasted the Oscar's sausage at Grandma's restaurant in Albany while visiting Laird and Risa some years ago.  We had asked the restaurant manager where they got the sausage, and have since made it a point to visit Oscar's whenever we happen to pass through the Adirondack Region.

After Oscar's, we took a roundabout route home, heading west toward Great Sacandaga Lake, a flood control reservoir which now is a popular recreation area and the site for numerous vacation homes lining its shore.

On the way to the lake, we passed through some quaint towns with some historic buildings:

Eventually, we reached the Hudson River above Albany --

-- and crossed one of the dams that create the lake, reaching the so-called South Shore:

The day featured big skies and dramatic clouds, which, together with a strong breeze, gave the lake a dynamic character, but we also noted a possible thunderstorm approaching from the southwest:

We had enough time to catch some quiet, reflective views at some of the inlets:

Our lunch spot was closed for Covid-19, so we were forced to improvise, and purchased quick lunches at a Stewart's Shoppe in Binalboin.  After, we drove east to Saratoga Springs, where we stopped in at Artisinal Brew Works to sample some of their tasty Belgian beers and chocolate stout.  The brewery has an outside sitting area where we could tipple safely while maintaining social distance.  Here, Ginny and Eric toast the success of New York to date in corralling the coronavirus:

Kathy and David looked a bit more relaxed, and, in fact, David looked as if a little crapulence had crept into his spirit(s):

Don't believe your eyes:  it was a sober event.  We headed home after having a glass each, and Kathy pulled out a smorgasbord of dishes we had received in this weeks box of meals from Stoudt's Brewery and Restaurant here in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, where we are camped -- thus returning Ginny's dinner favor of the night before.

A sound sleep and a couple of cat walks later, on the morning of Wednesday, June 24, we drove over to Albany to see our family there.  They had kindly set up a socially distant conversation pit in the backyard, complete with color-coordinated lawn furniture, and we spent a hearty 10 hours catching up on all things big and small -- moving clockwise from the left -- Laird, Hannah, her boyfriend Zeke, Risa, Isaac's empty chair (he was behind the camera), Kathy, and David:

Risa was in her finest Saratoga regalia and held court under her courtly umbrella, while Hannah and Zeke relaxed in the background:

Meanwhile, Kathy, David and Laird discussed the finer points of wearing masks and completing elbow bumps.  Laird also brought us up to date on his research and writing project.  Isaac, meanwhile, continued snapping photos, to our everlasting thanks:

Late that evening, as the sky was darkening, we made our way back to our campground in Galway.  With the morning of Thursday, June 25 (after the obligatory cat walks), we said our goodbyes to Ginny and Eric, who gifted us with a package of those classic Necco wafers that so many Boomers know and love.  We brought them home and, to our surprise, the next time we looked at them, we found that little Ruby had tossed them to floor, paddled them around like a hocky puck, and sampled the wafers through the wrapper:

We didn't have a chance to ask Ruby whether she liked Neccos, because we had a very long, construction-and-traffic-accident accented, 7 hour drive home to Pennsylvania.  After such a hard drive, we slept soundly Thursday night and woke with the sun to find out what Ruby the Tortoise-Shell Cat had planned for us today.