Archive for the 'Hiking' Category

Oct 11 2011

Soon, Very Soon

Published by under Crows, Ravens,Hiking

Last Sunday I hiked the Vondergreen Trail at Beaver Creek State Park near East Liverpool, Ohio. 

The trail follows Little Beaver Creek as it cuts through the surrounding hills.  Along the way there are remnants of the channel and locks of the Sandy and Beaver Canal that ran for 73 miles through 90 locks and two tunnels from Bolivar, Ohio to the Ohio River at Glasgow, Pennsylvania.

Completed in 1848, 20 years after it was chartered, the canal operated for only four years.  It closed in 1852 after the Cold Run Reservoir Dam broke and ruined much of the canal.  By then competition from the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad made it uneconomical to rebuild.  The canal boom ended abruptly.

At Grey’s Lock I stopped to read the historic marker but I didn’t absorb what it said because my attention was snagged by the sound of crows.  Just out of sight, they were flying my way.  150 passed overhead and congregated somewhere on the north side of the creek, still within earshot. 

That flock is just the start of something big.

Right now the crows are gathering in the countryside.  150 here, 200 there.  Some have made it to town, but no great numbers yet.

Soon, very soon, the crows will come to Pittsburgh.  By winter we could have 10,000!

(photo from

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Sep 03 2011

Gone Hiking…

Published by under Hiking,Travel

… on my favorite trails at Acadia National Park in Maine.

This is the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain, 1,530 feet above sea level.

It’s an easy (long) climb from north or south but there’s an ice cream reward at the summit shop.

How civilized!

(photo by Ralph Roach  from Shutterstock)

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Jul 24 2011

Thinking Cool Thoughts

Published by under Hiking,Weather & Sky

The weather has moderated a little, but it’s still hot and humid. 

I’d like to go hiking but southwestern Pennsylvania has a 50% chance of thunderstorms today and I won’t hike in lightning if I can avoid it. 

Now it looks unavoidable.  The sky has become ominously dark as I write. 

If the weather was merely hot I’d visit Cucumber Falls, pictured above.  The falls are part of Cucumber Run in Ohiopyle State Park and they’re easy to get to.  There’s a parking lot near the falls for a quick visit, or you can get a better look at Cucumber Run by hiking the Great Gorge Trail.  Hike upstream to feel the cool air in the creek valley or walk downstream to the Youghiogheny River where you can watch the rapids.  Here’s a map of the park.   (The map takes a while to download.  If it looks black, change the zoom and the map will appear.)

Unfortunately Ohiopyle is a 90 minute drive from Pittsburgh and I can’t see driving that far to wait in the car for a storm to pass.

I guess I’ll have to stay close to home and merely think cool thoughts.

(photo of Cucumber Falls by Caleb Foster from

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Jul 20 2011

Cool Water

Published by under Hiking

Here’s a place that’s changed for the better in the last 200 years.

Hells Hollow Falls are part of the gorge cut by Hell Run, a tributary of Slippery Rock Creek in Lawrence County. 

At its headwaters Hell Run flows through farmland, then into the woods where the gorge and waterfall have been protected as part of McConnell’s Mill State Park.

It wasn’t always this beautiful.

In the mid-1800’s the valley was logged and mined for its iron-ore-rich limestone and the coal to fire its industry.  The Lawrence Iron Furnace, two coal mines, a quarry, and a lime kiln were all within a short walk of the waterfall.  It must have been a smoky, dirty place in those days.

In the 1870’s the local iron business collapsed and within 50 years the coal mines closed too.  The trees grew back, the buildings disappeared, and the brick-walled lime kiln became a curiosity in the woods. 

The only noticeable scar is coal mining’s affect on the water.  The abandoned mines release toxic, orange, acid mine drainage (AMD) into Hell Run’s feeder streams above the falls.  Fortunately, even in the dry month of July there’s enough fresh water to dilute it. 

When I visited Hells Hollow Falls last Sunday I marveled at the miniature slot canyon upstream.  Geologists say this channel was formed when the creek ran inside a limestone cave just below ground level.  Eventually the top of the cave fell in and revealed the flume, pictured below.  If I was the size of an ant, this would be the Grand Canyon.

If you’d like to see these wonders for yourself, click these links for information on Hells Hollow and McConnell’s Mill State Park.

The waterfall looks cool … especially in this heat.

(photos by Kate St. John, taken on 17 July 2011)

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Apr 14 2010

An April Hike

Published by under Hiking,Plants

Last year, WQED’s Web Department made three videos for me to post on my blog:  An April Hike at Raccoon Creek State Park, the Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, and a third (not yet edited) film of Marcy Cunkelman’s garden in August.

Though it was filmed last year on April 23, the Web Department had to wait until their summer intern, Christa Majoras, was available to edit it.  Christa did a fine job and completed the video in July, but by then these scenes of April were out of season so I saved the video for this week.

My plan was to show you a preview of flowers-to-come but life is full of twists and turns.  Who could imagine we’d have a spring so warm that the plants would be two to three weeks ahead of schedule?  This video is again out of season — late by two weeks.

Use your imagination as you watch.  Go back in time to March 31 and remember what the landscape looked like.  Or watch this video for signs of just how far ahead this spring is compared to April 2009.

Sit back and enjoy An April Hike.

(video filmed by Joan Guerin, edited by Christa Majoras)


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Aug 30 2009

To Acadia

Published by under Hiking,Travel

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park (photo by Doug Lemke via Shutterstock)

Hello from Maine.  We’re at Acadia National Park as usual at this time of year. 

I’m hoping to see some new birds and new places.  Will it be a good year for a warbler “fallout?”  Will the crossbills be at Acadia this fall?  What new sea birds will I see on the Whale Watch?  Will I finally see a moose?  (Can you believe I’ve never seen one in 26 years of going to Maine?)

We plan to hike some new trails and visit some new-to-us towns.  I’ll still be blogging while I’m here but less frequently.  After all, it’s a vacation!

(photo by Doug Lemke via Shutterstock)

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Mar 15 2009

Happiness is a Clear Sky

Published by under Hiking,Water and Shore

Ring-necked Ducks (photo by Kim Steininger)
This morning at dawn it was cloudy again – actually, I’d call it overcast – but I could see clear skies to the north and west so I figured we’d have a sunny day soon.  Two hours later it was still oppressively gray and the good weather was just as far away as before.

Since the edge of the clouds hadn’t moved I decided it was time for me to move out from under them so I headed north to Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park.  Reports on Friday said there were tundra swans at Porter’s Cove and though I didn’t expect to find them two days later, I went there anyway.  Halfway to the park I passed the cloud boundary.  Clear skies ahead.

What a great day for a hike!  I headed into the woods, picking my way through the mud to the sound of spring peepers.  Deep in the woods I encountered a red-shouldered hawk calling and doing such obvious flight displays that I found its nest. 

The trail ended at a campground so I headed back.  To avoid the mud I tried a hilltop path that started off in the right direction but ended abruptly in a wall of brambles in the middle of nowhere.  Where am I now?  Maybe I’m lost.  I retraced my steps – over the mud – to Porter’s Cove.

I was rewarded with a view of two beautiful white birds across the water.  Swans, but not tundras.  It was pair of trumpeters, one of whom was banded.  Trumpeter swans were reintroduced in Ohio so perhaps that’s where these came from.  I hope they stay to nest.

As a further reward I sat by the lake in the sunshine and scanned the distant birds so hard to see through the heat shimmer.  Slowly I identified ring-necked ducks (pictured here), ruddy ducks, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, a common merganser, a pair of American wigeons. 

At 5:00pm a huge flock of scaup rose from the lake, circled up and headed north, their bodies winking white in the clear blue sky.  Time to head home.

Back in Pittsburgh the clouds remained.  The western horizon showed a gleam of light as the sun set.  Only three minutes of sunshine at home today and then it was night.   So glad I went to the lake!

(photo of ring-necked ducks by Kim Steininger)

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Jan 06 2009

Speaking of Fritos

Published by under Hiking

Fritos corn chips (photo from Frito-Lay)When I mentioned gulls and Fritos yesterday I remembered a story that has nothing to do with birds but a lot to do with hiking.

Several years ago I attended the Keystone Trails Association spring meeting in Renovo, PA.  KTA is an association of hikers dedicated to promoting hiking and preserving trails in Pennsylvania.  If you’ve hiked in this state, chances are you’ve used a trail maintained by KTA volunteers.

KTA’s biannual meetings are held in different regions throughout the state and always include a selection of hikes in the local area so you can learn new trails and get to know other members. 

That Saturday I chose a day-long hike on the Donut Hole Trail with twenty others.  As we hiked through the beautiful forest we chatted and swapped stories.  Then we stopped for a break and someone pulled out a bag of Fritos.

“Did you know Fritos are the perfect hiking accessory?” said one of the seasoned hikers.  “Not only do they maintain their shape in your backpack and give you energy on the trail, but if you’re cold you can burn them.  They’re excellent tinder for a campfire.”

When I got home I couldn’t resist lighting one.  He was right; it burned like a candle.  The fat is the wax, the corn is the wick.  

Dinner or tinder.  Eat or heat.

(photo from Frito-Lay)

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Nov 24 2008

Winter Hike

Published by under Hiking,Mammals,Plants

Winter at Moraine State Park (photo by Kate St. John)I like to hike in winter when it’s not too cold.  The woods are open after the leaves have fallen and I can see new places to explore.  Even better, I can go off trail without worrying I’ll get lost because I can follow my own tracks in the snow back to the car.

Yesterday I explored Porters Cove at Moraine State Park.  Most of the time I stayed on marked trails (shown here) but I was tempted to follow someone else’s footprints into the woods.  Where were they going?  And why?

The tracks looked to be a day old and they went both ways – out and back – so I knew I wouldn’t encounter the person if I followed them.  There’s no hunting on Sundays but I put on my blaze orange vest and hat just in case and set off.

From the start the tracks wove in and out.  The man was hunting.  Perhaps he too was tracking something but what I could not tell.  His wanderings were tiring me so I made my own straight trail.  That’s when I discovered something the man didn’t see – a coyote’s den in the hollow of a huge old oak.  The animal had left the den at least a day before the man walked by.  Eastern coyotes survive by carefully avoiding human contact.

As I examined the coyote’s tracks I smelled a skunk.  What’s this?!  Just a patch of skunk cabbage I’d inadvertently crushed underfoot.  Skunk cabbage not only survives the winter but is one of the first to sprout in the spring because it can generate inner temperatures 35 degrees warmer than the air.  Each plant in this patch had melted the snow around it.

I resumed the hunter’s trail.  At this point he was walking straight through the woods and had made the trip twice.  I paused at the edge of a copse of trees.  For some reason I didn’t want to proceed.  I looked ahead and saw his tree stand erected for deer season.  Best not to go near it.  Interesting that my intuition said “stop” before I got there.

On the way back I took a detour to walk near the lake.  As I approached I heard a hissing, pinging sound.  The lake had started to freeze and a thin layer of clear ice rolled on top of the waves.  The ice was “singing.”

Way cool.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 16 2008

If a tree falls in the forest…

Fallen tree (photo by Kate St. John)…does it make a sound?

You bet it does!

On Sunday night, as the remnants of Hurricane Ike passed through western Pennsylvania, too many of us heard the noise of falling trees.  No rain fell but the wind gusted from 65 to 79 miles per hour.

Just that afternoon I had hiked the Glacier Ridge Trail at Moraine State Park.  At that point the weather was already unpleasant – 86 degrees and humid with winds over 30mph.

In the distance I heard the crack of a rifle shot, then several rapid shots followed by the sound of cannon.  It wasn’t gunfire.  Somewhere out of sight, a tree fell in the forest.

I was lucky I wasn’t close enough to see that tree fall.  When we were in Maine I learned about widow makers from my cousin John.  They’re dead limbs that are about to fall or have fallen partway and are hanging overhead.  Just a touch of wind is enough to send them hurtling to the ground.

Now that I knew what I was looking at, these trees over the trail made me nervous.  (I took their picture anyway).  The stronger the wind got, the sooner I wanted to be out of the woods so I picked up my pace.

Later that night when the wind howled against our house I wondered about the flock of wood thrushes I’d found in a thicket near these broken trees.   I hope they made it through the storm.

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