Thursday, May 5, 2016

Views from the ridgelines

During the week, though our tax returns say "retired," we provide daycare for our two grandkids. Now that both of them are in school for full days, we have a little more weekday freedom, but we had yet to try a hike down here during one of those school days. Today we'd see how that worked out. It's about an hour drive from home to the Reserve, depending on which part of this vast recreational area we wish to explore, so we tried to pick trails a bit closer to home. We also picked trails that weren't quite so lengthy as some others, then set a time by which we'd better be back to vehicle....and we were off!
We set off on the Jug Creek Trail first. It promised to be a fairly short, but climbing, out and back hike, and it kept that promise. Though there is a well defined trail, it appeared to have minimal traffic. We could see why after a short while. We started with a climb that skirted the west face of the hill to the ridge. Every so often, we'd stop to "take in the view," which was shorthand for "I need to catch my breath!" As we neared the ridgetop, the ascent ended and we were heading east atop the ridge. The landscape felt more open, with a view in all directions now, and the vegetation changed from mostly deciduous to some tall pine stands thrown into the mix.

The sun streamed over that open landscape, and little clusters of spring epheremals popped up in spots. We'd hiked other areas of the Reserve a couple weeks ago, and were awestruck with the wildflowers that day, so finding so many again today was a surprise...a welcome surprise at that.

Once we'd reached the top, it was time to turn around and head back down, discussing our options for more hiking in the time we still had left. We'd started with a variety of choices, this one being the furthest from home for our starting point. The next logical starting point was Rockton, pretty much the middle point of the Reserve. We started along one of the Rockton trails, but this time of year, expecting me to keep moving in the face of singing birds in trees with little leaf cover is expecting a lot. When we do these hikes, I deliberately leave my 'good' camera behind, knowing that between its heft and its possibilities, we'd never get more than a half mile hiked. Still, here was a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, singing his heart out, right over my head. Surely with some time and effort, I can capture this in a small way. I did my best, thinking that next time, I should bring my bridge camera instead of the pocket junk camera, at the very least. I tried, and after being indulged in this way, only stopped to enjoy the many other returning migrants we heard and saw along the way.

The Rockton trails head out in different directions from the small town of Rockton. Some of the trails are designated equestrian trails, with parallel multi use trails. This caused us a bit of we hike this one, too, or does hiking one count? Our already tattered map was consulted many times as we faced these life changing decisions! We wandered around, sometimes along the river's edge, sometimes alongside farm fields, always watching for those wonderful signs of life that spring brings.

We were able to navigate all those Rockton trails, and found ourselves with time remaining before our self-imposed "gotta be back to the car" deadline. We continued along part of the Indian Creek Trail, finding other surprises along our way here.

Throughout the Reserve, remnants of the lives that once were, family farms and homesteads, can still be found. One such remnant that is always welcome when working up a mighty thirst are the old artesian spring wells. Once drilled to provide water for the Valley's pioneers, they flow freely yet today, providing a cold drink for tired hikers.

After refreshing ourselves and finding new energy, we continued along, happy to have underestimated our hiking ability today. This trail brings one to the lower ground of the Reserve, in this case streamside of Indian Creek, one of the many spring fed streams to feed the Kickapoo. We enjoyed the difference in plant and bird life in these lowlands, as contrasted with the ridgelines we'd hiked earlier in the day. Eventually we arrived at one of the bridges crossing the Kickapoo, our turnaround point for today.

The surprises weren't quite finished, even though we were hiking back along trails we'd already hiked this early afternoon. It's a lesson in observation, one we've experienced while geocaching as see things differently once you pass by them and then return from whence you'd travelled. We took one more drink at the artesian spring, then happened to look more closely at the other side of that trail on our way out. How did we *not* see that before??? And why is it here, anyway? With just enough time remaining, we had to investigate more closely. We came away with more questions and no answers, a true measure of a day spent exploring well.

KVR Trail Challenge segments hiked.....Segments 33-37, Segment 39

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