Sunday, July 21, 2019

Hunting For A Hike

I had one weekend to get away in July, and I cut this one close. Friday night I had no idea where I would go Saturday morning, but I knew I was going somewhere. A quick search of day trips and I landed on Natchez Trace State Park, part of the Tennessee State Parks system. Less than two hours away. Trails to hike. Done.

Saturday morning I packed a lunch, filled a couple of water bottles an anticipation of the 90+ degree heat, threw the camera in the car and hit the road.

The park is literally right off the interstate, so getting there was no problem. First stop, a snap of the welcome sign at the entrance, then on to park headquarters. I knew there was a museum in there filled with the history of the Natchez Trace, so I confess, I pulled into the parking lot, assessed my map, and kept going. I'll stop by on my way out, I thought.

But further down the road the confusion began.  I had done the research, found the trails I wanted to check out and even downloaded the map. But despite my best efforts, I absolutely could not find any trailheads. Not one!

Finally, frustrated and about to give up, I turned off the main road on what I assumed would be another proverbial dead end in my hunt for hiking trails, and there it was. The only signage I'd seen all day indicating anything other than campgrounds and a shooting range.

Not what I was expecting, but I'll take it.

A few steps into the woods, and that familiar feeling pushed my frustration aside. I don't know what it is about being ten feet into nature, but all the sounds of kids at the nearby pool, cars driving by, campers on generators... all of it gone. I was left with nothing but silence. I stopped to take a deep breath, then kept my eye on the tree roots jutting up through the dirt path.

Eventually, the path meanders into a fork in the road. To the left is the Pin Oak Trail that takes you toward the Pin Oak Lodge along Pin Oak Lake. To the right is the Oak Ridge Trail which promises to be somewhat of a "nature trail." I turned right.

Oak Ridge put my basic skills to the test. The trail often disappeared beneath leaves, pine needles and other debris so I had to keep my eyes peeled for the white blazes, which is asking a lot because my head is on a swivel in places like this. I get distracted by every bird song, every snap of a twig or rustle of leaves nearby, hoping to spot a critter, or maybe something I've never seen before.

But it wasn't birds or other animals that caught my attention this time. It was something a little more  unexpected...

Mushrooms! Some of the coolest, kookiest, most colorful 'shrooms this rookie hiker/city girl has ever seen! Now maybe to the trained eye, these guys are old hat and nothing to get all worked up about. But I was sort of stunned. Every hundred feet was a different fungus to photograph, one I had never laid eyes on before, in all sorts of fun colors just begging for a closeup!

I couldn't identify any of the mushrooms without help from Google, but I didn't need a search engine to tell me who was serenading my hike. Summer tanagers seemed to laugh at me every time I bent down for another shot of what they see every day.

As for the Oak Ridge Trail itself, it was hilly, serene, beautiful, peaceful, and worth the hunt. Once I got back to the car, sweaty and hungry, I sucked down a bottle of water and walked down to Pin Oak Lake. I found a bench to enjoy my brown bag lunch and watched families come and go from the dock, out for a day of boating in the sunshine. My heart was full.

When it was time to go, I drove back toward the park entrance to stop at the museum and check things out. The facility reminded me of a natural history museum I once visited in elementary school in the 1980s. I loved the quaintness of it and was so involved in reading the history that I forgot to take a picture. And of course I was drawn to the giant picture window overlooking a garden filled with active bird feeders.

On my way out of the parking lot, I looked to my left and saw a sign I had not noticed before, pointing toward the trailhead for the Red Leaves Trail. The one I had been looking for.


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