October Mini Road Trip: OBX and Bear Island Camping

September and October turned out to be really busy, but in a good way.  I was able to go on my first ever backpacking trip to South Mountains State Park and also head out to the Outer Banks a few days later for a 3 night camping trip.   I'm not sure there's a single photo from the backpacking trip that's worth sharing (I only took my P&S), but I did take a few photos on my car camping trip that I'll post.

My trip was a big loop starting/ending in Raleigh (naturally).  I drove from Raleigh to the National Park Campground in Frisco, NC ($20). The following day I took the ferry (free) from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island.  I spent the next night at the NPS Ocracoke Campground ($23).  The next morning I took the Ocracoke->Cedar Island Ferry ($15) and then met G at the Hammocks Beach State Park visitor center.  We took the 3:30pm passenger ferry ($5/person) to Bear Island for an overnight ($10).  I was lucky to have perfect weather and finally knocked a few items off my camping wishlist.

I took lots of photos, but realized that I'm pretty rusty and making silly mistakes or oversights (like bringing my polarizing filter but forgetting to put it on for half the trip).  The much talked about OBX bugs (huge mosquitoes) were still active in October (can't imagine the summer months) and drove me into my tent pretty quickly so I only snapped a few night photos, which I regret now.



Ocracoke Sunrise

Ferry From Ocracoke to Cedar Island -- somewhere in the Pamlico Sound

Looking Toward Emerald Isle from Bear Island

Bear Island Campsite Behind the Dunes

Sunrise on Bear Island

I definitely want to go back to Ocracoke and I hope to make an annual overnight on Bear Island.  There is something very cool about sharing a 3.5 mile long island with only 20 or so people, getting to watch the sunset, the stars come out, a huge moon rise, and then the sun rise the next morning....all just steps from your tent. 



Bear Island

It's been two years since I've made a trip out to Bear Island and we finally got a chance to make the drive down after two very rainy Saturdays that washed out prior plans.  What a beautiful place.  We made the walk down the beach to find our site (#9) that we have reserved for October.  There were campers on the site, so we didn't bother them to take a peek, so we walked into site #7 and kind of peered down towards our site.  Climbing the dune and seeing the interior marsh is gorgeous and always makes us say "oh wow". 

Bear Island Interior, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro, NC

Neuse River Trail: Sunflowers

Amazingly cool and comfortable mid-July morning for a bike ride!  We decided to drive out to a trailhead parking lot that's close to the Sunflower fields - we'd never seen them before.  We still can't get over how nice the Neuse River Trail is...what a gift to the people of Wake County.

sunflower fields between mile 23 and 24 on the neuse river trail

sunflower fields between mile 23 and 24 on the neuse river trail


We saw a few deer and a small group of Indigo Buntings.  This section was much more popular with cyclists than walkers/runners. After taking photos of the sunflowers, I realized I hadn't gotten a photo of the "trail" itself.  So this quick one will have to do.

Throwback Photo: Yosemite Sept '13

A few weeks ago our Cablevision went out due to a nearby lightning strike.  We decided to hook up the laptop to the TV and look at photos from our Yosemite and Yellowstone trips.  I came upon this photo and realized that I really liked it.  It was a smoky morning in the Valley due to the nearby Rim Fire.  We were so lucky to have a gorgeous day for our Panoroma/Mist trail hike just the day prior. 

On this morning, we were moving slow and really sore so we just puttered around the Valley and G fished in the Merced River.  I brought out my tripod and tried  taking photos here and there, but the smoke obscured any of the iconic granite peaks.  

But I like this photo for whatever reason.  It's not the greatest reflection, but nice enough.  And it includes the hazy/smoky atmosphere.

Merced River in Yosemite Valley, Smoky from Rim Fire

Last Minute 48 Hour "Vacation", Mt. LeConte

I have probably been thinking about making a hike to LeConte Lodge for 2+ years.  Actually, I'd probably been thinking about it longer than that, but thinking it was doable for the last few.  I actually made reservations for June 2013 back in October of 2012, but I realized how far out it was and that the odds of me picking a proper and doable weekend that far in advance (including the kids) was basically 0, so I let the reservations lapse.

Sometime this spring I realized that the Lodge announces last minute cancellations via Twitter and I thought that maybe this would work if we could be really flexible.  I decided if we could snag a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night, we'd somehow make it work.  Meanwhile, we had targeted the end of June for a few days off (with no particular plans since we'd postponed our Yellowstone/Grand Teton trip until next summer). 

I called LeConte Lodge reservations to figure out the best way to snag a cancellation that overlapped with our planned days off.  They indicated that 10-15 days in advance is a good time to start calling...that's when people need to get their cancellation in before they are charged no matter what.  They said the twitter cancellations are usually REALLY last minute.  I called every morning...to no avail. 

Around 1pm on June 25th, I learned that there had been a cancellation for the very next night (I had set the LeConte twitter account to text me so I'd know instantly).   After a quick call to G, I called them to say we'd take it.  Decision made in about 10 minutes and now we'd have to head out a few hours later to get closer to the trailhead for our hike up the next morning.

After quickly packing...we headed out.  We stopped at a motel in Maggie Valley, leaving an hour or so to get to the trailhead the next morning.   We hit the Alum Cave Bluffs trailhead at 9:50am and made it up to LeConte Lodge Cabins around 1:30pm. 

It's a great hike...from the shady wooded hike along the Balsam Creek to the rocky narrow path that peeks out from the canopy...just a beautiful, uphill hike. 

I really wanted to bring my DSLR on this hike, but realized I didn't have a pack that would accommodate my clothing needs (rain jacket, change of clothes, extra layer), my water, and the other small items we were bringing.  I could definitely have lashed it to my pack, but the fear of rain and no where to stow it made me decide to just leave it at home.  I grabbed my Canon G12 instead.  Except I didn't charge the battery.   So...the photos are somewhat lacking from the upper portion and top.

Balsam Creek at Alum Cave Trailhead

Balsam Creek at Alum Cave Trailhead

Balsam Creek along Alum Cave Trail (lower portion)

Balsam Creek along Alum Cave Trail (lower portion)

Alum Cave Trail with Cables

Alum Cave Trail with Cables

LeConte Lodge is really a series of buildings and cabins that accommodate approximately 60 guests each night.  They provide dinner, breakfast, and clean bedding in your cabin.  There is no electricity in the cabin or main dining hall or office (which is supplied with tables/chairs/books/puzzle/games) so once the sun goes down, you are using oil lamps for light.  The fact that it didn't get dark until 9pm, coupled with a long day of hiking (we made 2 smaller hikes once we go to the top), left us going to bed pretty early.  We even forgot to go out and look at the night sky!

Our Cabin, 2 queen bunk beds inside

Our Cabin, 2 queen bunk beds inside

Highly recommended hike and experience.   Again we found ourselves hiking in a hurry (maybe that's natural) both on the way up and the way down.   We definitely stopped many times on the way up to catch our breath, but we didn't linger anywhere very long.  Maybe one day we'll change that.

View on hike to Myrtle Point, about 1 mile beyond the Lodge

View on hike to Myrtle Point, about 1 mile beyond the Lodge

Great Blue Heron -- Fort Pickens

I've been trying to find a few photos to post from my camping trip to Fort Pickens in April, but there's just not much to work with.  Cold weather and lots of rain had a big impact on the entire trip.  Here's a nice photo of a Great Blue Heron that I took with my Canon G12 on my only trip to the beach.

Mailbox Flowers

These flowers were planted beneath various neighbors' mailboxes and I snapped a few photos with my Canon G12 while we took the dog on a long walk this morning. 

Baby Bird Titmouse

The titmouse family claimed our bird box before we could reserve it for bluebirds this spring, so we've been hosting them for the last month or so.  Someone did not check the weather because they decided to fledge on the rainiest day of the year -- up to 5 inches in local areas.  During a break, we realized that one or two had made it from the box to the neighboring holly bush.  They were all (even the ones still in the box) making quite a racket.  I grabbed my camera and hand held a few photos trying to capture his fluffy wet body.  I hope they made it through the night okay -- it was really a dreadful day/night to greet the world outside their box.

Ospreys at Fort Pickens

I took a total number of 63 photos during my time at Fort Pickens over Easter (not counting my iPhone).  The weather was generally terrible..cold and windy even when it wasn't pouring.  Between the weather and trying to catch up with 30 family members, well, you end up with 63 images.  

Here are a few of the numerous Ospreys that seem to be everywhere in the Park.  I kept waiting for the little patch of clear sky to arrive overhead to cast some nice light on the birds, but it never happened.  Here's a few to share anyway.  They've been cropped and edited a bit.

Barred Owl

Very difficult lighting conditions, but couldn't NOT try to take a photo of this owl. We've heard him (and its partner) for weeks and weeks. I was too worried that if I tried to get into my neighbor's yard to take it from a different angle, that it would fly away. I'm glad I was able to capture it, because we haven't heard them since.