Saturday, November 29, 2008

R. B. Winter State Park (Winter Wonderland)

We joined SR192 and had a short 4 miles until we rounded the bend and saw the R.B. Winter State Park and Halfway Lake from the overlook parking lot. It was partially drained and getting lower due to a running pump, but still beautiful with it's 3-6 inches of fresh snow.

This park offers something for everyone for all seasons. A beach, playground, hiking trails, picnic tables, cookout areas, numerous pavilions with fireplaces, concessions and ultra modern heated auto-everything restrooms, all in close proximity to the main parking areas. As a child and teen I remember coming to "Half Way Dam" as we called it back then, for a day on the beach and family cookout. It has been totally upscaled since then and feels resort-like now.

Winter Wonderland
The parking lots were plowed but the park was blanketed in snow. We were the only visitors at that time. Hiking around the beach, picnic areas and stream lined roads and paths was a true challenge and joy to photograph. Max isn't crazy about long exposure to snow for it chills his low lying chest and feet, but he loved being off the leash to run on the empty beach. (Normally he's leashed, but the park was empty)

The outing ended with a frantic search for my cell phone which jumped my belt clip somewhere as we hiked around the park. It turned out to be near the car for that is where I last checked it.

The lighting on the drive home or east bound SR192 spotlighted fields and a great old barn.

Bald Eagle State Forest (Union County)

Spruce Run Road is a few miles west of Kelly Crossroads, near West Milton. My initial goal was to check out Spruce Run Reservoir, but it turned out to be completely man made and basically looked like a big fishing pond, so my Dad and I just passed on it.

Heading west on Spruce Run Rd we entered the awesome 200,000 acre Bald Eagle State Forest which encompasses hundreds of mountainous square miles in Central PA. Shortly after we entered the forest, the road turned to a one lane dirt with conspicuous signs stating "No Winter Maintenance". I gave little thought to that for the road was in good condition.

Postcard Scene
A couple miles west on Spruce Run Rd we came to a little bridge crossing the road's namesake or the little Spruce Run Creek. Immediately after the bridge was a tiny shoulder big enough for one vehicle. The scene was just awe inspiring! It was as if we crossed into another zone for snow just appeared on everything, ranging from a dusting to several inches. Rocks and trees covered with moss, leaves and snow aligned the stream.

This is more then I imagined when I researched the area. On a topographical map, I typically look for accessible back roads with streams (water), and changing elevations. This combination trilogy can spell vistas, and mountain streams, hopefully with waterfalls. The Pennsylvania Gazetteer map book (DeLorme Pub.) showed Spruce Run Rd, a back road, and a parallel stream spanning a range of elevations which meandered to my ultimate destination of R.B. Winter State Park.

The snow zone which started at the bridge continued over the mountains all the way to R.B. Winter. It took long consideration to decide to persevere due to the packed snow conditions on the road, but the adventurers in us won. With a rapid pulse and AWD vehicle we trudged hundreds of feet up the hill which was no problem. I didn't really like the fact that we found an abandoned ditched 4WD truck and several scuff marks going over the shoulder in our slow motion journey.

The downward journey could be different. After about 30 minutes we had enough snowy roads and decided to take the next exit and only road (per the GPS) down the mountain to the SR192 highway. This was on the sunny side of the hill so it had numerous bare patches for traction which made the 2 mile route totally manageable.

Highway 192 was bare and an easy trip west to the next destination, R.B. Winter State Park.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shikellamy State Park (Winter Colors)

While visiting family of Thanksgiving it's almost mandatory to visit the Shikellamy State Park Marina for post-meal miler. They have tons of parking, river views, and a paved fairly flat trail that runs a mile around the island. Max squeals with delight the moment we pull into the entrance drive for he loves to walk here.

Packer Island splits the east branch of the Susquehanna River at the junction where the west branch unites. The impressive water way virtually doubles it's width at this point. Water and surrounding scenes are one of my favorite photo subjects, so the marina area offers unlimited potential.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Antietam Lake - Winter (Hidden Gem!)

It's been a labor of love researching places to visit the past couple of years, but also more like a task at times. There doesn't seem to be a one stop resource offering what I was looking for, which is one of the reasons I developed this photo blog.

While looking through the reliable Berks County Conservancy's site, they mentioned an old converted railroad trail from Antietam to Pendora. Antietam Lake is part of the Berks County Parks and Lakes sytem. I stumbled upon Antietam Lake a couple years ago while I was out on a drive to test my new GPS. I made a mental note, but due to the path I was traveling (down Hill Rd) I saw no shoulder or pull offs to stop. Unfortunately, I went right onto Angora Rd instead of left or I would have seen at least three different parking areas.

If there is a trail there must be parking, so I pulled up Antietam Lake on the satellite Map and saw the parking areas. My initial intent was to take the trail from lake to lake, but once I arrived I wanted to explore the trail that runs the shore line of Antietam Lake. I parked on Angora Rd at the distant lot where the little Antietam Creek feeds the lake.

It was another sunny cold afternoon, 33 degrees, but less breezy. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the best photo outings we had this year. Max, again seemed oblivious to the cold so he led a torrid pace right from the start as he sometimes does when he's excited by a new "hunt".

Right out of the car were exploding milkweed pods exposing themselves for a breeze to spread their wispy feathered seeds. I am a total sucker for milkweeds, like I am for ferns. I cannot pass by without stopping and studying and usually snapping a picture.

Antietam Lake must be a tremendous fishing hole for there were dozens of short paths leading to the waters edge. At the end of the first path along the creek is where the ducks and geese were. True wild ones for they fled immediately upon approach.

The lake is fed in multiple directions so it's uniquely shaped like a three fingered mitten. When we turned the corner is when more magic appeared. First you see in the distance a cascading water fall, then behind the falls is another little stream which I think is also called Antietam Creek (for it looks like the same one that runs through the Earl Poole Sanctuary).

The man made water fall wall was dramatic in scale. The water crested at multiple spots so there were a series of different flows to photograph. Water, ice, leaves are all good subject matter.

This time of year offers some very cool natural ice sculptures. Not enough consecutive cold days to freeze up the streams/lakes completely so the dripping and splashing and repetition make for some amazing features. I totally wanted to go down to the stream side and get a closer look, but Max was less excited about rock hopping slippery, leaf covered rocks. Maybe he remembers the last time he tried to walk on leaves and took an unscheduled bath.

My favorite part of this outing was the little stream. Many trees traversed the stream as far as you could see and still had a dusting of snow. The elevations were enough for numerous unique little water falls. Naturally, ice formations abound at these water falls.

We were losing light fast even though it was barely 2:00 PM due the hills, the valley and winter's solar angle. The day ended with some nostalgia photography of Perkiomen Ave and it's construction projects.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

French Creek - Hopewell Lake (Drive By)

On the way home from the Crow's Nest, I thought that Hopewell Lake would have some nice end of day color, so we did a drive by and grabbed a couple images. Surprisingly, there were a bunch of people playing Frisbee golf in the cold, breezy conditions.

Crow's Nest Preserve (Cold!)

Last week I declared Fall over, so today I am declaring winter has arrived. The outside temp was 28 degrees, windy, and the snow and ice still remain from the Friday storm. I haven't walked in these conditions since February and it sure felt cold.

The Crow's Nest Preserve was understandably empty except for a sole archer who braved the elements for a day in his tree stand. The preserve that was brimming with life and bird activity just three weeks ago has quickly transitioned to it's winter colors and residents. I saw no Wood Ducks or any ducks, but plenty of little song birds were scurrying next to the Creek Trail.

My goal for the day was to walk to the open fields that overlook the lands and capture some dramatic sky shots for a row of heavy clouds was drifting in front of the bright blue backdrop. Max, up unto this point seemed unaffected by the chilly conditions but when we hit the open fields and the wind was blasting us, he practically climbed up my leg to let me know we need to keep moving.
We concluded with a brisk, both speedy and cold, back to the car just in time for the kickoff of the PSU game. Total walk time was about 45 minutes, maybe a mile.

Friday, November 21, 2008

French Creek State Park (Book)

My first book is published!
It's titled, "French Creek State Park, Four Seasons"

Please click the link to BLURB to preview the book and to order.
This has been a two year project consisting of monthly visits to the park. The book itself took several months to create. I filtered the collection of 3,000 digital pictures down to 500 then selected the best 200+ that fit the theme of the book. The book consists 0f 76 color and 4 b&w pages with various templates from many full page bleeds to collages.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

French Creek - Hopewell Lake (Fall is Gone)

I'm declaring fall officially over! Despite that we have over a month left in the autumnal equinox, the last leaves dropping are my personal barometer to the changing of the seasons.

What started out as a mild walk in the woods turned into a quagmire. The car said 68 degrees, the sun was out and the skies were blue and loaded with puffy white clouds, so I figured the big sky over Hopewell Lake would make for a dramatic photo subject.

The walk was so muddy starting from the parking lot, the result of hard rains for the past few days. Max splashed and waded through a dozen wet spots as we sloshed along the shore line trail. It was turning grayer as we advanced further and further from the car. So much for my sunset opportunity I thought.

The old beaver lodge appears to be abandoned for the fresh beavers' gnawing's have moved to the other or south side, downstream from the pool. I also saw some fresh beaver downed trees near the small inlet where they lodged two winters ago.

Rain, Rain, and more Rain!
By the time we got to the swimming pool the couple of drops that started near the dam had turned into a drizzle and by the time we got to the picnic area, the drizzle turned into a sideways downpour.

Max just wanted to hide under a picnic table and pray for the rain to stop. I had already bagged up my camera and phone, (I always carry a folded up grocery bag in the bottom of my camera bag) so we pushed on. The rain soaked my clothes and poured down my nylon pants right into my boots so my normally dry feet were soaked and spongy. By now the fun and nostalgia of getting caught in a rain storm was gone.

The rain caused even more trail flash flooding in the last half mile to the car. At this point there was no need to tip-toe and rock-hop across the puddles.

Finally in the car, I wrapped Max in his blanket and then he discovered how nice seat warmers were as he dried all the way home.

Sunny 68-58 turning to torrential downpours.


Trail, Area, Region Maps
Elverson Hikers & Flying Pigs (GeoCaching) - Hand drawn & actual maps
French Creek State Park
Nolde State Forest
Neversink Moutain Preserve
Wyomissing Creek Trail
Mount Penn Trail System
Angelica Creek Greenway
Monocacy Hill Recreation Area
Horseshoe Trail (Berks County)
Riverwalk Trail (Reading)
Schuylkill River Trail System
Thun Trail (SRT: Gibraltar to Pottstown)
Thun Trail (SRT: Reading to Gibraltar)
Blue Marsh Lake Trail System
Hawk Mountain
Thomas Hill [Warwick] SGL#43 (Berks/Chester Co.)
The Pinnacle Trails
Weiser State Forest (Regional Map - huge file)
Blue Mt. [Strausstown] SGL#110 (A.T. - Berks/Schuylkill Co.)
Blue Mt. [Port Clinton] SGL#110 (A.T. - Berks Co.)
Blue Mt. [Hawk Mt Area] SGL#106 (A.T. - Berks/Schuylkill Co.)
Port Clinton/Hamburg SGL#106 (A.T. - Berks/Schuylkill Co.)

Chester County
Crows Nest Preserve
Welkinweir Estate
Horseshoe Trail (Chester Co.)
Black Rock Preserve
Jenkins Arboretum (Devon)

Other Counties
Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area SGL#46 (Lancaster Co.)
Valley Forge National Park (Montgomery Co.)
Valley Forge National Park Trail Maps (Montgomery Co.)
Shikellamy State Park (Northumberland/Union Co.)
Bald Eagle State Forest (Multiple Counties);/

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Berks County Photos (Fall)

Here is a collection of Berks County photos that I shot while driving around, but predominantly on the way to or from my "Berks Awhile" destinations.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Monocacy Hill

Wow! I hadn't been here in almost two years and it was in the winter. I'm truly sorry I waited this long before returning for the trails were great and the fall colors were vibrant. Monocacy Hill is right off 422 near Douglasville (click for directions).

The Geiger Rd parking lot was almost full when we got there and a car was waiting for me to leave so it was a popular spot on a mild sunny Sunday. The entrance has an information station and a neat wooden book laminated with pictures of the flora from the trails. The trails are adorned with park benches at strategic positions. Another thing I like are the identifying labels on the trees. Throughout the year they organize hikes and one is coming up Sunday, Nov 16.

The course Max & I walked was Monocacy Trail, Creek Trail, Lower Trail, and finally joined Monocacy Trail at the base of the hill. If anybody knows the route I described then they know what comes next.

The Climb
I want to think that I'm in decent shape for I walk about 8-10 measured miles a week, not including incidental walking around, but the climb from Lower Trail to the Lookout is down right HARD. The climb goes from 200-600 ft elevation in about a 1/10th of a mile. In other words it's like climbing the stairs of a 40 story building. After a mid point break and some hard breathing we made it to the top. Max kept looking back at me puzzled as to why I was slow and/or stopped to catch my breath. He appeared completely unphased by the climb.

The rock outcropping at the top offered awesome views from Island Pizza below to Birdsboro and all the way up the 422 corridor. We headed down the Monocacy Trail back to the parking area and concluded our hike. After we left the hill, I took a shot from Island Pizza looking up to overlook.

It was about 55, sunny and we covered about 3.5 miles.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Earl Poole Sanctuary

Too bad the colors are in their final stages for the little Earl Poole Sanctuary (of Berks County Conservancy) has a lot to offer. A large wildflower meadow, trails through the woodlands, and the little Antietam Creek are all photogenic subjects.

The preserve is off of Antietam Road about 1 mile south of Alsace Manor. The entrance is merely a short driveway. The sign is set back from the road so it is easy to miss. We got to the preserve before 4:00 PM and the gate was chained. The sign said open to the public and open until dusk, so I just parked there and entered. After all, Max & I prepped for the outing and drove about 20 minutes.

The Reading Eagle did a nice piece on this oasis in Sept. and one of the gentlemen visiting that day was Karl Gardner who I presume is the same Karl who does a good job authoring Berks County Nature web site. They host a fall and spring guided hike every year, but private tours can be scheduled.

We buzzed through the red blazed trail around the circumference of the grounds in about 3o minutes. Maybe a mile. I watched Max closely as he sniffed next to the leaf covered stream for I suspected he'd try to walk on water again. I didn't need a wet dog considering the damp conditions and for out visit to SuperPetz after our outing.
Lighting was waining so stopping for a lot of photos wasn't likely. I will make this place at least a seasonal stop on my calendar.

Wet grounds due to rain and drizzle the past three days and all morning. Continued overcast skies throughout the day but a mild 57 degrees.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welkinweir Arboretum

I learned of this location on the Hopewell Big Woods website. Welkinweir houses the headquarters for Green Valley Association and is located on Prizer Rd, Pottstown which is a few miles north of Rt 100 and Rt 401 intersection, a.k.a. Ludwigs Corner.

Situated on 197 rolling acres of wildflower meadows, woodlands and containing ponds of various sizes, this site offers a variety of photo subjects. Initially, I was drawn to the numerous wild plant species that were in their fall colors. A variety of trees are on the property too with some spectacular Red Maples in full scarlet glory.

The A.M. sun was soft offering perfect back light situations. I primarily took macros most of the morning. The trail around the large pond had a quaint bridge crossing the water's exit path at the top of the damn. Little birds were fluttering all around too. Based on the abundance of berry bushes, their winter food supply looks plentiful.

I startled a pair of Wood Ducks on the large pond which later I saw in the pond named "Seep". The old growth forest in the back of the property had some trees of impressive color and scale. There are man made gardens and some historic ruins too.

The online visitors guide shares a map and basic rules for visiting this private gem. I would add tick repellent for the tiny menaces were plentiful and active.

AM temp from 45-55 and we walked a couple miles in about two hours.