Monday, April 12, 2010

Hodges' Gardens State Park-Pinestump Primative Trail

Essentials for this hike:  water, slip-resistant shoes, hiking stick

Sunday, we went to a park at a totally different side of the country than the last one I posted about.  We went up to Florien, Louisiana, in Sabine Parish near Toldeo Bend.  Hodges' Gardens just reopened recently after having been shut down for a little while so the State could make some improvements.  Previously, Hodges' Gardens was the largest privately owned horticulture and wildlife refuges in the NATION.  It was donated to the state in 2007.  Since then, over 15 miles of new hiking trails have been added as well as improvements to the beautiful gardens scattered around the park and the lake and camping area.
We chose the Pinestump trail because we were looking for a more primative trail so that we could see more of nature, rather than the cultivated gardens.  It's a bit tricky to find because it doesn't exist on the map that is given out upon entering the park.  Going alone the lake front, past the restrooms and gift shop and lake front stadium, the road winds alone around different gardens and soon appears a fenced cattle area.  Immediately past the cattle pins is a small path just big enough for one car at a time.  This is the entrance to the Pinestump area.  Following the bearly-there drive which forms a cul-de-sac, cars can park anywhere along the edge of the concrete drive.  The entrance to the trail, and the marked path, are signed by small diamond-shaped yellow signs tacked to various locations along the way.

The path begins very much like any path through the woods and then we were treated to the fairly steep paving-stone walkway taking us down into the old rock quarry area.  We were afraid the path would be easier than we had wanted, but we were pleasantly surprised.
Once we were out of the beginning stretch, the path became less clear in places, the ground dropped away here and there, and at some points we had to walk almost sideways to keep from sliding down toward the stream.  The weather was perfect, windy and clear, and the ample coverage of longleaf pine gave us shade. We needed it, too, because at least two points on the hike had us sitting down for a breather!

Because the area around Hodges' Gardens was a rock quarry in the 1800s and then used for lumber, there was  a lot of steep descents and ascents and a lot of pretty boulders.  At the bottom of the descent we were on the picture above was a narrow section of stream that we had to cross.  The trail leads hikers toward an easy place to cross on some of the pieces of broken boulder.  This, and the pine needles that get quite thick in some of the steep places, is the reason for the slip-resistant shoes.

Once the stream is crossed, there is a slightly steep upward climb that requires a hiking stick or the assistance of hands as well as feet, to get up. Ashlyn went up ahead and then I sent Maxx up.  Unfortunately, I followed too closely and when he stopped in his climbing for whatever reason, I started slowly sliding downward in the thick pine needles! There is a pretty rest spot at the top, with scenic boulders good for taking pictures.

The trail continued on, with the sighting of boulders growing as we went back up out of the quarry area. We were starting to really break a sweat despite the breezy day and the shading, which created a beautiful lacy pattern across the kids' faces and the ground, throwing some of the forest surrounding us into eerie darkness, and some of the clearings into dazzling sunlight. 

The forward part of the trail ends at a large, partially open area with a lot of very nice looking, flat-topped boulders that were fun for climbing on and would have been nice to sit and have a small picnic if it had been slightly cooler. As it was, the weather, and the effort to get there, made us only want water! We sat on the boulders and caught our breath and the kids climbed around from boulder to boulder.  There were a couple of serious hikers ahead of us with backpacks and compasses who walked up the boulders, stood gathering their bearings and disappeared into the wilderness outside the longleaf forest.

We went over the barrier of boulders, that was creepily reminiscent of Pet Semetary, to see where the hikers went, but they had disappeared.  It was very different out there.  The longleafs stopped and it was a forest of trees mostly without leaves, with a gray tint all around and hard, rocky ground.  It should be an interesting hike at some point, but there are no marked trails back there.

The trail culminates in this large, exposed longleaf pine root formation.  Normally, longleaf pine roots grow straight down for miles and miles.  This particular occurance happens when the long, straight root is going downward and strikes rock.  The tree was a thousand years old and was used for lumber in the late 1800s.  The roots became exposed from erosion and was left in tact, along with its rock.

At this point, we started heading back toward the car.  The descent back toward the stream was not quite as steep as the journey there.  We got down on our bottoms a few times to get down it, but it was fun.  The stream was a bit trickier to cross there, but grew narrow just up from us.  Maxx had a blast hopping from rock to rock, traveling along the stream, while Ashlyn and I washed our hands and faces in the chill water.

The ascent after we crossed the stream was a bit tricky and we had to pull ourselves up by exposed roots and branches.  After that it was a fairly pleasant walk back to another set of paving stones set into the quarry wall creating a steep staircase leading to the trail back to the car.  The whole trail took about an hour, with pausing to rest on the way.  It's a good first primative trail, one that will let you figure out your skill level and what direction you would like to go in hiking.

This was such a pretty trail that we definitely want to do it again, and perhaps go off the marked path a bit and see what we can find. Maybe during a more snakey season.

What we learned on that trail:  That I can start something and finish it, even if it gets hard and hot and my knee starts to hurt and I have to get my hands dirty. Ashlyn can, too.  Maxx has an adventurous spirit that has been as yet undeveloped.  What I want to accomplish now: I want to be able to do a slightly longer hike and would like to get a book about Louisiana snakes to take along with us.

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