Monday, June 26, 2017

Reflections on another Jāņi...

Jāņi – the annual Latvian summer solstice celebration. The location and līgotāji may vary, but the basic tenets remain:

Travel. Luckily this year it was a just a short ride across town, no need to cross state lines...


Gracious hosts. Duties include grilling, supplying white oak branches & cassette players for Cūkas driķos folk dance music for the inevitable dance party, and providing a roof under which to wait out the rain.


Which brings me to rain. Līst kā pa Jāņiem! Bonus points if it clears up in time for the bonfire.


A Jāņi feast including Jāņu siers, šašliki, pīrāgi and kliņģeris. When guests get ambitious, siļķe kažokā and self-pickled skābie gurķi might make an appearance.



Wreath making. Wreath wearing. Wreath photo shots. The flower crowns are a big part of the festivities, and the gathering of materials and making of the wreaths often lasts all day.


Fire. Jumping over the fire. Throwing previous year’s wreaths into the fire. Singing by the fire. Admiring the fire. The fire is essential.


Singing. Dancing. Singing while dancing. Dancing while singing. Please tell me you didn’t leave before the dancing and singing commenced…


Glow sticks. Ok, this one’s optional. But trust me, it’s a favorite.


I’ve written plenty about the history, folklore, symbolism and traditions of this holiday of fertility and renewal, but each year brings new memories and new friends. We’ve celebrated across the globe, from Latvia to France, from Michigan to North Carolina. Jāņi is arguably the biggest Latvian holiday of the year, and on this holiday celebrating the sun we recharge our Latvian batteries… this year with perfect timing in preparation for the Baltimore Dziesmu Svētki: Ceļā uz Latvijas simtgadi! Stay tuned to this space for a journey to this first Latvian Song & Dance festival on the east coast since 1978… daily updates on Instagram!


Friday, June 23, 2017

Līksmu prieku Līgo svētkos!







noauj basas kājas
šonakt pļavā silta rasa zied
iebridīsim smaržu pilnā dravā -
miglas mākonī kas pāri galvai iet
iebridīsim klusā klusā naktī
tumsas zīds vienos nevis šķirs
skūpsti uzplauks patiesi - ne zagti
mute pilna medus garšas degs
ļausim naktij pieliet sevi pilnus -
siltas maigas lāses sirdī krīt -
pieliet pilnus dzidras mīlestības
kur iečukstēti mīlas vārdi mīt

noauj basas kājas
šonakt pļavā silta rasa zied
šonakt pļavā zelta cauna ganās
to smagi autām kājām nesasniegt...

-Gundega Salna

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Conestee's Learning Loop 3

This time of year, when it has gotten too hot to ride the Conestee section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and too muggy & buggy to hike down around the Reedy, we head to the west area of Lake Conestee Nature Park (LCNP). With its field full of wildflowers, shaded forest paths, and creek & riparian areas, Learning Loop 3 is one of our favorite hikes at this nearby hiking destination!


To reach Learning Loop 3 we park at the W2 entrance at 601 Fork Shoals Rd. (For an overview of Lake Conestee Nature Park, its regions and its entrances, please see my post Your Guide to Lake Conestee Nature Park.) Follow the Stone House Spur until you reach the Henderson Farm Meadow, and you’ll see the first Learning Loop station and the trailhead to your left. For about half of the length of the learning loop you’ll be following White Tail Trail (blazed white on black).


Only a small part of Lake Conestee Nature Park’s 400+ acres is upland meadows and fields, and most of that is contained within the old Henderson Dairy Farm. The loop begins in an upland meadow ecosystem, and giant wolf oaks mark a circular seating area perfect for a picnic lunch, sharing stories with a group, or just taking a break in the shade before continuing on.


The third station focuses on the meadow ecosystem, concentrating on pollinators. A portion of the meadow is managed for native pollinators including bees, moths, butterflies and other insects, and a blend of wildflowers and native grasses have been planted as part of this management. We often venture out on one of the mowed paths to get an up-close look at all the beautiful blooms.

Clockwise from top left: bee balm, ?, oxeye daisies, purple coneflower, butterfly weed and gaillardia

From the meadow the trail continues on into a scrubby thicket where shrubs and trees have started reclaiming the open field. Shortly a trail cuts off to the right; it leads to the Shortleaf Shelter, another teaching space that offers shade on a sunny day.


As the trail continues on we enter a mature upland forest. A cut-through to the Swamp Rabbit Trail (3 Squirrels link) offers an alternative route, but the Learning Loop continues on White Tail Trail. Eventually we emerge on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and having crossed it we reach another crossroads. This is the intersection of Flat Tail Trail with White Tail Trail, and just a short detour away is one of our favorite places in Lake Conestee – “Bird Nest” Observation Deck. Take a short detour off the Learning Loop, and make a left on White Tail Trail; you’ll see the observation deck on your right in a few dozen feet.

From the Bird Nest visitors have a great view of the West Bay, the beaver-dammed portion of Marrow Bone Creek, the heron rookery in the distance, and all sorts of wildlife. On our most recent visit a family of geese was feeding along one of the channels, and a couple of hawks circled overhead.


Backtrack to the intersection of White Tail and Flat Tail trail, and hop on the boardwalk to continue Learning Loop 3. To cross Bone Marrow Creek the Loop utilizes Flat Tail trail, which if you continued straight on would bring you to the W1 entrance to LCNP next to the Belmont Fire Station. The boardwalk allows access to the wetlands and riparian corridor; fish and tadpoles can often be spotted in the shallows, and turtles sun themselves on half-submerged logs. Evidence of beaver activity is everywhere, in the dams they’ve built and their teeth marks on branches & tree stumps, and dragonflies & damselflies flitter about.


At the intersection of Flat Tail and the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the Learning Loop turns right (west) and makes its way around the Bone Marrow Creek drainage. The Rock Garden Amphitheater soon comes up on the left, a seating area built into the hillside that allows the kids a break to explore. A spur trail (Spring Lizard Link) cuts off a little further on, that can take you back to the parking area. However, to complete the Learning Loop we continue on along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. After passing the intersection of the SRT with the Stone House Spur, and then 3 Squirrels link (the one I mentioned earlier that will take you back to Henderson Farm and the Shortleaf Shelter), you’ll soon come to the last Learning Loop station.


Just beyond this tenth station is another side-trip I recommend taking, Piedmont Seeps. This picnic area features a boardwalk that is almost level with the water, enabling kids to get super-close to the water in the wetlands. We often see geese, ducks, turtles and birds on our visit, and the boys love walking on water.


From Piedmont Seeps you’ll want to head back along the Swamp Rabbit Trail the way you came, either jumping on the Stone House Spur or the Spring Lizard Link to take you back to the parking area. Both are about the same length, bringing the total mileage of the Learning Loop 3 hike from the parking lot to about 1.25 miles. Of this a little less than half is paved (the Stone House Spur and Swamp Rabbit Trail), while the rest (White Tail and Flat Tail Trail) is dirt. The parking area is also not paved. For our LCNP hikes we always bring plenty of water, insect repellent, hats and sunscreen. Binoculars come in handy at the Bird Nest, and a camera allows us to take pictures of flowers, insects and leaves in order to identify them later. Finally, please remember that the creeks and lakes in Lake Conestee Nature Park are not safe for wading or swimming.

For more on Lake Conestee Nature Park, please visit my article Your Guide to Lake Conestee Nature Park. See also The Swamp Rabbit: Lake Constee Nature Park.


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Swamp Rabbit - from Greenville Tech to Cleveland Park

The rebirth/revitalization of Greenville was triggered by: investment into its downtown, the restoration of Falls Park, and the creation of the Swamp Rabbit Trail – a 22 mile multi-use greenway trail system that connects Greenville with Travelers Rest to the north. Utilizing an old rail corridor, city parks and the Reedy River, the SRT might one day stretch all the way to Cedar Falls. Currently the trail is missing a key section that would connect Greenville Technical College’s campus to Conestee, as the City of Greenville and the Greenville Country Club have failed to come to an agreement to fill in the gap. However plans are moving ahead for connectors and spur trails (such as the Cleveland Park-CU ICAR extension) which means the start of a new chapter of SRT history in the coming years.


Falls Park, the heart of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, is a convenient halfway point for an excursion on the Swamp Rabbit; there are plenty of places to picnic (or restaurants to sample) before making your way back south. From the “end of trail” sign at the intersection of Winterberry Court & Cleveland Street to Falls Park is 3.5 miles, making for a 7-mile round trip. I go into more depth on the portion of the ride between the Falls and Cleveland Park in my post The Swamp Rabbit: From the Falls to Cleveland Park, therefore in this post I’ll concentrate on the two miles from Greenville Tech to Cleveland Park.


Possibly the most urban section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, this stretch follows E. Faris and Cleveland Street for more than half of its 2 miles. We started north on Cleveland Street with heavy traffic whizzing by and no shade from the sun, passing apartment buildings, businesses, parking lots, milepost 37 and what might be an electric substation overgrown in brambles. The stretch along Greenville Tech’s campus is a lot nicer, and could possibly provide a good parking area for jumping on this section of the trail.


The C. Dan Joyner bridge across the Reedy marks the campus boundary, and from there it is a slight climb up to E. Faris St. Here the trail crosses the busy intersection before turning east for the descent back down to Reedy River. Once you’ve made the turn north to parallel the Reedy, the rest of the way to downtown is smooth sailing in the peaceful nature of the river corridor.


The one mile section of the SRT between First Baptist and Cleveland Park is named the Hincapie Path in recognition of the contributions that George Hincapie has made to the cycling and business communities in South Carolina. It follows the Reedy River for its entirety; a nice, shaded segment that is significantly less-traveled than the Cleveland Park portion. It isn’t unusual to see a snake on the trail during the spring and summer months, although kudzu and poison ivy are rather plentiful in places.

  
Soon after milepost 36 you’ll pass the entrance to the Sliding Rock Creek Trail spur. If you take this detour you’ll first cross the Reedy on Jeanne Lenhardt Memorial Bridge, then Alameda Street, and finally enter Green Forest Park and make a steady climb up towards Sterling School and Nicholtown Green at Heritage. A project of United Way of Greenville County, this “Born Learning Trail” features activities to complete with young children, complete with signpost suggestions on how to turn everyday moments into learning moments. Sadly the trail maintenance on this spur was lacking; the signs are showing their age, and in more than one place there were trees down on the trail. The highlights of Sliding Rock Creek Trail are the water station, picnic tables and art installation on the east shore of the Reedy River.

The Nicholtown "Theater of Play" was built by Clemson architecture students

The next spur trail you'll encounter leads up to Cleveland Street and Caine Halter Family YMCA. There are often teams competing in various sports up on the fields above the river, while multiple seating areas along the trail provide shady spots to rest and hydrate.

View of YMCA fields from SRT spur trail

After crossing the Reedy River once again, you’ll pass the spur trail that connects to Baxter Street. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Reedy from the trail is the former Cleveland Park stables property; donated to the City of Greenville a few years ago, it will become an extension of Cleveland Park in the coming years. The Swamp Rabbit Trail crosses Woodland Way and enters Cleveland Park.

Cleveland Park - looking back on Woodland Way

From the Woodland Way entrance of Cleveland Park it is another mile to Cancer Survivor’s Park, and then another ½ mile to the waterfall in Falls Park. Or you can head to Greenville Zoo from the SRT in Cleveland Park by taking the Richland Creek spur (at milepost 35); plans to extend the trail from the zoo to CU-ICAR are moving forward and will eventually be a vital link in the Swamp Rabbit Trail system. On a hot summer day we’ll continue to Falls Park and make a stop at Spill the Beans for ice cream, or cool off at the splash pad by Papi’s Tacos before starting the return trek to Greenville Tech. Or, you could choose to continue on to Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery and beyond… luckily you have 22 miles of trail to explore!


For my complete guide to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, click here.
For the section from Cleveland Park to Falls Park, see my post From the Falls to Cleveland Park, and the next section (to SRC&G) is covered in my article From Falls Park to the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery.

See you on the Trail!


Friday, June 16, 2017

Five on Friday: 5 must-visit exhibits

Here are five highlights to visit with kids this summer here in Greenville, SC!

1. Curious George: Let’s Get Curious! at the Upcountry History Museum
Not even two weeks old, the newest exhibit at UHM is geared towards children ages 2-8 and emphasizes early STEAM concepts: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math. Children explore familiar places from the Curious George books and television series, and are led on a fun, interactive adventure along with George, the Man in the Yellow Hat and other friends. My boys (ages 2, 5 and 7) all enjoyed the exhibit, and on our most recent visit we spent about two hours there. The exhibit runs through September 24th.


2. Future Park: Art + Technology at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate
This one-of-a-kind exhibit combines technology and art for a digital playground like none other! In Sketch Town we drew pictures of cars, buildings and spacecraft to populate an amazing, interactive virtual town projected on the exhibit wall. Hopscotch for Geniuses allowed visitors to traverse a digital hopscotch course complete with colorful (and changing) art and patterns. In a separate (dark) room, Light Ball Orchestra was a sensory experience; the kids rolled oversized balls that change color when they come into contact with other balls. Finally, in Connecting! Train Block, blocks are used to create digital thoroughfares for cars, boats, trains and planes. Note: on our recent visit Connecting! Train Blocks was out of order. Future Park runs through September 4th.


video

3. Granger McKoy at the Greenville County Museum of Art
Renowned artist and carver Grainger McKoy grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, and attended Clemson University. McKoy carves gravity-defying sculptures of birds rendered in incredible detail; my boys loved pointing out all the different birds in the exhibit, and speculating on how they are held up! This exhibit runs through the end of the year. Remember, this Sunday is Family Art Adventure at the museum; the free activity will involve creating a work of art exploring what lies beneath the ocean's surface.


4. Butterfly Adventure at Roper Mountain Science Center
Step into the butterfly adventure habitat with hundreds of butterflies flitting around! Plan to spend more than a few hours as you’ll want to explore the rest of Roper Mountain as well, including the Ecology and Marine Lab, the Living History Farm, and WildWood. See the post Butterfly Adventure for my review and more info!


5. First Friday at Greenville’s Center for Creative Arts
You can meet the 16 studio artists who have studios on the second floor of GCCA during their First Friday events in the Village of West Greenville. In addition to the art exhibit there is a kids area with a craft (which varies month to month), and a local food truck will usually offer dining options. Check out the art class and camp options for kids! 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve and Virginia Hawkins Falls

Over the weekend we were looking to get out to one of the waterfalls for a short hike, and selfishly wanted it all to ourselves; it had been a long week, and a few hours of solitude didn’t seem like too much to ask. Our choice was Virginia Hawkins Falls, known as Double Falls up until the Foothills Trail Conference renamed it in 2004 in honor of the longtime executive secretary of the FTC. The drive is still relatively short (about 1.5 hours), whereas heading up to more remote districts of the Pisgah or Blue Ridge would have added a couple of hours in the car. Horse Pasture Road is far rougher on vehicles than Persimmon Ridge Road (and longer), meaning we only passed Jeeps and pickups on our way in and out. And really, out of the Heritage Preserves, Laurel Fork is one of the lesser known; it’s mostly through-traffic on the Foothills Trail.


To reach the Preserve head up to the Pickens County on US178, as you would to Sassafras Mountain. After crossing Scenic Highway 11, continue 8 miles north, through Rocky Bottom and over Eastatoe Creek. Immediately after crossing the bridge turn west to enter Laurel Valley, and keep right to stay on Horse Pasture Rd. The gravel road starts climbing in elevation right away, winding up into the mountains of the Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges. Soon you’ll pass the Foothills Trail parking area. It is possible to reach the falls via the Foothills Trail; park here if you’re up for a strenuous 10 mile round trip up past Flatrock Mountain (or keep driving for a much shorter hike!). Almost immediately after passing the Foothills Trail steps to the right you’ll pass the gate to Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve on your left, possibly my favorite hike in the area. This portion of Horse Pasture Rd. can be a little rough on a passenger vehicle (especially after a rain), but while high clearance, all-wheel drive/4x4 are recommended, we just took it nice and slow with our Ford sedan. The disbelieving looks from the drivers of a few beat-up pickups were well-earned. Remember that the road is narrow in places, and not all portions are wide enough for two vehicles to pass – take it slow!


3.6 miles from Highway 178 you’ll reach a fork in the road. Horse Pasture Road continues to the right, while the left option is a dead-end that is used for parking for Laurel Creek Heritage Preserve. There’s a turnaround at the end, but on our recent visit it was a mudpit; we opted to back up into the road and parked to one side to allow other vehicles passage. Then we continued up Horse Pasture on foot for just over a tenth of a mile, until we reached an intersection: Horse Pasture Rd. continues straight, and Canebreak Road splits off to the north. If you were to continue on Horse Pasture you would soon come to the gated Laurel Fork Creek road off to the right – the old roadbed will be our trail for most of the hike. However the trail starts at the Canebreak/Horse Pasture fork; look for the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve sign at the intersection of the two roads, and head down the stairs before taking a right on the old road.

The Virginia Hawkins falls trailhead on the corner of Horse Pasture and Canebreak Roads

The hike itself is easy to moderate, and totals about 3 miles round trip. It follows Laurel Fork Creek Road for about a mile, slowly descending down into the lush green paradise. We crossed several small tributaries and finally came to Laurel Fork Creek, the Foothills Trail and a primitive campground. Here we left the gravel road, cut across the campsite, and then traversed the bridge with the sign “to Virginia Hawkins Falls.”


We heard the waterfall before we saw it, the rush of the creek turning into a roar before we rounded the corner. Turning off the Foothills Trail we descended to the base of the 25-ft multi-tiered granite waterfall. Despite a low water flow and several large downed trees, the falls are beautiful; mossy shelves, a rainbow of colors in the rock and a sheltered glade make it one of the more scenic waterfalls in the Upstate. 


The protected wilderness of Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve encompasses 1,361 acres along the Blue Ridge Escarpment in the Jocassee Gorges, which take their place on the National Geographic list “50 of the World’s Last Great Places.” Home to enormous tulip poplars, Blue Ghost fireflies and an array of rare plants such as the Oconee Bell, the Preserve has also been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audobon Society. The Creek itself is full of small fish, crayfish and salamanders; Jocassee Gorges is claimed to have the greatest number of salamanders found anywhere in the world.


Some of the wildflowers we saw on our visit included spotted wintergreen, wild hydrangea (everywhere), yellow star grass, multiple different members of the mint family, blue-eyed grass, false and smooth Solomon’s seal, fire pink – and that was only the simple stuff that I could identify!




We were successful in finding some solitude. A beautiful June day that probably brought crowds to Jones Gap and Table Rock brought only a handful of people to Laurel Fork during our visit, all but two passing through on their Foothills Trail hike. This was a nice change of pace from our usual day trips, as we stick to short hikes without more than a couple travel hours in the car when hiking as a family – the recipe for a popular, crowded trail. On the other hand, along with the solitude we also found quite a bit of poison ivy, ticks, chiggers and gnats. It is important to do frequent tick checks on the kids when we are out and about – even during the days after, as sometimes ticks will hitchhike home and jump back on in the car the following day.


After refueling and getting our fill of waterfall time we packed up. We made quick work of the short descent back down to the primitive campground, and although we felt the pull to cross the second bridge and continue on the Foothills Trail to the shores of Lake Jocassee & Laurel Fork Falls, it just wasn’t an option this time. The boys found the gradual ascent back up to Laurel Fork Gap a bit tedious, but made it back to Horse Pasture Road in record time. We (very) briefly considered continuing on to Jumping Off Rock and the spectacular view of Lake Jocassee, but quickly discarded the idea as it’s another 6 miles west, and then either 8 miles back the way we came or 12 miles continuing through back around to Highway 11; it just felt wrong to spend so much time in the car on such a spellbinding day. Instead we used the time saved for a stop at Sassafras Mountain, the views stretching for miles and miles of blue ridge mountains...



* Note: During 2016 several large trees fell across the base of the waterfall. To see a picture of the falls unobscured and for a detailed description of the hike, please visit this post by waterfallshiker.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Butterfly Adventure

Roper Mountain Science Center has brought back Butterfly Adventure this June, working out the kinks to make the second year of this exhibit a success! In addition to the butterfly adventure habitat, the Harrison Hall of Natural Science and the Living History Farm & Schoolhouse are open to visitors, ensuring that a visit to Roper Mountain this summer is an experience you don’t want to miss.


Butterfly Adventure is open from 9am to 3pm. We timed our visit to arrive early, as we remembered the long lines and extensive wait times last year (see my post A butterfly adventure). However, we need not have bothered, as throughout the day there really weren’t any lines. We were able to stay in the butterfly room in Fred W. Symmes Tropical Rainforest Conservatory for over 30 minutes, and even then only left because the boys were ready to explore further.



Similar to last year, both Discovery Rooms are dedicated to fun activities. In addition to meeting the resident animals that call Roper Mountain home, the boys were able to make a variety of crafts to take home with them. The Design Lab was also a hit in this regard; while the older boys designed their own butterfly to test in the wind tunnels, Vilis made a balloon butterfly, complete with beating wings.


The Ecology Lab and Marine Lab had the usual exhibits, plus a few special displays. On Thursdays and Fridays you can make your own seed balls in the Ecology Lab, and there is a special animal talk in the Marine Lab on Thursday and Friday at 1pm.


On your way to the Living History Farm make a loop in order to swing by the Fossil Pit, the Butterfly Garden, and the two treehouses. Then, across the pond the WildWood play area is a new addition to the RMSC playscape. The natural play area makes use of blocks, bridges and slides for hours of play for all ages; we usually spend quite a bit of time here, but today we still had the farm to explore!


We met the baby lambs at the barn; these tiny little guys were only about a week old! Make sure to stop by at 10am or 12pm when the lamb feeding takes place. On Fridays Red Clay Soap does presentations on the health benefits of goat milk, but volunteers are on hand to help children pet the baby goats throughout the week.


Kids also enjoy the school house craft at 9:30am, and ‘school lessons’ are taught at 11am while storytime is at noon. I recommend a stop in the heritage garden – there is so much in bloom! Finally, a visit to the Kitchen Cabin brings historic food preparation to life.

The cardoon is related to the artichoke


A visit to Butterfly Adventure is included in a RMSC membership, and tickets can be reserved ahead of time. For those visitors who are not members, admission is $8 for adults, $7 for children 4 to 12, and free for 3 and younger. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 9am to 3pm with the last entry at 1:30pm. Butterfly Adventure will be closed Sundays, Mondays, and July 4th, and runs through July 7th. Please visit the RMSC website for more information. 


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