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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Whitewater State Park - OMG

Leg number 2 of my Saturday morning (January 6th) was a short hop over to Whitewater State Park.

I just didn't know I was about to be transported into a hikers heaven. I first rolled into the visitors center as I wanted to get some guidance from park rangers on which trail(s) to hike given a timeline and 4 mile or less distance.

Visitor Center in the valley with great bluff views all around.

The ranger working was extremely helpful and suggested the Chimney Rock hike just down the road and then around the top of the bluff to Inspiration Point and then down the bluff and back to the lot. Better heading out I stopped by the visitor center bird feeder station as I had heard many reports from other birders stopping in just to see the feeders. It was a great resting area with a nice toasty wood stove fire going, piped in audio from the outside of the birds, seating and a small amphitheater of ringed steps. Just type of place that would be outstanding way to finish a day of hiking. I picked up a lot of nice birds at the feeders in the scant 5 minutes I looked them over including Purple Finch and White-throated Sparrow.

Crackling fireplace and active feeders out back. Really cool setup for those looking to relax a bit while at the park visiting.

Antsy to get out and see what a serious hike was like I drove down the road to the Chimney Rock trail head parking. The Whitewater River was open and steamy as it ran under the bridge to the trail steps. Everything adjacent to the river was frosty given the low temps and abundant moisture in the air. When I saw the stairs leading up the side of the bluff I knew I was going to be having some fun on this hike.

First leg of stairs leading up to Chimney Rock.

Only the Chickadees seemed to be chatting on this morning as I labored up the winding stone stairs. At the top I headed to my left to get a quick look at Chimney Rock. This 40' tall spire of stone was topped with a Juniper tree and a couple sassy Chickadees. The view was already outstanding of valley below and adjacent bluffs.

Chimney Rock

A nice stretch of hiking followed as I moved along the bluff top trail that at times was a bit like a goat path on a mountain. (Narrow and steep.) Having Yak Trax on my boots was key with the snow and ice creating a few spots of slippery terrain. I can see this being the type of trail to avoid in serious deep snow pack or at least bringing snow shoes at that point.

I wasn't prepared for Inspiration Point that came up just as the trail at bluff top ran out and required a hike down. This point is named appropriately and requires a bit of courage to step out to the furthest extent. It was an awesome feeling to have the valley below on 3 sides as you are afforded a long view of Chimney Rock and the Whitewater River far below. Check the Instagram feed (@hj70ft) for a video of I shot from this perch high above the valley.

The final steps out to Inspiration Point.

A distant view of Chimney Rock seen from Inspiration Point, this taken with a lot of zoom on my Nikon P900 camera.

A cell phone pic using voice activation to capture me on the edge of Inspiration Point. It was truly exhilarating seeing such views during a hike.
The trail dropped down a series of steep wooden steps (again, traction is a must in the winter) that deposited me on the valley floor next to another segment of the Whitewater River. The quiet valley was shrouded in shade from the surrounding bluff. Getting on to 11:00AM at this point sunlight still hadn't found the bottom just yet. This area looked like an outstanding hike in itself with another long segment following the river along the valley floor and one I plan to take in the spring or summer looking for Louisiana Waterthrush and other woodland species.

A bridge crossing of the Whitewater after descending from the bluff top near Inspiration Point.

This hike closed with a quick sighting of a Coyote looking to avoid me as it slunk away into the long grasses and forest at the valley floor. A Pileated Woodpecker rattled off a couple calls letting me know it owned the trees.

It can't be said enough how invigorating such a hike was and how much it can do to help stave off the winter blues as we wait for spring to bring warmth and comfort. This more than anything clarifies my deepest desires for this State Park Big Year. Birding is key for me and a great past time, but adding amazing views and hikes helps to tie it all together and make it feel like I'm doubling up on the value of the hobby itself.

The Great: The views and quality of hiking facilities are amazing. I don't know what else to say that wasn't said above. This park is amazing and I will be back this year for more hiking and bird watching.

The Meh: None. Really, I personally have nothing to say about this park that detracted from my visit. It makes even more sense after the visit why Carley is idled during the winter. Sink the limited resources into a park like Whitewater due to the proximity of the two and bring Carley back up to full steam in the warm months.

The Verdict: This park has reasonable minor elevation hikes for those needing a less robust effort. The feeders bring their A game for those looking to relax and enjoy the day. The park really shines for hiking I think and I can't wait to come back. I can easily see myself just travelling to this park in the future to take a big day of hiking even without a bird watching agenda. It is that good.

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