Category Archives: State Parks

State parks and forests, not just NC ones

Diamond Head – a classic

Climbing Diamond Head

Our last day in Honolulu – and I hadn’t climbed up Diamond Head yet.

The hike is less than two miles round trip, but climbs over 550 feet – up, up, up. By now, my son, Neil, and family had arrived to join me on this Hawaii vacation.

We drove out to Diamond Head State Monument before 8:30, a late start for us. How naive! On Christmas Day, all the parking spaces closest to the trailhead were already taken.

We left my daughter-in-law with seven-year old Isa to study the exhibits at the visitor center and turned back down to find a parking space. We climbed an extra couple of hundred feet and reunited. The five of us started climbing.

The route starts as a paved path, then turn to a hard-pack trail – all continuously up. We’re marching like ants: frustrated runners, slow-poke women in sandals, sneakered families and couples carrying babies in their arms or backs.

Then the stairs, tunnel and more steep stairs. The crowd is so orderly and polite. People are constantly apologizing for passing or for being too slow. By the time we get toward the top, there are lookouts and picture-taking opportunities.

Finally the top where groups are taking pictures of each other and the view. And what a view! Downtown Honolulu, the ocean, and Koko Head, where I had been several days ago. Reluctantly, we all started down the same way we came up.

Where did this trail come from?

Diamond Head was an ideal site for coastal defense of O’ahu. The Federal Government started fortifications in 1908. They built the trail for men and mules to bring building supplies and access. Now it’s managed by the Hawaii State Parks and, unlike Koko Head, is maintained.

Koko Head Crater – Steep and steep

I thought I had done my homework on Honolulu but it took a chance conversation with Jason, my seat mate on the plane to find out about Koko Head Crater in Oahu in the east side of the island.

“Don’t do it,” Jason said. “It is incredibly steep. Do Diamond Head instead.”

That was all the challenge I needed. Yesterday I went to find the trailhead but the only road down was closed.

I searched for an official address. I just trusted my iPhone and it led me to Koko Head District Park. At about 8 am, I had a tough time finding a parking space. This was going to be a group experience with many friends I had yet to meet.

Look at those steps.

This was the beginning of a thousand foot climb in less than a mile. But this is no ordinary trail but an old railroad, built by our military as a lookout after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to one fellow hiker, the military brought all the supplies by helicopter and dropped them along what would be the railroad.

There are 1,048 steps/railroad ties. But this was a long time ago and now, the railroad tracks are falling apart. No one is maintaining it as a trail and still so many hike it. Even though it was less than a mile one-way, I treated it as a hike with a pack, water and poles. Was I glad for poles!

On top of Koko Head Crater

On top, the 360-degree view was magnificent. There were remains of a concrete lookout tower.

People were taking pictures of the view, themselves and each other.

Everyone congratulated me, because I was obviously the oldest person there, maybe by a generation.

If I thought it was tough, I had to hand it to the young family carrying a baby. I wouldn’t have tried this forty years ago.

On top of Koko Head Crater

But the walk down was tougher. I had to watch every step as not to slip. There is so much space between the railroad ties that each step was a negotiation. This is where all the “young people” passed me. I remember the saying,

“Be nice to the people as you pass them on the way up because they’ll pass you on the way down”.

When I got back to my car, I was spent. Nothing hurt, nothing was bruised. I found the closest coffee shop and just sat for a while.

Thanks, Mahalo, Jason, for telling me about this challenge.

State Parks on the MST

Jones LakeSP
Jones Lake SP

“Where on earth am I?” is not a great way to start a conversation at a gas station.

But that’s what I kept asking people as I searched for two parks in Southeastern North Carolina.

I was on my way to Wilmington and looking for two state parks: Jones Lake and Singletary. You will be forgiven if you’ve never heard of them but they are now on the Coastal Crescent route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Once I left the familiar exits of  I-40, I relied on my GPS and hoped it knew more than I did. It didn’t. Finally I found myself in Bladen Lakes State Forest but still no Jones Lake SP. I corralled a forest ranger, probably on his lunch break, and he directed me.

For a state park that is so difficult to find, Jones Lake was quite busy. Visitors were fishing, swimming, picnicking and boating. Range Lane Garner knew all about the MST and told me that it followed their bay trail. So in the blazing sun, I walked the four mile trail around the lake.

Lake – Jones and Singletary Lakes are not lakes like Fontana Lake outside of Bryson City or Lake Lure near Chimney Rock. They are shallow oval depressions; Jones Lake in particular is only 8.7 feet deep. The big practical difference is that these Carolina bays, as they are called, aren’t fed by streams or springs but depend on rain. The water is tea colored.

Bay Trail
Bay Trail

Still, it’s perfectly fine to swim or fish in Jones Lake. I should have done something around the water. Instead I walked and was attacked by mosquitoes. The worst was a bite on my ankle which is still red and swollen. I will be scratching fore-e-ver.

Singletary Lake SP was much easier to find and quicker to deal with.

The public can only go into the park when they aren’t used by nonprofit groups. There’s not even a visitor center, just a park office. So I asked how I could see the lake.

“You can’t go in now” the park office manager said. “We have two groups camping.”

“What if I just leave my car in the lot and just walk?” I asked.

The answer was still no. But she was perfectly happy to stamp my NC park passport.

So where does the MST go? She really knew about the MST.

“The route is on the road, passing the park entrance,” she said. “And it’s the alternate route of the MST.”

Yes, she was right. Since State Parks hasn’t yet approved this route, it’s an alternate route. I was just happy that she knew about the details of the MST.

So that’s why I don’t have a single picture of Singletary Lake.