We decided to forego camping this time, and opted for roadside motel we'd found online called the Colton Point Motel. We were a bit nervous about what we'd find when we arrived, but were so pleased to discover a charming, rustic little place with super-friendly owners/manager who obviously put a great deal of care into it. Best of all was the nature that had made the motel grounds their home (or the motel had made nature's grounds its home- lol). The owners had built a darling little pond in back, just a few hundred feet from our room, and it was teeming with wildlife like tadpoles and frogs, beautiful birds we'd never seen that dipped into the water over and over to catch fish and bugs. It was surrounded by an unbelievable amount of honeysuckle, which made the damp mountain air sweet smelling. And right above our room's door was the nest of a pair of Barn Swallows, a pretty little blue bird with a reddish throat, a dramatically forked tail, and a sweet song. The parents were very anxious and did not hold back their upset at us being near their cheeping babies!
The time we spent in the forest hiking was blissful and rejuvenating. We hiked trails in both Colton Point State Park on the west rim of the canyon, called Pine Creek Gorge, and Leonard Harrison State Park on the opposite rim. May is still within the wet season at the Canyon, making the waterfalls and streams active and flowing strongly, which was wonderful despite the mud. Yet the vegetation and air sometimes seemed remarkably dry, and the temperature was actually quite hot.
Probably the best decision we made about the trip was choosing to go during the week rather than on a weekend- during all of our hiking hours we didn't see a soul! So we had the trails to ourselves, our own private woodlands. A clear view of the gorge and the rapids below. The breeze. The rush of water of the waterfalls and streams we crossed. The sound of our footsteps and breath. Amazing!
The thing that was not amazing was the bazillion caterpillars dangling from webs from the trees! So practically our whole time in the forest was spent either dodging dropping caterpillars or pulling them off of each other. *sigh*
We also had a run-in with a cute and very cautious groundhog on our first hike. On the way down the extremely steep trail to Pine Creek, we came across the den of a groundhog just under a large tree that had fallen and started to decay. The groundhog was peeking out at us as we passed, both she and us curious (there isn't a huge amount of human traffic there). She ended up darting away as we got closer. On our way out of the canyon we approached the den from the other side, and just as I came upon the den opening, I knelt and peeked my head down quickly to see if the groudhog was in there. Well she was, and was not expecting me! We completely surprised and scared the heck out of one another! I gasped and jumped, as did T on the path slightly ahead, and totally freaked the groundhog out so that she jumped and let out the loudest, shrillest squeak I have ever heard. It echoed through the forest, the stark contrast next to the previous near total silence making the noise seem even more dramatic. I almost peed my pants I was so surprised, so much so that I stood frozen on the trail as she ran off, leaving us to wonder and laugh. lol Haha! Awwww... I'm sorry groundhog!
There was a great little outdoors shop, Pine Creek Outfitters, between our motel and the canyon that we stopped by after a hike one day. I bought a book about birds there so I could identify the amazing ones we were seeing- along with the Barn Swallow, a Northern Oriole and a Scarlet Tanager! The shop offers guided trips down the river by raft, kayak, or canoe, as well as bike rides, and sells all of the basic necessities you could need for outdoor recreation. The rapids on the river are supposedly an awesome ride, so next time we'll prob go for doing that (despite my fear- yikes!). Definitely a trip worth making. :)