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Archive for February 24th, 2016

It’s Not A Vacation Until the Forced Marching Happens

Wednesday, February 24, A National Park, You Say? (Day 4)

We were up super bright and early because it was super bright, early. And so we thought we may as well head out and catch the early car ferry to St. John.  But first a stop at Drake’s Seat so I could put a pencil in the cache and add some MAGPI pathtags. Gratuitous Jeep photo with the sun just rising.

And the obligatory shot of Magen’s Beach which is so lovely even from above. Later on in the trip, we’ll go after Russ’s cache P3…Picaro Point Prize (GC5PCA2), pretty far out on the point in the photo.

But onward to the car ferry. That was a little adventure in and of itself since there weren’t a lot of instructions involved. We had the lowdown from Russ & Anne, but I was a little weirded out by the lack of signage and overall direction. We knew it would be a cash transaction and we knew Chad would have to back onto the ferry. We also knew the leaving times were more guidelines than hard facts. But hey, it’s the islands! Just roll with it, baby!

I’ve never been on a car ferry before. And with the water a bit choppy, I thought sitting in the Jeep would maybe quell any sea sick urges I might have on the short trip. I’m an idiot. Because I was in a Jeep. Chad decided to hop out to have a look see because someone doesn’t get motion sick like his pathetic wife.

First stop, Virgin Islands National Park HQ. Because if there is a NPS office, you go to the NPS office and talk to the nice folks there and they will help you plan your visit and be all insightful. Also, that’s where I needed to go to get my stamp for my National Park Passport, because yes, I am that dork.

After talking to the NPS ladies, they suggested we hit Reef Bay Trail first before A) the heat hit and B) it got crowded. Both of which seemed fine reasons to hit the trail immediately! And so we headed out to the trailhead parking (aka  wide space on the shoulder of the road).

After the obligatory selfie to prove that we were, in fact, on vacation together. We headed down the trail. The St. John guidebook had described the hike as difficult or strenuous or something similar. Now, having been burnt by hubris last summer when climbing a little mountain called Ben More beat the hell out of me, we were prepared to be taxed. That is to say, we had lots of water and snacks and were ready for the long slog. Because this is what we were hiking. And it wasn’t flat.

Turns out the trail was not bad at all. And, bonus, it was peppered with informational signs! Hooray! I particularly fell in love with this amazing tree. There was just something incredibly impressive about it.

It was amazingly large and cool to the touch. Also, surprisingly smooth, although it didn’t look it. Once again, Chad is used for size reference because otherwise how are you gonna know that the tree is so huge? Enough of me waxing elegantly about the tree, back to the hiking.

And then we stumbled upon this pretty amazing ruin.

As I said, the hike down wasn’t as treacherous or strenuous as the guidebook had suggested. Although with all the dry washes that looked suspiciously like trails, I maybe could see how inexperienced hikers could maybe get led astray. Although to be honest, the NPS was on task with making sure the trail signage was nearly foolproof. We had our GPSr loaded with maps showing the trails, so we knew we were closing in on the trail to the petroglyphs about 3 seconds before this came into view. (Plus, there was a cairn because of course there was.)

The petroglyphs were cool. I was really quite surprised at the variety since all the photos I’d seen were of the same design. Some were really quite weird and balloon head looking. The signage indicated that the carvings were made by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the island called Taino.

We didn’t have very much further to go before we hit the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins which were extensive and super cool. And hosted a lot of hermit crabs. A LOT of them.  (You’ll have to check out the gallery at the end of the post because seriously, the ruins were all sorts of cool and we took lots of photos.)

From there it was a hop, skip, and jump and boom! We found ourselves here….

So yeah, pretty spectacular! Plus, the hike down was far, far less terrible than we had been led to believe by the signage. So that’s a bonus! Our hike back up was uneventful and we silently thanked the very nice NPS ladies for suggesting we hit the trail first thing as we passed quite a few folks coming down the trail as we headed back up. It was rather glorious to have the petroglyphs, the ruins, and the beach to ourselves.

Next stop, Skinny Legs, home of wildly delicious burgers & wonderful refreshing drinks.

Plus, you know, it’s super cool and you pretty much have to visit it the place if you’re on St. John.

Fully refreshed and hunger satiated, we headed out to do some snorkeling over at Salt Pond Bay. The trailhead parking was pretty packed, but we managed to get in a snug, muddy spot because, we were driving a jeep (also because we weren’t smart enough to realize that unloaded said jeep while trying NOT to stand in the mud was going to be an issue).  At any rate, .25 of a mile later we scored this  nice little spot to set up shop and hit the water!

The snorkeling was amazing! So much to see! To whit, we saw French Angel, Four Eye Butterfly, HUGE Blue Tangs, (another) Barracuda, Parrot Fish, French Grunt, Fairy Basslet, Squirrelfish, variet of Damsels, and a trunkfish which was amazingly cool and caused me to flail about like an idiot (underwater at least) trying to get Chad’s attention so he could see it. I was successful this time! And sea urchins. And feather dusters and lots of other fish that I couldn’t identify. It was incredible.

Water logged and starting to run low on energy after so much excitement, we decided to head back West and pick up a virtual cache called Caneel Hill (GC372F), which promised a hike of less than a mile but with an elevation gain of 712 feet. Uh, huh. Unless you are smart and read the previous logs where someone gives coords for a spur trail that is only .12 mile from the top. Bingo!

And when you pop up at the top there is a local and his visiting friends and they ask about your hike up, it’s quite fun to say, “Oh no, we parked just .12 of a mile from here and took a little spur trail.” Hahahah, geocaching! The view was spectacular, it really was, all 360 degrees of it. But try as I might by using the mighty googletubes, I never did find out what the ruins at the top used to be. Go figure.

Time to head back to St. Thomas. Unlike our trip over, when the car ferry was maybe 1/2 full, this time it was a wee bit cramped. As such.

We sat up top, lest we succumb to diesel fumes. It was a much nicer trip that way!

Click on the little pics to get full size pics with captions and everything! There are lots of photos of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill and the hoards of hermit crabs having a drink. Plus, you know, lots of photos of beautiful blue water and that sorta thing. Clickty-Click, you know you wanna!

chris on February 24th 2016 in Travel