It’s what you call an adventure

Saturday night I signed Katy and I up for an owl presentation and night hike at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The forecast was for rain all day and it held off until about 6 when it started up  a light rain. The activity started at 6:30 so we headed on out there. We had also invited Katy’s Girl Scout friend Danica and her parents and brother. The schedule for the evening was an owl talk with an expert and an owl from the Chattahoochee Nature Center, a hike through the woods, a fire with marshmallow roasting and a second owl talk. Pretty straightforward. No one knew what was coming, though, or we might have all stayed home.

The first talk was on a barred owl, one of the four owls native to Georgia. They live around water so there are lots around the river. This was a non-releasable owl living at the nature center and I can’t remember why it is that it can’t be released.

Barred owl

The owl is called barred because of the striped pattern on its chest. Apparently scientists prefer bars to stripes. We learned that a barred owl doesn’t have many predators but they do sometimes get eaten by Great Horned Owls. Some kid asked if that was cannibalism and the lady said they were distinct enough species that it really wasn’t. She also said around here an owl is more likely to get hit by a car than anything else.

Next up was a hike in the rain for anyone who wanted to brave it. One of the National Parks Services rangers led the hike. He said the area right where we were was cleared farm fields 35 years ago. It was 34 years ago that the area was made a national park and trees were planted then so now we have this nice little forest.

Katy on the hike

Following the hike we huddled around a fire in the rain and roasted marshmallows. Katy and I and our friends took our burnt ‘mallows under the pavilion and pulled out the graham crackers and chocolate to make s’mores. Yummy! One funny thing happened. After going through the hands-on section of the science museum on Friday we were commenting on how good Katy is at figuring out how things work. Well, we uses wire skewers to roast the marshmallows and one end of them had been curved to make a handle. Katy put her marshmallows on the handle end. Complicated machines she can figure out but she didn’t know which end to stick her marshmallows on!

Danica and Katy enjoying their s'mores.

The kids went back for seconds and someone was passing out these jumbo-sized marshmallows.

Have you ever seen a marshmallow this big?

At this point Danica’s family decided to head on home. Katy wanted to stay for the second owl talk. So we headed back upstairs and saw that about two-thirds of the people had left early. It was much a smaller group. So we learned all about Great Horned Owls. The lady had a Great Horned that has been living at the nature center since 1991. There had been a farmer in the area who was losing his chickens to something, he didn’t know what, so he set a live trap to find out. He woke up the next morning and found this owl in the trap. It was missing an eye and wasn’t able to hunt well, so it was picking off the chickens as they were easy to catch. So the farmer called the CNC and they came and got the owl. She was about three or four years old at the time, has been at the nature center for 21 years making her about 25 and they expect she’ll live until about 30.

Well, during the presentation a tow-truck pulled up as someone was stuck in the mud. Most people were parked in the meadow and there was just a dirt road leading to it and it was muddy. The tow truck really upset the owl who commenced to flapping her wings and trying to get away. But we went on with the program. Then a few minutes later one of the rangers said that all the people who left early really churned up the mud in the drive and they called a tow-truck at the NPS’s expense to help anyone who might need it. The presentation was still continuing and after about 10 minutes Katy said she was cold, shivering and ready to go home. So we walked down to the car and found that no one was able to get out. Everyone was having to be pulled up by the tow-truck. So I got out my cellphone to call Heath and tell him it what was going on and that it would be awhile. I saw that he had called about five minutes earlier. I called the house and there was no answer so I left a message thinking he was out with one of the dogs. Then he called from his cellphone. What had happened was when Danica’s family left they couldn’t get out and were told they’d have to call their own tow truck. They only live about a mile away so they just walked home. Then Danica’s dad called Heath to tell him what was going on. Heath called me and when he didn’t get an answer thought maybe I didn’t have cell phone service down there so he jumped in the car to come see what was happening. Well, there are two entrances to the recreation area on this street. Once is just a regular entrance for people who want to hike, fish, boat, whatever and is open all the time. The other is a gated entrance to the environmental education center and is only open for events. Well, Heath went to the regular entrance and couldn’t figure out why no one was there. We were all at the environmental center. He wondered if he should come pick up Katy who pretty upset at this point but I said with all the tow trucks, mud and people trying to get out it would be better if he didn’t.

So we waited and waited and waited. A volunteer came by the car to see if we needed anything and to say there was hot coffee and cider in the center. She had two little kids of her own asleep in her car. Later on a ranger came by to check on us. Then when it was nearly our turn, the volunteer came back and she was making the rounds with hot cider and a box of cups. A second ranger came to check on us and give us instructions for when it was our turn.  Both rangers said “there will be meetings next week”. I can’t imagine how much this cost the park service. Everyone was wet, cold and muddy but everything went calmly and smoothly. I imagine the first group to leave was more chaotic. No wonder the owl was worked up.

All of the cars had been needing to be towed completely up the muddy hill but I noticed two cars in front of  us was able to drive nearly all the way up. The rain had stopped earlier and things started to dry up a bit. We were able to drive most of the way up before we started spinning and then just needed towing about the last 2o feet. Katy was really nervous about being hauled up on a chain, but the second ranger assured her it was a lot of fun. There was a halt there in the middle of it all while they got a new tow truck. The first one was the flat-bed type and while it had a chain it wasn’t really designed for hauling people out of the mud so they got the hook and chain type and then things started going a bit faster.

So it was 9:20 when Katy said she was cold and wanted to leave and it was 11:20 when it was our turn to pull up into the drive. Needless to say we are all exhausted today. I feel really bad that we invited our friends and now their vehicle is stuck over there and they have to coordinate with the park rangers to get someone to unlock the gate. I talked to the dad this morning and he assured me they all had a great time. It really was a fun evening, things just happen. I think I’m through with night hikes, though. We’ll just stick to the daytime ones.

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