Tuesday, May 5, 2009

ROADTRIP: Lake Waccamaw State Park (Columbus County, NC)

Overview: Lake Waccamaw State Park is located in Columbus County, about 160 miles from the Triangle. It headlines one of North Carolina’s most unusual natural features: a pH neutral bay lake, named for the abundance of bay trees (e.g., sweet bay and red bay). No one knows for sure how these bay lakes were formed, but hypotheses abound, e.g., they were formed by meteor showers, wind or wave action or underground springs.

Enjoy nearly 9 miles hiking trails at Lake Waccamaw or try your hand at canoeing in the vast 8,936-acre lake.

Directions: Here is the directions & map provided by the North Carolina state park system. Observations & Ponderings: Standing at the edge of an immense, tea-stained bay lake in North Carolina’s coastal plain, I can only wonder at what it must have been like for its first inhabitants: Waccamaw-Souian Indians that canoed these for over 1,000 years. How tall and thick were the looming cypress trees that they saw? Did they see just one alligator or tens or even hundreds each day? Were the large, half-dollar sized land snails even more colorful then?

Lake Waccamaw SP, NC, 31 May 2005 (© Nicolette Cagle)

Hypnotized by the lapping waves, I can hardly pull myself away from the shore. But I do and I begin to walk. At first, each step through the shrubby bay forest elicits a dry crackle that I fear will frighten away the northern parulas I hear buzzing overhead. They don’t seem to mind. Even the vivid green Carolina anoles, hanging onto the smooth bark of a sweetbay magnolia, barely seem to pause as I walk by.

Carolina anole, Lake Waccamaw SP, NC, 31 May 2005 (© Nicolette Cagle)
The Lakeshore Trail winds through the desiccated forest, and finally brings me closer to the shoreline, which I end up walking along for nearly five miles. The delicate, blushing blooms of rose spiderwort (Tradescantia rosea) erupting alongside the narrow footpath can only be a harbinger of good luck. Within minutes, while I’m still lost in the sensation of the warm breeze coming off the lake, I hear rustling in the grass a couple feet ahead – I catch a glimpse of a long black tail: snake! My heart beats faster and I rush ahead, as stealthily as I can manage…yes, yes…the black racer has stopped and is staring me down with its strangely sentient black eyes. I snap as many photos as I can, afraid that this primitive animal will soon slip away...and it does.

Northern black racer, Lake Waccamaw SP, NC, 31 May 2005 (© Nicolette Cagle)
My senses are enlivened now, my snake vision activated. My eyes focus about eight feet ahead, traversing side to side, waiting to catch a glimpse of the next snake. Only minutes later, I spot another rubbery, black crescent ahead where some small trees are growing next to the water. “It has got to be a snake,” I think to myself, but it doesn’t move. “Huh, maybe it’s a piece of shredded tire.” No! It’s another black racer warming itself in the dappled sunlight. I frantically snap more pictures. The hike continues, my search continues. About 4 feet ahead, my eyes converge on a coppery, semi-coiled form in the dry grass. I walk slowly, hunching slightly, stopping to take a picture every couple steps. The pattern of this much maligned ophidian is bewitching: salmon pink mottled with bronze. I get closer, focusing my camera lens on the copper eye and black slit of the pupil. This copperhead is savagely beautiful. I’m mesmerized, tempted to take one step closer. I close my eyes for a second and then, reluctantly, take two steps back and continue on my way.

Southern copperhead, Lake Waccamaw SP, NC, 31 May 2005 (© Nicolette Cagle)

I walk deliberately, always searching, always hopeful. The hunt is addictive. The path widens and is covered with dry brown leaves. A bright sinusoidal shape sharpens into focus. Another copperhead perhaps? This snake is long though and comparatively thin-bodied. I rush ahead – a corn snake! It retracts into an exaggerated S-shape, its upper body is held above the ground revealing a perfect the checkerboard pattern of the belly. Click, click, click, I photograph the snake quickly, the images hardly look real.

Corn snake, Lake Waccamaw SP, NC, 31 May 2005 (© Nicolette Cagle)

By the time I reach the dam and the flooded Waccamaw Creek, and then hike back to my little blue Jeep, I have seen 12 snakes of four different species (northern black racer, southern copperhead, red-bellied watersnake and corn snake). I thank the snake-hunting gods above, greedy for more snakes and wondering what my next adventure will yield.


David Steen said...

Twelve snakes?! Wow...a great haul.

kat said...

WOW these pics are haunting and beautiful. i love the lake shot, it really transported me there. but that shot of the corn snake is really cool! well done!

Charles said...

Came to site via David Steen's blog. Love the snakes! I don't to get to see copperheads in my area and have never seen corn snakes in the wild. Beautiful snakes!