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"The nine-banded armadillo’s hapless propensity for being run over by cars
has earned it the nickname “Hillbilly Speed Bump.”
- National Geographic website

Before I saw a live armadillo in the wild at Huntsville State Park last December, I don't think I've ever seen one other than in a zoo or squashed along the side of the road! Getting to see several of them in their natural setting the past month has been a pleasure. I've got photos and stories about Cody's reaction to them in this entry. You can read more about armadillos at the website above. There's a good picture of the face, which I rarely saw -- their noses were usually rooting around in the leaves and difficult for me to photograph.

Tomorrow we'll be leaving Huntsville State Park and we have mixed feelings about that.

It's been nice to spend four whole weeks in the same campground. The longer we stay in one place, the easier it is to establish a routine and become familiar with places to run and do business. It's also much less hassle than picking up and moving to another location every few days. The weather's been mostly sunny and in the 70s, the new spring leaves and flowers are very pretty, the trails are great to run and ride, and it's been mostly quite peaceful. We had some fun times here with friends at Rocky and met some very interesting people -- great memories to savor.

We especially love the weekdays at the park when we have the entire campground and park pretty much to ourselves. One or two other couples may bring their RVs for a day or two, but most don't stay for even a week. A few local folks come in during the day to fish or bike or run; they are friendly but otherwise we hardly notice them because they are quiet and considerate.

View from our campsite five days a week

Weekends are another story entirely.

By Friday evening the campground fills up to capacity with younger couples and families. I love to see all the kids out fishing, hiking, and playing in the woods instead of cooped up inside on their computers but by Sunday I'm wishing they'd go back home!

There's a pattern: younger and older alike are so happy to be here on Friday nights (no work!! no school!!) that they stay up late around their campfires. They are up early Saturday morning to maximize their fun all day. Then they're tuckered out and go to bed early Saturday night, sleep late Sunday morning, and go home by mid-afternoon. It's been the same thing all four weekends we've been here. And then we have the place all to ourselves again -- yea!!! 

Same view on weekends (or filled with tents)

By the second weekend Jim started razzing me about being happy to see so many kids out enjoying nature. Despite my grumpiness when they'd traipse too close to our camper or squeal and yell too loudly (for people like us who aren't used to being around kids much), I was still glad they have parents who take them camping. Neither Jim nor I camped when we were kids and we both wish we'd had that opportunity. We're making up for lost time now in our second childhood. Jim had fun taking his boys back-packing, camping, and fishing when they were growing up and I'm guessing they'll continue the tradition with their kids.


It's been fun to explore some trails in the park that we haven't run previously, such as Coloneh, Loblolly, and the Triple C Cutoff. We both ran the longer Chinquapin and CCC loops enough times that we needed some variety. All the trails are fun to run and ride.

We found some entertainment along the way, too. Cody makes sure of that! Running with him is like having a two-year-old around -- everything is new and exciting.

He was especially amusing whenever we'd run into an armadillo. Until this month, he'd never seen one before. Armadillos are funny-looking creatures, and probably emit a completely different odor than he's used to. I think they're cute in a weird sort of way. They aren't that afraid of people (or dogs), they have unexpected little furry ears poking out from all their hard body armor, and they move along quite comically, nose usually in the leaves as in the photo below:

"See my cute little furry ears?"

Cody spotted his first armadillo on the Chinquapin Trail before I did. We'd just arrived at the park two days earlier. I run off-leash with him on trails when no one's around and put him back on when I see someone coming. He's friendly, but large enough to intimidate some people and/or get in their way. He doesn't chase animals so I don't worry about him traumatizing wildlife.

Well, an armadillo sighting was just too intriguing for him to remain on the trail! He darted toward the odd creature and pulled up about two feet short of it, curious but cautious at the same time. He didn't bark or charge it. He wagged his tail, looked back at me with an expression that exuded pride in his fine catch, and awaited my approval (or instructions?).

"I have a cute pink nose, too, but it's most often rooting around in the dirt."

This Duck Dog has not been trained to hunt -- anything. He just has a strong retrieval instinct. I wondered if he'd try to pick it up! If he'd made any move closer to the armadillo I would have given a stern "Leave it!" command and he would have backed off.

That wasn't necessary. He has good sense, as shown by the distance he kept from this strange, hard-shelled critter. They were in kind of a Mexican stand-off for about thirty seconds, then the armadillo slowly shuffled off through the deep leaves. Cody looked quizzical (but didn't follow it) and I was still chuckling at his reaction as we moved on down the trail.

The last two weeks of February we had more frequent armadillo sightings, particularly near the lake.  Several intermittent rain showers left the soil softer and brought up tasty worms and grubs for the armadillos to eat. You can see in this picture of Prairie Branch Trail where they've been rooting around:

Cody: "I know there's an armadillo around here somewhere!"

One day I had Cody leashed as we walked over a lengthy section of bridging at the northeast end of the lake (marsh area) between the lake inlet and the Prairie Branch Trail. A hiker had just passed us in the opposite direction when I spotted an armadillo quite close to the walkway. I hadn't been able to get decent photos of any of the other ones, so I made Cody sit while I took a series of photos of the armadillo slowly rooting around in the leaves.

I got more tail-end views of armadillos than heads-up views!

Cody was quivering with excitement but sat there obediently as I held the leash and took pictures of the armadillo. I had to put the camera away as soon as the armadillo scampered under the boardwalk, however. Even if I hadn't been holding Cody's leash tight, I wouldn't have been able to take pictures because I was laughing so hard at both animals! I couldn't believe what happened next.

The boardwalk in that section was not much more than  a foot off the ground:

The armadillo apparently thought it would be fun to follow right under our feet for about twenty yards as we continued walking along the boardwalk. Cody could see it through the spaces between the boards but couldn't reach it with his nose. He was going nuts trying to figure out how to get to that armadillo. (He would have crawled under the bridging if he hadn't been on the leash.)

It was too funny! I think the armadillo was deliberately teasing him. It finally gave it up and moved out into the woods again. After we were a safe distance beyond, I told Cody to sit and took off his leash. He craned his head back toward the armadillo (he doesn't forget things easily!) but was a good boy and heeled forward with me.


There was another funny incident with Cody when a large group of AmeriCorps volunteers was building some new bridging across the lake inlet the last couple weeks of our stay. The bridging being replaced was rotting because it was positioned too low above the water and sometimes flooded (below, on February 9):

The new section was relocated a few feet away and built higher above the water.

This is one of my favorite parts of the park. It's a great place to see waterfowl and just plain fun to run or ride over the water. I've shown several pictures of it in the last couple of entries. Runners crossed this long bridging in the Sunmart races but not in the Rocky Raccoon races.

The day we saw a 4-wheel drive vehicle carting posts and planks out the Dogwood and Upper Prairie Branch trails toward the marsh area we knew we'd get to see some construction going on. It took several days and a lot of trips to haul all of the concrete supports, metal posts, wooden bridging, equipment, and tools a couple miles to the site. Since we were camped fairly close I walked or ran out to the site almost every day to see what was going on. I love building projects!

A few days before the actual construction began Cody and I reached the spot where most of the materials would later be stored (above). That day, however, the only materials were about three dozen strange concrete forms strewn about. I hadn't seen the workers take those out there and didn't know exactly how they'd be used. I later learned they are the supports that are lowered into the water to hold the metal posts under the wooden bridging.

But neither Cody nor I knew that at the time (grin). And he must have thought they were skulls or something, because he raised the biggest racket I've ever heard him make! He looked like he was barking at some strange person or animal in the woods behind the concrete forms but I couldn't see anything. Then I realized he must be barking at the forms themselves:

Bingo! He would not go anywhere near them until I went over, sat on one, and coaxed him to come to me. As we crossed the bridging he kept looking back at the forms, either afraid they were coming to get him or just trying to protect me. (I really think he was more fearful than protective.) He was a bit skittish on the way back past them later in that run, but on all subsequent walks and runs out that way  he just ignored the forms.

They do look a little spooky, don't they?

Compare my close-up above with the daguerrotype below by Binh Danh entitled "Human Skulls on Display in the Memorial Stupa of Choeung Ek, 2008," which was shown in the April, 2009 issue of City Magazine, p. 40 (Roanoke, VA):

Once all the materials were in place, it was interesting to watch the progress of the volunteers and park personnel as they relocated about 200 feet of the bridge. Most of the construction was completed in about a week with a force of about 8-10 people each day:

Views of early support work from either end of the new section (2-22-09)


AmeriCorps volunteers and park personnel work on the bridging on 2-23-09 (fast progress!).

They kept the old bridge open every day until the new part was done, although it was interesting when Cody and I had to hop over this gap where the bridge sections merged (2-24-09):

Jim and I got to see the finished bridging this weekend. It looks like they plan to keep this part of the old boardwalk (L) that ends abruptly over the water:

That would be a good vantage point to safely watch all the waterfowl that like to congregate at this end of the lake (and not worry about cyclists racing across the bridge).

There are enough materials left that we think they're probably going to repair or rebuild another section of the bridge -- maybe they intend to extend the old part? They also need to drag out all the old bridging, including this really old section that's been sitting in the swamp for several years:

Or maybe not. I think it's scenic and should remain.

We've also had some frustrations during our stay in the park. I've already mentioned two of them: the major expense and inconvenience of the truck transmission repair, and my new allergy to something sprouting in the woods. (That was solved by finally getting the correct diagnosis and meds. I've been able to run, walk, and ride our bike with abandon since.) There were other frustrations like working on taxes (can you say FairTax??) and conducting other personal business. Long story short, it's easier to do that kind of stuff at home with a faster internet connection and all the records we need. We learn something new each trip about the things we need to take with us the next time.

I'll close with some more dramatic sunset photos over Lake Raven. I wasn't usually up early enough for sunrises!



All in all, we've had a busy, productive, and mostly enjoyable month at Huntsville State Park. Like many places we camp, it's a nice area to visit but for various reasons we wouldn't want to live here full time. That's one of the major advantages of having a camper or RV -- going pretty much where we want, when we want, for as long as we want. We can hit warm spots when it's cold elsewhere, cool spots when it's hot elsewhere, scenic spots when they're at their peak spring or fall colors. We can make specific plans and reservations, move around spontaneously, or do a combination of both.

Much as we like it here, it's time to move on because we do have plans two states to the east for next weekend: we're running the Mississippi 50 ultra and we want to check out the trails and our camping options before the race. 

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil