Naming the Things That Go Bump

Ryan Lubbers holds Hannah, one of Chimney Rock Park’s animal ambassadors. Other nighttime creatures include the Yonahlossee salamander. Photo by Todd Pierson

Ryan Lubbers, a naturalist for Chimney Rock State Park and longtime nature educator, loves the surprises night hikes hold. This month, Lubbers will lead participants on a two-hour family-friendly night hike and owl prowl through Chimney Rock — a rare experience, since the park is closed after dark.

Lubbers advises participants to bring raincoats, closed-toed shoes, and a flashlight — with a red lens, if possible, to preserve night vision and keep animals undisturbed.

Are day and night hikes really all that different?

There’s a real shift in the way you experience things. After you’ve been outside for 15 minutes, your night vision allows you to see all different shades of black and white. And your other senses sharpen up. You hear every stick break.

What wildlife might participants expect to encounter?  

I hope we’ll see or hear the three types of owls at the park. Starting with the smallest: the screech owl is tiny and almost sounds like a horse whinnying. Then comes the medium-sized barred owl. Those seem to say, “Who cooks for you?” And then we’ve got the big daddy — the great horned owl — also called the hoot owl. If it’s a little damp, we could see some cool salamanders that live in the cracks of the rock and walk around the rock face. They’re not like what you’d expect if you flipped over a log and found a little terrestrial salamander. These are long and lean, and they jump.

What other animals are in the park at night?

There are other animals we may only hear or see evidence of. Bears are active in the park — but not on the wood steps because they don’t like the stairs — as are bobcats, raccoons, opossums,
and coyotes.

What route will you take?

We’ll definitely start at the base of the chimney and go up. There’s a new deck, right below the chimney, where we can do some great observing. And it’s by a little cave where some bats roost, so they might come out. There are a couple of platforms we can get out to with big open skies, and we can check out the constellations and get a view of the whole gorge.

The event description calls the hike “non-spooky.”
Can you explain?

Sometimes night hikes call up a haunted field or a haunted house to scare the people, and that’s the thrill. Ours is going to be the opposite.  We’ll help people to feel more comfortable in the woods at night and know what they’re hearing.

they don’t like the stairs — as are bobcats, raccoons, opossums, and coyotes.

Naturalist Niche: Nature at Night happens Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30-9:30pm at Chimney Rock Park (431 Main St. in Chimney Rock). Admission is $23/adult, $8/annual passholder ($6/“Rockin’ Discovery” passholder), $13/youth (ages 5-15). The cost includes park admission for the day. Advance registration is required. For more information, see

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