Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tuscarora Trail from Dry Gap to US 50

Normally, we work on Old Rag on the weekend closest to July 4. This year, however, we had already been up and down that circus a number of times, so we decided to go backpacking with a couple of friends instead on the Tuscarora Trail. The Tuscarora Trail is a long trail that was once envisioned as an alternative route for the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT's right-of-way through northern Virginia wasn't secure, so in the event that a landowner decided to block access to the trail, the Tuscarora Trail would serve as the new route. Over the years, the AT's right-of-way has been secured permanently and the Tuscarora Trail is a long trail in its own right now.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of road-walking involved if you are going to hike the entirety of the Tuscarora Trail, but the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) is working on that. Our hike included one of the newest sections to be re-located: approximately 8 miles from Dry Gap near the Virginia-West Virginia Border to Pinnacles Shelter.

The first day was spectacular. The hike starts with a mile or so uphill climb to a stunning overlook at Eagle Rock. Right now, since access is relatively recent, the trail is obviously used, but not trashed and the overlook is not covered in graffiti or litter. Someday, that will probably change, but we really enjoyed getting there before that happens.  Most people turn around at Eagle Rock and the trail sees considerably fewer people. In fact, we didn't see another person for the next day and a half. We were definitely not the first people to hike this section, but there were times where it felt like we were. In many places, we had to squint to see the trail, which was often covered in moss or grass. We also ran across a fairly large bear who was enjoying the berry crop as much as we were. He moseyed on without too much of an eye roll. The trail took us past great views and through beautiful forests. It was just a really nice hike.

We had planned to set up tents at Pinnacles Shelter, but there didn't turn out to be any tent sites there. The shelter is built into a very rocky hillside. Since there wasn't any evidence of mouse activity, we figured we'd just sleep in the shelter. How bad could it be? The mosquitoes and biting midges showed up during dinner and tried to carry us off as we turned in for the night. We all laid there for a while and finally decided to pitch our tents on the shelter's porch. Yes, this is bad form, but it was pretty unlikely that anyone else was going to hike in at 11 pm. And it allowed us all to get some sleep.

The second day was everything the first was not: noisy (ATV course and a gun range - together!), overgrown, no views, and lots of nefarious insects. We looked at the map, which showed 8 miles, mostly downhill and we all thought it was going to be an easy day. Oh how wrong we were. The first part of the trail beyond the shelter was pretty, but it deteriorated after that. Soon, we were hiking 10 yards away from ATV trails. No judgement to those who enjoy that sort of thing, but I don't really want to listen to it when I'm hiking. There was also a gun range relatively close by. Same thing: I just don't want to listen to it when I'm hiking. The trail was in rough shape as well with lots of rocks and downed trees to climb over, under, and around. At one point, we had to fight our way through blackberry bushes. The last insult was dodging poison ivy to get to the car.

We had a good hike. I would happily do the first half again, but I feel as though my life will be complete if I never retrace my steps on the second half.

 Chimaphila maculata (Striped Wintergreen)
 A Luna moth on an Azalea bush. We saw several Luna moths on this trip.
 The view looking south from Eagle Rock.
 Looking east from Eagle Rock towards Front Royal. There were a number of small thunderstorms visible in the distance.
 A bench up on Eagle Rock.
 The trail often looked like this: barely visible and covered in moss.
 A caterpillar on hitchhiking on my boot.
 Another example of the faintness of the trail. It actually extends out in front of the camera towards the center of the picture. Really.
 The view to the northwest from an overlook near Pinnacles Shelter.
 Day 2: Pinnacles Shelter
 A garter snake along the trail
 An interesting insect that I'm not familiar with.
Hiking along a field right before finishing the trip.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Soldier's Delight Natural Environmental Area

We wanted to get a hike in today, but we also wanted to avoid the traffic of everyone returning from a long weekend. Soldier's Delight Natural Environmental Area, northwest of Baltimore fit the bill. The area has some of the rarest habitat in Maryland, including oak savanna, partly due to its unique geology. You can read more about that here. The day started gray and foggy, but cleared up about halfway through our hike. We had a pleasant 6-mile walk and saw a number of flowers along the way.

 Oenothera biennis (Evening Primrose)
Red Dog Lodge, which was a hunting lodge for the former landowner.
 A rabbit looks on skeptically while I try to take its picture.
 Ferns growing on the chimney of the lodge.
 Packera anonyma (Small's Ragwort)
 A snail hiding in a borehole in a tree.
 The serpentine barrens that the area is famous for.
Arabis lyrata (Lyre-leaved Rock Cress)
 Silene caroliniana (Wild Pinks)
 The entrance to chromite mine that once operated here.
 We had lunch near this tiny pond and listened to Green Frogs call to each other.
 A mushroom near the trail.
 A white moth on Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
 An Eastern Box Turtle.
Cerastium arvense var villosum (Serpentine Chickweed) a rare variety that only occurs in serpentine barrens


Friday, May 26, 2017

Assateauge Island and Old Rag

We spent this weekend camping out on Assateague Island with several friends. We rarely go to the beach. Michael and I grew up about as far from any ocean beaches as you can get in this country and neither one of us saw the ocean for the first time until we were adults. We just don't feel the draw that a lot of other folks do (the mountains, on the other hand...). We just don't get out there much. We've been out to Assateague a few times, but always in late fall or early winter and we hadn't ever spent more than a couple of hours out there. This weekend, some friends organized a camping weekend out there and we had a great time in spite of some marginal weather.

We arrived on Friday and, although the water is still pretty chilly, it was warm enough to play in the surf for a little while. We had great weather that night and even lucked out that a large thunderstorm passed just south of us.
 Our campsite in the state park.
 Improvised clotheslines between the Subarus.
Oenothera humifusa (Seaside Evening Primrose). These were all over the beach and they just looked like a non-descript groundcover. Shortly before sunset, they all bloomed.

Saturday, we awoke to high winds, which only strengthened as the day progressed. In the middle of the afternoon the gusts were around 40 mph. It was also 20 degrees colder than the previous day. We originally planned to kayak on Saturday, but that wasn't in the cards. We wound up doing a bit of walking on the beach and on some of the bayside paths. Then we spent the afternoon in a coffee shop.
 Early morning beach walk
 A sandpiper feeding in the surf
 Michael flying a small kite
 A crab burrow
 A horseshoe crab shell.
Sisyrinchium atlanticum (Coastal Blue-Eyed Grass)

This morning, the wind settled down some and we were able to go kayaking on Ayers Creek, which is slightly inland and a little more protected than the bay behind the island.
 Heading upstream
 Our group where the creek narrowed a little.
 One of our friends
Michael near the end of our kayaking trip.

We had a blast and many thanks to our friends who organized the trip.

I also wanted to post a few pictures from our last trip up Old Rag with ORMS. It was kind of a crazy day: over 90 degrees when earlier in the week it had been in the 40s and raining. People were so not prepared. We rarely give out water because we don't want people to think they don't have to carry it. We wound up filtering water out of a water source on the mountain because there were people in visible heat distress.

In any case, there were lots of great flowers blooming and we had a good day:
Houstonia cerulea (Bluets)
Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium). As an aside, if you have a sunny spot with marginal soil in your garden, these do really well and they are widely available at local nurseries.
 Conopholis americana (Squawroot)
 Obolaria virginica (Pennywort)
 Orchis spectabilis (Showy Orchis)
 Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium)
 Uvularia perfoliata (Perfoliate Bellwort)
 Pedicularis canadensis (Lousewort)
 Barefoot hiker headed down from the summit towards the rock scramble.
 The curve where I always take a picture
 Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pink Azalea)
 Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow Lady Slipper)
Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger) hiding in the leaf litter