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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Catching Up: Old Rag, Massachusetts, and Ride the Drive

I've gotten behind with my blog posts, so I'm going to do one big one to catch up.

At the beginning of April, Old Rag Mountain Stewards held training in Shenandoah National Park. We spent Saturday at Big Meadows reviewing various skills. On Sunday, we hiked up Old Rag and did some first aid training. The weather was beautiful (well, except for camping out Friday night, which was in the low 20s with 40 mph winds).

 Looking towards the summit.
 The wildflowers were just barely beginning to bloom. Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) just coming up.
Wrapping up after training.

The next weekend I went to Massachusetts to see friends. We got out for a hike on the Seven Sisters trail. The hike ostensibly goes over seven mountain peaks: the Seven Sisters. We decided there were a few half and step-sisters that weren't counted in the seven.
 A trailhead register box.
 Taking a break for lunch.
 Anemone americana (Hepatica). These were the only flowers we saw. Mid-April is still late winter in Massachusetts.
 Another view of A. americana.
 Looking towards the west from the trail.
 Bootshot from Bare Mountain, the last peak on our hike.

Last Sunday, Shenandoah National Park closed the northern 31 miles of Skyline Drive to motorized traffic. We were asked if we could volunteer as bike patrol for the event. More than 4,000 people registered for the event. Right up until the evening before, we were expecting really terrible weather - 45 degrees and raining terrible. Then, late on Saturday, the forecast changed and called for dry, if cool, weather.

Our day started with a briefing at 6 a.m. at Skyline High School in Front Royal. Once we signed in and got what we needed for the day, we headed to our spot at milepost 14 (which is where we usually eat lunch when we ride the drive on our own). It was 37 degrees when we arrived a bit after 7 a.m., but the sun was out and there was promise of a warm-up. The first cyclists passed our overlook a little after 8 a.m.We cooked breakfast and drank some coffee and let the sun get higher in the sky before we finally took the bikes off of the car. We wound up riding 40 miles with plenty of climbing. We talked to a ton of cyclists, all of whom were universally positive about being able to ride without worrying about traffic. And we met a lot of people who had never been to the park before or would never have felt comfortable riding with cars on the road. I am so glad the National Park Service decided to give this event a try and I really hope they will make it an annual event.

 We stayed in Front Royal the night before the event. After dinner, we drove up to the first overlook in the park for the final minutes of sunset. This is looking west towards Signal Knob.
Early morning haze from Hogwallow Flats overlook, where our base was for the day.
 Another view from the overlook.
 Michael getting ready to start coffee.
 The view west later in the morning, after we started riding.
 Silene caroliniana (Wild Pink) along the road.
 Cyclists at Hogback Overlook.
 Clematis occidentalis (Purple Virgins Bower).
 Cyclists near milepost 12.
Little Devils Stairs overlook.