Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old Rag Mountain Stewards - A Quiet Day on the Mountain

We went out with Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS) for a third week in a row because the schedule for Sunday looked a little thin.  As it turned out, it was pouring rain when we left Silver Spring on Sunday morning.  Weather like that almost always keeps the DC crowd away, so it looked like it was going to be a quiet, wet day on the mountain.  We fully expected to spend the day in rain gear.  By the time we arrived at the parking lot, it was sunny and there were very few cars there.  Still, thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon and it was very humid and windy - perfect thunderstorm weather. 

The entire group headed up the ridge trail and there was a request that I do plant identification training, so it was a slower hike than normal.  We stopped a lot to look at flowers and trees.  Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) is just about in peak bloom, which is very early this year.

Right at the beginning of the boulder scramble, we saw the results of the hard work the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's National Park Service trail maintenance crew.  There was a bad erosion problem just above the no camping sign that they have filled in with rocks. They have also cleared all of the blowdowns from a hard winter.  All of the work they do is by hand and all of it is done by volunteers.  Thank them if you see them out there working.

We turned around at the Chute and headed back down the Ridge Trail as it looked like the promised thunderstorms might be moving in.  On the way down, we talked to a lot of people about lightning safety on the Ridge Trail, particularly in the boulder scramble.  High on an exposed ridge is no place to spend a thunderstorm.  The storms never did roll in, however.  They all turned south and missed us, which made for a dry, quiet day on the mountain.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Mitchella repens (Patridgeberry) - The paired flowers, leaves, and later in the season, berries are the giveaway for identifying M. repens.

Gillenia trifoliata (Bowman's Root)

Osmorhiza longistylis (Aniseroot) - this one looks very similar to Osmorhiza claytoni (Sweet Cicely), but O. longistylis has stamens that are longer than the petals.

Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)

The great work of the PATC NPS trail crew at the beginning of the boulder scramble.  Note the stone steps and the rock wall to stop erosion.

Storm clouds building over the Blue Ridge
Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) near the start of the boulder scramble.

Viburnum acerifolium (Maple-leaved Viburnum)

Capnoides semiperverens (Pink Corydalis)

K. latifolia hanging off of a boulder.

Looking towards Robertson Mountain.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old Rag Mountain Stewards - Water? Who needs water?

Yesterday, we volunteered with Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS) again.  It was clear and sunny and promised to be a beautiful warm day.  When we arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 a.m., it was already 2/3 full and one of the park rangers was directing traffic.  We were definitely going to be busy. Far fewer people brought their dogs this week, which is a good thing.  We managed to convince one couple who did arrive with their dog that White Oak Canyon would be a great alternative to Old Rag.

This week, we headed up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road to the Saddle Trail with Shenandoah Mountain Guides.  The summer flowers, including Aquilegia canadensis (Red Columbine) and Houstonia longifolia (Long-Leaved Bluets), are already blooming along the road, which is several week earlier than last year.

We had lunch at Old Rag Shelter.  While we were there, we spotted a Black Rat Snake in the corner of the shelter, just under the eaves.  I would guess that it was 3-4 feet long.  It is probably a pretty good place for a snake since a lot of people eat in that shelter, the food they leave behind draws rodents.  Black Rat Snakes are harmless to people.  They are not aggressive and will not strike unless they feel threatened.  The best way to treat snakes, even venomous ones, is the same way you would treat a large unfamiliar dog:  Give them their space, don't corner them, and don't try to handle them.

We spent some time at the summit talking to people, before heading back down the Saddle Trail to Byrd's Nest Shelter for training.  We practiced a new patient tie-in for the litter.  If someone is injured and cannot walk, the safe way to get them off the mountain involves securing them into a litter and having a team of people carry them out.  I was the patient for one of the tie-ins and the team did a good job - I didn't move much at all when they tested the tie-in.

At the end of the day, five of us went back up to the summit and down the Ridge Trail.  Now to water:  Overall, it was a great day and the crowd was really friendly...and thirsty.  It was a little warmer than was forecast and a number of people we talked to did not bring nearly enough water.  Bonus points for the ones that had not eaten anything all day, either.  Being out of water at the summit makes for a very, very long walk back to the car.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A. canadensis (Red Columbine) along the Fire Road.

Houstonia longifolia (Long Leaved Bluets)

Click to zoom in to see the black rat snake.  Its head is peeking out, just under the roof and just to the right of the gutter.

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel).

Boot shot from the summit.

The S-Curve where I always take a picture.

Hydatica petiolaris (Michaux's Saxigrage).

Capnoides sempervirens (Pink Corydalis).  This is blooming a full three to four weeks earlier than last year.

I took this from the overlook just below the Chute as the sun was going down.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Flame Azaleas and Big Meadows

We decided to go looking for Rhododendron calendulaceum (Flame Azaleas) on Sunday after having gotten a tip on where we could find them along Skyline Drive.  We successfully found two bushes of slightly different colors.  I had never seen them before and I have to say, they are pretty spectacular.

After find the Flame Azaleas, we explored Big Meadows and the Rapidan Fire Road for a couple of hours.  The meadow itself had violets, Houstonia cerulea (Bluets), and Silene virginica (wild pinks).  After crossing the meadow, we entered the woods and headed down the Rapidan Fire Road.  At that elevation, there were a few remaining Trillium grandiflorum.  Most of them were gone, however, making way for the Pedicularis canadensis (Wood Betony), which was everywhere. 

It was clear, but windy and cold.  We did not want to get back home too late, so before long, we returned to the car and made our way out of the park.  On the way home, we stopped at a pick-your-own strawberries farm right on the highway.  I look forward to the first spring strawberries all winter and these did not disappoint, particularly when made into strawberry-almond tart.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
R. calendulaceum (Flame azaleas)

 R. calendulaceum (Flame azaleas)

Click to enlarge the photo to see the turkey hiding just inside the woods.

Big Meadows

Silene caroliniana (Wild Pinks)

Pedicularis canadensis (Wood Betony/Lousewort)

Fragaria vesca (Wood Strawberry)

Old Rag in the distance from Big Meadows.

Old Rag and Robertson Mountain from Skyline Drive.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Old Rag Mountain Stewards - first weekend of the year

Yesterday was our first weekend this year volunteering with Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS).  Once again, the rain in the forecast did not materialize, so the parking lot was quite crowded by the time all six volunteers arrived.  We talked to a few people in the parking lot about their dogs (not allowed on Old Rag), mostly to no avail.  A lot of people showed up with dogs yesterday.  In spite of that, the six of us set out up the road to the now-closed upper lot in good spirits.

At the upper parking lot, we split up into two groups of three.  Three of us headed up the ridge trail and the other three went up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road to the Saddle Trail.  We made a plan to meet at Byrd's Nest Shelter for training early in the afternoon.  This was the first time I've seen the upper lot since the Park Service closed it.  It was a little strange not to see cars illegally parked on the road and packed into the upper lot.  Despite the recent closure, not one visitor asked about it.

Heading up the Ridge Trail, we could hear the wind howling above us and once in a while, we would catch a gust.  Based on the flowers along the road, I was pretty sure it was going to be a good flower day and I was not disappointed. Although the Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium) that line the ridge trail have faded, there were a number of other interesting flowers to see.  After seeing them in Georgia for the first time last weekend, all of a sudden I was seeing Medeola virginiana (Indian Cucumber Root) everywhere.  The flowers are definitely a few weeks ahead of when they were appearing last year.  The Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel were just starting to bloom.  By next week, they should be out in full force.  Up higher on the mountain, the Mountain Azaleas (Rhododenron roseum) were everywhere.  They have a wonderful scent and can often be smelled before they can be seen. 

We had to wait for about 30 minutes at the chute, which is not too bad, considering how many people were on the mountain.  We spent it chatting with people about ORMS and about the mountain.  We spent a few, very windy minutes on the summit and then continued on to Byrd's Nest Shelter.  Yesterday was a perfect example of how deceptive the weather can be on Old Rag.  Although the temperature was probably in the 70s, with 50 mph gusts, the wind made it feel much, much colder.  Once we stopped at the shelter, almost all of us had to put on extra layers.  We spent a couple of hours reviewing how to set anchors before returning to the parking lot.  A great day on the mountain.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Orobanche uniflora (One-Flowered Cancerroot or Ghostpipe).  O. uniflora is a saprophyte, which means that it gets its nutrients from decaying matter, like leaf litter, rather than from photosynthesis.  Like Conopholis americana, since it does not photosynthesize, it lacks chlorophyl, which is why it is not green.

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) along the ridge trail.

Geranium maculatum (Wild Gerainium)

Rhododenron roseum (Mountain Azalea)
 The S-Curve where I always take a picture.  Quite the change from a month ago when I was up here.

Looking at Robertson Mountain (the pointed mountain near the center of the photograph) and Skyline Drive from the summit.

Pedicularis canadensis (Wood Betony or Lousewort).  This is the red form of this flower.

Pedicularis canadensis (Wood Betony or Lousewort).  This is the yellow form, which was right next to the picture above.

 Cypripedium acaule (Pink Lady's Slipper)

Galearis spectabilis (Showy Orchis)

Fraser Magnolia in bloom.  This is not a great picture because it was late in the day, but these trees only bloom for a few days in the spring.  One has to time it just right to be lucky enough to see them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Northwest Georgia - Wildflowers, Birds, and Waterfalls

We spent a long weekend with two good friends in northwest Georgia.  We stayed in a cabin in Cloudland Canyon State Park and hiked in the park and in another area called the Pocket.  The weather forecast for the weekend was rain and thunderstorms, so we were prepared with full rain gear and glad to be staying in a cabin, rather than camping.

We arrived Friday night with enough time to take a short hike along the West Rim Trail before dark.  Just a few feet behind the cabin, the flowers started with Oxalis violacea (Violet Wood Sorrel) and Houstonia caerulea (Bluets).  Before long, we found Rhododendrons and budded out Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel).  The flowers are definitely a few weeks ahead of the flowers in Virginia and Maryland.  The blueberries along the canyon edge have already set their berries there. 

The next morning, we headed over to the Pocket, a major wildflower hotspot in northwest Georgia.  We hiked two trails.  The first is a boardwalk through the densest area of wildflowers.  This area was hit hard by storms this past winter and, in one place, the boardwalk had been destroyed by a mudslide, but there were still plenty of flowers.  Although the peak bloom in the forest was waning, we still saw three varieties of Trilliums, Phacelia bipinnatifitada (Fern-Leaved Phacelia), Sedum ternatum (Wild Stonecrop), and Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's Seal), among other things.

The boardwalk leads to a short trail to a waterfall that appears to have formed from the collapse of a cave.  The walls behind the falls are coated in travertine, which is a form of calcite that forms in caves.  There was enough calcium in the water that the moss and plants on the rocks were coated in it, making them stiff and granular.  The area around the waterfalls was full of newts and salamanders, tadpoles, and small fish.

After returning to the parking lot, we headed up another trail that leads to the top of the falls, a number of meadows, a spring-fed pond, and an old farm.  The meadows were full of early summer wildflowers including Salvia lyrata (Lyre-Leaved Sage), Silene virginica (Fire Pink), Camassia scilloides (Wild Hyacinths), and Cygnoglossum virginianum (Wild Comfrey).  The surprising thing about the forest in the Pocket area was that there were no members of the Rhododendron family (which includes azaleas and mountain laurel) to be found.

Above the waterfalls, we passed through a meadow and started to hear a loud ruckus ahead of us.  As we rounded the corner, we realized it was a pond full of several species of frogs, all calling to each other.  The pond quieted down as we approached.  We decided to sit across the outlet stream from it to have lunch and pretty soon the frogs were at it again.   After lunch, we continued up the trail, following a dry creek upstream.  Eventually, we realized we should head back to the car.  On the way down, we followed a short side trail to an old barn in a meadow.  We didn't hike very far, but we had a great time exploring the area.

On Sunday, we spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Cloudland Canyon (above).  We hiked down to two large waterfalls and past a number of smaller ones.  The flowers were blooming in the canyon, including the Big-Leaf Magnolias.  Overall, I was surprised by how much the forest understory differed from that in Virginia and Maryland.  An example is that I only saw two Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple) plants all weekend.

It was a great weekend spent with good friends and I can't wait to get back and explore the area more.  We also were extremely lucky on weather.  Aside from a few sprinkles on Saturday, we didn't get any rain.  Given how close we were to Tennessee, we were very fortunate. 

Lots of Pictures (click to enlarge).  Also, I have come up short on identifying one wildflower and one flowering tree.  I would welcome any suggestions as to what they are.

Houstonia caerulea (Bluets)


A large (body about six inches) lizard on the fence at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

Waterfall at the Pocket

Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's Seal).  Note the difference between the flowers of P. biflorum and Smilacena racemosa (False Solomon's Seal) below.  Both are members of the Lily Family and the leaves look very similar.

S. racemosa (False Solomon's Seal)

Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Stout Blue Eyed Grass). This is a member of the Iris family.  Note the tiny grasshopper on the bloom.

Swallowtails at the pond with the frogs.

Camassia scilloides (Wild Hyacinths)

Cygnoglossum virginianum (Wild Comfrey)

Tiny spiders on grass.

The upper waterfall in Cloudland Canyon.

Trillium cuneatum (Toadshade Trillium)

 Medeola virginiana (Indian Cucumber Root)

This is the flower that I have not been able to identify.  The leaves are opposite and toothed.

This is the flowering tree that I have not been able to identify.  Thanks to the community at Backpacker Magazine's forums, I have figured this one out.  It is likely Calycanthus floridus (Sweetshrub).  The flowers have a rather rotten scent, which is typical of flowers this color.  The leaves are entire (not toothed).

 Another view of Cloudland Canyon.