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.

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