Monday, September 26, 2011

First Fall Weekend on Old Rag: Foggy and Flowers

Yesterday was our first fall weekend with Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS).  Fall can be really, really busy on Old Rag when the weather is nice, but a steady rain was falling when we arrived in the lower parking lot.  The parking lot was less than a quarter full.  While we were getting ready for the day, we did have a visitor ask us why it was raining when the forecast said there was only a 20 percent chance of rain, and when the rain would stop.  Um.  When it is done raining?

We hiked up the Ridge Trail with Shenandoah Mountain Guides.  It rained off and on as we climbed and before too long, we were high enough that we were hiking in the clouds.  By the time we stopped for lunch, it had actually stopped raining.   The rock scramble is always interesting when the rocks are wet.  Between sitting down to take pictures of flowers and scrambling over boulders, I was pretty soaked when we reached the summit.  There were no views yesterday; everything was socked in by the clouds.  One of the cool things about Old Rag when it is cloudy is that it changes your focus.  Instead of looking out over the valleys, away from the mountain, the details of the mountain itself come into view.  We had the summit nearly to ourselves to look at wildflowers, berries, and changes since the last time we had been up there.

On the way down, we had some work to do and some training at Byrd's Nest Shelter.  We meandered our way down the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  There were lots of pretty wildflowers and leaves are just starting to change. We didn't see anyone else on the way down.  It was a nice quiet start to what will most certainly be another busy, crazy fall season. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
In the clouds on the Ridge Trail.  This was where we stopped for lunch.
Campanula divaricata (Southern Harebell) with a water droplet on the flower.
Looking up Weakley Hollow from the Ridge Trail.
The spot where I always take a picture.
The summit socked in by the clouds. 
Goldenrod (not sure which kind) on the summit.
Hydatica petiolaris (Michaux's Saxifrage) on the summit.
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel).  I was surprised to see this blooming this early.  In the past I have only seen it later, after the leaves drop, but that might just mean I haven't been up there at the right time.
Berries on an American Ash.
Eurybia divaricata (Wood Aster) at Byrd's Nest Shelter.
Hiking down the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  The leaves are just beginning to change down here.
Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia) on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

Chelone glabra (Turtlehead) on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maryland Appalachian Trail: PenMar, Devil's Race Course, and Raven Rocks

Before yesterday, we only had two more sections of the Maryland Appalachian Trail (AT) to hike and we would have completed the state.  Yesterday, we picked up the section from PenMar, on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, to Wolfsville Rd, 10 miles south.  There is a nice little park on the border, which is also the Mason-Dixon line.  From the park, heading south, the first 2.5 miles are an easy ramble through the woods.  Mushrooms are still popping up all over the place and there are a few hardy late summer flowers blooming.

At around 2.5 miles, we started the climb up to High Rock.  The trail turned much rockier and steeper.  We scrambled up and through rock fields between white blazes painted on rocks instead of trees.  We took the short loop out to the view at High Rock, which was completely, totally, utterly covered in graffiti.  The view was very nice, but there is a parking lot right next to the view, so there was quite a bit of trash as well.  It looked like it is where locals go to party. 

From High Rock, the trail follows the ridge, passing the highest point on the Maryland AT, and then going gently downhill towards Raven Rock. We took a short side-trip to Devil's Racecourse, about half a mile off of the AT.  On the way there, we passed Devil's Racecourse Shelter, which might be one of the saddest shelters I've seen.  It is in pretty bad repair and the floor isn't remotely even.  Apparently, its proximity to the road let to vandalism and graffiti.  In 2010, it was basically replaced with Raven Rocks Shelter.  Devil's Race Course, itself, is a field of boulders that covers up a creek.  When you stand on the boulders, you can hear water running underneath.

We returned to the AT and continued south, passing Raven Rock.  After crossing the road and Little Antietam Creek, we started climbing again, passing what looked like Civil War fortifications.  Over the next three miles, the trail passed through several meadows, including one that was completely covered in blooming goldenrod.  Up high, the forest, particularly the undergrowth has begun dying back in preparation for winter.  Hay-scented ferns have begun turning the color of straw.  Flowers have ceased to bloom and a few leaves have started to turn. 

Since we got a late start, we finished not too long before sunset.  Overall, it is one of the more more interesting sections of the Maryland AT.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 An interesting mushroom growing right in the trail.
 PenMar Park.
 The trail up to High Rock.  Follow the blazes.
 The view of Pennsylvania from High Rock.
 Devil's Race Course.
 A fork in the trail at Raven Rock Road.
 A small waterfall on Little Antietam Creek.
Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset) on Little Antietam Creek.
Solidago caesia (Blue Stem Goldenrod) near Devil's Race Course.
 A loofah shaped and sized fungus (it was seriously about the size of a medium head of cabbage).
Another pretty mushroom.
 A meadow filled with goldenrod.
Bidens coronata (Tickseed Sunflower) that filled another meadow.

Monday, September 12, 2011

All Mushrooms Great and Small and a Waterfall

After all of the rain we received last week (five straight days of downpour), we headed for a waterfall yesterday.  South River Falls is at the very south end of the central district of Shenandoah National Park, almost at Swift Run Gap.  The hike starts at the South River Picnic Area.  We figured there would be a fair number of people there since it was bright, sunny, and relatively cool.  When we arrived, a few people were picnicking, but only four or five cars were parked near the trailhead.  While we put our boots on, a couple finishing their backpacking trip, drove away in one of the cars.  We decided to hike to the falls first, hoping that we would beat any crowds that might come later.

Inspired by Shenandoah Mountains Guide's recent post, we started looking for mushrooms.  The heavy rains last week have them popping up everywhere.  We were not disappointed, but it took us a long time to hike the 2 miles down to South River Falls.  Everywhere we turned, there were more interesting mushrooms in a myriad of colors.  At the falls, we had lunch and spent some time taking pictures of them.

Finally, it was time to move on.  We had spent almost two hours to cover two miles and we still had eight to go.  We made good time climbing out of the ravine.  We turned right on the South River Fire Road, which continued to climb.  Based on the amount of grass and number of mushrooms on the trail, few people ever hike this part of the loop.  Parts of it were lined with goldenrods and asters.

We took a short detour to a cemetery when we reached the Pocosin Trail.  Unlike some of the cemetery's closer to the boundary of the park, this one was pretty overgrown.  Some of the tombstones looked relatively recent, but they were surrounded by sunflowers and other plants.  Back on trail, we found more interesting mushrooms and flowers.  At the junction of the Pocosin Trail and the Pocosin Fire Road, there are ruins from an old Episcopal mission, which was established in 1904 to serve the local community.

From the ruins, we climbed the Pocosin Fire Road for a mile to the Appalachian Trail, where we turned left and hiked three miles back to the car.  Near the top of Baldface Mountain, we found the last interesting mushrooms of the trip, purple ones.

This was a nice 10.3 mile hike.  All said and done, we saw fewer than 10 people the entire day.

If anyone knows about mushrooms, let me know and I'll post the identifications.  I know very little about them (other than how to identify morels).

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 A white fungus that looks a little like coral.
 A tiny turquoise fungus on the same log as the coral fungus above.
 A pretty orange mushroom.
 Little parasol mushrooms.
 More orange mushrooms.
 Tiny little orange toadstools
 A giant white mushroom.  The cap on this one was nearly six inches across.
 A purple mushroom on Baldface Mountain
 South River Falls.  I used a neutral density filter and a one second exposure for this one.
 Another view of South River Falls.  This one is a 2.5 second exposure.
 Ipatiens pallida (Pale Jewelweed) at South River Falls
 Solanum nigrum (Deadly Nightshade).  I am not 100% certain that this is right. 
 Aureolaria flava (False Foxglove)
 Chelone glabra (Turtlehead) at South River Falls.
 I am still working on the identification of this one.
 Lobelia inflata (Indian Tobacco).
 An interesting insect on a Goldenrod.
 Aster acuminatus (Mountain Aster) on Baldface Mountain.
 Lactuca floridana (Tall Blue Lettuce)
 I'm still working on this one, too, but I think it is a Hawkweed.
 Old Rag from the Pinnacles overlook on the way home.
Sunset from the Pinnacles overlook.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Summer Flowers: Southern Harebell

Camanula divaricata (Southern Harebell) is an easy flower to miss.  The flowers are pale purple and tiny, only around 1/4" long.  The entire plant seems to grow at a height where it blends in with everything else around it.  It is found in rocky areas, primarily in the Southern and Central Appalachian Mountains.  In Shenandoah National Park, I have only seen it at relatively high elevations.  It is considered an endangered species in Maryland.  It blooms in late summer and early fall.

C. divaricata is a member of the Bellflower Family (Campanulaceae).

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 C. divaricata on the Hannah Run trail in 2010.
 On the Riprap Trail last weekend.
C. divaricata on Old Rag in 2007.