Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Flowers: Liverleaf or Hepatica

I love spring in the Appalachians.  I love seeing the progression of the forest coming alive as the weather warms up and the days get longer.  One of my favorite things to see in the woods are blooming redbuds and dogwoods.  Last year, I wrote about a new wildflower each week and, if nothing else, I learned a lot researching the posts.  I intended to restart this feature last week, but I got busy and didn't get around to it, so this week it is.

A couple of weeks ago, we hiked Knob Mountain and Jeremy's Run in Shenandoah National Park.  Nowhere else that I've hiked in the Mid-Atlantic has as many Anemone americana (Liverleaf, Hepatica) as that hike, particularly on the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail and the Jeremy's Run Trail.  Whole sections of hillsides were covered in purple and white flowers.   A. americana are part of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family.  The flowers, which emerge before most other wildflowers, are about an inch in diameter and have 5-10 purple, pink, or white sepals and three-lobed leaves.  The flowers bloom on top of stalks that are 2-4 inches tall and hairy.  They are found throughout eastern North America

The actual classification of A. americana is still in debate.  Some botanists classify it in its own genus, Hepatica.  Others classify it in Anemone based on shared characteristics with other members of that genus, including a variable number of sepals.  Based on the different configurations of the scientific name for this little plant on various web pages and in guidebooks, there doesn't seem to be much consensus on where it belongs yet. 

 A. americana on the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail in Shenandoah National Park in April 2010.
White A. americana on the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail (Shenandoah National Park, March 2012).
A. americana on the Appalachian Trail near Neighbor Mountain in Shenandoah National Park (April 2008).
An example of the leaves, which were used at one time to treat liver ailments. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Easy Hike in the Rain: Maryland Heights

The forecast for yesterday was pretty grim and my mood matched it when we pulled into the Weverton Cliffs parking lot.  It was just one of those mornings where I wanted to stay in bed and nothing came together quite right in getting ready to go.  In spite of my mood, we decided to go hiking.  As would be the case yesterday, I rarely regret getting outside and getting some exercise, even and especially when I least feel like it.  When we set off, it was drizzling and grey and I was in a funk.

The Appalachian Trail descends for about half a mile from the parking area, under Highway 340, to the C & O Towpath.  Normally, this isn't a terribly interesting section of the hike, but yesterday the hillside near the bridge was covered in white flowers, all shining with raindrops.  Then, at the highway, we passed a guy asleep right on the trail under the bridge.  He looked like thru hiker, based on his gear, and we speculated on why he couldn't make it three more miles to the next shelter.  At the Towpath, we turned right and headed towards Harpers Ferry.  The flowers on the Towpath were spectacular:  Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) and Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn) everywhere.  We ate lunch on a concrete block on the side of the towpath in the rain. 

After lunch, the rain finally ended and I realized that my mood had improved considerably. We made good time to the Maryland Heights trailhead.  We stopped several times on the way up to the overlook to photograph flowers and to read the signs about the Civil War structures that are still visible.  One of my favorite times of year is when the redbuds and dogwoods bloom in the woods.  They are the first splash of color after the long, gray winter.  The Maryland Heights Trail has countless redbuds and they were all blooming yesterday. 

We spent a few minutes at the overlook before returning to the Stone Fort Trail.  This trail climbs up to the top of the ridge, ending up at a Civil War fort that was only partially built before the war ended.  The stone foundations are still visible.  From the fort, the trail does a u-turn and descends the west side of the ridge.  By the time we started down the hill, the sun was actually out.  We enjoyed a sunny walk back to the car along the Towpath.  We hiked 11 miles in all.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Dogwoods on the Maryland Heights Trail
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) on the C&O Towpath.
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) on the C&O Towpath
Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)
 Spring on the Towpath
 Looking south down the Shenandoah River and Harpers Ferry from the Naval Bombardment area of Maryland Heights. 
 Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anemone) on the Maryland Heights Trail.
A bootshot over Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Shenandoah (left) and Potomac Rivers.
Micranthes virginiensis (Early Saxifrage)
 Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty)
Turtles on a log in the C&O Canal.  On our way back to the car, the sun had come out.  Turtles were sunning themselves on nearly every log in the swampy parts of the old canal. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cherry Blossom Coincidence

On Thursday afternoon, I went for my normal run on the mall, expecting to dodge crowds of tourists because the Cherry Blossoms were at their peak.  I ran down to the Lincoln Memorial and ran up the steps, twice.  A volunteer with the National Park Service handed me two buttons commemorating 100 years since Japan gave the first ornamental cherry trees to the United States.  From there, I continued towards the Tidal Basin, where I saw Marine One flying towards the White House.  When I finished my run, I was happy that I had a good run, got to see the cherry blossoms, and that the crowds weren't as bad as I thought they would be.

A little while after my run, I happened to glance at Facebook and one of my cousins posted about his run down at the Tidal Basin and Marine One flying over.  What a crazy coincidence.  We must have been running by the Tidal Basin at nearly the same moment.  I didn't know he was in town and, in fact, we hadn't seen each other for more than 15 years.  Thursday night, we arranged to have lunch Friday afternoon.

Growing up, we saw each other several times a year and, in part because we are close in age, usually spent family gatherings running around together with the other kids our age.  After high school, our paths diverged.  We saw each other once when I was a senior in college and had taken a road trip to Minnesota.  As the years have gone by, we've never managed to be back in Missouri at the same time.  It seems crazy that more than a decade has passed since we've seen each other.  We had a great time catching up Friday and, hopefully, will manage to see each other again before another 15 years go by.

Anyway, I have the cherry blossoms to thank this year for reconnecting with my cousin!

Pictures from my walk Friday morning:
 Cherry trees on the Tidal Basin.
 Cherry Blossoms
 The Washington Monument in the early morning light.
 Tulips near the Washington Monument.
More cherry trees near the Washington Monument. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Flowers! Knob Mountain and Jeremy's Run

After hearing reports from friends of flowers blooming in the mountains, I was pretty excited about this week's hike.  It had been several years since we had hiked Jeremy's Run and Knob Mountain in Shenandoah National Park and those trails have a wide variety of spring flowers.  The downside is that they tend to be fairly crowded in the spring, but we decided it would be worth it.  Jeremy's Run can run high and be difficult to cross in the spring (the trail crosses it 17 times over the course of 6 miles), so we packed our crocs in case we had to take off our boots. 

We arrived at the trailhead on the west boundary of the park around 9:30 yesterday.  The weather could not have been better:  high 60s and sunny. The trail crosses about a mile of private land before climbing a small hill up to the park boundary.  We were immediately rewarded with flowers including Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty) and Corydalis flavula (Yellow Corydalis). From the park boundary, we descended back down to Jeremy's Run, which was as low as we've ever seen it.  When hiking it in the past, we have actually bushwhacked short distances to avoid some of the deeper, faster crossings, so we were surprised to find out that we didn't need to take our boots off at the lowest crossing of the day.  That is the long-winded way of saying, "we need some rain." 

At the junction with the Knob Mountain Trail, we took a left, crossed the run, and immediately began to climb.  The trail climbs steeply for a little over three miles to the top of Knob Mountain.  Without any leaves on the trees and little breeze, it was actually kind of a hot climb.  We took a break for lunch at the top by the summit post.  There was a nice view through the trees of Neighbor Mountain to the south.  From there, it was an easy descent to the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail, which took us down to the Jeremy's Run Trail.  The Cutoff trail was lined with purple and white Anemone americana (Round-Lobed Liverleaf or Hepatica).  At nearly every stream crossing, we marveled at how low the run was. 

We finished 13 miles in about 8 hours because we took so much time photographing flowers.  It was a very pleasant hike. We only ran into three people:  a trail runner and two guys hiking together.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Anemone americana (Round-lobed Liverleaf, Hepatica) on the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail.
 Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty).
 Corydalis flavula (Yellow Corydalis).
 Epigaea repens (Trailing Arbutus)
 Packera obovatus (Round-Leaved Ragwort).
 Anemone americana (Round-Lobed Liverleaf, Hepatica). 
 Antennaria sp. (Pussytoes). 
 Micranthes virginiensis (Early Saxifrage).
An interesting grass.  The flower heads on these were about 3/4 of an inch long.  When they were bumped, they released clouds of pollen.
I could use some help on this one.  The flowers are about 1/4 inch across and they are on stalks that are about 3 inches tall.
 Trees reflected in a pool on Jeremy's Run.
 Cardamine concantenata (Cut-Leaf Toothwort).
 A pretty waterfall on Jeremy's Run. 
A water-strider on a pool.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Unintentionally Long, Beautiful Spring Day: White Rocks

We got out in the Great North Mountain area yesterday.  We did what was supposed to be an 11.6 mile loop including the Pond Run Trail and White Rocks, but due to a mistake, wound up being more like 15 miles.  We parked at the Pond Run Trailhead.  The trail climbs steeply up from the road before returning to Pond Run.  We hiked the Pond Run Trail several years ago as part of a short backpacking trip.  The thing that stuck in my mind was the brutal climb, which was compounded by the fact that we had all of our backpacking gear with us.  We are in much better shape now, so I was curious to see how it compared to what I remembered.  I have to say, I didn’t remember all of the cool little waterfalls along Pond Run that I noticed this time.  The climbing did not strike me as particularly difficult this time, either, and I enjoyed the hike up to the top of the ridge.  At the top of the ridge, we sat on a log and ate lunch in the warm sunshine.  

We took a quick detour out an overlook of the Trout Run Valley, before continuing up the Tuscarora Trail towards the junction with the Mill Mountain Trail.  At the junction, we turned left, continuing on the Tuscarora Trail towards Little Sluice Mountain.  The trail is nice and wide, following an old roadbed.  We came across a large, deep puddle on the trail and were surprised to find big clumps of amphibian eggs in it.  As we were looking at them, we noticed that we were barging in on, shall we say, an intimate moment between two salamanders!  Giving them their privacy, we continued on our way.  The Tuscarora Trail descends steeply before the junction with the Little Sluice Mountain Trail.  About halfway down, we could see the still-white slopes of Bayse Ski Resort in the distance to the south through the trees.   

At the Little Sluice Mountain Trail junction, we encountered an equestrian group, the only group we met the entire day.  From there, the trail turns northeast and climbs gently to the top of the ridge.  We took another side trip to White Rocks, a nice overlook about ¼ mile off trail.  Returning to the Tuscarora Trail, we continued northeast, picking up the Old Mail Trail.  This is where things got interesting.  About a mile into the Old Mail Trail, the trail breaks out of the woods into a meadow, where it meets up with the Racer Camp Hollow Trail.  We looked around and found a pink blaze (Old Mail Trail) to our right, on the east side of the clearing.  There was a footpath trending north-northeast beside that blaze and that seemed to correspond to the direction we should go before turning downhill.  As we started north, we even noted what looked like a trail entering the woods on the west side of the meadow.  We did not see, nor look for any blazes on it, because, having seen the pink blaze, we assumed we were on the right track.

The trail we were on, which would turn out to be the northern half of the Racer Camp Hollow Trail, followed an old logging roadbed, which is definitely not unusual.  Earlier in the day, the Tuscarora Trail was on a roadbed.  We made pretty good time and were kind of on auto-pilot since we were talking and we (thought we) were just a couple of miles from being finished.  At one point, we stopped and looked around because we hadn’t dropped into the bottom of the valley like I was expecting and in fact were gradually climbing.  We decided to see what was around the next corner, where we pulled out both maps and realized our mistake.  I had been using a map specific to the loop we were hiking, but it doesn’t show much of the surrounding area and the context for that loop.  I pulled out the larger map that I was carrying and immediately realized our mistake.  At the meadow with the pink blaze, we should have turned left and headed into the woods.  The map showed that the trail we were on would loop around and connect with the Wilson Cove Trail, which was where we wanted to end up.  It wasn’t a disaster, but it did add about five miles to our trip.  

Lessons learned:
1.  When you look at the landscape and think, “This isn’t right and this isn’t what I was expecting it to be,” listen to that voice and check the map carefully.  

2.  The Tuscarora Trail, which we had been on for most of the day, uses the convention of a double-blaze to indicate turns.  The other trails in the George Washington National Forest do not necessarily use that convention.

3.  We did a good job of practicing, “Be here now.”  Meaning, rather than dwelling on where we should have been and getting upset by that, we just dealt with where we were and adjusted accordingly.  If we hadn’t been able to connect to the Wilson Cove Trail, we would have just backtracked to where we got off track.

It was definitely a good hike.  As a little bit of reward, we saw a few Tusilago farafara (Coltsfoot) blooming by the car.  They are not native, but they are pretty and are another indication that spring is going to be very early this year.  (In 2010, which was another year in which everything bloomed early, they were blooming at the end of March.)  We could not have asked for better weather.  I started out in a long-sleeve shirt and was halfway up the Pond Run Trail when I realized that I had not brought along a short-sleeve shirt.  It was warm enough that I really wished I had remembered it.  I am definitely happy to see spring arrive.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 T. farafara (Coltsfoot) growing along Waites Run Road.
 One of the small waterfalls on Pond Run.
 Half Moon from the lookout near the junction of Pond Run Trail and the Tuscarora Trail.
 Some type of amphibian eggs.  Each egg was about the size of a nickel.
 The view from White Rocks overlook.
 Bootshot from White Rocks looking east.
 Lycopodium digitatum (?) (Ground Cedar).  I'm not sure if I have the correct species name, but this is definitely a member of the Lycopodium genus.
 Small waterfalls on Cove Run, near the end of the hike.

Monday, March 5, 2012

New Lens and a Cold, Windy Ride

We took a weekend off of the trail weekend.  We had some things to do and we needed to get a bike ride in.  Last week I ordered a new macro lens for my camera, which arrived on Friday.  The surprise nice weather Saturday afternoon presented an opportunity to go down to Rock Creek Park to test it out.  The only native wildflowers out were Simplocarpus foetidus (Skunk Cabbage) and Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty), but there were a number of pretty non-native plants blooming.

We have started training for this year's Garrett County Gran Fondo's Savage Century.  I'm not sure, after last year's experience, what convinced us to sign up again, but signed up, we are.  Yesterday, we got out for a ride in northern Montgomery County:  43 miles of cold wind.  It wasn't the strongest ride I've ever had, but it certainly wasn't the worst.  I feel like I am starting from a better base than I had at this point last year.  We have four months to get ready, bad can it be??? (famous last words).

Pictures (click to enlarge):
An invasive buttercup in Rock Creek Park.  This photo has a depth-of-field problem, but I liked the detail on the flower's center.
Crocuses blooming in a yard near Rock Creek Park.
A daffodil blooming in front of a house.
I took a few pictures of one of our Phalaenopsis orchids to test out the lens.