Monday, July 28, 2014

Riding Skyline Drive: Bear Cubs!

I wasn't going to put up a post about our ride on Saturday. We've ridden Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park a lot and even thought it is one of my favorite places to ride, there isn't much more to say about it. We usually stop at the same places, so I don't even get particularly different pictures. Well, we stopped in the shade to rest briefly on a long climb and I saw this lady hanging out on the side of the road about 25 yards ahead of us:
She stood on the road, looking back and forth. A car came by and she sort of ducked back into the woods. We figured she was gone, but we were pretty thrilled to have gotten the chance to see her. Then, a minute or two later, she came back out and started looking back and forth again. She must have decided it was safe because she looked back and then decided to cross the road.
She was followed by these two little cubs! They were so cute (click to enlarge). I wasn't quite quick enough to get a picture of them on the road. They moved pretty fast. They had to run to keep up with their mother. It was impressive to see how careful she was about crossing the road.

The summer flowers were impressive on Saturday as well. Summer wildflowers are in full bloom on the roadside in the park.
Lilium michauxii (Turk's Cap Lily). These lilies are stunningly beautiful. The ones that I saw on Saturday were nearly six feet tall, growing up over the rest of the underbrush.
Another example of L. michauxii
 Coreopsis verticillata (Whorled Coreopsis).
Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower)
 Rudebeckia hirta (Black Eyed Susan)
Impatiens pallida (Pale Jewelweed)
Monarda media (Purple Bergamot)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Local Exploring: The National Mall

We engaged in some local tourism this past week. Michael's sister and brother-in-law visited early last week and we had a blast. We started Monday morning with a Segway tour of the National Mall, from the White House, up to the Capitol and back down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial.  The tour was a great way to get an overview of some of the most prominent landmarks in the city. We were even lucky enough to see a presidential motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The tour group while we were waiting to cross 17th street. The segways were really easy to use and control. The tour guide did a quick introduction and everyone picked up on it right away. It was definitely less tiring than walking all over the city, but that said, standing for three hours is still standing for three hours. Also, the platform you stand on is constantly moving, so you are constantly stabilizing it with your calves and core. By the end of the tour, my calves and lower back were definitely tired. Overall, rolling through the city was really, really fun.
On my segway in front of the White House (photo taken by Michael).
The U.S. Capitol from the east side. The scaffolding is part of a massive renovation of the dome (which is made of cast iron).
Michael and his brother-in-law on their segways on the mall near the Capitol. The tour was a lot of fun and even Michael and I learned a few things from the tour guide. I would definitely recommend it.
After the tour we ate lunch and then headed over the Museum of Natural History. We looked around a bit and then walked back down to the Lincoln Memorial, pausing at the Washington Monument along the way. One of the things I really liked doing when I worked downtown was running on the National Mall. I would often finish my workout with run up the hill to the Washington Monument. It is hard to appreciate how big it is from far away. The day we walked to it last week, the dramatic clouds behind it made it even more impressive.
The reflecting pool was filled with Canada Geese (photo taken by Michael).

After visiting the Lincoln Memorial, we decided that we were done for the day. The next day, we headed to the National Archives and then the Museum of American History. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that, after living here for 9 1/2 years, I had not visited the exhibit of the founding documents. We took care of that. We even managed to get there early enough that we didn't have to wait in line.

After exploring the Museum of American History for a few hours, Michael's sister said they enjoyed the segway tour the day before so much that they wanted to do another one. Only one segway tour operator's website listed a night tour, so we went with them (It turned out that several companies offer night tours. A note to tour operators: If your website doesn't list a tour, it doesn't exist.). After a birthday dinner for Michael, we set out on two wheels again.
The Jefferson Memorial at sunset. This tour did not go to the Capitol, but it did get down to the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin.
 The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.
 A quote inscribed in the stones at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (photo taken by Michael)
 Lincoln lit up at dusk.
 The Washington Monument at dusk.
 The Lincoln Memorial from the World War II Memorial.
The National Archives lit up at night. This was on our walk back to the metro.

We had a great time with Michael's sister and brother-in-law and it was a lot of fun to explore the city for a couple of days.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area

Last weekend, we went for a short-ish hike with a friend in Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia. Although we haven't been hiking as much as in some years, we are trying to branch out and see different places. This turned out to be a very nice hike that is relatively close by and we didn't see another soul on the trip. We had relatively cool, if a bit humid, overcast weather.

We started the hike at a parking lot off of Pack Horse Trail Road and hiked up the white-blazed High Rock Trail. It is initially flat, but then climbs steadily up to the top of the ridge. The trails in this area clearly do not get a lot of use as the they were pretty overgrown. There were many times that we hiked through knee deep grass, which is perfect tick habitat. There were lots of great flowers and a few ripe blueberries and blackberries.
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's Lace) in a meadow along the High Rock Trail.
 Clinopodia vulgaris (Wild Basil)
Chimaphila maculata (Striped Wintergreen)

At the top of the ridge, we reached the junction with the Tuscarora Trail. We took a quick break for lunch and then headed up to a short side trail to a rock formation called the Mini Knife Edge. The Mini Knife Edge is a little spine of rock on top of the ridge. There's just enough room to scramble along it to the end of the path and then turn around. 
Michael looking east from the end of the side path.
The rocks certainly looked like great place to find snakes. We saw one briefly as it slithered away from us and then we found a shed snake skin. This was definitely from a rattlesnake.
Bootshot from the top of the Mini Knife Edge.
This is the first time I've ever seen a definitely marking the end of a path.

After exploring the rocks, we went back down to the Tuscarora Trail and followed it south. It kept to the ridgeline, so we occasionally got views to the west. 
A butterfly on Asclepias exaltata (Tall Milkweed)
An interesting caterpillar on a leaf.
Looking west from Shockey's Knob.
We took a short detour to check out Shockey's Knob Shelter. It is one of the nicer ones I've seen, complete with a bit of artwork (the branch and leaves on the front of the shelter). The shelters on the Tuscarora Trail are meant to function the same way as those on the Appalachian Trail, but as of now, there are far fewer of them.
On our descent off of the ridge on the Mill Creek Trail, we crossed a stream that was lined with Rhododenron maximum (Great Rhododendron) bushes. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Garden Update: Summer is Really Here

The garden is starting to produce and we've had enough rain that we've only had to water two or three times in the past few weeks. I'll take it. One of these days we'll have an irrigation system, but for now, watering involves hauling watering cans from the rain barrels.

Most things are doing well, but my cauliflower and romanesco broccoli are not setting heads. In doing some research, it seems that if it gets too hot, they won't produce. I also learned that cauliflower does much better in fall plantings, so I'll get to try again this year. It is definitely all an experiment and some things don't turn out. On to the pictures of things that are doing well:
Our first large tomatoes are ripe. This is a Henderson Ponderosa Pink Tomato. I picked the seeds up at the Missouri State Fair last year. They are a big, beefsteak style tomato that was developed in the late 1800s.
The sun gold cherry tomatoes have been producing all week. These are definitely my favorite cherry tomato.
I was at the nursery and their remaining vegetable plants were half off. I picked up this little pepper. It will change color as it grows, eventually ending up red.
Our watermelons are about softball-size now.
I saved seed from our lima beans last year and planted them this spring. They are growing well so far and are starting to set pods. These won't be ready until late September or October.
Pretty blossoms from some shell beans we are growing.
The enormous blossoms on our winter squash. This flower is about the same size as a dessert plate.
I am growing two different kinds of pickling cucumbers. I've already picked enough to start a crock of fermented pickles. I'll post a picture of that next time.
Brussels sprouts. These seem to be doing well in spite of the heat.
Red and blue potatoes. We still have two bags that we need to harvest, but otherwise, our spring potatoes are done. We have another bucket full, in addition to this one.
A woolly worm sneaking through the asparagus bed.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Old Rag: Summer Flower Edition

I've gotten a bit behind on blog posts, so this will be a quick post about our last day on Old Rag volunteering for spring season. We went out with two other volunteers on July 5. It was a beautiful, cool (for July), quiet day on the mountain. We didn't see our bear again, but heard about it from other hikers. Otherwise, it was uneventful.
Anemone virginiana (Thimbleweed)
 Heiracium paniculatum (Leafy Hawkweed)
A little grouping of orange toadstools in green moss along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road
 Monarda clinopodia (Basil Bergamot)
Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower)
A large cricket on the inside of the door at Byrd's Nest Shelter. There were a bunch of these on the door. I opened up the shelter, which involves unlocking the bottom half of the door, opening it, and then scooting into the shelter. Then you remove a bar across the top half of the door - in the dark. When I did that last part, about ten crickets jumped on me. Did I mention it was in the dark? In the moment, I had no idea what jumped on me and I just about jumped out of my skin. They are harmless, if a little creepy when you don't know what is jumping on you.
The view south from the summit of Old Rag.
The spot where I always take a picture.
Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac).