Monday, March 23, 2015

Garden 2015: Seeing What Lived Through the Winter

This winter, like last year's, has been cold and long. Right now, with flurries forecast for tonight, it isn't showing any sign of ceding ground to spring. I had a few vegetables that I tried to overwinter. Only the spinach, which was planted in a cold frame, made it. Given that one night it made it down to 2 degrees, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is still green.

We've had a couple of days where we were able to get out and do some work in the garden. Michael dug the beds that needed turned over for spring vegetables. I have managed to get a few things planted. Now it just needs to warm up a little.
 The beds that Michael dug last week. I have planted carrots, onions, and peas. Now the ground just needs to warm up a little.
The spinach that made it through the winter.
One of the tiny little azalea starts I was given last year. This little guy is about two inches across.
Garlic peeking up through the straw.
Tomato starts.
Lenten roses starting to bloom.
 Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) sprouting up through the leaf litter.
A white crocus in the front yard.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Niagara Falls

Michael and I were invited to a wedding in Cleveland this past weekend. We made a long weekend of it and went to Niagara Falls "on the way." Niagara Falls is on the way to Cleveland in the sense that they are both northwest of here. Michael had never seen the falls and I wanted to go back and see them again. There is a story here.

I visited Niagara Falls in January of 1994 with two friends. All of us were freshmen in college and none of us had any money. We drove from Missouri to Cleveland, then on to Buffalo and falls, and back in a weekend. The road trip was ostensibly to see a college that Friend One was interested in transferring to. After we picked up Friend Two, he helpfully pointed out that the AFC Championship was being played in Buffalo that weekend, a mere three hours beyond Cleveland. Gas was only a dollar a gallon and Friend One's 1984 (?) four-door Honda Civic wagon got some astronomical number of miles per gallon, so we figured, "why not?" The first thing we did when we got to Buffalo was go to Niagara Falls. I think it was 11 p.m. when we got there. There was more snow on the ground than I had seen anywhere up to that point in my life. The place was completely empty and silent except for the roar of the water. I don't remember how long we stayed. I do remember that, after not nearly enough sleep, we got up and bought tickets for the football game.

We hadn't told any of our parents where we were going, so we surprised the heck out of Friend Two's parents when we called from the stadium (on a pay phone! with a calling card!) just before the game they were going to watch on television to say, "Guess where we are!" We were rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs, who ended up losing. We went back out to the falls after the game and then made the long drive back to Missouri for Monday morning classes. That trip was the start of a long tradition of road trips and traveling and calling (now, texting) to say, "Guess where I am..."

This past Thursday night, we drove up to Niagara Falls after Michael got off work. We arrived after midnight and went straight to bed. This time, though, we did something I never would have done then: we got up at sunrise so I could take pictures of the falls. We weren't able to get to some of the better viewpoints because of the the snow, but we enjoyed walking around and exploring the area. We also visited the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin house in Buffalo,which was interesting and well worth the ticket price. They don't really allow much photography, so I don't have anything from there.

Lots of pictures:
American Falls at dawn.
This is me at nearly the same spot in 1994. Note the completely inappropriate footwear. I think I bought the scarf that morning before the football game.
Looking towards the falls and Canada at sunrise. I didn't remember any of the buildings across the river. Going back and looking at pictures from 1994, it was completely fogged in, so they could have been there for all I know.
American Falls from Goat Island at sunrise.
Looking upstream on the Niagara River from the south end of Goat Island.
Ducks finding shelter from the current in the lee of ice-covered rocks.
A duck taking off from the water.
 Red Breasted Merganser ducks on the Niagara River
A rainbow in the mist over American Falls
We drove up to Fort Niagara on the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. This is the castle the French built at the fort.
Fortifications from one of the towers at the fort.
Long-Tailed Ducks at Fort Niagara
A White Winged Scoter on Lake Ontario. Another duck-sized waterfowl. I'm not sure what this one is, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know in the comments (click to enlarge).
The Niagara River Gorge at Whirlpool State Park between Niagara Falls and Fort Niagara.
 The American Falls side of the river between shore and Goat Island in late afternoon.
The tall buildings in Canada beyond the mist produced by American Falls.
A huge chunk of snow on the falls.
American Falls in the late afternoon light.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hiking in the Snow and Brewing Beer

We got a lot of snow on Thursday, at least for this area. I got to telework for two days. At our house, we had about seven inches and the reports from the mountains were of a foot. We decided to attempt snowshoeing in Shenandoah yesterday with two friends. There isn't usually enough snow there to break out the snowshoes, but this seemed like the storm where it might be possible. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the trailhead, there wasn't quite enough snow, just about six inches. Other than that, though, we had a great day hiking up the Pass Mountain Trail and on the Appalachian Trail.

Pass Mountain Trail goes from the park boundary up to the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead is right on a curve on Highway 211 - on the opposite side of the road from the parking area. The most dangerous part of the hike is crossing the highway to the trailhead. The trail follows an old road bed for half a mile to the saddle below Oventop Mountain. At one of the switchbacks, we were lucky enough to see bear tracks crossing the trail. Beyond the saddle, the trail steadily climbs towards Pass Mountain Hut, one of the shelters just off of the Applachian Trail. We paused for lunch there, enjoying the sun and the 40 degree temperatures, which was a full 25 degrees warmer than the morning.

After lunch, we continued up the hill to the Appalachian Trail and then over Pass Mountain and down to Beahms Gap on Skyline Drive. The drive was closed, so the road was completely quiet except for one ranger who stopped to chat with us for a few minutes. Then we retraced our steps south on the Appalachian Trail and down Pass Mountain. We hiked ten miles in absolutely perfect weather. The snow was beautiful and the sun made it feel like spring might actually be coming soon.
A double-trunk tree at Pass Mountain Hut. The tree grew together above the initial split in the trunk, forming a hole between the two trunks.
Fungus on a cut log in the snow.
Our canine escort checking out an overlook.
Neighbor Mountain from the Appalachian Trail.
The slopes of Neighbor Mountain.
Hogback Mountain, Mount Marshall, and the Peak from Beahms Gap
A stump in the snow.
An empty Skyline Drive at Beahm's Gap
A dead tree in front of the Peak
Michael, one of our friends and her dog on Skyline Drive.
This isn't a great picture, but note how the grain of the wood beds around the curve in the stump. The tree must have lived for some time after falling over.
Pass Mountain trail in the late afternoon.

Michael's Birthday present last year  was to be a beer brewing class at Flying Barrel* in Frederick, Maryland. They do a class where you choose the type of beer that you want to brew, they provide the ingredients, and they walk you through the process. We took several months to try to get it scheduled, then it snowed twice on the days we had scheduled it and finally, today, he got to do his beer brewing class. He loved it. He made a porter. The instructor was really good and he was partnered with a guy who was making an IPA, so he got to see how a completely different kind of beer was made. In two weeks, he gets to go back and bottle it. Two weeks after that, it will be ready to drink.
Measuring out the grains.
Pulling the cheesecloth sack of grains out of the kettle.
Stirring the malt to keep it from burning to the bottom of the kettle.

*We paid for the class.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

North Fork Mountain

My husband and I have driven past North Fork Mountain  and its distinctive cliffband countless times on our way to Dolly Sods and Roaring Plains. We always talk about how we should actually hike there, especially after friends of ours made a movie there. We finally made it out there yesterday with our friend and her dog. We took snowshoes with us, but it turned out we didn't need them. There was plenty of snow, but enough hikers had gone before us that the snow was already stomped down.

The climb from the valley floor begins immediately at the parking lot. The trail steadily, but not unpleasantly ascends for 1.6 miles to the first overlooking of the valley to the west. Once we reached the ridgeline, we found a sunny spot with a nice view for lunch. It was a perfect bluebird day with temperatures in the low 20s and bright blue skies for most of the day. After lunch, we continued on and climbed up to the top of Chimney Top. I had seen pictures of the area, but Chimney Top is really spectacular in person.  We spent a long time exploring the area around the overlook, being careful of the snow and the edges of the cliffs.

At that point, our friend's dog was having a little bit of trouble with the snow, so we decided to head back. We'll definitely be back to explore the area.
The valley west of North Fork Mountain from where we had lunch
Chimney Top and the valley to the west.
The outcrops of Chimney Top.
The weathered cliffs of Chimney Top.
A tiny mountain laurel clinging to a rock.
Looking south along the ridge of North Fork Mountain. The prominent cliff band is Tuscarora Quartzite, a hard metamorphic rock that is resistant to erosion.
Another view of the valley to the west.
Bootshot overlooking the ridge of North Fork Mountain.
Snow on the slopes of the mountain.
A tree growing on the side of Chimney Top.
A pine cone on a tree on top of the ridge.
The power plant and wind turbines to the north on Mount Storm.
Late afternoon sun on the snow on the way down.
A line of (likely) bobcat tracks in the snow.