Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Ride on Skyline Drive and a Walk in Patuxent Wildlife Refuge

We have another big bike trip planned this year, so Saturday, we did our first mountain ride of the year on Skyline Drive. The weather couldn't have been better: bright, sunny, and highs in the 70s at higher elevations. We didn't realize it was a fee-free weekend in Shenandoah National Park, but we should have know because we got the last parking place in the lots just before the north entrance. There was definitely more traffic than usual and there were more cyclists than usual. We chatted with one of the fee station rangers that we know at the end of the day and he said they had nearly 50 cyclists ride through that gate. In spite of all of the people, almost everyone was considerate on the road, so I really can't complain about the crowds.
Little Devils Staircase overlook  and Old Rag in the distance.
The bikes resting at the top of Hogback at milepost 21.
Looking south from Range View overlook at milepost 17. Spring is creeping up the sides of the ridges.
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot). Pretty flowers are as good a reason as any to take a break from climbing hills.
Redbuds blooming with Compton Peak in the background.
Apple blossoms.

Sunday morning, we drove up to the north tract of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge near Laurel, Maryland. As often as we've visited and ridden in the south tract, we had never made it up there. It is so much quieter. We saw fewer than ten other people there. We were only there for a couple of hours because we needed to get some work done in the garden, but we definitely plan to go back and explore further.
 Bailey Bridge Marsh
Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty)
 Mertensia virgnica (Virginia Bluebells)
A cool fungus on a downed log
 Erythronium americanum (Trout Lily)
 Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches)
We were lucky enough to see an osprey. If you click and enlarge the photo, you can see it near the center of the photo. It isn't the best picture of an osprey that I've ever gotten.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Old Rag and Dark Hollow Falls

This past weekend, Old Rag Mountain Stewards (ORMS) held training at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. In our downtime on Saturday, a group of us hiked down to Dark Hollow Falls. I've hiked up to the falls from the Rose River trailhead on the boundary of the park, but hadn't actually ever hiked from Skyline Drive. It is one of the busiest trails in the park, probably busier than even Old Rag simply because of its proximity to Big Meadows and its length (only 1.5 miles round trip). In spite of the short distance, it is plenty steep and and you hike down first. We saw more than a few people who had underestimated the effort required to return to their car.

Tusilago farafara (Coltsfoot). Although not native, Coltsfoot is pretty and it has the distinction of being the first wildflower I saw this year.

 Upper Dark Hollow Falls
Another view of Upper Dark Hollow Falls
Lower Dark Hollow Falls. The water is forced into much smaller crevices in the lower falls.

On Sunday, training was held on Old Rag. We inventoried the cache at Byrd's Nest Shelter and generally enjoyed the very nice weather. The mountain was very busy, but we came up from Berry Hollow, so we missed most of that. The native wildflowers have started blooming in the valleys, which made me very happy to see after a long winter.

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot). One of the first flowers of spring.
Another S. canadensis
Corydalis flava (Yellow Corydalis)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Byrd's Nest Shelter through the trees from the Saddle Trail.
Looking down from the summit at the rock scramble.
One of many opferkessels  (which is a great word) on the summit of Old Rag. They are often filled with water, like this one.
So, I often say that there is nothing out there that I could possibly see or hear about on Old Rag that would surprise me. I was proven wrong twice this weekend: 1) A ranger said that he saw a woman with a parrot on a leash on the mountain on Saturday. That actually surprised me. I have not seen anyone with a parrot on the mountain before. 2) Above. Some idiot filled at least two of the obferkessels with plaster. Seriously. The plaster wouldn't easily come out (two members of our group tried), so it will just be there.
 Looking southeast from the summit.
A butterfly near the summit sign.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Garden Update: Spring!

Things are starting to get moving in the garden now. The ground is still pretty cold, but we've had some rain and plants are starting to come up everywhere. I even saw some cherry blossoms blooming this week on my bike commute.
 Our daffodils finally started blooming.
I planted this hellebore last spring. This is the first year that it has bloomed.
As an indication of how quickly things are growing now. This was what the Trillium erectum looked like on Sunday.
This is what they looked like on Tuesday. I planted these just last spring, so I don't know if they are going to bloom this year.
The carrots that I planted a few weeks ago are finally starting to come up. Like I said earlier, the ground is still pretty cold.
Our garlic has doubled in size in the last week.
One of the most exciting things happening is our asparagus is coming up. We get to pick it for four weeks this year!
A tiny bud on our Asimina triloba (Paw Paw) trees. They got planted on the late side last summer and I wasn't sure if they would make it through the winter, but they did.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sleepy Creek WMA: Devils Nose

For our first warm day of hiking this year, we decided to go back to Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is located west of Martinsburg, West Virginia. We got a bit of a later start because our friend had a class first thing in the morning yesterday. That gave the weather a little extra time to warm up, which was pretty darn nice.

We started hiking at Spruce Pine Hollow Roadside Park. We stopped for lunch at Spruce Pin Hollow Shelter after only five minutes or so of hiking. It is one of the nicer (and newer shelters) I've seen. The crew that built the privy had quite the sense of humor. After lunch, we returned to the Tuscarora Trail and continued south. The trail goes up over a small hill and then descends to a dirt road. It then follows the road for about a mile through a private development. It seemed like every blue blaze on a telephone pole was accompanied by a sign saying, "Keep Out" or "No Trespassing." Clearly, the cabin owners are thrilled to have the trail follow the road through their neighborhood.

After about a mile, the trail leaves the road and climbs up one of the steepest set of switchbacks I've seen in the Mid-Atlantic. They seem like they are pretty new and the staircases in several places also appear to be relatively new. There is still flagging tape on trees marking the route. In any case, the trail crew did a nice job. Once on top of the ridge, we followed it to an outcrop called Devil's Nose. We took a long break in the warm sun there. We could hear Meadow Branch below us and the wind roaring above us. After our break, we continued along the Tuscarora Trail to a bridge crossing Meadow Branch. I looked for a quick path down to waterfalls I had seen from above, but I didn't find one. We decided it would definitely be worth another trip to explore the creek and photograph waterfalls.

We continued south on the Tuscarora Trail, intending to make it all the way to a view of Hedge Mountain. In the end, we reached our turnaround time and had to head back. We hiked back the way we came, reaching the car at dinnertime. As is true on much of the Tuscarora Trail, we didn't see very many people at all, aside from two large groups at the crossing of Meadow Branch. The weather was wonderful after so much cold. Some years, by this date in April, the woods are in full bloom. Not this year. The trees are just starting to bud out and even the earliest of spring flowers, bloodroot, isn't anywhere to be seen yet.
 Meadow Branch at Spruce Pine Hollow Park.
Spruce Pine Hollow Shelter.
The "Last Chance" privy at the shelter. Like I said, the construction crew definitely had a sense of humor.
Bootshot at Devils Nose.
The trees in the late afternoon light.
The worst deer stand ever.
Meadow Branch.
The bridge over Meadow Branch.
Looking north from the switchbacks on our way down the mountain.