Archive for the ‘Flora and Fauna’ Category

Buck Hollow/Buck Ridge Loop (Shenandoah National Park)

Starting down the Buck Hollow Trail

Starting down the Buck Hollow Trail

As terrain goes, this hike is very similar to so many others that begin on Skyline Drive.  A few walks do follow the ridgeline, but it seems like most go straight down a mountain, only to head back up at the end of the day.  So it went today!  The Buck Hollow Trail dropped toward the valley below with a vengeance, following a stream along the way.  As the stream grew larger, so did the fact that we had a really big climb ahead of us.

Following a small stream down the mountain

Following a small stream down the mountain

I do enjoy hiking in the mountains, so the terrain wasn’t all that disappointing.  The problem was that the main purpose of the hike was to find Indian pipe–a ghostly white plant that is reputed to grow in the area.  We struck out on the way down, and as we hung a right and started up the Buck Ridge Trail, I began to lose hope of seeing the elusive plant.

Taking the steps up the Buck Ridge Trail--sorry no escalator

Taking the steps up the Buck Ridge Trail–sorry no escalator

More steps

More steps

Buck Ridge begins its ascent moderately, but quite suddenly, a flight of literally hundreds of rustic steps appears, and the sight is pretty intimidating.  Perhaps I haven’t been “around” as much as some of my fellow hikers, but I have to say that this is one of the steepest stretched that I have encountered to date.  Nevertheless, I’m going to give the engineers behind the step project kudos. These well-placed logs take a considerable amount of sting out of the climb.

Indian pipe!

Beyond the steps, my usual sense of botanical failure took a turn for the better, as we spotted the first of two clusters of Indian pipe.  The white plant stood about 8″ high, and it was surprisingly unspectacular at first.  I have since blown up the picture and seen a sort of odd beauty in the plant.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but the initial sighting of the Indian pipe provided a spark that made the last couple of miles of climbing much easier.  Then again, adrenaline doesn’t really require much of an explanation.

Hiking over rocks on the Buck Ridge Trail

Hiking over rocks on the Buck Ridge Trail

And a few more rocks on the Buck Ridge Trail!

And a few more rocks on the Buck Ridge Trail

On the way back to the park’s northern entrance, we were fortunate to catch brief glimpses of two bears, and this helped to make for a great day in the woods.  The final stats for this hike (starting at mile 33.5 on Skyline Drive) were 5.8 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 1645′.  There was a significant amount of blueberries (mostly unripened) along the Buck Ridge Trail, so at some later date, a lucky hiker has a good chance of seeing a bear or two,  That’s about as good as it gets!

A closer look at the Indian pipe.  While not in the mushroom family, this plant is parasitic, hence it lacks the usual green (chlorophyll) of other plants

A closer look at the Indian pipe. While not in the mushroom family, this plant is parasitic, hence it lacks the usual green (chlorophyll) of other plants

March/April Wildflowers on the C&O Canal Between Mile Markers 71 and 72

Star of Bethlehem.  This plant is highly invasive and--at the moment--outnumbers the dreaded garlic mustard on this section of the towpath.

Star of Bethlehem. This plant is highly invasive and–at the moment–outnumbers the dreaded garlic mustard on this section of the towpath.

This plant is also prevalent along the canal.  It has been around for a number of weeks, and I've noticed it (as a weed) in many yards in our hometown of Martinsburg, WV.

This plant (purple dead nettle)  is also prevalent along the canal. It has been around for a number of weeks, and I’ve noticed it (as a weed) in many yards in our hometown of Martinsburg, WV.

Dutchman's breeches have been around for several weeks and occupy many large patches along the canal and river.

Dutchman’s breeches have been around for several weeks and occupy many large patches along the canal and river.

Blood root grew more sporadically in this area and is already gone.  After a recent hard wind, petals from this flower were scattered.

Blood root grew more sporadically in this area and is already gone. After a recent hard wind, petals from this flower were scattered.

Trout lilies have been around for a bit over a week.  There are several patches of their "mottled" leaves in the area, but the immature single-leaved plants don't  produce a flower.  The mature plants with double leafs produce this interesting looking specimen.

Trout lilies have been around for a bit over a week. There are several patches of their “mottled” leaves in the area, but the immature single-leaf plants don’t produce a flower. The mature plants with double leaves produce this interesting looking specimen.

Virginia bluebells are generally blue, but we did see a single cluster with white flowers.

Virginia bluebells are generally blue, but we did see a single cluster with white flowers.

Bluebells in their more traditional color

Bluebells in their more traditional color

Violets

Violets

Cut-leaf toothwort.  They are fading fast!

Cut-leaf toothwort. They are fading fast!

Golden ragwort

Golden ragwort

White violet

White violet

The grape hyacinth was plentiful early on, but they are going, going, almost gone.

The grape hyacinth was plentiful early on, but they are going, going, almost gone.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

Garlic mustard is the most-hated invasive plant along the towpath.

Garlic mustard is the most-hated invasive plant along the towpath.

Spring beauties

Spring beauties

And then there's the dandelion.  You would like to forget about it, but it won't let you!

And then there’s the dandelion. You would like to forget about it, but it won’t let you!

 

Basil Balm

Monarda clinopodia

Monarda clinopodia, basil balm

Wildflowers, in general, make me a little bit crazy.  I’m a lot better at identifying them than I am mushrooms and birds, but occasionally I get stumped–mainly because our pictures don’t match anything that pops up on the internet.  That’s when I defer to Candee and let her do the dirty work; she has a much better eye for these things.  The trouble is that she’s on a long-distance hike in the Netherlands, and I’m kind of on my own here.

I don’t recall ever seeing this flower along the C&O’s towpath, but it popped up near MM 137 and MM 140.  When I returned home, I found a quick match on a wildflower website, but I’ve since seen this plant referred to as white bergamot.  Both seem to fall under the title of monarda clinopodia, so I’m fairly comfortable with either.

Another site describes the plant as having a sweet flower that is popular with butterflies and further states that the leaves make an excellent tea.  I had to scratch my head on that one.  Is this the same bergamot used in Earl Gray?  I’m certainly unqualified to answer that question!

As stated, this pinkish version of the same plant turned up a few miles up the towpath.  The plant grows to a height of about 3', and with a general lack of wildflowers at the moment (outside of an infinite number of day-lilies!), these plants are really hard to miss wherever they may be.

As stated, this pinkish version of the same plant turned up a few miles up the towpath. The plant grows to a height of about 3′, and with a general lack of wildflowers at the moment (outside of an infinite number of day-lilies!), they are really hard to miss wherever they may be.

Thornton River Loop (Shenandoah National Park, mi. 25.4)

Heading downhill on Thornton River Trail over the holiday weekend.

Heading downhill on Thornton River Trail over the holiday weekend.

Recently, I purchased Shenandoah National Park:  Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, by Johnny Molloy.  It’s an excellent book with highly accurate information regarding mileage, elevation change, landmarks, etc.  Fortunately, Molloy also discusses which trails are more and less often hiked, and I was able to get a few ideas where I might go in order to beat the crowds on Memorial Day weekend.  The Thornton River Loop kind of fit the bill.  Shenandoah NP was teeming with people, but I did at least find a parking space at the small lot at mile 25.4 on Skyline Drive.

I saw the remains of this old car referred to as the jalopy in both Molloy's book and a hiking website.  Generally, I'm against junk in the woods, but this old car frame is about a mile walk from Skyline Drive and more-than-likely dates back to a time when people still lived on this hillside.

I saw the remains of this old car referred to as the “jalopy” in both Molloy’s book and a hiking website. Generally, I’m against junk in the woods, but this old car frame is about a mile walk from Skyline Drive and more-than-likely dates back to a time when people still lived on this hillside.

The Thornton River Loop does lack in overlooks and major waterfalls, but there are several things worth seeing.  The first 2.9 miles are downhill all the way on the Thornton River Trail, and the highlight is the remains of the old car at the 1.1 mile mark.  Further down the trail there are four stream crossings before turning right onto the Hull School Trail.

The North Fork Thornton River is noted as a good trout stream.  Once again, we saw a placard with fishing regulations long before reaching the stream.

The North Fork Thornton River is noted as a good trout stream. Once again, we saw a placard with fishing regulations long before reaching the stream.

One of several stream crossings.  There are several opportunities for trout fishermen to get to the stream.  At one crossing, a woman heading in the other direction took a nasty spill.  I can relate!  I had a similar situation crossing Overall Run a few weeks ago.

One of several stream crossings. There are numerous opportunities for trout fishermen to get to the small river. At one crossing, a woman heading in the other direction took a nasty spill. I can relate! I had a similar situation crossing Overall Run a few weeks ago.  Counting an island as a double-crossing, we crossed the river six times in all.

Hull School Trail starts out flat and adds a couple of stream crossings before heading uphill with a vengeance.  The area between miles 3.1 and 5.3 has a few flat spots and switchbacks, but much of the trail is virtually heading straight up the mountain.  Little did we know there was more!

This old stone wall--like the "jalopy"--is a sign that over 2000 people lived in SNP in 1926.  The last resident in the park passed away in 1975.

This old stone wall–like the “jalopy”–is a sign that over 2000 people lived in SNP in 1926. The last resident in the park passed away in 1975.

At the 5.3 mile mark the trail crosses Skyline Drive and becomes the Neighbor Mountain Trail.  The path follows a very steep gated road for the next .3 miles (although it seems a lot further!) before reaching Byrd’s Nest Shelter #4.  At this point, most of the hike’s 1700+’ gain in elevation has been completed, and Neighbor Mountain winds downhill another .5 miles before reaching the Appalachian Trail.

Crossing Skyline Drive.  At this point I was feeling pretty good about the situation, but the climb to the top wasn't nearly complete.

Crossing Skyline Drive. At this point I was feeling pretty good about the situation, but the climb to the top wasn’t nearly complete.

The next 1.5 miles of the loop are on the AT, and there are a few minor ups-and-downs.  However, this section of the AT is relatively tame and straight-forward, unlike the miles of rock hopping we’ve experienced near Pen Mar and on the Roller Coaster.  In fact, somewhere between mile 6.1 and 7.6 of the loop, both of us caught our second wind.  It was a good feeling!

AT's white blaze.  We were fortunate enough to catch an easy mile-and-a-half on the Appalachian Trail.  From what I hear (and my own experiences) catching a break on the AT is a rare event.

AT’s white blaze. We were fortunate enough to catch an easy mile-and-a-half on the Appalachian Trail. From what I hear (and my own experiences) catching a break on the AT is a rare event.

At the 7.6 mile mark, a right turn onto the upper section of the Thornton River Trail leads to a winding .3 mile descent back to the parking lot.  In all, this hike is a good workout, and there are enough sights along the way to keep things interesting.  We avoided a good deal of the crowds that likely flocked to waterfalls and overlooks, but the Thornton River Loop wasn’t a case of settling for a bad hike.  It had plenty to offer on this day.

I've been stomping around in the woods for years and have never seen this wildflower.  I mistakenly thought it was a jack-in-the-pulpit, but it's actually a moccasin flower, or lady slipper.

I’ve been stomping around in the woods for years and have never seen this wildflower. I mistakenly thought it was a jack-in-the-pulpit, but it’s actually a moccasin flower, or lady slipper.

Actually, there were several moccasin flowers in a short stretch.  This one was lighter in color.

There were several moccasin flowers in a short stretch. This one was lighter in color.

Black Snake Near MM 72 on the C&O Canal

This fine looking fellow was climbing a tree near mile marker 72

This fine looking fellow was climbing a tree near mile marker 72

While taking a short walk on the C&O near Shepherdstown, Candee and I came across a relatively big black snake hanging out in a tree.  About a week ago, we had a snake encounter above Pearre Station.  We think that one was a corn snake, but we’re not positive.  Corn snake or not, it was well-behaved, but I couldn’t be too sure about this one.  I’ve had a few experiences with cranky black snakes!  Granted, he wasn’t as bad as the garter snake that kept striking at us a couple of years ago (on December 24th no less!) near Indigo Neck.  Many of our recent hikes have taken us away from the C&O, but I prefer to have my snake encounters on the towpath–where I can see them!

This was a pretty big snake.  I would say that it was at least 5' long.

This was a pretty big snake. I would say that it was at least 5′ long.