Archive for the ‘Plants/Flowers’ 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

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.

Calling All Moms: We Have Your Flowers Here!

A section of the  C&O Canal towpath above Pearre Station (roughly mm 138)

A section of the C&O Canal towpath above Pearre Station (roughly mm 138)

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I welcome all comments–especially those that correct my less-than-stellar plant identification skills.  With that said, I did spend a couple of hours trying to ID several wildflowers, and in a few cases I obtained second–and even third–opinions.  Years ago, our hiking and biking excursions on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal took root upstream from Pearre Station, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t have anything new or unusual to say about today’s hike/level walk, but Mother Nature fittingly delivered an abundance of flowers on Mother’s Day!

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem

I’m going to start things off with the Star of Bethlehem.  For whatever reason, this one was the most difficult to ID.  A few weeks ago, Candee and I noticed this wildflower just beginning to open about 65 miles downstream (near Shepherdstown).  Our Peterson’s pocket guide wasn’t much help, so I eventually rolled the dice and searched the internet for white wildflowers with six petals.  While we have seen this flower occasionally, it doesn’t appear to be terribly common along the towpath.

Wild Stonecrop

Wild stonecrop

The Wild stonecrop (see above) is a wildflower that neither of us can recall seeing on the C&O Canal prior to today.  The reading I’ve done states that this plant thrives in shaded woodlands, but it’s found most often on bare slopes or around rocks.  Surprisingly, we located this specimen a few feet from the towpath on the river side.  Because of the difference in our location and its usual habitat, I feel lucky to have seen this plant at all.

Golden ragwort

Golden ragwort

We saw a few small patches of golden ragwort along the way.  The plant requires full sun to light shade, and in conditions with more light, the plant needs moister soil.  The towpath between the Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueducts seems to meet some–but not all–of the criteria, so it isn’t too surprising that golden ragwort didn’t dominate any particular part of the trail.

Philadelphia fleabane

Philadelphia fleabane

Philadelphia fleabane has a similar look to asters, but the difference is that the former can be seen in the spring, while the latter occur in the summer and early fall.  My Peterson’s guide states that it occurs along roadsides or in wastelands, so I suppose seeing it along the towpath isn’t all that surprising.  Nevertheless, it was fairly sparse in comparison to a couple of the other wildflowers.

Mayapple bloom

Mayapple bloom

Mayapples, on the other hand, were nearly everywhere along the towpath.  They were blooming near Shepherdstown a few days ago, but the first few that we saw today didn’t have any flowers.  Nevertheless, as we headed up the trail, the large, white flowers became numerous.  However, the fading dame’s rocket and thriving garlic mustard (not pictured) were even more common.  Both of these plants have been described as invasive, but it’s the garlic mustard that has “inspired” volunteers to remove it in volume all along the canal.  From what we saw today, it’s going to be an uphill fight!

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket

In all, Mother’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back to the C&O Canal after a bit of an absence.  Wildflowers were out in force, and there will certainly be numerous changes in the coming weeks.  Dutchman’s breeches are long gone, and the flowers of the Virginia bluebell are already few and far between.  Being an amateur, I would have to look back on some of our older posts to even have a guess at what’s coming next, but it’s bound to be interesting.

I'm not much of a herpetologist either, but the owner of a pet corn snake told me that's what this is.

I’m not much of a herpetologist either, but the owner of a pet corn snake told me that’s what this is.

 

Mayapple Fruit

The Mayapple and its unripened fruit

The Mayapple and its unripened fruit

On May 14th, we encountered a large patch of Mayapples while hiking along Carroll Road.  At the time, the plant was green, healthy, and sporting a beautiful white flower.  Since then, nearly two months have passed, and the plant has begun to turn brown in spots, and it now holds a small fruit that has yet to ripen.  Sometime over the next few weeks, the Mayapple plant will continue to wither, and its fruit will turn a waxy yellow, which is a sure sign that it’s ripe.

I’ve done a little bit of research and have learned that the pulp of the yellowed fruit is (supposedly) edible.  I say supposedly because I would suggest consulting more of an expert opinion before partaking of them.  There are recipes for using this fruit on the internet.  The most common ones are for jam, but one of the more unique ones is for Mayapple punch, which consists of one part Mayapple juice mixed with seven parts lemonade.  I’m up for trying new things, and I’m planning on harvesting a few of these (allegedly) tasty morsels over the coming weeks.  If there aren’t any posts on this site in the near future, that probably means my little experiment has failed.  Wish me luck!

This shows the fruit in scale.  I always welcome comments, but if a palm reader drops in to tell me that my life line is running short, I'd rather not hear about it!

This shows the fruit in scale. I always welcome comments, but if a palm reader drops in to tell me that my lifeline is running short, I’d rather not hear about it!