Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Hiking the Top of Red Oak Ridge
Yet another late-autumn day to treasure: clear and cool with a high blue sky, the kind of day that demands that you get outside before the nastier weather sets in. Well, my friend Linda didn't demand that I join her for another guided hike at Moreau Lake State Park, but she did invite me, and I was only too glad to come along. The hike was to follow a new access route to the Red Oak Ridge Trail, led by park naturalist Gary Hill, assisted by staff intern Ben Snyder.
The Red Oak Ridge Trail is one of my favorites in the park. It has just about everything you want when you go for a hike: beautiful woods, tumbling waterfalls, rocky outcroppings, views through the trees across the lake to far-off mountains. Plus enough ups and downs of sufficient steepness to let you know you've had a workout. Especially when Gary leads the hike. That guy can move! (That's Ben down by the stream, taking a photo of the waterfall.)
Today Gary led us on a loop away from the official trail to explore the very top of the ridge. Here we found the remains of what Gary told us were old graphite mines from a hundred years ago or more: deep holes in the bedrock that looked like the entrances to sunken caverns.
I was particularly interested in a clump of Walking Fern growing out of these rocks. (If you click on the photo above, you can see this fern growing on the rock just to the left of the mine entrance.) Now, this is a very uncommon fern, and one that hardly resembles a fern, at that. It's called "walking" fern because it arches those slender pointed leaves, and wherever the point touches the mossy rock, it starts a new plant. I think that's pretty interesting (even if hardly anyone else did). Hey folks, don't you know how unlikely it is that you'll ever see this again?
The group had moved on ahead to where Gary was looking for signs of bucks in rut. It's that time of year when the bucks are moving about in pursuit of does, and they leave their signs and smells all over the woods, hoping the does will come hither. Ben and I were hurrying to catch up with the group when he stopped and sniffed the air, detecting the scent of deer urine. It was then I saw a patch of scuffed dirt -- a "scrape" -- alongside the trail, and right above it, the bark had been rubbed off the trunk of a little tree. We were in deer country, for sure. That news brought Gary and the rest of the group back to see all the deer sign. (See the scraped bark on the tree and the patch of bare earth beneath it?)
The sun sinks quickly these afternoons, so we headed down toward the lake before we reached the end of the trail and hiked along the shore to return to park headquarters. Our path was now in deep shadow as the lowering sun lit up the far shore with golden light.
I found a few interesting fungi along the trail back to our cars.
This beautiful snowy-white shelf fungus looks like it's edged with caramel.
I've never seen shelf fungi curl quite like these orange and white ones, looking like tiny striped petticoats.
Back by the parking lot, Ben showed me the "egg" of a stinkhorn fungus.
And here are two that have sprouted from similar "eggs" and are now in decline.