Monday, February 20, 2012
A Sparkling Day on the Mountain
Bright sun, blue sky, and just a dusting of new snow on the mountain trails at Moreau Lake State Park: conditions were perfect Sunday for a hike to the Spring Overlook and beyond to the Tupelo Swamp. My friend Sue met me at the trailhead on Spier Falls Road, and off we climbed, Yaktrax on our feet to keep us upright on the steep, icy, snow-covered trail.
Although the day promised to warm to above-freezing temperatures, the newly fallen flakes were still cold enough when we started up the trail to dazzle us with their multicolored sparkles. It's an interesting phenomenon, and one I can't explain, that sometimes the snowflakes behave like tiny prisms, flashing all the colors of the rainbow. It's hard to capture this effect with a camera, but these two shots (the second with boosted saturation) show something of what we saw with our eyes.
I was eager to show Sue the big old Black Tupelos that my friend Laurie had taken me to last week, which are growing in a swamp way up in the Palmertown Mountains. We would get there eventually, Sue and I, but first we had to stop to explore the gigantic rock formations that tower over the Spring Overlook. These rocks are watered by little seeping springs that create lovely icicle spills in the winter and also create perfect habitat for a rich variety of colorful mosses, lichens, and liverworts.
We stopped for a snack while we took in the splendid view of the Hudson River from the overlook, and then proceeded to the swamp that lies in a central area of the Palmertown mountains. Our trail took us through beech and hemlock stands, each forest type with its own quality of light and companion vegetation, and we then left the trail to follow a rock ledge down into the swamp where the tupelos grow. I was eager to show these trees to my friend, but I also wanted to make sure that I myself could find them again. And I did. But it took a little searching. It's hard to believe that a tree that towered over all others in this swamp would be hard to find, but the surrounding hemlocks did their best to hide this tree's distinctive twiggy crown from view until we were right beneath it.
These tupelos are of such an unusual size (for tupelos) that I hope we can interest some dendrologist in doing core sampling to determine their age. This part of the country was so extensively lumbered over the past centuries, hardly any trees of great age remain. It would be quite exciting to know we had some ancients among us here in Moreau Lake State Park. In a neighboring state forest a few miles away, Black Tupelos there have been dated at 600 to 800 years old.
I don't know what kind of ancient fallen tree has formed a nursery bed for these vividly colored Turkey Tails. Whatever it is, it has produced a fungus of remarkable beauty.
On our descent from the mountain heights, we passed a row of craggy cliffs adorned with spectacular ice formations.
Below these cliffs lies a powerline access road, well traveled by both hikers' feet and power-company vehicles. In the very middle of this hard-packed dirt road are several patches of Pink Earth Lichen, whose dainty appearance and diminutive size belie its extreme hardiness and tolerance for abuse. I always go out of my way when I'm near this road to stop and admire these tiny pink lolllipops, so minute that most folks would walk right over them and never see them. I don't know how I, with my very bad eyesight, ever came to see them in the first place, but I'm really glad I did. And they're there, unchanged, in every season, seemingly as unaffected by the weather as they are to pounding traffic.