Monday, October 20, 2014

Walking Another Ridge

The hollow-point bullets are what changed our plans.  On Sunday, Sue and I had planned to walk the  high Western Ridge Trail overlooking the Hudson in Moreau Lake State Park.  We'd hiked there a year ago to spectacular overlooks and were looking forward to repeating that beautiful hike.  (You can click on this link to see just how beautiful it was.)

We remembered it was opening day of deer-hunting season, but I wasn't worried because it was black-powder hunting only, and black-powder hunters tend to be very careful shooters, not wanting to waste their single shots on hikers instead of deer.  But then we met a hunter in the parking lot, an amiable guy who was more than happy to talk about his sport and show us how he loaded his gun.  I just wish he hadn't mentioned how the hollow points of his bullets spread open to cause major damage inside the deer, because that's when I felt Sue start to cower in the direction of her car.

"Um . . ., think we should hike in a safety zone instead?" I suggested.  So we changed our plans and chose another ridge:  the Red Oak Ridge Trail within the No Hunting area of the park.  If you  stand at the lake's boat-launching site and look to the mountains that rise to the west, this trail runs about midway up that slope, with a few steep spots but mostly a gentle up-and-down hike through a beautiful mixed hardwood forest.

Sure, there are some Red Oaks along this ridge, some White Oaks and Chestnut Oaks, too, but this time of year it's the yellow-leaved trees like Sugar Maple and Shagbark Hickory that cast a golden glow throughout these woods, even when most of those leaves lie scattered across the forest floor.

Another remarkable aspect of this trail is the presence of rocky outcroppings throughout the forest.

Some of those outcroppings are steep and towering, many of them covered with interesting mosses, ferns, and lichens.

We took a short detour to visit an area of the woods where a series of caves offer shelter to woodland creatures like porcupines.  I'm not sure of the exact geological makeup of these rock formations, but I would guess limestone or marble because of the presence of so many calciphile plants inhabiting the rocks.  In this photo, for example, there is a very healthy patch of Walking Fern, those spiky leaves covering the mossy boulder just to the left of the cave opening.

Update:  I heard from my friend Ed Miller, who told me that there is a fault line running through Saratoga County separating limestone on the east from marble to the west, indicating that the substrate in the mountains at Moreau Lake State Park is marble rather than limestone.  Since marble is metamorphic limestone, it also contributes lime to surrounding soils.

Another indicator of a limey soil was the abundance of Maidenhair Fern, still holding on to its delicate lacy green leaves, which will shrivel and disappear after frost. (The pink leaves here are those of Maple-leaved Viburnum.)

We also found patches of the lime-loving moss, Rhodobryum roseum, covering the surface of some rocks. This aptly named Rose Moss looks like a carpet of tiny flowers.  Sharing its patch in this photo is another lime-loving plant, Sweet Cicely, which will bear tiny white flowers in the spring.

I can never remember how to distinguish between Long Beech and Broad Beech Ferns, but I am pretty confident that this is one or the other, with its final pair of leaflets angled backwards.  It is normally a pretty green, but this ghostly white of its dying phase looked quite beautiful against the colorful fallen leaves.

Most of the Indian Pipes we found in the woods were desiccated and black, but this cluster had stems of the most remarkable pink.  Usually, Indian Pipe has stems as ghostly white as its terminal blooms, shown here turning black.

I was excited to show Sue these interesting Bigtooth Aspen leaves, bright yellow but each with a little patch of green emanating from its midrib.  That green patch is caused by a tiny moth larva within the leaf emitting a chemical that prolongs the life of the chlorophyll in the leaf, allowing the larva to continue feeding on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.  I learned about this fascinating phenomenon just last year on a hike with friends, and if you click here you can go to my post (The "Undead" in the Autumn Woods) where I link to a very informative site explaining the process.

The Red Oak Ridge Trail eventually descends the ridge to come out near the back bay of Moreau Lake, where a flock of noisy Canada Geese were restlessly moving about on the water.  Sue studied the flock with her binoculars and discovered a solitary Bufflehead swimming amid all the geese.

Rain, wind, and a threatened frost will soon strip many of the remaining leaves from the trees, but the Highbush Blueberries always end their season in a stunning blaze of glory.  Sue and I were hurrying to drive out of the beach area before park staff locked the road gate, but we just had to stop awhile and gaze at the splendor of this gorgeous shrub.


Woody Meristem said...

Hunting is a perfectly legitimate and essentially safe activity, but it makes many people uncomfortable to be out in the field with hunters. We're fortunate here in Pennsylvania that there's no hunting on Sundays (a long-standing situation that's currently under siege) so people who don't want to share the woods with hunters can still walk in the forest during the autumn.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful walk! Spectacular colour in those hills, and great pictures. Loved the ferns especially, but the outcrops of rock are always interesting too. Leaves are disappearing fast now here.

suep said...

You captured the day beautifully my friend,
just today I heard that Maine also has no-hunting on Sundays, perhaps an old blue-law remnant, I should think that would make it harder for hunters who work during the week though.
Looking at your photos, I guess any hunter would have to be BLIND to mistake me in that outfit for a deer, eh??

Peggy Eppig said...

Another beautiful post, my friend. I live in PA and also hunt. As a hunter I am very happy to have No Sunday hunting as it gives the woods a rest, and us hikers a chance to explore. My concern is that the PA Game Commission is considering new legislation that would require hikers, birders, and other non-hunters to buy a use permit. The Mason Dixon Trail System (I'm hiking the trail now) and other hiking groups is strongly opposing. I wonder whatever happened to the idea of 'commonwealth?' But still, always wear the orange! Happy Hiking!