Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Snowy Walk in the Park

A lovely winter day yesterday, light snow falling, temperature around 20 above.  A good day for a walk through Saratoga Spa State Park, tasting the mineral springs as I went.

The Ferndell Ravine is my favorite place to start a walk in this park.  It's quiet and woodsy, with tall pines towering overhead and a tiny brook tumbling along the trail.  Saratoga Spa State Park is better known for its golf courses, swimming pools, picnic areas, and a performing arts center than it is for wilderness trails, but this short woodland trail through a steep ravine gives me a little taste of deep forest right close to home.

These very green plants were thriving in the rushing water along the path.  I'm not sure what they are, and I did not feel like plunging my bare hands into that icy-cold water to obtain a specimen in order to find out.

I did recognize the spore stalks of Ostrich Fern protruding from a snowy bank.

When I reached the end of Ferndell Ravine, I turned and walked along the road that provides access to many of the springs that the Saratoga Spa is famous for. The first one I came to is called Tallulah, a word that in the Choctaw language is said to mean "leaping water."

And leap this little spring certainly does, spurting in a crystalline arc directly out of the ground.

The next spring, called Polaris, also leaps up from the ground.

I was struck by the blood-red color the spring's stone basin has taken on, the result of all the dissolved iron in the water.  I was also delighted by the filigree ice that has accumulated around the edge of the basin.

I continued along what is called "The Vale of Springs," which follows Geyser Creek, very full and rushing today because of recent rains.

The most immediately noticeable feature here is the Island Spouter Spring, a large dome of mineral accretions, called a "tufa," out of the center of which leaps a tall spout of mineral-rich water.  Although this spring is commonly called "The Geyser," the same name as the creek it inhabits, this spring is not technically a geyser, but rather a spouter.  Geysers are features of hot springs, and they gain their energy for spouting from the build-up of heat below ground.  The Island Spouter's waters are cold and highly carbonated, and it gains its energy for spouting from the pressure of built-up gasses.

I continued along the path that borders the Geyser Creek.

I was enchanted by these snow-capped starry bracts of a little wild aster.

And also amused by the texture of snow caught on the rough bark of a creekside tree.

Banks of many-layered shale rise steeply alongside the trail, and today those banks were decorated with dangling icicles.

Soon I reached this enormous tufa, a huge mound of mineral deposits created by generations upon generations of flow from the Orenda Spring, which springs from the earth high up on the bank.

The dissolved lime in Orenda's waters crystallizes to create this intricately textured mound, which today was further ornamented by frozen waters with a lovely blue coloration.

I soon came to the end of the creekside path and then climbed the banks to approach the Orenda Spring itself, flowing abundantly from this quaint little stone springhouse.  As the mineral-rich water spreads across the ground, the earth becomes colored with red oxides from the dissolved iron in the water.

The blood-red staining of the intricately-textured mineral deposits presented quite a colorful contrast to this otherwise rather gray day.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pouring Rain, Bitter Cold, Icy Beauty

Oh boy, was it cold this morning, just a few degrees above zero when my pal Sue and I set off across Moreau Lake to climb a streambed that tumbles down a mountain. But just a few days ago, the temperature had soared into the high 50s, followed by pouring rain.  That warm heavy rain and consequent snowmelt had caused many area rivers and streams to flood, so we were confident that there would be water in this stream that usually runs dry by this time of year.  And with temperatures plunging back below zero once more, we were also confident that there would be gorgeous ice formations along this splashing creek.  And we were not disappointed.

We started our climb where the creek runs under the road, and then proceeded up the mountainside, following the creek as closely as we could.  That rainy stretch of unseasonable warmth had severely depleted the snow cover in the woods, so we were able to make our way without snowshoes, wearing only ice grippers to keep us from slipping on the icy crust that lay beneath a dusting of new snow.

We marveled at the many ways flowing water and bitter cold could create fantastically beautiful ice formations.  Some of those formations were glassy and globular.

Others were opaque and milky white.

The splashing drops from the tumbling stream had created curtains of icicles hanging from limbs that had fallen across the streambed.

Bubbles had formed in the splashing creek and had then frozen clear as crystal.

This little twig protruding from the water had sprouted feathery crystals of hoarfrost.

We also found rounded mounds of feathery hoarfrost here and there, where springs well up on the forest floor.

It was truly a splendid day to be wandering a sunny winter woods, where a fresh coat of fluffy snow revealed the travels taken by the many wild creatures who inhabit this mountainside. We found the purposeful trails of solitary foxes, coyotes, and fishers, in addition to the ubiquitous scurrying tracks of multitudinous squirrels and mice.

This is the trail of a fisher, a weasel-family predator that preys on the porcupines that live among the limestone caves up high on this mountain.

We were gifted this beautiful sunny day with jewel-like colors flashing forth from the glittering snow.  This phenomenon, while obvious to the naked eye,  is very hard to capture in a photograph.  When I first looked at this photo, I could see no color at all, but when I boosted the saturation in my computer photo program, the colors emerged in all their technicolor glory.  Someday I hope to discover why we see these colors only on certain days and not on others.

We followed the creek back down to where it flowed into the lake, observing how the torrents caused by the previous rains had cut a channel right through the foot or more of solid ice that now covers Moreau Lake.

In this final stretch of the creek, where the ground levels off and the splashing calms, we find more beautiful ice formations, like this shelf of frosty feathers hanging over the watercourse.

This frieze of frozen droplets, formed when more water filled the stream, was hanging over a streambed that now contained only a trickle.

I have yet to understand how these particular "isobar" ice formations occur.  They form a plate suspended above the now mostly dry streambed, and these plates are so thin and fragile I could imagine that they were formed from freezing vapor instead of liquid water.  Maybe one of my readers knows and will tell us how they form .

Here's one more fantastical ice formation that just amazed me:  clusters of frozen bubbles encased in clear crystalline ice.

When Sue and I started out this morning, we were just miserable, with the frigid air stinging our cheeks and numbing our fingers when we poked them out of our mittens to try to use our cameras.  But it wasn't long before we forgot our discomfort, at least in those brief moments when we gasped in delight at all the ways water and freezing cold could render incredible beauty. (The sun climbing higher and warmer helped, as well.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Unusual Weather, As Usual

Well below zero on Monday, pushing 50 today! And the forecast is for pouring rain tonight.  If I hadn't been keeping this blog for years, I might think that this weather was unusual.  But looking back over my blog posts from years past, I see that this is not an atypical pattern for January in Saratoga County.  I imagine most people will welcome this break in the cold, but I was glad it was still below freezing when I walked across Moreau Lake on Wednesday.  That ice is now more than a foot thick, and I'm hoping this rainy warmth doesn't ruin it.

What a splendid day it was, to be out under that wide blue sky, with only the merest breath of a breeze, surrounded by forested mountains and with a vast expanse of snow-covered frozen lake lying before me! Because I grew up on a Michigan lake, I always feel little jolts of joy when I encounter a frozen lake, revisited by memories of swiftly  swirling across the lake on skates,  or the thrill of hauling a thrashing Northern Pike through a green glowing hole in the ice.  And always, hot cocoa waiting at home.  Happy times!

Urged on by these memories, I am drawn to visit the fishermen out on the ice, who always seem quite happy to chat with me.

I love to ask them about their gear and learn how they manage to keep themselves warm after hours of standing or sitting around on the ice.  And I am especially pleased to see what kind of fish they have caught.  These fellows pictured here had hauled in a couple of beautiful Rainbow Trout (one of them full of roe).

There were other folks out on the ice, as well, including this man with his big-tired bike and his beautiful furry sheepdog.  He told me he can even traverse the icy mountainous trails with this bike, which has metal studs in the tires.

Since I'm neither a winter biker nor ice fisherman, I have my own ways of amusing myself on these wintry days.  Wildflower nerd that I am, I always have to stop to greet the dried remains of wildflowers in the snow.  Here are Blue Vervain, Round-headed Bushclover, and Evening Primrose.

I made it a point to visit Moreau Lake's large population of one of our state's rarest plants, the Whorled Mountain Mint that thrives along the shore of a cove.  These little bristly brown pods are readily seen protruding above the snow.  They also retain a powerful minty scent, which I can enjoy by pinching one of the pods.

Surrounded by mountains, Moreau Lake falls into shadow well before sunset, with just a few of the mountain tops still holding the waning sunlight.

Even as the sun dipped below the hills, these diligent fellows continued trying their luck.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Icy Heaps on the Hudson

A snowy road that follows the west bank of the Hudson River north of Warrensburg.
Snowy and cold.  And I mean REALLY cold!  Well below zero most nights this past week, and with temps barely making it out of the single digits during the days. We're finally getting the kind of winter I remember we used to have when we first moved to Saratoga Springs 48 years ago.  I was truly wowed by the record cold and snow of our first winter here, and mostly in a positive way.  It was spectacularly beautiful, with fresh snow nearly every week and bright sunny days in between, and we were living in housing where we didn't have to pay for heat.  I really loved that winter!

Ah, but that was then.  Now we have to pay to heat our big old drafty house, and now old age has brought its complaints that make the cold harder to bear.  Now I have a lung condition and cold air is harder to breathe.  I also suffer from ocular rosacea, and the cold air pains my eyes so bad some days I can hardly keep them open.  I guess my blog posts attest that I DO get out, eye pain and shortness of breath be damned, but some days I just don't want to.  Not for any length of time, anyway.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Yesterday was a good day to stay in the nice warm car and drive up north to see how the frazil ice was forming on the Hudson.  It has certainly been cold enough these past weeks for frazil ice to form.

Frazil is a particular kind of ice that forms in turbulent stretches of the river, when super-cooled water throws droplets into sub-freezing air.  Those droplets instantly freeze and fall into the rushing water, where they cohere and form slushy mats that eventually pile up and fill the river from shore to shore and from the river's surface to its bottom.  There's a stretch of the Hudson River upstream from Warrensburg where these conditions exist, and that's where I headed yesterday, driving north along the west bank of the river.  I had driven only a short distance from the Thurman bridge when I began to see the frothy heaps of frazil piling up between the banks.

I continued along the west bank of the river until I reached The Glen,  where a bridge carries Rte. 28 across the Hudson.  Here I climbed out of my car to view the river downstream.  I could see that the current had kept some channels open through the ice, so the river could continue to flow relatively unimpeded.  If the frazil ice continues to build, eventually damming the river's flow, the water will rise,  flooding over the banks and into the riverside woods, carrying frazil heaps with it.  So far this winter, that frazil build-up appears to be confined within the banks.

That was not the case five years ago, when enormous heaps of frazil were lifted up and over the riverside road.  The photo below shows as far as road crews had got in their efforts to clear the road.  The road was eventually cleared all the way, but it took well over a week to do so.

We still have a long way to go this year, for the frazil to reach such heights!  Let's hope it never does!