Saturday, April 7, 2018

Making the Best of the Long Wait for Spring

I was scheduled to lead a wildflower walk for my friends in the Thursday Naturalists at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve last Thursday.  Hah!  The trails in that small Wilton preserve were still covered with ice, and snow still lay deep in the hollows.  No wildflowers, not even the brave little Snow Trilliums, had yet ventured above the ground (not counting Skunk Cabbage, of course). So I moved on to Plan B:  Let's visit the mineral springs at Saratoga Spa State Park instead.  But the Tuesday I went out to preview our walk didn't look all that promising, either.

The cold rain that assaulted me when I stepped from my car near the Geyser Creek promptly turned to slushy snow.

The trail I had hoped to lead my friends along was so clogged with frozen spring water, I feared we could easily slide right off and plunge into the frigid creek.

Expecting this problem, I had brought my ice chopper along, and after more than an hour of pounding effort, I managed to clear a narrow footpath through the ice.  That one last chunk resisted my exhausted efforts, however.  But I figured my friends could just step over it.  As they did.

Some of them did, anyway.  We had a nice turnout of more than a dozen on this blustery, cold, but beautifully sunny Thursday.  Once we approached the icy spots, though, a few of our group found the slippery footing too daunting and turned to explore another part of the park, while the rest of us proceeded along Geyser Creek and carefully made our way around the enormous mound of mineral accretions deposited by the Orenda spring located high up on the bank.

This huge mound of mineral accretions, called a tufa, is remarkably fascinating to observe up close, noting the interesting texture of the deposits.

Here's a close-up view of those textured mineral deposits.

I had brought along drinking cups for everyone who wanted to taste the various spring waters we passed on our walk, and most of us did imbibe at least a taste of each, some of the waters saltier and more pungent than others, and all of them fizzy with carbon gas.  These are the supposedly health-giving springs that have made Saratoga Springs famous for over 200 years.  It is said that George Washington himself once came here to drink the healing waters.

The first spring we visited is called Tallulah, a native word that is said to mean "leaps from the earth." This little spring was doing just that.  I pointed out the red staining of the surroundings, the result of plenteous iron dissolved in the water, which, after exposure to air, produces iron oxide -- rust -- that stains the earth blood-red.

We could observe that the second spring we visited, the Polaris, also contained iron, due to the rust-colored accretions that line the spring's basin.

Our third spring, the Hayes, allowed only a tiny taste of its extremely pungent water, since only a few drops at a time were dribbling from the spigots.  Probably just as well, since this is a very strong-flavored water, thanks to the number and concentration of minerals dissolved in it.

Nearby was the famous Island Spouter, flinging its spray of water skyward atop its enormous build-up of mineral accretions.  In the past, this spring had been referred to as a geyser, which it is not, since geysers depend on a build-up of heat for their energetic spouting.  This spouter gets its energy from the force of built-up gasses.  Its waters are cold, not hot.

The last spring we visited today is called Orenda, a word that means a divine force believed by the Iroquois people to be the source of all positive human accomplishment.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the peoples of the world could be so transformed by drinking the waters of this spring?  One could only hope!

Well, on the chance that we might be so transformed, some of us did imbibe.  I was amazed by how clear all these waters are as they spring from the pipes, considering all the limey and rusty deposits that precipitate out when they spread across the earth.  They are also cold and sparkly and refreshing.  Even if just a little bit stinky, too.

Although we could find some sun-warmed locations here and there to ease the chill of the day, a brisk wind could just as quickly drive that warmth away, so we were most grateful to find the park's Creekside  Classroom open to us.  (Thanks, Alli Schweizer!)  There we could gather around a roaring wood stove and enjoy our lunches as well as talk about where we might walk next.  Our hope is that we might yet visit Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in two weeks.  We can only hope that the snow might be gone by then!

*  *  *

Our Spa Park walk was last Thursday.  Today, Saturday, I drove out to Wilton to check on spring's progress at Orra Phelps.  It still looked quite wintry as I started along the snow-covered trail from the parking lot.

But see what I found when I reached a high ridge where sunlight had reached the forest floor and melted all the snow.  The first little buds of Snow Trillium have arisen!  (Scientific name: Trillium nivale.) 

What an aptly named flower!  It truly does bloom while snow still blankets other parts of the woods.  We are lucky to find it, since Saratoga County is far from its native range to the south and west.  Orra Phelps herself must have planted it here on her land many years ago, where it has flourished to amaze and surprise us each spring.  I wonder what else will be in bloom when we come here for a visit 12 days from now?


threecollie said...

That photo of the tufa actually made my jaw drop. Awesome indeed!

Anonymous said...

Do you park your car in the state park?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

threecollie, if you would like a personal tour of this awesome place, I would be delighted to show you around. I would also be delighted to meet you in person.

Yes, Anonymous, there is lots of parking in the state park. And this winter, the road to the Geyser Picnic Area was kept open and plowed, allowing easy access to the Creekside Classroom, a new feature of the Spa State Park.

Woody Meristem said...

Fascinating place with all the different generalized springs. Winter's hanging on -- or spring's delayed -- take your choice.

threecollie said...

Wow! That is truly a generous and exciting offer. I would love to take you up on it some time. I know I would enjoy meeting you in person as well. Thank you!