Monday, October 28, 2019

Climbing a Waterfall, Walking a River Road

It sure did rain yesterday.  Rained and rained and rained.  At first, I thought, "Oh shoot, this will bring down all the leaves!  But then I thought, "Oh great! This will fill up all the streams!" I was thinking of one stream in particular, one that tumbles down the mountain that rises just across the road from Spier Falls Dam and which was mostly dry the last time I checked on it.  But it sure was full and rowdy and rolling when I went to visit it today.

I love this little stream and the way it bounds from boulder to boulder through a beautiful woods. So I leapt across a water-filled ditch and climbed the rocky watercourse to where it disappeared under a high powerline road.

Up and up I went, pulling myself up the steeper spots by grasping the sturdy Striped Maple and Hop Hornbeam trees that line the streambank. The water splashed and danced quite merrily as I made my way along.

At last,  I reached the high powerline service road that follows the rolling contours of the Palmertown Ridge, the range of mountains that rises above the Hudson River here on the northern boundary of Saratoga County. I could see my stream pouring through a culvert that passes beneath this road.

Beyond the road, the stream sheeted out across a rock face before it plunged through the culvert.

In winter, when this rocky terrain is smoothed by several feet of snow, I have followed this stream much higher up the mountainside, snowshoeing up and up and up to where its freezing water has transformed huge boulders into icicle-festooned palaces.  But today, the steep and slippery rocks, as well as the hip-high vegetation, dissuaded me from climbing higher.  So I followed the powerline road down to Spier Falls Road instead.

I always marvel at how the power company manages to erect its poles and pylons on such rugged and uneven terrain.  But erect them they do, to carry the many megawatts of power generated below, where the Spier Falls Hydroelectric Dam crosses the Hudson River.

I was delighted to see so much wonderful color still, with the mountains covered with cinnamons, ochers, greens, and bright gold.  And what a spectacular grass this is, with its vivid multi-hued yellow  blades and such an exuberant habit of growth, streaking up straight and tall from the ground and topped with a frothy mist of spent flowers. I sure hope it is not some horrid invasive, introduced by the trucks that install and service the power poles.

UPDATE: Several experts have suggested that this grass is Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass), a grass that is both native to New York and demonstrably secure within its range.  I am happy to learn this. I am also amazed that the land surrounding this powerline service road is so remarkably free of invasive species, considering the amount of disturbance to the soils.

Eventually, the service road led me downhill to Spier Falls Road, which I followed back to where I had parked my car.

Craggy boulders line Spier Falls Road, and the spring-watered rocks are home to many beautiful and interesting plants.

Mounds of the aptly-named Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana) thrive on the spring-watered ledges, happily co-existing with the multitudes of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) that also make their home here.  The basal rosettes of saxifrage leaves will stay green all winter, nourishing the plants that will transform these boulders into flower-covered rock gardens early in the spring.

These rosy-red Wild Strawberry leaves and their scarlet runners looked quite striking against the water-blackened boulders.

A single Highbush Cranberry shrub (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) had sprung from the rocks, its branches heavy with glossy ruby-colored fruit.

When I reached my car, which I'd parked by the dam, I was struck by the river's beauty today, with the multi-colored mountains so perfectly reflected in the still water.  I drove down the road to the Sherman Island Boat Launch, where I feasted my eyes on one of my favorite vistas, looking downstream.

Turning to face upstream, I was met with the equally stunning sight of these little islands and more quiet reflections.

Driving home, I had to stop once more to observe the same little islands from upstream.

And again I stopped, reluctant to leave this gorgeous landscape, pulling into the parking lot at the river's bend to gaze at this colorful mountainside that ascends from the river's rocky shoreline.  There's a trailhead quite near, which can lead hikers up to that ridge of bare rock visible in this photo near the mountain's summit.  The view of the river valley from up there is really quite spectacular.

Heading home at last, over Mt. McGregor, I had to make one final stop, this time at a little roadside swamp where Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) thrives in astounding abundance. I am so grateful I live in such a beautiful part of the world.


threecollie said...

I am truly in awe of your prowess, leaping brooks, climbing waterfalls. I tend to shuffle and shamble. Awesome photos! I share your love of the outdoors even in this quickly closing season.

Woody Meristem said...