© Bob Pickett
DATE: December 9, 2000
LOCATION: Thornton River, Shenandoah National Park, North District
GEOLOGY: Catoctin greenstone
HIGHLIGHTS: This hike was with Steve Bair and Len Wheat. Our hike basically took the Hull School trail down from the Skyline Drive to the Thornton River trail. From there, we hiked back up to the Skyline Drive. However, much time was spent off-trail, in search of former homesites and resident artifacts. Of note, only a few hundred yards down from the Skyline Drive on the Hull School trail, we diverted to the left, down a faint road trace, down the hollow about a half mile to a grassy wet open meadow. This is one of the largest open areas in the Park, and is a popular wildlife residence. Significant scores of scat (piles of poop) from black bear and coyote abounded in the area. Black bear scat was found with the summer’s black cherry drupes (seeds) as was more recent scat containing acorn shells. The coyote scats (up to an inch in diameter), consisted almost solely of gray hair; presumably from licking it’s own pelt. This would be an interesting area to backpack into if one were interested in observing/hearing the mammals. This area, formerly known as Spiencop, was the Varner property, as pictured in Darwin Lambert’s The Undying Past of the Shenandoah National Park, on pages 134 and 135. A well, measured at 26 feet deep, was located, as was a cemetery and two home sites were located. The grassy meadow was (apparently) part of the farmed land shown surrounding the smoke house (?) pictured on page 134.
Bushwhacking east back to the Hull School trail, the trail crosses the former road numerous times before coming up to another homesite on the right side of the trail. Just 50 yards before this, a very large, deeply furrowed blackgum tree grows in a seep along the left side of the trail (where the old road joins from the right). Over the next mile, numerous mature red oak and tulip trees can be viewed on the left (downhill) side of the trail. These trees, with their horizontal branches, obviously solitary growing trees from before the Park’s establishment, approach 3 feet in diameter.
After beginning the Thornton River trail uphill, a beaver site was found. Recent gnawing of young trees was seen along the streambanks. An extensive supply of cut branches was in the creek in preparation for a winter under the ice. (Beaver are occasionally found along streams in the Park, but tend to be ephemeral in nature, with spring floods washing their homesites out. Dams will not be normally made; rather, bank dens will be excavated. No dens were found at this site.
A mile, or so, above the Hull School trail and Thornton River trail intersection, the Thornton River trail crosses the River. At this point, we bushwhacked up the ravine to the right, and after crossing a minor tributary 50 yards from the Thornton River, we struck an uphill course along a mountain road. Scurrying around brambles and blow downs for about a half mile, we came across another former home site, with a metal-spoked car wheel, “rustic” stoned spring, and grades that revealed possible locations of the home site itself.
Back on the Thornton River trail, shortly above the stream crossing, is the frame of an automobile. A nickel to the person who can identify the make and model of the car.
Canopy – Being a somewhat northern exposure, the more moist and cooler soils produce a northern hardwood forest. Major members include white ash, linden, red maple, black cherry and black birch. Drier (or more exposed) slopes included northern red and chestnut oaks.
Subcanopy – Persimmon, sassafras, dogwood, sweet cherry, ironwood, hop hornbeam, black locust, hawthorn, old apple trees, and young canopy members made up the subcanopy.
Shrub layer – Witch-hazel predominated the slopes with winterberry (Illex verticillata) and spicebush dominating the wetter ravines. Smaller coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) produced localized dense stands in former cleared areas. Other shrubs include mountain laurel, maple-leaved viburnum, deciduous azaleas, limited blueberries, staghorn sumac, currants.
Herbaceous flowers - None of note.
Ferns – Only evergreen ferns, like rock polypody, marginal and intermedia woodferns were seen.
Groundcovers and lianas – Blackberries and raspberries, spotted pipsissawa and clematis.
Mammals – As noted in highlights, bear and coyote scat were highlights. A beaver site was also observed. A few deer and gray squirrels made up the rest.
Amphibians - None
Reptiles - None
Birds – Not many of these, either. Chickadees, titmice, and a flushed ruffed grouse.
Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
LOCATION: Henry Lanham & Hotel loops; Pedlar District, GW National Forest
These two hikes start from Hog Camp Gap at the Appalachian Trail. The PATC Map #13 identifies the Henry Lanham trail by it’s former name; the Pompey Mtn - Mt Pleasant Loop. At the gap, we camped on the north side of the road, downhill from the AT to the east. About 200 yards from the AT is a reliable stream and a large field for camping. The Henry Lanham loop trail is 6 miles (including the spur trail to Mt. Pleasant – a must do spur), and the Hotel loop using the AT, is 8 miles.
HIGHLIGHTS: Shagbark hickory is profuse throughout this area. American chestnut saplings also permeate the area, with numerous large trunks, both littering the ground and some still standing. (Just a quarter mile below the spur trail to Mt. Pleasant are two trunks over a foot and a half in diameter, standing 30’ tall. At the same site, there is an 18” trunk cut lying across the trail that is about 250 years old; also presumably American chestnut.)
And, good views are had from both the east and west overlooks on top of Mt. Pleasant. (Along the spur trail to the summit of Mt. Pleasant is a side trail to a water source. With a very dry October (although a wetter than average summer), the spring still had a 24” wide pool, about 8” deep. A camping option thus exists with a campsite and fire ring just north of the spur trail along the main trail. Numerous apple trees in the area still bear fruit and American hazelnut (filberts) provide a thick shrub layer.
At the junction of the east and west overlooks on Mt. Pleasant, is a large chestnut tree (it passes the “hand” test – I can’t encircle the trunk with my hands; thus, it’s about 6” in diameter), with many husks on the ground.
Michaux’s saxifrage is on the rocks at the west overlook of Mt. Pleasant. And two rare plants in VA are found along the AT. Ascending south along the AT from Hog Camp Gap to Cole Mtn, are the large kidney-shaped leaves of the great Indian plantain (Cacalia muhlenbergii). The other, silvery nailwort (Paronychia argyrocoma), is found as a low perennial groundcover among the rocks on the balds of Cole (Cold) Mtn. (Thanks to Allen Belden of the VA Div of Natural Heritage for these two identifications.)
There is a nice maintained “bald” along the AT ridge of Cole (Cold) Mountain.
With this being prime time for fall foliage, about ten different groups camped on this bald, although no water sources are available.
A mile and a half along the Hotel trail (going clockwise from the gap) is a nice old grove of white oaks, where group camping is commonly done. I’m not sure of the water source for this area, however.
Catawba rhododendron are scattered throughout the area.
GEOLOGY: Precambrian (Middle Proterozoic) Grenville Age (1.2 billion years old) plutonic rock. This formation is a charnockite, dating to the same period as the Old Rag granites. Charnockites are unusual feldspar-rich rocks with variable amounts of blue quartz, differing from common granites in that they contain pyroxene and garnet, suggesting that the rocks crystallized in a crustal environment that contained less water than typical for granites. About 5 miles east of this area is an intrusion of relatively rare anorthosite. This Roseland anorthsite was the world’s chief source of titanium for many years.
Canopy: Shagbark hickories and red oaks dominate both hikes. White pines are found in formerly cleared fields, with red maple also regularly found. Others included bitternut and mockernut hickories, sugar maple, black cherry, white ash, hemlock, yellow and black birch, white, chestnut and scarlet oak. Both Virginia and table mountain pines were found on drier open slopes. A fairly large butternut walnut was found on the lower Hotel loop trail (about two miles from the gap).
Subcanopy: Witch-hazel is common. Also found was striped maple, sassafras, pin cherry, hawthorn, black locust, staghorn sumac, shadbush, alternate-leaved dogwood, hornbeam and hop hornbeam. Mountain ash was found occasionally in bright red fruit.
Shrub Layer: Coral berry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) was common in young successional forest areas (as was Russian olive, to a lesser extent). Rosebay rhododendron is found near Hog Camp Gap, with Catawba rhododendron at higher elevations (3000’+). Other shrubs included mountain laurel, mountain holly, blueberries, maple-leaf and northern wild-raisin viburnum, round-leaved gooseberries, black chokeberry, ninebark, wild hydrangea, and hazelnuts.
Herbaceous Layer: Stiff gentian was found in flower. Also in flower were brown knapweed, butter and eggs, white snakeroot, heart-leaved and heath aster, viper’s bugloss, and arrow-leaved violet (on Cow/Cold Mtn bald). Herbaceous plants in fruit included lots of cow parsnip and angelica (at Cowcamp Gap), and black snakeroot. Foliage from tall meadowrue, common ragweed, wood betony, silvery nailwort and great Indian plantain was found.
Ground cover and vines: Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana), was in fruit throughout more open successional fields. Black raspberries were also common. Even some Dutchman’s pipevine was found.
Ferns and fern allies: New York, bracken, and hay-scented ferns were brown. Green ferns included Christmas, marginal and rock polypody. Club mosses included L. flabelliforme and tristachyum, the latter found in the open grassy area where we camped.
Amphibians: Both color phases of the red-backed salamander.
Birds: Turkey vultures, blue jays, pileated and hairy woodpecker. White-throated sparrow, raven, and a few unidentified hawks.
Mammals: Red squirrels.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: October 14 – 16, 2000
LOCATION: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (The Cataloochee area)
HIGHLIGHTS: (This was a backpacking trip with Kurt Rowan.) Finding oneself in an old growth forest is always a highlight. The last mile and a half above Campsite 41 along the Caldwell Fork trail includes the “Big Poplars”; with one of three tulip poplars having a 7’ diameter. Other 250+ year-old trees included 3 ½’ red oak, 3’ sweet buckeye, sugar maple and hemlock, 2 ½’ silverbell, basswood and white ash, and 2’ Fraser’s magnolia. Another old growth site was along the Rough Fork trail, just below campsite 40, where there are some large hemlock and a 3 ½’ white oak. It also has some large cucumber and Fraser magnolias. Officially, one cucumber tree had a 3’ diameter, with a fork at ~8’ separating from a 2’ diameter trunk. At campsite #42 along the Poll Gap trail, are several 2 ½’ diameter spruce trees.
Our bear encounter was just a brief sight of a retreating bear, but a highlight, none-the-less. Two gentians were found in bloom; numerous stiff gentians and a narrow-leaf gentian. Bird calls were at a premium with what apparently were several solitary vireos in the Rough Fork/Caldwell Fork area. The mountain wood fern (Dryopteris campyloptera) was found along the Poll’s Gap trail, just below campsite 42. This is the third siting for me, with the other two sites being Cranberry Wilderness WVA and Mountain Lake VA. A half mile from the parking lot along the Rough Fork trail is the S. L. Woody Place; a restored resident’s farm house, with a half dozen butternut trees in the immediate area.
At the creek by campsite 41 on Caldwell Fork trail, are several sweet crabapples (Malus coronaria).
Two mushrooms were added to our meals Saturday night; puffballs and honey mushrooms.
HIKE ITINERARY: Kurt Rowan, once again, accompanied myself on this trip (see June Smokies trip). On Friday afternoon, we arrived at the Cataloochee campground where we had planned to stay. On finding it full, we decided to switch the direction of our loop. So we hiked from Nellie up the Pretty Hollow Gap trail two miles to campsite #39. Unfortunately, it made for a killer of a Saturday. We traveled 2000’ up the Pretty Hollow Gap trail to the Mt. Sterling trail, then down the Balsam Mountain trail to the Straight Fork Road. After 2 ½ miles along the road, we finished with the last mile up the Spruce Mountain trail to campsite #42; a total of 16 miles and a total ascent of 3500’. Sunday was a downhill hike along Poll’s Gap trail to Polls Gap, then down the Rough Fork trail and Caldwell Fork trail to campsite #41. This was about a 9.4 mile day. Monday was planned to continue down the Caldwell Fork trail and loop around the Boogerman trail (another old growth site) before arriving at the Cataloochee campground. However, an acute pain developed in my right knee Sunday afternoon as a result of a pulled tendon (tendonitis; from the distance and elevation covered, and a 70 pound pack), preventing me from bending my knee. This caused us to abort our Monday plans and instead, we hiked back to the Rough Fork trail and down to our car at Nellis.
Canopy: In the lower elevation (3000’ to 4000’) cove hardwood forests (like the first mile of Pretty Hollow Gap trail), a diversity of trees included sweet buckeye, beech, black and yellow birch, basswood, cucumber and Fraser’s magnolias, Carolina silverbell, tulip trees and hickories, sugar and red maples and hemlock can be found, with hickories and oaks dominating drier slopes. Higher elevations (4000’ to 5000’) reach the northern hardwoods, with yellow birch and beech dominating with basswood, yellow buckeye and both striped and mountain maple. Finally, the evergreen northern boreal forests of Fraser fir and red spruce capped the ridges at 5000+ region. Several beech gaps were observed, including the Pretty Hollow Gap. Many young Fraser fir populated Balsam Mountain (thus, the name), with many 20 year-old dead standing fir trunks towering over dense smooth blackberry and pin cherry cover.
Other canopy members included white pine, chestnut and white oak, black cherry, and sourwood.
Subcanopy: Ironwood in stream valleys, witch-hazel in drier areas (in bloom), flowering and alternate-leaved dogwood, black locust, striped maple, hawthorn, pin cherry, and mountain ash.
Shrub Layer: The most common shrubs included rosebay rhododendron, although some Catawba rhodos were found along the Mt. Sterling trail. Numerous mountain pepperbush thrived along the lower Pretty Hollow Creek with the evergreen upland sweetbells (Leucothoe editorium, aka L. fontanesiana). Red elderberry is common at higher elevations. Other shrubs included two viburnums; hobblebush and northern wild-raisin, buffalo-nut, mountain laurel, coralberry, wild hydrangea, highbush blueberry (one, 12’ tall and 4” in diameter), and numerous other blueberries and huckleberries. American chestnut exists as part of the shrub layer.
Herbaceous Layer: Plants still in bloom included the stiff and narrow-leaved gentians (G. quinquefolia and G. linearis), great lobelia (L. siphilitica), a few white snakeroot, asters (mainly heart-leaved, heath, wavy-leaved, wood), and goldenrods (blue-stemmed, rough-stemmed, slender).
Plants in fruit include lots of angelica, white avens, whorled aster, tall coneflower, cowbane, mountain bellwort, smooth blackberries, and cow parsnip.
Plants in foliage included cleavers, violets, stone crop (S. ternatum), black raspberries, foamflower, alumroot, waterleaf, and Fraser’s sedge.
Ground cover and vines: Always enjoy the Dutchman’s Pipevine and galax. Also seen was partridgeberry, striped wintergreen, rattlesnake plantain, poison ivy, greenbriars, and lots of running strawberry bush.
Ferns and fern allies: Non-deciduous ferns had browned, but were still identifiable, including hay-scented, southern lady, and New York ferns. Some spinulose woodferns were still in green form along Pretty Hollow Gap trail. The mountain wood fern (Dryopteris campyloptera) was found along the Poll’s Gap trail, just below campsite 42. Evergreen Christmas, wood, rock polypody, and intermedia were also seen. Clubmosses included L. flabelliforme.
Birds: Besides the calls of what I presume were solitary vireos (now called blue-headed), we saw/heard grouse, downy and pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, golden crowned kinglets, and the normal chickadees and titmice.
Mammals: Lots of wild boar rooting. Red and gray squirrel, chipmunks, and our previously mentioned black bear. I actually saw no deer!
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: Sept 23 - 24, 2000
LOCATION: Ramsey's Draft, VA (GW National Forest)
GEOLOGY: Red sandstones of the Devonian Chemung formation, dating about 375 million years ago. The Chemung Group is essentially a gray shale with layers of siltstone, sandstone and some conglomerate. It is about 2,500’ deep in this region. These beach depositions of the westerly receding interior ocean shoreline were from sediments coming from the newly forming eastern mountains of the Acadian Orogeny; the first of three mountain-building episodes of the Appalachian mountain formation. A number of gas-producing sands are present in the Chemung formation. This is about the time of the first land vertebrates, the amphibians. Land plants had begun to dominate the landscape; a precursor to the great wet forests that in the next period (the Mississippian) would be the source of today’s coal.
TRAIL ITINERARY: This popular overnighter took us from the Confederate breastworks along the Shenandoah Mtn ridge, north to Hiner Springs, and looping back along the Ramsey's Draft trail, ending at the lower Mountain House. A car shuttle took us back to our beginning location. Hike distance was about 8 miles on Saturday, and about 5 ½ miles on Sunday.
HIGHLIGHTS: Perhaps of most interest, were the noises heard at the trail head of Hardscrabble Knob. In the distance, we heard the sound of numerous chirps, clucks, or barks. It was a continuous background sound with many individual sounds identified. After ruling out the rumblings of underground streams, we concluded it probably was either a gathering of turkey or squirrels. After discussing the probabilities of either of these with Steve Bair of the Shenandoah National Park and a hunter acquaintance of his, it was their opinion that it was a large gathering of gray squirrels. The rationale; First, turkey clucking is normally associated with solitary hens, with groupings of clucking turkey not being well documented. Second, the calls made by turkey are soft and don't carry a long distance, while the sound of squirrel "barking" can be heard at some good distance. Finally, large groupings of squirrels foraging for mast (acorns and hickories) are not that uncommon at this
time of the year.
A few fruiting native crabapples were found early along the Shenandoah Mtn trail. And at the intersection of the Shenandoah Mtn trail and the Ramsey's Draft trail were several large (3' diameter) oaks and a grouping of young red spruce trees. Whether the spruce were native or planted was unknown. Nearby, was a 6" diameter American chestnut.
The largest hemlocks (2 ½’ diameter) are found just below Hiner Spring on the Ramsey’s Draft trail. Despite various reports of imminent death of the hemlocks due to the hemlock woolly adelgid, these old growth trees looked healthy, with a dense canopy of foliage. (Further downstream, some solid stands of hemlocks did look very thin, although only one of about twenty branches checked during the weekend trip revealed adelgids.) A discussion with the District Ranger indicated that the damage has subsided over the past several years. Presumably, the hemlocks are benefitting from a low in adelgid populations at the present, although a cyclic population boom is probably sometime in the next few years.
A few witch-hazel were beginning to bloom.
Canopy - The hike along the Shenandoah Mtn trail is along a sandstone ridge, supporting a dry oak and hickory canopy. Chestnut oak dominated, with red oak and some white oak also found in more moist soils. White pine, Virginia and table mountain pine are also found. Other trees included black locust, black cherry, cucumber magnolia and black gum. Hickories included mockernut, shagbark, and pignut. The second day, along the wetter and more protected Ramsey's Draft trail included some old growth hemlocks, the largest ones, reaching 2 & ½' diameter, are located just below Hiner Spring. Other trees in this cooler, wetter area included black and yellow birch and beech trees, linden, and white ash. At lower elevations,
tulip poplar and sycamore were found.
Subcanopy – Hop hornbeam and witch-hazel were common subcanopy plants. Some sassafras, flowering dogwood, serviceberry, and young canopy trees were found. A few hornbeam were found along Ramsey's Draft. Hawthorn, rich withdark red fruit, dotted the woods. Two crabapples, heavy with fruit, were also found and tasted.
Shrub layer – American chestnut shoots permeated the region, indicative of their former role in the canopy. The sandy, acidic soils supported a substantial heath habitat. These ericaceous plants included mountain laurel, mountain pieris, minnie-bush, azaleas, highbush and other blueberries, deerberry (with it's large green fruit) and black huckleberry. Other shrubs included mountain holly, a few viburnums (northern arrow-wood and maple-leaf), wild hydrangea, a young alternate-leaved dogwood, chokecherry, scrub oak, native roses, sweet fern, and a mountain honeysuckle.
Herbaceous flowers – Among those in bloom, goldenrods, asters and white snakeroot dominated the flowering plants. Specifically, the common goldenrods included silver rod and bluestem and a few rough-stemmed goldenrod, and the common asters included the wavy-leaved, whorled and wood aster and a few calico and heath asters. Other flowering plants included southern harebells, flowering onion, yarrow, sundews, starry campion, spotted impatiens, and heal-all. Herbaceous plants in fruit included black snakeroot, spotted trumpetflower, horse balm, stinging nettles, white doll's eye and alumroot.Several fruiting members of the orchid family were observed, including putty root, rattlesnake plaintain, and twayblade.Foliage of the following were also seen; round-leaved hepatica, wild sarsaparilla, cleavers, great angelica, tall
meadowrue, Indian cucumber root, Canada mayflower, bluebead lily, coltsfoot, wild geranium, perfoliate and mountain bellwort, tick trefoils, and violets.
Ferns – Christmas, marginal, intermedia, spinulose, polypody, cinnamon, bracken, New York, hay-scented and ebony spleenwort. Two clubmosses; Lycopodium lucidulum and L. annotinum were found as well as the Virginia grapefern.
Groundcovers and lianas - The sandstone geology supports a diverse ericaceous habitat, as observed in the shrub layer. Groundcovers representing the heath family included teaberry and trailing arbutus. Other groundcovers/vines included partridgeberry, spotted pipsissawa, dutchman's pipe vine, a vetch, dwarf cinquefoil, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, wild yam, blackberries and raspberries.
Mammals – A large group of gray squirrels were heard foraging around Hardscrabble Knob. A few chipmunks, deer tracks, and an active beaver dam were noticed.
Amphibians – An American toad and a red-bellied salamander.
Reptiles – None
Birds – A migrating junco was seen. Otherwise, it was the regular foraging nuthatch, titmice, chickadees, and blue jays, turkey vulture, American crow, pileated woodpeckers and yellow-shafted flickers. Several ruffed grouse were flushed, and an owl gave us a few introductory notes, but never broke out into definitive calling.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: August 12 – 20, 2000
LOCATION: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
HIKE ITINERARY: This was a 14 day backpacking trip on the Wonderland Trail; a 93-mile circuit trail circling Mount Rainier. It is ideal for the out of state visitor. The Rainier shuttle takes you from the airport to the Longmire Ranger Station, in the Park, where you get your permit and buy stove fuel at the gift shop (and that last bag of chips). A major campground, Cougar Rocks, two miles away, is easily accessible for first night (or last night) accomodations. The shuttle takes you back to the airport from Longmire. (In my case, the van driver actually drove us directly to our airport hotels – I had a 7:15 flight the next morning.)You can even mail your food supplies ahead of your trip to two other ranger stations, thus, carrying only 4 or 5 days of food at a time. Most people do the trip in 10 to 12 days.
HIGHLIGHTS: Perhaps the best is the “bear story”. Arriving at North Puyallup campsite at 2:30 in the afternoon, and setting up camp, the flies drove me into my tent, when, after an hour or so, I heard a rustling at my backpack. Looking out, I saw a black bear, ten feet away, sniffing my pack, to which I said “Hey, bear!” He walked away without even looking at me or reacting. I now have canine teeth holes in my pack as a memory.
Alpine meadow wildflowers were best at Indian Bar, on the eastside. While this spot was riotous in colors, and a few other spots (Indian Henry’s, Aurora Peak, and Spray Park) were impressive, this area does not compare with either Maroon Bells (Colorado) or the Switzerland/Austria alpine meadows. I loved the elephant’s head, grass-of-parnassus, and the 5’ pinedrops. The dominant wildflower of the trip was the blue lupines; ubiquitous and beautiful. Fields might be lupines and red Indian paintbrush, or lupines and white bistorts and valeriana, or lupines and yellow arnicas and senecios, or mixtures of the side players. But, you could always expect to find lupines blooming away. Spray Park had a patriotic theme of red Indian paintbrush, white bistorts and blue lupines.
Exploring old mining operations above Glacier Basin were a pleasant surprise. Numerous artifacts are still extant, including heavy metal pumps (from England), mattress springs, broken china, mining cart rails, and a water wheel. Despite Mt Rainier becoming a National Park in 1899 (the 5th designated National Park), mining was allowed until 1950.
Three snow avalanches were heard, then seen, over the two weeks.
Spray Falls, near Eagles Roost campsite is a required side trip. More realistically, a cascade, not a falls, this is the largest, grandest cascades I’ve seen!
Watching a banana slug eating a leaf was fascinating. These creatures have more teeth than shark (several thousand minute teeth---found on their tongue), and have the interesting habit of chewing off their penis after mating, since it is so difficult to withdraw, and can be regrown anyway. Snails and slugs are hermaphrodites; having both male and female parts. Some species can mate with both partners becoming pregnant.
The mountain goats, elk, deer, marmots and other rodents were an added attraction (see mammals list below).
GEOLOGY: Numerous volcanic formations and glacial deposits. Actually, Mt Rainier is one of the youngest volcanic mountains in the Cascades, forming only one million years ago. (The Rockies, Alps, and Himalayans are 50 – 60 million years old. This, compared to our Appalachians of 270 million years of age!).
TRAIL JOURNAL: A leisurely 14-day trip along the Wonderland trail, starting and ending at Longmire Ranger Station. Previously mailed food caches were picked up at the Sunrise and Mowich Ranger Stations along the route. This made the two week trip “doable”. While “Betty’s” book (Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail) suggests hiking clockwise, which most hikers follow, I went counter-clockwise. The east side is more level (this is a relative term) than the western side, enabling an easier first several days. There is a large section above timberline, with a majority of the ungulates seen on this east side. The western side is more wooded and definitely, more ups and downs. Several days had ascents or descents of over 3,000’. Over the course of the 93-mile circuit hike, the hiker ascends and descends 22,786’. The highest elevation along the trail is about 6,900’. Most of the trip is between 3,000’ and 5,000’. Each of the first 12 days started with full sun, often closing with cumulus clouds.It never got above 70 degrees, and was below freezing on several mornings. The 13th day was cold and raining, the high about 50 degrees. It was snowing on the northeast side of the mountain where I had camped a few days previously. (This region, although known for wet and gloomy winters, has a June – August dry season, with Seattle getting an average of ¾” of an inch in July. It is this dry summer season that prohibits deciduous trees from being part of the canopy. It’s not the cold, but the lack of growth potential during the deciduous tree’s photosynthetic period that puts them at a competitive disadvantage.) Bottom line, you can normally count on good weather this time of year. However, in years of major snow accumulation, you can be hiking on snow nearly half of the time, so find out the situation before making your reservations. There will always be some hiking on permanent snow fields.
The lowest tree zone, the Western hemlock zone, lies between 2,000 – 3,000’. Other trees include Pacific Silver fir, and western red cedar. Vine maple make up the subcanopy level, with salal, Oregon grape huckleberry and blackberry as shrubs.
The Pacific Silver Fir zone is the most extensive forest zone at Mt Rainier, extending from 3,000’ to 4,500’. It is comprised of the Pacific silver fir, noble fir, western hemlock, western white pine and douglas fir.
The mountain hemlock zone is divided into the lower (forest) subzone and the upper (parkland) subzone. The forest subzone, beginning at about 4,500’, is dominated by mountain hemlock, pacific silver fir, subapline fir and yellow (Alaska) cedar. The parkland subzone (between 5,200’ and 6,500’) is basically treeless, and includes the best of the alpine wildflower meadows.
The age of most of the forests within the Park date back to several major fires between 1450 and 1550. Many Douglas fir can be found reaching 5’ and more in diameter in forests of younger trees, exemplifying their fire-resistant nature. Interestingly, the most recent fires date back to the early 1930’s. A “beltway” parkway was under construction around Mt Rainier, when construction equipment started a major fire, burning a large area of the western slope old-growth forest. Subsequently, the project was halted and never completed. A wonderful old bridge abutment exists at the North Puyallup Creek crossing. This area is now full of huckleberries and blueberries, and is the place to find bears (or where bears can find us, as I found out!).
Canopy: The largest trees are Douglas firs. Often forests consisted of large (4’+ dia) Douglas firs with dense stands of 2’ western hemlock, Pacific silver fir, and western red-cedar. Such old-growth forests of lower elevations (in this case, 2,000 to 4,000’), reflect the fire-resistant Douglas firs, survivors of ancient fires, surrounded by younger, shade-tolerant, but fire susceptible species. Higher elevation species included mountain hemlock, subalpine fir, some Engleman spruce, yellow cedar and a few surviving white-bark pines. On drier sites, western white pine and lodgepole pine are found in a more open habitat. Noble fir was occasionally found, but only one grand fir was positively identified; a tree normally found at lower elevations. Lower elevation riparian habitats included red alders, black cottonwood, and three species of maple; big leaf, Douglas, and vine maples.
Subcanopy: Basically, shade-tolerant trees mentioned above.
Shrub Layer: Salal was a dominant lower elevation forest groundcover. Huckleberries and blueberries were also dominants. White rhododendron was numerous at mid-elevation (2,500 – 4,500’) open woods. Red elderberry, Devil’s club and Sitka mountain-ash were found on wet slopes; ocean spray on dry slopes. Other shrubs included Oregon grape-holly, menzesia, Saskatoon (a western Amelanchier shrub), Sitka alder, western yew, salmonberries, thimbleberries, steeplebush, willows, and currants. Dry sites included common junipers and pachistima.
Herbaceous Layer: Dwarf bramble, twinflower and foamflower were the hiker’s constant companion throughout the region. Of most interest, were the saprophitic pinedrops, with one measuring 5’ 2 ¾” tall! (Two reference books list them as 36” tall or 48”). Other saprophites (actually, parasites, due to the mycorrhizal fungi that tie into healthy trees, which supply nutrients to these plants) include Indian pipes, pinesaps and candysticks.
Lily family: False and Star-flowered false Solomon’s Seal, twisted stalk, western trillium (all three in fruit), Queen’s Cup (a Clintonia, found both in flower and in fruit), avalanche lily (of the trout lily genus; Erythronium), Columbia lily, bear grass, and false hellebore (all the last four in flower).
Orchid family: Coralroots, Alaska rein-orchid and ladies’ tresses (all three in flower), rattlesnake-plantain, northwestern and heart-leaved twayblade; all in fruit.
Buckwheat family: American bistort, fleeceflower, sulfur and alpine buckwheat (aka, dirty socks); all found in alpine meadows.
Purslane family: Streambank spring-beauty.
Pink family: Boreal sandwort and moss campion, and bladder campion,.
Mustard family: Hairy rockcress, lance-fruited draba.
Stonecrop family: lance-leaved stonecrop.
Saxifrage family: Tolme’s saxifrage, wood saxifrage, miterworts, alumroots, foamflower, fringed grass-of-Parnassus.
Buttercup family: Western anemone, alpine white marsh-marigold, subalpine and creeping buttercup, baneberry, false bugbane, western meadowrue, columbine, tall larkspur.
Rose family: Goatsbeard, yellow mountain-avens, partridgefoot, villous cinquefoil, fan-leaved cinquefoil.
Pea family: Arctic, dwarf mountain, and Nootka lupines, white clover.
Violet family: Early blue violet.
Evening Primrose family: Numerous willowherbs, fireweed.
Carrot family: Cow parsnip, Sierra sanicle, Pacific water-parsley, mountain sweet-cicely, Kneeling angelica, Gray’s lovage, Queen Anne’s lace, Martindale’s lomatium.
Wintergreen family: Single delight, pink wintergreen, white-veined wintergreen, one-sided wintergreen, Prince’s-pipe.
Gentian family: Mountain bog-gentian.
Waterleaf family: Fendler’s waterleaf, silverleaf phacelia, and silky phacelia.
Phlox family: Spreading phlox, showy Jacob’s ladder.
Borage family: Tall bluebells.
Mint family: Self-heal.
Figwort family: Common foxglove, sickletop, bracted, and bird’s-beak lousewort, elephant’s head, Indian paintbrush, alpine and Cusick’s speedwell, yellow, musk and pink monkeyflowers, woodland penstemon, small-flowered penstemon.
Composite family: Apargidium, alpine microseris, orange agoseris, smooth and white-flowered hawksbeard, yellow salsify, mountain sagewort, yarrow, oxeye daisy, numerous erigerons and asters, northern goldenrod, pathfinder, palmate and sweet coltsfoot, arnicas, senecios, alpine and woolly pussytoes, pearly everlasting, Canada and bull thistle.
Miscellaneous families: Deer foot, Scouler’s corydalis, jewelweed, ginger, western St. John’s-wort, bunchberry, shootingstars, cleavers and small bedstraw, common harebells, Sitka valerian, and skunk cabbage.
Ground cover and vines: Alpine meadows and rock fields included the heath members, white, pink and yellow mountain-heather, as well as crowberry. Forests included substantial twinflower and bearberry (in more open forests). Numerous gaultherias (winter tea-berry), goodyeras (see Orchid family above), chimaphilas and pyrolas (see Wintergreen family above) were common.
Ferns and fern allies: The 6’ bracken ferns were most interesting, although, the 3’ variety were more commonly encountered. Deer fern and sword ferns were beautiful and especially dominant in the NW temperate rainforest region. Other ferns included spiny wood fern (a dryopteris), oak fern (common in deep woods), licorice fern (a polypodium), maidenhair fern and lady fern (same species as our eastern forests), green spleenwort, parsley fern and fragile fern. Common horsetail was, in fact, common. Only one clubmoss, Lycopodium clavatum, was occasionally found.
Amphibians: One pond at Glacier Basin had 22 cascade frogs; two in amplexus. Numerous rough-skinned newts were found in the same pond. Tadpoles and cascade frogs were found at many ponds.
Reptiles: One garter snake was found along Carbon River, while pulling up introduced foxgloves.
Birds: The highlight was the blue grouse, calling from a treetop, that took 30 minutes to find. A great-horned and saw-whet owl were heard from Golden Lakes. Spotted sandpipers were at Mystic Lake. A horned lark was seen at Frozen Lake. Most numerous, were dark-eyed “Oregon” juncos (lumped with our dark-eyed juncos), chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, winter wrens, Clark’s nutcrackers and raven. Varied thrush and robins were occasionally seen. A few pine siskins, a Steller’s jay and a pair of pine grosbeaks were seen. Others seen included turkey vultures, Vaux’s swifts, hummingbirds, a few kestrels, and a red-shafted flicker.
Mammals: Mountain goats (38), elk (19), black-tailed deer (11), pikas (many, ~12), marmots (many more, ~ 25), ground squirrels (~10), Townsend’s chipmunk (~10), Douglas squirrel (3), an unknown vole, and one black bear. Coyote scat, pocket gopher “subnivean” tunnels, and one set of bobcat tracks were found.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: June 18 – 25, 2000
LOCATION: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN/NC)
HIKE ITINERARY: This was an eight-day backpacking trip with Kurt Rowan. Our itinerary was a broad loop in the southwest section of the National Park. We stayed nightly at the following designated sites:
Sunday and Monday: Gregory Bald (Campsite 26)
Tuesday: Eagle Creek (Campsite 89)
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday: Bone Valley (Campsite 84)
Saturday: Russell Field AT shelter.
HIGHLIGHTS: Several old-growth forests were notable. The upper Hazel Creek (just beyond the last timber road/community) had some tulip trees, northern red oak, black cherry, and yellow birch approaching 3” in diameter. One yellow birch was certainly 31/2’ in diameter and a few others approaching 4’. The top of Jenkins Ridge trail consisted principally of large yellow birch, with one site along a stream ( the next creek north of Gunter Creek) including a 4’ yellow birch above the trail and a 3 ½’ yellow buckeye below the trail. A 100 yards along the trail is a 2’ silver bell tree. The Russell Field old growth, around campsite 10, was also impressive, with 3’ sugar maple and 2 ½’ hemlocks.
Our timing of this trip was to coincide with the flame azaleas on Gregory Bald, which were screaming in brilliant shades of orange, red and yellows.
One copperhead was found (by Kurt, just before I stepped on it). And, on the first day, along the Gregory Ridge trail, one ginseng plant was found in early fruit.
And, although I don’t do grasses or sedges, the large and showy Fraser’s sedge is most noteworthy on moist, shady north-facing slopes. Other nice plants included the Clematis viorna; the leather flower, in bloom, the umbrella-leaf, fruiting in the wet seepage area in upper Hazel Creek, and two orchids in bloom, the large-leaved twayblade and the small purple fringed orchid. The mountain bellworts and fairybells (both in fruit) were constant companions in wooded habitats. The colic root (Aletris farinosa), a member of the lily family, in bloom, was a new plant for me.
Significant “rooting” by feral boars around Gregory’s Bald and Russell’s Field was observed with significant blackberry growth in the cleared areas. We heard the gun of the paid hunter once who does his part to control the boar population. He also traps them, leaving their carcasses for the wildlife (when off the main trails).
Two yellow-bellied sapsuckers were seen, at the very southern end of their summer habitat.
At the end of the hike, driving through Cades Cove, the only bear of the trip was seen, eating out of a quickly abandoned picnic basket!
The cooked trout given to us by fishermen at Hazel Creek was an evening treat. Several streams that are protected from re-inhabitation from downstream sources due to major cascades and waterfalls, have been electrofished to remove all introduced rainbow and brown trout from their waters (the electrocution does not kill the fish, it just stuns them, allowing them to be netted out of the creek). The effort is to provide more habitat for the less-competitive, native brook trout.
A late evening walk up Bone Valley was interesting; so named due to a bad-luck farmer who left his cattle up above the valley to graze just a little too late in the fall. All the cattle huddled together, but froze to death nonetheless. Over the next twenty years, bleached bones would wash down into the valley with each flood; thus, the name. A butternut walnut tree was found just after the first creek crossing. A nice multiple-dam beaver site was found with monkey flowers, impatiens and dwarf St. John’s-worts in bud along the abandoned dam levees. A ring-necked snake was found at the old homesite at the end of the Bone Valley trail. 20’ rhododendron and 15’ mountain laurel filled the valley along the old country road under a canopy of silver birch.
Numerous cemeteries are still maintained by the Park Service within the Park. In fact, by coincidence, we happened to be at Hazel River two days before the annual reunion of descendants. Apparently, about 150 make the pilgrimage, with only a few survivors who were born here. They are boated across Lake Fontana and are picked up at the former town of Porter, and driven up the three mile road to Bone Valley. The advantage of our timing is that all the side trails to the cemeteries, as well as the cemeteries themselves, are all cut and weeded. There is a good-sized cemetery overlooking Bone Valley Creek and the Hazel River intersection. The unique characteristic of most of the cemeteries in the Park is that they are weed/grass free. Literally, the cemetery is dirt with head (and often foot) stones! And the soil is mounded over each grave, forming a ridge line up and down the grave! Travelling up Hazel River trail to the falls (a very nice day hike from campsite 83), a side trail just beyond campsite 82 leads to a single grave, simply marked “The infant daughter of Josh and Suzie Calhoun”. Continuing up the Hazel River trail to where the timber road ends (and remains of a little community can still be found), a faint trail continues steeply up a hill to another cemetery with two graves; Flory Wick 1896-1896 and a rough, unmarked grave.
GEOLOGY: Similar in origin to the Shenandoah National Park’s Blue Ridge mountain, the Smoky Mountains consist of Precambrian basement rock (metamorphosing over a billion years ago – Like our Pedlar and Old Rag formations), numerous younger sedimentary layers, all folded, fractured, metamorphosed and uplifted in the Alleghenian Orogeny, about 270 million years ago, when the African tectonic plate subducted under the North American plate.
BOTANY: In the Great Smoky Mountains, nearly 130 species of trees and well over a thousand species of shrubs, vines and herbs create a boggling tangle of growth that is at once a naturalist’s dream and nightmare. The range of altitudes in the Smoky Mountains, the abundant precipitation, and relatively mild temperatures mean even greater complexity in the forest ecosystem.
Communities within it are defined by the predominant tree species: ranging from the boreal coniferous fir and spruce forest, through the northern hardwoods at high elevations to oak-pine stands on dry ridges to the luxuriant cove hardwood forests in moist, protected valleys. The pattern of growth in this forest is a patchy mosaic rather than clearcut zones. Boundaries between plant communities blur with even slight changes in temperature, moisture, aspect, and soils.
We never got up to the boreal conifer forests of firs and spruce (generally confined to 5500’ and higher). These two species have survived our current warmer interglacial period only at the highest and coolest peaks in southeastern US. In fact, there area only ten “disjunct” populations in the southern Appalachians. It is at these “refugiums”, where the last vestiges of these boreal forests have retreated, where numerous rare and endemic plants and animals can be found.
At elevations below the boreal coniferous forests are the northern hardwood forests. These forests dominated our trip (and much of the Smokies), consisting of birch (mainly yellow), beech, maple (mainly mountain and striped), black cherry, yellow buckeye, and white basswood. Beech gaps are encountered on south-facing slopes on high ridges, where beech trees dominated in nearly pure stands. Newfound and Indian Gaps, along the Appalachian Trail, were beech forests before they were cleared many years ago. They still support many beech. We met a graduate student at Gregory’s Bald, who was looking at these beech gaps, assessing the impact of the introduced beech bark disease, on these trees. This introduced fungus is spread by an introduced beech scale insect. American beech is quite variable and several different races occur throughout the southern Appalachians. The gray is found at higher elevations, while the red is found at lower elevations. A third race, called the white (all three named by their color of wood), also is recognized.
The famous cove hardwood forests are sites of the most botanically diverse areas in the temperate world. Tree species include yellow birch, beech, basswood, buckeye, tuliptree, Carolina silverbell, sugar maple, magnolia, hickory, and hemlock. Found normally below 4500’, in north-facing, moist, coves of rich humus, these areas support the best wild flower areas within the Park. Our best example was along Lost Cove. Lost Cove had numerous sourwood and silverbells in the subcanopy, and bear huckleberry (Vaccinium ursinus – a new species for me) common as an upland shrub. Noteworthy herbaceous plants included a small purple-fringed orchid, three species of trillium (sessile, large-flowering white, painted) – all within three feet, round-lobed hepatica, large-flowered bellwort, spikenard, mountain bellwort, slender toothwort and foamflower.
Gregory’s Bald was an example of the grassy balds, found at high elevation (between 5,000 and 6,000’) within the park (like Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park). Twenty grass balds are found in the Smokies, ranging in size form four to fifteen acres in size. We visited both Gregory’s Bald and Parson’s bald. These grassy balds exhibit beautiful stands of several species of azaleas, most noteably, the flame azaleas, and numerous hybrids of flame, swamp and the Cumberland azaleas. The dominant orange flowered azalea is now considered the Cumberland azalea species (Rhododendron cumberlandense); not the flame. Like the beech gaps, origins of these (presumably) naturally-occurring balds are unknown, but since the end of Man’s grazing of these balds by cattle and sheep in the 1930's, the balds are being overgrown by woody trees. In the case of Gregory’s and Andrew’s Balds, they are being managed by Park personnel to keep them open. In fact, during our visit, a field crew was cutting out many hawthorns. Grass mowing is also conducted about twice a season. The question of using controlled burns has been considered, but concerns of regrowth of blackberries has kept the Park Service from using this tool (This is a real problem, especially in areas of wild boar rooting). We also met a couple (owners of a native wildflower nursery) who were marking certain particularly beautiful hybrid azaleas with ribbons for seed collecting in the fall---a practice not supported by the Park.
A second type of bald exists, that being the heath balds, which we did not encountered. They predominate in the northeastern section of the Park, on steep ridges on the south and west-facing slopes. Members of heath balds include the catawba rhododendrons, which can form dense populations. Other members of the heath family found on these heath balds include mountain laurel, sand myrtle, blueberries, huckleberries, azaleas and wintergreen.
Canopy: Tulip tree, black locust, basswood, black cherry, white pine, hemlock, red and sugar maple, black gum, table mountain pine, white ash, red, white, chestnut and scarlet oak, mockernut, pignut and shagbark hickory, short-leaf pine (on Parson’s Bald), black walnut, and one butternut walnut (white walnut).
Subcanopy: Carolina silverbell, sourwood, sassafras, American holly, striped maple, flowering and alternate-leaved dogwood, black and silver birch, frasers, cucumber and umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala), (fraser’s blooms before foliage emergence, cucumber and umbrella after emergence), pin cherry and shadbush, sweetgum, witch-hazel, persimmon, mountain ash.
Shrub Layer: IN BLOOM---On the balds included early blueberry (V. vacillans), hirsutus blueberry (V. hirsutus), highbush blueberry, flame azalea, swamp azalea, and black huckleberry. Other shrubs in bloom included buffalo-nut (some in flower), silky dogwood, common elderberry, mountain laurel, wild hydrangea, southern arrow-wood, New Jersey tea, maleberry. OTHERS IN FOLIAGE included red-stemmed dogwood, strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), Hercules’ club, deerberry, mountain cranberry (V. erythrocarpum), bear huckleberry (Gaylussacia ursinus), scrub oak and American chestnut, dog-hobble (Leucothoe fountanesiana), hobble-bush (V. alnifolium), maple-leaf and wild-raisin viburnum (both in fruit), mountain pepperbush (in bud), Carolina all-spice (in fruit), buttonbush, red elderberry (in fruit), smooth alder, southern bush-honeysuckle.
Herbaceous Layer: IN BLOOM---Large houstonia, oxe-eye daisy, Canada violet, Jack-in-the-pulpit, black snakeroot, common cinquefoil, whorled loosestrife, yellow stargrass, creeping bluets, tassel-rue, spiderwort, lousewort (wood betony), goatsbeard, yellow oxalis, common fleabane, leather flower, dwarf cinquefoil, red sorrel, common speedwell, fire pink, sundrops, purple-fringed orchid, enchanter’s nightshade, racemed milkwort, hairy and downy skullcaps, thimbleweed (or, tall anemone), flowering spurge, large-flowered twayblade, white avens, spotted St. Johns-wort, lettuce saxifrage, black-eyed susan, squawroot, tall meadow rue, ramps, basil balm, garden phlox, greater corepsis, spatulate pussy-toes, colic root, wood sorrel. Those in fruit include ginseng, umbrella-leaf, tall meadow rue, cow parsnip, heart-leaved alexander, star flower, blue cohosh, fairybells, Indian cucumber-root, foamflower, white doll’s eye, false Solomon’s seal, lyre-leaved sage, rattlesnake weed, round-lobed and sharp-lobed hepatica, bloodroot, geranium, large-flowered bellwort, mountain bellwort, painted trillium, nodding trillium, sessile, grandifolium, mountain crowfoot, mayapple, Canada mayflower. OTHERS IN FOLIAGE included halbert-leaved violet, prenanthes, wood aster, wood anemone, pink lady’s-slipper, pussy-toes, ramps, nettles, horse balm, sweet-scented Joe-Pye weed, angelica, rough goldenrod, lily (in bud), common milkweed (with a monarch caterpillar on it), May-apples, Clintonia species (in fruit), false hellebore, spikenard, crested iris, impatiens, slender toothwort, tick trefoils, St. Andrew’s cross, large-leafed asters, wingstem, small-flowered agrimony.
Ground cover and vines: IN BLOOM---Striped wintergreen, galax, OTHERS IN FOLIAGE included trailing arbutus, dutchman’s pipevine, smilax, rattlesnake plantain (in bud), blackberries, raspberries, Virginia creeper, wild yam, dodder, teaberry, running strawberry (in fruit), partridgeberry.
Ferns and fern allies: New York, hay-scented, Christmas, Cinnamon, marginal, interrupted, southern lady, silvery and ebony spleenwort, wood, intermedia, rock polypody, bracken, and beech ferns. Other fern allies included Botrychium virginianum, Lycopodium lucidulum, L. annotinum, L. clavatum.
Amphibians: Two lined northern salamanders, black-bellied salamanders, seal salamanders, spring peepers, American toads.
Reptiles: A copperhead, three garter snakes and a 5’ black rat snake.
Birds: Black-throated green warblers dominated. Other warblers included black-throated blue, northern parula, yellowthroat, Canada, chestnut-sided, hooded, Cerrulean, black and white, Swainsons, solitary, or blue-headed and Kentucky warblers. Other birds included chickadees, titmice, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, wood thrush, acadian flycatcher, winter and Carolina wren, scarlet tanager, juncos, wood peewee, veery, rufous-sided towhee, field sparrow, indigo bunting, chimney swifts, Bob-white, cedar waxwing (all last six on Gregory’s Bald), robin, solitary vireo, pileated woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-breasted nuthatch, ruffed grouse, kingfisher, barred and screech owls, Louisiana waterthrush, turkey vulture, American crow, bluejay, bobwhites.
Mammals: A few deer, three bats under the eaves at the Calhoun House, bobcat tracks, chipmunk.
Butterflies: Numerous male Dianas, especially, along Hazel Creek, tiger swallowtails, spring azures, red spotted purples, skippers.
MUSHROOMS: Sulfur shelf (eaten for dinner), hemlock, coral fungi, dog stinkhorn, redbelt.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: April 15-16, 2000
LOCATION: Dismal Swamp, Virginia
HIGHLIGHTS: This was a trip with the Audubon Naturalist Society, lead by Mark Garland. Intended as a bicycle trip, 2 ½ inches of rain on Saturday precluded our trip to Lake Drummond. However, due to the weather (and time of the year, as well as the location), the highlights were the anurans (frogs and toads), of which 12 species were either heard or seen during Saturday and Sunday. Specifically, the below were what were heard (H) or seen (S): the carpenter frog (H), southern cricket frog (HS), Brimleys’ chorus frog (H), gray tree frog (Hyla chrysocelis) (HS), spring peepers (H), two green tree frogs (S), a squirrel tree frog (S), green frogs (H), southern and Fowler’s toads (HS), southern leopard frogs (H), and a very large bull frog (S). From 8:00 to 11:00 that evening, driving around the area, Kevin, Jan Chambers and myself found probably 30 toads in the roads (both southern and Fowlers), among other frogs. In the distance, we heard southern leopard frogs, Brimleys’ chorus frog, gray tree frog (Hyla chrysocelis), spring peepers, both Fowler’s and southern toads, often with three or four different species all calling at the same time.
Other highlights were the blooming southern twayblade along the Washington Ditch boardwalk, the proliferation of both chain ferns (Virginia and netted), and the various early warblers, including the common prothonotary and prairie warblers. The heath family members were blooming, including blueberries, two Lyonia (L. ligustrina and lucida) and two Leucothoe species (L. racemosa and axillaris).
The ANS trip disbanded Sunday afternoon, but I was able to stay an extra night. Sunday evening, I bicked a circuit trip using the Lynn Ditch, Middle Ditch, and the Jericho Ditch. (PS; Middle ditch requires many fallen tree carries and the lower end of Jericho ditch was under four to six inches of water). Highlights were very fresh bear scat, a very big northern black racer, a king snake (with it’s hemipenis exposed!), and a visit to a 125’ fire tower along Jericho Ditch. If one were to climb over the security fence (which one could easily do where a tree had fallen on the fence), one could climb the steps and get a wonderful view well above the 60’ canopy of maples and Atlantic white-cedar.
On Monday, I took a ride along Coratuck Ditch and met two grad students measuring CO2 rates in the soil supporting Atlantic white-cedars. It’s part of a larger effort among government agencies to better identify ideal conditions for implementing/managing white-cedar mitigation projects.
Mistletoe was commonly found.
GEOLOGY: Coastal swamp deposits of peat, mud and sand.
Canopy: Red maple and Atlantic white cedar dominate the canopy, with bald cypress, swamp chestnut oak, loblolly pine, green ash, and American beech.
Subcanopy: Sweetbay magnolia dominates with American holly. Others include water oak and the semi-evergreen laurel oak (Q. laurifolia), sweetgum, hornbeam, sassafras, young tuliptrees, swamp cottonwood, hawthorn, shadbush, black gum, dogwood, black cherry (in bloom).
Shrub Layer: The heaths dominated, with the evergreen fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) and coastal sweetbells (Leucothoe axillaris), and deciduous swamp sweetbells (Leucothoe racemosa), maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina), and highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), all in bloom. The coast pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), was perhaps the most common, but not yet in bloom. Wild azaleas (R. nudiflorum) and sheep laurel (Kalmia augustifolia) were other heaths found, also not in bloom. On the drier uplands, outside of the Dismal Swamp, were blooming dwarf azaleas (Rhododendron atlanticum).
Other non-ericaceous shrubs included inkberry, strawberry bush (Euonymous americanus), common elderberry, Devil’s walking stick, southern wild-raisin viburnum (V. nudum) and southern arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum), swamp rose (Rosa palustris), wax myrtle, and red chokeberry in bloom (Sorbus arbutifolia).
Herbaceous Layer: The southern twayblade orchid was the most interesting of the few blooming herbaceous plants found. Other flowering native plants included the coast violet and common blue violet, blue toadflax, hooked crowfoot, yellow wood sorrel, dwarf dandelion, balsam ragwort, common fleabane, and heal-all. Introduced flowering plants included narrow-leaved vetch, small flowered cranesbill, corn salad, creeping buttercups, Indian strawberry, mouse-eared chickweed, and ground ivy. Cranes Fly orchid foliage was found, also on the Washington Ditch boardwalk. Lizard’s tail foliage was seen.
Ground cover and vines: This area can well be called the “land of lianas”. Several species of grapes and greenbriars were found (with greenbriars found everywhere). Poison ivy, Virginia creeper, Yellow Jassamine and crossvine (both in bloom), trumpet vine, and honeysuckle were common. Available literature indicates there are 21 species of vines in the dismal, including five species of greenbriars.
Ferns and fern allies: The two Woodwardia ferns, (Virginia chain and netted chain) were found throughout the swamp. Occasional royal ferns were always a highlight. Others seen included cinnamon, sensitive, marsh, southern lady, and bracken fern. Lycopodium obscurum was the only club moss found.
Amphibians: As mentioned in the highlights, 12 species of anurans (toads and frogs) were either heard or seen. Clearly, a personal record for a 24 hour period.
Reptiles: Unfortunately, with the rain, only limited reptiles were seen. Two black racers, a ribbon snake and a king snake were seen. Yellow-bellied, red-bellied, and painted turtles were seen. Also, a five-lined skink was found.
Birds: The warbler migration has begun in this location, with the prothonotary and prairie being the most dominant. Other warblers included the yellow-rumped, black and white, hooded, worm-eating, swainson’s, northern parula, and common yellowthroat. Other birds included catbird, mockingbird, cardinal, great blue heron, titmouse, chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, Carolina wren, kingfisher, barred owl, red-tailed hawk, black-crowned night heron, great egrets, wood ducks, and northern juncos.
Mammals: A few deer were seen. Bear tracks and very fresh scat were found (Estimates between 200 to 300 black bears live in the Dismal Swamp area).
Butterflies: (Courtesy of Mark Garland)
E. Tiger Swallowtail
Silver spotted skipper
Duskywing sp. (probably Horace's)
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: March 18, 2000
LOCATION: Pocosin Hollow, Central District, Shenandoah National Park
HIGHLIGHTS: This hike was led by Len Wheat, our SNP bushwhacker and artifactologist. We traveled down the Pocosin Hollow and found a steam engine boiler for a horse drawn sawmill, the planer (and nearby metal insignia labelled “balanced valve”, with the letter Q and number 1943), two spoked metal wheels, a metal rim for a wagon wheel, a wonderful homesite with stone foundation (with mortar repair work), numerous stove parts (Waynesboro, VA), and a metal pipe running from a spring to the back of the house, the Chestnut Grove Cemetary (with the only inscribed tombstone marked “Nasus”), and several unidentified conical caste iron fittings and a very heavy, but broken caste iron cooking pot.
The first hepatica and were in bloom and the cut-leaf toothworts were in bud. Two woody shrubs were in bloom; hazelnut (filbert) and leatherleaf. An unknown green, alternate, dentate, simple-leaved plant had spread over a ten yard area around a former homesite; presumably, an introduced, non-native plant.
HIKE ITINERARY: From the Pocosin Cabin parking lot, we hiked north along the Appalachian Trail and descended from above the middle tributary, eastward and downhill to below the tributary on the left and then south, up the southern tributary to it’s junction with the Pocosin Hollow Trail; returning past the Pocosin Upper Mission to the parking lot.
GEOLOGY: The ridge top, including the Appalachian Trail, are on the Catoctin greenstone. Shortly downhill to the east, the Swift Run formation is crossed, and most of the day is spent on the Pedlar granodiorite, with an unmarked large dike of Catoctin greenstone at the boiler site.
BOTANY A rich, moist woods. The upper portion of the valley has substantial decaying chestnut trunks (thus, the name of the cemetary) an witch hazel. The lower wet ravine has large yellow birch, ash, basswood, spicebush and successional tulip trees.
Canopy: Red, white, chestnut oaks, red maples (in bloom), blackgum, ash, hickory, basswood, yellow and black birch, tulip tree, black cherry, and a few beech (uncommon for the Park), hemlock, and white pine.
Subcanopy: Witch hazel, sassafras, black locust, shadbush, striped maple, and a few umbrella magnolia.
Shrub Layer: American filbert (hazelnut), leatherwood, and spice bush, were all in bloom. Deciduous azaleas, mountain laurel and a few blueberries represented the heath family. Common elderberry was budding out.
Herbaceous Layer: Some hepatica was in foliage or bloom, cut-leaf toothwort in bud, slender toothwort foliage. A few flower inflorescences from last years’ ramps were visible. Also, too much garlic mustard inhabits the moist woods.
Ground cover and vines: Striped wintergreen and lots of the orchid rattlesnake plantain. Various blackberries and grape vines. Also, some of last year’s Indian pipes still stood.
Ferns and fern allies: Christmas, intermedia and marginal wood ferns. Lycopodium flabelliforme, L. lucidulum and L. obscurum.
Amphibians: Both phases of the red-backed salamander.
Birds: Raven, pileated woodpecker, and not much else.
Mammals: One very dead deer.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: February 19, 2000
LOCATION: North District, Shenandoah National Park
HIGHLIGHTS: Found two flowers of hepatica in bloom (along the rocks on the edge of Piney Branch near the stream crossing above the Hull School trail intersection). Also found large chestnut tree (just yards east along Piney Ridge trail from the intersection with the Fork Mountain trail). The tree measured 32” in circumference, or, 10.2” in diameter, with fruit and major blight cankers. Both the Dwyer and Bowen Cemetaries were visited, with some very interesting hand engraved head stones at the Bowen Cemetary. Second consecutive hike along Piney Branch with someone falling in at the last stream crossing above the Hull School trail.
HIKE ITINERARY: Hike is approximately 5 to 6 miles. Used a shuttle. Started outside the Park, at the Thornton River trail (very limited parking). Hiked up the Thornton River trail, right on the Hull School trail, left up the Fork Mountain trail, right on the Piney Ridge trail, right on the Piney Branch trail to dropped car parked outside the Park (landowner at trail head asked us to park along the main road (Rte 653) at the bridge crossing Piney River).
GEOLOGY: The Hull School trail approximates the Stanley fault separating the northwestern Catoctin greenstone formation from the southeastern Pedlar granodiorite formation. About half way between the Thornton River and Fork Mountain trail, along the Hull School trail, a former mine site is encountered in the Catoctin greenstone, presumably searching for copper or gold. The tailings are mounded on the right, with the actual mine (depression) on the left. Some rocks with jasper and quartz mixed with other mineral inclusions are found. This site is 500 feet west of the Stanley fault.
TRAIL JOURNAL: In first mile, old white pine, hemlock and beech were found along the trail/former road. These had been left uncut by the former residents, looking to be up to two hundred years old. Soon, a dense white pine forest on a level area on the right is passed, with numerous stone piles and a stone fence; evidence of a cultivated field at the time of the Park’s formation. The Hull School trail is reached in two miles. This is where the actual school was located. Turning east along the Hull School trail, a mine is found in a small ravine a quarter of a mile up the trail. At this point, the trail turns right, moving out of the ravine, with the tailings forming a mound to the right side of the trail. After the right turn, the depression of the mine is on the left. After turning left onto Fork Mountain trail, a quarter mile beyond reveals a long stone fence about 100 yards to the left. Reaching the intersection with the Piney Ridge trail, the Dwyer Cemetary was explored (just ahead on the left of the Piney Ridge trail). Turning right on Piney Ridge trail, the ailing, but large, American chestnut tree is found. Further down, a home site was explored on the left, but nothing but rock piles were found. Descending toward Piney Branch trail, a switchback to the right marks an intersection of former mountain roads, with another road going to the left, straight up the valley. (A depression at the left of this intersection seems to mark a former building, although no signs of human habitation are seen). Reaching Piney Branch and turning right, eventually the Hull School trail is met. Across the creek, and 50 - 75 yards upslope on the Hull School trail, and a short bushwhack to the right up the bank leads to the Bowen Cemetary, with several lengthy handwritten headstones. Back on the Piney Branch trail, and two more stream crossings (a total of four from the Piney Ridge trail) leads us back to our car at the bridge.
Canopy: Tulip trees dominated the woods, all dating to the establishment of the Park. Few oaks were found, many standing dead near the ridge line succumbing to the gypsy moth infestation of the late 1980's. Mature sassafras and black locusts were showing signs of decadence, with numerous woodpecker borings into hollow trees. Oaks included chestnut, red, and white. Others included ash, black walnut, beech and hemlock in moist soils. White Pine was well established in former fields. Others included red maples, black gum, sycamore, hickories.
Subcanopy: Dogwood and redbud were locally profuse along Piney Ridge. Witch hazel and hornbeam was common at wetter locations. Black birch, black and bird cherry, hop hornbeam, ailanthus were also found.
Shrub Layer: Spice bush dominated the shrub layer in these moist soils. Blackhaw viburnum was occasionally found. Mountain laurel was not found until Piney Branch; at the Park boundary.
Herbaceous Layer: Mullein, poke weed in openings, goldenrod and asters, wild yam, peppergrass and much too much garlic mustard.
Ground cover and vines: Putty-root leaves were found along Fork mountain trail near Hull School trail. Spotted wintergreen and hepatica foliage was also sporadically found. Poison ivy, grape, vinca minor at both cemetaries and homesite near Hull School trail and Piney Branch trail. Both raspberries and blackberries were found. The lower stretches of Thornton and Piney Rivers included much greenbriar and Japanese honeysuckle (and a little barberry).
Ferns and fern allies: Numerous Christmas ferns throughout. Also, ebony spleenworts, rock polypody, intermedia, and wood ferns.
Amphibians: Red-bellied salamander
Birds: Juncos, downy woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, turkey vultures.
Mammals: Three deer
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
DATE: January 22, 2000
LOCATION: Shenandoah National Park, Central District
HIGHLIGHTS: With three inches of snow on the ground, animal tracks were of interest. Three bear tracks were found (two presumably from the same bear), three bobcat tracks, fox, turkey, ruffed grouse, squirrel, rabbit, shrew, mice, and numerous deer tracks were found. The big find was a saw-whet owl perched ten yards from the group with the remains of a cardinal in its talons. A flying squirrel was couched out of its tree cavity, and the remains of a yellow-bellied sapsucker, recently eaten by a raptor was found on the trail. A live and healthy yellow-bellied sapsucker was seen as well. Finally, an old home site consisting of three connected stone foundations and two chimneys were explored off the Hot Mtn Short Mountain trail.
TRIP ITINERARY: An eight mile circuit hike going up the Pine Hill Gap trail, down the Hot Mtn Short Mountain trail and Nicholson Hollow trail, and then bushwhacking north along the Park boundary back to the old Pine Hill Gap road to our starting point.
GEOLOGY: Old Rag granite, with a few exposed Catoctin greenstone dikes throughout. Along the upper portion of the Hot Mtn Short Mountain trail, the trail is on the Pedlar granodiorite formation.
TRAIL JOURNAL: The hike started from the designated parking area between the Broad Hollow and Pine Hill Gap trailheads, where about five cars can be parked. We proceeded south along Rte 681, which ends shortly, with the trail continuing ahead on the former Pine Hill Gap road (Rte 707). Black walnuts, black locust and sassafras line the stone walls along the former road. The secondary growth woods (from former agricultural lands) include tulip trees, black and sweet cherry, red maple, and a shrub layer of spicebush and witch-hazel. White pines and mountain laurel show up shortly on the left slope.
The trail ascents at a moderate rate 1.6 miles to a cement marker on the right, signifying the former extension of the Hazel Mtn road to Hot Mtn on the right. The deciduous woods along the dry, well-drained slope are basically chestnut oaks (with many dead standing oaks from the gypsy moth infestation of a decade ago), with white pine and a mountain laurel shrub layer dominating near the top of the ridge. A few young woolly hemlock adelgid-infested hemlocks are also seen. A set of bobcat tracks were found along this trail. Shortly, the Hot Mtn Short Mountain trail leaves to the left.
About a half mile down the Hot Mtn Short Mountain trail, the woods open in an area of former habitation, with many upright shoots of ailanthus trees (tree-of-heaven) covering the ground (and several distinctly square-barked persimmon trees). As the trail bends back to the left, a well-preserved chimney can be seen on the right. At this point, you have just passed a spring-fed ravine on the right. If you follow that ravine upstream 100 yards, you will come across a very interesting home site. This will be much easier to find in the winter. Three connected stone foundations are found, with two standing chimneys. Note the main chimney hearth has been filled in with stone, to accommodate a pot-bellied stove pipe, added at some point during the cabin’s occupancy.
Just after the chimney on the right side, the trail crosses over the unnamed creek and enters an area of mature white pines. This area provides a good habitat for the northern saw-whet owl, a winter visitor that frequents coniferous forests. It is near this area that we observed the saw-whet owl. We disturbed it as it was finishing a captured cardinal. Its docile nature allowed us to observe it from ten yards away for as long as we remained. On the southern-facing edge of the white pine forest (a few hundred yards along the trail), many trees were dead, reflecting the drier, hotter exposure, enabling the southern pine bark beetle to
overcome the tree’s natural resistence, due to the stressed conditions of the white pines. (A third homesite, with the remains of a chimney evident is passed on the left side of the trail in the Pine forest. Terraces, without apparent stone walls are observed on the right side of the trail.) On the far right upland slopes of Short Mountain, are many downed trees, presumably from the 1997 Hurricane Fran. Note the many dead hemlocks along the left side of the trail (hemlock woolly adelgid infestation).
Further down the trail, a fourth home site is seen just across the creek, with a cement water trough to the side. (It was near this site that the remains of the yellow-bellied sapsucker were found in the trail.)
Along this trail were found two more sets of bobcat tracks and three sets of bear tracks. It is assumed that two sets of bear tracks were from the same bear, as it wandered down to the creek across the trail, and then back across the trail a few hundred yards further down.
The trail continues through an alley with stone walls on both sides, shortly before reaching more home sites and, ultimately, the Nicholson Hollow trail. From here, it’s 1.9 miles down to the Weakly Hollow parking lot. Just before crossing the Hughes River, we turned left along the recently made timber access road (outside the Park boundary) and walked along the periphery of the field behind the soon to open B & B (the yellow wood frame house). We then walked around the left side of the fenced property, through the woods adjacent to the Park boundary, before joining the end of Rte 707, ascending back along the former Pine Hill Gap road to the trail head of the Pine Hill Gap trail, and returning to our cars.
Canopy: Beech, tuliptree, red, black, chestnut, and white oak, white ash, basswood, sycamore, red maple, blackgum, white, pitch, and Virginia pine.
Subcanopy: Ironwood, black and yellow birch, sassafras.
Shrub Layer: Witch-hazel, spice bush, striped maple, maple-leaved viburnum, dogwood, mountain laurel, blueberries and azaleas, wild hydrangea, menziesia.
Herbaceous Layer: Wild yams, asters.
Ground cover and vines: Poison ivy, grapes.
Ferns and fern allies: Christmas fern.
Birds: Winter visitors included northern juncos, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and the saw-whet owl. Other birds seen/heard included the Carolina wren, downy and pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees, and turkey vultures.
Mammals: Many tracks (see highlights above), but we saw only a few gray squirrel and the one southern flying squirrel. No deer were seen.
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
Back to Bob Pickett's Field Notes Home Page
PATC Home Page