Archive for November, 2008

Changing Leaves 2008

I’ve gotten a lot of “leaf-peeping” done this fall. Here is a quick mosaic of some of the changing leaves I’ve gotten to witness Autumn 2008. West Virgina, Virginia and North Carolina are represented here as well as notable trees like the Virginia Roundleaf Birch Tree and the American Chestnut:

1. Sinking Creek Mountain – More Changing Oak Leaves, 2. Dismal Swamp State Park – More Changing Leaves, 3. Sinking Creek Mountain – Changing Leaves, 4. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls – Changing Leaves, 5. Dismal Swamp State Park – Changing Leaves, 6. Poverty Creek – Changing Leaves in Sun, 7. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls – More Changing Leaves, 8. Sinking Creek Mountain – Maple Leaves From Below, 9. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Zebra Leaves, 10. Sinking Creek Mountain – Oak Leaves From Below, 11. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Red Leaves, 12. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Intertwined Leaves, 13. Douthat State Park – Orange Leaves, 14. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Fractal Leaf, 15. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Evergreen Over Red Leaves, 16. Douthat State Park – Chestnuts – Leaves, 17. Bald Knob – Turtle Leaf, 18. Camden Causeway – Leaves with Raindrops, 19. Causeway Park – Holey Leaf, 20. Virginia Roundleaf Birch – Yellow Leaf with Hole 2, 21. Tinker Cliffs – Red Virginia Creeper Leaves, 22. Duck Pond – Green and Yellow Leaves, 23. Angel’s Rest – Turning Leaves, Spiderweb, Powerlines, 24. Clay County – Leaves

November 17, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

I See Extinct Things

When I was a young child, one day for no particular reason, I told my grandmother a lie.

“I saw a puffin walking down the street!”

A puffin. In Occoquan, Virginia. Just 35 miles south of Washington, DC.

I wasn’t just a confused little kid. I didn’t see some kind of other bird, say one actually indigenous to the Mid-Atlantic region, and think it was a puffin. I didn’t even see a squirrel cross the street. I fabricated the sighting altogether.

Why? I think I thought if I saw something rare, something unexpected, that would make me special.

(My grandmother must have disagreed, she didn’t rush out and call the Potomac News about my puffin run-in. She just nodded and went about cooking dinner).

Today, I am pushing thirty-four years old and I don’t have to lie. Puffin Schmuffins. This fall I have been so damn special that I’ve gotten to see things SO rare they were once thought to be extinct. That’s right, extinct!

In September, I went with Ryan Somma to the Smithsonian’s new Sant Ocean Hall in the Natural History Museum. One of the many fascinating items they had on display was a Coelacanth.

Coelacanth at the Sant Ocean Hall (Photo by unnormalized)

Coelacanth fossils were first discovered in 1836. After that, numerous fossils were found, but they all dated between 400 to 66 million years ago. Seeing how the last trace of them was, well, 66 million years ago, people came to the conclusion that the fish was extinct.

And then in 1938, a fisherman caught one!

Now we know of two surviving species. Both are currently “critically endangered”, but not “extinct”.

Virginia Round-leaf Birch Tree

Compared to the Coelacanths, the history of the Virginia Round-leaf is pretty brief. The Virginia Round-leaf Birch tree was first discovered in Smyth County, Virginia in 1918. Then like the Coelacanths, all traces of the species disappeared… though for only about 1/100,000 of the time. In the absence, the Virginia Round-leaf Birch was also considered extinct. Then after 60 years of laying low, a small patch of the trees were found.

Today, in the one natural population, less 10 individuals survive and “it may be the rarest native U.S. tree species still existing in the wild.” However, thanks to the restoration efforts (and secrecy!), there are enough artificially propagated trees out there for the species to be considered “threatened”.

And some of those artificially propagated trees were practically in my backyard! There is a small memorial grove of Virginia Round-leaf Birch trees planted at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond. I got to visit them about a month ago, right as their leaves were starting to change.

Virginia Round-leaf Birch Tree at the Virginia Tech Duckpond

Stipules and leaves

So perhaps like my lie to my grandmother, these encounters are not yet worthy of the Potomac News. And perhaps they do not make me personally special.

But I will tell you this. When I am looking at these species, when I reflect on their rarity and how at one point in time their existence was about as likely as a unicorn (or a puffin in Occoquan, Virginia), and when I marvel at the surprises this planet of ours somehow managed to hide… the moment feels powerful.

The moment feels special.

November 14, 2008 at 8:00 am 4 comments

links for 2008-11-13

  • This afternoon I leave for Amsterdam, which is one of the most tree-rich cities in all of Europe. The city has 400,000 trees, 75,000 of them are Elms.

    Something tells me I'm going to enjoy my stay. 🙂

November 13, 2008 at 2:30 pm 2 comments

Season Compare: Bald Knob

I have a couple of season compares from Bald Knob. First, this weathered rock always catches my eye:

April 10, 2004- You can see Mountain Lake in the upper right

July 8, 2006

November 1, 2008 – Dry Mountain Lake is in the upper right

And here is a Jimmie Compare– Jimmie a little more than 4 years apart:

Jimmie at Bald Knob on April 10, 2004 – Mountain Lake is behind him

Jimmie at Bald Knob on November 1, 2008 – Dry Mountain Lake is behind him

November 13, 2008 at 8:30 am 2 comments

A Dog Friendly Approach to Bald Knob

Saturday, November 1st, Tony Airaghi and I went up to Bald Knob for a quick outing. The property at the Mountain Lake resort is not dog friendly, which poses a problem because the Bald Knob Trail starts right behind that fancy schmacy mansion. Luckily, there is a fireroad you can take up to Bald Knob that does allow pets. Just park at the parking lot right after the intersection of Mountain Lake Rd. and Doe Creek Road. Right across the street is a gravel road, aptly named “Bald Knob Road.” You follow that road up and booyah! Bald Knob View!

(And it is a lot easier than the trail all those pet-less suckers have to take!)

And what can you see from Bald Knob? Lots- wonderful ridgelines, great rock outcroppings, a historic golf clubhouse, Butt Mountain, Pearis Mountain and Mountain Lake (or dry Mountain Lake).

View from Bald Knob (Butt Mountain is in this shot!)

View from Bald Knob (Dry Mountain Lake is in this shot!)

Peeling Bark at the top of Bald Knob

Bunch of red berries at Bald Knob

I thought this leaf looked like a little swimming turtle

More pictures of our trip to Bald Knob can be found on my Flickr site.

Bald Knob (with Dogs)

Length: Approximately 0.5 miles one way

Elevation Gain: 479 feet

Directions from Blacksburg, VA

Take 460 West

Turn right on VA-700

Right before the Mountain Lake Resort, you will pass Doe Creek Road on your left. You will want to park and hike up the gravel road right across the street.

November 13, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

links for 2008-11-12

  • Wow. This really puts camping disasters into perspective. Suddenly Stacy and Louise’s 4th of July tent flooding and my wet tent from Tropical Storm Hanna don’t look so bad. Yup, not bad at all. (Hat Tip, Clint)
    (tags: camping)

November 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Dismal Swamp State Park

Sunday afternoon, Ryan Somma and I took the dogs hiking in Dismal Swamp State Park. Sunday evening, I flipped through my pictures to figure out which ones I wanted to upload to Flickr. A group of neighborhood kids gathered around me to watch. They stared wide-eyed at even my unfocused shots of trees and fauna.

Finally one asked, “How much does it cost?”

“It’s free,” I replied.

As beautiful as it is, with 16.7 miles of hiking/biking trails and kayaking opportunities, the Dismal Swamp State Park is totally free.

FREE! Canal at Dismal Swamp State Park

FREE! Beautiful purple berries – American Beautyberry (Hat Tip, Brian!)

FREE! 1/4 Nature Trail in a nearby rest area

YEOACH but FREE! Devil’s Walking Stick

FREE! More of the canal system

George Washington once called the Dismal Swamp “a glorious paradise.” Between this and his accurate assessment of the pawpaw, I’ve come to really respect George Washington.

That and the whole “Father of the Country” thing.

More pictures of the FREE Dismal Swamp State Park are available on my Flickr site.

Dismal Swamp State Park


Trail Map

Cost: FREE!

Length: Up to 16.7 miles (There are a variety of trails)

Elevation Gain: None – flat

Directions from Elizabeth City, NC

Take US-17 North about 18 miles. The end.

November 12, 2008 at 8:00 am 4 comments

The Harvey Dent Tree

Last October at Douthat State Park, I ran across this tree on the Blue Suck Falls Trail. One branch was covered in tumors and scars. The other branch was smooth and normal.

One side is all mutated. The other side is fine.

Similiar to the Kooshball Fungus, it didn’t take me long to come up with a name for the tree. I immediately thought of Harvey Dent.

Two Face Tree (Credit: Me), Two Face Lego Man (Credit: Parl)

We best keep a close eye on this tree and make sure it behaves itself. Be on the lookout for it next time you are in Douthat State Park.

November 11, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Geocaching: 16th State – North Carolina

On my first Saturday afternoon in North Carolina, I squeezed in some geocaching. I maintain that geocaching is a great way to find places off the beaten path and to learn a new area. I lived in Blacksburg for a good decade before I started geocaching. Once I did, suddenly my eyes were open to all sorts of parks and landmarks I had no idea existed.

My very first cache in my 16th State – Bream Fishin and it did not disappoint! Enticing me over to the Camden Causeway, I got to see some splendid views of the Pasquotank River. Gorgeous!

Bald Cypress Knees and Floating Leaves from Above

Log and Reflections in the Pasquotank River

Three bald cypress tree trunks

Leaves and Raindrops in Pasquotank River

Vivid fall colors on the Pasquotank River

More pictures from the Camden Causeway are available on my Flickr site.

November 10, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Henry’s First Hike Back

A number of years ago, I’d go with one of my girlfriends to Agility and Flyball classes for her dogs. I remember one time I showed up at an Agility practice and there was a yellow lab hobbling around, barely able to move its hind legs. The dog had suffered a back injury and had been paralyzed, but it slowly regained the ability to walk. When I first saw that dog, I had some negative thoughts about the owner. It was obviously injured– how dare they force it to go through this obstacle course. But when I took a closer look– I could see the dog wagging its tail, I could see it get antsy and bark just waiting for its turn. This dog LOVED doing Agility and although it was a difficult task and the animal took its time weaving through the course, it clearly loving every single moment.

I thought about that dog and its passion when I saw Henry hike Douthat State Park last month. This was his first “real” hike since his ligament tear last spring. We took the Blue Suck Falls Trail up to Lookout Rock and back. He looked so incredibly happy to be back! He was constantly wagging his tail, he ran up and down the trail ahead of me, found plenty to sniff and like the yellow lab in Agility, he appeared to love every single moment.

I tend to share more Jimmie pictures than Henry– because Jimmie is by far the easier to photograph. But today’s post will share a Henry hiking shot.

Welcome back!

Henry enjoying the Blue Suck Falls Trail

More pictures of the Blue Suck Falls Trail and Douthat State Park are available on my Flickr site.

November 10, 2008 at 8:00 am 3 comments

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