May 30, 2016

Pinery Provincial Park: Carolinian Trail

I fretted all week watching the weather forecast.  I desperately wanted to join my mother Mary and her husband Keith again on their annual Memorial Day camping trip to the Pinery -- Frankie and I met them there last year and had so much fun!  I was worried though, because storms were forecast for the entire weekend.  I knew we'd be OK if it rained a bit while we were there, but was concerned about getting the tent set up in the rain... it just seems like everything would be soaked right from the beginning.  As the weekend approached, storms were still forecast every day, but it seemed like they would be hit-or-miss, the kind of big storm that can pop up in the afternoon on hot muggy days.  And it was HOT!!  Ultimately, I decided to risk it, and I'm so glad we went.

We had the same campsite as last year, in the Dunes Campground.  It was dry for our arrival and set up, and even though we did weather one storm, it was just part of the adventure.  The campsite features a trail directly to the beach, and we had gone down Sunday afternoon after a morning of hiking the Hickory and Bittersweet Trails.  We watched the storm blow in over Lake Huron, and it was spectacular!  We made it back to the campsite and battened down the hatches; the storm blew over in time to eat a lovely, slightly drippy dinner, and then after dinner we found a rainbow.  Perfection!

For various reasons, in part because they are so nice, we ended up hiking the same four trails we hiked last year.  Therefore, I am prioritizing this post from the Carolinian Trail, since I never got around to writing up a trip report for it last year.  This trail is different from the other three in that it does not lead down to a viewing platform over the Old AuSable Channel.  The trailhead is located near the western edge of the park, and is well removed from the day use areas, visitors center, and other busy spots.  It feels remote and we haven't seen anyone else there on either visit.  It has a ton of wooden stairs and boardwalks to prevent erosion, because even though the area is entirely forested, it is still essentially a giant sand dune.  Plus, there is a lovely pond with a viewing platform.

We'd stopped at the visitor's center the previous day and read about a rare shrub, dwarf hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia a.k.a. C. pumila).  Apparently it is extremely rare in Ontario, but common at the Pinery.  I had never seen it before because it is a more southern species that does not occur in New York, Minnesota, or Massachusetts, and the Michigan populations are located well south of where I lived and botanized.  I was very excited by the prospect off seeing it, and bam... there it was, all along the Carolinian Trail.  It was thrilling!

wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis)


this might not look like much, but it was a new species for me -- very exciting
a closer look: dwarf hackberry (Celtis pumila)

starry Solomon's-seal (Maianthemum stellatum)
there is a new sign up at the trailhead this year, but I didn't get a good picture (this is from last year; the trail is the same)

May 21, 2016

North Country Trail: Old Quarry

There are two crossings of Quarry Road on the old Lehigh Valley Railroad portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT).  On my last hike in this area, the northern Quarry Road crossing was my turnaround point.  Because it was a school day hike, I didn't have time to continue 1.4 miles further south to the second Quarry Road crossing, from which there is a lengthy road walk to the next off-road section.  Rather than orphan the short remnant, I decided to bring Frankie along for this portion.  However, I knew he could handle a little more than 2.8 miles, especially since the old railroad bed sections are so flat.  I decided we'd continue on through my favorite portion of the last hike, making the bench with the lovely view our turnaround point.  That would give Frankie a chance to rest, and let him see hug the railroad crossing sign.  The kid loves signs almost as much as he loves sticks!

So I parked along the shoulder at the intersection of Quarry Road and Ingalls Corner Road, and followed the NCT blazes west through a hedgerow between two farm fields.  After 0.3 or 0.4 miles, the trail descends steeply over a limestone escarpment.  The trail continues north from here via the old rail bed, passing an old quarry and an abandoned house before reaching the second Quarry Road crossing.  From here it is 0.7 miles to the scenic bench, making the round trip hike 4.2 miles.   

The hike was a great success.  Rain was forecast, which excited Frankie to no end -- he was actually disappointed that the odds were only 50%.  I've traditionally restricted him to fair weather hikes, but we have a trip to Scotland planned, and will most likely be hiking in the rain there.  I wanted to ease him into it, so we headed out with my camera bag stuffed with rain gear.  It did rain, a passing downpour, but I needn't have worried.  He loved it!  And the sticks?  He carried them all the way back to the car, and carefully arranged them on the front porch when we got home.  This is starting to become an issue actually; all the sticks are starting to block entry to the house.  I think I'll try to convince him to build a house for Eeyore up in the woods behind the house... put all those special sticks to good use.  

the trail through the hedgerow

descending the escarpment
the old quarry
abandoned house

bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)

approaching the Quarry Road crossing

view from the bench
a little boy's treasures

"Good that I found all my stick friends!"

climbing back up the escarpment

May 18, 2016

North Country Trail: Hemlock Glen, Morgan Hill

The rolling hills south of Tully are fast becoming one of my favorite local places to hike, and I've been itching to get back down to Morgan Hill State Forest, where I last went with Frankie in March.  The weather forecast was lovely for today, and Erwin was planning on joining me for another section hike along the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT).  Unfortunately for him, he remembered he had a dentist appointment, so he went to get tortured while I ventured out solo.  For this out-and-back hike, I left my car at the shoulder parking area at the southern crossing of Shackham Road, and headed east.  I hiked east until I reached Chickadee Hollow Road, then returned to the trailhead via the same route, for a roundtrip total of 7.7 miles with about 1,000 feet elevation gain. This is a little longer than I typically attempt on a school day hike, but summer vacation is coming fast, and I decided to risk skipping a shower and/or laundry to fit this hike in.  I made it back in plenty of time and it was SO worth it. 

This trail is spectacular, particularly the first mile and a half or so, which follows Shackham Brook, then ascends alongside a tributary into Hemlock Glen.  Parts of the trail are quite steep, but the scenery is stupendous: babbling brooks, cascades, wildflowers, and green, green, green!  Just magnificent...  I can't believe I've never gone here before.  There are a couple designated campsites along this route, two tent sites and one lean-to, all three with fire pits.  It might be a good place for Frankie's first backpacking trip.  Hmm...  The trail also passes very close to the summit of Morgan Hill, where a fire tower used to be.  Unfortunately it was removed in 1978, and the area is forested, so there are no views now.  Still, I highly recommend this hike.  All around, it was another glorious day in the woods!!

Shackham Brook Crossing

Shackham Brook
painted trillium (Trillium undulatum)
Hemlock Glen

foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
rosy twisted stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus)

downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens)

hairy Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum pubescens)

crossing of seasonal Morgan Hill Road

power line crossing
turnaround point at Chickadee Hollow Road
heading back

the trail follows an old road for a bit up on Morgan Hill
gold-thread (Coptis trifolia)

kidney-leaved crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus)

Hemlock Glen lean-to
Hemlock Glen campsite -- this is right above the biggest of the cascades

backpackers by Shackham Brook

the tent site here is right next to the creek

the trailhead on Shackham Road
NYSDEC map of Morgan Hill State Forest.  I parked at the southern Shackham Road crossing, and hiked east/south to the mapped southern terminus of the trail (which actually continues) then back.