Saturday, July 16, 2011

Walk in the Woods

I decided to get out of the house yesterday and test my knee. I've hardly been anywhere since the surgery, so I needed to work my muscles a bit. The hike went okay. I chose to go to the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness which is about 60 miles from my door. I'd never visited the place so I thought it would be interesting and as they are very low mountains, that it would also be easy on my knee.

What I didn't count on is the fact that ALL of my muscles are out of shape due to the fact that I've gotten little exercise over the past few weeks. I hiked about seven miles and while there were only some moderate ups and downs on the hike, I was exhausted and sore when I returned to my truck.

Also, I was covered in ticks. There were four attached to me, mainly on my thighs. I pulled about a dozen from my clothing, including my socks and pants. Found them crawling on my arms. I never leave a living tick when I find them. I don't toss them back in the brush. I take care to completely kill them, which is a chore when you're talking about ticks. You have to take the time to crush them between hard or sharp objects. I don't stop crushing their bodies until I'm sure that they're pulped.

As for other wildlife, I saw a single white-tailed deer and an indigo snake. That was the first indigo snake that I've seen in many years. I've been told that they're not very common anymore, so from personal experience I'd have to agree with that. Both of these animals fled so quickly that I could not get any photos. The snake actually crawled between my boots as I stood and watched. It's amazing that something with no legs can move so fast.

The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness is made up of a bit over 5,000 acres of second growth forest. There are no old trees there, as this was all a working farm/plantation in recent history. Most of it was owned by a single family in whose name these old "mountains" were named. And they're not much in the way of mountains. The highest peak in there is just a whisker over 1,000 feet in elevation and only a few of the peaks rise as much as 600 feet above the Piedmont. But, as they're the oldest range of summits in the USA, I will cut them some slack and refer to them as mountains.

They're composed mainly of rhyolite which is a metamorphic rock of igneous origin. Apparently at one time these mountains were volcanic. Ryholite resembles flint and is easily worked and holds an amazing edge. I looked around in some cleared fields for arrowheads or other Native American tools, but found nothing. Not even worked chips or blanks. I also found a lot of quartz along the hike and sometimes quartz was used to make tools, but again I found no sign of worked quartz anywhere I looked. I know Indians must have lived here, but unlike the nearby Morrow Mountain, the signs of tool-making is not obvious wherever rock is exposed.

One thing that did surprise me about the wilderness is that there are large tracts of nice hardwood forests. It's not virgin forest, of course, and there are no really big trees, but the recovering habitat is pleasing to see. The bottomlands and the woods in the little canyons and coves are very nice. I'd like to go back in the winter and do some bushwhacking in there. But I wouldn't recommend it during the spring and summer. The tick population is just way out of control and I certainly don't want to emerge from these forests coated in these blood-sucking pests.

I had a good walk, but I realized by the time that I made it back to my truck how out of shape I've become. Fortunately, I haven't gained any weight since the surgery, but my muscles have atrophied to an alarming degree. I was exhausted and sore after the hike. But now I know that I can get out and start reconditioning the knee. More hikes are in the planning stages, and then it's back to work.

The hardwood forests, especially in the bottomlands, were surprisingly lush and impressive.

On some of the ridge tops there was a lot of quartz. In places the trail was composed almost entirely of crushed and broken quartz.

Signs of past human habitation are to be found throughout the forest. To be expected since most of the trails are old roadbeds.


Mushroom pushing up from the forest loam.

One of the more interesting rock formations along the trails. This one was composed of rhyolite, the capstone that forms these little mountains.

Standing chimney from one of the old farmsteads that made up this property once upon a time.

I think this is some type of centipede. I've never seen this particular bug before.

Bent tree.

The streams in the wilderness were either dry, or nearly so. I'd heard there was a drought going on in that part of the state, so it's obviously true.

Forest canopy.

A leopard frog that was in one of the isolated pools in the drying streams. I was overturning rocks trying to find salamanders. I found none of them, but lots of these leopard frogs.

More of the rhyolite capstone.


MarkGelbart said...

I think that's a photo of a millipede, not a centipede.

MarkGelbart said...

I think that's a millipede, not a centipede.

Sorry, it this is a repeated comment.

HemlockMan said...

Yep, Mark. It's a millipede! My niece identified it for me. It threw me off because I'd never encountered that species before. Every millipede I've seen in this area is either drab brown or bluish.

MarkGelbart said...

I think millipedes have more of a shell than centipedes.

I tried to identify the blue flower. My flower guide book is far from comprehensive. The flower looks exactly like a violet but from the photo seems much larger. I didn't know there were any species of violet that got that big. It may be something else. The leaves kind of resemble those from a violet also.

I think the mushroom may be a species known as Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa). From the name it's obviously poisonous. I wouldn't dare eat any kind of wild mushroom. If I was with a mycologists, I'd watch them eat what they gather, and if they didn't die or get sick in a few hours, I'd eat it.

HemlockMan said...

That flower was actually pretty small. It's a macro shot, so it looks a bit larger and I really have nothing there for perspective.

I might eat morel mushrooms because they seem easy to ID, but even then I wouldn't harvest any unless I was with a botanist who knows his stuff.