Last month I hiked the well traveled Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park. At the top of the trail I saw footprints of people and dogs ... and I encountered this. I put my boot next to it for scale.
I didn't see paw prints near it but the size of this scat pile indicates it was deposited by a large mammal. There's not a lot of fur in it and it's blue (why?) so this animal eats more than just meat.
The scat had been deposited so recently that I could smell it as I took the photograph. I found another, older pile further down the trail. This large omnivorous mammal left his mark over and over again. A black bear.
The bear lives there. I was just visiting. Though he wasn't in sight he was probably in earshot so I made human noise (speaking, whistling) so he'd know I was traveling through.
I'm sure he didn't want to be surprised any more than I did!
Last Friday I hiked the Gull Point Trail at Presque Isle State Park with Mary Birdsong, Sarah Sargent and Julie Dell. Last winter's storms blew down trees, eroded the northern shoreline, and inundated the trail but Friday was Mary's second shorebird monitoring trip so she'd already found the best way to get to the Point.
Before we left for the park, Mary said I'd need knee-high waterproof boots. I don't own any, so she loaned me her extra boots shown on the left. They are really tall, nearly up to my knees with a 13.5" shaft. Mary has true knee-high muck boots with (probably) a 16" shaft, like those pictured on the right.
It took us a long time to get to Gull Point on the driest route. As Julie walked ahead of me I felt great about my borrowed boots. They were perfect!
And then we got to this spot.
As you can see, the water really is knee high.
I picked my way with my hiking stick and then ... uh oh! The water overtopped my boots and rushed into both of them.
On dry land I pulled off the boots and dumped them out, wrung out my socks and put everything back on. Sarah's calf-high boots were inundated too but she changed into her hiking boots (see them over her shoulder). Mary and Julie were fine with their 16" knee boots.
Years ago when I first hiked the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle I was puzzled by this pattern on the rock beneath my feet.
In those days there weren't interpretive signs nearby so I tried to make sense of it as best I could. I decided it was a motorcycle track, but I couldn't figure out how the vehicle had gotten there and why it had run from the cliff into the river.
Duh! Motorcycles don't leave tracks in rock. It's a fossil.
Though I've seen the other ones this is the fossil I like the best.
Lepidodendron was a tree-like plant with scales on its trunk that grew as high as 100 feet tall.
It lived and died in the Carboniferous (coal making) era. If the tree had fallen in a swamp it would have become peat and then coal, but it happened to fall on sand so the patterns of its scaly trunk were preserved in rock.
Not far away is one of Lepidodendron's last living relatives: Lycopodium or groundpine. Only 6-12 inches tall, its tiny trunks and branches provide a visual hint of its ancestor's appearance.
The past and present are near each other at Ferncliff Peninsula.
(fossil photos by Kate St. John. Drawing of Lepidodendron and photo of Lycopodium from Wikimedia Commons; click the images see the originals)
Though yesterday was quite sunny the temperature hovered just below freezing and the wind was strong. We bundled up to look at seeds, trees, dry weeds, and birds.
Above, a wingstem seed pod looks just like a dried version of the flower's central disk. Below, in the thicket we found juncoes, titmice and chickadees ... and then changed our focus to identify the trees.
Dianne Machesney found this still-red scarlet oak leaf. I held it to take its picture.
The ground wasn't frozen but the creek had glimmering white ice.
After the hike, some of the party drove up Pearce Mill Road to check on the beaver dams on the North Fork of Pine Creek.
The beavers were snug in their beds while we braved the cold.
(photo credits: wingstem, hikers and oak leaf photos by Kate St. John.
Creek ice and beaver dam photos by Dianne Machesney)
The trail follows Little Beaver Creek as it cuts through the surrounding hills. Along the way there are remnants of the channel and locks of the Sandy and Beaver Canal that ran for 73 miles through 90 locks and two tunnels from Bolivar, Ohio to the Ohio River at Glasgow, Pennsylvania.
Completed in 1848, 20 years after it was chartered, the canal operated for only four years. It closed in 1852 after the Cold Run Reservoir Dam broke and ruined much of the canal. By then competition from the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad made it uneconomical to rebuild. The canal boom ended abruptly.
At Grey's Lock I stopped to read the historic marker but I didn't absorb what it said because my attention was snagged by the sound of crows. Just out of sight, they were flying my way. 150 passed overhead and congregated somewhere on the north side of the creek, still within earshot.
That flock is just the start of something big.
Right now the crows are gathering in the countryside. 150 here, 200 there. Some have made it to town, but no great numbers yet.
Soon, very soon, the crows will come to Pittsburgh. By winter we could have 10,000!
The weather has moderated a little, but it's still hot and humid.
I'd like to go hiking but southwestern Pennsylvania has a 50% chance of thunderstorms today and I won't hike in lightning if I can avoid it.
Now it looks unavoidable. The sky has become ominously dark as I write.
If the weather was merely hot I'd visit Cucumber Falls, pictured above. The falls are part of Cucumber Run in Ohiopyle State Park and they're easy to get to. There's a parking lot near the falls for a quick visit, or you can get a better look at Cucumber Run by hiking the Great Gorge Trail. Hike upstream to feel the cool air in the creek valley or walk downstream to the Youghiogheny River where you can watch the rapids. Here's a map of the park. (The map takes a while to download. If it looks black, change the zoom and the map will appear.)
Unfortunately Ohiopyle is a 90 minute drive from Pittsburgh and I can't see driving that far to wait in the car for a storm to pass.
I guess I'll have to stay close to home and merely think cool thoughts.
Here's a place that's changed for the better in the last 200 years.
Hells Hollow Falls are part of the gorge cut by Hell Run, a tributary of Slippery Rock Creek in Lawrence County.
At its headwaters Hell Run flows through farmland, then into the woods where the gorge and waterfall have been protected as part of McConnell's Mill State Park.
It wasn't always this beautiful.
In the mid-1800's the valley was logged and mined for its iron-ore-rich limestone and the coal to fire its industry. The Lawrence Iron Furnace, two coal mines, a quarry, and a lime kiln were all within a short walk of the waterfall. It must have been a smoky, dirty place in those days.
In the 1870's the local iron business collapsed and within 50 years the coal mines closed too. The trees grew back, the buildings disappeared, and the brick-walled lime kiln became a curiosity in the woods.
The only noticeable scar is coal mining's affect on the water. The abandoned mines release toxic, orange, acid mine drainage (AMD) into Hell Run's feeder streams above the falls. Fortunately, even in the dry month of July there's enough fresh water to dilute it.
When I visited Hells Hollow Falls last Sunday I marveled at the miniature slot canyon upstream. Geologists say this channel was formed when the creek ran inside a limestone cave just below ground level. Eventually the top of the cave fell in and revealed the flume, pictured below. If I was the size of an ant, this would be the Grand Canyon.
Last year, WQED's Web Department made three videos for me to post on my blog: An April Hike at Raccoon Creek State Park, the Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, and a third (not yet edited) film of Marcy Cunkelman's garden in August.
Though it was filmed last year on April 23, the Web Department had to wait until their summer intern, Christa Majoras, was available to edit it. Christa did a fine job and completed the video in July, but by then these scenes of April were out of season so I saved the video for this week.
My plan was to show you a preview of flowers-to-come but life is full of twists and turns. Who could imagine we'd have a spring so warm that the plants would be two to three weeks ahead of schedule? This video is again out of season -- late by two weeks.
Use your imagination as you watch. Go back in time to March 31 and remember what the landscape looked like. Or watch this video for signs of just how far ahead this spring is compared to April 2009.
Sit back and enjoy An April Hike.
(video filmed by Joan Guerin, edited by Christa Majoras)