Friday, May 21, 2010

The Taconic Crest Trail - Part 1

Sunday morning, May 2nd, dawned warm and summery, promising a hot, sunny day. I had lots of chores and errands to do but decided I must go hiking. So I loaded Seamus, Fergus and little Daphne into the car and drove to Petersburg Pass. I lived out that way for many years and know the area well. Along the way, I passed my old house where I'd adopted and raised my two boys. It's been extensively remodeled and is now quite a showpiece though it was beyond modest when I lived there.

We arrived at Petersburg Pass in less than an hour and parked at what had once upon a time been a ski resort parking lot. No buildings remain, though when I first moved to the area there were remnants. I put the dogs on a leash as the trail begins across the road from the parking area. But as soon as we were across the road and climbing up the steep rocky trail, I removed the leashes. Little Daphne wasted no time and quickly began running and romping as only a puppy can do:

And the lowbush blueberries were in bloom on both sides of the trail. I find their waxy white bell flowers especially attractive and it looks like it'll be a good year for eating wild blueberries:

There's a short spur trail to a scenic overlook right at the beginning of the hike and we took it. This view shows the Taconic Valley and State Route 22 from Petersburg right down to Berlin, New York. Just to the left one can see State Route 2 which runs from Petersburg, New York to Williamstown, Massachusetts:

It was only minutes until we were on the main trail and as you can see it was lovely, almost enchanted. The trail is uncommonly straight and level. It's also distinctly visible and well marked. The surrounding land has been purchased by Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and is now popular with students. When I used to hike here it was known only to the locals. And yes, Fergus' ears are a-floppin' again. He's a happy boy:

At that altitude the trees were just beginning to turn green. In the more exposed places, they were also miniaturized from the harsh winds and extreme cold. Seamus was just happy to outdoors:

Trout Lilies, Erythronium americanum, were in bloom. No, "in bloom" doesn't quite describe it. There were acres and acres and acres of Trout Lilies carpeting the forest floor. Their mottled leaves and delicate yellow star flowers were to become perhaps the most memorable part of the hike:

And mixed in with the Trout Lilies were Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginca, with a variety of colors - white, white with purple stripes, pink or purple:

The trail dropped down into a bit of a protected valley between the mountains and the trees were taller. There was still plenty of warmth and sunshine coming down through the mostly leafless trees. Albany had mostly progressed beyond spring and into summertime, but up on these mountains it was still early spring. The three dogs and I hiked merrily along the trail and yes, it did have some of the feel of traveling the yellow brick road:

And all through the woods these shrubs were in bloom. They are Hobble Bush or Witch Hobble, Viburnum lantanoides. I couldn't find them in my field guide, presumably because they are more a woody shrub than an herbaceous plant, but thank heavens for Ellen Rathbone's blog where I found them clearly identified. If you'd like to see Ellen's blog, click here:

The boulders along the way were mostly white quartzite, adding more magic to the overall appearance of the forest:

And deep in the sheltered valley, skinny little Daphne heard a sound and went on full alert:

And all along the trail I saw these aptly and imaginatively named Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, with their feathery leaves:

But there were some which didn't have the trousers look but looked more like the Bleeding Hearts in my mother's garden of long ago. I thought they might be yet undeveloped Dutchman's Breeches, but I looked them up when I got home and found they are the closely related species called Squirrel Corn, Dicentra Canadensis. Both plants, by the way, are indeed in the Bleeding Heart subfamily. You can see how it pays to keep one's eyes open and try to take in all the tiny beauties as well as the majestic scenic overlooks. This is Squirrel Corn:

Notice happy little Daphne's position in this photo. You'll see it a lot as she was full of energy and joy, running more than walking. Seamus, in contrast, has slowed down so much I had to keep encouraging him to walk ahead of me instead of dully plodding along at my side:

And here's a video from that first scenic overlook at the beginning of the hike. I made an error in my narration when I said the road below was Route 22. While the spot overlooks both routes, I was at the moment referring to Route 2 which runs up over the Petersburg Pass from New York into Massachusetts. You can hear an Ovenbird singing in this clip. You can also see black flies buzzing the camera lens occasionally:


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