Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Garden Additions

New tree: deciduous Magnolia 'Butterflies'

The fall weather has been so pleasant recently that it's allowed me to continue expanding my garden, while taking advantage of the great sales to be found at this time of the year when nurseries are trying to clear out all their stock.

Springtime Garden Center had two nice-size deciduous magnolias of a new variety named 'Butterflies' with yellow flowers, and it was impossible to resist. I'd been wanting a magnolia for some time, so I bought the best-looking one of the two and made arrangements to have them plant it for me, which they did this past week.

New boundary flower bed

During previous weekends I'd been working on consolidating the three plants I had at our eastern property boundary into one larger continuous bed. I put in one of the Japanese maple seedlings gleaned from the grounds of the office building next door to where I work. This will eventually shade the Rhododendron I had planted there a couple of years ago. I added two divisions of the Gazanias from another bed, a yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea 'Artic Sun') and a Pieris shrub. The Silky Thread grass (Nassella tenuissima) that wasn't doing well in the back I transplanted here, adding a few bulbs of Blue Squill to fill it out. We'll see how this bed looks over the next year as the plants grow.

Gordlinia grandiflora

Beyond this bed I planted another irresistible bargain found at Wayside Gardens: Gordlinia grandiflora is a hyrbid of the famous Ben Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) and the well-known Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lassianthus) of southern forests. Like the Franklinia, Gordlinia blooms in the fall as the foliage turns red, and it's supposed to be evergreen. We'll see if it lives up to that claim in these latitudes.

Bed with evergreens on east side of house (Gazanias in front)

I finally decided upon what I think is the right spot for the ferny-leaved cypress ( Chamaecyparis obtusa filicoides) I bought last spring. This meant moving the lovely dwarf blue spruce I'd planted under the bay window to the other side of the Golden Hinoki cypress, and moving the Floxglove that was there to another bed. Fortunately, herbaceous perennials are easy to transplant, and the spruce had only been growing for one season, but I think the combination of foliage colors looks better in the new arrangement.

Herb kids me about transplanting and moving plants so frequently, as if it was as easy as rearranging furniture, but it's really not that much different. If it improves the overall look and the plants were not prospering where they were, why not?

Front yard from the east, construction of new houses in the background

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Progress on Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulacea)

I've been working on the flame azalea painting during the past couple of months on off-hours from my fall-planting chores. I've concentrated on adding detail with color pencil to the focal point--the cluster of flowers on the center left--and creating a sense of depth in the overall composition. I also extended the small branch on the right so that the composition is now more horizontal and the focal point has moved more off-center. That wow factor is still eluding me, but it's getting there.

I put away my field sketches from Mountain Lake after I photographed them and have not been able to locate them since then, so I will probably start drawing the coral root orchid from my photos, since I want to get started on painting this strange native orchid before the end of the year.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Growing Season Ends

Saffron crocus among strawberries.

Our first frost came last weekend, signalling the end of the growing season. On subsequent warmer days I was able to harvest a few more strawberries from the front bed and while I was poking about, found that the saffron crocuses I had given up on were starting to bloom! So far I've been able to gather about six flowers, and hope there will be a few more to season one or two dishes this winter. It seems hiding among the strawberries didn't hurt them at all.

Pencil drawing of saffron crocus.

Front yard in September
Front yard after the frost

These before and after photos of my front yard show how quickly everything goes from lush to drab after just one frost. It's been a good growing season--the wet early summer helped tremendously--all my trees and flowerbeds made progress, some more then others. The red maple on the west side gained several feet in height and about an inch in girth--I wish I'd taken photos a week or two earlier, when its foliage was fiery, and the narrow-leaf sunflowers by the house glorious.

West side garden

The Zelkova tree in behind suffered a great deal last winter with several major branches dying back. Let's hope this winter is not so severe and the tree can regain lost ground next year. This spring I planted a native witch hazel between the two, the small bush you see here. In time this will become a lovely under-story tree.

The Little Indians

The Little Indians bed (now eleven) continues to develop--the Amsonia in the rear is just beginning to turn gold and the Stella D'Oro daylilies in front are a bit larger. I'd hoped to widen the bed by another couple of feet this fall, but that can wait until next year.

New back yard bed

During the summer I planted a new Kousa dogwood near the miniature lilac Silvia had given me. I eventually joined the two mulched areas to form a new bed. Using the lazy method of newspaper mulch, I killed off the scrubby grass and have been putting in new plants here: a yellow lilac bush in the middle, a deep red hibiscus my neighbor gave me, a Clematis and lavender Bea gave me, an iris and a mum. It doesn't look like much right now, but hopefully, next year the plants will be fuller.

View of the back yard

Shady bed under the deck

The ferns under the deck are still struggling to get a foothold--the alkaline soil doesn't help. Lots of iron sulfate to acidify the soil hasn't made much difference so far. A Heartleaf Brunnera (B. macrophylla) was added this year; I'll keep working on it but it's a long ways from looking like much.

Backyard with ornamental trees

The back yard is still a fairly empty large space-- this year I added a native bottle-brush tree to the other small trees planted at the perimeter (tiny tree visible at left front). It will take a number of years before it attains its classic silhouette and lovely scented flowers. Behind it the Sevens Sons Flower Tree has sprung up to about five foot height and it bloomed lightly this summer. I've yet to see any showy red seed heads on it though--this is supposed to give the shrub two-season interest. The deer kept eating my trees back so I finally fenced in the dogwood and the crab apple--not very scenic but necessary until the trees grow tall enough to be out of the reach of the pesky critters.

I planted couple of new arbor vitae at the edge of our property, just behind where this photo was taken--one fast-growing Thuja 'Green Giant' and a Thuja 'Goldstrike,' with golden-tipped leaves. I'm hoping as these evergreens gain height, they will screen out the worst of the winter winds on this exposed hillside.

Front of the house.

There's still some time left for fall planting--I hope to dig in a few more trees and shrubs, and perhaps some spring-blooming bulbs in the coming weekends.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Drawing in Color Workshop

Gnarly carrot and color pencil drawing together.

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop at the US Botanic Garden with renowned botanical artist Wendy Hollender. She was a wonderful instructor--one of those rare teachers who can verbalize her thought process while doing a demonstration, who really gets across the principles and ideas behind her work as well as the techniques.

There were fourteen of us students, most of us experienced artist members of BASNCR (Botanical Art Society of the National Capital Region). The theme of the workshop was roots, inspired by a fascinating ongoing exhibit the USBG has on this subject. Wendy brought a fabulous assortment of root vegetables grown on her farm in upstate NY: carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, etc. all of which had a great deal of "character" as we artists like to say.

The first thing she asked was whether we knew what type of soil her farm has. As a gardener struggling to grow plants in Shenandoah Valley soils, I recognized the familiar twisting, contorted pattern of roots growing on very rocky soil right away and said so--my guess was correct.

I chose to draw this gnarly carrot for its intricate pattern of roots going off at all angles--it seemed to actually be a combination of five normal-size carrots with some tiny ones emerging here and there. My fellow students chose their vegetables, and we were instructed to start our life-size drawings with light graphite pencil, measuring and getting the proportions accurate.

Once we had drawn the basic outlines, Wendy showed us how she started toning the shapes with a dark sepia pencil to bring out the form, in effect creating a grissaille, and then adding a bit of color at the same time.

Wendy Hollender demonstrates technique.

Wendy's demo Day 1

She put down some color using watercolor pencils and applied a small amount of water with a "water brush" (a very clever brush with built-in water reservoir that saves one from having to carry a water container on site). The idea was to cover most of the grain of the paper, leaving only a bit a white for the highlights.

My electric pencil sharpener did not fit the Faber Castell watercolor pencils we were using, so I decided to try to stick to plain pencils for the most part.

Starting to add color to my early stage grissaille.

At the end of Day 1

Towards the end of the first day I had my drawing fairly filled in with color. I felt I was probably close to being finished. I voiced my fear of "going too far and ruining it," a feeling I think many of us share. This obviously struck a chord with others in the room.

Wendy's answer was, for me, the workshop's number one take-away. She said, "Most people take their drawing up to a point and then stop, thinking that's good enough. That's the point where you need to push yourself, to push your work to the limit. Keep pushing and pushing past the limit to see what happens."

That clicked with me--what were we all so afraid of? It's a drawing, after all, not a life and death struggle (though sometimes it may feel like that)--if it doesn't turn out well one can always start over. Wendy's insight is a life lesson one can apply to anything, not just art--all who succeed do so because they push themselves past the previous limits.

The next day started with renewed energy. It was time for me to work on getting the darks darker, for a full range of values on a scale of one to ten. Wendy had us do exercises on strips, toning small sections to create a 3-D impression of roundness. Some of the students had a difficult time understanding this, and she worked with them patiently, but insistently, until they got it right.

Wendy's sketches.

I tried out the watercolor pencils on the top stems of my carrot and found it an interesting way of covering the grain of the paper faster. I'll have to try more of this in the future once I get a sharpener that works with the thickness of these pencils. I used the Verithin black and dark brown pencils (quite hard compared to the Faber Castell), to darken and sharpen the edges, all to good effect. I used an ivory pencil to burnish in the colors.

By late afternoon my eyes weren't focusing and I was utterly exhausted--who'd imagine that drawing could be such hard work? I took a walk around the room to check our the other artists' works.

Workshop students' artwork

Wendy had demanded the best from each of us, and at the end of the day, when we all put up our drawings for display and a final critique, the transformation we had undergone was visible in each of the works.  I never knew I could achieve such results with color pencils! I wish all workshops could be like this one.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Hike on Dolly Sods

Herb at a scenic overlook in West Virginia.

Years ago I'd read that the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, at elevations ranging from 2500-4000 feet, had most unusual vegetation, more like what one would expect to find in Canada than our latitudes, and I'd been wanting to see it. The late summer weather has been so splendid recently, Saturday seemed like the perfect time to drive out to West Virginia to explore Dolly Sods.

Absorbed with preparing a picnic to take along, we left the house a bit later than planned--it was past noon. Clouds were gathering overhead as we drove west, but the weather forecast had not mentioned rain, so we hoped for the best. The road became steeper as the car began to climb over the first ridge on the horizon.

After about 25 miles we crossed the state line into West Virginia, driving through the small town of Wardensville. After that Route 48 became a scenic divided highway, crossing the Lost River. We stopped at one overlook for panoramic photos. Some miles past the South Branch of the Potomac River we took the exit towards Seneca Rocks and found ourselves on a two-lane country road once more. We passed picturesque Cabins and the Smoke Hole Caverns Resort, reaching the turn-off at Jordan Run Road. The first section of the road had only one lane open, the other was under  construction--probably the result of a recent wash-out.

The sign for Dolly Sods appeared after a hairpin turn, pointing towards the left. The paved road soon became gravel and began to climb up the shoulder of the mountain, steeper and steeper as it wound upwards. Fabulous views began to open up amid clearings in the forest. At the top of the mountain the trees thinned out and the gravel road split in two. Seeing a car ahead to our right, we decided to follow.

The Wildlife Trail.

We stopped to look at a signboard with trail maps; part of the map was pockmarked with what appeared to be shot gun pellets, but it gave no indication of where in that immense wilderness we were. I'd brought along a print of a similar trail map with me. We continued north on the road until we came upon a wider area with a few parked cars--this must be a trailhead, but which one?

A few steps inside the forest there was a sign: "Wildlife Trail." I located it on my map a saw that it was 1.5 miles long. The Fisher Spring Run trail intersected it, which seemed to lead back towards the forest road-- that would make a nice loop hike. We got on our gear and began walking--it was about four o'clock by now.

Ferns carpeted the open ground below the forest, with larger clearings here and there. I noticed that there were some birch trees that had large black growths in their trunks as if fire had scorched them--had there been a forest fire or was it some kind of fungus?  If it was caused by fire, it was in a very selective pattern. I looked into this later and found that it's a fungus called Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) that grows in northern forests from Siberia on through Canada, which is credited with medicinal properties.

Bracket fungi and Chaga.

Boneset (Eupatorium rugosum) growing profusely on the Wildlife Trail.

 There were quite a lot of fungi on the ground too, and the many muddy footprints on parts of the trail made evident the summer's earlier rains. Fortunately, the past couple of weeks weeks have been very dry and the mud had for the most part hardened. I noticed several old beeches by the side of the trail and thought to look for one of those odd saprophytes associated with old beech trees: beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) . Under these trees were some short brownish stems with small reddish-brown flowers. I'd never seen any plants like these before, these had to be beechdrops!

Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana)

Beechdrops on forest floor.

What a lucky stroke! It was difficult to photograph them in the late afternoon light and most of my shots didn't turn out well. We continued our trek at a naturalist's pace, passing areas with undergrowth of clubmosses and spagnum moss.

Ground cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum)

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) growing among spagnum and other  mosses.

We traversed the first of the "sods"--a large open meadow where many Monarchs and other butterflies browsed on milkweed and goldenrod. We lingered to admire the butterflies and bees hovering at the edges of the sunlight.

Crossing the sods.
Monarch butterfly in the sods.
Red Admiral butterflies.

Entering the forest again we were passed by a family with young children, the small boy very excited about seeing salamanders in a stream. We came to the stream and I turned over a few rocks to see if we could spot some salamanders but found none.  We began to wonder about the other trail--hard to estimate without a pedometer, but it seemed we had walked at least a mile and a half by now and we should have come upon it.

Firs on the Wildlife Trail

 We pushed on, and eventually saw the other trail going off on the right. Steps going down hugged the side of the hill, but the bottom was invisible from here--we would likely have a steep climb back up to the other trailhead if we took this trail. With the afternoon waning it might be wiser to simply return on the same trail when we reached whatever point seemed prudent.

At the next turn we encountered three hikers on the way back, and asked them what the terrain ahead was like. They had started their hike from the southern end of Dolly Sods, on the Rohrbaugh Trail, and they mentioned that there was a lovely view down a canyon some ten minutes ahead. One elderly gentleman's accent and attire gave him away as foreign, probably a German tourist.

Herb was not too thrilled, but I insisted--having come this far, we should at least try to find the place. We crossed another large open meadow, the sun now lingering only at the eastern edge, and back into the woods. More club mosses of a different type on the ground, large Rhododendrons and we began to catch tantalizing glimpses of a view through the trees at the edge of a drop.

Club mosses on the forest floor.

Glade with mountain laurel and blueberries.
Rhododendrons in the glade.

We entered an open glade with thick stands of mountain laurel and blueberry bushes where the view finally opened up. Standing at a rocky outcrop one could look down the "canyon"--a valley formed by the stream with several ranges of mountains disappearing in the distance--wow!

The canyon.

With this as the highlight of our hike, despite my wish to linger, Herb set a forced-march pace for the return. I followed, gasping for breath, trying to keep up with his long stride. It had taken us two hours to get there, but at this pace we made it back to our car in about thirty-five to forty minutes. Of course, there was no time for any photos or even a glance at any plants. Herb was determined to get back down the mountain before it got dark.

Seneca Rocks seen from Dolly Sods.

On the drive down Herb consented to one stop so I could take a few last shots of the mountains across the valley. We decided to have our picnic supper at dusk in a small park by the river that we'd seen on our way in near Cabins.

On the drive home a full moon was rising, peeking through clouds at first until it emerged to brightly light our way back (I found out later this was one of the "supermoons" of this fall, when the moon will be closest to the earth). The perfect end to a wonderful day!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mountain Lake Part III (Final)

View towards WV from SR613.

On Saturday evening at dinner, comparing notes with the folks I had met, Professor Henry Wilbur and his wife Becky mentioned that they had seen some Yellow Fringed orchids and another orchid with white flowers they hadn't identified yet, at two locations further down the mountain, outside of the Biological Station boundary. Naturally I was interested, and they agreed to give me instructions so I could find the orchids the next day .

After dinner, Mark told me about the high-powered microscope in Lewis and offered to show me how to use it. He gave me a specimen of Goodyera that I could examine, showed me how to mount it using toothpicks as makeshift pins, and explained about the herbarium collection in the same room. He didn't want to linger too long in the room with the herbariums open, since from long previous exposure he was sensitive to the mothballs used to preserve herbariums, so he left immediately after and I was on my own. The close-up look at the Goodyera flowers was fascinating and I wanted to sketch them, but was too tired to go back to get my sketch book. I decided to put that off until the morning and perused the herbarium files of the orchids--some of the specimens dated back to the 1930's and 40's! I did this until exhaustion overtook me, then I returned to my cottage for what I hoped would be a better night's sleep. I'd kept the windows closed all day and it was warmer in the bedroom--I was soon asleep.

The next morning at breakfast I met Dr. Rytas Vilgalys, from Duke University, and several of his students. He is a mycology expert and we chatted about the fascinating associations of native orchids with mycorrhizal fungi. He told me that the Coral Root orchids seemed to associate with the Russula genus of mushrooms in particular. Other native orchids, he said, actually parasitized the mycorrhizal fungi that had aided them in earlier growth stages and ended up eventually entirely consuming the fungi--who would have guessed?

After breakfast I went back to Lewis with my sketchbook and specimen and completed my sketches of the miniature flower's details then obtained detailed instructions from Becky about how to locate the orchids she and her husband had seen. Guests were supposed to check out by noon, so it seemed best to get everything ready before going out to search for orchids.

I gathered all my gear including the bag of garbage generated over the weekend, leaving the cottage ready for its next occupant, and packed the car. I figured it would be best to be able to start back home directly from the last site, leaving more time for exploration.

I rode off on the gravel road going down the other side of the mountain, passing by some folded bird capture nets on the outskirts of the station. Huge stands of rhododendrons hugged the mountainside, and a few driveways marked private led into seeming wilderness as far as I could see--these must be private hunting campsites.

A few scary hairpin turns awaited farther down. After one particularly hairy turn the view opened up at a clearing and I took several shots. The road dead-ended at another gravel road with no route numbers--I debated which way to turn--the right hand side seemed to go downhill, and I correctly guessed this was where 613 continued. I passed an area marked as White Rock Recreation Area, and eventually found a paved road where I turned left as instructed.

On my right there was a stream--Stoney Creek. I should have stopped to get some photos, it was so quiet and lovely, but my aim was to find the bog where the Yellow Fringed orchids were. I passed Glen Alton, and looked for the bog just before the Mohawk Flats sign. I passed the sign but there was no place nearby where I could pull off to park. I drove past the sign and turned around at the first opportunity, then found a place with a shoulder I could pull off on and walked back about 200 yards towards the area.

I looked for the dark flower heads of a sedge, the clue I'd been given about the location of the bog and they were all around. I stepped onto a mound of spagnum moss oozing water, but managed to not sink--so far, so good. Peering into the brush I caught a glimpse of several orange spikes--here were the Yellow Fringed orchids, lush and plentiful. I went farther in to photograph the best-looking ones. There was one that was seemingly huge, but on close examination, it was two of them intertwined--beautiful!

Two Yellow Fringed Orchids intertwined

Closer view of Yellow Fringed Orchids

Pleased with this great find, I decided to drive back to Glen Alton to try for the other orchid. Glen Alton appeared to be a little-used park: there was a caretaker's house and only one other visitor. I looked around the pond and stream, then took the path past the caretaker's house. This seemed to be the right path, now to look for a seep.

Stream at Glen Alton

About half a mile down, there was the seep, surrounded by large rhododendrons, but I couldn't remember if the white orchid was supposed to be on the right or the left. I looked for any traces of recent footsteps and followed what appeared to be a recently-trod path on the right. That vanished quickly and I continued downhill until I came to a thicket of ferns which seemed too dry for orchids, so I turned back, exploring underneath the rhododendrons along the seep, but nothing turned up. Back at the main path I tried the left side, stepping on some rhododendron roots along the bank of the seep, but that seemed to lead to impassable forest. I looked at my watch--twelve-thirty. I was loath to give up now, but I should be turning back to start the drive home soon. One set of great orchids out of two wasn't bad; it was time to call it a day.

I started to drive back up the gravel mountain road and then thought, why go up the gravel road again, when I might be able to get to the main road from this one? I turned around again and drove on--not a single road marker or route number, I had no idea where I was heading. At last a truck passed me and I hailed them to ask. The driver said I was about 15 miles from the main road--knowing I was on the right track, I pushed on and came out at Pembroke, just a few miles beyond where I'd turned off on Friday afternoon. It was about two o'clock, there was just enough time to stop by Pandapas Pond to look in on the yellow pinesap. I wanted to see how the specimens I had photographed two days before were developing. The flowers of the pinesap were unfolding and the stems more upright, but as you can see here, insects had begun to mar the pristine beauty of the tiny shoots.

I hope to visit MLBS again next year, perhaps in the springtime when the pink lady slipper orchids bloom. There is so much for a botanical artist to explore in this area of southwest Virginia!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mountain Lake Biological Station, Part II

Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata)

I woke just before the sunlight began to touch the tops of the trees visible from my bedroom windows--it was about seven. I got up to make some tea and dress for breakfast. The first bell rang at seven thirty and I started walking toward the dining hall before the second one sounded. After breakfast I went back to my cabin to get my sketching gear and camera, and set out towards Lewis.

I inspected the three specimens of Coral Root orchids there again, selected the one under the oak tree closest to the building and spread out my waterproof poncho in front of it. I sketched the outline of the stem quickly and placed the tiny flowers along it. I got out my magnifying glass to study the details of the few individual flowers that were open--the squarish white lip had several sets of purple spots on either side (hence the name maculata, Latin for spotted), the column with the pollinia was barely visible at 10X magnification. The three sepals and two petals were almost the same reddish-brown color as the stem, with perhaps a bit more greenish-yellow on the inside of the petals. After drawing a detail of one flower I got out my color pencils to put color into my sketch.

Field sketch of Coral Root

As usual, my limited range of color pencils seemed inadequate to render the subtlety of  the real live plant in front of me, and I struggled to blend the colors to something approximating the actual thing. It became warm enough to shed my light cotton sweater. Thus happily occupied, the morning wore on.

It was around eleven by the time I felt satisfied with the sketch--there was enough time before lunch for me to sketch the Rattlesnake Plantains on the other end of the campus. I picked up my gear, walked over and repeated the set-up.

Field sketch of Rattlesanke Plantain

The Goodyera's white flowers were even smaller than the Coral Root orchid's, and grew around the stem like gradually diminishing beads. Examination with the magnifier showed that the lip seemed to have a rounded shape, kind of like a Lady slipper in miniature, only with a spout--almost like a tiny pitcher. The flower, as well as the entire plant was covered with white hairs, as its Latin name pubescens would imply. My eyes were becoming strained from trying to take this in and draw it accurately. I had only started to color some of the leaves when the lunch bell rang, but I had enough information for my drawing to be usable.

Close-up of the Goodyera pubescent flowers.

Coral-like fungi: Neolecta irregularis? near the Rattlesnake Plantains.

I had planned to explore some of the trails around the station in the afternoon. During lunch I sat with to Dr. Mark and Miao, and they told me about their morning hike to Bear Cliff looping back to the station on the Spring Trail. They had come across some Twayblade orchids growing under the tree-sized native Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximus) and they said some of the Rhododendrons were still in bloom. That helped me decide--I'd take the same hike after lunch to see what I could find.

The Moonshine Dell Trail.

The trail started behind the pond and was marked with yellow blazes. In the first portion, leading to a place called Moonshine Dell, the woods were open and carpeted with ferns. A small stream flowed through Moonshine Dell and here were lots of huge Rhododendrons, some of them still covered with pale pink blossoms.

Moonshine Dell with Rhododendrons in bloom.

Rhododendron maximum flowers

I looked under them carefully as instructed, wandering back and forth across the rivulet several times, paying special attention to soggy spots near the mushrooms which were plentiful. After some thirty minutes with no luck turning up any of the Twayblades, it was time to continue on my way. I found my way back to the trail, passing by many colorful fungi, some that looked like tiny fingers, and wondered what genus these might be. The old forests on this mountain must be a gold mine for fungi experts.

Yellow mushrooms: Boletus?

Finger-like fungi: Clavulinopsis fusiformis?

Turkey Tail bracket fungi?

From Moonshine Dell the trail to Bear Cliff ascended through drier forest; a returning hiker passed by me. Large rock formations and hollows began to dominate the landscape, and the footing became more difficult. After another mile or so I came upon Bear Cliff, at 4000 foot elevation. Two small snakes sunning on the rocks scurried away as I stepped on the large rock that formed the base of the overlook. Trees blocked most of the view across the mountains, but the geological formation on the other side was impressive, dropping down a distance of several stories, the rock strata ran at different angles from the upper layers.

Approaching Bear Cliff.
The summit.
The drop at Bear Cliff

Gradually descending again, the loop towards the Spring Trail was much the same. My feet were starting to ache by the time I reached the spring. There were a bunch of cage-like structures built over the spring that I couldn't figure out--animal cages, or aquariums of some sort? They seemed abandoned now, probably the remnants of an old experiment or study. I looked around a bit, but saw only one of the Pink Lady Slipper orchids that were so plentiful. Perhaps there were more on the other side of the spring, but the cages distracted me and I didn't explore further.

Leaves of Pink Lady Slipper orchid.

I passed Jamie, the young lady from the office, running uphill on the trail with her dog--ahh, to be young and vigorous! I had just enough energy left to drag myself back to the station and take a couple of photos of the lovely butterflies on the milkweed growing around the pond before reaching my cabin. I'd never noticed it before, but milkweed has a wonderful scent--it seemed to be ordinary milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Some flower heads had been covered with sewn mesh bags--must be part of a student experiment.

Hackberry Emperor butterfly on milkweed.

Back at my cabin I quickly took off my hiking boots and rested on the porch for a while before going in, wishing I could trade in my bunions for the feet I'd had fifteen years earlier. Well, I had one more day to wander and who knew, tomorrow might be a lucky day!