Wednesday, July 1, 2009

6-20-09 A day trip into Zealand Falls

Aren't they lovely? They're Bunchberries (Cornus canadensis), a member of the dogwood family and a very common plant in the White Mountains. The showy, white, petal-like bracts around the flower are not really petals. The fruit, which emerges in mid-summer, is a bright red berry that is edible but has little flavor. The plant's range extends from northern Greenland all the way down to New Mexico. There are several varieties most likely the result of geographic isolation. These varieties exhibit only minor differences. In Newfoundland I have been served a wonderful pudding made from a variety there with much sweeter and tastier berries than the canadensis variety we have here.

Last Saturday morning (6-20-09) my daughter Liz and I drove to the base of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail set for another hike up to Lakes and Monroe Flats but the weather was awful up above and we both felt abyssimally lazy so we concocted some handy excuses and spent part of the morning exploring the woods along the Ammonoosuc River just below Upper Falls and a ways off Base Station Road.

This is yellow hawkweed (Hierancium caespitosum) that looks like a composite but is actually in the aster family. It's a bright, cheery plant found along roads and in sunny woods. We found it in an opening close to the river.

A dozen feet into the woods from where we parked the car we came out on the old Base Station Road, abandoned 40 years ago, replaced with the present wider and straighter road that rarely follows the river. The old road had a definitive personality and was an adventure in itself with hair raising curves as it followed along side the river. I think it's comforting to see nature reclaiming an asphalt-paved road in a fairly short period of time.

Next to the old road was this large patch of bracken fern (Pteridium aquillenum) which has the amazing ability (due to the aquillenum) to efficiently angle its fronds perpendicular to sunlight and maximize the solar energy it can get for photosynthesis.

We reached the Ammonoosuc River after walking for a ways through these woods which were "gnomey" with a lot of moss and lichens hanging from tree limbs and open but with a lot of windfalls scattered on the forest floor.

I'd never exploreded this part of the river so it was a wonderful surprise to come upon this view of the Ammonoosuc with this long stretch of quiet water. The paths through the woods were old but well worn showing that this section of the river was once well used by bathers and probably fly fisherman.

Walking upstream to the next bend we discovered more surprises. This pool is 15 feet deep in places and a perfect swimming hole.

This was the view upstream at the next bend. The river ran swiftly through the narrow channel even though it was quite deep. It offers an exciting inner tube ride.

This was a typical pool in the upper section and deep enough for a high dive from the ledges. The water was a lovely emerald green in the early morning light.

We finally made a decision to head into Zealand Falls and Zealand Hut via the Zealand Trail for the day and to try and find a colony of Sundew plants (Drosera rotundifolia) that I had recorded 40 years ago growing on the west shore of Zealand Pond. If you remember Sundews catch and "eat" insects like the Pitcher plants and Venus Flytraps. The trail was adorned with myriad varieties of ferns including the Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnemomea) (above).

Hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is delicate and lacey and a favorite fern of mine. It's usually found in sunny locations on open, sloping ground in pastures or next to trails or roads where it get's a lot of sun. It's distinguishable by its sweet aromatic, hay-like smell when it's been cut and is drying or even on hot sunny days. another distinguishing feature is the "black boots" at the base of the stem which is a dark brown-black color while the upper part of the stem is green.

This is a whorl of Spinulose woodfern (Drypteris spinulosa) var. intermida.

The Zealand Trail, after the first half mile in which it takes you up and down through a rocky stretch, levels out on an old logging rail road bed (above) and stays on the bed down Zealand Valley and through Zealand Notch. Two trails branch off the trail just before the notch. The A-Z Trail goes off to the left and leads over the Willey Range to Crawford Notch and the Twinway Trail branches right and climbs steeply a few hundred yards to the Zealand Falls Hut that is operated by the AMC.

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