Monday, June 20, 2011

6-18-11 Zealand Valley (completed 6-30-11)

The following is more a photo tour of Zealand Valley in the last gasps of sprig and the arrival of summer. The photos were taken Saturday morning 6-18-11. I started out in a downpour which slackened to a drizzle but with promises of a clearing of sorts later in the morning. For those of you who have ventured here you'll recognize the bottom of the Zealand Trail in this photo with the old logging railroad bed heading straight and the spruce and fir trees, eager for sunlight, crowding the trail on both sides.

I proceeded up the trail to the junction with the winter ski trail and then took a sharp right and began a long bushwhack staying close to the Zealand River as far as I could which was to the series of beaver ponds. I thought of heading east of the ponds and going as far as the A To Z trail to cut back over to the Zealand Trail. The above photo is of an old "cutbank" where the river carved out a steep bank now 100 feet from the present river bed. There were fresh moose tracks in the soft soil here going up and down the bank.

Carrying over the discussion about the boreal forest from the recent blog entry about South Twin (5-28-11), and reiterating the enormous importance of the diversity of plants and animal species comprising this forest in particular and being mindful of the necessity of keeping the forest intact, the "whole system", that's so critical in support and sustaining current levels of diversity and, over time if left untouched, will promote a continuum in which evolution (diversification) will continue without human intervention. It's terrifying, for me at least, to think of what will become of us if we allow the forests to continue to shrink at their current rate, or to think about the prospect of only small "islands" of forest surrounded by metropolis. What would those forests be like?

I walked up the river threading back and forth from one side to the other looking at the trees. There was an almost continuous stand of balsam firs with an average DBH of 14 inches. This part of the White Mountain National Forest was heavily impacted by logging and fires that resulted from the logging as much, or more, as any other area in the WMNF. An interesting side note is that during the heyday of logging in (New) Zealand Valley in the 1890s a tree with a 14 inch DBH was the smallest diameter tree (usually spruce) that would be selected for cutting. That means the largest trees present here now were the smallest in 1890. But that was on the first pass. Over time loggers would come back time and again and take out the smaller diameter trees until every tree was cut.

In his Logging Railroads of the White Mountains (AMC: 1980) Fran Belcher wrote: "Railroads opened the White Mountains to the devouring demands of the lumberman. Up until 105 years ago, a visitor to the White Mountains was greeted on all sides by the sight of rich stand of virgin timber, mostly deep green spruce and fir. But then the iron horse invaded the mountains and for more than 50 years the region experienced large-scale logging operations which we hope will always remain unparalleled in North-Country history for their intensity."(p. 2)

The railroads went everywhere and allowed the logging companies to reach every corner, high and low, of what would later become the White Mountain National Forest, but only after it was left for dead. First the lumbermen stripped the mountain sides of the huge, old trees and left the ground covered with "slash", tree branches and unwanted trees, that often caught fire and burned with incredible intensity. Two huge fires in the Zealand Valley burned out of control in the summer of 1886 and, again, in the spring of 1903. The photo below is an aerial photo taken by Brad Washburn of North and South Hancock Mountains during the logging there. The entire mountain, all the way to the two summits and the ridge between have been stripped clear of trees. This was the case with nearly every peak including Carrigain, Hitchcock, the Bonds, Owls Head, Nancy, Bemis, Paugus, Passaconway, Tripyramid. etc. It's both astonishing and shocking to see the intensity, as Fran called it, of their industry and the logger's determination to not leave a tree uncut.

For the Zealand Valley this meant that more than 10,000 acres of forest as measured from present day Rt. 302, where there was a switch and a rail yard for the Zealand Valley logging railroad, all the way through Zealand Notch south, almost to Sawyer Pond on the south side of Mt. Carrigain, was cut including the Hancocks in this photo. The railroad tracks visible in the right side of this photo are lines emanating in Lincoln, NH, and not part of the Zealand Railroad.

Earlier in the blog I included descriptions of the Zealand Valley and Zealand Notch from newspaper accounts of trips taken into this "wilderness" in the late 1800s by local guides and sportsmen. I'll cite one about a trip taken by two men in August 1879 south from Twin Mountain through Zealand Notch all the way to Ethan Pond and Crawford Notch that describes scenery which is hard to believe. At the time Zealand Notch was referred to as the New Zealand Notch. The article is printed in Fran's book on page 81. As Fran pointed out, there is no mention in these early articles, up until the 1880s-1890s of any logging going on in the Zealand Valley or Pemigewasset drainage..

Red spruce in an even and open stand on the east side of the
Zealand River that may be reminiscent of the forest that was
here 140 years ago. These trees are actually at the size of the
smallest trees initially harvested by the loggers in the 1890s.
The trees cut in the mills then for lumber were much larger.

Instead, these narratives describe "unbroken wilderness" and a route that was "pathless, following old deer trails (and climbing) over fallen stumps" of the "giant trees green with moss that has formed upon them for years." In another instance the author of the newspaper account observes that the forest is made up "mostly of spruce but varied with white and yellow birch."

Cornus canadensis, or bunchberry, forms dense colonies, like
a carpet, throughout these open stands of spruce and balsam

J. E. Henry's famous railroad was built through the Notch a few years after that newspaper account was published. Fran points out on pg. 85 of his book that the first registry of land acquisitions by Henry was on April 20, 1880. His firm bought several thousands of acres for $33,000 acres (about $3 an acre). Soon after that purhcase Henry bought out his two partners and commenced logging unfettered by any sense of responsibility to others. He grabbed everything he could get his hands on. It was even said that he would log over a piece of land before he bought it and then pay the price for devalued property afterwards. His Zealand Rail Road extended from Twin Mountain and the small town of Zealand (near the present campground) all the way to 1.) Shoal Pond (which was originally Howe's Pond); 2.) Ethan Pond; and 3.) a side spur that went along the bottom of the notch next to Whitewall Brook. You can see the main line in the notch now where it cut along a "natural bed" that existed a third of the way up Whitewall Mountain (originally Mt. Hastings).

Fires, already noted, burned extensive areas in the Zealand area in the summer of 1886 and the spring of 1903. It's difficult to determine exactly what areas burned with any accuracy. One account states that the fire in the lower valley started on the afternoon of July 8th and that it was started by one of Henry's locomotives. Henry lost his Zealand railroad, a great amount of cut logs in the fire, and the loss of human lives was also mentioned. A rainstorm on July 15th helped extinguish what was left of the fire. This fire burned up the sides of Mt. Hale to the summit and through the valley on both sides of the Zealand River to the location of this flume in the above photos.

A pink Lady Slipper (Cypridedium acaule) in dry woods on a high bank above the river. My daughter, Liz, and I explored this area last year at this time and found occasional flowering Lady Slippers at several stations.

Last Saturday it appeared there was a population explosion. There were nearly four times the number of flowers at each station along the brook and along the trail. The greater number were this lovely pink-rose color.

A smaller number were this "pearly" white that I like. The white ones have a luster like opal.

Others were half-way in between.

They were literally everywhere and lovely. The increase in their numbers this year might be due to a dry spring as lady slippers prefer dry habitats.

I rejoined the Zealand Trail at the first beaver pond and passed a number of hikers who were heading out to the road from Zealand Falls Hut where they had spent the night. They all exclaimed how good the breakfast was.

The rain stopped by the time I got to the bridge here at the first beaver dam and it looked as though it wanted to clear off. I sat here for quite a while and watched a family of cedar waxwings.

Witherod or Viburnum cassinoides

Familiar places.

This spot, when the sun accentuates the opening, reminds me of a trip here with Fran Belcher in the early 1960s when this whole areas was an open field of several acres that he explained had been one of the "camps" along the Zealand railroad. He told me about digging in the camp area and finding interesting artifacts that he left at Zealand Hut.

The Zealand Trail follows the old railroad bed as far as the turnoff on the Twinway. From there the railroad bed continued south. In 1903, 15 years after the first fire, this area burned all the way through Zealand Notch at which time a Boston journalist referred to it as "Death Valley." Even Fran questioned the length of time it would take the valley to recover from the impact of the fires saying it might take hundreds of years. Whitewall Mountain is one reminder of the intensity of the fire but little else either of the fire, or the railroad and the camps remain today a hundred and ten years after the last fire..

Speckled alder growing in a wet area near the large beaver pond.

White birch (B. cordifolia), red spruce (Picea rubra) and moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) near Zealand Falls.

Appalachian Trail thru hikers heading north.

Geum pecki, or Mountain avens, on the ledges near Zealand Falls Hut. There were very few flower head showing on the Geum pecki along the ledges. I was wondering if they were a little late this year.

I found one blossom high up along the river.

Osmunda cinnamoea, or Cinnamon fern.

Sorbus americana, or Mountain ash

This is the white pine (P. strobus) growing just off the ledges on White Wall Brook, and a few hundred feet above Zealand Falls hut. I've mentioned this specimen in conjunction with the small community of white pines on the Gale River slide track that I'm studying. This one first caught my attention 50 years ago. It's growing at roughly 3,000' asl which is close, or similar, to the altitude of the Gale River specimens are, as well.

This is the trunk of the White Wall Brook white pine. It's trunk is decaying and vulnerable to insect infestations. It's apparently dying. I've considered all of the white pines mentioned as anomalies as they are at the extreme upper limit for this species.

The two little riffs in the foreground are bath tub-sized potholes that you can sit in comfortably on a hot day and cool off quickly. When the water is a little higher than it is now they're comparable to a jacuzzi.

But if you prefer more space these falls are elegant and well designed for relaxing and cooling off, or a place to read and spend a long mid-summer afternoon.

On my way out of Zealand I ran into Saundra and Mike Cohen who I've known for many years but haven't set eyes on for atleast a decade. Saundra is famous in the AMC hut system for being the woman who pushed through a lot of red tape, a lot of duplicity and lip service, legal stalling, political stonewalling, and brusque dismissals when she applied for a hut position in 1970 when most institutions were already going coed (Harvard in 1969). Women have always been in the huts but never as official employees of the AMC. It took three long years before Sandra was finally allowed to work in a hut, Zealand Hut as it turned out. Her perseverance made it possible for women to work in the huts which they've been doing since 1973. Some summers the number of women is greater than the number of men. I wrote a three part history of women in the hut system going back into the 1930s and 1940s that was published (in three installments) beginning in the October 1984 (Vol.50) of AMC's monthly magazine also called Appalachia. The article was supposed to be a "spring board" for a much more comprehensive piece (a book?) that I felt would best be written by a woman writer, but no one's come forward.

Anyway, it was great to see you guys.


Andrew Riely said...

Alex, I've been looking for that article in Appalachia, but I can't find it - is it under your name? The issues are listed by season rather than any case, I'm looking forward to reading it when I can track it down.

Alex MacPhail said...

Hi Andrew,

It's confusing as the serialized articles were published in the monthly magazine also titled "Appalachia". My piece got broken into three articles published in the October, November and December 1984 issues of the magazine (Vol.50) under the title "Las Machas." I have photocopies of the articles and I could send you a set or get one to you at Lonesome at the end of the month. I'll be over at Ghoul the 22-24th so can run over. It's a good article. I'd write it differently today and I think it should be written in more detail, with more interviews, etc.

Andrew Riely said...

Yes, do come on up to Lonesome! It would be great to catch up. And please bring copies of the article - I've been curious to read it for some time.