April 30, the final day of the month. A crazy busy day, and I knew I would have to get an early start if I was going to have any chance to get out for a walk, so I was up at 6 and loading the tofu truck by 6:30 for my regular C’ville delivery. Along my route, I passed through this section of road which follows the “green tunnel” theme in a quite literal way:
Today, like many recent days, was cloudy and unseasonably cool– my favorite hiking weather! I knocked off my deliveries as fast as I could, and after a quick lunch I spent an entertaining hour exploring a new (to me) part of the Rivanna Trail on the northwest side of Charlottesville.
After parking the truck in a questionably legal spot on the edge of UVA campus, I followed the trail into the forest:
The trail descended into a small but steep-sided ravine and followed close by a creek. This section of trail is just to the south of busy Highway 29, and the sounds of nearby traffic could be heard throughout the entire walk, greatly diminishing the “wild” feel. I walked the elongated loop shown below, and here’s some of what I saw, in no particular order:
I saw loads of wildflowers along the trail, and took photos of some of the species that I haven’t seen so much of previously. This one–possibly some sort of wood anenome?- was more purple than the photo makes it appear.
Close-up of wild azaleas. I think it’s a “common Pinxterbloom Azalea” (as per http://www.tjhsst.edu/~dhyatt/azaleas/periclymenoides.html).
Even when they weren’t blooming in huge masses, the azaleas were quite pretty mixed in with all the other forest vegetation.
Given all the recent moisture, I was expecting to find some mushrooms, and I was not disappointed. This fawn mushroom was both enormous and free of bugs, a happy combination! (in fact, as I’m writing this, I’m enjoying this very mushroom in a soup)
All winter, I’ve been finding these gelatinous “wood ear” fungi scattered here and there, They aree supposedly edible (though I still haven’t tested their flavor), and this was by far the most I’ve encountered all in one place.
Beautiful sliver and reddish patterns and colors in chunks of bark fallen off of a dead pine tree. It looked like coins or fish scales laying on the forest floor.
There were many rhodedendron plants in the woods, which will make for some amazing blooms in a few weeks. In this photo, it’s easy to see the contrast between the new leaves that have just grown in the past month and the old leaves that have overwintered.
The rhododendrons weren’t quite ready to bloom yet, but they were covered with flower buds, some of which were just beginning to open.
Although the trail passed mostly through a thin slice of woods sandwiched between UVA campus and the highway, there were many large old trees, including a couple of ancient ones (in pretty terrible shape) that were about as massive as any I’ve seen in the woods around here.
I walked up to the base of that tree, on a hunch that I might see some mushrooms there (which I did), and startled this big & ugly buzzard-bird. It didn’t move until I was just a few feet away (gave me quite a start), then flew to a nearby branch and stared at me until I left.
Further up the trail, in a more open, disturbed area, I came across a number of these striking wildflowers, which with a bit of internet research I have discovered are called “star of Bethlehem” flowers.
At one point, I found myself in an overgrown patch of woods, looking down at the flowers at my feet, and I nearly walked into a group of three deer, which (like the earlier buzzard) didn’t run off until I was just a few feet away from them. Two of the deer leaped and sprinted off into the forest, but the third ran about 20 feet away, then turned around to check me out. For quite a while we stood and watched each other before both walking off in different directions.
Before looping back into more mature woods, I passed through a small grassy area with lots of dandelion seedheads, which have been growing profusely all over Twin Oaks, Charlottesville, and pretty much everywhere else. Dandelions, being weedy, common, and not particularly showy, are mostly overlooked (or eradicated). But watching my kids, and seeing their excitement at blowing, kicking, and stomping the seedheads, has given me a new appreciation for these fun flowers. And if you really look at them up close, they’re actually quite beautiful.
While on the topic of common wildflowers, I’d like to include a photo of these little guys, which have been blooming for about the past two weeks along the edge of forest paths. I’ve seen them both at Twin Oaks and also in the other foresty places I’ve walked, and while not particularly showy, their cheerful abundance makes them worthy of note, especially now that their time is starting to pass. I think they’re called thyme-leaved bluets (http://williambritten.com/wordpress/wildflowers/smoky-mountains-wildflowers-thyme-leaved-bluet/), although they may be some other related species of bluet.
On the way back to the truck, the trail passed several signs of former habitation. It was odd to see this ruined building not more than 100 yards away from a busy highway (one which I’ve driven dozens of times myself), completely invisible to the cars whizzing by.
A short ways away, the trail passed by this sunken stone trough. I have no idea what it was previously used for– it seems quite deliberately shaped, closed at both ends, and the rockwork is quite painstaking. Any ideas what it is/was?
The final bit of the loop passed back into dense, mature forest. The woods were so thick and green that parts of the trail looked like something out of a tropical jungle, rather than the Virginia piedmont.
This late-flowering tree, weighted down with thick white flowers. At first I thought it was a dogwood (which I’ve seen lots of today in Charlottesville), but the blooms are too dense to be a dogwood, plus the flowers look different. I just ordered a field guide to mid-Atlantic wildflowers, too late for a lot of the flowers that have already come and gone, but it will be helpful in the future to find out what I’m looking at.