While I was in town delivering tofu on Tuesday, I was, as always, listening to NPR all day. Every few minutes, they would give some dire weather report– “showers and thunderstorms throughout the entire listening area, some of them may contain heavy rain and damaging hail…flash flood warning throughout the listening area…” and the like. I wasn’t sure if I should stick with my initial plan of visiting Mint Springs park after finishing the last delivery, but I figured what the hell if I get soaked I’ll just get soaked.
I parked the truck, took off everything but my boxers and shoes, and headed out with a basket for mushrooms, my camera, and a plastic bag to put it in when the rain started. All day it had rained off and on, never very hard, and I set off in a hard drizzle/light rain. The air was warm and moist, the vegetation thick and overgrown–it felt so much like the times I’ve hiked in tropical rain forests. All day I felt like I was walking through a jungle, it really was the most tropical-feeling hike I think I’ve ever done in Virginia.
In the field, about 20 steps from the truck, I came across this cute guy. It seems like I see at least one box turtle (or maybe it’s the same one over and over) nearly every time I go for a walk. They’re such beautiful animals, although not too terribly well camouflaged.
I followed the highest-elevation trail in the park, the one that came closest to its boundary with Shenandoah. As I climbed up into the mist, I kept feeling more and more like I was in a tropical cloud forest.
Along the edge of the power lines was this enormous-leaved plant, which only added to the tropical feel of the whole afternoon, alongside a mullein (toilet paper plant), that is just starting to flower.
Leaving the power line, the trail contoured around the mountain for a while. Just a few steps back into the woods, I encountered this enormous polypore mushroom. I think that it may be a maitake (hen of the woods), which is a prize choice edible. The overlapping rosettes don’t look exactly like maitakes that I’ve seen before, but it also doesn’t really look like anything else in any of my guidebooks. I was hoping that it would be good eating, but when I got it home and cooked it, it was too tough and stringy to be really palatable. According to Wikipedia, “The fungus becomes inedible like all polypores when they are older, because it is too tough to eat.” I guess I really should have taken this walk a couple days ago.
I’ve continued to see lots of Indian pipe plants growing here and there, and for the most part they are now common enough that I don’t bother photographing them. But I’ve never seen as many coming up in one place as I saw here, and in a couple other locations, in Mint Springs park.
In this season, as I’ve discovered the delights of eating boletes and chanterelles, I have mostly been ignoring the “lowly” platterful mushroom. I’m still seeing them here and there, although not as abundantly as earlier in the year. Still, I had to take a photo of this large, well preserved specimen, lording over its little corner of the forest.
Eventually, the trail dropped back down down down into the valley. I followed a route called the “Hollow Trail” back to the truck which dropped from a saddle down along the creek. At the head of the creek was the hollow that I guess the trail was named after. It was an especially pretty bit of woods, damp, fern-covered clearing at the head of a little valley, a very peaceful spot in the light rain and solitude. This park is full of the remains of old homesteads; I could see wanting to build a little shack in this spot right here.
At higher elevations, I hadn’t seen any chanterelles, but as I got closer to the truck, I started to see some. By far, the most abundant groups of them were growing in the compacted soil right in the middle of the trail, lots of little clusters growing in the moss and rocks. Several others had been mashed to bits, trod upon by hikers who clearly need to be paying a bit more attention to their surroundings.
I saw several individuals of this majestic-looking mushroom. I didn’t have my guide with me, but I picked some anyways, just in case they were a good edible. They certainly looked marvelous, and they were in perfect shape. When I got back to the truck, I learned that they are Velvet-footed Pax, and that they aren’t edible, although some people do insist on eating them, just because they look like they should be.
As I was almost all the way back at the truck, I came across an odd sight– two red and yellow boletes that looked as if they had been picked and discarded in the middle of the trail, or kicked over. Strange…
I examined the smaller of the two, and found it to be a bi-color bolete in quite good shape; despite some scuffing on the outside, the inside was bug free, and as of this writing, it’s now inside of me!
The other one was huge, and would have made quite a meal, but it was riddled with insects. It was quite a curious thing to find right in the middle of the trail on a day when I didn’t see another soul the entire time I was out of the parking lot.
By the time I got back, the rain had mostly stopped, although wisps of cloud cover continued to blow across the mountains. It was actually pretty ideal conditions for a hike, and despite some fairly strenuous climbs, I hardly broke a sweat and got back to the truck feeling cool and refreshed. Of course, it stormed like crazy as I was driving back to Twin Oaks, but I was glad that it held off until I was back under cover.