September 3-4 – driving home

I did something kind of foolish on this most recent trip to Louisville– I brought my camera along, but neglected to bring the spare battery or my battery charger, so almost immediately after arriving at my friend’s place in the city, the battery crapped out.  So, no pictures of my own for the rest of the trip, although I was able to go online and steal a few photos, which give a pretty good idea of what I saw over the past few days.

My weekend in Louisville was about reuniting with old, dear friends from college, and since that was my priority, I didn’t do much in the way of nature observation.  A few things I did notice– first, that it was quite hot in Kentucky, well over 90 degrees for the first few days I was there, hotter than anything we’ve experienced in Virginia this summer.  And, to start with, it was pretty dry as well, as the yellow, parched look of the vegetation could attest.  By my second day there, we started getting some incredible afternoon and evening thunderstorms, with lightning crashing down all around, torrential rain, and branches blown from trees.  One of my good friends, who had traveled all the way from Oakland for the trip, was delighted to get to experience some real southern summer storms.  Although the first storm was the most dramatic, we got some rain on all the rest of the days, and by the time I started home with my family, the temperatures had cooled off considerably and the ground was much soggier.

We took off on Tuesday morning, headed back to Virginia.  The first day we mostly stuck to the highway and tried to cover as much distance as possible, so that we could spend Wednesday cruising around and enjoying ourselves.  We ended our day in the Monangahela National Forest, in the central east part of West Virginia, close to the town of Richwood, at the Summit Lake campground, chosen purely on the basis of its name.  And Summit Lake was indeed a delightful destination– this site has loads of pictures of the lake, mostly later in the fall when the leaves are really changing colors.  On the day we were there, one day after the Labor Day crowds had departed, and we had the lake nearly to ourselves.  There was just the slightest hint of fall colors to the forest, and it was just cool enough to put on long sleeves as I cooked our dinner out on the boat dock.  For dessert, we found several autumn olive bushes, laden with ripe fruit.  While they aren’t as tasty as blueberries or mulberries or the like, they still made a nice fresh treat.  The lake in late afternoon looked much like this photo, although the fall colors weren’t nearly so far advanced:


That night, we tented out in the campground near the lake.  It’s unfortunate that so many national forest campgrounds have hard gravel pads to pitch tents on, which really aren’t comfortable at all if you’re actually sleeping in a tent.  We were able to find a soft grassy area by the edge of our site that wasn’t too steeply sloped, and everyone slept reasonably well.  In the morning, our first stop as we headed on down the road was the Falls of Hills Creek scenic wayside, which is a really delightful stop, with a short but very steep trail leading to three separate waterfalls along a creek, which plunges into a narrow stony canyon.  The ground in the forest was soaked with recent rains, and I came across a lot of mushrooms, both familiar and unfamiliar.  One of the craziest looking types was what I’m pretty sure is the “sharp scaly pholiota”, which is edible, but easily confused with the poisonous “scaly pholiota.”  Seems like it’s not worth the risk to eat them, but they were really interesting-looking shrooms.


The topmost of the three waterfalls wasn’t much to look at, but the middle and lower falls were much more impressive.  This photo, which I found on the internet, was very similar in season and water volume to the day we were there.  As far as waterfall scenery goes, I’d definitely give the middle falls an 8 or 9 out of 10.Image

The lower falls were even more impressive, with the water pouring off of a lip down into a bowl.  These falls are nearly 100 feet high, just a beautiful location.  This is another photo I found online, which shows the beauty of the location, although the day we were there, there was a lot more green and a lot less red and orange in the trees.Image

Just before turning back, I noticed a bear’s head tooth mushroom growing on a log, the first one I’ve seen this year.  It was a little one, which looked just like this one.  I didn’t pick it, as we weren’t going to be firing up the stove anytime soon, but if you ever find one that looks like this, it is an excellent edible, not likely to be confused with anything else.Image

Our next stop was the Cranberry Glades boardwalk trail.  This is a fascinating botanical find, a series of open boggy areas that sit in a high plateau at about 3800 feet elevation.  Many of the plant and animal species are more commonly found in New England and Canada; many of them are at the absolute southern limit of their natural range.  You can take a half-mile walk on a boardwalk that passes through some of the bog forests and through the open glades, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.  By the time we got there, in early afternoon, it had turned into a glorious early September day, sunny but not too hot, and our hike looked very much like this photo, which I also stole from the internet.  Image

The region is named after the abundant wild cranberry plants which grow in the glades.  We were able to find lots of wild cranberries, although it was still too early in the season for them to be any tasty.  The little white dots in the photo above were cotton grass, which was quite abundant; there was also a lot of purple mountain aster in bloom along with several colors of jewelweed.

Afterwards, we just spent the rest of the day driving through the fantastic mountain scenery of the Monongahela National Forest (in WV) and George Washington NF in Virginia.  I wish my camera had worked, as it was a very scenic drive on a perfect, clear day.  We took a few stops here and there, most notably at the Tea Creek Campground, where the boys and I took a dip in a mountain stream that wasn’t the one pictured below, but sure looked a lot like it.


And, by 8:30 in the evening, we were back at our Twin Oaks home in Virginia, where my tale will continue, just as soon as I get around to writing it…


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