Friday, May 11, 2007

Sandy Ridge Trail

As I become more used to my car, I am beginning to venture farther and farther away from my comfort zone into territories I haven't regularly visited. For me, it seems the possibilities are endless. For instance, today I really pushed the limits for myself and drove into what is (for me) relatively unchartered territory; places I've never been before as a driver, alone, deciding when to leave and everything. My first stop was Sandy Ridge Trail.

Snaking up the side of one of our areas larger mountains is a dirt road complete with bumps, grooves and a steep incline on one side. As you acsend the trail in your vehicle, your ears gradually pop and you enter a world that is slightly behind in seasonal development. I noticed that the leaves were less advanced, and that ferns were less unravelled than they are in Owl Hollow. The elusive "black morel" might still be at it's peak at this elevation, so I intend to do some more searching this week.

Reaching the peak of the mountain where the road kind of levels out, I stopped at one of the pull offs to take some photos. I walked behind the anti-motorized vehicle gate onto a clear path of lush green grass; still wet from the sporadic rain showers we had throughout the day. On each side of the path was matted down dead fern growth with the "new" ferns poking out and beginning the new year's growth. I had forest on either side of me, although the forest on the right side of the trail was considerably thinner, with taller trees and practically no understory.

I noticed the looming storm clouds behind the silouhette of the trees and opted to snap a picture or two. The pictures must be pretty good because they really evoke the feeling I get when a storm is approaching each time I look at them.

stormy sky

Ferns, still dripping from the previous shower, also caught my eye.

dripping ferns

About forty yards down the path I just barely noticed something yellow catch my eye. I turned to see that I was not alone on this path, and that an eastern box turtle was spying on me amidst the dripping ferns. Neck outstretched, he gazed at me momentarily before pulling into his shell almost completely at my approach.

Eastern Box Turtle

Not as orange, or quite as large as the box turtle I'd photographed last August - I'm thinking this individual is younger. Then again, color vibrancy and such is probably extremely variable in this species so I can't really back up this assumption. Nevertheless, he posed for a couple photographs before I finally left him to amble around a fallen apple tree to search for yellow morels.

Eastern Box Turtle

Eventually I meandered around the edge of a spring fed pond; devoid of aquatic life minus insect larvae and tadpoles. The plantlife however was practically exploding from the water's edge.

Sandy Ridge Trail (swamp)


Empty handed would describe my status in regards to morels on Sandy Ridge. There was a sincere lack of american elm on the top of the mountain, so I'm thinking this is a species that prefers lower elevations. That said, there were a lot of white ash trees which ALSO host morels. I didn't spend much time looking however, the rain was coming and I'd forgotten my pancho at the house!

I cruised down the mountain and took a ride. I drove through the Pennsylvania countryside passing a couple Amish, including some adorable children toting a wagon as though they themselves were horses. I cruised slowly, watching for dying elm trees, but was at a loss for pull offs and had to do a "drive by scan" in my searches.

At some point I made the decision to return to the morel patch and look for stragglers before the slugs could get them. I also wanted to take a picture of the white phase of our wild violet that Jim (a horticulture expert) claims are a rare find as well.

Wild Violets (rare white phase)

I poked around in the grass a bit, moving clumps of grass out of the way by the fist fulls to scan the ground underneath. Luckily we had overlooked some that were cloaked in grass, and I had to do some digging to find enough to line the bottom of my bag.

Yellow Morel

Yellow "Gray" Morel

At one point I found something a little more active than a mushroom!


And so with the bottom of my bag lined with mushrooms I hopped in the car and headed back home with a smile on my face. I could taste them already.