Saturday, May 3, 2014

Adventures in the Adirondacks II: Hiking atop Dorset Mountain

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV*

I've been guilty of letting a topic sit on the blogging shelf before but never quite like this.  It's certainly not on purpose or an intentional act, as the subject(s) within this post and the related ones to follow are some of my most memorable and cherished experiences yet.  They are memories I love to sit and reminisce on when I find myself a bit bored or wishing I was outside among the plants and birds.  That all being said, in a weird way I enjoy the delay as it gives me a perfect opportunity to look back and really dive into the details and (finally) share them with my readers.

Rewind nearly a year ago to late May of 2013 and your blogger was back in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York with dearest of friends, Jackie for another round of botanical adventures in her home area.  Jackie is an incredible naturalist and passionate lover of the outdoors and quite the blogger as I've mentioned before.  If you have never paid her site a visit, I highly recommend spending some time there.  My first trip happened back in the summer of 2012 and I had so much fun we planned another visit, this time in the freshness of spring in northern New York.  You can go back and read about our first day's finds and good times by following this link here.

Low hanging rain clouds over the mountains of the Taconic Range in western Vermont

The second of my three days to be spent wandering the wilderness with Jackie and fellow brilliant naturalist friend, Sue dawned dark with swollen rain clouds rolling through.  Our plan was to make a short drive east into western Vermont to meet up with a group of naturalists for a hike up to an old abandoned marble quarry near Dorset Mountain in the Taconic Range mountains.  The sound of rain off the windows and shutters while we ate breakfast had me nervous the trip might be canceled but never to fear as our intrepid group had no thoughts of giving up.

Hiking up, up, up to the top of the mountain

We donned our rain gear and broad-rimmed hats and ventured into the mists as our hike took us higher, and higher, and higher into the clouds.  The rain was steady at first but eventually slowed to a fine mist before stopping altogether by late morning but the saturated air and foggy conditions never let up.  It prevented any shot at a good view out across the mountain range but created a unique atmosphere that made the greens all the more rich and vibrant and enveloped our group in a sense of mysteriousness.

Round-leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa)
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Throughout the forest was sugar maple, red oak, basswood, paper birch, white ash, and hemlock shrouded in the fog.  Each tree seemed to slowly materialize before your eyes as each footstep brought us one step closer to the top of the mountain.  In shrubbier areas where fallen trees and rock slides had made gaps in the canopy were stands of round-leaved dogwood (Cornus rugosa), a rarity back in Ohio that had always escaped me.

Twisted fruits of the rare rock draba (Draba arabisans)

As our group neared the top and the marble quarry that awaited us, we came across one of the more rare and unusual plants that calls Dorset Mountain home.  The rare rock draba (Draba arabisans) looks a lot like the other small, inconspicuous members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) when in flower but upon pollination and fertilization its unique fruits come to life in their twisted siliques.  This species is only known to occur in a handful of states in the Northeast and northern Great Lakes states.

Moss and fern covered walls of the abandoned marble quarry

After about a mile and a half and nearly a 1,000 foot climb in elevation, we finally came to the abandoned marble quarry near the top of the mountain.  Decades and decades in the past would have greeted us with a completely different scene when the site was active but nature has an amazing way of "taking" things back when given the opportunity.  The sheer walls of the quarry rose above our heads 70+ feet and supported masses of mosses and ferns from years of desuetude.

Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)
Red eft stage of a E. red-spotted newt

The precipitous marble walls and thick fog made for a surreal experience upon entering the quarry and its explosion of wildflowers and life.  The air was alive with the songs of birds returned and looking for a mate with scarlet tanager, winter wren, veery, hermit thrush, black-throated blue warbler, black-throated green warbler, parula, and American redstart all adding their own part to the choir.  The moist conditions and humid air made for perfect conditions for the likes of red efts to be out and about and boy were they ever.

Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus

One of the most pleasant of finds among the marble cobble and rich pockets of accumulated soil was some rose twisted stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) still in perfect bloom.  This is an endangered plant in Ohio and only known from a site or two in the extreme northeast corner.  I didn't think I'd get to see this lifer due to all the plants at lower locations already being in fruit but the cooler conditions at a higher elevation kept them just right.  Other floral showoffs like foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), red baneberry (Actaea rubra), mitrewort (Mitella diphylla), round-leaved ragwort (Packera obovata), wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis), and red trillium (Trillium erectum) were mixed in as well.

Large Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium pubescens)

Beautiful clumps of large yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium pubescens) glowed like golden beacons from the gloomy forest floor all throughout the quarry and its corresponding slopes.  Despite seeing this orchid dozens of times in previous botanical forays, it just never gets old coming across such a familiar scene and falling in love with the sight of it all over again, each and every time.

Foggy abandoned marble quarry
Huge colony of bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera)

Perhaps the most impressive thing of all about the marble quarry was the explosion of green that filled every bit of your field of vision no matter where your turned and looked.  Wildflowers, trees, ferns, and mosses all added their own unique shade and was only magnified by the fog and residual water droplets.  At the bases and along the steps in the marble walls was a profusion of bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera) that created a thick carpet of feathery goodness you just wanted to lie down and nap in.

Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum) in full flower

Mountain maple (Acer spicatum) and striped maple (A. pensylvanicum) were two of the more common understory trees and both were in full flower with the mountain maple pictured above.

Slender Cliff-brake (Cryptogramma stelleri)

Tucked away in small groupings on the mossy marble walls was a species of fern I'd never seen before in the slender cliff-brake (Cryptogramma stelleri).  It's quite at home in rich, limey areas on moist, shaded, rocky substrates and the quarry had that in spades.  The fronds with skinnier, more narrow pinna are the spore-bearing or fertile fronds while the stubbier ones are sterile.

Hundreds of small yellow lady's slippers covering the lush forest floor

A few years back, Jackie posted a piece on this marble quarry on her blog and for all the reasons shown so far and the many more that didn't make the cut, it was instantly a place I knew I had to see and experience for myself one day.  The one thing that really captured my attention and was the subject of many a daydream was the fact that in select spots within the quarry was hundreds upon hundreds of northern small yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin) that literally carpeted the ground in their miniscule wonder.  I tried to picture what it must look like in person too many times to count but none came even close when I finally came upon the majestic scene laid out before me.  I haven't tried to count just how many lady's slippers are visible in this shot but it's safe to say there's more here than I've ever seen and probably ever will!

Nice clump of small yellow lady's slippers
Golden beads in a sea of green

I can't recall a time when my breath became so still and my footsteps so slow and carefully planned.  Even so, it was quite the task to walk among the sea of orchids and keep a light boot in mind.  It was hard to take the eyes off such an unbelievable collection.  A quick whiff of the slipper reveals a potent and sweet aroma reminiscent of vanilla and almonds.  Had the sun been out and temperatures warmer, I can only imagine how their bouquet might have hung in the air.

Looking down into the valley near Manchester, Vermont

Moving further up slope carried us away from the depths of the quarry and out along the edge of the mountain with some still gloomy but better-than-nothing views of the surrounding mountains and valley below.  This final ascent had something very special, very rare, and very tiny in mind...

Triangular-lobed Moonwort (Botrychium ascendens)

Growing on the open, rocky flats near the summit of the mountain was one of the most intriguing, rare, and curious vascular plants I'm sure to ever lay eyes on.  The photo above shows the triangular-lobed moonwort (Botrychium ascendens) in all its miniature glory.  This fern is native to the western United States and even then is a rare occurrence but magically appears in a handful of sites east of the Mississippi as well (all in Canada).  This site in the Taconic Range of western Vermont is, as of now the only site in the entirety of the eastern United States where its known to occur (potentially one more these days?).  Dozens of plants were to be found throughout the immediate area with none much bigger than the specimen photographed.  It was a truly humbling moment to bear witness to such a rare and fascinating little plant.  A feeling unique to botanists and naturalists, I'm sure but a feeling I don't think I'll ever forget.  If you want to read and learn more about this moonwort, feel free to check out this link here (on page seven).

Maidenhair Fern (Adiatum pedatum
Goldie's Fern (Dryopteris goldiana)

After getting our fill of the tiny moonworts, our group began the long trek back down the mountain.  I could have easily slipped back into the quarry to spend countless more hours exploring its misty depths and bevy of wildflowers, it was just that mesmerizing and fantastic a site.

A tasty and perfect morel mushroom waiting to be found...and eaten

In the end, our hike had produced unforgettable moments for the eyes, ears, and nose, so it was only appropriate the mountain made one last offering to complete the cycle and give me one for my taste buds too.  The trek down fortuned Jackie and I into some plump, perfectly formed morel mushrooms that we quickly harvested and agreed would find their way to a hot skillet later in the evening.

Jackie and I's bounty of tasty morels!

The best part of the morels was getting a taste later in the season than normal for an Ohioan.  By late May these mushrooms have all but disappeared until next spring for my area(s) of the Buckeye state, so you won't hear your blogger complain one iota about getting one last shot at these delicacies!  True to her word, Jackie fried them up to perfection as an appetizer for our dinner that evening.  What a way to end one of the most incredible days in the field I've ever had.  Jackie truly brings me all the luck in the world and how dearly I love her for that power.

There's still plenty more to come from my third and final day in the southern Adirondacks and I promise not to leave you hanging even a fraction as long.  Thanks for tuning in and keep an eye out for the next post(s) soon!

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV*


  1. Wonderful detailed post. I really enjoy your writing; it's helping me see where I want to take my blog. I read Jackie's all the time too, and my favourite plants are the ferns - so I enjoyed this post. Just love getting out to explore, though I'm not nearly as good a botanist as you, let alone Jackie!

  2. Wow! What a sight -- those orchids are an orchidophile's dream. You are so fortunate to be able to visit such a site...

  3. Very interesting post, thank you. Love those lady's-slippers.