Canaan Valley State Park and Canaan Loop Road – Late June, 2018

We decided to spend the last day of our “Let’s Explore Some Places in Canaan Valley We Haven’t Had Time To Explore” trip expanding our knowledge of two areas we were already somewhat familiar with.  We knew we had to keep an eye on the clock because I had a speaking engagement that evening in Morgantown.  We wanted to explore as much as possible but still arrive at the WVU’s Core Arboretum in plenty of time.

Our first stop was at the parking lot of the Middle Ridge Trail not too far from our cabin in Canaan Valley Resort State Park.  In the past we had often stopped to scan this meadow and the beaver pond below the parking lot with our binoculars.  This day, things got quite interesting even without binoculars.  Two women and a boy were next to their car in the lot, staring intently at the meadow across the pond.  They hurried over to tell us what the young man had spotted:  a large Black Bear climbing in the Serviceberry trees and browsing for ripe berries.

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Black Bear (Ursus americanus) (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We were impressed that the boy had spotted the bear and we shared our binoculars so they could get a better look.  We could see that one tree had experienced bears before because some of the leaves were already dying on branches that had been broken earlier by a bear gathering Serviceberries.

We had planned on hiking part of the Middle Ridge Trail that day.  Since the trail went close to where the bear was, I told Jan that we could start down the Middle Ridge Trail and then go off-trail to the meadow where it might be possible to get closer views and maybe some additional photos of the bear.  She was enthusiastic, so off we went. The trail was easy walking downhill, across a stream and then uphill again.  Because of that topography, it was easy to figure out when we were close to the area where the bear had been.  A short bushwhack through the woods led us to the edge of the meadow dotted with Serviceberry trees.  When we arrived at the vantage point where we hoped to see the bear again, it wasn’t there.  We carefully scanned the trees and meadow all around, but no bear.   We began to talk softly, becoming more relaxed.  We decided that the bear had probably noticed us coming and had wandered away.   We began looking at the many kinds of plants around us and in the meadow.   When we turned to examine the plants behind us, we noticed a dark shape under a tree where before there had just been ferns.  The bear was standing quietly under a tree about 30 yards away!

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Photo (c) Jan Runyan

Moving very slowly, we got out our cameras, hoping our bear would stay long enough for some pictures.  As we watched and photographed the bear, it occasionally looked, listened and sniffed in our direction.  It seemed relaxed, but didn’t come out from under the tree.  Eventually it turned and slowly walked uphill away from us.  That was exciting.  It appears that Jan’s “I never get to see the bear” curse has been broken.

We walked downhill and explored the wetland formed by the beaver pond.  Hiking back to the car we didn’t find anything that compared to our bear encounter, but we did see some common plants that were in beautiful full flower.

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Jan near Middle Ridge Trail (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

When we returned to the car, the overcast sky was starting to produce a light rain.  As we were leaving Canaan Valley State Park we looked at the ridge to the east and saw  that the Dolly Sods Wilderness, rising 1,000 feet above us, was fogged in … probably getting some much heavier rain.

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Fog on the Dolly Sods Wilderness plateau  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

From Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Canaan Loop Road was a short 7 miles north and 500 feet higher.  Although it was overcast, no rain was falling, making it a great day for hiking.

Along Canaan Loop Road we discovered that the Wild Strawberries were ripe and ready to pick.  They were delicious!  Luckily we didn’t have to compete with any bears for these treats.

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Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We decided to hike farther on one trail which we had already explored briefly on a previous trip with one of our grandkids. Since this had been a very rainy spring, the woods were lush with ferns, mosses and beautiful fungi.  I was carrying my basic camera equipment and decided to take the opportunity to photograph some of the fungi.

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Bill photographing a ‘Yellow Patches’ Amanita mushroom (Amanita flavoconia)  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Orange mushrooms on the left are in the Family Hygrophoraceae; on the right is a Milk Cap mushroom (Lactarius lignyotus)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

As we continued to explore we found many Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) middens (a midden is a dunghill or refuse heap).  After the squirrels had chewed off the spruce cone bracts to get at the seeds deep inside, they had tossed the bare cones in the same area.  In Nature, even refuse has a story to tell!

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Red Squirrel midden  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

We made several more stops to explore things in the woods and in meadows.  We always found interesting plants.  One unusual plant was a very purplish Boneset plant … not at all like the usual green we were used to seeing.  The flower heads of the Rhododendron plants are always interesting to look at.  They were just starting to open up and show their hot-pink color.

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Purplish-leaved Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) on left and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

There was so much to explore along the Canaan Loop Road, we could have been there for days.  After a final hike around an unusual meadow surrounded by a moat of wetlands, it was time to tuck our packs in the car and get on the highway north and westward.

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Packed and ready to leave  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Our first stop was to have a late lunch at Heidi’s Cafe on Blue Ribbon Road south of Oakland MD.  This was another of those “we will have to try it sometime” places, so it fit very well with the theme of this trip.  We decided we will definitely return to Heidi’s again.  Next was a quick dessert at our old favorite, Saffiticker’s Ice Cream, just a half mile further north on US 219.

Then another 1.5 hours brought us to West Virginia University for my presentation for the Nature Connection Series at the WVU Core Arboretum.  Our friend, Zach Fowler, Director of the Core Arboretum, has put together a great series of lectures in this awesome setting.  He welcomed us warmly and soon I was wired for sound and ready to go.

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Bill’s presentation  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I had fun speaking to an enthusiastic almost-full house.  Afterwards we had fun talking with old and new friends, including someone we had met just a month before when we were birding at Magee Marsh in Ohio.  On the way home we decided that in the 3 days of this trip, we had really accomplished our goals of getting to know some new places and people and learning more about some old-favorite places and people in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia.

 

Idleman’s Run Trail in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June

After spending several hours early in the day hiking the Beall Tract in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge,  Jan and I decided to drive to Forest Service Road 80 and explore Idleman’s Run Trail.   The upper end of the trail comes out on FS 80, but the lower end stops in a clearing in the woods.  From there, an overgrown access road (for some reason not officially part of the trail) leads back to FS 80.  The trail itself is  4/10 of a mile, but adding the access roadway and the hike on Forest Service Road 80 back to the car, the entire distance is close to 1 mile.

We pulled off FS 80 and parked about halfway between the lower access road and the upper end of Idleman’s Run Trail.  Then we walked down to the access road leading to the lower end of the trail.  This would give us water-level views of the Run as we walked up the trail.  That turned out to be a great choice.

In the meadow just before the beginning of Idelman’s Run Trail we noticed lots of European Skipper Butterflies visiting many Cat’s Ear flowers.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and European Skipper Butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) nectaring on Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)  photo (c) Bill Beatty

When we reached the beginning of the trail we were amazed at the beauty of the run itself.  If you look closely in the next photos, you can see Jan standing in the middle of the woodland above the falls.

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Idleman’s Run  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Another part of Idleman’s Run (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

This little waterway had all you could ask of a mountain stream:  boulders, rock ledges, waterfalls, pools, mosses and other plants of moist areas, splashes, trickles, and small floodplains.  While exploring the stream edges I found an abundance of Bishop’s Cap.  Although not in flower this late in the year, I could easily picture in my mind the tiny, very fancy flowers the way they would appear in May to anyone willing to take the time to use a hand lens.

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Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla) flowers in early May.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There were other interesting treasures along the stream.  I found several small stands of Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum) and Lettuce Saxifrage (Saxifraga micranthidifolia).  Some of the Golden Saxifrage were still flowering, however the Lettuce Saxifrage had been browsed by deer and the flowers were gone.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The tiny flowers of the Golden Saxifrage don’t look like typical flowers … another fascinating treat for people who take the time to view them with a hand lens.

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Golden Saxifrage  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Finding Saxifrage plants, especially in the abundance we found, is an indicator of good water quality.  The good condition of the water was verified  by a man we surprised as he came down the trail.  We had stepped off the trail to let him pass, but he hadn’t heard us, so when he looked up he was startled to see us just a few feet in front of him.  He explained that he rarely encounters anyone there as he does his frequent water quality checks of Idleman’s Run.  Actually he was the only other person we saw on the trail that day, too.

The Meehania (Meehania cordata) mints were in full flower.

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Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and Meehania photo (c) Bill Beatty

American Basswood (Tilia americana) trees were common along the stream and it was exciting to see a perfect example of how the younger clones form a circle around the main tree.

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Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan

Every place we explored, we kept finding interesting plants, animals and geology.

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Young Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius)  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty

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Jan looking at a rock formation and the variety of plants growing on and around the rocks.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

As we hiked in an area where the trail left the stream, Jan noticed a grouping of leafless flower stalks.  They were Ramps/Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum).  We have large Ramp patches on our property and each spring we use them in a variety of delicious ways.  My favorites are  Cream of Ramp and Morel Mushroom Soup and Ramp Mashed Potatoes.

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Ramp flowers  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty and right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The most exciting find of the day was a fern that was almost new to me.  In 1972 at Oglebay Institute’s Mountain Nature Studies Camp for adults, I was shown a Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium).  Being a young naturalist at the time, I didn’t fully understand the rarity and  importance of this find.  I don’t really remember much about that fern itself, but I do remember its location.  In later years I looked for it many times at camp but haven’t been able to rediscover it.  Now, along Idleman’s Run Trail, I was able to spend more time examining, photographing, and enjoying this fern rarity.

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Daisy-leaf Moonwort Fern (Botrychium matricariifolium)  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

There was so much to discover along this short trail.  Some of the things we saw hinted at the treasures that might be found here at other times of the year.  We decided to return and visit this trail often when we are in the area.

As during the morning along the Beall Tract trails, all along Idleman’s Run Trail we delighted in hearing the beautiful songs of Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus).  It turned out to be a spectacular and rewarding day in so many ways!

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Hermit Thrush  (Photo (c) Laura Meyers)

Click to enjoy the Hermit Thrush song: 

 

 

 

Beall Tract – Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Late June, 2018

Free cabin!  Canaan Valley!  June!  LET’S GO!  Jan and I decided to use a voucher for a complimentary cabin at Canaan Valley State Park as the home base for an exploratory trip into the CVNWR.  We had already been there many times, hiking some of the trails, leading birding trips and kayaking the Blackwater River and its tributaries.  This time we wanted to scout two trails we had seen, but not been on, as possible trips for the West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage and for other nature-related groups we lead.

Our first hike was at the Beall Tract:  Beall North Trail, Blackwater View Trail and Beall South Trail, approximately 3.8 miles.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

After leaving the parking lot on the Beall North Trail, a short hike took us through a mixed meadow/woodland area to the first of several large meadows lined on both sides with thousands of Bracken Ferns,  Pteridium aquilinum.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

It was a perfect day for hiking with temperatures in the low 70s and a partly cloudy sky.  In the meadows, the sun warmed us.  When we then entered the forest, the shade cooled us.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

In the woodlands were several vernal pools where small frogs  jumped into the water as we neared.  I was actually able to catch a young green frog to examine more closely.

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Young Green Frog, Lithobates clamitans  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We noticed a wide variety of insects and plants that are frequently found in or near wetlands.  Catching a dragonfly is not easy, but not impossible for a man who has caught birds bare-handed.

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A female Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Plathemis lydia and American Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus, with flowers  (Dragonfly photo (c) Jan Runyan and Horehound photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Continuing on the Beall North Trail we hiked through more open meadows, some of which had small wetlands slowly flowing toward the Blackwater River, and beech tree woodlands finding many interesting creatures.   The wooded sections of the trail provided many ferns for Jan to identify and study.

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(Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The woodlands are populated mainly by American Beech trees, Fagus grandifolia.  Since camping and fires are not permitted in National Wildlife Refuges there was a significant amount of dead wood decomposing on the ground with a wide variety of wood-rooting fungi growing on it.

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Turkeytail Fungus, Trametes versicolor  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The Beall North Trail ended at the Blackwater View Trail and we turned south on Blackwater View to continue our circular hike.  Most of the Blackwater View Trail was along a Refuge-use road.  Because of all the wonderful plants and animals we were finding (and also some time spent picking and eating Serviceberries) the hike took longer than we had expected, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Hiking the Blackwater View Trail and an Orb Weaving Spider, Araneus sp. (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

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Serviceberries, Amelanchier laevis, along the Blackwater View Trail  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Deptford Pinks, Dianthus armeria, were flowering in many places.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

Back near the parking lot we then continued onto the Beall South Trail.  At the beginning and the end we found ourselves in even more expansive meadows.  Right away we encountered a problem – there were countless Bracken Ferns, but there were also ferns, very similar to the Brackens, that had 5-7 parted fronds rather than the typical 3.  Our field research determined that they were “atypical” Brackens … overachievers, I guess.  Jan wondered if this had to do with the abundance of rain this spring.

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Atypical Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum, and Jan looking for grassland birds  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Although we didn’t find a large number of plant species in flower, those that were flowering were found in multiple locations.

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Left – Northern Swamp Buttercup, Ranunculus septentrionalis, and right – Dwarf St. John’s Wort, Hypericum mutilum.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

In one section, the Beall South Trail traversed a large field of Spreading Dogbane which was in flower.  The Monarch Butterflies and other species were loving it.  It was impossible to get a photo of the huge extent of the dogbanes and still be able to see the butterflies.

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Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectaring on Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We followed the trail as it turned downhill and then northward along the Blackwater River.   Sitting-rocks were convenient so we stopped along the river for lunch.  As we ate and looked around, something that caught our attention was the attractive leaves of the Mountain/Whorled Aster.

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Mountain/Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

I decided to go down to the Blackwater River edge and see what I could find.  There were so many wonderful photo opportunities that I told Jan, “We should come back and just do photos along the river.”  I spent some time shooting interesting photos that didn’t need a tripod.  This is definitely a spot to return to!

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Left – Rushes, Juncus sp., lining the shallow water along the Blackwater River and right – Sweet-scented Indian Plantain, Cacalia suaveolens (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

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Me taking photos and Riffle Bugs, Family – Veliidae, in the river  (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

mating ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies, Calopteryx maculata (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan looked at ferns and other plants and picked blueberries (more lunch) while I explored along the river.

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Photos (c) Bill Beatty

Finally we continued on the Beall South Trail as it turned uphill away from the river.  After a short distance, we were again in the meadow/grasslands where we had started, still finding more amazing wildlife.

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Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna (Photo (c) Jan Runyan

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European Skipper Butterfly, Thymelicus lineola, nectaring on Red Clover, Trifolium pratense  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

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Bill photographing Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Left photo (c) Jan Runyan and right photo (c) Bill Beatty)

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Green-legged Grasshoppers, Melanoplus viridipes (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

One of the most interesting things about this set of “Beall” Trails was the variety of habitats we traveled through, and, because of that, the variety of living things we were able to see and hear.  There were so many great “learning moments” that it would be a nice set of trails for people of diverse interests.  Most of the elevation changes on the trails were gentle and short, making it accessible to most people who love to walk in a beautiful natural setting.

Next stop:  Idleman’s Run Trail off Forest Service Road 80.    Blog post coming soon!

Snaggy Mountain Area, Garrett State Forest, MD – Late June 2018

Did you ever drive by a trailhead and think, “I wonder where that goes?  It looks interesting!”  Over the years, we had driven by a trailhead near Cranesville Swamp  several times and always said we wanted to explore it someday.  So on a recent trip to Canaan Valley, we took the time to stop at the Snaggy Mountain area in Garrett State Forest near Oakland, MD.

At the first parking lot was a trail sign that said “ROCK MAZE”.  That made us curious so we went hiking, and we were not disappointed.

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Photo (c) Bill Beatty

Right away we began finding interesting creatures.  With all of the rain this spring, the forest was lush with moisture-loving plants.

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Left-to-right – Butter-foot Bolete, Boletus auripes (I think); Rock Tripe Lichen, Umbilicaria sp.;  Clintonia lilies that have already flowered.  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

We found several sprouting American Chestnut trees.   The larger trees had died back to the root and new sprouts were beginning to grow.  With the current research into American Chestnuts, hopefully one day soon we will again see these majestic trees full-grown in our forests.

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American Chestnut sprouts, Castanea dentata  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

The trail to the Rock Maze was lined with large, beautiful ferns… mostly Cinnamon Ferns.

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Cinnamon Ferns, Osmunda cinnamomea.  (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Jan has always been fascinated by ferns and has recently made an effort to study their identification and reproduction.  She found a number of different ones to compare on this trail.

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Left-to-right:  Intermediate Shield Fern, Dryopteris intermedia; Rock Polypody Fern, Polypodium virginianum; Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamomea  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

As we got closer to the Rock Maze we began seeing large rocks that all of a sudden just seemed to ‘ be there’, like a giant had dropped them in the woods.  While Jan continued to photograph ferns I started exploring the large rocks.

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Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, other three photos (c) Jan Runyan

At the end of the trail was the Rock Maze at the top of a low hill, well-hidden in the forest.

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Photos (c) Jan Runyan

The area was larger than it appeared at first.  Every turn led to more areas to explore.  Its fissures, fallen rocks and openings brought something new to see around every corner.  Some places were great for looking at geological strata.  Other rock faces were obscured by different kinds of mosses.

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Exploring the Rock Maze  (Left photo (c) Bill Beatty, right photo (c) Jan Runyan)

We found these Black Birch roots hidden in the Maze.  The top of the tree stood above the huge boulder.  It was as if we were able to see underground at what the tree’s root system looks like.

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Black Birch, Betula lenta  (Photos (c) Bill Beatty)

The moss/algae-covered rocks were beautiful.  Some rocks were solid and some were very cracked and fissured.  All sorts of geological processes were visible at various places in the maze.

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(Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

On the way back to our car we continued to find interesting plants and hear many kinds of birds.  Considering how late in the day and how late in the nesting season it was, we were amazed at all the bird songs we heard.

Jan discovered an area along the trail with about a dozen large Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchids that had already flowered.

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(Left) A forest of ferns   (Right) Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Cypripedium acaule  (Photos (c) Jan Runyan)

We were so impressed with our hike to the “Rock Maze”, we decided to make this a future destination for some groups we take on our birding/nature trips.

After our hike, we drove down the road deeper into the Snaggy Mountain area.  We passed near a wetland, one of several different eco-systems the road goes through, and we saw several baby Wood Ducks swimming in the water .

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Baby Wood Duck, Aix sponsa  (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

As always, time prevented us from fully exploring all of this area .  Since the first trail we tried was so interesting, maybe “someday” we will be able to take the time to explore and discover more fascinating things in the Snaggy Mountain area of Garrett State Forest, MD.