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Posts Tagged ‘Abandoned Places’

After the last snowstorm, which lasted all day Friday and Saturday, I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. The storm was long in duration but it was warm enough so much of the snow that fell melted, and there wasn’t much more than 3 or 4 slushy inches on the old abandoned road on Sunday.

Though I’ve done several posts about Beaver Brook I’ve never shown this old box culvert. Upstream a ways is a channel that diverts part of the brook along a large stone wall and through this culvert. It’s very well built; I’ve seen water roaring over the top of it a few times when the brook was high and it never moved.

This is where the diversion channel leaves the brook. I wonder if the farmer who first owned this land diverted the brook purposely to water his stock or his gardens.

The water is relatively shallow here; probably about knee deep, but with the rain and snow melt that happened yesterday it’s probably quite a lot deeper right now.

The snow hung on in shaded areas along the brook, which was starting to run at a fairly good clip. I’m sure it must really be raging by now, after a 50 degree day and a day of rain. There have been flood watches posted in parts of the state but I haven’t seen any flooding here.

This is a favorite spot of dog walkers but I didn’t see any on this day.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods on a cold night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter.

When repeated healing and cracking happens in the same place on the tree over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen on the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in the above photo.

I like to look at the undersides of fern leaves to see what’s happening under there. Luckily we have several evergreen ferns that let me do this in winter. The spore cases seen here were on the underside of a polypody fern leaf (Polypodium virginianum.)

Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but I see very few of them, so I was surprised to find a sapling growing here. The Norway Maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the Sugar Maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. According to Wikipedia Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Beaver brook flows at the bottom of a kind of natural canyon with sides that are very steep in places, as this photo shows.

In places the hillside comes right down to the water’s edge. This makes following the brook on the far side difficult.

The bottom of the canyon is wide enough for the brook and the road, and not much else. The road was hacked out of the hillside in the 1700s and goes steadily but gently uphill. Normally it isn’t a difficult walk but the wet slushy snow on this day made it feel as if I was sliding back a step for every two I took. I stopped and took this photo at this spot because I was getting winded and this is where I was going to turn around, but after catching my breath I decided to go on instead.

The road was covered in enough snow so somebody new to the place might not realize they were walking on a road at all if it wasn’t for the old guard rails along the side nearest the brook.

A seep is a moist or wet place where groundwater reaches the surface from an underground source such as an aquifer, and there are many along this old road. Springs usually come from a single point while seeps don’t usually have a definite point of origin. Seeps don’t flow. They are more like a puddle that never dries up and, in the case of the example shown, rarely freezes. Seeps support a lot of small wildlife, birds, butterflies, and unusual plants and fungi. I’ve found swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps in the past so I always look them over carefully when I see one. Orchids grow near this one.

There are ledges along this old road and they have many lichens growing on them. Crustose rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea) are very common on rocks of all kinds and usually grow in full sun. Crustose lichens form a crust that clings to the substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without destroying what they grow on.

Rock disk look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies that are sunken, or concave, and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This photo shows how the black apothecia stand slightly proud of the body (Thallus) of the lichen. This is an important identifying characteristic when looking at gray or tan lichens with black apothecia, so you need to get in close with a good loupe or macro lens.

It isn’t the rarity of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that make me take photos of them each time I come here, it is the way the light falls on them. In the right light their spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) turn a beautiful blue, and it’s all because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are very beautiful. I hope readers will look for them. It’s always worth the small amount of effort it takes to find them.

I made it all the way to  Beaver Brook Fall but there is a steep embankment you have to climb down and if you get top heavy and get going too fast you could end up in the brook. Having that threat added to climbing back up in the slippery slush meant that I decided not to do the climb.

Here is the shot of the falls from the road that I should have gotten, but on this day my camera decided it wanted to focus on the brush instead of the falls so I’ve substituted a photo from last year. To get an unobstructed view you have to climb down the treacherous path to the water’s edge because for some reason the town won’t cut the brush that blocks the view. The falls are about 30 to 40 feet high.

I’ve done many posts about this place but I keep coming here because I always see something I’ve never seen before and I get to see old friends like the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. At this time of year its naked, furry buds are growing bigger and its leaf buds look like praying hands. Later on it will have large, beautiful white flower heads followed by bright red berries which will ripen to purple black. I’m guessing this one was praying for spring like the rest of us.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese philosopher

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1. Tunnel

Last weekend I decided to explore a place that I first saw a couple of years ago and which I’ve been curious about ever since. My hike down a section of the Cheshire Rail Trail would carry me over this stone arch tunnel built when the railroad came through circa 1848. That was back when only horse drawn wagons used it and to this day it’s only wide enough for one car at a time.

2. Culvert

Off in the woods is a culvert built as a smaller version of the tunnel that carries water instead of cars under the rail bed. Both the culvert and tunnel were built by expert masons from stone quarried very near here. They are beautiful examples of the stone mason’s art and are also fine examples of taking pride in your work. Even though these culverts are in places where they couldn’t be seen by the public they were built as if everyone in Keene, New Hampshire would be seeing them.

3. Ice on Rock

It was a cold morning and the stones in the stream wore skirts of ice.

4. Stream

This is the view of the stream from the rail trail above the culvert that passes under the rail bed.

5. Road

And this is the view of the road that passes through the tunnel under the rail bed.

6. Trail Start

And unfortunately this is the start of the rail trail section that I planned to follow. The ice stretched on into the distance so I went back to my truck to get my Yaktrax, but that’s when I discovered that I had foolishly left them at home. There was nothing to do but walk on the edges of the trail and hope for the best. I had to pinwheel my arms a couple of times to keep my balance but I didn’t fall. I actually saw 2 bike riders and a jogger riding and running across ice just like this. I don’t know how they did it; it was all I could do to walk on it. Walking on ice makes your body tense up and it can be very tiring.

7. Trail

Finally the ice gave way to gravel and from here on it wasn’t bad.

8. Ripples in Ice

But there was still ice to be seen in the drainage ditches that line each side of the rail bed. It was too thin to walk on but admiring it was possible.

9. Trail Detour

Before I knew it I was at the detour that goes uphill and around the original rail bed.

10. Abandoned Section

And that’s because this is the original rail bed, which is obviously no longer used. I’ve taken the detour around it and I’ve been able to look down into what is a deep railway cut through the hillside from up there. Since I first saw it two years ago I’ve been curious about what is in there and today I planned to find out. There were a few obstacles ahead but they didn’t look unsurmountable. I had to make myself very small to crawl under the tree in the photo, but I got through the tangle.

11. Fallen Trees

I should say that I got through the first tangle. It looked like there were plenty more up ahead.

12. Fallen Trees

Most I had to simply climb over, but ice made it challenging in places.

13. Ledges

It was easy to see why there were so many fallen trees in here. They were perched on the brink of ledges which looked like they were about to crumble and fill the space with rubble. Sizeable stones had  fallen in places but I didn’t really want to think about that. I could only hope I wouldn’t be in here when anything fell.

14. Fallen Trees

Trees of all sizes had toppled onto the rail bed and each one had to be climbed over or crawled under. While in this place I didn’t see a single foot print and I wondered if it was because nobody wanted to go through what I was going through. The next time you meet a snowmobiler I hope you’ll give them a big thank you, because without their voluntary trail maintenance all of our rail trails would probably look just like this, and that would be a shame.

15. Drill Marks

Reminders of the railroad workers were everywhere. When this rail bed was blasted out of the rock they drilled a hole with a steam drill or by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer. They then filled the hole with black powder, lit the fuse, and probably ran. And then they had tons of blasted rock to move without the use of gasoline powered vehicles. These people certainly earned their pay.

16. Ice

There was some ice here but it wasn’t anywhere near as big or as colorful as the spectacular ice falls that I’ve seen in the other deep railway cut on the way to Westmoreland. This ice was very clear.

17. Fallen Trees

Finally the fallen trees thinned out so I could walk normally without climbing or crawling. I could tell that there was needle ice under the thick mat of leaves by the way they crunched with every step. For a change I was grateful for the ice underfoot because otherwise it would have been very wet here. In fact I’m not sure I could get through it in warm weather without my knee high rubber boots on. Normally the drainage ditches would keep the rail bed very dry, but they were blocked in several places and had soaked it.

18. Telegraph Pole

A telegraph pole leaned against one of the walls. These used to be strung along the sides of the rail beds with glass insulators on cross arms. I haven’t seen one of these for a long time.

19. Dead End

The end of the line was nothing but a pile of dirt covered by last year’s fallen leaves but that was a problem, because railroad tracks don’t just stop at a dirt pile; this line ran north to Westmoreland and then cut over into Vermont at one time, so I know it was here. The guard rails for Hurricane Road, which was laid out in 1761, can just be seen at the top of this photo. Hurricane Road ran to the Westmoreland town line and the railroad came to this area in 1848, so the tracks would have had to run under the road at this spot. So does that mean that there is a beautiful granite tunnel like the one in the first photo of this post under that huge pile of dirt? Did they take the tunnel apart and fill in the hole when the railroad stopped running? These are questions that I can’t answer yet but there must be a record somewhere, and the county Historical Society will be a good place to start searching.

20. Rail

A rail comes out of the pile of dirt where the tunnel should be but it is loose and not attached to any ties that I could see. Piles of the old ties were stacked here and there along the rail trail before I entered the canyon.

21. Mossy Wall

When I was a boy I wanted to be a plant explorer in the Amazon jungle and though this place was far from jungle like it was a kind of Shangri La like lost world and I felt right at home. I searched the walls for the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) but I don’t think enough groundwater trickled down the walls to support them. Instead I saw what must have been many thousands of the smaller greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It doesn’t seem to need as much surface water as some of the others and was thriving here. There were also plenty of mosses but I couldn’t get close enough to the walls to get any macro photos of them. I’m already looking forward to seeing this place when all the plants start growing. It might be a good spot to see some of our native red columbine.

22. Looking Back

To me this place was completely wild and beautiful and though it was slow going in places there was a lot to see. Time must have gotten snagged on a branch of that first tree I crawled under because I lost all sense of it and was surprised to see that 5 hours had passed when I got back to the start of the trail. It had felt more like 15 minutes.

Surrender to the unknown and trust that the universe will lead you home. ~Karen A. Baquiran

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