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Posts Tagged ‘Deep Cut Rail Trail Hancock’

I’ve heard stories about a deep cut rail trail up in Hancock New Hampshire for a couple of years now so last Saturday I decide to see what it was about. This railroad was different than the ones that I’m familiar with because it went out of business before the second world war and all of the steel, including the rails, bridges and trestles were sold off during the second world war to help the war effort. The original railroad, built in 1878, was called the Manchester and Keene Railroad. It was taken over by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893 and used until flooding damaged many of the trestles. Since replacing the trestles would have been extremely costly, the line was simply abandoned.

What I thought was a drainage channel was actually a stream. It was nice to have its music with me as I walked along.

The water was crystal clear.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that the stream wasn’t frozen I ran into ice on the trail. I had my micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about ice.

I like looking at the patterns in ice.

Ice can do amazing things and it can also be very beautiful.

I saw some unusual things out here and this was one of them. This wall is not holding back anything so it isn’t a retaining wall. It looks more like a loading dock but it’s too far away from where the rail cars would have been, so it’s original use is a mystery. Someone went through a lot of time and effort to build it though so it had some importance in its day.

Ice needles grew here and there by the thousands.

I saw the seed heads of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) so I know there are flowers out here. Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt. There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

I saw the tracks of wild turkeys that had come out of the woods. Turkeys have a “toe” at the rear of their foot that leaves a little dot in the snow and though it’s hard to see in this photo, they are there.

There are whitetail deer out here as well.

The land sloped away on my right and an old stone wall marked what was once pastureland. Many of what are today forests were cleared pasture lands in the past. Most stone walls dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming and their pastures slowly returned to forest, but I have a feeling this land was still being used for pasture when the railroad came through in 1878.

The original stock fencing, so common along these old railbeds, wouldn’t have been needed if the land wasn’t being used to keep animals on. You didn’t want animals on the tracks so many miles of this fencing was strung up along the railways.

And then there was this; a tunnel under the railbed. I doubted it was a culvert because there wasn’t a stream nearby so I think it was a passage for animals. A way to get them from one side of the tracks to the other without them having to cross the tracks.

It was all concrete. Concrete has been around since Roman times so it wasn’t a clue to age but I’d guess it had to have been built while the original railbed was being built. The roof wasn’t high enough to let a horse, cow or tractor through but it was plenty high enough for sheep. Sheep farming was very big in New Hampshire’s rocky ground in the 1800s so a passage under the railbed would make perfect sense. You wouldn’t want your flock on the tracks when a train was coming.

And here was the deep cut, snowier than I had hoped. I like to see what grows on these old exposed walls and that isn’t an easy thing to do when they’re snow covered.

It was easy to see what they did with all the stone from the cut. There are several of these big piles in the woods.

I wondered if they had blasted the stone and sure enough, there were the marks of a steam drill. The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Holes like these were often drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it. Dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force before that. Since this railroad was built in 1878 they might have used dynamite but I doubt it. It would have been far more expensive and harder to get than black powder. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone, and that’s how all the stone piles came to be in the woods.

There were signs of groundwater seeping through the stone and the staining on the snow pointed to minerals in the groundwater.

All in all though I didn’t see that this would be a good location for great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) because of the lack of water. They like to grow on stone that hangs over water. That way they get plenty of the humidity that they need.

But there were liverworts here; or at least I think so. I believe this example might be ciliated fringewort (Ptilidium ciliare). Wikipedia says the Ptilidium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word ptilidion, meaning “small feather”. According to what I’ve read it is widespread in Canada, Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. I’ve never seen it before, so if you know that I’ve given it an incorrect identification I hope you’ll let me know. I suppose it could be a very dry moss but I don’t get a moss feeling from it.

NOTE: A lichenologist friend told me that this liverwort is actually called  grove earwort or (Scapania nemorosa) . It’s great to have helpers.

I also saw an old friend; a single smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens), and the light was just right to show off some of its beautiful blue spore producing apothecia. Like jewels sprinkled on the stone; that’s what they always remind me of.

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) peeked out from under the ice.

I was surprised to find a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) out here. These shrubs are on the rare side in this area so I hope nobody cuts it. From its purple buds in winter to its pretty white flowers in spring to its bright red berries in fall this is a beautiful native shrub. We had a beautiful well shaped example where I work until someone who thought they knew what they were doing hacked at it. Now there is a lot of dead wood on it and I’m not sure it is going to make it.

It looked like a mouse or chipmunk had done some house cleaning. Acorns keep a lot of birds and animals alive in these cold winters.

No matter how much fun you’re having it can’t last forever so I finally headed back down the trail, promising myself that I’d come back in the spring. I have a feeling this might be a good place to find some spring wildflowers. Because of all the deciduous trees a lot of sunlight must reach the ground in early spring and that’s what they like.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

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