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Posts Tagged ‘Rail Trails’

1. Trail Start

Recently our local newspaper showed a photo of a paving machine and told about a local section of rail trail that was being paved.  I thought that a paved rail trail would be a great place to ride a bike so I went to see it. The above photo shows what I found; a trail that had been graded and had some gravel added to it, but wasn’t paved. Paving by definition means a road or path has been covered by a hard surface like concrete, asphalt, stones, or bricks but this trail obviously hasn’t seen any of those, so I’m not sure what the reporter was thinking.

2. Construction Sign

This isn’t a sign that you expect to see on a rail trail. The Virginia creeper that is slowly covering it tells me that it has been here for a while.

3. Drainage Ditch

The trail had been widened and the original drainage ditches that were laid out by the railroad had been dug out and looked like they were working well.

4. Bike Riders

I saw a few bicyclists who weren’t having any trouble riding on the now well packed gravel but I spoke with some who said it was terrible at first; so soft and loose that it was difficult to even walk on.  Of course many of these rail trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs, paid for by donations, and in January it won’t matter how loose the gravel is to them. Since the rest of us benefit from their hard work and dedication it’s hard to complain about anything they do to improve the trails and keep them open.

5. Arch Street

When on a rail trail you often don’t realize how much higher or lower you are than the surrounding terrain, so it can be quite a surprise to find yourself 30 or 40 feet above a road you just drove on.

6. Arch Street Underpass

Railroads did all they could to keep the rail beds as level and straight as possible and if that meant filling in low spots with thousands of tons of soil, then so be it. In this photo the rail bed is way up above this tunnel that runs underneath it; just where I was standing in the previous photo. I think they built the tunnel for the road to run through first and then filled in around it to create the rail bed. It was a job well done; this tunnel has been here for well over a hundred years and not a stone has moved. Shortly after it was built the Old Chesterfield Road, laid out in the 1700s, was renamed Arch Street in honor of the beautiful stonework.

7. Stone Arch Culvert

You can find the same quality of workmanship out in the middle of nowhere. When a stream was in the way of a rail bed the railroad engineers just bridged it with what are sometimes beautiful stonework culverts. These men took pride in their work and did the best job they could do, not because someone was watching but because of the pride they had in their abilities and the self-respect that simply wouldn’t let them do shoddy work.

8. Pine

This white pine had been hit by something that peeled its bark about 8 feet up its trunk and left a gaping wound that will let fungi, insects, and diseases infiltrate it. If it were me I would have cut the tree down.

9. Pinesap Plants

Because I was on a bike I didn’t see much of interest in the way of plants but I did notice these pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) when I took a break. Pinesap looks vaguely similar to Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) at a glance but a close look shows that they are more honey or amber colored and have multiple flowers on each stem instead of the single flower found on Indian pipes. Their common name comes from the way they like to grow under pine trees, but I find them under hardwoods too. Neither Indian pipes nor pinesap have chlorophyll and both get their nutrition in part from the mycelium of certain mushroom species.

10. Switch Box

I saw many other interesting things besides plants, like this old switchbox lying beside the trail. Fellow blogger Jim Corner from the Country Corners blog warned me last year when I did a post about this place that switch boxes like this one were often full of asbestos, so I look but don’t touch.

11. Switchbox Inside

This one looked pretty clean but those asbestos fibers are tiny and it could be full of them, ready for a good breeze to come along and blow them around. I don’t suppose that you ever really know for sure.

12. End of Rail Bed

Eventually you come to the end of what was the original rail bed. From this point on it becomes a “deep cut” through solid rock and is very wet, as if the drainage ditches have filled and failed. This is what all of our rail trails would look like without regular maintenance so I’ll say again that we who use them owe a debt of gratitude to the people who work so hard to keep them open. In my opinion a donation of a few dollars each year is money well spent.

13. Hill Bypass

The redirected trail goes up hill around the deep cut and you can see down into it from up here. The hill wasn’t much fun going up but it sure was fun flying down it on my bike. It was only afterwards that I realized that hitting a patch of soft gravel at this point probably would have sent me over the handlebars and into the woods.

14. Trail End

Rail trails go on and on and never seem to really end but the end of this improved section ends at Hurricane Road in Keene. From here if you cross the road and continue on you can see what the trail looked like before the improvements.

15. Trail Before Improvement

And here it is. The forest is closing in making it very narrow and rain has washed away parts of it here and there. In fact the entire trail has sunken below grade and is now in a U shape, and the drainage ditches have grown over and can no longer be seen. The condition of this section of trail is a good illustration of how important regular maintenance is.

16. Spike

I keep coming back to the rail trails because they are where my two favorite subjects, botany and history, come together in what are sometimes surprising ways. There’s really no telling what you might find on them; I’ve seen plants that I didn’t know existed in this area and by researching the railroads for posts like this one I’ve learned more about how they were built than I ever thought I’d need to know. If you’re looking to see parts of the landscape that you wouldn’t normally see, a good taste of local history, or just a pleasant stroll or bike ride, they can all be found on rail trails.

To wander is to be alive. ~Roman Payne

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1. Trail

I paid a visit recently to one of my favorite places; an old “deep cut” rail trail that was blasted out of the rock about 150 years ago. I visit the place at this time of year mostly to see the rare mosses and liverworts that grow there but I also visit in the winter to see the ice. Immense columns of it in different colors cover these stone faces all winter long but I was surprised on this day, the hottest we’ve had so day this year, to still see ice still here.

2. Shiny Ice

It wasn’t anything like it is in winter but this ice was still pretty impressive. The top of that cliff has to be at least 50 feet high. The ice was shinier than I’ve ever seen it but it was also rotten, which meant that it could fall at virtually any time. I saw some that had fallen into the trail so I stayed well away from it and used my zoom lens. Ice like this is massive enough to crush anything or anyone it falls onto.

3. Shiny Ice

It was amazing how it cooled the air temperature. It was about 75 degrees and hot on the roadside, but as you got closer and closer to the trail you could feel the air get cooler. I’d guess that it was a good 15-20 degrees cooler in here.

4. Liverwort Colony

In some places every inch of rock surface is covered by liverworts of many different species, and this is what I come here to see at this time of year. 5. Pellia epiphylla with sporophytes

This is something I’ve never seen before, here or anywhere else. It is a liverwort called overleaf pellia  (Pellia epiphylla) (I think) producing spores. The whitish filaments grow quickly and have a tiny greenish black spore capsule on top of them which bursts to release their spores. This all happens in less than a day, so being there to see it was just luck.

6. Pellia epiphylla sporophytes

It’s hard to describe the size of the spore capsules (sporangia) but they were small enough so I didn’t even see them when I was taking these photos. Luckily, the camera did. Each whitish green stalk or filament (setae) seemed close to the diameter of a piece of thin spaghetti, or maybe a little less. They were about 2-3 inches tall.

7. Pellia epiphylla sporophytes (2)-2

This is what the round spore capsules look like after they explode, and they really do explode and expel the spores with considerable force. I’m sorry that this photo is on the fuzzy side but they were so small that it seems a miracle that my camera could get a photo at all.

8. Possible Pellia epiphylla Liverwort

The fruiting Pellia epiphylla liverwort had a tangle of mosses and other liverworts all over it and I couldn’t really see it clearly, but I think this photo is a good example of what it looks like. I’ve read that it can have a lot of purple in its leaves.

9. Pocket Moss

At first I thought this was a leafy liverwort called greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) but the spore capsules convinced me that it was a pocket moss called Fissidens taxifolius. The spore capsules are out of focus in this photo but their shape is enough to tell me that this can’t be a greater featherwort because it has round spore capsules, much like the overleaf pellia that we saw previously.

10. Great Scented Liverwort

I’ve seen quite a few different liverworts since I started really looking for them but my favorite is still the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like the reptilian look. If you squeeze a bit and sniff it you’ll find that it smells clean like an air freshener, and if you’re anything like me you’ll wish you could bottle it and spray everything you own with it. It’s the freshest, cleanest smelling plant that I’ve ever met.

11. Ice in Ditch

Water runs down these rock faces constantly so there are drainage ditches between the rail bed and the stone ledges that the liverworts grow on. I put on rubber boots and walk in the ditches looking for plants, but there was a large iceberg in this one that reminded me that I needed to look up occasionally to make sure I wasn’t under any hanging ice.

12. Coltsfoot

In spite of all the ice I saw quite a few coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) blooming. Soon every tiny ledge all up and down the rock faces will drip with thousands of blooming violets. It’s an amazing thing to see.

13. Algae

With my boots on I was able to get close to this “green algae,” (Trentepohlia aurea) which is actually bright orange. A carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll in the algae. It grows like small tufts of hair all over certain rocks. I’m not sure what that algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain ones.

14. Algae

Every time I can get close enough I try to get a better photo of the hairy orange algae. It’s very small and hard to photograph but this one didn’t come out too bad. These algae are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red, and in the Yajiageng River valley in China all of the stones in the entire valley have turned bright red due to algae growth. It is called Red-Stone-Valley and has become a popular tourist attraction. There are other places on earth where these algae also grow in very high concentrations; in India in 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

15. Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me I’ve gone far enough because seeing it usually coincides with the feeling that if I go much farther I’m going to get blisters from the rubber boots I’m not used to wearing. It’s hard to get a photo of it unless the lighting is perfect, but there is graffiti written in chalk on the back wall that dates back to 1929.  People are slowly picking it apart and I don’t think they’ll be happy until its roof is on the ground, by the looks of things. That roof is slate and very heavy, so they better hope they aren’t under it when it comes down.

16. Bridge

Someone has been clearing brush around the lineman’s shack and has uncovered this old bridge to nowhere. I’m not sure if it’s an old snowmobile bridge or if it dates even farther back to the time the railroad was built. The boards are all rotten but the underpinnings are steel trusses so they’re probably still quite strong.

17. Bridge

You can just see the steel truss work through the undergrowth. If someone was willing to replace all the rotting wood this would probably still make a good bridge, but I can’t guess where it would lead.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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1. Long Shot

Last weekend I went to one of my favorite places, a “deep cut” along a rail trail where the icicles grow as big as tree trunks. Since little or no sun shines down into this man made canyon once it gets cold it stays cold. It can also be quite dark so I waited for a rare (this winter) bright sunny day, hoping there would be enough light to be able to take some photos.

2. Ice Formations

There is ice everywhere you look here. The odd thing about it is how in the summer you barely notice the groundwater that constantly seeps from the rock faces. Winter really reveals just how much water there is here, and it’s a lot.

3. Ice Climbers

The ice climbers were here. They call this place the “ice box” and come here to train and get used to ice climbing before they go out and tackle the really big ice falls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here too, but I don’t know if that was what was going on here on this day. I try to never bother them because I imagine that ice climbing takes intense concentration and I’m always afraid that if I distract someone they could fall. I certainly don’t want to be the cause of that.

If you’d like to see someone actually climbing this ice you can watch a video of it by clicking here. The video also shows just how high these ledges are toward the end of it.

4. Cracked Ice

I’m thinking that they probably have enough on their minds without answering questions from me, like that horizontal crack that runs completely through this ice column.  Just taking a photo of it made me nervous. I’ve seen massive pieces of ice lying in the trail after they’ve fallen and I know that I don’t want to be anywhere near one when it comes down. When you’re the only one here and it’s quiet if you stop and listen you can hear the ice creaking and cracking, letting you know that what you thought was static and unmoving is actually moving all of the time, expanding and contracting and growing larger.

5. Laep (Leading Edge Anchor Point) Anchor

Last summer I noticed several of these rock climbing anchors, called “LEAPs” screwed into the rock face, so ice isn’t the only thing climbed here. LEAP stands for Leading Edge Anchor Point and is what ropes get tied to. This photo also shows that part of the rock face was wet. It’s hard to believe that what looks like such a small amount of moisture can grow into such massive ice formations.

 6. Drainage Ditch

All this water has to go somewhere so when the railroad engineers blasted this canyon through the rock they also dug drainage ditches along each side of the rail bed. After over 150 years they still work fine. They hadn’t yet completely frozen over yet when I was there and considering how cold it was that was a real surprise.

7. Liverworts

There are thousands of plants, mosses, ferns and liverworts growing on the rock faces and I usually wear my rubber boots so I can wade through the drainage ditches to get an up close look at them. I wore my boots this day but the ice was making some really strange sounds and I didn’t think that it was a good idea to be standing under it, so this shot of some liverworts was taken from a few feet away. After being here in such cold it amazes me how anything can survive these conditions. It was 20 °F when I left my house and I’d guess it was probably half that here in the canyon. Add the breeze that always seems to blow through here and it was probably close to zero with the wind chill.

8. Steam Drill Tool Mark

I just finished reading the book Sermons in Stone, which is about New England stone walls, and in it author Susan Allport says that long, round tool marks like that in the above photo were made by steam powered drills and since steam powered drills weren’t invented until 1861, the particular stone that bears these tool marks couldn’t have been worked before then. I can’t argue with that but there is plenty of evidence that the granite here was hand cut using star drills and feathers and wedges, so I think what might have happened was the railroad came back once the steam drill was available and widened the rail bed. If it was originally all done by hand then it was probably only as wide as it absolutely had to be. They could also have been making sure that there was no loose rock that might fall on the tracks.

9. Hand Cut Granite

The tool marks from the old method of drilling and splitting by hand can’t be confused with anything else.

10. Colored Ice

I’ve never seen ice come in so many colors as it does here. This place is beautiful at all times of year but the ice adds a bit of magic. The first time I saw it I walked this trail stunned into silence and awestruck by the sight of it. It’s hard to tell by these photos but these ledges soar upwards 50 feet or more in places and you feel as if you’re in an ice cathedral. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

11. Orange Ice

This was the first time I saw orange ice here. I’ve read that orange icicles on a rock face are caused by iron minerals in the soil and water. I can’t find any reference to what might cause green or blue ice.

12. Algae on Rock Face

I wondered if the orange ice was caused by this algae growth which, even though it is bright orange, is called “green algae” (Trentepohlia aurea.) A carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll in the algae.

13. Mineral Stains

Mineral stains of various colors are also visible on the rock faces.

14. Blue Ice

My favorite is the blue ice but all of the different colors are beautiful and part of what makes this such an amazing place.

 15. Bridge

Just as the sun started to go down I saw that someone had been clearing a new trail off of the rail trail that I was on. It looks like the new trail is meant to cross this old bridge, which didn’t look to be more than 4 feet wide. It crosses a small stream and looks like something the stone masons would have used to get cut granite out of the woods. I wanted to explore it but it was getting even colder as the sun dropped, so it’ll have to wait for another day.

Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue

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             1. Deep Cut

Regular readers of this blog will recognize this rail trail “deep cut” in Westmoreland, New Hampshire and might be getting a little tired of hearing about it, but I never get tired of visiting this place because there is nothing else like it in this area. Blasted out of solid rock when the railroad was built in the early 1800s, these cliff faces are now home to many unusual plants, including liverworts, mosses, lichens, and ferns. It’s a perfect place to be on a hot day because the temperature is always about 10 degrees cooler but because of the height of the cliff walls it can be quite dark, especially in the late afternoon and on cloudy days, so it took 3 trips to get the photos that follow.

2. Cliff Walls

In the book Lost Horizon author James Hilton describes the fictional valley of Shangri-La as a hidden, earthly paradise and that’s what I’m reminded of every time I come here. In sunnier spots plants of every description, many that I’ve never seen anywhere else, grow on nearly every vertical and horizontal surface of these cliff faces and have grown virtually untouched for close to 150 years.

3. Drainage Ditch

The reason the plants are able to grow here untouched is because of the wide drainage ditches that line both sides of the old rail bed. Only a serious plant nut would go out and buy rubber boots so they could wade through these ditches to get a closer look at the plants that grow on the ledges, and that description fits me. As I look at this photo and see all of the stones that have fallen from the rocks face I think that a hard hat might also be a good investment.

4. Liverwort

Liverworts grow here by the thousands, so thick in some places that you can hardly see the stone beneath them. So far I’ve identified three species but I think there are probably more.

5. Great Scented Liverwort

My favorite liverwort found here is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) Its scent is strongly aromatic and very clean; almost like an air freshener, and once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. I keep hoping I’ll see this liverwort in the fruiting stage but even though I’ve checked each month since last winter I haven’t seen any of its umbrella shaped fruiting bodies yet. It’s such a beautiful and interesting plant that I find myself staring at even its photo.

6. Threadbare Moss Anomodon tristis

Mosses of all kinds grow here but on this trip this one drew my attention more than any other because of its bright, lime green fuzziness. It lives under a constant drip of water as you can see by the surrounding stone. After much searching through books and online, the closest I can come is threadbare moss (Anomodon tristis,) but it is said to grow on tree trunks, not wet stone. It’s quite small; all that is shown in the photo couldn’t have been more than 8 inches long and 4 or 5 wide.

 7. Threadbare Moss aka Anomodon tristis Closeup

This is a closer look at the moss in the previous photo. It stays very wet in this spot. If you have seen it before or happen to know what it is I’d like to hear from you.

8. Green Algae

One of the most unusual things that grow here is a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Even though it is called green algae it is bright yellow-orange because of a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, and which hides the green chlorophyll. This is the only place that I’ve ever found this algae growing.

9. Green Algae Closeup

This is an extreme close-up of the green algae in the previous photo. It is surprisingly hairy and is described as a “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.”

 10. White Wood Aster aka Aster divaricatus

I’ve seen trees growing out of these stone cliff faces so I wasn’t too surprised to find white wood asters (Eurybia divaricatus or Aster divaricatus) doing the same. It really is amazing how such a huge variety of plants can grow where there is so little soil.

11. Thimbleweed Seed Heads

I didn’t know that thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) grew here until I saw these seed heads. Because they look like thimbles they give the plant its common name. They are also very difficult to get a sharp photo of, for reasons I don’t fully understand.

12. Spider

A place so filled with nooks and crannies is sure to have spiders and I’ve seen many here. This one built its web across the mouth of a small cave. I think it’s an orb weaver.

13. Turtlehead

I also didn’t know that white turtleheads (Chelone glabra) grew here but they do, and in surprising numbers. The sight of so many of them that I could easily walk up to made me kind of sorry to have crawled into that swamp in Keene to get photos of them for a previous post.

14. Meadow Rue

I was very surprised to see this tall meadow rue in full bloom. It usually blooms around July 4th in this area and I’ve never seen it re-bloom until now. More proof that magic happens in this place.

15. Barred Owl

And speaking of magic; I was walking slowly down the trail as I always do, eyeing the cliff walls for things of interest, when I had the feeling that I should look down. When I did I saw that I was about 5 feet away from the barred owl pictured above. I’ve never seen an owl up close and was so flabbergasted that I forgot that I even had a camera for a while. There we were for however long it was, looking into each other’s eyes, and it might sound strange but I had the feeling that somehow I knew this bird. In fact I knew that it would let me take as many photos as I wanted, so once I found myself I fumbled with trying to put my camera on the monopod that I always carry. The owl sat perfectly still and watched me the entire time. I could sense that it was not going to fly away while we stared at each other, so after taking 5 or 6 shots I turned to leave. When I looked back seconds later it was gone, without even a whisper of wings. Looking into those dark brown eyes is something that I won’t soon forget.

There is unfortunately another part of this story that I’d like to forget.  I went back the next day to retake some of these photos because it had been cloudy that afternoon and they hadn’t come out very well, and as I walked along I saw a dead barred owl in one of the drainage ditches. It is thought that barred owls mate for life, so the one in the photo might have been sitting by its dead mate or it might have been the one in the ditch. It’s something that I’ll never know for sure but I do know that I had a lump in my throat as I walked down that trail.

There are sacred moments in life when we experience in rational and very direct ways that separation, the boundary between ourselves and other people and between ourselves and nature, is illusion. ~Charlene Spretnak

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1. Pink lady's Slippers

As I said in the last post, rail trails are excellent places to find rare and hard to find plants, including pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule.) I know of one trail where they grow all along one side of it. How can you witness something so beautiful and not feel grateful to simply be alive?

2. Ashuelot Depot

This old depot in Ashuelot, New Hampshire, just south of Keene, isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few feet out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

3. Flying_Yankee 1935

A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here would have carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers. Thanks go to the Troy Cheshire Railroad Depot Commission for providing this information, and to Wikipedia for the photo.

4. Boxcars

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside an old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

5. Boxcar Side

These cars were from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont.

6. Boxcar Couplings

The old boxcars weren’t coupled correctly, so if you moved one the other wouldn’t follow. Can you see what the problem is?

7. Train Coupling

This is how knuckle couplers should look when coupled to move the cars in tandem. The parts with the holes through them should always front to back as they are in this photo from Wikipedia. Or side to side, depending on how you choose to look at them.

8. Fringed Polygala Colony

I recently found the largest colony of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) that I’ve ever seen growing out in the middle of nowhere, alongside a rail trail.

9. Fringed Polygala

It’s always a pleasure to see these little winged beauties. It took quite a bike ride to get to them but it was worth the achy knees.

10. Abandoned Paper Mill

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

11. Railroad Artifact

You can find many old rusting railroad artifacts along these rail trails. I took a photo of this object because I didn’t know what it was, and I still don’t. It was about a foot long and quite heavy.

13. Rock Slime

In my 50+ years of being in these woods I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so strange as this-whatever it is. I call it rock slime because it looked slimy but I was surprised when I poked my finger into it, to find that it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy or sticky at all. It hung down for about a foot under a rock overhang that constantly dripped water, so that it couldn’t dry out. If you’re reading this and know what it is, or if you’ve seen something like it, I’d love to hear from you.

12. Rock Slime Closeup

This is a close up of the rock slime. The back looked the same as the front. Are those eyes I see in there?

14. Dead End

Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, you run into a dead end on a rail trail. This fallen tree marked the end of the maintained part of this trail and it reminded me that this is what they would all look like if it wasn’t for the dedicated, hardworking volunteers that keep these trails open for the rest of us. Here in New Hampshire it is mostly snowmobile clubs that do this work all summer and they accept donations. If you use the rail trails in your area, why not find out who maintains them and consider making a small donation or volunteering some time? I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated. Just think of what strange, interesting, and beautiful things we’d all be missing if they weren’t kept open.

Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.  Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that touches any explorer with magic. ~John R. Stilgoe

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1. Rail Trail

I’ve decided that what I like most about rail trails is the same thing I liked about them when the trains were running. Back when I was a boy everything was a mystery and new discoveries waited around every bend. I find that little has changed in that regard on these old paths through the forest. I’ve been walking and biking the rail trails in the area over the past few weeks and this year I decided to look for a little history as well as interesting plants. I found plenty of both.

2. Box Culvert

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

3. Trestle

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River but trees and shrubs along the river banks are making them harder to see each year. Last year I could see the river from this spot, but not now.

4. Signal Box

This appears to be an old switch box of the kind that would alert the engineer that the through track had been switched to a side spur. Whatever it was, it was powered by electricity. The rectangular base was bolted to a concrete pad and the warning indicators would have been at the top of the pole, but that part had been broken off.

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

One of the largest stands of forget me nots (Myosotis scorpioides) I’ve ever seen is beside a rail trail. You never know what plants you might find along these trails, and I’ve seen some amazing things.

6. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots are such pretty little things and here they grow happily, way out in the middle of nowhere.

7. Box Culvert

This is another, bigger box culvert. According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill but the one in the photo surprisingly had very little fill over it. The amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

8. New Culvert

This is an example of a new culvert, recently installed. Will it last for centuries like the box culverts have?

9. Rattlesnake Weed

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum), one of the rarest plants that I’ve ever found, grows beside a rail trail. I was very happy to see that it is going to bloom this year. Its flowers look like those of yellow hawkweed and, though they aren’t very spectacular, flowers mean seeds and seeds mean more plants.

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

Way up at the top of that embankment through a break in the trees is where I was when I took the previous photo. Many of these old granite tunnels have been taken down, but this one still stands. My question is, how did the railroad build it? Did they dig a hole through the hillside and then line it with granite block, or did they build the tunnel and then fill in with soil over the top of it? I’m guessing the latter, but can anyone imagine the amount of soil they had to move? It’s staggering to think of it.

The plants growing in the gaps in the face stones are pushing them away from the arch stones (voussoirs) and they really should be removed.

 12. Early Azalea

In my last post I wrote about finding a native early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) out in the woods, and just as I was taking photos for this post I found another growing beside a rail trail.

13. Early Azalea 2

The fragrance of this azalea is really magnificent and it was my nose as much as my eyes that led me to it.

 14. Arched Culvert

What most impresses me about the railroad is how, even out in the woods, the stone masons displayed their extraordinary craftsmanship. They knew when they built this arched culvert that few if any people would ever see it, but they created a thing of beauty anyway. Each one of those stones was split, faced and fitted by hand, using little more than hammers and chisels. That they have stood and stood well since the mid-1800s is a testament to their mastery of the art of stone masonry. Having built with stone myself I am left in awe of their skill and knowledge. Stone arch culverts are rare in comparison to the box culvert, representing only ten percent of the total culverts in New Hampshire.

In part two of this post we’ll see abandoned mills, old railroad depots, rock slime, rusting boxcars and of course, more flowers.

Sometimes you don’t choose the path, it chooses you. ~Anonymous

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Trail

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my travels along the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland, New Hampshire where I go to see liverworts. For a change I decided to follow the trail in the other direction, just to see what was out there. This post is made up of photos that were taken on four different trips to this place.

2. Cliff Face

After walking for a while you come upon soaring ledges. The minute I saw this stone I knew there was something different about this place because the stone is light colored. There is obviously a lot of feldspar here. If you see light colored, pinkish stone in this part of the state it is usually the mineral feldspar that you’re seeing. Feldspars can be found in sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock. Here we often find pure feldspar seams in granite but rarely entire hillsides of it.

3. Trillium Colony

The purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) along the canyon floor were a good sign that I’d probably find other wildflowers here.

4. Possible Rattlesnake Fern

I’ve been trying to identify this fern for over a year and I think I’ve finally settled on rattlesnake fern (Botrypus viginianus), but that may change as I watch it grow. Rattlesnake fern’s common name, like other plants with rattlesnake in their names, comes from the belief that it grew where there were rattlesnakes. It’s supposed to be very common and appears in every state in the continental U.S. and most of Canada, but I’ve never seen it.

5. Mineral Deposits on Stone

I thought this streak of bright white on the stone was some type of lichen but it was caused by mineral deposits that easily wiped away like chalk dust. The bedrock in this part of the state is said to be calcium rich and I’m assuming calcium deposits were what I was seeing.

6. Jack in the Pulpit Closed

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) were everywhere, including on the cliff faces. I’ve never seen them growing on stone and it seems odd, because the root is a bulb-like corm. You wouldn’t think it would have enough room to grow to any size on stone, but since these ledges were cut the mid-1800s there is probably plenty of organic matter built up on the horizontal surfaces. Mosses also grew as thick as I’ve ever seen them.

7. Jack in the Pulpit Open

I always like to lift the top of the spathe to see how Jack the spadix is doing. Down inside the spathe is where the fruit forms on the spadix.  I think a similar plant in the U.K. is called “Lords and ladies.”

8. Birch Bark Lottery Ticket

I started to get perturbed about this until I realized that Native Americans probably wrote hieroglyphs on birch bark with charcoal.

If you’re the one who wrote this note and happen to be reading this, I’d appreciate nothing larger than 50 dollar bills. 200 of them will be fine.

9. Native Columbine

Actually, I’m far more interested in these than I am money. I’ve been searching for many years for our native wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and here an entire colony of plants was growing the whole time. The rich alkaline soil is very unusual in this part of New Hampshire and many rare plants are known to grow in this area. The trick is in finding them. Since it has only taken me since boyhood to find native columbine, maybe now I’ll move on to the showy orchis, which is also said to grow in the area.

 10. Native Columbine Blossom

Seeing something so rare and beautiful in its native habitat for the first time made all the years of searching well worth the effort. I probably spent five or six hours total in this spot enjoying and photographing them, and searching for other rarely seen plants.

According to Wikipedia the genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.

11. Trail

These woods were alive with birdsong and seemed to shout spring. Walking here reminded me why this is my favorite time of year.

Perchance we may meet on woodland trails where drifts of trilliums and singing robins still greet the spring.” ~Don Jacobs

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