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Posts Tagged ‘westmoreland new hampshire’

1-canyon

It was about 13° F. when I left home to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox last weekend. Since this place seems to make its own weather and always has a good breeze blowing through it, I dressed for a frigid hike. It is a naturally dark place and I knew that the strong sunlight would make photography a challenge; there is actually a group of ice climbers in this photo but they are way down there in the dark section, so we can’t see them.

2-ice-climbers

Here they are. Even though I was much closer they’re still hard to see. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. Though I don’t know if this group was part of a clinic, they said they didn’t mind if I took a few photos to give readers a sense of scale. The cliffs soar to about 50 feet overhead and the constantly seeping groundwater can grow into huge icicles that can be as big as 200 year old oak tree trunks. It was plenty cold in the man-made canyon on this day but the ice hadn’t grown to the sizes that I expected.

3-ice-climbers

Two of the climbers picked on an icicle that was on the skimpy side, I thought. The noises from the ice as they climbed it; a crackling and tinkling sound, was a bit unnerving but I had to believe that they knew what they were doing. When I’m this close to them while they’re climbing I sometimes have to remind myself to breathe. It was nice of them to let me show you their methods and the intense concentration that they all seem to possess.

4-ice-climbers

This climber either lost his grip on the icicle or he was practicing falling, I’m not sure which. I was too busy taking photos to pay very close attention to what was being said. Knowing what to do in a fall is a very good idea, I would think.

5-climbing-ice

There had been a lot of activity around this huge blueish ice formation, which told me that many climbers had climbed here. I’ve heard that blue colored ice is the strongest and densest. It certainly looked more substantial than the ice that was being climbed in the previous shots.

6-icicles

There was plenty of ice to see but there weren’t many places where the giant tree trunk size formations grew. They often stand shoulder to shoulder all along the stone cliff faces but on this day they were only seen here and there.

7-ice-colors

This was one spot where the ice grew large. Even in full sunshine there was no melting going on but I could still hear the constant sound of running water made by groundwater running down the stone behind the ice.

8-evergreen-fern

An evergreen fern found a sunny spot on a ledge to grow on. Many others were encased in ice.

9-mineral-staining

There is always mineral staining on the stones but the cold seems to make the staining deeper and more colorful. I suspect that minerals in the groundwater are what gives the ice its many different colors.

10-ice-colors

Tan seems to be the most visible ice color this year. In the past I’ve seen everything from green to orange to black.

11-drainage-ditch

With all this ice and dripping water you might think I’d be standing in water up to my knees but the railroad wisely built drainage ditches along the edges of the rail bed and they’ve kept this section of trail dry for over 150 years. It seemed strange that they weren’t frozen over in most places.

12-trail-washout

Last fall a large stone fell from one of the cliff faces and it landed in the drainage ditch in just the right way to act as a dam, and since all the dammed up water had to go somewhere it ran into the rail bed and washed a section of it out. Luckily these trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs and I’m assuming it was they who moved the stone and solved the problem. I’m sure they’ll come back in warmer weather and fix the washout.

13-fallen-stone

This stone didn’t move easily. I’d guess that it must have taken two strong men with pry bars just to slide it out of the way, because it was big. Thankfully it didn’t hit anyone when it fell.

14-banded-rock

I looked up to see a band of reddish rock running through the cliff face. I’ve never noticed it before but it was the same color as the big stone that fell.

15-fallen-ice

Stones aren’t the only thing that fall here; we’ve had a few warm days and a huge slab of ice had fallen into the trail. This was easily big enough to have crushed someone, and this is why I stay in the middle of the trail away from the walls as much as possible.

16-moss-on-ice

When the ice fell it took quite a large bit of moss with it.

17-pale-liverworts

You can’t be a regular visitor to this place and be unaware of the falling ice and stone, but it isn’t something I obsess over. One of the reasons I keep coming here is because of all the unusual plants that grow here, and you’ve got to get close to the cliff walls to see them up close. For instance the above photo shows some of the many liverworts that grow on the walls. They are the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum,) but they don’t look right and I wondered if they might have frozen solid. They should be a deep, pea green color rather than the pale gray green seen here.

18-liverworts

This is how a healthy great scented liverwort should look. Note the pea green color. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the paler ones in the previous photo. I hope they’ll recover when it warms up.

19-frost-on-stone

Since I was in the deep cut last weekend we’ve had a January thaw and temperatures approached 50°, so almost all of our snow has melted. I can’t imagine what it looks like in the canyon but I’d bet that more ice has fallen. On this day though it was so cold that there was frost growing on the stones, so I didn’t stay for too long.

20-linemans-shack

With a quick nod to the old lineman’s shack, which is miraculously still standing, I headed for home to get out of the stiff breeze and to find some warmth. I’d guess that the wind chill must have been near zero and though every part of me was covered but my eyes, it was still pretty cool.

The splendor of silence, -of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

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1. Trail-2

When it’s hot and humid here in New Hampshire you have a few choices when it comes to cooling off outside. You could go to one of our many lakes, you could climb a mountain to catch a cool breeze, or you could go underground like I did last Sunday.  The deep cut Cheshire rail trail in Westmoreland is almost always about 10 degrees cooler than it is everywhere else and there’s always a gentle breeze blowing. I’m convinced that the narrow slot canyon shape of the place creates its own breeze, because it never stops here.

2. Climber

Unfortunately last Sunday, even though there was a breeze, it didn’t feel much cooler as I walked through the man-made canyon. Considering how warm it was I was surprised to see two rock climbers. But I was also happy to see them because photos with people in them always give a sense of scale to the place. He looks quite small but you can see one of the climbers off to the left. He was looking up at his partner who was climbing up the wall of the canyon.

3. Cliff Face

You wouldn’t catch me climbing these walls, but a lot of people do.

4. Hanger

The hardware that rock climbers use looks safe enough. One hanger like this one that I read about said it could support 5600 pounds. It had better, because if they should fall this will probably save them.

5. Trail

The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. I’ve broken stone with a sledge hammer quite a few times but I wouldn’t ever want to face something like this. Breaking up the stone wasn’t the only daunting task; after the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of broken stone. Much of it was dumped in the woods and abutting landowners picked from the piles and built stone walls along the property lines. You can still see them today and they are oddities with their flat faces and sharp angles. You know immediately that stones like them aren’t natural.

6. Stone Wall

This photo I took last May shows what I mean. There isn’t a rounded edge to be found anywhere in this wall and our natural fieldstone always has rounded edges. This stone is obviously cut and seems very foreign compared to what we’re used to seeing.

7. Stone Wall

Not all of the blasted stone was dumped; the railroad built stone retaining walls along parts of the cut to hold back the hillside. They must have had stone cutters working right at the site, cutting and fitting the blasted stone into stone walls that have stood solid since the mid-1800s. You can always tell that a wall is a retaining wall by the way it leans slightly backwards into the hillside that it’s holding back. It takes skill, care and experience to get it right and the railroad stone masons had plenty of all three.

8. Drainage Ditch

Even as dry it has been the drainage channels on either side of the trail still had water in them. Groundwater constantly seeps from the ledges and runs through these channels away from the rail bed. They are filled with water year round and help keep the humidity stable and slightly higher than it would be otherwise. They’ve also kept the rail bed dry for well over a century and a half.

9. Purple Flowering Raspberry

There are many plants growing in the few sunny spots found here and some of the most beautiful on this day were the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) in full bloom. This shade tolerant plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled.

10. Purple Flowering Raspberry Fruit

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry and is edible but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

11. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowers (Tussilago farfara) might look like dandelion flowers but it’s clear that they don’t have a taproot like a dandelion. Here they grow on solid rock.

12. Tear Thumb Flowers

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. I was surprised to see it growing here in deep shade along the edges of the drainage channels.

13. Tear Thumb Stem

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

14. Liverworts

Of course I couldn’t come here and not visit with my friends the liverworts. They grow here by the thousands, and this is the only place I know of where they do.

15. Great Scented Liverwort

My favorite liverwort is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and I wore knee high rubber boots so I could walk in the drainage channels to get close to them. Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. They love growing over the drainage channels here with ground water dripping on them from above. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure. With most of the state in severe drought I’ve been wondering how the liverworts were doing. Some I saw had dried out completely by the looks but thankfully many were still thriving.  When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that I always think would make an excellent air freshener. They’re very beautiful things and I wish I could see them every day.

16. Overleaf Pellia (Pellia epiphylla.)

Another liverwort that grows here is called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla.) At a glance it looks like great scented liverwort but a close look shows that its leaf surfaces are very different. This liverwort always reminds me of bacon and I’ve learned to spot it from a distance by its shape and wavy edges. It’s much narrower in width than great scented liverwort, and in colder weather it often turns purple on its edges and shrivels a bit. Don’t tell it I said so but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as beautiful as the great scented liverwort.

17. Algae

One of the strangest things growing here are these green algae, (Trentepohlia aurea) which are 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 but it’s still called green algae. It grows like small tufts of hair all over some rocks. I’m not sure what that algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain ones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

18. Algae Close

The algae are very small and hard to photograph. They are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red. 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 rains were also reported.

19. Lineman's Shack

I took a walk out of the far end of the canyon to see if the old lineman’s shack was still standing. It was, but I’m not sure how with so many sections of wall and roof gone. I suppose that, like everything else the railroad built, it was built to last. There was an old bakelite (a type of early plastic) television antenna rotor controller on the floor of the shack for well over a year, but it disappeared as quickly and silently as it appeared. I’m guessing that this smallish shed must have been used for tool storage; after all, somebody must have had to shovel the snow out of this canyon in the winter. Just thinking about that makes my back twinge.

20. The Chesire

With all this talk of railroads and trains I thought I’d better show you the train that ran through here from 1935 until it was retired in 1957. It was a stainless steel 3 car diesel streamliner with “Cheshire” (for the Cheshire Railroad) proudly displayed on its nose. A 600 horsepower Winton engine was in the first car. The second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car, and the third car had coach seating for 188 passengers with rounded glass on its end that allowed 270 degrees of countryside observation. A sister train called The Flying Yankee ran on another part of the railway. How I would have loved to have had a ride or two on them.

If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads. ~Anatole France

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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1. Ice Climbers

After our below zero cold of Valentine’s day weekend I wondered if the ice in the deep cut rail trail on the way to Westmoreland had grown. When I got there I could see that it really hadn’t grown much since my last visit but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of ice climbers there. You can just see them in this photo, way down toward the light at the end of the canyon. That’s where the biggest ice grows.

2. Ice  Climber

Last time I did a post about this place that the climbers call the “ice box” several readers said they wished I could find a way to better show the scale of the place, so I broke my own rule and took photos of the climbers. I’ve avoided doing so in the past because I didn’t want to distract them, but since several of them were talking back and forth I didn’t think I’d break anyone’s concentration. These few photos should give you a good idea of the size of the place and the height of the walls that the railroad blasted out of the bedrock nearly 150 years ago.

3. Ice Climber

This climber had nearly made it all the way to the top. It must be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

4. Ice  Climber

Ice climbers wear spikes called crampons on their climbing boots and have a tool called a pick in each hand. They swing a pick into the ice and then swing the other, and when they’re sure the picks will hold them securely they move their feet up until the crampons have found a purchase, and in this way they slowly move up the ice fall. There is always a helper with each climber who keeps the climbing rope taut or slack, depending on what is required at the time. These people must have great concentration.

5. Polished Ice

After our cold snap we’d had some warm days and the melting and re-freezing had given some of the ice columns a high polish.

6. Rotten Ice

Other ice falls looked dull and grayish white and these were rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air, and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and the ice becomes honeycombed and loses its strength. Instead of a sharp crack when it is tapped it sounds more like a dull thud. It would be dangerous ice to try and climb, so you have to be a good judge of ice to be a climber.

7. Trail

There is still a lot of ice here in spite of the warm days we’ve had but as I walked along I noticed that much of it was rotten, and that’s my signal to stay away from this place until it has melted. I’ve seen ice columns as big as tree trunks fallen in the trail in years past, and I don’t want to be anywhere near them when they start falling.

8. Falling Ice

For the first time since I’ve been coming here I saw ice falling in the spot shown above. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was enough to warn me away until spring has taken a solid hold. This entire ice fall was rotten. Note how white it is, and how it has lost its shine and has become dull, even with the sun shining on it.

9. Fallen Ice

These fallen chunks were large enough to kill someone if they ever fell at the wrong time. The biggest was as big as a car tire.

10. Colored Ice

I knew I wouldn’t see sights like this again until next winter, so I took my time and admired the ice. This is a place where you can be immersed in winter’s beauty, and I haven’t found another place like it.

11. Ice Cave

You can just see an evergreen fern inside this ice cave. In summer this place is green and lush with most of the rock faces covered by plants, and I often think of it as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon, but walking through here in winter can be like walking on a distant frozen planet. If there is a place where the difference between the two seasons is more apparent I haven’t found it.

12. Ice Free Wall

One wall in full sunshine had lost all its ice. This is an unusual sight here in February.

13. Liverworts

In one spot the ice had melted enough so the liverworts that grow on the walls could be seen.

14. Liverwort

After checking to see that there was no ice overhead and the ice covering the drainage ditch was solid I inched out across it to get some close ups of the liverworts. I only stayed for a minute; if the ice I was standing on had broken I would have been up to my knees in freezing cold water because I didn’t have my knee high rubber boots on. It would have been a cool walk out of here.

15. Liverwort Closeup

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made the risk of cold wet feet worth taking. These liverworts like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Their common name comes from their scent, because if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

16. Trail

I always try to take photos that show how high the cliffs can soar, and this one does a fair job of showing that. In this section the trail was very icy. This winter any snow that has been packed down has turned to glare ice and is very difficult to walk on. That’s why I’ve stayed away from hill climbing this winter.

17. Ice Column

This column of ice was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.25 inches across. Though it looked from the trail like it had grown solidly along the rock face this view told a different story.

18. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me that I’ve reached the end of what I came to see. I really thought that the winter snows would bring it down this year but I don’t think we’ve had more than 4 inches fall in a single storm, and that was the biggest. The other 4 or 5 storms were only 2 or 3 inches.

19. Lineman's Shack

There really isn’t much holding the old place up. It looks like a strong breeze would blow it over.

20. Gaffitti

I’d kind of like the old shack to stay standing. The graffiti inside always reminds me of my father. He would have been 18 in 1925 and lived near here and I always wonder if he came to see the ice like I do. None of the initials match his but he could have easily walked the tracks through here. I’m not sure what NLP! GH means; maybe: No Longer Present! Gone Home.

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. ~William Shakespeare

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1. Deep Cut

Each year at about this time I start wondering if the ice is forming in the deep cut rail trail that I visit up a ways north of Keene. This place gets very little direct sunlight so usually once the nights get cold enough the ice starts to grow, and our nights have been in the 20s lately. The ice grows steadily through January and February to the size of tree trunks. On this day though the temperature had soared into the 60s so there was little ice to be seen.

2. Ice

I saw that a few icicles had formed on the cliff walls but had quickly melted and fallen. Usually on a hot summer day breezes blow through here and cool it off to about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature at ground level. On this day though, for the first time, I felt a warm breeze blowing. I was dressed for two days before December but before I left I was sweating as if it were tax time in April. I should have paid more attention to the forecast.

3. Drilled Hole

Railroad workers used steam drills and black powder to crack this rail bed out of the bedrock about 150 years ago. You can still see many of the holes they drilled.

4. Ties

Signs of the railroad are still seen here and there. Here two railroad ties have been placed against the cliff face. Why I don’t know; possibly as help for climbing these walls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and seeing them climb on winter weekends is common.

5. Bolt Hanger

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. You can see signs that people have been climbing on the higher parts of the wall, which I’d guess must reach 40-50 feet.

6. Mossy Wall

On this day the ice climbers would have been disappointed; there was more greenery than ice to be found. In places these walls are completely covered by all kinds of plants, mosses, lichens and liverworts and are very beautiful. It often makes me think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote of in his novel Lost Horizon.

7. Possible Wall Rue Spleenwort

Some of the plants that I see here are ones that I don’t see anywhere else. I’ve been trying to identify this one for close to three years with no luck, so if you know it I’d love to hear from you. I have a feeling it’s a spleenwort (Asplenium) but I don’t know which one. It’s similar to wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but I don’t know if that’s it. Since there are close to 700 species of Asplenium it might be a while before longer I uncover its name. It grows right out of the cliff faces and is evergreen. It reminds me of flat leaf Italian parsley.

8. Built Wall-2

The railroad engineers used the stone from blasting to build massive retaining walls along parts of the rail bed. Drainage ditches run all along the base of the walls on both sides and still keep the rail bed dry after a century and a half.

9. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still had their leaves and reminded me of spring. Their hoof shapes give this plant its common names. It has been used to treat coughs for centuries.

10. Insects on Branch

What I think were a type of winter crane flies (Trichocera) swarmed all over the cut surface of a branch and appeared to be drinking the sap. Others flew back and forth along the trail. Without too much effort I could imagine that it was almost April instead of almost December.

11. Water

In places small streams pour out of and over the rocks and there is always the sound of splashing and dripping water here. It’s like being near a public fountain.

12. Ice

There was some ice on a rock but it was rotten and probably fell soon after I took this photo.

13. Liverworts

I’ve seen many amazing things here and some of the most amazing are the large mats of liverworts that grow here in the many thousands. They’ve probably been growing here for the century and a half that these stone cliffs have been here. They grow on the rocks just above the drainage ditches where the humidity must be high, and to get close to them you have to wade through the ditches with high rubber boots on, but it’s worth the effort.

14. Great Scented Liverwort

One of my favorite liverworts is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like its reptilian appearance and the fresh, clean scent that gives it its common name. It likes water but will die if it is submerged so it needs a place where it can be moist but not touching water. The groundwater that constantly runs down over the stones makes this the perfect spot.

15. Overleaf Pellia aka Pellia epiphylla

Another liverwort called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla) also grows here but in nowhere near the numbers that the great scented liverworts do. I’ve noticed the overleaf pellia grows on the sunnier side of the cut and the great scented grows on the shaded side. When it gets cold this liverwort starts to turn purple as is seen in the photo. Though not even one tenth the size of a slice of bacon this one always reminds me of fried bacon because of the way its wavy edges curl.

16. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack’s walls seem to bulge and its roof sags just a bit more each time I see it. I wonder how many more winters it can stand before it can stand no more. Since there is graffiti dated to 1925 it I know that it has seen a few. What I don’t know is if my father, who was 18 years old in 1925, might have been one of the people who wrote on the walls. He didn’t live too far from here and might have once walked the tracks.

17. Antenna Rotor Control

The old 1940s bakelite television rotor controller still sat where it did the last time I was here. It seems so big and cumbersome now but it never did when I had to use one on our antenna years ago. It seemed like a marvel of modern engineering then.

18. Trail in February

This photo is from February of last year and is for those who might not have seen previous posts I’ve done about this place. The ice grows into massive columns and comes in many colors, including green, blue, black, and orange. I believe the many colors come from minerals, algae, soil and other contaminates, as well as the density of the ice and how it reflects and refracts light. It’s very beautiful and I look forward to seeing it each winter, but with the forecast calling for above average temperatures this winter ice like this might be hard to find.

Nature is shy and noncommittal in a crowd. To learn her secrets, visit her alone or with a single friend, at most. Everything evades you, everything hides, even your thoughts escape you, when you walk in a crowd.  ~Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Trail

This “deep cut” rail trail is a place that I hadn’t visited for a few months so, since it was a hot day and this narrow man-made canyon has natural air conditioning, down I went. I say “down” because if you look up at the top at the cliff face on the left side of the photo, that’s the height of the road where you park and walk in, and in places these ledges soar to 50-60 feet to reach road level. Somehow the still air on the outside is drawn into this place on a breeze that is created right here and it’s always about 10 degrees cooler.

2. Drill Cut

The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Deep holes like these were probably 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, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone. There are several dump sites that can be seen from the highway, but they are quite far from this cut.

3. Stone Wall

Not all of the blasted stone was dumped; stone retaining walls line parts of the cut to hold back the hillside. The railroad must have had stone cutters working right at the site, cutting and fitting the blasted stone into stone walls that have stood since the mid-1800s.

4. The Chesire

A stainless steel 3 car diesel streamliner with “Cheshire” (for the Cheshire Railroad) proudly displayed on its nose ran through here from 1935 until it was retired in 1957. A big 600 horsepower Winton engine was in the first car. The second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car, and the third car had coach seating for 188 passengers with rounded glass on its end that allowed 270 degrees of countryside observation. A sister train called The Flying Yankee ran on another part of the railway.

5. Wall Growth

What the passengers on The Cheshire saw out of the windows was probably very close to what we see here today. Mosses, ferns, vines, liverworts and many kinds of plants cover every inch of space in areas, making the place look like James Hilton’s Shangri-La or the hanging gardens of Babylon. For a plant nut it’s a wondrous sight.

6. Drainage

Groundwater constantly seeps from the ledges and runs through drainage channels on either side of the rail bed. These channels are filled with water year round and help keep the humidity stable and slightly higher than it would be otherwise. They’ve also kept the rail bed dry for over a century.

7. Great Scented Liverwort

Great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), grows in places where it never dries out so they love growing over the drainage channels here. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure. Though they like a lot of water they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time and stop growing just short of the water surface. When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that would make an excellent air freshener, and I’m surprised that nobody has bottled it.

8. Great Scented Liverwort

Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

9. Overleaf Pella Liverwort

Another liverwort that grows here is called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla.) At a glance it looks like great scented liverwort but a close look shows that its leaf surfaces are very different. This liverwort always reminds me of bacon and I’ve learned to spot it from a distance by its shape and wavy edges. In colder weather it often turns purple and shrivels a bit.

10. Cliffs

Because the 3-4 foot wide drainage channels separate anyone walking on the rail trail from the ledge walls I put on rubber boots and walk in the water of the channels to get close to the liverworts. The problem with doing this is rocks can and do fall from these walls; I’ve seen fallen stones that would have crushed half a car. So far I’ve never seen one fall but they are lying around everywhere, so it’s just a matter of time. That thought stays with me when I’m walking in the drainage channels, so I don’t stay in them long.

11. Jack in the Pulpit

Falling rocks or not, who could resist wanting to see things like these bright red Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) up close? Jack in the pulpit plants grow all over these ledges and when the berries form their weight makes the stems bend and they are left hanging.

12. NE Asters

Flowering plants of all kinds, from coltsfoot in spring to the New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) seen here, grow along the edges of the drainage channels. This is the only place I know of where I can see some form of green growing thing year round. Even in winter there are mosses, liverworts, and evergreen ferns to see.

13. Tall Meadow Rue

One of the flowers that grow here is waxy leaf meadow rue (Thalictrum revolutum.) This plant looks very similar to tall meadow rue and I thought that’s what it was, but the black seeds match only the waxy leaf meadow rue, from what I’ve seen. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this plant so if you know it I’d really like to hear about it.

14. Algae

One of the strangest things growing here are these green algae, (Trentepohlia aurea) which are 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 and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

15. Algae

The algae are very small and hard to photograph. They are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red. 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.

16. Orange Minerals

In the winter ice columns as big as tree trunks grow here and they are colored by what I’ve assumed were minerals leaching from the soil. I’ve seen several shades of blue ice, green ice, orange Ice, brown ice and even black ice. This photo shows what I think is an instance of the ice coloring minerals leaching from the soil. I saw this happening in a few different places.

17. Shack

Each time I come here there is less to see of the old lineman’s shack. Since there is so little left of the walls I expect the roof to cave it, but still it hangs on. There are people’s initials and dates going back to at least 1925 chalked on its walls so people have been visiting it for nearly 100 years, at least.

18. Rotor

This object wasn’t here when I was here last, but there it sat on the floor of the lineman’s shack.  At first I thought it was a piece of equipment used to run the railroad but a friend suggested that it was a television antenna rotor control box, and when I Googled 1950s television antenna rotor control sure enough, I found several images of items that looked much like it. Did they watch television here in the shack I wonder, or did they use an antenna for some other purpose?

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for stopping in.

Of Local Interest:

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Saturday, September 26th

Join Clif Seifer and Wendy Ward on an inaugural birding expedition along the new boardwalk through Tenant Swamp at Keene Middle School, where we’re likely to encounter a variety of migrating woodland warblers and thrushes. Meet at 7:30 a.m. (until 9 am) at the entrance to the boardwalk, which is located behind the school at the back of the playing fields.

 

 

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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

Thanks for coming by.

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