16 May 2017: Hiking the Rocky Road Trail
The hoped for quiet night at our cabin in the woods was not to be. At midnight I was awoken out of a sound sleep to the intense glare of light in my eyes - WTF!!?? Someone had rolled into the cabin above us and parked with the engine running and with their light shining directly into the bedroom window. Great. I closed the curtains which I had left open for ventilation.
Now I got to listen to them unload while slamming both car doors and screen door to the cabin. Then silence. Finally.
At 1:00 there was a repeat of this scenario. Then again at 2:00. I had no idea why they kept coming back to the vehicle, starting the engine and turning on the headlights and idling, but they did. So much for a good nights sleep.
The only upside to this rude awaking was laying there and listening to the calling back and forth of two Barred Owls. It was quite dramatic as it sounded like one of them was directly over the cabin. If you want to listed for yourself, click here.
In spite of the lack of sleep, I got up at 5:30, got my coffee and banana bread and sat on the deck until day break.
Two views from the back deck around 7:00 am.
Then I set about working on the trip report followed by getting ready for our hike.
While I was pecking on the keyboard, Betsy had been busy making us a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs with sauteed onions, peppers and cherry tomatoes all topped with pepper jack cheese. Add to this a couple of strips of crispy bacon and we were well fueled for today's hike. Additionally Betsy had packed us a lunch of sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks and a couple of clementines.
Never having hiked at Twin Falls SP park before (except the short hike to the falls) any hike would be new to us. Most of the hikes were in the 2-3 mile range so we picked one which was a 4.5 mile loop - the longest of the hikes. The trail name is "Rocky Road" which is accessed via a short section of the Moonshiners trail.
The trail head was just 5 minutes away next to one of the 3 nicely situated picnic shelters.
We got on the trail about 10:15 and immediately lost our way. In short order we had climbed a steep section of old roadway to what appeared to be the access to a large underground water storage tank. We looked around the area for more blazes and saw none. Thinking we were still on the correct path we headed down the other side of the hill following what looked like a pathway - and a very steep one at that. After walking along the side of the ridge for a bit we came to what appeared to be seep. At this point we were directly below where the water tank was so we supposed it was leaking and the source of the wet, muddy seep. Beyond this we saw no blazes and no sign of a trail. Back up the hill and then back down the hill to the parking area where we found the problem. We had missed an obvious set of double blazes placed there to tell hikers to "Turn Right". This time we did and down the Moonshiners trail we went.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
The woods we entered had tall trees with a high canopy. This gave the woods an open feeling and we could see for quite a ways down the trail.
This one section of woods was a solid, thick carpet of Ground Pine (Diphasiastrum digitatum) which was peppered with Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides). It was quite extensive and I have never seen such a mass coverage as this before. "Why here?" I thought to myself.
A closer look at the Ground Pine. As you can see here it is just starting to push the new seasons growth
We encountered quite a few Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) of all ages and sizes. We were surprised and delighted to see so many Hemlocks, big and small, which had thus far escaped the death sentence of an encounter with the Hemlock woolly adelgid.
Accidentally introduced to North America from Japan, Hemlock woolly adelgid was first found in the eastern United States near Richmond, Virginia, in the early 1950s. The pest has now been established in eighteen eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts, causing widespread mortality of hemlock trees. As of 2015, 90% of the geographic range of eastern hemlock in North America has been impacted by HWA.
An adult individual averages a body length of 0.8 mm and is oval in shape. The tiny brown-colored insect has four thread-like stylets that are bundled together and function as a mouthpart. Three times the length of its body, the stylet bundle pierces the host plant’s parenchymatic ray tissue to derive nutrition from stored reserves. It may also inject a toxin while feeding.
The resulting desiccation causes the tree to lose needles and not produce new growth. Hemlocks stricken by HWA frequently become grayish-green rather than the dark green of healthy hemlocks. In the northern portion of the hemlock's range, death typically occurs four to ten years after infestation. Trees that survive the direct effects of the infection are usually weakened and may die from secondary causes.
I have seen large areas of dead Hemlock caused by the Hemlock woolly adelgid. It is truly a depressing sight.
The lush new growth of this young hemlock is quite beautiful.
It is not often one encounters a "see through" tree.
The flip side view.
Meet the Christmas Fern. This is the most common fern of the eastern woods and often forms dense colonies. It is one of the so called "evergreen ferns" because its fronds will stay nice and green all winter. This is one of the reasons for its common name as it can be seen at Christmas time - if the snow is not too deep.
A fuzzy look at the two types of fronds produced by the Christmas fern. The sharply tapered one in the middle is the "fertile" frond which produces the spore bearing structures. The other, distinctly different fronds are the "sterile" fronds which produce no spores. This is a type of dimorphism and so it is said the Christmas fern has dimorphic fronds. However, true demorphism is better explained here.
A closer (but still fuzzy) look at the fertile frond of the Christmas fern. Note the acrostichoid sori.
The extreme case of the coalescing of sori is the acrostichoid condition (from the genus Acrostichum). Sporangia spread along all of veins of the lower surface of the fertile frond (or fertile region) and even between the veins; this fertile area may be slightly or greatly contracted when compared with the sterile. Examples of acrostichoid sori are common in the Polypodiaceae, Blechnaceae and to a lesser extent, Hypoderriaceae; all Plagiogyriaceae and most of the Lomariopsidaceae are acrostichoid.
Here we are at the juncture of the Moonshiner and Rocky Road trails. The warning is for mountain bikers. The trail brochure had listed both the Moonshiner and Rocky Road trails as mountain bike trails. Initially this turned me off as I have seen many miles of trails turned into muddy pig wallows by selfish and thoughtless mountain bikers.
However, since the hike start we had seen no evidence of mountain bike use whose destructive and knobby tires really tear up trails.
Note the lovely ferns. Those are New York Ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis).
The New York fern is another very common fern of the eastern woods. Generally it prefers a bit more light than many of the "deep woods" ferns. The high canopy and widely spaced trees have provided just the right amount of light for this species to prosper. On this hike we would see acres and acres of this ferny fern.
Note how the front tapers at both ends. This leads to the teaching aid: "The New York fern is like someone from New York City enjoying the night life - they burn the candle at both ends."
A memorable if silly analogy.
A nice mossy, ferny view of this lovely woods.
Not for beginners indeed! When we saw the light, often missing footprint of the trail and the many downed trees we knew we would be seeing no mountain bikers on this path!
This was just one of many jumbles we had to negotiate. It was slow going and often the trail line disappeared or was ambiguous. This combined with many of the blazes being obscured by downed trees or being on both new and old downed trees made navigating tricky - and slow at times. At one point we were sure we were going to have to turn around and back track as there was no sign of the trail or any blazes to be seen anywhere. But after some wandering around in the woods we picked up the trail again. This happened more than once.
In spite of this it was a delightful and beautiful hike. And quiet. And we saw not one other person. Ahhh...
At one point the trail took us to a low open area with a creek running through it. There had undoubtably been a homestead here at one point. The New York fern had taken full advantage of the additional light and really "run wild". This colony could very well be just one plant with a vast and complex network of interconnected rhizomes. Interesting to think about.
Not far from the big fern patch pictured above was this partially buried old pick up truck. Anyone have any ideas about the make, model and year?
This ferny, mossy "nurse log" attests to the wet and humid conditions which prevail here spring and summer.
We did see some dead Hemlock but they were trees that had been battered and broken by the fall of other trees. On several of the dead trunks we saw the Hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae).
The beetle is a Pleasing Fungus Beetle (Megalodacne heros).
WikiPedia tells us a little bit about this genus of beetle.
"Fungivorous". That's a new one on me!
Here is an interesting and quite common plant - Cancer Root (Conopholis americana). Wherever you find mature oak and beech trees you will likely see Cancer Root.
Conopholis americana is parasitic on the roots of woody plants, especially oaks (genus Quercus) and beech (genus Fagus). The only part of the plant generally seen is the cone-shaped inflorescence, which appears above ground in spring. The entire structure is a yellowish color, turning to brown and achieves heights of 10 centimeters (4 in) to 20 centimeters (8 in) tall.
Conopholis americana produces spikes of yellow to cream flowers densely crowded all around the stem. Each flower is 5-parted, 8 millimeters (0.3 in) to 13 millimeters (0.5 in) long, tubular with a swollen base and facing downwards. As the flowering spike matures and begins to wither and becomes brown throughout the summer and often persisting through the winter, by which time it has become shriveled and black. There is no noticeable floral scent.
The root system is parasitic on the roots of Oak trees (Quercus spp.); dependent on the host tree for its nourishment, the suckers of the parasitic roots cause the formation of large rounded knobs on the roots of the host tree.
A closer look at Conopholis americana
After about three hours we sat for a spell and ate our lunch. We were both feeling a bit beat. The constant tree scambling and route finding had tuckered us out. And it has been about 7 months since have hiked in the warm, humid Appalachians. The previous 6 months of hiking in SE Arizona with temps in the 60s and 70s and humidity at about 15% had definitely spoiled us.
By the time we got back to the van and then to the cabin we were ready to split a beer, chill on the deck and take a nap - which we did.
Later we visited the indoor pool at the lodge. Not really to my taste. All that stinky chlorine.
We had planned a skinny dippin' Happy Hour for today but we were not ready for the hike to the swimming hole, so it was to the indoor pool instead.
Our last evening and night at the cabin were quiet and peaceful. We look forward to coming back some day.
Tomorrow we will continue on south through Wyoming county and beyond.
See you soon,
Mike and Betsy
Below is our compiled bird list for Twin Falls SP as transcribed by Betsy.