Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bloomingdale Bog Trail in the Adirondacks: an afternoon of beauty (plus a bit about canoes!)

On our first full day in the Adirondacks, we drove over to Lake Placid to visit Charlie Wilson and Joe Moore at Placid Boatworks. For those of you unfamiliar with canoes, Charlie and Joe build high-end top-quality canoes from David Yost designs. David Yost, known as DY in the paddling world, is probably the most prolific designer of human-powered water craft alive today. Owning a DY canoe is akin to owning a Harley Davidson bike, without the pollution. His interest in canoe design began in the sixties when he built his own solo marathon racers. He designed canoes for Sawyer in the seventies and has designed tandem and solo canoes for Curtis, Bell, Loon Work and Swift, and touring kayaks and sit-on-tops for Perception. I have owned several DY designed canoes over the years, each one perfect for its intended use. The man knows his boats!

Charlie and I each own a Placid Boatworks Spitfire: his is a black recycled model and mine is a garnet gem that slips through the water like a knife through soft butter. It is reminiscent of the Sawyer Summersong I owned in the mid eighties, only it’s half the weight of that Goldenglass boat. We were interested in seeing what Joe and Charlie are up to these days in their quest for building the perfect canoe. They now offer a light-tech version of their models, using carbon instead of wooden trim…trimming several pounds from the finished version.

Now, I know my Charlie, and I could see the flecks of foam forming, drool build-up, as Charlie Wilson talked and demonstrated their manufacturing techniques. I checked my watch. By the time he turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of their lot, only seconds passed till he began planning the sale of his Spitfire to make room in the wallet and on the wall of the garage for a new Rapidfire XLT.

We are a match made in heaven. When I buy something new, he gets bitten by the spending bug too. And when he buys something new…well, you know how that goes. But I just bought my Spitfire in May, so I’ll keep it for several years before upgrading to a Spitfire XLT! By that time, Charlie and Joe will have made more advances in their product line and I’ll be able to get one up on my Charlie!

With visions of pretty new boats dancing in our heads, we sought out the trailhead for the Bloomingdale Bog Trail. This straight and level trail is a former D & H railroad grade, four miles long. A birder’s paradise, we saw Boreal and Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, White-throated Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo, American Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing and others along this trail. That is, while we actually birded. I was so busy stuffing my mouth with the wild blueberries that I’m sure I missed many birds.

Mushrooms. Everywhere. August is mushroom month, and the Adirondacks area is no exception. Of course, true to form, I left my mushroom field guide (Orson K. Miller’s Mushrooms of North America) at home. I took tons of photos, but without being able to actually collect and study each specimen, making spore prints, it’s difficult to ID mushrooms by pictures alone. But that’s where my other hobby kicks in and makes it all worthwhile—photography. Now I need to find a contest to enter all these great photos! Maybe someday I’ll win enough money to pay for all the equipment I bought over the years.

Some of the wildflowers in bloom along the Bloomingdale Bog Trail included bottle gentian, pearly everlasting, bunchberry, dalibarda, St. Johnswort, Joe-pye weed, various goldenrods and asters. There were a few mushrooms I can ID without the guide: Amanita muscaria and puffballs! Mosses, lichens, clubmosses, shrubs with berries (dogwoods, choke berries and choke cherries), all added to the mystical charm of the trail. I am eager to revisit the Adirondacks in May, when the spring wildflowers are in bloom instead of just in berry and seed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dead Creek in the Adirondacks is full of life

It has been a few weeks since I have added to my musings. We spent a week in the Adirondacks, camping at Rollins Pond Campground and hiking, canoeing and botanizing from that base of operations. It never fails: as a vacation approaches, I do frantic research to eke out the best of the best places to see so we can make the most of the limited time we’ll have.

After all the studying and note-taking, it often turns out that you don’t know what’s best till you get there. After seeking out a birding area I had read of, we discovered it was closed, not to open until the day after we left the Adirondacks. After turning back and heading the way we had come, we whipped over into a parking area that caught my eye along Rt. 3. It was an access to Dead Creek (one of several “Dead Creeks” in the Adirondacks!), a quiet meander through a swampland. We put on and started upstream.

Around the first bend I found our first cardinal flowers in bloom. I snagged a few shots of them, then headed toward the groan I heard from Charlie. As I rounded the next bend, he sat forlornly looking at a downed hemlock tree blocking the stream in front of his canoe. We mulled it over for a moment, then pouring on the paddle power, I rammed onto the spit of land beside it. The momentum carried me far enough that I could step out, pull my little 12-pound Sairy Gamp over, and step back in to continue upstream.

But around a few more bends and it was Charlie’s turn to respond to my groan. A beaver dam. Not being the sort to destroy something so intricate and complex, we discussed it briefly before turning back the way we’d just come. Ram back up on the spit, pull the canoes over, step back in and paddle back toward the put-in.

I had our waterproof map of the region and after poring over it, we continued downstream under the Rt. 3 bridge and headed to the Raquette River. Although the sound of the highway traffic stayed with us for awhile, the chirps and whistles in the swamp soon caught all of our attention. Along here we saw Great Blue Herons, Waxwings, Swamp Sparrows and signs of beavers and muskrats. I explored several side channels that were cut by beavers en route to the stream. On the bank of one channel I found a muskrat scent mound, and two large beaver lodges were cleverly placed behind shrubs so that they were very well camouflaged. Several dead snags provided hunting grounds for woodpeckers.

We paddled along for 50 minutes, crossing a few shoddy beaver dams built as if the beavers were of a lazy tribe. They yielded to the canoes and sprang back into shape afterward as if we hadn’t been there at all. Eventually we floated out onto the Raquette River itself and paddled a few hundred yards upstream. But signs of human occupation—cottages, campsites—urged us to turn back the way we’d just come. Although it felt like we’d paddled a few miles, in reality it was only 9/10 of a mile from the Rt. 3 access to the Raquette. The return trip, minus the side channels and long looks at birdlife, only took about 15 minutes.

As we relaxed that evening at our campsite on Rollins Pond, a grand sunset lit the sky and led us into twilight. The perfect end to a perfect day.