This past Sunday, a group of us Charlottesville folk went to Humpback rocks up on the Blue Ridge (mile 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). We enjoy being within a twenty minute drive of these higher elevations...and we aren't alone. The parking lot was packed, and the nearby by living farm exhibit gets year around attention. The trip up there is always amazing because the landscape changes so dramatically before ones eyes...and your ears "pop". Interstate 64 climbs diagonally up the mountain cutting through thick deposits of metamorphosed lava. We were time travelers ...traveling forward in time to see denuded trees that will dominate our view down on the Piedmont in a couple of weeks; our trees are still hanging on to leaves...especially the oaks, hickories, and invasives (pawlonia, white mulberry, etc.). We were also traveling through
a complex geologic landscape, ultimately ending up in meta-basalts deposited when central Virginia was well south of the equator, and turned 90 degrees east! (Check this map out)
We all met at the parking lot, the kids poured out, and off we went into a woods known for its high black bear population. Some estimates claim that 3 bear live upon every 2 square miles of woods....that's quite a bit. The nearby Shenandoah National Park boasts the largest population of black bears in the east. This is not the time of year to see them though...late spring and early summer is when you can catch them moving about as mating season kicks in.
An immediate thing noticed when one looks up from the parking lot is that a strenuous hike is about to be had. The hike covers over 1000 feet of elevation in less than a mile...with some mild rock climbing thrown in there. Half our kids had to be carried. The others had something else in mind....a race to the top!
We moved up the mountain, over outcroppings of 570 million year old Greenstone (young for Blue Ridge Rocks!). These rocks are old lava flows that once covered great amounts of what are today Virginia and Maryland. The rock is hard, very hard, and thus resists erosion. This greenstone holds up most of the peaks and ridges for most of the way thirteen miles south and over a hundred miles to the north.
The forest was dominated by Northern Red Oak
, Chestnut Oak
, and Hickory(mockernut
, and shagbark
). Sweet Birch
, Witch Hazel
, and Hophornbeam
were the dominant understory trees. A few old field relics were scattered about in the forest, including large Flowering Dogwoods and Black Locusts, which were probably the oldest trees we saw at Humpback.
One of the familiar and signifying attributes of the dying black locusts is the polypore it plays host to, the Cracked Cap Polypore
. So far as I know, it only grows on the Black Locust!
Along the trail we occasionally encountered enormous Chestnut Oaks. Check out the size of the one John's leaning on! Also notice the very distinct bark of the Chestnut oak...so deeply furrowed.
We also found several witchhazel in late bloom (see image with the inset), all but a few had dropped their long and wispy yellow petals and stamens, leaving behind these curved sepals.
All adults and kids (all five under the age of 5) made it to the top! I've tried this on two other occasions, without luck. Must have been somethin in the air! The view was magnificent.