Hogback Mountain

Even though several blustery days had swept most of the vibrant colors off the trees, there was still quite a bit of green mixed in with the rusty remains. Thinking that there might still be some inspiring sights to behold, I recalled that someone had told me a year back that the views from the top of Hogback Mountain during the autumn months was well worth the hike. The trail seemed a bit ambitious for us but it was a nice day so we decided to give it a try.

As mentioned in a previous post, we discovered that many times road signs were non-existent, so it was essential to use the odometer to determine turning points. In this case, the land trust directions indicated we could park at the Fish and Wildlife maintenance lot on Walker Ridge Road, a side road along Route 220, 6.5 miles past Route 3. Which brings me to another reason to rely on mileage points, Google maps list this road as “Not Town Road”.

Once we located the parking area on Walker Ridge Road, we studied the kiosk at the trailhead. On this side of Route 220, the Jeep Trail would take us through the woods back towards the road where we could cross and continue on the Hogback Trail or we could continue on this side of the road for 2.8 miles until we reached the Fry Mountain Loop. Taking on an 8 mile hike was way more than we could do and not knowing what difficulty level we would add by walking along the Jeep Trail, we opted to walk along the road to the trailhead.

Once in the woods, we found the trail covered with about an inch of fallen leaves. Unfortunately, this blanket covered the fact that there were a lot of intertwined tree roots underneath, as well as rocks. The conditions over the last week had also left the earth underneath this ground cover slick in some places. Perhaps, we were careful on the uphill because we suffered no mishaps on the way up. I did comment that it was rather odd that during the beginning of the trail we seemed to be doing a lot of downhill walking in order to reach the summit. This didn’t bode well for the end of the return trip when we would have to walk uphill while we were tired from our journey.

Still, the woods were lovely and peaceful. Not far into our excursion, we found a large rock, named “piano rock” due to the flat top of the boulder and a smaller rock that resembled a bench. Further along, we discovered a trickle of water flowing down a series of rocks. The leaves around this small cascade warranted a stop to reflect on the natural gifts around us.

The trail switch-backed up the hill and sometimes the blue blazes were hard to locate. As we climbed, I started to become fatigued but I had my heart set on the views that I had heard about so I continued on. Eventually, the trail followed a dirt road for a bit before turning back into the woods and soon we found a spot that rewarded us some views of the mountains in the distance.

We decided to rest on a log along the side of what seemed to have been a road at one time. Our lunch spot afforded us some limited views of the mountains and an abandoned tractor nearby. Reflecting on this spot later and studying photos that others had posted, I realized that we probably did not summit Hogback Mountain, for I found reference to the “open ledges near the summit” and wide views. Clearly, we did not have lunch on an open ledge and we had narrow views of the mountains beyond. But we had done enough for one day, so we headed back down.

On the return trip, I slipped twice jarring an already sore shoulder (a story for another day). As predicted, the uphill portions at the end of the journey were a bit much. My husband offered that we stop a bit but I was afraid I would not want to continue, so I slogged on. Still, I was glad that we had attempted this trip that was a bit beyond our capabilities but now we will have to go back another day and actually summit.


Kennebec River Rail Trail

My husband’s re-certification exam was finally over and it was time to get him back outdoors. Given that it was also time for my annual car service at the dealer which was an hour away from home, I made my usual plan of finding a place to walk and a promise for lunch at a favorite watering hole in Hallowell. After a 45 minute service visit we set out for the Kennebec River Rail Trail, a 6 mile trail from Augusta to Gardiner.

Since we had some errands that afternoon we carefully planned our time so that we could have an early lunch and be back on the road towards home by 12:30. Knowing that, we headed towards a river front parking area in Hallowell. From there, we figured that walking the two miles toward Augusta would allow us to return to our starting point in time for lunch.

Although a meteorologist report claimed the leaf color had already peaked in northern Maine the weekend before and the rest of the state was to follow this weekend, I was surprised at the amount of green still visible in this central part of the state. I thought the colors were more vibrant by the coast. However, it was also a rather gloomy day so maybe that made the difference. In fact, the most colorful part of our walk was the row of Adirondack chairs lined up along the water’s edge, not far from the parking area.

There was road construction going on in town and since this section of trail was near the street, we were forced to detour around the construction for a bit. Once past the work area, the paved path quickly distanced itself from the road and the noise dropped away. We were now able to take in the gifts of nature in a more peaceful setting.

Along the small section that ran alongside an old rail bed, we found  large clusters of asters and butter and eggs still in bloom. On seeing these 2 toned yellow flowers, I realized the only other place I have seen them in abundance was along the Belfast rail trail. I guess these particular plants like growing along train tracks.

Further along, I stopped briefly to study the remains of a flower cluster. The pink berries along the red stem intrigued me and I thought perhaps it was some type of viburnum but I was not entirely sure. The leaves on this shrub were certainly tending towards autumn colors. The sumacs also were showing some brilliant red leaves.

We left the paved path briefly to walk along a trail that led towards an overlook of the river. Again the colors were not vibrant but the day was still and the reflection of the vegetation in the water was impressive.

When we spotted a train stop near Augusta we decided to turn around. We made our way back to Hallowell in plenty of time for an early lunch. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to browse the nearby quilt store before we had to turn towards home.

Davis Stream Preserve

The day before my husband’s re-certification exam, I had hoped to get him to take a breather from his intense last minute studying and join me on a short exploration just to clear his head. I had finished my morning walk up the Multi-use Trail in the Camden Hills, but still planned on walking the Davis Stream Preserve in Jefferson. But alas, my partner did not wish to leave his final effort of cramming even more information into his overstuffed brain so I found myself on yet another solo adventure. To be fair, I had calculated that it would take about 35 minutes to drive there, another 35 minutes back and since the trail map showed the trail to be less than a mile it seemed hardly worth the driving time.

Following the directions in the Mid-coast Conservancy brochure, I parked at the Willow Grange, walked back past the cemetery and strolled near the road that went through the cemetery. The preserve was located between the active graveyard and the back lot, with the trailhead and kiosk located near the back lot.  As I walked down the road towards the kiosk, I noticed a small stream meandering off into the woods.

Not far into the woods, the trail closed in and I found myself wading along a narrow footpath. As the vegetation brushed against me I hoped that the local ticks were not hungry at this point. In just a few minutes, the trail opened up and I proceeded carefully over the root-laden byway as I made my way uphill. After this rough beginning, the trail was clearly discernible and I continued my journey with ease.

I had thought that the color change would be well under way here but the foliage only hinted at things yet to come. Other than a few Asters still hanging on, most of the wildflowers were done for the year. However, I did see signs of Canada Mayflowers, Wild Sarsaparillas, Indian Root Cucumber and the occasional Eastern Starflower. But what I really found in abundance were mushrooms.

Perhaps our mushroom walk from a few weeks before had made me more aware of their presence but I think the rains of early October just made the conditions right. It wasn’t just spotting the occasional fungus, I found whole families clustered together. I found one type of Amanita had 10 clustered together. Later I found 6 Russulas not far from each other. I was pretty impressed when I discovered the largest Coral Fungus I had ever seen but I was even more astonished when there were 4 of them growing nearby.

As I neared the stream, I found the first real indication that the summer season was over.  All the ferns in the area had turned a wonderful shade of golden brown. It really was a beautiful sight. I paused by Davis stream to take in the beauty of the ferns, the small tree bending over the water and the remains of a broken tree forming a perfect triangle. It was here that I spotted the yellow leaves of the Indian Root Cucumber with its tell-tale red spot on the upper cluster of leaves tucked under the branches of a small pine.

I continued along the loop and soon made my way back along the road to my car. With my frequent stops for some close-up views of nature, my adventure lasted about 45 minutes. Still worth the 35 minute drive.



Bangor City Forest

The weekend before the big re-certification test for my husband, we decided to take a dry run to the test center in Bangor to assess how much time he would need to get there for a 7:30 am sign-in. After days of cloudy weather, the sun was finally beginning to peak through, so the plan was to find the test center, then find a place to hike. Having explored our options before-hand, I noticed that the Bangor City Forest was located behind the testing site, so after 90 minutes of driving, we were ready to begin our adventure.

The Bangor City Forest is over 680 acres and, by one source I consulted, contains a network (maze) of over 17 miles worth of trails. In addition, there are two preserves maintained by the Bangor Land Trust with another conglomeration of trails, including connector paths into the City Forest. I had read stories about people getting lost within this system, so if you are planning on straying off the two main loop trails , it is absolutely essential to have a trail map on hand. I found that the easiest map to read was located on the Bangor Maine government website but be aware not all the trails are listed on this map. In fact, we saw many off-shoot paths that I could not find on any of the maps when we studied them later.

For this trip, we decided to stay on the East-West Loop which was about 5 miles. The loop was a good width and graveled, so the walking was pretty easy. As we meandered along the road, we were amazed at the things that were still in bloom on that last weekend in September. My first find was a plant, with small white flowers gathered in a spike at the top. I later identified this as White Sweet Clover, a plant unlike any clover I had seen before. We also spotted, an almost perfect Black-eyed Susan, only a little worse for wear.

About a ½ mile or so from where we parked, we arrived at the main entrance near the Orono Bog Walk. The information center was located here with a description of what a visitor would find in the Bog. We knew the loop would be worth the trip but we decided to save it for another time. What really surprised me here was finding the remains of a nest on the side of the information building. It was not the fact that the nest was there but that it had been built about waist height. Given the easy accessibility to humans, I wondered if this nest had ever been used.

Further down the road, I heard a rustle in the undergrowth and found a small snake keeping a close eye on me. We paused for a minute to watch it before continuing on our way.

Since we had taking the mushroom walk only the week before, we were delighted at our ability to name a few of the numerous fungi we found along our journey. At one point, we found one tall specimen that was unfamiliar to us. Later research seemed to indicate that we had found a Shaggy Mane.

As we neared the end of our journey, we reached a junction with a wide grassy road towards our left. I believe that this was the connector to the Northeast Penjajawoc Preserve. On either side of this pathway, we found an identifying sign with a specific conifer name. We were in the arboretum. Whenever my husband and I had found ourselves journeying through the maze of paths meandering through an arboretum we had always gotten lost. So finding ourselves in one now, we made a hasty retreat back towards the East-West Loop. Boy, was that close.

Back at the intersection, we paused to study the variety of flowers still in bloom. In one location we found Tansies, Pearly Everlastings, Queen Anne’s lace, yellow Sow-Thistle, as well as the common purple thistle. Not long after this wonderful find we finished the loop and decided to find lunch before heading home. It had been a wonderful day spent outdoors.

Mushroom Walk

Just after the middle of September it seemed like someone decided to flip the switch on the weather, and in a matter of 24 hours the 80 to 90 degree summer was over and a 50 to 60 degree autumn had begun. It was the perfect time for me and my husband  to join a guided mushroom walk at Erickson Fields in Rockport.

As we gathered with about 4 dozen other nature enthusiasts, our guide gave an overview of the mushroom family and described how to take spore prints. He began the process of a spore print that we could view on our return, but alas when the trip was over the wind had blown the experiment off its perch. When Kirk talked about field guides, he mentioned that his favorite guide was the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms since it showed different stages of the mushroom across its lifespan. This was important since a mushroom changes so much over just a few days that it looks very different in a very short amount of time. And then we were off towards the fields and woods.

As we walked, he talked about Amanitas, Boletes and Russulas and how they formed a symbiotic relationship with the forest. In this relationship a fungus in the ground gives a tree phosphorus, nitrogen and other essential micro-nutrients while the tree gives the fungus sugars they create during photosynthesis. We found several varieties of each along our journey, including the most famous and highly poisonous Amanita, the Destroying Angel.

Kirk was a highly enthusiastic and humorous instructor. But as usual when I am faced with scientific talks that include 40 to 50 of my closest naturalist friends, my mind began to wander. So, while he was waxing poetic about the Turkey Tail fungus I was studying the creative efforts that a previous wanderer had left on a nearby stone.  Aside from my own personal limitations, everyone in the group was caught up in our leader’s enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before people were standing by a personal discovery, waiting for our teacher to identify their find.

Making our way through the preserve we discovered Coral Fungus, Birch Polypore, Black Trumpets and various forms of Shelf Fungus. Along the way, our guide would become ecstatic with some unique find or would keep our interest with his humor. For example, when we came across a wonderful find of Birch Polypore on the remains of a Birch tree he would say, “I’m a professional naturalist and in my professional opinion these trees are dead!”

At times, things would get a bit overwhelming for me and I would pause and look deeper into the woods and take in the hint of autumn that was just beginning to color the foliage. After the allotted two hours for this walk our guide kept on going with no signs of turning around. My husband and I decided that our brains were full and made our way back towards the parking area. Along the way we stopped to get a better look at the first item Kirk had pointed out, a cluster of Inky Cap mushrooms. Nearby was a beautiful array of the deepest purple New England Asters that I had ever seen. It had been a great morning of learning new things and immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature.