The day began brisk and clear for a hike of the northern third of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, from Pen Mar Park just south of the surveyor’s line laid by Mason and Dixon to our endpoint at Maryland Route 77, a line of asphalt laid by latter engineers. We followed the signs pointing to Georgia.
Senior Naturalist Stephanie Mason of Audubon Naturalist Society set a fast pace so that we could cover the 8.5 miles in 7:30. I was grateful for the quick march, because I had underdressed for the newly Octoberish weather on the ridgeline. This stretch of the trail is fairly flat, with just a 600-foot climb to High Rock, followed by a drop from the peak of 750 feet before climbing again to Raven Rock. But much of the footing is fairly rocky, and with a generous litter of Chestnut Oak leaves, somewhat tricky.
We took the loop branching off the AT to see High Rock, but as this viewpoint is directly accessible by road, the towniness of the place is rather unpleasant.
Along the way, we stopped for close looks at Common Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in wispy flower (the common name Winter-bloom makes a lot of sense), a handful of Redback Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) under logs, and the fine white stripes (visible under hand lens) on the needles of a White Pine. Much of the Hay-Scented Fern, so much in evidence on September’s walk, is now dried and brown. Generally, when Stephanie stops to point something out, she will ask, “Does anyone know what this is?” and she will follow up with hints and questions, as needed. On this trip, most of the geology questions were answered by the group, since we had my car pool mate Bret along (a staff geologist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) as well as others who knew their rocks. We looked at a lot of leaves and nuts: bright red Sourgum, Sugar and Red Maple, Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, Yellow and Black Birch, Eastern Hemlock (a few specimens looking almost healthy), Hickory, some sapling American Chestnuts, Tuliptree.
Stephanie paused at the fall of a rather substantial oak to point out the niche ecosystems and topography—so-called pit and mound—formed by treefall.