Ode to Thomas Lewis, who braved this untamed land in 1742 to conduct a survey of Lord Fairfax's property boundary. He encountered steep precipices filled with flora that made travel nearly impossible. And to early hunters who would enter the tangled laurel brakes only to never return -- lost to the labyrinth of spruce, oak, and large swaths of heath. Ode to the German Dalhe family who grazed their sheep in the mid-1800s on the wind-swept grasslands shaped by lightening induced fire, persistent westerlies and harsh winters. Oh, how lucky were they to pioneer such a beautiful and rugged area. Since then, this area has seen logging, railroads, and a barrage of artillery from World War II training exercises. Fires decimated topsoil, exposing the erosion resistant Pottsville conglomerate sandstone, and wiping out the majority of red spruce that once carpeted this area. Today, the introduced balsam wooly adelgid is killing much of its native host plant. But Dolly Sods is resilient. She persists even through the most blistering westerly's, record precipitation, and decades of human impact. The toughness of this place in conspicuous and makes its atmosphere even more mysterious.
In 2011, I was lucky enough to visit Dolly Sods on a short solo backpacking trip, and I've been there six times since. The first week in October is surly the best time to visit as chlorophyll vanishes from plant leaves while their colorful pigments remain. Here's a tribute to one of my most memorable and long standing traditions since moving to the midwest seven years ago. I've had the opportunity to share this place with some of my favorite people and look forward to bringing others in the future. Cheers!
Shiny clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) and a cairn along the way.
I was excited to see my first whitch-hazel in full bloom (Hammamelis virginiana). Of course, this tree, along with most others we encountered, is stunted from constant exposure to the harsh conditions that make Dolly Sods what it is.
We were lucky to find a great camp site along red creek, where edible teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) and cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) grow along the oligotrophic creek bottom.
And Bear Rocks never disappoints, with vista views along the Allegheny Plateau. The white sandstone geology has a bleached look to it, with quartz deposits meandering through heath barrens to provide excellent contrast.
Autumn always hits this area early as the weather is much more fierce here due to elevation, converging jet streams and the rain shadow that it creates.
Alexa scoping out a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) tree, which are uncommon in Ohio. Unlike black elderberry, this species is NOT edible.
If you visit early enough in October, you will be graced by a slough of cottongrass sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) along the bog-lands.
Alex and Kaitlyn sitting amongst a woodland full of stunted cherry trees (Prunus spp.) filled with lichens. Lichens are an indicator of pollution - the more lichens, the better the air quality is.
Though spruce trees carpet much of the land of Dolly Sods, there were once many more prior to logging. Spruce was at one time the dominant climax species and are successionally making a come back.
My friend Destini checking out red creek and the surrounding beech-maple woodland complex. She was sick of Nelsonville and wanted to tag along.
Bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia) or "scrub oak" is very uncommon in Ohio but loves the acidic soils and harsh environment of Dolly Sods.
The geology, botany, climate, and ecology of this beautiful place has me coming back every year with new people. If you'd like any information of itinerary details, feel free to contact me.