Tuesday, June 18, 2024

PA Michaux State Forest - AROOO for the Hosack Run Trail Loop

Michaux State Forest, Hosack Run Trail Loop - 6 miles 

Time again for another "sneaky break" close to home with three days off in a row. One day for chores - mowing the grass mostly - then headed back to Michaux State Forest with an overnight at Caledonia State Park again. We arrived too early for check-in so I parked outside the campground on Quarry Gap Road in a small parking area, figuring by the time we'd come down off the mountain it would be mid-afternoon and time to check in to the site.  It was early in the morning and still cool, perfect for the mile-long walk up to the dead end and the start of the Locust Gap Trail where we'd begin our loop up and around the mountain.

On the way up the road Jim Stauk passed by in his blue pick-up. Jim was one of the first people Amos met when still a pup learning to hike years ago. "How's my old friend?" he asked. I told Jim about Amos' journey with MCT cancer and how it's been a wait and see affair, especially with one tumor near his hip that I think has started to grow. Back to the vet soon for ultrasound scans. "Well, I'll see you on top," said Jim as Amos happily hollered and hooted and yelled at his old friend. 

Quarry Gap Road

The walk up was filled with the sounds of an Appalachian morning. Blue-headed Vireos were everywhere, so were Ovenbirds. A screaming Broad-winged Hawk was matched by a screeching Red-Shouldered Hawk. A Turkey bolted across the road. Veery, Wood Thrush, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Goldfinches. A deer snorted. Amos hollered. The sounds of water everywhere in streams tumbling down through the valley. Stress and exhaustion from these past few weeks of non-stop work seemed to just gurgle away with the cold, sweet mountain water the higher we walked. 

County Line

Deptford Pink

My "sneaky breaks" have been lifesavers these past few months. Not full on camping trips, mind you, or long hikes for that matter, but enough time away in the mountains that I somehow seem to reset. By the time we make to the end of the road and find Jim's parked truck we'd walked a mile uphill and Amos needed to rest. I wondered about that hip and if he could make the full six-mile loop. At least the heat hadn't set in yet and wasn't due for another few days. 

Fly Poison

Locust Gap Trail

We were lucky! It seems the trail crew was here the day before and the trails were super neat and clean, no wading through underbrush or high grass. Though the Mountain Laurel bloom is almost through, the Great Rhododendron is starting and we passed through fragrant pink banks of it on the way to the vernal pond and an old bog. We've walked this old road a few times before and Amos certainly knew where he was going but with the trail work it looked entirely new. 

Great Rhododendron

Shrinking vernal pool

I spent a little time looking through my binoculars to spot what was still living in the shrinking vernal pool. There were gads of tadpoles with little legs, with some big enough to do little hops. I saw several gilled salamanders, small and wriggling, but they were too deep in to identify.  Amos plopped his paws in the mud and tested the water. He loves plopping. Back on the trail, headed to the Hosack Run cut-off we met up with a couple hiking down. "Is THAT the coonhound we heard a while back? What a great voice!" Of course, Amos had to holler for them, too. 


Sphagnum bog

At the cut-off we followed the light blue blazes up the hill and into the deep woods, crossing over Hosack (pronounced Hoss-sick) Run several times. Amos had to test the water at each crossing with big sloppy slurps and plopping paws. In no hurry, I waited at each stream crossing until he'd had his fun.  We finally reached the shoulder of the mountain, hiking through a rock garden and on to steeper ground. 

It's uphill from here

A breeze blows through

The mountain breezes were heavenly and we stopped often to feel the wind swirl around us. Amos was testing the air for scents and I admired the old, old trees in this now steep valley where logging never reached. White Pine trees three people-hugs around (over 150 years) and a hundred feet high towered over the trail. There were a few 8-inch diameter American Chestnut as well with no sign of the blight. 

Old White Pine 

Ghost Pipe

In the humid creek valley, the steep slopes were more like rainforests with moss covered logs, thick carpets of moss and fern, and huge trees. As we climbed higher and steeper, a series of switch-backs elevated us (me breathless and still coughing) to a mesic, dry ridge overlooking the Hosack Run valley. The stream seemed so far below. 

Switch-backing up and up

The mountain began to level out and soon we found a campsite near the intersection with the Appalachian Trail and I asked Amos if he was ready for lunch treat. What a fuss he made! Another holler and wagging tail and soon the cheese, crackers, and cold water bowl was out of my pack. He took a little nap, belly full and spread himself long ways on the cool dirt while I worked a page of sketches from our climb. 

Intersection with the AT

Lunch sketches

Another couple of hikers came along and they too asked if this was the coonhound they'd heard about twenty minutes ago. Yes, yes it was. They asked for their picture with Amos and said how wonderful a sound it is to hear in the mountains. I guess I hear it so much that I forget that the coonhound's voice is like a signature sound of the Appalachians for some folks, and hearing it brings back memories of childhood hounds or hunting at night with grandpops and dads. "Hound-song in the mountains," said the hiking husband, "it's just thrilling to hear." 

On the AT

Down the AT we went, crumbly rock under our feet. Another stream, some more plopping paws and big sloppy lapping of water. Compared to our hike a few weeks ago on the Rocky Knob Trail, I can tell things have been dry up here. The streams are a lot lower and the vegetation seems crisp and thirsty. But still the green is lush and heavy, almost a solid mass. An AT thru-hiker passes us and says she's from New Mexico and has been overwhelmed with the amount of green. 

Summer stream level

Before we knew it we arrived at the Quarry Gap Shelter and find Jim watering the flowers at the bench. This is the bench where I must have had at least two dozen lunches with three different coonhounds over the years. This was the AT section from Caledonia to Pine Grove (13 miles) where Amos learned to hike - although I carried him for a lot of it! Jim turned and called to Amos "Hey buddy!" and boy-howdy did Amos let out another AROOOOO. 

Amos AROOOOing for Jim 

The Quarry Gap Shelter is regarded as the finest shelter on the AT and Jim has been "innkeeper" here for many years. He often has two seasonal caretakers who help him with every day upkeep and visiting with the hikers. I thanked him for the trail work. He and his trail crew worked until all the equipment, chainsaws, weed whippers, trimmers, all ran out of gas, he said.  Though he will never admit it, he is a legend on the AT. "Hell," he said, "Don't let that go to your head!"

Quarry Gap Shelter

Quarrymen's stairs

We headed down the AT through the quarry gap itself, a place once so heavily mined for iron ore that the mountain was open and raw. Now the forest hides all the signs of industry, "disappearing" all signs of human activity except for the trail itself. These were the ore banks for Thaddeus Stevens' iron furnace at Caledonia and while he served in Congress advocating for the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, southern troops were marching nearby into Pennsylvania to engage the Union forces at Gettysburg a few miles east of here. 

Mountain streams, cold and clear

Wooly Foxglove

Down, down the mountain we hiked until we came to a faint path through the woods that connected back up with the Locust Gap Trail and the long walk back down Quarry Gap Road. We made lots of stops at streams and Amos tested all of them. Plop plop go the paws. 

Stream plopping

It was almost two o'clock when we got back to the truck and into the campground we drove, Amos with his head out the window announcing his arrival. I set up camp pretty quickly with the truck and Amos, just as quickly had dug out a little shallow nest in the leaves and was soon snoring. Our neighbors, an older couple from Kentucky said what a beautiful sound to hear a hound. Whoa! That made three compliments for the day. "Don't let that go to your head," I said to Amos. They brought my old sleepy boy some steak leftover from the last night's grill and he gifted them (and the whole campground) with a big ARRROOOOO! 

Home on the road.

It must be hiker's midnight! (7pm)

I don't know what the future holds for my seven-year old coonhound. He's living his best life no matter. I massaged his hip and helped him into the truck where he had a nice nest of sleeping bag and cushion. The tumor seemed a little larger and I know we have to head back to the veterinarian soon, but for now, for that day, he had a wonderful hike even though I was a little worried. He spent all six miles smelling all the smells, hollering into the hills, paw-plopping in the muck, water, and mud. A mountain hound he is and I'm glad he brought so many smiles and memories to all the folks we met. I do apologize to anyone who jumped out of their skin, or was annoyed with his grand campground entrance. I'm sure Jim heard that up on the mountain, too. 

Hosack Run Trail Loop


Caledonia State Park maintain TWO campgrounds: NO PETS at Chinquapin Hill Campground and PETS WELCOME at Hosack Run Campground. 


Caledonia and Pine Grove State Parks are nestled inside the Michaux State Forest complex. It is a thirteen mile AT hike between the two parks through some beautiful Blue Ridge country, the northern reach of the famous Blue Ridge Mountain Range. 


Thaddeus Stevens Iron Works, now Caledonia State Park, was once a large industrial center with iron furnace, forges and smithies, water works, charcoal hearths and colliers. There is a lot of history preserved here even though the surrounding forest has overtaken the ore banks and charcoaling sites. 


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

PA Michaux State Forest: Rocky Knob Trail - 5 mile loop


After my Memorial Day Weekend off being completely sick with a summer cold, I tried to redeem at least a small part of my plans by heading to Michaux State Forest for a quick two-day camp and hike break. Still coughing, wheezing, and short of breath the rugged hike up and around Rocky Knob did me a lot of good and helped restore my faith in the power of nature to heal what ails us. 

A mile into my hike, the trailhead!

Mountain Laurel was at peak bloom and the trail was adorned with white and pink cascading sprays of flowers the whole way around the five-mile lollipop route that I started up on Ridge Road, having to park aways down from the small Rocky Knob parking area. But not to worry, the extra hike along this beautiful stretch gravel forest road  runs along the west ridge of the mountain and leads past the great burn of several years ago. The burn area is now awash in Mountain Laurel, vigorous young Black Oak shrub forest, and many surviving old Chestnut Oak. The charred trunks of fire-killed trees, mostly maples, marked the hot fire's path as it swept over the heathland and into the oak woods. But all was well here and chock full of Indigo Buntings and Towhees and Flycatchers flitting among the carpet of Cinnamon Fern, shrub oak, and Blueberry that blanketed the blackened slash.   

Ridge Road

This gem of the Pennsylvania State Forest system is considered the cradle of Pennsylvania forestry conservation with the first forest school established in the Commonwealth in the 1890s nearby at Mount Alto, now the Penn State Mount Alto campus. Besides being one of my favorite state forests, it is also within an hour and half drive from home and any excuse (like two days off in a row) to come explore here will do.  Forty miles of the Appalachian Trail traverses the ridgeline and the Rocky Knob Trail intersected the AT early on. 

Mountain Laurel bloom signals the start of Appalachian summer

Burnt orange blazes of the Rocky Knob Trail

Michaux State Forest manages this beautiful tract for its diverse ecosystems including fire-dependent habitats, heath barrens, pinelands, and the lush Appalachian oak-hickory woodlands. Interspersed are the fire meadows, grasslands, and deep ravines, each with their own avian and insect profiles. At the ridge top I was entertained by Common Yellowthroat and Eastern Towhee exchanging the latest knob-news. My long sit at the newly rebuilt Rocky Knob overlook bench included glimpses of heath-loving Fritillaries and Hairstreak butterflies. 

A view of Rocky Knob

The Gypsy Moth killed oak woods along the south ridge are regrowing as heath barrens interspersed with White and Virginia Pine. Sawflies buzzed through the air and in the distance a Red-Shouldered Hawk chattered away on the pineland edge. As expected in a dead woodland, woodpeckers were everywhere. In a short trail section across a stump-studded slope I saw and heard Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers. They seemed to be everywhere all at once!

Gypsy Moth killed oak forest now a young pinelands

Mixed Pine and Oak Forest

The pathway of the Rocky Knob Trail was originally built by the CCC in 1937 and is part of the 45-mile Flat Rock Trail System that interconnects with the AT and old forest logging roads. There are steep but short climbs, narrow rocky single track, and some steady but wider graded paths. The slow and steady hiker will enjoy a range of forested vistas that include the viewshed of Long Pine Run valley and lake. This wasn't hard for me to do as I had to take numerous breaks still dealing with coughing and shortness of breath. Oh, to be rid of this blasted cold! 

Foot of Rocky Knob

Some birds of the deep woods

Amos took long cool drinks at two spring pools that bubbled from the side of the mountain as we made our way up the wider trail to complete the 4.5 mile loop. From the path that overlooked a remote stream valley, I saw and heard a Broad Winged Hawk pierce the deep green canopy with a shrill "Creeeeeeee-Creeeeeeee!"  Other birds took note of this woodland bird hunter and gathered along the trail edge to watch for it. These included several Black-throated Blue Warblers and what appeared to be a mob army of Ovenbirds. 

Fly Poison, beautiful but toxic


Mountain Laurel in full bloom signals the start of the Appalachian summer. It is the state flower of Pennsylvania and when its pentagon-shaped pinkish/white blossoms appear the forest is fully in dense canopy which this understory evergreen tolerates so well. I stopped to watch several clusters of mature blossoms to see if I could catch the extraordinary "pollen punch" the flower stamens deliver to investigating bees. It didn't take longer before a big Leaf-Cutter Bee lumbered onto a blossom set and began to heave herself from flower to flower.  She hummed along until she got whacked by several stamen catapults all at once. She hummed louder maybe a little annoyed but she was definitely now adorned with several pollen packets that she carried off to another Mountain Laurel further down the trail. 

A steady walk uphill

We returned to the trailhead and the start of the loop (which we did counter-clockwise) and having met only one other person and their dog on the trail the whole afternoon, we decided to take a snack break sitting down on the counter-clockwise side of the trail. Of course that's when a group of hikers came bouncing down the access path to find me and my dog laid out eating pepperoni treats and crackers.  It was the first time all day I had the opportunity to speak and my voice came out like a chain smoker's gravely grunt of  "Hey there! Sorry we're hogging the trail!" Amos gave a coonhound's classic howl while they were trying to figure out what I had said. Needless to say, the group took the clockwise side of  the trail - in somewhat of a hurry. 

Stop here for a sit-down break

Red circle (truck parked) to trailhead and loop


Michaux State Forest, Franklin/Adams/Cumberland Counties, PA.  85,500 acres of beautiful forest and mixed habitat, managed as working forest and biodiversity.  https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateForests/FindAForest/Michaux/Pages/default.aspx

Mountain Laurel pollen packet punch  https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/mountain-laurels-fling-pollen/#:~:text=Beyond%20the%20clouds%20of%20flowers,stamens%2C%20whose%20tips%20contain%20pollen.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

PA Texter Mountain Nature Preserve - 2 mi. loop


A beautiful day to scout out a trail for an upcoming teacher's professional development experience later in June. Amos was especially excited to go since I've been down with a bad cold for a week and we haven't had any long walks, not even at night. Texter Mountain is the highest point in Lancaster County and is as far into the northeast corner of the county as you can get. Though the preserve is at around 1,600 feet, the actual summit of 1,800 feet is on private property adjacent to the preserve's boundary. Add the steep double-dip to Harnish Creek twice crossed on this loop, this is a nice hilly walk. 

Harnish Run 

These are the Triassic Lowland Furnace Hills section of South-East PA and not far from here are the ruins of several iron furnaces, forges, and quarries. Within a twenty-five mile radius are the ruins of Speedwell Forge, the great Cornwall Iron Works, Hopewell Furnace, Warwick Furnace,  and the Joanne Furnace Complex. Hiking this 2-mile loop we are in the heart of Colonial iron ore country. Lots of industrial history. Furnaces required forests and Texter Mountain was certainly logged over several times to supply charcoal fuel. Old logging roads form about half the loop trail.

Old Yellow Birch

The current forest is mature Hickory, Birch, Beech, and Cherry. I met up with an very old Yellow Birch with a base diameter of ten feet around.  Pignut Hickory, Mockernut Hickory, and (my favorite) Shagbark Hickory are abundant with a great age-range from sapling through hundred-year mature trees. Ovenbirds accompanied us the whole way.

Shagbark Hickory

Crossing Harnish Run again...

... and a snack break, mesmerized by the water.

False Hellebore

Dame's Rocket

Blue-Eyed Grass

Black Snakeroot

Devil's Walkingstick

We completed the loop despite my having to stop a lot to catch my breath. I'm still coughing my way back to feeling 100% after that cold.  This did not make His Holiness, the Minor Prophet, very happy as he knows only one speed and that is forward. He tolerated my many requests to "stop and wait" but just barely.  

Amos, the Minor Prophet


Lancaster Conservancy Texter Mountain Nature Preserve