Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beauty and her beasties

     It was dogs by the dozens on Sleeping Beauty recently. The pooches had brought their people out to enjoy a classic fall hiking day with warm sunshine and dazzling foliage. This outing may be Washington County's most popular for its relative ease and dramatic cliff-top views (I hope Buck Mountain didn't hear me say that!)
     Sleeping Beauty Mountain is located on the east side of Lake George straddling the Fort Ann/Dresden town line. This is part of the Lake George Wild Forest, a unit of the forever wild forest preserve lands owned by the people of New York. It's in the southeastern corner of the Adirondack Park easily accessible from the Northway via Route 149 to Buttermilk Falls, Sly Pond then Shelving Rock Roads.
     Gwenne and I opted for the unabridged edition hike starting from the outer parking lot. It seems most people, ever reluctant to give up their wheels, choose to drive one and a haft miles in to Dacy Clearing to begin their climb. Better to savor this shaded lane at walking pace as an appetizer to the trail up the mountain.

      On the way in we saw a big red oak with a six inch wide strip blown out of it from crown to ground. There were shards of fresh wood scattered some distance into the surrounding forest. Apparently the tree was the unfortunate victim of a lightning strike that superheated its sap to the boiling point causing explosive expansion. Just a little reminder of Mother's power out here.
     There are a number of free walk-in campsites along the road and horse mounting platforms allowing people with disabilities to enjoy a ride. The road is an easy ski tour in winter and mountain bikers use it. Something for everyone.
     It's also a stroll thru the past with cellar holes, stone walls and a small rock dam of the old Dacy farm visible. Jack Dacy was legendary for his strength and ability to coax crops out of the thin rocky soil. More than a hundred years ago, when this area was cleared fields and pastures, his farm supplied the hotels along the east shore of Lake George and the Knapp Estate with much of their food. Eating local was in vogue then as now.

      For the tale of Dacy being treed by a bear and other great stories set in these hills check out Fred Tracy Stile's book From Then Till Now  and Elsa Kny Steinback's  Sweet Peas and a White Bridge
which is illustrated with the author's drawings and paintings.
     Beyond Dacy Clearing the real hiking and tail-wagging began. The trail is an old carriage path from the Knapp Estate era that is now eroded and rough, typical Adirondack rock and roots. Every few minutes we met groups descending with setters and retrievers, huskies and collies leading the way. Some pets were all business, straight down the trail types while others stopped to say "hi" and socialize. All seemed joyously absorbed in the place and the moment.
     While I love dogs, I also have a thing for rocks. I'ld have to call this a gneiss neighborhood because that metamorphic rock seems most common but geologic maps also show bands of marble, quartzite and metamorphosized gabbros and anorthosites.

     Perhaps more notable than the types of rock are the forms they take. The trail winds beneath a towering cliff (with some climbing routes) eventually switchbacking up its southeastern end towards the top. The eastern Adirondacks are riddled with faults from past tectonic activity and movement along these breaks in the crust create the rugged mountainous terrain that people find so enchanting.
     Lake George occupies a graben where a block of crust has dropped down along parallel faults resulting in a long narrow valley. In this part of Washington County three prominent northeast trending ridges with Buck, Putnam and Vanderburg as their respective defining peaks, appear to be tilt block mountains with steep west faces and more gentle slopes to the east. The Diameter at South Bay, just a few miles from Sleeping Beauty, faces to the southeast forming one side of another narrow graben. Cliffs, like people, can have different orientations. Keeps life interesting.

     Other geologic features you'll see are talus blocks the size of houses, a coarse crystalline pegmatite filling a crack on the summit and the curious reddish tinge of the rocks and soil up top. It's also easy to indulge your botanical side here. Every ledge hosts a vertical garden of lichen, moss  and ferns which can be viewed up close for detail or from a distance as an abstract  work of art. No bending or kneeling required.
     There are a variety of forest community types from piney successional on the old fields, to northern hardwoods and then mixed conifers on the higher, wetter back side. The rocky summit ridge burned a few years ago and charcoaled stumps are still seen.
     A low growing heath, maybe blueberry, was bright red when we visited and there are enough grasses and small forbs to push a naturalist into identification frenzy.
     The Sleeping Beauty must have sweet dreams given the views that surround her. To the west is Lake George backed by range upon range. Vermont mountains define the eastern horizon with Washington County, rugged nearby then rolling into the distance, tucked in between.

     Returning via the Bumps Pond loop will take some of the sting out of leaving these views behind. The pond and its outlet have a wild, ragged feel and there's even architectural interest nearby. On descent you'll skirt the Beauty's cliffs thru a ledgy gorge soon joining the trail back to Dacy Clearing.
     There's satisfaction in engaging with multiple facets of a place: its geology and weather, its life and history. But there's also the simple pleasure of romping thru it, all senses humming, as our dogs love to do. If open to both ways and up on Sleeping Beauty, you're a happy camper.


No comments:

Post a Comment