I had toyed with the idea of going all the way to the Horseriders Campground but the afternoon was getting away from me and rain was in the forecast so my goal was to make it to the Stone Elephant.
When at the top of the bluff with Ron and Barbara we had looked down the trail but decided against following it down the other side of the bluff. This was my first time on this section of the Ice Age Trail and I was not disappointed.
Going down the other side of the bluff I encountered mostly oaks, but there were other trees as well including one maple tree whose yellow leaves were so vibrant it was like a beacon through the forest. Even though it was off-trail a bit it was easy to get to with all the vegetation dying back at this time.
It was so nice looking up through the yellow leaves that I almost didn't want to get back on the trail.
But, a sprinkle of rain began so I figured I best keep moving. The maple trees weren't the only ones flashing a bit of gold.
Here and there I even spotted a few late asters making one last effort.
Fungi growth is getting harder to spot with all the leaves on the ground, but I saw this new colony taking off on the edge of a stump.
And I had to go off trail a bit to get a closer look at this dinner plate sized one pictured below. I loved the ruffled edges.
I found some berries on a plant at the edge of the oak opening that I couldn't identify because all the leaves were gone and there was so much to see that I didn't take the time to get all the details needed for further research.
Oak openings are very rare because they were easy for settlers to convert to agricultural or residential use. Once off the bluff area the soil became very sandy and pleasant to walk on.
There was even a small dry prairie opening at the bottom of the bluff. Dry prairies are fire-dependent, and without frequent fire would eventually be overgrown by trees and shrubs, which is why this one is probably so small and enclosed. The prairie grasses and wildflowers are adapted to fire, and resprout vigorously.
Most plants in dry prairies are less than three feet tall, and need direct sunlight to thrive. Because moisture is usually limited, the plants will often be widely spaced with patches of bare soil between, but the roots are typically dense and very efficient at catching every drop of rain.
|anyone know the name of this one??|
There was a pile of wood in the clearing with some cool lichen and fungi on it. As I was circling it for a shot angle I almost stepped into the pile...but then remembered Sharon's warnings about snakes and decided maybe it wasn't a good idea.
As I was leaving the prairie opening the rain picked up from the occasional sprinkle to a steady light rain. It made the leaves on the trail sparkle even more.
Then the rain really picked up, but I knew I was getting close so I kept on. I had packed my rain coat but taken my umbrella out of my pack because I thought serious rain wasn't likely. Like I said before, there's always something I wish I had packed!
|It looks more like a whale than an elephant to me!|
The Stone Elephant was on a short spur that was well marked, if a little steep and slippery from the rain soaked leaves. The area even had a nice bench and a path down into the ravine, but due to the rain I didn't hang out long. My pack was getting soaked and I was starting to worry about my equipment.
The light rain continued for the 1.5 mile trip back through the woods, and right before I had to climb Bald Bluff again I smelled a "wet dog" smell. I moved a few feet foward, then a few feet back, but the smell was very localized. I peered around while staying on the trail to see if I spied a furry fella nearby but didn't see anything. Most likely there was a den nearby for whatever I was smelling, but I wasn't poking around someone's home uninvited. At least I know it probably wasn't bear in these woods!
Since I didn't get a chance to hike from the Stone Elephant to the Horserider's Campground I returned on sunny Saturday to do that segment. It may be only a distance of a couple of miles, but I saw a lot of different things on that small portion of the Ice Age Trail! And I got to revisit the Stone Elephant on a warm sunny afternoon and use that bench.