Yesterday I participated (barefoot, of course), in a hike to Beck’s Rocks in Clear Creek Metro Park. It was part of their Metro 5-0 series, which allows older folks such as myself to visit some of the backcountry parts of the park at a (possibly) slower pace.
As others have noted, Beck’s Rocks is probably the prettiest and best remote location in the park.
First, for those of you who have come here via the MetroParks Facebook page, yes, I always hike barefoot. I’ve been doing it for about 16 years, and to those who ask, my usual response is
We go into the woods to see the sights, smell the smells, and hear the sounds. And they we turn off our sense of touch. Well, I don’t turn off my sense of touch.
It’s not that difficult (though, going off-trail as we did in this hike requires a bit of extra care). Just as it is with all other parts of our bodies, if you use a body part, it adapts and strengthens. That’s all there is to it. When folks express admiration for my ability to hike barefoot, I have to say, “It really looks more impressive than it really is.” After all, our remote ancestors (for many of us, not all that remote) all went barefoot a lot, or exclusively.
One thing I have found going on these hikes that is “outdoors people” are much more accepting of my being barefoot. They “get it”. They may not want to do it themselves, but they are sufficiently into nature and natural things that they never give me a hard time about it (as opposed to supposedly more “civilized” folks).
One more thing I need to mention: Clear Creek is a nature preserve. We are allowed off-trail only on these special program hikes while accompanied by park personnel. The naturalists and park personnel make sure to time them so as not to disturb nesting or other activities of the animals, or to disturb plants during critical times of their development. So, when you visit Clear Creek alone, always stay on the trails.
OK, on to the hike.
The starting temperature was just above 40°. This was actually quite comfortable for my feet, as long as I was not just standing around. (Even standing wasn’t too bad—just a bit chilly.) Just about the time we got there, the clouds finally cleared after about a week of rain, part of the storm that merged with Hurricane Sandy. It had gone through, joined Sandy, and then backed up over us. The trails were wet, but the sun was out. A glorious day!
We stopped for a bit where a maintenance road joined the pipeline we were going to follow.
On the left is the Clear Creek naturalist, Marcie, the “star” of our production. You’ll see a fair bit of her in my pictures.
From there we headed down the pipeline, which just cuts a straight swath up and down the hills. Partway down, Marcie pointed out the unique nature of Clear Creek as a location where southern species meet northern species (a result of the glaciers tens of thousands of years ago).
In this picture you can see southern Rhododendrons sitting underneath northern Canadian Hemlocks.
Right next to the pipeline is an old rock shelter, in which we were shown a rock that was for a long time thought to be a tar kiln.
The thought was that you’d have a fire there with pine wood, and the tar would melt and run down the channel to be collected. The trouble with that is that geologists say that that rock has never been heated.
Oops. In the end, nobody knows that that rock was used for. The grooves have not been dated, so nobody knows if it is a petroglyph. Or maybe it was just some kids having fun 150 years ago. They’re still trying to figure it out.
Here I am (see, barefoot!) in the rock shelter.
[For many of these pictures, clicking on them will bring you to a larger, more detailed version.]
From there we continued downhill to Clear Creek and circled around to approach Beck’s Rocks from the west. Here’s a shot looking up at the jumble of rocks in the vicinity.
Here we are coming in the entrance to Beck’s Rocks.
Beck’s Rocks are what are called “slump rocks”. Natural cracks in the sandstone are broken wider and wider by weathering, as water gets in, freezes, expands, and pushes. Eventually the rocks break free, and then slowly “slump” down the hillside, skiing every so slowly (we’re talking thousands of years for just a bit of movement) down the dirt slope.
Here I am again, this time between the original rock on the right, and a slump rock on the left.
This hike is not just great scenery, it’s also an exposure to all of the natural life in the area, and there is an abundance of that.
The rock faces are covered with a variety of plant life. Look at that poor little rhododendron just barely clinging on.
One of the favorite stops along the hike is the old Chestnut tree, which died during the chestnut blight back in the early 1900s.
The only reason it hasn’t hit the ground and completely rotted away is because it got caught by that beech next to it. Also, chestnut wood is fairly rot resistant in the first place.
This picture gives a better idea of just how large this tree was.
One of the best things on this hike is not just the knowledge of the naturalists (which is of course impressive in its own right), but all of the people that come on the hikes. They are not only nice people and fun to meet and talk with, but they are also quite often very knowledgeable themselves. The hikes are always amazing natural history lessons.
The Witch Hazel was in bloom. (I think it was one of the naturalists, Colleen, who spotted it.) Witch Hazel is the last species of the season (or first, depending on how you want to look at it) to bloom. Here’s a close-up of one of the flowers.
Sitting right next to it was this old fungusy tree.
Another one of the hikers (Jerry) pointed out this Jelly Fungus on a decaying log.
As near as I can tell, it’s an Orange Jelly, Dacrymyces palmatus.
And talking “palmatus”, on our way back up the pipeline, we saw this rare fern.
We were having trouble identifying it at the time, but just examining it showed it to be palmate, and hairy, and climbing. So a Google search for “hairy climbing palmate fern” turned up what I think it is: Lygodium palmatum, called American Climbing Fern, or Hartford Fern, or sometimes Thoreau’s Climbing Fern.
Finally, also on the pipeline, one of my footsteps happened to expose a bit of dirt, and underneath it another hiker notices some wriggling.
That’s a pair of Red Back Salamanders.
That’s another benefit of hiking barefoot—one is much less likely to damage wildlife of all sorts. Here’s one more shot of the salamanders.
I mentioned that this was the Metro 5-0 hike. Clear Creek will be doing another hike to Beck’s Rocks on Saturday, November 10th, at 10:00am. The meeting place is not one of the usual picnic area spots, but is at the Maintenance Center off Opposum Hollow Road (the next road south of Clear Creek Road).
It is a great hike to consider.