Stalagmite Sitting

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Reading the signs as we walked through the Lost World underground caverns at Lewisburg, WV, I knew I could refresh my memory of stalactites versus stalagmites, but I didn’t expect to learn that there was a World Record for “stalagmite sitting” and it was set right here at Lost World. As we stood gazing up at the 28-foot high stalagmite called The War Club, on which the event took place, it was hard to imagine who in their right mind would do such a thing. Bob Addis in 1971 spent 15 days, 23 hours and 22 minutes sitting on a small platform built on the 4-foot diameter peak of the column. I guess “flagpole sitting” was once a fad and maybe that’s where he got the idea. But thinking of all that time hunched in a cold, dark, drippy cave gave me extra shivers beyond what I already felt in the 52 degrees underground chill.

The War Club, stalagmite on which the event took place.
The War Club, stalagmite on which the event took place.
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Flowstone Formation
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Goliath

Besides gazing up at cave formations, we also got to shine flashlights down into holes and passageways filled with unknown mysteries. One hole we were particularly interested to peer into was the one in the center of the cave where the sign explained how the cave had been discovered in 1942. For years before that discovery, the farmer who owned the surrounding land had been making use of a hole in one of his fields as a convenient place to dispose of animal carcasses and other debris. He didn’t know how deep the hole was but knew it was deep enough that he couldn’t hear things hit the bottom. When some cave explorers heard about the hole and talked to the farmer he said they were welcome to check it out. Letting himself down the hole with a rope, one of the men reached the 120 foot bottom, and was excited to discover that he was in the middle of a vast underground cavern.

In the years since the cave’s discovery a new opening with steps and a walkway was constructed at one end of the cave so tourists like us could explore it without climbing down a rope ladder. But when you get halfway through the tour you can climb up a platform that is below the natural opening. This allows you to look down at the pile of bones and junk that had collected for years at the bottom, as well as looking up at the daylight through the natural opening above.

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Looking up at daylight through the hole that opened up in the farmer’s field to the cave below.

Fun stuff for 2 young boys and always a delight for grandparents to take the grandkids on new adventures. You never know what World Records your grandkids might end up setting (sitting?)

Wildflower Weekend

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We spent a wonderful weekend as amateur wildflower enthusiasts, taking part in the 2015 Annual Conference of the New Mexico Native Plant Society. One of the first things that we learned was why a conference of the New Mexico Native Plant Society was being held in Durango, Colorado. Every state and region has its own unique native plants. Southwestern Colorado and El Paso, Texas, are 2 regions where the native plants are more closely related to neighboring New Mexico. Hence, the 8 chapters of the New Mexico Native Plant Society include an El Paso, Texas, chapter and the San Juan chapter, which hosted this year’s conference “Flora of the High San Juans”.

Driving home from Oregon last year, we passed through Durango, Colorado, and, until this weekend, that was my only acquaintance with the San Juan Mountains. Being out in the mountains on the 2 field trips that we had signed up for, I got excited, not only for the wildflowers we saw, but for the incredible scenery and hiking opportunities in the San Juans. I hope that one of these days soon we will be able to spend more time there enjoying the area.

One of the flowering plants that I was not familiar with until this weekend is the tall, impressive Monument Plant, also known as Green Gentian. They are perennial and grow for many years before blooming. In a given area the blooming is synchronized so that all the plants flower at the same time. We happened to walk through one of those areas on the first day’s field trip and the surrounding slopes were covered with the tall, stalky, blossom-covered plants, reminding me of a lush version of Arizona hillsides covered with giant saguaro cacti.

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Monument Plant aka Green Gentian
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Hillside covered with Monument Plants.
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Monument Plants along the Pass Creek Trail.

For both of our field trips we drove north from Durango on Hwy 550 towards Silverton. The first day we stopped at the Coal Bank Pass parking area and walked across the highway, where we hiked partway up the Pass Creek Trail.

View of Hwy 550 from Pass Creek Trail.  Larkspur in foreground.
View of Hwy 550 from Pass Creek Trail. Larkspur in foreground.
Turnaround point and lunch stop on Pass Creek Trail.
Turnaround point and lunch stop on Pass Creek Trail.
Chainpod pea.  Interesting because you could see the seed pods, hanging together in a dangling chain.
Chainpod pea. Interesting because you could see the seed pods, hanging together in a dangling chain.
Bittercress.
Bittercress.
Heartleaf Arnica
Heartleaf Arnica
Globe Flower
Globe Flower
Along Pass Creek Trail.
Along Pass Creek Trail.

The second day we drove almost as far as Silverton, stopping at the Molas Pass Summit to look at Botrychium (moonwort), a wild fern that you would never think to look for, except that we had an expert botanist in the group who has studied them extensively. From there we drove to Little Molas Lake, one of the trailheads for the Colorado Trail. We didn’t walk very far on the Colorado Trail, as the wildflowers weren’t as abundant as expected. Most of our time was spent walking through marshy areas and along the shore of the lake.

View from Molas Pass.  Hwy 550 is in the upper left corner and Silverton is around the curve in the valley to the left.
View from Molas Pass. Hwy 550 is in the upper left corner and Silverton is around the curve in the valley to the left.
View of Turks Head and Grand Turk from Molas Pass.
View of Turks Head and Grand Turk from Molas Pass.
Looking south from shore of Little Molas Lake towards West Needle Mountains.
Looking south from shore of Little Molas Lake towards West Needle Mountains.
Yellow Paintbrush
Yellow Paintbrush
King's Crown
King’s Crown
Colorado Trail near Little Molas Lake, looking east at Grenadier Range.
Colorado Trail near Little Molas Lake, looking east at Grenadier Range.

Our last field trip of the weekend was very different from the other two. We spent Sunday morning on an ethnobotany tour, led by a ranger at Aztec Ruins National Monument. This meant we were back in desert country, walking through an arroyo and up a mesa, learning the many uses that have been found over the centuries for the native plants in the Four Corners area. A lot of restoration work is being done at the monument to get rid of invasive species and encourage the growth of native species.

Learning about a plant (can't remember the name!) in an arroyo at Aztec Ruins.
Learning about a plant (can’t remember the name!) in an arroyo at Aztec Ruins.
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Rocky Mountain Beeplant