Monday, November 26, 2012

A Black Friday Meant for Hiking, Not Shopping

Kali on the Northern Delaware Greenway paralleling Brandywine Creek
Neither Kali nor I had to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the day was forecast to be gorgeous, with bright sunshine and temperatures approaching 60 degrees F.  A few weeks ago, I had read about Rocky Run, a tributary of Brandywine Creek and  "one of the highest quality streams in Delaware" in an issue of Backpacker magazine that a friend shared with me.  Since Delaware's Brandywine Creek State Park is only about an hour southwest of home, we had the prospect of a perfect day, we could explore a new venue, and a high-quality stream beckoned, how could we resist?

The Brandywine Creek rises in the far western Philadelphia suburbs and flows southward through a still-bucolic valley that was home to the Wyeth family of artists and to many of the very wealthy duPonts, many of whose estates remain intact.  Therefore, while the suburbs and the exurbs press in from the east, the Brandywine Creek valley acts like a green dam, holding development at bay.  Of course, the valley has long been used for industrial and agricultural pursuits, so it's far from pristine, but much of it is lovely.

Delaware's Brandywine Creek State Park, just south of the Pennsylvania border, was developed from a dairy farm formerly owned by the duPonts.  The park was subsequently enlarged through land donations by the Woodlawn Trustees, a foundation that permanently set aside open space in 1901 (1901!) thanks to the beneficence of its founder, a wealthy cotton tycoon.  The Woodlawn lands are also open to the public and are laced with pedestrian and equestrian trails.
Massive Asian bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus) on a woodland edge
Like almost all public land set aide for open space, and especially public land overseen by financially beleaguered state park systems, the land is not in good shape.  Much of the park had been used for agriculture, and the abandoned fields have become overgrown, weedy meadows full of invasive plants.  The stately woodlands on the steep slopes above Brandywine Creek are beautiful, but devoid of virtually any understory or advanced forest regeneration (i.e., young trees), probably because of white-tailed deer.  In fact, the only shrubs present in the woods are dense thickets of highly invasive shrub honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.) - very prominent this time of year because they hold their leaves longer than native shrubs.

Nevertheless, the day was perfect, and the woods were beautiful.  We started our walk up the valley of Rocky Run, the stream that had drawn us here in the first place.  The creek may be of high quality, but its valley was nothing special - a typical rocky Piedmont upland stream.  The path traced a line a few dozen feet parallel to, and a bit uphill from, the stream proper, so we actually only got occasional glimpses of the water.  After a mile or so, the trail crossed the creek, affording us some views. 

Trunks, roots and boulders on the Rocky Run streambank
Rocky Run viewed upstream at the trail crossing
The woods uphill of Rocky Run
An oak engulfing a gneiss boulder
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves shot through with sunlight
Although the mature woods in the park are on very steep slopes above Rocky Run and Brandywine Creek, and they are extremely rocky, they must have been used agriculturally because stone walls thread throughout.  Perhaps they were used for pasture, not for cropping.

A casual stone wall in the woods
Gneissic bedrock and Christmas fern
Botanic love that dare not speak its name - intimacy between a tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and an American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
After Kali and I completed a circuit in the wilder, less developed part of the park, we crossed Brandywine Creek onto the portion of the park that had been a duPont dairy farm.  The power of wealth was evident in the stone walls, which were no longer composed of boulders piled in rows as they had been in the woods on the opposite side of the creek. Here, the walls were carefully constructed affairs, with the stones squared off and fitted tightly together befitting an estate.

A stone wall on the former duPont dairy farm
Incidentally, the stone used to build the walls is known locally as bluestone because newly broken stone faces have a distinct blue-gray cast.  The stone is actually a dense metamorphic gneiss characteristics of the northern Piedmont uplands.  The stone has lent its name liberally in northern Delaware; for example, the Wilmington baseball farm team is called the Blue Rocks.

Late in the afternoon, the blue skies disappeared as a cold front approached, accompanied by clouds and significantly cooler temperatures.  The weather was telling us it was time to leave.  We couldn't have asked for a nicer day.

Kali crossing a trail bridge over a small Brandywine Creek tributary on the way back to the car


Carolyn H said...

Scott: Even if not pristine, your walk looked like a very nice one. And the weather--probably the last, nicest day until spring.

Gail said...

HI- once again I so enjoyed walking with you and Kali. If only.......
The pictures and descriptions make it so easy for me to "be" there. "Thank you"
Love Gail

Pennypack Blogger said...
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Pennypack Blogger said...
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Scott said...

Carolyn: It was just TOO nice a day to do anything but go for a hike. You're right that Black Friday was probably the nicest day before next spring.

Scott said...

Gail: I'm glad that you could "join" Kali and me. We both agreed that it was a very special day.

packrat said...

I absolutely love the first image in this post, Scott. Excellent!

Scott said...

Thanks, Packrat. The Northern Delaware Greenway is an old road that's been converted to a trail. Apparently, it gets a lot of use because it's wide and relatively flat. It's also really scenic since it runs alongside Brandywine Creek.