Thursday, March 14, 2013

Misbegotten Trek to the Musconetcong

Musconetcong River
Because the weather was forecast to be nice (temperatures near 60 degrees F with mostly sunny skies) and because we had an "extra" hour of daylight thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I talked Kali into taking a hike last Sunday afternoon, March 10.  An employee of mine had said that she and her husband had enjoyed a hike at the Mosconetcong Gorge section of the Mosconetcong River Reservation in northwest New Jersey, so I suggested to Kali that we give it a try despite the need to drive 1-1/2 hours to reach the trailhead.

I've been having some personnel problems at work and last week I had mentioned them to Kali (though I should know better after 25 years in my job).  So, for nearly the entire drive to the Reservation, Kali took the opportunity to berate me and tell me to "grow a spine" in dealing with my employees   She is, in fact, completely correct.  But, in some ways, Kali is like a "junkyard dog"--once she sinks her teeth into something (i.e., my inadequacies as a manager), she just won't let go.  So, on and on it went until we arrived at the Reservation.
At the trailhead
The Musconetcong (I haven't been able to determine the meaning of the name, though I'm sure it's of Native American origin) is actually a fairly modest steam--really a big creek rather than a river.  It begins in the remnants of a tarn scooped out by the continental glaciers, though the outlet has been dammed and the resulting lake is much, much larger than the original tarn.  The stream courses through relatively lightly populated agricultural land and towns for about 30 miles before it discharges into the Delaware River.  Of course, this is New Jersey we're talking about, the most densely settled state in the United States, so "relatively lightly populated" has to be considered in context.  Nevertheless, this is an area called the Highlands, and the wrinkled topography rises to about 800 feet in places; in fact, the landscape is characterized by a series of long ridges called "mountains" but, again, it's all relative.  The section of the Musconetcong we walked flowed between two of the ridges, forming a shallow gorge.
At the beginning of the trail--a promising start
The 2-mile(each way) trail is perched halfway up the north-facing slope of the southerly of the two ridges (Musconetcong Mountain), winding through dry mid-slope woodlands.  The stream corridor itself and the flat ridgetop above the trail are privately owned and not included in the Reservation, so the trail is constrained to the middle the slope.

Perched on a rock shortly into the hike.  I asked a fellow who was taking pictures of his female companion to take our picture, too; a better photographer would have asked Kali to move out of the shadow.
Scout Run
Two streams, Scout Run and Pine Run, begin at springs higher up the slope and run downhill in a series of little falls and cascades to the Musconetcong.  Scout Run was dammed and diverted in the 1800 to provide water for a paper mill located at the mouth of the stream along the river.  Though some stone ruins remain along the stream, the woods have reclaimed most of the valley.
Aqua blaze: Ridge Trail; Yellow blaze: Highlands Trail on a chestnut oak (Quercus montana), probably the most common tree in the Reservation
View northwest over one of the many room-size boulders along the trail
Despite an inviting start to the hike, the trail quickly deteriorated.  It became extremely rocky, stony and uneven, which made for very difficult footing.  Our speed instantly slowed to less than one mile per hour.
This is a trail?
Kali's mood deteriorated as quickly as the trail surface.  She didn't have to say a word, but I knew she was disgusted by the outing.  She was having a harder time than I, and as I watched her attempt to navigate the path, she reminded me of a tightrope walker--arms constantly out to her sides, flailing and teetering, trying to maintain balance.

More rocks
 Kali's slow pace allowed me plenty of time to take pictures.
Shelf fungi blanketing a fallen log
Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) were abundant throughout
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) had been hard at work
A mossy stone (or maybe someone left my cake out in the rain?)
How'd that get there?
In a few places, the woodlands opened to provide a view to the north.  I took this very long telephoto image of the Delaware Water Gap, about 15 miles to the north.  The Delaware Water Gap is an impressive erosion channel that the Delaware River has cut through the Kittatinny Ridge (known as Blue Mountain on the Pennsylvania [western, or left side of this image], and Kittatinny Mountain in New Jersey [eastern, or right side of this image]).  Kittatinny Ridge is the easternmost of the true Appalachian Mountain ridges, and the Appalachian Trail runs along its top.  (The AT descends to river level in the water gap, and crosses the river on the I-80 bridge within the gap.)

Long view to the Delaware Water Gap
Despite the occasional views to the north, the scenery along the trail was actually pretty dull--brown, late-winter woods downhill, uphill, and straight ahead.

The return portion of the hike actually included a steep descent (on the aptly named Switchback Trail) to river level.  While the river corridor, as I mentioned, is not within the Reservation, I trespassed to the stream bank where the river had been impounded.  Kali, disgusted and tired, decided to remain back on the trail to wait for me.
Spillway on the dam
The Musconetcong was dammed in many locations.  Some of the impoundments were millponds (used to provide a reliable source of water for water-powered mills), but others were used to keep water levels steady in the Morris Canal that ran alongside the river.  Within the gorge, this dam was a source of water for the canal. 

The impoundments have become virtually useless since they have silted up, but they provide wildlife habitat.  I'm surprised that I didn't see any Canada geese (Branta canadensis) cruising the surface of this pond.

When I was done taking pictures along the river, I retreated to the spot where I had left Kali, only to find no one waiting.  I had been gone about 20 minutes, so I figured that Kali had decided to hike slowly back toward the trailhead rather than just sit and wait for me.  But Kali wouldn't have known what direction to turn at the next trail intersection.  So, I walked about a quarter-mile along the trail to the next intersection Kali!  Grrr!  I called out loudly for her, got no response, and decided that I had to retrace my steps back to the location where I had left her.  When I got back to the original spot, calling all the way, I finally heard a faint reply--Kali had climbed partly back up the Switchback Trail (out of eyesight) to find a flat rock on which to sit to wait for me, and she had fallen asleep.  Grrr!  After a "frosty" and hurried lunch, we set off to complete the hike - all uphill (and grumbling) from this point, of course.
Stepping stones across a wet section of the trail.  There's a skunk cabbage spathe (Symplocarpus foetidus) just emerging from the soil to the right of the rock in the foreground


packrat said...

Beautiful images, Scott.

Scott said...

Thanks, Packrat. It's always gratifying to get your feedback. Kali noticed that I'd been snapping away with the camera during our hike, but she didn't say anything when we were on the trail. She was not impressed with the Reservation, and when we got back, she said to me (not nastily or judgmentally; more perplexed), "It's beyond me what you were taking pictures of."