Virginia State Geologist Visits Naked Mountain


Right to Left: David Spears, Virginia State Geologist; blog and memoir author, Marcia Mabee; Evan Spears, State Parks Ranger and Naturalist; Ty Smith, State Parks Intern and Naturalist.

On Friday, March 30th, I had a special experience when David Spears, Virginia State Geologist, came to see Naked Mountain. He brought his son, Evan Spears, a ranger and naturalist with the State Parks Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Ty Smith, intern and naturalist with State Parks.

While we walked to the summit, and into the barrens, Evan and Ty were constantly calling out the names of birds they heard and saw. Most were resident woodpeckers, but they pointed out a few migrants – Blue-headed Vireo and Hermit Thrush. They also spotted a Bald-faced Hornet which politely posed for photos.

Bald-faced Hornet next to nest hole on decaying log. Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve, Virginia.

David made an interesting observation about how the vegetation in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve changes dramatically as you come up the long, 2.5 mile road. At the beginning of the preserve boundary, and for about a half mile, the vegetation denotes an acidic soil base – lots of Mountain Laurel, and a sparse understory. But as you turn a corner to begin the long two mile journey up to the ridge top, the vegetation is indicative of strongly alkaline soils – Mountain Laurel abruptly disappears, and species like Red Bud and White Ash trees and plethora of understory are evident.

At the house, before we left for the trek into the barrens, I showed David the vegetation map and report of the preserve on this website which Natural Heritage staff, Kristin Taverna and Gary Fleming, produced. It shows the portion of the Virginia geologic map that underlies the preserve. You can clearly see that granite, a rock that produces acidic soils, is under the Eastern most section of the Naked Mountain preserve, while amphibolite, a mafic rock that produces alkaline soils, underlies the remainder. Natural Heritage has done soil analysis in several vegetation plots and reports that the soils in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve contain calcium levels at the highest end of the range for Virginia.

In the barrens, David pointed out fractures in the seeping amphibolite rock and explained water is generally held in such fractures throughout the rock substrate. He also pointed out boulder streams, sizable rocks that move like extremely slow lava streams down the mountainside. He noted the evidence of this in the J-shaped trees on the steep slope. He pointed out the difference between the boulder streams and the bedrock that is exposed in the heart of the barrens. This rock breaks off over time, but doesn’t move.

Virginia State Geologist, David Spears, in the barrens in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. Note dozens of emerging Shooting Stars, among an estimated 10,000 that bloom nearly simultaneously in the preserve.

Then, Evan discovered a strange bright blue stripe in an otherwise black rock. David explained it was a striking seam of blue quartz and said he had never seen such a strong example of this in amphibolite. He said if you took a brush and scrubbed the surface, the whole seam would be bright blue. Amazing!

A seam of blue quartz embedded in the amphibolite rock that is characteristic of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

My visitors were all astonished at the numbers of emerging Shooting Stars – estimated by Natural Heritage staff to be at least 10,000 and the blooming spring ephemerals on the summit and in the barrens.  Here are some photos of those beauties.

Bloodroot blooming on the summit of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

Spring Beauty blooming on the summit of Naked Mountain.

Cutleaf Toothwort blooming on Naked Mountain. This is an extremely prolific spring ephemeral all over the preserve turning some portions of the otherwise brown leaf duff green and white.



At Last — Spring Has Come to Naked Mountain

It has been a long wait for spring this year.  What a winter!  Naked Mountain had lots of snow and impeded my progress a number of times.  One time, my car got completely stuck at the very bottom of my road.  I loaded three days of fresh groceries into my backpack and hiked the two and a half miles up to the house in the snow.  It was tiring, but I was pleased with myself that I could do it without too much trouble at the age of 66!

But now comes the reward – spring!  I ventured out onto the summit to look for spring ephemerals.  I didn’t have to go very far; they were everywhere! In peak bloom were acres of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria lacinata).

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooming on Naked Mountain.


Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) blooming on Naked Mountain.

Here is a photo of a lovely blooming patch of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea ripens).  This is not technically on Naked Mountain, but rather on the banks of Dutch Creek which flows at the Northeastern base of Naked Mountain.  It offers a fragrant welcome to all who make the sharp left turn up my road.

I also checked out the progress of a small colony of Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) on the edge of a small barren on the ridge top near the house and was surprised to see how many were popping up. Six years ago there were only two plants, now there are 16.  So, this colony is beginning to take off.  Naked Mountain is unusual for its massive quantities of Shooting Stars numbering at least ten thousand.

Shooting Stars (Primulus meadia) emerging on Naked Mountain.

I stumble on colonies in various places on the mountain and have been watching the progress of this one near the house.  The soil seems to favor their growth as it has a mafic substrate, specifically amphibolite, which has been metamorphosed from basalt.  So, the soil has higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium, similar to limestone, which is where Shooting Stars are more frequently found.  According to samples collected by Natural Heritage Program staff, it also happens to have lower concentrations of iron compared to most soils on mafic substrates.  I discussed this with Gary Fleming, senior vegetation ecologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program (DCR) who posits that since Shooting Stars are a prairie flower, the pathways to its distribution East in Virginia are limited by the barrier of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shooting Stars must have the right alkaline soils, lower elevations, both of which describe Naked Mountain, and access to a prairie pathway.

How about that railway in the valley at the base of the Southeastern slope of Naked Mountain? Maybe, but it goes South, not West.  So, a delightful mystery!



Spring Finally Arrives on Naked Mountain!

After a dump of two feet of wet snow on Naked Mountain on March 6th, spring finally showed up, as expected, on March 20th, the day of the spring equinox (at least in the Northern Hemisphere.) Here is how Wikipedia defines the phenomenon of the equinox:

“An equinox occurs twice a year (around 20 March and 22 September), when the tilt of the Earth‘s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator

On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).”

When the sun came up on Naked Mountain on March 20th, I timed its arrival, and its departure for equality. Indeed, the sun showed up right about 7:15 a.m. and set right about 7:15 p.m give or take a minute or two. Impressive!

In between the rise and setting of the sun, I checked on the progress of spring on Naked Mountain measured in other ways—wildflower blooms!

Spring 2013 has seemed much colder than last year, but whether this is normal for March is hard to know any more with the confounding effects of global warming.  At any rate, the

Emerging Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) in barrens on Naked Mountain on March 20, 2013

wildflowers are taking their time. On March 20th, I hiked down into the outcrop barrens to check on the progress of thousands of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) that bloom there in early May. The barrens, which are comprised of seeping amphibolite rock and associated plant communities, occur all across the southeastern face of Naked Mountain at about 1700 feet. On March 20th, The Shooting Stars were just coming up; most were poking up about three to four inches above the ground.

I also found some Spring Beauty (Claytonia Virginica -see photo above)) and Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)in bloom.

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concantenata) blooming on Naked Mountain on March 20, 2013

Later that day, I took a walk with a friend along a roadway within the Dutch Creek Agricultural-Forestal District near the base of Naked Mountain. An Agriculture-Forestal District is a rural zone that prohibits housing subdivision and any development that is not agricultural, or forestal in nature. It is designed to protect open spaces, rural character, water quality and other natural resources.  Here is a benefit of living within a Virginia AFD and having many neighbors who have gone even further and placed their properties under a conservation easement: 

Hepatica blooming in the Dutch Creek Agricultural-Forestal District on March 20, 2013.

So, spring is definitely on its way! I will keep you updated on the progress of Shooting Stars and other special denizens of Naked Mountain.