Sunday night and Monday, it snowed about 2″ and the wind blew horizontally past the house. We were hoping that it would melt by Tuesday morning since the forecast was for a high in the 50s. No luck.
We packed up on Tuesday morning, knowing that we were going out into below freezing weather. There was still snow in places, but mostly melted in the sun. The first set of trails are old roadbed and therefore snow melt was running down the steep drops, eroding more of the trail. By the time we returned Wednesday, these trails were nearly dry.
On Dobbin Grade, one of the low points in the roadbed has been a set of ponds for many years. There is so much water that a side trail has been created around the ponds. Areas in the sun were just water, but the pools in the shade still had a thin layer of ice with intricate crystalline patterns. This is followed by areas of mud and water. As we were jumping from rock to rock to mud through the water, Grandpa saw our first set of eggs – a 5 foot long spiral of frogs eggs. From here on, every puddle was examined for eggs.
The hike across the flats was muddy as expected. For once, there seemed to be adequate rocks to hop across as we approached Left Fork of Red Creek. Despite the earlier snow, the rocks in the stream provided a dry crossing. We declared early lunch under the apple trees.
The next section of Dobbin Grade alternately follows a railroad grade and an old jeep road trying to avoid the wet railroad grade cuttings. So the grade generally is easy. We knew there was an old beaver pond ahead, which might have more eggs. We circled the pond looking for eggs and pollywogs. We found multiple egg masses and a lone pollywog.
Shortly, we turned onto Beaver View trail, which originally was a hunters’ ATV track, complete with a hunting cabin. Once Dolly Sods North was officially a Wilderness, the Forest Service removed this and all the other structures. But the spring and the flat spot for camping are still there if you know where to find them. We set up camp and left the camping gear.
Continuing north we found a mourning cloak butterfly. The butterfly had found something of interest, because it was still there that afternoon.
Beaver View stays high on the hill, mostly in the open, avoiding the mud that is so prevalent on the old railroad grades and old roadbeds. Isaac was starting to complain about the length of the hike. As we reached the crest of the hill, we played a game of finding the trail sign for the intersection with the Raven Ridge Trail which hides behind a tree. The next sign was then in sight. This intersection of Raven Ridge and Bear Rocks trails is in a mini shale barrens. So it was a perfect spot to stop for a snack break since it was one of the few dry areas. Isaac raced down the hill to be the first one to the sign.
After a leisurely snack and rest, we headed back the way we came. This open part of the Sods provides spectacular views. We could see back to the ridge line where we would be walking tomorrow and the ski area’s open trails.
Isaac was eager for a stop and stayed in the tent while we prepared dinner. We think too much pasta and not enough water contributed to a tomato pesto like sauce. But everyone was hungry and the food disappeared.
Next morning, we quickly packed up and headed back up to Raven Ridge trail. Much of this trail is an old roadbed, so every time the trail crosses a drainage, the trail is very muddy and widened to 15 feet or more. The vehicles caused the initial widening, but now the hikers make the trail even wider. But that meant more places to look for eggs. After a rest stop with a view to the north of the power plant and the line of wind turbines stretching along the ridge, we found another set of eggs. The day hikers that passed us at that point did not seem to be interested in such discoveries.
To stay within the USFS property, the Raven Ridge trail veers off the old roadbed and alternates between dry, pine lined trail and bogs that have insufficient rocks and roots. We hopped through, but realized that the day hikers had stayed on the old road and were headed away from the trail junction. We were able to get them back on the actual trail.
The Rocky Ridge trail meanders between ever changing rock structures. Much of the rock is sandstone and sand surrounds the rocks. But other places have harder, less eroded rocks, possibly metamorphic rocks, in massive humps. Isaac was intrigued by each set, wanting to climb on and around the masses. By this time, Isaac had decided that he did not really want to wear his sun hat. So, it hung in front of him, looking like a drip pan.
We ate lunch on one of the massive humps across from the medium rocks. Isaac wanted to explore the climbing rocks, but we realized that it was more difficult to enter from this side, especially since we did not want to revisit last year’s bobcat site. Entering from the opposite side, Grandma and Isaac found the tunnels and caves that we had explored last year. One spot is so tight that Grandma almost cannot make it through. We agreed to climb the rocks the next day.
Near the junction with Dobbin Grade, we found our first set of eggs that were hatching. Someone had drained part of this vernal pool, but enough remained to hydrate the eggs. At this point we had completed the loop, and headed back to the house on the original trail.