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Discovering the Path Less Traveled

August 9, 2016
Yellow Patches and Bunchberry
Yellow Patches, Amanita flavoconia (L) and Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis (R)

Summer is in full swing here in Pinkham Notch, which means long, warm days and plenty of people out and about to enjoy the trails. But if you are concerned your trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire will be full of busy crowds, no need to worry. There are many trails in the area that are much less traveled that get you out into beautiful, wild woods without the traffic. With the weekend upon us, a coworker and I ventured out into the Wild River Wilderness, east of Pinkham Notch. Taking the Bog Brook Trail out from Carter Notch Road, we discovered a secluded part of the forest lush with a variety of blooming and fruiting plants, mushrooms, and evidence of wildlife activity. All the best of summer hiking in the White Mountains, while having the trail to ourselves.

Wild River Wilderness
Wild River Wilderness

As we began our hike on the Bog Brook Trail, I immediately noticed that this trail differed greatly from other classic hikes in the Whites that are typically known for steep, rocky ascents up to exposed alpine peaks. This trail was relatively soft and flat, meandering gently through mixed hardwood forest towards the Wild River Wilderness. We made our way through bogs, past beaver ponds, and over quiet streams, discovering a multitude of plant life. One of the most obvious fruiting plants of the forest floor was the Bluebead Lily, a species with bright green glossy leaves centered around a tall stalk that bears the plant’s distinctive bright blue berries. Often mistaken for blueberries, the fruit of the Bluebead Lily is beautiful, but not to be ingested.

Bluebead Lily Clintonia borealis
Bluebead Lily, Clintonia borealis

Another splash of color along the trail came from the bright red cluster of berries found on Bunchberry.  A member of the dogwood family, these small plants are found in colonies on the forest floor, with a bright green circle of leaves around the stem with the cluster of bright berries in the center. This species of plant is known for being one of the fastest on the planet with regards to its release of pollen. It flings pollen out into the world in less than half a millisecond at two to three thousand times the force of gravity. For us humans, this is 800 times more force than astronauts experience when they leave Earth!

Indian Pipe Montropa uniflora
Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora

One interesting species of plant we discovered was one that is actually lacking color. This small, clear white plant with a single, five-petaled flower is known as Indian Pipe, or Ghost Plant. Indian Pipe does not contain chlorophyll and does not use photosynthesis to obtain energy from the sunlight. Instead, it is parasitic and obtains energy from nearby photosynthesizing plants. Combined with the bright colors of the Bluebead Lily and Bunchberry, the trail was looking extremely patriotic with its splashes of red, white, and blue.

Continuing our walk, we find that mushrooms are popping up everywhere and thriving on the decaying leaves and trees of the forest. Humid, moist summer days have triggered this growth, and we found a variety of mushrooms to keep any forager happy. But even though the Whites have beautiful, colorful mushrooms of all shapes and sizes to discover, not all are meant for ingestion, so use knowledge and caution if you choose to forage.

One benefit to beating the crowds is experiencing more wildlife. Oftentimes animals are scared away from noisy trails, and so as my coworker and I walked this quiet path, we listened to a variety of birdsong, including melodies from the Oven Bird and the White-Throated Sparrow. Although now that summer is underway, the birdsong begins to be replaced more and more by insect sounds, as grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, and cicadas begin their search for mates. Insects must breed and lay eggs before the impending drop in temperature this Fall. Plenty of tiny amphibians including the Spring Peeper hopped across our path, and we even saw fresh moose and bobcat tracks in the mud.

We followed this quiet trail into a remote section of the woods without a destination set in mind. After we meandered along, we found wild blueberries to munch on as we sat next to a gentle stream, listening to insect song. The warm sun filtered through the high canopy of birch and maple trees, and we quietly enjoyed all that a summer in the White Mountains has to offer on the road less traveled. It was the perfect weekend adventure, getting out and exploring areas of the mountains that make you feel as if you have the whole forest to yourself.

-Emily D.

AMC Outdoor Guide

Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium
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