Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Rock-top community (Pine Creek Gorge West Rim 1/30/2020)

Rock-top community of lichens, mosses, and a few other plants.

My saunter began at the Barbour Rock Trailhead. I followed the path and then went south along West Rim Trail. Then where West Rim Trail turns back towards the road I continued off-trail along the west rim of the canyon. I did this until I got to the place where a rock cliff juts out just north of where Bear Run makes its way into Pine Creek.

I followed a deer path that seemed to me more like the trail of a mountain goat, down a steep slope that eventually made a half-circle from the top of a sheer cliff down around below it. In that spot there is a hard-to-get-to ridge composed of deteriorating rock and some large flat-topped rocks.

I found a good perch on a rock about five feet long by five feet wide that must be anchored deep beneath the layers of sediment below. Being that this was a challenging spot to get to, requiring mental strategy and physical agility, it is a location that has been left relatively undisturbed by human activity. Because of this, an ancient process has been given uninterrupted space to play out.

As lichen (due to it's acidic nature) breaks down rock turning it into soil, mosses and some grasses and even a few flowering plants have colonized the thin layer of loose soil that has been building up for a long time.

If left undisturbed it will continue to thrive, but one misstep by me and decades or even a century's worth of this rock-top community can quickly be destroyed.

I sat there with that rock-top community for a while, marveling at the diversity and complexity of this low-growing mat of life at the edge of the Pine Creek Gorge.

I won't return to this place often, for fear that my visits may impact this vital community in a negative way. Now that I've paid a visit to this rock-top community just north of Bear Run, its enough to know that it's there, as I hope it will continue to thrive for many generations to come.

This experience reminds me of something Aldo Leopold said in his reflection on wild spaces: "To those devoid of imagination, a blank space on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part." (A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold. Random House Publishing Group, 1966. page 294)

There are many other places like this in the Pine Creek Gorge, each with its own vibrant and vital rock-top community. The best we can often do to express our care for many of our wild neighbors is to give them space, and to be content to visit them once, or even perhaps not at all.

Here are some close-up photos of the rock-top community that's shown in the picture at the beginning of this post:

Here are some photos of the ridge I traversed to get to there:

Looking up towards the canyon rim.

Looking down towards Pine Creek.

Pine Creek Gorge from Bear Run Vista:

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