A scramble down over the lip of the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge via a wet muddy deer trail (located about an eighth of a mile south of Barbour Rock) was easier said than done; the first thirty yards proved to be pretty hairy, but then this mudslide of a trail connects with a well-established side-hill path also maintained by deer. From there its easy going through a fortress of sedimentary rock; protruding rocks, balancing rocks, rocks that blend with the hillside, and colored flat-topped rocks that are home to diverse communities of mosses and wildflowers; early saxifrage, lyre-leaved rock-cress, plantain-leaved pussytoes, round-leaf ragwort, early meadow-rue, and moss flocks. This flowering plant community is in turn host to a diverse community of insects, spiders and snails which support a wonderful assortment of winged neighbors; today dark-eyed juncos and black-and-white warblers as well as a multitude of others! Red cedar, dwarf juniper, and chestnut oak add structure and vitality to these massive sandstone protrusions while stunted serviceberry's delicate white petals adorn the steep slopes, dangling from the tips of smooth gray branches.
The lichens are one more noteworthy element of this rocky fortress. Lichens paint these rocks with a variety of colors and textures; smooth-white rock, frosty green rock, dark green rock that looks and feels like toad skin, light green fluffy rock that (upon close inspection) is a thick maze of fruiticose branchlets and is spongy to the touch. There is gray leafy rock, there are places where the rock displays multiple tiers of beautiful green goblets, and there is orangeish-yellow rock that looks like its been powdered with the finest gold dust. It's fitting because biological diversity is a living treasure that's found in places like this.
Rhodobryum ontariense moss
There is one particular balancing rock formation I've become quite fond of each time I pass this way. It is chimney shaped, about twenty feet tall and ten feet around at its base, and it's got a wide flat top that I imagine must be a nice hangout for the vultures who ride the wind currents of the canyon and utilize rocks like this one as resting spots during the day.
I love this diverse community here on the side-wall of the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge near Barbour Rock, so I'll continue forth along the path that the deer have made, careful not to veer off of it so as to avoid damaging this sensitive side-hill community. What a day. What a place. What a gift.