No, bastard toadflax isn't profanity from a peak bagger with road-rage. It's a wildflower. Comandra umbellata to be exact. Actually the USDA plant data base calls it a "subshrub." It's starting to bloom right now on many of the Champlain Hills. Catchy name if you ask me.
Yesterday I got out of a meeting in Essex early so on the way home I decided to check out the Wildway Overlook trail on South Boquet Mountain. With the weather being so on-again off-again it's great to have quick destinations that satisfy the need to stretch your legs and get up to a view. Accompanied by my daughter I signed in the new trail register, recognizing the names of several friends and neighbors who've been up the trail in the past week. I imagine Jay was getting in a quick trail run. At about 1.5 miles round trip this trail is perfect for conditioning and doesn't have the hazardous wet roots and cobbled surfaces that some older trails have.
The WIldway Overlook is one of the signature Champlain Area Trails destinations. CATS has done a great job maintaining the trail. It winds through a tract that was very heavily cut for lumber about 15 years ago. There is a rise in the first 100 yards but from there the elevation gain is gradual and gentle on the legs. The first section goes through a clearing that's growing in with young, early succession trees and plenty of wildflowers. There were butterflies and moths of every description on the hawkweed and clover and Canada anemone--too many to identify without a net and hand lens.
From there we passed the monster ant hill that we've seen for several years. It's over 3 feet tall and probably close to 8 feet in circumference. Who knows how deep--but the colony survives year after year. The trail winds through a lot of pole size birch, basswood and poplar with nice sections of ferny stag-horn sumac overhead. Every few steps there was a beautiful fragrance which could have been from the profuse white bramble flowers or the little clouds of viburnum that were everywhere. There is also a nice stretch of maidenhair fern.
As you get to the top of this trail you enter glades of oak and hickory. The dense pole trees give way to openings of grass and the scale of things gets shorter. The light filters through the leaves and it's easy to picture fawns and other hiding young wildlife peering out at human strangers. The ledges open to views like balconies from mountain gardens. Growing in the gardens are numerous special wildflowers including columbine and solomon's seal and the pretty little bastard toadflax starting to open. At the edges of the glades, where there's rocky grit for soil but plenty of sunshine, there are huckleberries bursting with fruit. There are also blueberries but fewer quanities. Definitely worth returning for a sweet berry or two in early July if the foxes and birds don't get them first.
The hike up the Wildway Overlook trail took us 30 minutes. We stayed another 15-20 to sit and take in the view and the breeze. It was a little hazy but you can see the farms and forest in the Split Rock Wildway as well as nice stretches of Lake Champlain. There is one field that is bright yellow with what I imagine is a crop of mustard. On the way down we listened to an ovenbird and several others we couldn't identify. It would be fun to make a soundtrack. I've been on this trail when mosquitoes made the children cry but there were none to bother us yesterday. In a short 90 minutes we had a perfect, spontaneous mid-day outing. We forgot our water and it was short enough that we didn't need snacks but another time I''ll bring both and sit for longer with binoculars and spy on the birds calling in the trees below the ledges.