It was a chilly morning, with a dull overcast of stratocumulus clouds. I watched the temperature climb from the high teens into the 20s as I waited for Nan’s car to come up the driveway. We were going to check out Enterprise Road, a Forest Service road 1.6 miles from New Castle on Rte. 311.
The drive to our destination was relatively short, and we drove 2/10 mile up Enterprise Road, past a house and driveway, to a new, closed gate, and dismounted next to a desiccated deer ribcage and shattered jawbone, which immediately attracted the attention of Nan’s bodyguard Belle. Beyond the gate, the road had been newly graded, the grader’s tracks still prominent on the broad roadway, and the shoulders had been brush-hogged, leaving a mess of wood shards and shattered stumps. Signs designating firewood-cutting areas adorned roadside trees.
A rightwards bend in the road took us towards the near-vertical rock wall of the end of Sinking Creek Mountain, and a look back showed the undulating crest of North Mountain. Nan picked up a rounded rock chunk and we discussed whether it was a mud ball or a concretion. It’s really hard to tell without seeing the rock it weathered out of. The road climbed and looped along the base of Sinking Creek Mountain, and through the trees we could see North, Bald, Little SW and Nutters Mountains in the direction of New Castle, although not New Castle itself. Then, after less than a mile, we reached what appeared to be the end of the road, a big open area. At the far end, two shiny, bright red garments hung on a tree. Nan had previously explored Enterprise Road, and this was where she’d turned back.
But my topographic map shows the road continuing across the face of the end of Sinking Creek Mountain, so we walked over to the tree and discovered the two clothing items were a child-sized top and pants, like maybe from a Halloween costume. There was another gate, a berm, and more road to explore, overgrown with pine seedlings and saplings, but with a foot-trodden trace leading out of sight. On we went, with lichen-crusted, Lycopodium-clumped, rock-studded banks to our right and a steep drop-off to our left. No vehicles had passed this way in some years, but some older saplings had been ridden down by something in the past, and some saplings had been cut off recently, their fallen corpses still holding brown needles. The stubs stuck up several inches, a tripping hazard to the walker and a threat to the sidewalls of the tires of anyone who might drive there. The road descended a little and climbed again, and I, feeling warm, left my jacket on a bush.
Nan spotted a wetland below and went down to investigate it, the headwaters of a little stream descending from our right with a little drippy waterfall, then crossed under our feet through a culvert. Beyond, another culvert, with only a dry, rocky streambed on either side. Shiny galax leaves drooped over small boulders, and there were a few lingering traces of snow in sheltered spots. Past a tall cut bank adorned with mosses, lichens and snow remnants, we crossed a gently sloping bench on the mountainside, with the steep slope climbing some distance to our right. On our left, old dirt piles were overgrown with lichens and trees were marked with orange or blue paint. Water running across the road had left leaves stacked together like a Dagwood sandwich lying on its side. We entered a field of large rocks and boulders and noticed a large can with handle rusting away. Downslope, small trees had been felled and left lying, withered leaves still clinging, probably as a “releasing” operation—they cut down less-valuable trees to diminish competition for the remaining ones, which will then grow faster. A pillar-like boulder stood to our right as we trod the mossy road through brambly trash.
Then the road petered out among trees that had been felled right across it. There was a knob to our left, and Nan went to see whether there was a wetland in the low area between it and the rest of the mountain, while I ate some of my sandwich and gave myself and bodyguards a drink of water. The breeze came up and made me wish I had my jacket. I took my sweater out of my pack and put it on. Belle’s return heralded Nan’s, and we retraced our footsteps, with North Mountain forming the horizon to our right and the darker form of Broad Run Mountain below. Under old pines and a few open-grown oaks, through pine saplings we strode, and I spotted a young pine with a whorl of cones replacing one of its annual branch whorls. A cone is a modified branch with leaves, and if the plant gets its signals crossed it can make a cone where it should have made a branch. Through the trees we could make out the far end of North Mountain with Caldwell Mountain beyond. I retrieved my jacket, and we were soon back at Old Blue, having walked no more than four miles. That was a very modest distance, but it was a rather unpleasant day; we weren’t sorry to be heading home.