Thursday, May 27, 2010

Field Trip Friday: Hiking with a Naturalist at Monte Sano State Park

Welcome to Field Trip Friday! This week the kids and I had an opportunity to join one of the area support groups for a hike at Monte Sano State Park. We love Monte Sano, in fact, when we first began traveling in our motor home, we were parked here for several weeks. I'd love to say that we hiked each day but sadly it rained almost the entire time we were in the park. One of the areas that I'd hoped to have explored were the sinkholes so when I heard there was going to be a group of homeschoolers hiking in that direction, I couldn't wait to sign up for what was supposed to be a 3 mile hike.

We were actually a very small group, 11 of us total but that was great because we were able to hear and see everything clearly that the naturalist pointed out along the way. The first thing he covered was the importance of checking yourself for ticks after you've been in the woods, hiking or just outdoors in general. If you haven't read my experience with ticks, please take a moment to read my post Ain't No Ticks on Me.

The next thing he warned us about was to avoid the Poison Ivy that was plentiful. You are probably familiar with the saying,

'Leaves of three, leave if be.
Leaves of five, you'll survive,'

but are you able to identify this plant? If you're one of the thousands of people that are sensitive to it, I'm sure you do!

Next we learned about the May Apple plant. Did you know that only the plants with two leaves will produce a bloom which in turn produces the fruit which is shaped like a tiny apple. Don't eat it though- if it's not ripe it is noxious. If you look at the picture on the right, and find the fruit, directly above that you will see a V in the stem. This V shows the two leaves, one on the right and one on the left. Each branch is a single leaf.

This isn't a great picture of Daisy Fleabane, but it certainly is an interesting plant. considered a weed by many, this is actually a wildflower that is pretty commonly found in fields, along the road and in the open woods in many parts of the US. It has a reputation for repelling insects. In fact, it was added to the filling in straw mattresses to keep bed bugs down.

Like the Mulberry bush, the Sassafras Leaf can be different shapes. This means that they can be three lobes, two lobes or one lobe. The roots or the Sassafras have been used to make tea and is considered an anticoagulant. The roots were also used to make root beer until it was banned by the FDA. When I was in 5th grade, we actually made Sassafras tea and I remember it having a taste similar to black licorice.

We identified Wild Yams, Golden Seal which is used in tinctures and pill form to fight off colds, a Christmas Fern which stays green all year like an Evergreen, Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Eastern White Oak, Tulip Poplar and Spice Bush which has a citrusy, lemony scent when you rub the leaves.

We found this plant, Doll's-eye or White Baneberry extremely interesting because I don't think we'd ever seen it before. Though the berries from this plant are ingested by birds, ingestion by humans can cause cardiac arrest and death. In fact the entire plant is considered to be poisonous to humans.

However interesting it was to learn about the different plants, the sinkhole was also fascinating and so was the trail that we took to get there. Much of the area is limestone and at some point over the years water found it's way through the different layers in the rock causing some of it to collapse, resulting in this huge sinkhole. Early spring is the best time to view the area before the trees have leaves.

By this time we were all getting a bit tired and hungry so we stopped right in the middle of the trail and sat down on a rocky ledge to eat the lunch that we'd packed. After a short break we were refreshed and ready to make the short hike to the Stone Cuts.

The Stone Cuts were so much fun, we could have stayed there all day exploring further! Years of erosion have resulted in a fascinating rock formation known as the Stone Cuts that offer tight squeezes, a natural tunnel and even a series of stairs. The hike to the Stone Cuts alone is a 2 mile hike.My kids would have loved to explore some of the crevices throughout this area but lack of time and the fear of snakes won out. However, we hadn't even left the area before we were planning a return trip with my husband. I see a family hike, followed by a relaxing picnic lunch somewhere in the near future.

The return trip to the hiker's parking lot had me wishing that I'd packed more water. By the time we'd reached the switchback trail leading up, up, up and out of the park we were all huffing, puffing, sweating and thinking, water, water, water...oh, and shower, shower, shower! This was a great hike, we learned a ton about plants, trees and the area in general, we met new people and got some exercise! What more could we ask for?

That's about it for this week's edition of Field Trip Friday. If you're just joining us make sure you stop by and take a peek at some of the other excursions we've taken. I'll also be posting some other pictures from out trip on the Facebook Fan page if you would like to swing by and have a look. Don't forget, if you've been on a field trip, you're welcome to link up. Until next week...Happy Field Trippin'!


  1. What a great Botany lesson! And at our somewhat of a confusing place for Selena, Monte Sano!

  2. Looks like another great field trip. I remember that area from when I lived in Decatur at a kid. Have a great weekend.

  3. This looks fascinating! I love learning about places all over the country! Although I'm not too fond of snakes, so I would have definitely stuck to the path! Thanks for the link to your tick post! GREAT information.


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