Saturday, January 20, 2018

Powerful Ice

 The regional news this past week was full of stories about ice jams on the Hudson that caused record flooding and washed-out roads along the river near Warrensburg, about 30 miles north of Saratoga Springs.  I had just visited that area on January 3, noting the buildup of frazil ice due to bitter cold temperatures (see my post for January 4).  The ice heaps were significant then, but nothing like they became in the weeks that followed, which brought melting temperatures and pouring rain to unleash the destructive power of those monumental ice heaps and the roaring river that caused and carried them.  Having gasped at the newspaper photos and website videos of the river's ferocity and subsequent damage, I decided I needed to go have a look for myself.  Heading north out of Warrensburg along Golf Course Road, I began to see what remained of the immensity of the ice build-up, noticeable in the monumental heaps of jumbled ice pressing against the guard rails and pushing over roadside trees.  Normally, the surface of the river lies about 15 feet below the road.

I was glad my friend Evelyn Greene was free to join me on Friday to go survey the sites of maximum damage.  For several decades, Evelyn has been studying this section of the river and its distinctive ice called "frazil," which forms in turbulent sections of the Hudson and can grow to enormous heights when conditions are right.  This year, the conditions were right not only for an enormous build-up of ice that dammed the river's flow, but also for pouring rains and melting temperatures that added ferocity to the volume of river water.  Together, Evelyn and I drove south on the River Road to a point where we could drive no farther.  We got out of the car and started walking and soon came to see the reason the road was blocked.

Nearly half of the roadway, River Road on the west bank of the Hudson, was gouged away by the force of the raging flood waters.

Even the thickets of trees that line the banks here could not withstand the force of that fierce torrent.  Obviously, the road cannot be rebuilt along this same route, and it will take many weeks or months before an alternate road can be constructed.  In the meantime, some of the people who live along this section of the River Road can come and go from their homes only by snowmobiles or other vehicles designed for rough travel.  The train tracks that run close to this bank have also been affected, mostly by being covered by frozen flood waters. No trains are running at present.

In the warmer months, my friends and I visit this section of the river that is called the Ice Meadows, a wildflower habitat remarkable for the rarity of some of its plants.  Evelyn and I had hoped to explore the Ice Meadows on this day, but the deposits of frazil ice at the site, some at least 15 feet high, deterred our explorations.  The heaps of frazil had pushed well into the woods, and the boulders we can scramble around on summer days were buried well under the ice.

Down closer to Warrensburg, ice jams are still causing flooding near the Thurman bridge, but up here where Rte. 28 crosses the Hudson at The Glen, the Hudson was wide open and flowing free.  We could see floating rafts of slushy frazil ice charging along with the river's current, but so far the frazil had not cohered to clog the river's flow this far upstream.

As I mentioned above, Evelyn is quite the student of frazil ice, and she knows not only how it forms, but also where, in sections of the river that are particularly turbulent.  It was to one turbulent section of the Hudson we headed next,  to a place known to locals as Washburn Eddy.  And of course, Evelyn knew exactly how to get there, along an unmarked trail on private property.

We could hear the rushing river well before we could see it, so we only had to follow the sound, and soon we were standing on the banks.

A toll bridge once spanned the Hudson at this point, back in the 19th Century, and large stone structures still mark the spot.

Although this is one of the river's sections where frazil forms, the deposits of frazil along the banks  here were only of modest height.

Mixed in with the snowy-white frazil were slabs of hard blue ice that had formed in quieter waters of the river and had traveled here on the current.

It was interesting to observe the opposite bank and its distinctive layers of ice, determining by the texture and color which layers consisted of frothy-white frazil and which were of glassier hard ice.

A delicate frieze-work of icicles decorated the layers that lay directly over the water, caused by water splashing up from the turbulent ripples and wavelets.  Having so recently noted the terribly destructive power of ice and water, it was certainly pleasant here to witness some of their elegant beauty.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Snowy Walk in the Park

A lovely winter day yesterday, light snow falling, temperature around 20 above.  A good day for a walk through Saratoga Spa State Park, tasting the mineral springs as I went.

The Ferndell Ravine is my favorite place to start a walk in this park.  It's quiet and woodsy, with tall pines towering overhead and a tiny brook tumbling along the trail.  Saratoga Spa State Park is better known for its golf courses, swimming pools, picnic areas, and a performing arts center than it is for wilderness trails, but this short woodland trail through a steep ravine gives me a little taste of deep forest right close to home.

These very green plants were thriving in the rushing water along the path.  I'm not sure what they are, and I did not feel like plunging my bare hands into that icy-cold water to obtain a specimen in order to find out.

I did recognize the spore stalks of Ostrich Fern protruding from a snowy bank.

When I reached the end of Ferndell Ravine, I turned and walked along the road that provides access to many of the springs that the Saratoga Spa is famous for. The first one I came to is called Tallulah, a word that in the Choctaw language is said to mean "leaping water."

And leap this little spring certainly does, spurting in a crystalline arc directly out of the ground.

The next spring, called Polaris, also leaps up from the ground.

I was struck by the blood-red color the spring's stone basin has taken on, the result of all the dissolved iron in the water.  I was also delighted by the filigree ice that has accumulated around the edge of the basin.

I continued along what is called "The Vale of Springs," which follows Geyser Creek, very full and rushing today because of recent rains.

The most immediately noticeable feature here is the Island Spouter Spring, a large dome of mineral accretions, called a "tufa," out of the center of which leaps a tall spout of mineral-rich water.  Although this spring is commonly called "The Geyser," the same name as the creek it inhabits, this spring is not technically a geyser, but rather a spouter.  Geysers are features of hot springs, and they gain their energy for spouting from the build-up of heat below ground.  The Island Spouter's waters are cold and highly carbonated, and it gains its energy for spouting from the pressure of built-up gasses.

I continued along the path that borders the Geyser Creek.

I was enchanted by these snow-capped starry bracts of a little wild aster.

And also amused by the texture of snow caught on the rough bark of a creekside tree.

Banks of many-layered shale rise steeply alongside the trail, and today those banks were decorated with dangling icicles.

Soon I reached this enormous tufa, a huge mound of mineral deposits created by generations upon generations of flow from the Orenda Spring, which springs from the earth high up on the bank.

The dissolved lime in Orenda's waters crystallizes to create this intricately textured mound, which today was further ornamented by frozen waters with a lovely blue coloration.

I soon came to the end of the creekside path and then climbed the banks to approach the Orenda Spring itself, flowing abundantly from this quaint little stone springhouse.  As the mineral-rich water spreads across the ground, the earth becomes colored with red oxides from the dissolved iron in the water.

The blood-red staining of the intricately-textured mineral deposits presented quite a colorful contrast to this otherwise rather gray day.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pouring Rain, Bitter Cold, Icy Beauty

Oh boy, was it cold this morning, just a few degrees above zero when my pal Sue and I set off across Moreau Lake to climb a streambed that tumbles down a mountain. But just a few days ago, the temperature had soared into the high 50s, followed by pouring rain.  That warm heavy rain and consequent snowmelt had caused many area rivers and streams to flood, so we were confident that there would be water in this stream that usually runs dry by this time of year.  And with temperatures plunging back below zero once more, we were also confident that there would be gorgeous ice formations along this splashing creek.  And we were not disappointed.

We started our climb where the creek runs under the road, and then proceeded up the mountainside, following the creek as closely as we could.  That rainy stretch of unseasonable warmth had severely depleted the snow cover in the woods, so we were able to make our way without snowshoes, wearing only ice grippers to keep us from slipping on the icy crust that lay beneath a dusting of new snow.

We marveled at the many ways flowing water and bitter cold could create fantastically beautiful ice formations.  Some of those formations were glassy and globular.

Others were opaque and milky white.

The splashing drops from the tumbling stream had created curtains of icicles hanging from limbs that had fallen across the streambed.

Bubbles had formed in the splashing creek and had then frozen clear as crystal.

This little twig protruding from the water had sprouted feathery crystals of hoarfrost.

We also found rounded mounds of feathery hoarfrost here and there, where springs well up on the forest floor.

It was truly a splendid day to be wandering a sunny winter woods, where a fresh coat of fluffy snow revealed the travels taken by the many wild creatures who inhabit this mountainside. We found the purposeful trails of solitary foxes, coyotes, and fishers, in addition to the ubiquitous scurrying tracks of multitudinous squirrels and mice.

This is the trail of a fisher, a weasel-family predator that preys on the porcupines that live among the limestone caves up high on this mountain.

We were gifted this beautiful sunny day with jewel-like colors flashing forth from the glittering snow.  This phenomenon, while obvious to the naked eye,  is very hard to capture in a photograph.  When I first looked at this photo, I could see no color at all, but when I boosted the saturation in my computer photo program, the colors emerged in all their technicolor glory.  Someday I hope to discover why we see these colors only on certain days and not on others.

We followed the creek back down to where it flowed into the lake, observing how the torrents caused by the previous rains had cut a channel right through the foot or more of solid ice that now covers Moreau Lake.

In this final stretch of the creek, where the ground levels off and the splashing calms, we find more beautiful ice formations, like this shelf of frosty feathers hanging over the watercourse.

This frieze of frozen droplets, formed when more water filled the stream, was hanging over a streambed that now contained only a trickle.

I have yet to understand how these particular "isobar" ice formations occur.  They form a plate suspended above the now mostly dry streambed, and these plates are so thin and fragile I could imagine that they were formed from freezing vapor instead of liquid water.  Maybe one of my readers knows and will tell us how they form .

Here's one more fantastical ice formation that just amazed me:  clusters of frozen bubbles encased in clear crystalline ice.

When Sue and I started out this morning, we were just miserable, with the frigid air stinging our cheeks and numbing our fingers when we poked them out of our mittens to try to use our cameras.  But it wasn't long before we forgot our discomfort, at least in those brief moments when we gasped in delight at all the ways water and freezing cold could render incredible beauty. (The sun climbing higher and warmer helped, as well.)