I was driving home at one point last week listening to NPR on the radio when I happened to catch a Ted Talk by Bernie Krause. In the 1960s, Mr. Krause was a musician and a pioneer of using Moog synthesizers. He recorded with a who’s who of musicians – The Byrds, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Van Morrison – and he also provided soundscapes for movies. Those helicopters in Apocalypse Now? His Moog synthesizer work. In his talk, he said Francis Coppola fired him several times from that movie, each time rehiring him for twice the salary. Thanks to that, when his work on that movie was done he was able to quit music and Hollywood altogether and go back to get a PhD in bio-acoustics. He then founded Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to recording and archiving natural soundscapes. His talk centered around his idea that we are all connected on this planet; everything on this earth, from the oceans to the insects to the mammals, has an acoustic niche and when we humans disrupt it we not only drown that soundscape out, but we often also impact the lives of our fellow-planet-livers in ways you might not expect. The best thing we can do, Mr. Krause says, is just to be quiet and listen.
What better place to do that than on a hike? We thought so, and picked Wade Mountain Preserve in north Huntsville as our destination. Yet another of the wonderful properties preserved for us all by the Land Trust of North Alabama, Wade Mountain Preserve can be reached either by going up North Memorial Parkway to get to the trailhead on the east side, or Pulaski Pike to get to the trailhead on the west side. The first few times Chet and I hiked on this property there was no way to hike from one side to the other. Over several work sessions last year, though, the Land Trust Land Steward and his band of loyal volunteers (including me and Chet) worked to cut in a trail to do just that. Wade Mountain Trail is the result. Chet and I had worked on the trail, but for some reason I think we missed the final work day so we had never actually hiked the whole thing and wanted to correct that.
The morning was a gloomy one and rain was in the forecast, but we set off anyway on the promise from the weatherman that the showers would be light ones. We chose to start on the west side at the Wade Mountain Greenway trailhead. Here the trail is really a paved greenway. It leads past a very nice pavilion with picnic tables and next to fields of what looked to be maybe soybeans. Other times when we’ve hiked this stretch it’s been planted with corn. As I walked along I was thinking about Bernie Krause and his soundscapes. For the record, I heard lots of insects and several different kinds of birds.
After .87 miles, the pavement ends, and the “real” hiking begins. The trail here leads uphill through the trees and rocks and is a bit steep in spots. The trail comes to an end after .34 miles at the junction of the Wade Mountain Greenway Trail, the Fossil Bench Trail and the Bostick Trail. The last little bit up to that intersection is one of the steeper parts – it’s a good thing there’s a nice bench there to rest on if you need it!
Though either way would have worked, we opted to go left and take the Bostick Trail to get to the beginning of the Wade Mountain Trail. The first part of the Bostick Trail goes across a flat rock shelf in the mountain so the trail is pretty level. After about 500 feet, you’ll see the power line cut in front of you and a bench placed almost across the path. While you can go ahead to the power line cut and look out over the Toyota Plant if you like, the bench, along with a sturdy sign, are a clue that you should really take a sharp turn right and uphill at this point. This section of the trail has been rerouted several times. At several places you can see a trail – really what used to be the trail – off to your left. Don’t let it throw you – just keep to the path with all the Land Trust trail diamonds on it and you’ll be fine. You won’t miss anything by not checking out the old trail – it was just harder to maintain and more prone to erosion so they moved it a bit. After a short stretch that’s mostly uphill, the trail bears towards the right and levels out. This part of the trail is easy walking – a pretty level stretch with open woodland all around. And bonus, since it was easier walking, it was easier to listen too! I still heard mostly birds and insects with only a few human-sounds mixed in – cars and maybe a plane once.
A little less than a quarter of a mile from that sharp turn uphill, the Wade Mountain Trail takes off to the left and heads uphill, winding a bit as it climbs for about .5 mile to the very top of Wade Mountain. The trail continues along the top of the mountain through an area with widely spaced trees interspersed with grassy patches. It was really my favorite section of the whole trail.
Soon enough, the trail starts heading back down. Coincidentally, this was my least favorite part of the trail because it dips in and out of the power line cut which was badly overgrown. You could barely see where the trail was and the plants were almost over my head! It was sort of pretty in a way, but only if you didn’t have to push your way through the plants. We did see a beautiful thistle in full bloom though, so it wasn’t all bad. Another downside to the power line cut is that the buzz of the power lines themselves is just a little creepy, not to mention how it disrupts the natural soundscape. I was glad to be away from there and back in the trees.
I was especially glad because right about here is where it really did start raining. Being under the trees, we barely felt a drop though so it was no problem. I don’t usually mind hiking in the rain, but Chet hates it and it fogs up his camera, which makes for a less than happy hiking partner so I was glad that it didn’t last very long. We hadn’t gone far before we came to another trail intersection. My gut told me I should be going left, and I was right, but I did have to puzzle this one out. The Wade Mountain Trail makes a 90 degree turn to the left right where the Wade Mountain-Harris Connector Trail takes off to the right and leads to, you guessed it, the Harris Trail. There are trail signs, but the ones for the connector are really just the Wade Mountain Trail sign with a Harris Trail sign underneath it. It kind of looks like Wade Mountain Trail goes that way but it doesn’t. We wanted to finish the Wade Mountain Trail proper though, so we we went left. If you’ve hiked the Devil’s Racetrack trail, you might remember that the trailbed there is a light clay and gravel mix that looks very different from the dark brown trail most other places on Wade Mountain. The trail here starts to look just like that, which makes sense because soon enough, we came to the intersection with Devil’s Racetrack.
From here it was an easy, and for us familiar, walk down Devil’s Racetrack for about a mile to Spragins Hollow Trailhead. The trail is mostly downhill, with wooden posts marking the distance from the eastern parking lot about every quarter mile. Rock Wall Trail takes off to the right about .5 mile down and then near the very end of the trail, Piney Loop Trail comes in from the left. Finally, the eastern parking lot came into view between the trees and that was it. We’d finally hiked the trail that connected east and west. Check out our GPS track to see exactly where we went on this 5.1 mile adventure.
I’ve talked a lot about the trail itself, and a bit about the sounds on this trail since that was what was on my mind, but another remarkable thing about this trail was the mushrooms. You know how we are about wildflowers – it’s a game for us to see how many we can spot and identify as we hike. While we did see a few wildflowers this hike – small head sunflower, leaf cup, and tall bellflower, as well as brilliantly colored beauty berries, what really stood out for me were all the mushrooms.The bright red ones really stood out on this gloomy day:
And maybe we were hungry, but these looked like pancakes (on the left) and roma tomatoes (on the right)
This one looked to me like it was sprinkled with salt:
I wish I knew the actual names for these, but maybe that will have to be my next project – learn how to identify mushrooms!
One last interesting find on the trail was a jack-in-the-pulpit that had lost the flower I am used to seeing and in its place had bright red berries. I had no idea this was even the same plant!
So there you have it – if you’re interested in getting out and listening to nature’s soundscape any time soon, I can highly recommend Wade Mountain preserve.