Friday, September 14, 2007

Piney Branch bridge now open

On my commute home today I was surprised to see the detour gates had come down at the entrance to the Piney Branch bridge. There was some fresh asphalt leading up to the bridge as I headed west. There is still a large gap in the asphalt but it was a treat not to have to ride the gravel detour. My body was expecting the bumps at that point in my ride, having ridden the detour almost daily for over a year, and it was a somehow odd sensation to ride smoothly over the bridge. I hope it's permanent.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Piney Branch bridge repairs near completion

It appears that the Piney Branch bridge repair work is nearly completed. The stonework on the bridge abutments is repaired and today there was work being done on the bridge deck. It looks like the work should be completed in the next week or so.

Grape Kool-aid

It is not a hallucination: the trail smells like grape kool-aid. You have not been transported back to 2nd grade or off to Jonestown. The kudzu is in bloom (left photo near mile 10). This Japanese plant was introduced across the southern U.S. in the 1930s and 40s as a forage crop, and to reduce soil erosion. Now it is considered an invasive weed.

More purple: The poke berries are getting ripe. The berries are not edible to people, although birds and wildlife can use them. This is certainly a handsome plant! The photo below was taken directly across the trail from the Kudzu.

Caution: Tree Trimming

The crews are trimming trees along the W&OD these days. Be especially careful when passing the trucks and chain saw crews. They have been considerate in my experience, but it is still a dangerous operation. This morning I snapped a photo of two men high in the trees south of the trail near Vienna (left). One of the men is cutting the top of the tree he is in. The photo on the right is an image taken moments after the top fell. The crew was in Falls Church yesterday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monster plants and little friends

We have entered that part of the year where the monster plants dominate the trail. I'm talking about the ragweed. The GIANT ragweed that is 12 or more feet tall looming over us with its spikey florets (right photo near mile 10). This is a shrubby, messy looking plant, but more to the point: It is responsible for untold misery in hay-fever sufferers. It is a wind-pollinated plant, and when you are 12 feet tall, you catch every breeze, if you catch my drift.

Fortunately for those of us with limited allergic reactions, there are other, nicer, features of the mid-september W&OD. One of my favorites is Gaura. The blossoms are only open early in the morning...they are wispy and butterfly-like. The plants are also big, but not as tall as the giant ragweed. Maybe 4-5 feet tall and covered with white-pink blossoms (left photo just east of Cedar Lane).

Most exciting for this time of year are our little friends, the Monarch butterflies. The females laid their eggs on our milkweed plants in mid August and now we need to try to NOT MOW THE MILKWEED before the little ones get through this critical life phase. The Monarchs have human friends as evidenced by the signs and flagging at several points along the trail (below, near mile 11).