Guided tours are fine. But sometimes I just want to get out in the woods and ramble!
My friends and I traveled to the center of Pennsylvania on Halloween weekend, to tour Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park. It was a fascinating and enjoyable visit. It did, however, consist of sitting. In a boat and then a bus, with a small group of other tourists, all confined to a pre-planned route.
By the next day, we three free spirits were ready to strike out on our own for some leisurely exploring.
I’d attended Penn State University before health issues ended my freshman year. Lacking a car in those days, I’d never explored much beyond the campus boundaries.
This was the first time I’d gone back to the region. When Don and Robb were looking for places to hike on this trip, I quickly suggested we climb Mount Nittany. I was delighted when they agreed.
Mount Nittany is a ridge in the Ridge-and-Valley province of the Appalachian Mountains with a peak elevation of 2077’. Penn State lies a couple of miles to the southwest in the Nittany Valley. Penn State’s mountain lion mascot, the Nittany Lion, is named for Mount Nittany.
The hike started with a bit of a climb – 600 feet in the first half mile, up an uneven and rocky trail. Robb and Don clambered up it like a pair of billy goats.
I had thought that the trees would have lost all their leaves by late October. I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of fall color on the mountain. This leaf couldn’t make up its mind what hue it wanted to be.
Once we reached the top, the ridge leveled out, and the walking became easier. Two trails go around the top of Mount Nittany. We took the shorter loop. Moss, leaves and a weathered log along the trail.
Soon we came to the highlight of a Mount Nittany hike, the Mike Lynch Overlook. From here we had a great view of the campus of Penn State. I hadn’t seen the campus from above before. Happy Valley!
Of course, before I even got into position, Robb insinuated himself into the view, and my photographs. This is a frequent occurrence. Don joined him to examine a leaf. Because obviously a leaf is more fascinating than the expansive view of Nittany Valley.
Beaver Stadium, home of Penn State football. I went to a few games there, long ago.
The cluster of buildings in the center include my old dorm. I don’t remember the buildings around it; they’re either new or remodeled. Somehow the campus seems much more built up than I remember it. But I can still find my dorm!
Back on the trail. The path led through woodlands of oaks, maples, mountain laurel and stands of white pine, dark green against the vibrant splashes of red and gold.
Witch hazel blossoms. Witch hazel blooms late in the year, a welcome spot of color in a landscape soon to turn brown.
At some point, as often happens when we are in likely habitat, someone suggested we should keep our eyes out for Lycopdium, a clubmoss we refer to as “teeny tiny Christmas trees.”
Sure enough, we found it. Or rather, I found it. It’s not often I spot something first, so I was pleased to have something to show the guys for a change. Here it is, Lycopdium dendroideum, aka ground pine, everybody’s favorite clubmoss.
And here’s everybody’s favorite tiny mammal, the irrepressible chipmunk. There were lots of these cute little critters scurrying around. Photography was tough in the gloom of the deep forest, and I wish my images from the day were of a higher quality. But I was glad this fellow stopped long enough for me to get a photo of any kind.
What goes up must come down, and all too soon we found ourselves making our way down the mountain. Cute critters, wonderful views and beautiful autumn foliage – what more could one ask of a Mount Nittany ramble?