Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mushroom Maze

If you have the time, read on. This is my largest post ever, with 64 photos.

My brother had lured me to a new county park, called Manorville Hills (sounds like a subdivision and probably was eyed as one, once). It is part of a 6000 acre preserve of NY state lands and Suffolk County park lands in the Pine Barrens region of Long Island. The sign above says it all. This is probably one's best spot on Long Island to get away from 'it all.' A wilderness zone, the Pine Barrens, our glacial landscape, the maze. The air was crisp on Sunday morning, scented with the autumnal decay I tend to associate with upstate NY, but there it was making us feel alive.

I had recently purchased the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference's map set. Thinking, of course, that this is all I needed to make the magic happen. My brother wanted to begin at the county park lot, the one with the empty sign. There were no markings, no signs, no trail blazes. We opted to start on a road, one which we could reasonably locate on our map. The road we took was called Hot Water Rd. Not sure if it was that anyone traveling it would be getting into hot water or that nearby Brookhaven National Lab was making some hot water. Either way, I began wishing the LIGTC maps were made of Tyvek, like the well-made NYNJTC trail maps. After the day's folding and unfolding, it began to fall apart.

There are a lot of roads in the Pine Barrens. In this landscape, roads, paths, footprints die hard. Many are easily over 100 years old. One of the first thing anyone unfamiliar with the area will notice is that your path, road, or trail is, um, well below the natural grade. This image is the side of Hot Water Rd, a few hundred yards from the shot just before it. You can also see that the road is 'sunken in' in that shot.

This trail, er, road, er, canyon is a good example of how easily this region is damaged by human activity-caused erosion. Our hiking did it no favors, but the ATVs, dirtbikes, and trucks have really done most harm.

The pine barrens are, well, barren, for a few reasons. People had difficulty farming the sand that lies just beneath the extremely thin topsoil. It was far enough from NYC to avoid major development pressures until the last decades of the 20th century. Preservation and open space movements had begun in earnest in the late 70s and by the generally well-off 90's, it became politcally sound to do so by both Republicans and Democrats. And, it appears, that Long Islander's interest in hiking and mountain biking the barrens had grown along with that movement. So what was once our version of a swamp -a useless dumping ground, became an ecological niche to be explored by all.

There are some farms to the north, south and east of the glacial moraine's kame and kettle landscape. In fact, Hot Water Road passes this farm and compost pile. But here is where things started to get tricky. Our map had indicated a number of roads and paths along Hot Water. But by our count, we had passed at least twice as many as were indicated on the map. We had no clue how far we had come, if at least understanding where we were relative to the 6000 acres: south side, near the private property north of County Road 51 also known as 'the farm.'

I was in charge of direction, map reading, and getting us out of here in one piece before sundown. The craziest hike I had ever done was in Hell's Canyon, Oregon -a three day, lousy hiking partner, map-less, compass-less, run-out-of-water, snow-on-top, desert-on-bottom, excursion over 4000 feet of elevation when I was 25. Can I say with comfort we are not getting lost 5 miles south of the Long Island Expressway?

Our trail conference map offered only one major color-blazed trail in the region, the Paumanok Path - a white blaze. I didn't want to double back for the return trip, so we devised a route from Hot Water Road to the PP. We were looking for a blue-blazed trail, marked on the map, that linked with the white-blazed PP. This we would take back west toward the parking area, with only a couple of miles off of a color-blazed trail to the car. I forgot my compass, but being near equinox, it was easy to keep track of our direction relative to the position of the sun.

Hot Water Road was supposed to turn sharp, NNE, at the mapped turn a foot path extended past a place called 'Bald Hill' -but this did not happen. Hot Water seemed to have been freshly excavated and extended where there was once only a foot path. Finally, I spotted a blue blaze! We turned northward. There were so many trails, foot paths, and roads connecting to this blue-marked trail that were not on our map, we really had little use for it. There were also blue-blazes all over the place, turning left and right, some on the bottom of trees, some with white. If it were a cloudy day, without compass, it surely would have been a maze. It's not exciting to everyone to use your sense of direction to compensate for maps, but I enjoyed the opportunity to put myself to the test.

We finally linked with a white blaze, the Paumanok Path. With it to follow, things were much easier. It was still hard to figure out where we were on the map or how far we had walked, but I was getting better at estimating distances. The trail is sandy, but easy to walk. Only on some hills did the sand bog us down.

The landscape of the barrens is not the familiar wilderness. It offers no promontories, no bodies of water, no vistas or streams, no moments of grandeur or big sky, nor any obvious landmarks. Hills climb to 300 feet, but once atop you cannot see much through the leaves. Its understory and canopy seem unchanged for the length of it. For those who would describe it as boring, I simply offer that you are not looking close enough. The true beauty of the barrens is in the details, the moments.

Its middle autumn, the leaves are still on the trees, the understory dappled with low, diffuse light. The canopy of oaks mingle with occasional pitch pines, most not very tall so that it is never very dark in the woods. The evenness of light in union with the glacial hills, kames and kettles, flattens distance. You feel you are within, as in a body of water. Each rise gives expectation of a vista, but only offers a new bottom land to descend into.

The trail cuts through heath -mainly ericaceous plants. In this woods there is canopy and low understory -nothing between. Occasionally, noticeably, in small clusters, the heath grew three times as tall as it ordinarily had and was still bright green with no obvious answer why.

Pitch Pine stand.

Mossy bottom land.

Sassafras, roadside.

More moss.

Small glacial erratic.


The road we ate lunch on. Ticks are an issue when hiking here. On a sandy road, it should be of no concern, but the trails are often brushy footpaths. A quick leg check every 15 minutes is my solution and has become my habit after my experience in the Connecticut woods. We wore no repellent. I had shorts and found no ticks after 7 hours in the woods. My brother, on the other hand, had light-colored pants and we found two ticks crawling up on a particular stretch (grassy road) late in the day. The ticks were black and I feel comfortable IDing them as male black-legged ticks. We both had a spell with a swarm of very small mites on the front of our shoes/pants' ankles. I tried to see how many legs they had, but then I recalled stories of pant legs brushing larval tick nests and them having six legs and boom, destroy all monsters! Unlike hard adult ticks, these squished easily.


Now, without much wordy interruption, the mushrooms of Hot Water Road, the Blue Trail, and the Paumanok Path, autumn 2009. Please click for a double-size image, and leave your ID tips.

I found a lot of Indian Pipe.

Closeup -Indian Pipe.

To my delight, the relative of Indian Pipe I saw at Weir Preserve: Pinesap, Monotropa hypopithys. Its red color is outstanding. Of course, neither or these are mushrooms, but they don't photosynthesize -so I put them here.


This turned into those below (looks like not-fully popped corn).

Rotting shrooms.

And at the end of our day, heading for the car, some asters...

I saw about five individual feathers, hawk I think, throughout our 12-mile hike. This one I took.


  1. Thank you for the virtual tour of the pine barrens! I appreciate being able to see it without contributing to the erosion. Lovely mushroom photos! You do know those first two are plants, right? :)

  2. Yes, but they don't photosynthesize. I didn't know where to put them, so they went in with the mushrooms!

  3. Holy cow. So are the godsknuckles, boletus, hence very yummy to eat (porcini)??? Amazing photos and tour, thank you!

  4. LOL! Just because they don't photosynthesize doesn't take them out of the "flowering plant" category. :)

    Thanks again! Great post.

  5. Oh, Michelle! Visual categories, not botanical;)

    MArie! Why did you say 'Godsknuckles'?? Must tell!

  6. Because that's what you seemed to label the picture of that mushroom ! :-) ? - if you click on the picture and look at the url...

    So...if it's not the mushroom, what IS it???

  7. Ha! I thought I learned some deep secret to why an area on the map I explored was called "God's Knuckles"!!! I went over my post looking for the hint that I dropped and when I didn't see one, I thought hmmm, I had no idea some kind of mushroom was called Gods Knuckles! HA, silly me. The photo labels, they're all labeled the same.

    Darn it. I thought I discovered why that area of the barrens is called God's Knuckles. (So many mushrooms?!) Before that silliness, I had thought it might be because of a particular glacial formation, but I must say that would be hard to see from the ground up.

    Any way... :)

  8. Lol.

    So...I think the mushroom I was meaning is edible and good. The spongy underneath, slick on top = boletus. Worth investigating.

  9. if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at

  10. Hey Mr. Adventure - I used to live in upstate NJ - now I go to the Asian market - get my cart walk down the aisle and choose my fungi....good job though! Jennifer :)

  11. I'm very impressed that you could go on such a hike and come across such an amazing variety of mushrooms.
    I have not had this particular pleasure. Loved your photos!


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