Fall Day Trek Into the Quehanna Valley of the Elk

We awoke on Thursday morning to find that a wonderful change had come. The weird, hot temperatures in the high 80s, more typical of July than late September, had left us. The world was cooler. Fresh, gentle breezes were blowing. The sky was blue. I felt ridiculously happy to be alive.

A cold front had arrived overnight, and there was only one thing to do. We headed for the woods! We had talked about a backpack trip, but agreed that it probably wasn't quite time for that yet. So we went out on a day trek into the Quehanna Valley of the Elk, our first visit since mid-May.

We usually do the hike in two parts: the walk in on the first day, and the walk out on the second day. But since we weren't spending the night, we got to walk BOTH legs of the journey in one day, which was quite a feat. (And both of MY legs are still tired, even the next day.)

Our goal was also to check out the foliage colors in Quehanna. Sometimes the trees start to turn there as early as mid-September. However, that was not the case this time. In fact, the only colors we saw were a few reds and oranges on trees in the valley in front of our campsite. Everything else is still green, or fading to brown.

The other significant fact was that it was dry. Really dry. I know it seems like we had nothing but rain, rain, rain for a while. But in mid-September, it turned quite warm and dry. We've had no rain at all for the past two weeks, and the back-country is suffering its effects.

The pine needles were dropping like crazy. Many of the little side streams were completely dry. I worried for the wildlife. What do they do when there is no water anywhere to drink?

You should have seen our relief when we arrived in the Valley of the Elk to discover that this little stream - one of the many tributaries of Mosquito Creek, which eventually flows into the Mighty Susquehanna - was still running.

I mean, the water was barely moving, but it was still running just a bit. The water was blackish, full of tannin, with more silt on the bottom than I've ever seen. A lone, huge dragonfly flew up and down the stream.

As I always do, I made the arduous climb down the big hill to get a look around, creek-side. This was my view: blue sky reflected on water. (Here's a view of the valley from the other direction, including this blue water and craggy tree once again.)

There were hoof prints in several places along the stream, where the animals cross. I looked closer to see the size of the tracks. They were on the small side, so they were most likely from white-tailed deer, not elk. This shot was taken not far from where I found my one and only "shed," an elk horn, several years ago. I always look around, but have never found another.

Since we were day-hiking instead of backpacking, I was carrying significantly less than usual: just a chair in a bag, a daysack, a little purple neoprene cooler, my camera bag, and a fanny pack. We set our chairs up in our shady campsite and enjoyed several sunny hours on a late-September afternoon, before making the trek back out.

We always take music with us, wherever we go. One of the CDs we listened to on the iPod was Stevie Nicks' latest, 24 Karat Gold, from 2014. This was one of the best tracks from it, and I think it suits this scene: Stevie Nicks and Lady Antebellum, with Blue Water.

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