melannen: a sarian dinosaur looking over a worktable with seashells and timekeeprs (earth science)
[personal profile] melannen posting in [community profile] common_nature
First off, and most importantly, THANK YOU SO MUCH to whoever bought paid time for this community! Anybody have any suggestions on what we can do to use our new paid features?

And I am going to post some pictures. Beach pictures! Two weekends ago, I took my first trip to the beach of the year! Yes, it was a bit early for swimming in my area, but that's okay, because we went to the Calvert Cliffs. The Calvert Cliffs are an area in Southern Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay above the Patuxent River in which the coast is lined with fifteen-to-fifty foot high red and gray clay cliffs, which is quite unusual along a coast that's mostly salt marsh and barrier islands. What makes it even cooler is - well, two things. One, that coastal Calvert Country, while it does have lots of rich peoples' houses and an infestation of marinas, is not nearly as commercialized and overbuilt as, oh, 90% of the coastline along here. There are still lots of little towns that are mostly hundred-year-old tiny summer homes from when a shortline railroad ran here from the cities; there are still undeveloped areas and shady country roads and tiny beaches nobody knows; and there's history there - colonial history going back to the 17th century up to the nuclear power plant, and pre-colonial history going back and back and back.

The other cool thing is that as the cliffs erode into the ocean, 30-millon-year-old marine fossils rain down on to the beach. When you go beachcombing here, even the clamshells are unimaginably ancient. The first American fossil to be named was found along the Calvert Cliffs, and they're still an amazing place for amateur fossil-hunters. My family's been going since I was seven, but this was my first trip for years.

Calvert Cliffs State Park is the best known public beach on the Calvert Cliffs, and the only official parkland. The best thing about it is that there's a (absolutely beautiful) two-mile hike from the nearest parking to the water, so you have to immerse yourself in the local landforms before you get to the beach. And so nobody goes there unless they really, really want to. (The trail is not paved, and has some places that get rather deep mud when it's wet, so it's probably not wheelchair accessible, unfortunately. However I don't remember there being any steps or climbs, and the gradients are all fairly reasonable.)

None of the photographs were taken by me, as my camera is still in deep fail; they were all taken by [ profile] ibowieh3, my companion on the adventure, and are posted with permission.

Here's the view as you crest the last hill and finally see water:

Along the trail, you pass through several different areas; at first it's open coastal pine forest cut with fast-flowing clear streams, and then the trail begins to run alongside a swampy drowned forest that clearly flooded within the last few decades. Eventually you realize why: there's a beaver dam within touching distance of the trail.

Past the beaver dam, the stream eventually opens up again into a salt-marshy area, which is full of wildlife - we saw swans, turtles, all kinds of songbirds, and a two-foot-long black snake.

The actual park beach, and the trail outlet, are at the place where the stream/marsh/pond you've been following cuts through the cliffs to get to the water, so the beach is split in half with a freshwater stream going right out to the waves:

To the left out of the trail, the cliffs cut dramatically up, and there is a barrier saying that for safety reasons, people should not go onto that portion of the beach ... I will let you judge, therefore, where this photo of the red cliffs was taken from.

Here's a photo of the beach itself. Featuring me showing off my best side as I bend over to beachcomb. Behind me you can see the stick I stuck in the sand to mark tide-line when we arrived, and the long curving stretch of empty beach out to the barely-visible historic lighthouse at Cove Point. In Maryland, everything below the high tide line is public property, which means at low tide, you can walk down the beach as far as you like as long as you don't cross private property to get to it; I've been tempted for a very long time to start a few hours before a low tide on a warm summer's day and see just how far down the coast I can get.

Me again, flying a kite. :D The cliffs make it not the best kite-flying in the world, but the cliffs also make the winds very interesting to play in, and half the joy of a beach is the sky. Beyond me you can see two swans, which swam out of the marsh and into the bay while we watched, and two large ships - there's some sort of industrial shipping installation directly offshore from the park, but I have no idea what it is.

And after a few hours at the beach, you get to walk the two miles back to the car, which is almost as much fun. You've slowed down, and walking the same changes in reverse, you notice things more. Here's a photo of a large pink lady's-slipper orchid growing within a foot of the trail that we completely missed on the way in.

Back near the cars, it goes from the almost completely unimproved parkland out toward the water to a tamed recreation area with pavilions, lawns, a decorative turtle-pond, and a giant recycled-tire playground. But across from the parking is the remains of a burnt-out building with trees growing up through it, that we couldn't resist taking a closer look at. (Where's our pet archeologist when we need her?)

After we'd spent most of the day at the state park, we decided to spend the last few hours of daylight getting lost trying to find some of the smaller, semi-private beaches that I remembered from previous trips, that might not even have still been open to the public any more. There was one that I swear existed - a small municipal beach that we visited more than any other - that I couldn't find, and that my mother now denies ever existed. We did find my very favorite of them all, though, Matoaka Cottages. Matoaka Cottages is a small private campground that rents tiny, ramshackle 1930s-era beach cottages for cheap and allows day use of the beach for a pittance; they're down a long dirt road and the latrines have tin roofs made of old tin printing templates from a local newspaper - you can look up and read the comics. The best thing about it is that the beach is open, unsupervised, twenty-four hours for campers, and they allow campfires on it. And it's a much, much richer fossil ground than the state park.

The place is owned and run entirely by a wonderfully friendly married couple who must be in their eighties and having been running it for decades, and I am fairly certain that once they can't do it anymore - which could be any time - it will be closed forever and sold to developers. A thought that makes me terribly sad. Here's a shot down the beach at Matoaka, nearing sunset:

Here's some photos of the fossils we found! This first set were all found in about forty-five minutes of idle strolling near the water-line at Matoaka, near low tide:

This shot was taken straight down at the tide-line, showing what I stare at when I'm looking for shark's teeth. You just look straight down at the line of shell fragments, and when you see a fossil wash up in one wave, you grab it right quick before the next wave washes it away. After a good day of tooth-collecting, I see that image whenever I close my eyes for hours.

This is possibly the coolest find I've ever witnessed at Calvert Cliffs, made by a first-time, as is traditional. :D I'm fairly sure it's a fossil Miocene marine mammal vertebra - probably porpoise.

This is part of the spiral upper shell of Ecphora quadricostata, the first American fossil to get a Linnaean name, and the state fossil of Maryland:

Here is a giant Miocene barnacle; there's no scale in the picture, but it's probably over an inch (they get much bigger):

A large hunk of fossil coral (this stuff is so common along parts of the Calvert beaches that we once dumped several bagfuls out as driveway gravel):

And here's the loot from the State Park, mostly found using sieves. The largest of the teeth is probably close to 3/4 inches, and the smallest maybe 3/16", to give scale. It's mostly sharks' teeth (don't ask me to ID species); the long dark block things are rays' teeth, and the frosted crystals are Cape May Diamonds, the local name for wave-tumbled quartz crystals. The rest are just cool-looking things we found. :D

Date: 2010-05-09 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] alphaviolet
That's amazing! Thanks.

I really like the bone photos.

Date: 2010-05-09 03:22 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
I was going to comment on the earlier photos, but my brain is now all EEEEEE FOSSILS!!!! Wow, that looks like so much fun.

Date: 2010-05-11 04:05 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
Oooh, but think of the FUN you could have sorting and labeling! *grinz*


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