Hughes Mountain: Rainbows, Rhyolite, and Leaping Lichens!

October 21, 2017

A rainbow accentuates the sunrise vista from atop Hughes Mountain in Washington County.

Bill Fritz and I set out for Hughes Mountain Natural Area this morning at 5:00 A.M. The 462-acre site, featuring a sweeping vista seemed like a nice place to check out the progress of Missouri’s fall colors, and I challenged Bill to find a specialized critter that frequents the lichen covered rocks atop the mountain:  the lichen grasshopper.

On the way to the area, we ran into some rain showers and when we stopped at Potosi for Egg Sausage McMuffins, it was downright pouring! Always optimistic, we began saying things like, “The sky might look great when we get to the top of the mountain!” It was still dark when we pulled into the parking lot, and it was only sprinkling so we were relieved, considering we didn’t have any rain gear to speak of. Before we headed up the one-mile trail to the top, we did the typical back and forth such as, “Oh, look at the eastern sky; it’s really clearing up.”

Bill chose to lead the way, flashlight free, and we were on top of the mountain in no time. My GPS unit, advised me it was 31 minutes to sunrise (I didn’t even know it did that) as we made our way to the highest part of the site, which is covered with thousands of pink-colored, hexagonal rock columns of igneous rock called rhyolite. Formed from ancient lava flows, the structures are mini versions of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

As we wandered around the top of the mountain, waiting for the sun to work its magic, we noticed that fall colors were finally making an appearance across the Missouri landscape. Later, as a swath of morning light found its way through a slot in the clouds, bathing the pink granite with a palpable glow, we looked up to find a rainbow on the western horizon. After I made the featured image, we gave each other a few high fives, as we often do to congratulate ourselves for getting up, getting out, and experiencing what Nature has to offer to those who wish to receive it.

The rainbow stuck around for a while so Bill had the great idea of walking down the hill a ways and shooting it with the rhyoltic columns edged against the sky. It made for a nice image (see below) with a bit of colorful forest landscape off to the left.

The rhyolitic columns of Hughes Mountain during a rainbow sunrise.

Next, I had a goofy idea of getting a pic of Bill right under the rainbow, and surprisingly, he went along.

A rainbow springs from Bill’s head atop Hughes Mountain. Notice the colors starting to pop across the Missouri landscape.

Once we were finished with our “magic hour” shenanigans, I mentioned to Bill that it was about time for him to find a lichen grasshopper. The lichen grasshopper is only found on rocky glades such as at the top of Hughes Mountain where lichens is in abundance to complement their lichen-patterned camouflage. Lichen grasshoppers are so well camouflaged that I really didn’t expect Bill to find one of the tiny little critters, about an inch long, but within minutes, I heard Bill yell, “lichen grasshopper,” and I headed down the mountain to find him.

 

A lichen grasshopper, almost invisible on the Hughes Mountain landscape.

It was tough going as I tried to get some decent images of the little grasshopper. The sky was cloudier than ever as it was starting to rain, and I couldn’t get much shutter speed at the higher aperture settings I needed for more depth of field. I plan to go back next spring when there is a little more light to see if I can do better.

A head-on view of the incredible lichen grasshopper in its habitat.

It wasn’t long until Bill found a second subject, only about 3/4 inch long on one of the carpets of lichens. He said it wasn’t that hard to find one if you just walk around until a chunk of lichens leaps into the air, hence the title of this edition.

As it began to rain in earnest, we made our way back down the mountain to the 4Runner. We met a young couple on their way up as we descended. They were the first people I have ever seen on Hughes Mountain other than friends who were with me. That is one of the things I love about MDC’s natural areas; they are often devoid of humans — my favorite kind of place!

On the way home, Bill and I relived the morning, which had just gone so dad-burned well. We even stopped along the way for a few doughnuts at a shop in St. Clair because everybody needs a little dessert after an Egg Sausage McMuffin. My natural inclination would be to withhold such dietary imprudence from my physician but that would be difficult because Bill holds that position. Crap!

Thanks for looking,

DB

Email me at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery/Print Information:  www.dannybrownphotography.com

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