Here’s a drive-by lichen-viewing site! This Lichen Site is very different from the sites on our first Lichen Trail. Two rock faces close to a county road offer several interesting characteristics. First, the site is directly on a well traveled road and is very easy to get to, and once there, to see the site in any weather or time of year. Secondly, one rock faces south and the other rock faces north. This allows each rock face to have very different qualities and different plants and lichens living on them. The north facing rock cliff is almost black, while the south facing cliff shows the natural brown colors of the sandstone.
Thirdly, the rocks are close to the road, so the toxic gases expelled by our cars as we drive by flows directly onto these rocks and anything else in the channel made by the close walls of stone. This channel holds the pollution, unlike nearby wooded areas where the exhaust can quickly spread across a larger area. I plan to use this site in the future for monitoring air pollution in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
Most of the lichens at this site are crustose type. Some crustose species are more pollution tolerant than fruticose or foliose types of lichens. There are a few foliose lichens here. Notice the bright turquoise color of the rock foam lichens in the image below. This color fades and intensifies throughout the year.
There are no markers at this site, as it is on highway right of way, but it is easy to find and hard to miss. From Highway 131, at Bridge 10, take County P to the EAST. Go east a short distance to the first intersection. This is Cut Off Road, which goes to the south. The cliffs are just east of this intersection, and also extend to the south, along Cut Off road. This site is easy to visit any time of year, so take a short drive and then take some time for a longer look. Lichens are the hidden beauties here on the rocks and trees.
You can walk around this cliff, by going in either direction. The south side, facing the marsh, is very different than the side facing the road. Can you find at least three lichen species on trees near the cliff? If you like moss and fungi, these rock ledges and cliffs have extensive communities of many species. As for the lichens, they will change with the seasons and the weather, so you may not see the same species each time you visit.
This is an interesting aspect of lichen hunting. Each location has a permanent but slowly changing population. We can see familiar members of the community but each community may seem very different at different times. By simply going back to the same place periodically, many new community members will be seen, and the regulars will change very different depending on conditions.
Cut Off Road and County P Lichen Site is a good example of how nature offers more when we slow down and stop trying to get somewhere. This site may look barren, or colorless, but by both slowing down and looking closely throughout the cliff area, and repeatedly coming back at different times, you will find an amazing amount of life here.
As well as the road-side cliffs, there is also a long band of low cliffs on the north side of County P, winding back through the wetlands and woods. It is interesting to take a slow stroll along these cliffs as there are many communities of lichen on both rocks and trees, as well as many moss, liverwort and, in season, lovely wildflowers and ferns.
Cut Off Road and County P Lichen Site offers a quick study in how much variation can occur in a small area, how even low levels of pollution affect growth and life, and how different exposure to sun and moisture influence a living community of lichens and their neighbors.