To climb in elevation is equivalent, at least in terms of the plants, animals and even the weather one is likely to encounter, to going north. So we decided to visit Sam’s Point, at 2,255 feet in elevation the highest point in the northern Shawangunks, not to greet spring, which had teased us with signs of its arrival only to hide from us again, but for another “last” look at winter. After a snowfall that had only just dusted the Wallkill valley, the high plateau was wintry-looking indeed.
The path we took from the Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Center followed the loop road and then the trail leading to Verkeerder Kill Falls. The two inches or so of fine snow that covered, in many places, a layer of sheer ice on the ground, making walking (without crampons) a bit tricky, clearly showed the tracks of that mountain cousin of the Eastern cottontail rabbit, the snowshoe or varying hare. Like squirrels, members of the rabbit family plant their forefeet first and then swing their hind feet in front of them when they hop. This leaves a track pattern of four prints bunched together, with the longer hind prints forward. Except that in the case of squirrels, the four prints form a more or less symmetrical pattern and rabbit tracks take the shape of the letter “Y,” with the two forefeet one behind the other, not side by side. So these were definitely rabbit tracks. What distinguished them as snowshoe hare was the wider prints left by the hind feet. Some of these hind prints showed the toes spread out, giving the feet more surface area, like snowshoes, for which the animal is named.