The 2,000-acre serpentine grasslands that make up Soldier’s Delight Natural Environment Area are the largest prairie ecosystem in the eastern United States. The soil, composed of green magnesium silicate, is so dry it supports only the hardiest of grasses and shrubs. A much larger area of northern Maryland once was covered in this unusual grass-and-pine vegetation. At first glance, the rock-strewn soil and short grasses might seem an unglamorous scrub forest, but a hike through the grasslands reveals a diverse ecosystem of hundreds of plant species. However, it is not the twisting grasses that give the landscape its name.
The dull green, mottled mineral that forms the underlying bedrock is serpentine. Special considerations: On a hot, cloudless summer day, the area heats to ten to fifteen degrees warmer than the hardwood forests only several miles away. Although the hikes pass into and out of pine groves, offering relief from the sun, it is a lot easier to enjoy the ecology of the area in autumn, winter, or spring. There are two hikes described below, one to the east of Deer Park Road in the flat- land and one white-blazed loop to the west that descends into the stream bottom.
© David Edwin Lillard/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.