© Bob Pickett
LOCATION: West Rim trail of the
'Grand Canyon' of PA (Pine Creek, Tioga County, PA)
GEOLOGY: The ridges of this
section of the Appalachian plateau are the Pocono sandstones ( and limited
shales) of the lower Mississippian era (350 mya). This formation is the
same that underlies Dolly Sods and surfaces in Canaan Valley. It is a
depositional layer from short-lived mountains to the east formed during the
Acadian Orogeny (~375mya). Topographically, the Pine Creek valley is
interesting in that, like the Ohio River, Pine Creek ran north to the Great
Lakes until the most recent (Wisconsian) glacial ice shield of the ('current')
Ice Age some 20,000 years ago dammed it's flow, forcing it to back up in a lake
and find new discharge routes to the south. As the final ice shield melted
some 13,000 years ago, the deposited debris melted out of the receding ice and
the newly eroded stream bed, assured that the gradient was still to the south,
resulting in today's southerly flowing river.
HIGHLIGHTS: This was a 2 1/2 day backpack along the lower two-thirds of the 30 mile long West Rim trail. We started Saturday afternoon at the wildlife refuge trail (milepost 9), and hiked to mp13 (Little Slate Run). Sunday, we hiked from mp 13 to mp 26.5 (Bohen Run). Monday, we hiked out the last four miles to Blackwell. Blackwell Hotel has good food and drinks, but is not open on Mondays. Chuck Dillon operates the Pine Creek Outfitters, who certainly has cornered the market on this presumptuously named valley. Chuck will provide shuttles, run summer rafting, rent you bikes, canoes, rafts, and will even hire himself out to you for half day hikes. He also has lots of publications on the area to sell you. For a starter, call him at (570) 724-3003 for a free very informative brochure on the area's many resources/services. Would you believe horse rides and covered wagon rides?
Fall foliage was nearing peak, with
excellent red blackgums and red/yellows of maples. Having snow
flurries on Sunday was somewhat unexpected. However, as scenic as the canyon
was, calling it the 'Grand Canyon' does seem to be a bit of commercial
BOTANY: The northern section of the West Rim trail is predominantly a northern mixed hardwood forest (beech, birch, maple, hemlock and red oak), while the southern section (below mile 20 is predominantly a mixed oak forest, with more oak, pine, and ericaceous shrub layer of mountain laurel and blueberries.
Canopy - Black cherry, beech, sugar and red maple dominate the canopy, with some northern red oak, white ash, basswood, black birch, hemlock, white pine also showing up. Others include white birch, big-toothed aspen, white and chestnut oak, pitch and red pine. One wet low area contained a population of red spruce and larch that appeared to be native.
Subcanopy - Striped maple led the way, with witch-hazel (in bloom) in the drier southern section. Sassafras, ironwood, hop hornbeam, shadbush, and a few American chestnuts (one about 8" in diameter) and black gum were also found.
Herbaceous flowers - This was the end of
the season, even for the goldenrods and asters. Goldenrods included S.
graminifolia, rugosum, . Asters included A. undulatus and cordifolia.
Others in bloom included white snakeroot, and pearly everlasting. Those in
fruit included Jack-in-the-pulpit, Queen Anne's lace, common burdock, white
avens, false Solomon's seal, Indian tobacco, and milkweed. Those in
foliage only included colt's foot, Canada mayflower, Indian cucumber-root, wood
sorrel, cleavers, wild sarsasparilla, trailing arbutus, and sharp-lobed
Ferns and Fern allies - Intermedia wood
fern was the most common fern. Also, marginal and Christmas ferns were
abundant. Maidenhair, polypody, lady, New York, hay-scented, sensitive,
interrupted, and bracken ferns were found. Three clubmosses were locally
abundant (L. annotinum, obscurum, and digitatum).
Groundcovers and lianas - Not a
lot. Some dewberry in open areas. Grape vines, partridge berry, and
a spot of oriental bittersweet and some hog-peanut.
Mammals - A few deer, red and gray
squirrels, and chipmunks.
Amphibians - A couple of red-backed
Reptiles - None
Birds - A few migrating solitary
(blue-winged) vireos, numerous turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, raven, blue
jays, black-capped nuthatches, downy and pileated woodpeckers, golden-crowned
kinglet, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, and a
DATE: August 27 – September 3, 2001
LOCATION: Mt. Katahdin, and other day hikes in Maine
GEOLOGY: The origin of most of the rocks are muds from the offshore marine depositions, which were shoved west and uplifted in the mountain-building Acadian orogeny of the Devonian period (350 - 400 million years ago). In this process, the marine muds were metamorphosed into shales, schists, and gneiss. Wednesday’s Tumbledown Mtn was a granite formation, similar in formation to the Old Rag and Pedlar granites (slow-cooling subsurface magma, enabling the formation of large minerals), only much younger.
HIGHLIGHTS: The moose encounters and the hike up to Baxter Peak (Mt. Katahdin) were memorable. Saw four moose; three cows, one with a calf. Watching the calf pacing down the road (both legs on one side striding together) was the epitome of grace in an ungraceful creature. One cow was drinking from a puddle by the road when I approached her. She allowed me to approach to about ten feet, and then, after nonchalantly looking at me and around the scene, she walked several steps towards me. At four feet, I put out my hand, spooking her, causing her to step back and continue observing me from about eight feet. After another five minutes of my talking to her, I walked twenty yards back to my car, only to turn and see her walking towards me again. While I stood at my opened front door, she came up to the corner of the car nearest me and began sniffing the front of the car and looking at me. Eventually, she walked away.
Another highlight was climbing Mt. Katahdin on Labor Day Sunday. This was not the best date to plan our hike. First, this is a state park with very limited parking. Second, this was Labor Day weekend, and, finally, Saturday was a rainy, overcast day, so most hikers postponed their hike to Sunday. We were told Saturday afternoon that the gates to the Park open at 5 am, and, in order to get a parking permit at Roaring Brook campground (the trail head for the “Knife Edge” trail to the top), we should plan on arriving at the gate by 3:30 am! We chose to arrive at 2:00 am Sunday morning, and were the 19th car in line! With only 20 parking spots available at Roaring Brook, we were pleased to get our permit at 5:15, after a few hour sleep in the car.
The hike up to Baxter Peak from Roaring Brook is about 3 miles, with an altitude increase of 3,750'. The trail is the Helon Taylor trail, up to Pamola Peak, and then includes a section known as the ‘Knife Edge’, a truly spectacular half mile stretch along a glacial cirque edge, often only about 10 – 15’ wide, with a 2,000 + foot drop almost straight down. At one point, it gets down to about 5’ in width. Baxter Peak, the summit of Mt. Katahdin, is the highest elevation in Maine at 5,268'. It apparently is the only peak in Maine not covered by the mile-thick glacial ice shield of 20,000 years ago. I'm also told it is the first point of land in North America to see the Sun on a clear morning. The rocky outcrop provides a full 360 degree view of west central Maine. This trail is steep, intimidating, and strenuous. Probably about five times more exciting/challenging/difficult than Old Rag. Perhaps the single, most unique, hike in the eastern US. Certainly mine! After reaching the summit, it is recommended to return by the Saddle trail, not the Cathedral trail, which is even more steep and difficult going downhill than the Saddle trail. Lots of fir clubmoss in the rocks above treeline.
26 plants made my 'life list' (New plants in the below text are underlined). Over the past two years, I’ve made four extended trips to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the southern Appalachians, and, of course, I’m very familiar with the central Appalachians. But this is the first trip I’ve made to the northern Appalachians since the early 70’s; prior to my botanical education. New plants for me included two ferns (ostrich and male) and 9 new heath members, including three rhododendrons (Lapland rosebay, Rhododendron lapponicum; Labrador tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum; and rhodora, Rhododendron canadense), bog bilberry, Vaccinium uliginosum; mountain cranberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea; alpine azalea, Loiseleuria procumbens; pale laurel, Kalmia polifolia; leatherleaf, Chamaedaphne calyculata; and alpine bearberry, Arctostaphylos alpina. Two other heath members had only been seen once before. The snowberry, Gautheria hispidula, seen once at 4000’ in West Virginia, was common and in fruit, tasting similar to it’s common brother here in the central US, teaberry, or wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens. The other was sheep laurel, Kalmia angustifolia, seen once in the Anne Arundel coastal plain.
A personal record of 16 ferns were found on one
day trip on the Appalachian Trail from the Kennebec River, over Pleasant
Mountain, to near Moxie Pond. If only pteridophile Ron Sanseverino was
ITINARY: This was a week of day hikes from our base at Sugarloaf Ski Resort near the Bigelow Mountains of the Appalachian Trail in westcentral Maine, about 200 miles south of Mt. Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail. Sunday, we hiked two miles up to Carribou Pond, just north of the ski resort, and meandered all around the pond, throughout the boggy perimeter. Moose tracks were everywhere, and we also found bear, otter, and raccoon tracks. Monday, we hiked 8 miles along the Appalachian Trail, from the Kennebec River north, over Pleasant Mtn. to Moxie Pond. Two new ‘life’ ferns were identified; the male and ostrich ferns. In fact, this was a single day record for me with 16 ferns identified (New York, hay-scented, bracken, polypody, sensitive, Christmas, lady, long beech, ostrich, interrupted, cinnamon, oak leaf, male, intermedia, marginal and mountain). Tuesday, we hiked up about 7 miles along the Burnt Mountain trail from the resort (a shoulder of Sugarloaf Mountain) and looped around on the east closed side of the trail through downed trees and back on cross-country trails to our condo. This hike had some good open habitat above treeline that included spireas, velvet-stemmed (low sweet, or sour-top) blueberries (V. myrtilloides), alpine bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina); mountain cranberries, three-toothed cinquefoil, and black crowsfoot. Jane did her memorable face plant that would be the topic of conversations the rest of the week. Wednesday, we did a 5 mile loop over Tumbledown Mtn. This included a loop up the Burnt trail to Tumbledown Pond (where we found sweet gale; Myrica gale) and over the summit of Tumbledown before coming down an extremely steep and challenging trail down from the summit. (A trailhead sign said not suitable for children or pets. No kidding!) We recommend hiking up this trail and coming down the Burnt trail. A two mile walk along the gravel road will be required. We met a fisherman who caught over a dozen brook trout at Tumbledown Pond and was off to set his bear-bait sites (he used Hostess cupcakes for bait). Thursday, we hiked from near Kingfield over Mt.Abraham, Mt. Spalding and over the top of Sugarloaf Mtn; the second highest point in Maine. It is most satisfying to know you are hiking in balsam fir forests. Friday, we toured the towns of Ridgley and Farmington, had my moose encounter, and stopped at an Indian reservation museum. Saturday was a travel day to Baxter State Park, and a short walk on the Roaring Brook nature trail; a bog trail including three-leaved Solomon's seal (Smilacina trifolia), pitcher plants, labrador tea, pipewort, snowberry, and Vaccinium myrtilloides. Sunday was the great hike up Mt. Katahdin. We Monday was our 12-hour return drive, including a view of the World Trade Towers along I-95.
BOTANY: The forests are northern hardwood in the lower elevations (under 2000’) and boreal coniferous forest above this elevation. Above 3000’, the spruce thins out, and healthy fir forests dominate the higher elevations. It feels nice to know you’re hiking in a fir forest in the Appalachians. The common shrubs were striped maple, speckled alder, and hobblebush. The common groundcovers included bunchberry, Clintonia borealis, wild sarsasparilla, wood sorrel, goldthread, Canada mayflower, and snowberry. Mountain fern (D. campyloptera) was the dominant fern. Juncus and grasses populated rocky summits above timberline.
Subcanopy - Numerous species of birch were found throughout the week including heart-leaved, northern, yellow, and white. Others included red elderberry, mountain and striped maple, mountain ash (both S. americana and decora), Bartrams' shadbush, some witch-hazel, white cedar, alternate-leaved dogwood, quaking aspen, one large cucumber magnolia, and red cherry.
Shrub layer - Hobblebush; Viburnum alnifolia, was the number one shrub. Nine new heath members, including three rhododendrons, listed in highlights above. Interestingly, of the three kalmia species, the mountain laurel is alternate leaved, the sheep laurel is opposite, and the pale laurel is whorled! Speckled alder was somewhat common, with mountain alder found at higher elevations of Mt. Katahdin, mixing with the speckled at lower elevations. Blueberries included V. myrtilloides, angustifolium, cespitosum, uliginosum, and black huckleberry. Others included two viburnums; northern wild-raisin (V. cassinoides), and squashberry (V. adule), Bartram’s shadbush, mountain holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus), bristly black and skunk currant, mountain bush honeysuckle, hazelnut, red-stemmed dogwood, meadowsweet and hardhack spirea (S. latifolia and tomentosa), choke and pin cherry, and a few roadside common junipers.
Herbaceous layer - Goldenrods included stiff, lance-leaved, rough-stemmed, large-leaved, Canada, and Rand’s (on Tumbledown Mtn). Asters included New England, New York, whorled, flat-topped, large-leaved, wood, small white, calico, silverrod, and cornel-leaved. Other common flowers in bloom included white snakeroot and pearly everlasting. Others in bloom included a few late bunchberry, mountain sandwort, fireweed, black-eyed susan, wild lettuce, Indian pipe, yellow wood sorrel, yarrow, oxe-eyed daisy, red clover, eyebright (E. americana), Northern bugleweed, Canada St. Johnswort, spotted impatiens, mouse-eared and devils hawkweed, white avens, turtlehead, Indian tobacco, and spreading dogbane. Although not in bloom, the wild sarsasparilla was definitely the most common herbaceous plant, found on every day’s hike. Blue-bead lily was common and in fruit, as were the Canada mayflower and bunchberry. Others in fruit included painted trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, one-sided and round leaved pyrola, Indian cucumber-root, twisted stalk, false Solomon’s seal, both the red and white doll’s eye, spikenard, Others in foliage included goldthread, star flower, tall meadow rue, foamflower, alumroot, golden saxifrage, pink lady slipper, and wood strawberry.
Among the Carribou bog were the narrow-leaved gentian, flat-topped asters, rough bedstraw, white bog orchid, American brookline, cottongrass (pipewort), sundews, and northern bugleweed.
Ferns and fern allies - Bracken and mountain wood fern predominated the week (the former in the more open areas, the latter in the more undisturbed areas). The oak leaf was also pretty common, along with the long beech and lady fern. Others included New York, hay-scented, polypody, sensitive, Christmas, ostrich, interrupted, cinnamon, male, intermedia, and marginal. Club mosses included L. obscurum, flabelliforme, clavatum, annotinum, selago, and inundatum. Horse tails were also found (E. arvense).
Groundcovers and lianas - Snowberry was the highlight, with it’s edible
wintergreen white fruit (Gaultheria hispida). Dewberries, goldthread,
partridge berry, red and black raspberries, and diapensia on the
Otter Creek Wilderness, WV
a bear, even from the car, is always a highlight. The 3500’ bog along Moore’s Run was the
botanical highlight with many unique plants including
St. Johnswort, Hypericum
red and black chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia and melanocarpa;
mountain holly, Nemopanthus mucronata; winterberry, Illex
verticillata; hardhack, Spirea tomentosa; red elderberry, Sambucus
pubens in fruit; American burweed, Sparganium americanum; northern
wild raisin, Viburnum cassinoides; cottongrass, and some nice royal fern,
being the most noteworthy. The
yellow St. Johnswort dominated the bog with occasional highlights of pink
hardhack dotting the landscape.
was a three-day trip, making use of a base camp for the two night stay. Starting from Alpena Gap on Route 33, we
drove past Bear Haven picnic area to the trail head on Otter Creek. Saturday, we hiked 5.5 miles to Moore
Run trail, crossed the creek and found our base camp on the left side of the
trail (the best campsite is past the first campsites along the trail, at the end
of a side trail, about 100 yards from Moore Run trail). Sunday, we hiked up to the bog just
beyond the intersection of Moore Run and Turkey Run trail. From there, we hiked up to the summit of
McGowan mountain on Turkey Run trail.
Just prior to the trail’s descent, the old trail departs to the left,
through what is identified as an old growth forest on the true summit of McGowan
mountain. While occasional flagging
was found, and even short stretches of the trail, abandoned in 1991, were found,
we found ourselves fighting through 8’ rhododendron to find modestly large
trees. The biggest tree was
actually right on the Turkey Run trail; that being a 2’ 8” diameter red
maple. Within the “fight” at the
summit, were 2 ½’ diameter red spruce, hemlock and red maple. We then returned to our base camp, some
of us more bloodied than others.
Monday simply was a return to our car at the trailhead. (If two cars were used, the Mylius trail
would offer a different route on one of the legs into the Otter Creek
The Otter Creek drainage basin is a “U” shaped syncline of sandstone from the
early Pennsylvanian era (315-270 million years ago). These are part of the Pottsville Group,
more specifically, the Kanawha formation.
The Kanawha formation reaches a maximum thickness of about 2,100’ south
of this area, being about 50% sandstones, along with interbedded shale,
siltstone, and coal seams. Many of
these sandstones have been quarried for building stones. Deposition in this region came from
higher elevation sources to the SE and sediment varied with meandering
streams. The greatest coal seams,
including the Pittsburgh coal (with a common thickness approaching ten feet),
were to be deposited in later Pennsylvanian formations.
area, timbered in the 1920’s, has a somewhat limited diversity, owing to it’s
elevation, high rainfall, and homogenous habit. Only at the bog, was there substantially
varied plant material. Being late
summer, there was also very few flowers in bloom. The few dominated throughout the
Canopy: Black and yellow birch, beech, hemlock, red spruce, and red maple had the run of the forests. Others included sugar maple, black cherry, white pine, a few northern red oaks, tulip trees and even a few red pine (probably planted). No ash or basswood were seen.
Subcanopy: Fraser magnolia was the
dominant subcanopy tree. Striped
maple, shadbush, a few witch hazel, cucumber magnolia, and a couple of black
locust were also found.
shrubs were in the bog, as noted in the highlights above. The great
was the most common shrub, along with mountain laurel, mountain holly (I.
and striped maple (included as a subcanopy tree). One large American hazelnut
was found in a clearing, as were a few blueberries.
Herbaceous Layer: Few white snakeroot were found, with the diminuitive northern bugleweed being most common in the wet areas along the streambanks. Two herbaceous St. Johnswort (Great and Dwarf; Hypericum pyramidatum and mutilum) and one woody species (glade; Hypericum densiflorum) were found. Only one goldenrod was found, that being the rough-stemmed (S. rugosa). Others in bloom included Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata), sundrops, beebalm, common Joe-pye weed and sweet-scented Joe-pye, bull thistle, clearweed, yellow oxalis, self heal, chicory, oxe-eye daisy, daisy fleabane, spotted impatiens, . Foliage from whorled aster, violets,angelica and Canada mayflower was seen, and common milkweed was in fruit.
Ground cover and vines: Dewberry was the most prevalent groundcover. Smilax, raspberry and black raspberry were evident, with some Dutchman’s pipevine in fruit. The arrow-leaved tearthumb was often found among the northern bugleweed and sedges. Several Indian pipes were still looking good.
Ferns and fern allies: New York and hay-scented dominated, with intermedia wood fern and some cinnamon. Others included Christmas, bracken, Four clubmosses were seen (Lycopodium flabelleforme, clavatum, annotinum, and obscurum). At our campsite, the ground was carpeted with rich, beautiful running pine; L. flabelliforme, with intermedia woodfern as vertical accents.
woodfrog and American toad were seen.
two snakes were seen, both dark and gone before identification could be
Birds: Few birds were heard at this time of the summer. Some pileated woodpeckers and red-eyed vireos punctured the quiet. Cedar waxwing are always a welcome site, being heard and seen in open areas above bogs and streams. Others included black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, golden-crowned kinglets, turkey vultures, a flushed grouse, and what consensus told us were magnolia warblers.
arrival at the parking lot near Alpena Gap, three of us observed a bear walk
into the woods. A few deer were
seen, while scat and trails were evident, and raccoon scat was seen in the bog
on a prominent log. Speaking of
scat, one bear scat of nothing but red raspberries was found with several in
good enough shape to eat. No, I
didn’t. Chipmunks and gray
squirrels completed the furry animal display.
DATE: July 14, 2001
GEOLOGY: Mainly Catoctin greenstone, with some contacts with the lower Swift Run formation.
HIGHLIGHTS: This was the final Audubon Naturalist Society hike in a series covering the Appalachian Trail in the central district of the Shenandoah National Park. We hiked 5.2 miles from Milam Gap to Lewis Mountain Campground. Bob Pickett was the leader.
In all, 31 species of wildflowers were found in bloom (including a white flowering form of heal-all), along with 14 ferns.
A few nearly-ripe roundleaf gooseberries (Ribes rotundifolia) were shared among the group.
Two northern ring-necked snakes were found, and many Turk’s cap lilies were found in bud, a good percentage with the floral buds nipped off by deer.
An unexpectedly challenging rock “scramble” over Bearfence Mountain offered us beautiful views, scarlet oak, ninebark in fruit, southern harebells in bud, and some yellow-flowering northern bush-honeysuckle. Near the rocks, Virginia wild roses were in bloom.
A canopy American chestnut tree was seen in flower on a western-facing sidetrail on top of Hazeltop Mountain, along with some mountain ash.
Near Lewis Mountain, a drier SW aspect slope was crossed, with pitch and white pine, chestnut oak, ericaceous shrubs, pink lady slippers, wild sarsasparilla, and turkey beard.
BOTANY: The area is a region of second or third growth forests. A mixed hardwoods forest of hickories, oaks and northern hardwoods predominated. A few large trees with spreading branches in the younger upright trees indicated their former years were spent in open pastures, perhaps providing shade for summer cattle.
Canopy – Maples (red, sugar), oaks (northern red, a few bear, scarlet, chestnut and white), white ash, basswood, black cherry, black locust, black birch, tulip tree, and hickories (mockernut and shagbark). White and pitch pine and chestnut oak were common on the drier south and southwestern slopes, along with pignut hickory, while hemlock made its appearance in wetter habitats. As stated above, a large American chestnut was seen at the west-facing overlook on Hazeltop.
Subcanopy – Numerous old apple trees were found along the trail, and especially at Milam gap. Hawthorns were seen in the open forest, over a bed of hay-scented fern. Young of the above, plus yellow birch, sassafras, blackgum, witch-hazel, chokecherry, sweet cherry, alternate-leaved dogwood, shadbush, and some very large hop hornbeam were seen.
Shrub layer – Wild hydrangea was in bloom, with striped maple, mountain maple, spicebush, maple-leaf viburnum, mountain holly, gooseberries, hazelnut, with some mountain laurel, rose azalea, Minnie-bush, and blueberries on drier slopes. Common elderberry was in bloom, while the more northern red elderberry was in fruit.
Herbaceous flowers – Plants in bloom included columbine, poke and common milkweed, viper’s bugloss, gray beardstongue, basil balm, wood nettles, yellow (pale) impatiens, white avens, large-leaved houstonia, bladder campion, enchanted nightshade, honewort, tall bellflower, heal-all (including a white form), wood sunflower, cleavers, black snakeroot, sundrops, yellow and white sweet clover, queen anne’s lace, chickory, oxe-eye daisy, common fleabane, wild stonecrop, bouncing bet, mullein, sweet-scented joe-pye weed, Indian pipe, and whorled loosestrife. Plants in fruit included turk’s cap lily, fly poison, thimbleweed, cow parsnip, Jack-in-the-pulpit, blue cohosh, garlic mustard, white doll’s eye, aniseroot, false Solomon’s seal, Virginia waterleaf, hairy-jointed meadow parsnip, pink lady’s slippers, Plants in foliage only included wild geranium, meadow rue, angelica, wood betony, dwarf cinquefoil, ginger, wild sarsasparilla, crested iris, horse balm, with southern harebell in bud.
Ferns – Hay-scented fern dominated the ground cover, due to it’s unpalatability to deer, with some New York fern, Cinnamon, interrupted, Christmas, marginal, intermedia, bracken, maidenhair, broad beech, rock polypoly, lady, and spinulose fern. Ebony spleenwort was also seen.
Groundcovers and lianas – The trailing Lonicera sempervirens was seen twice in bloom along the Drive. Striped wintergreen was also in bloom. A lot of virgin’s bower (C. virginiana) and wild grape were in bud. Some wild yam was also evident. Blackberries and raspberries were just entering maturity.
Mammals – Numerous female does and young along the Drive, with only one buck (in velvet) found along the trail. Also, a chipmunk and gray squirrel were seen.
Amphibians – A mountain dusky and lead phase of the red-backed salamander were found.
Reptiles – Two northern Red-necked snakes were found; one was somewhat squooshed under a rock on the trail.
Birds – About four ruffed grouse were flushed alongside the trail. Bird calls were scarce at this time of the season, what with the first broods being fledged, and not many males soliciting females for mating. Some were heard, such as the scarlet tanager, great-crested flycatcher, rufous-sided towhee, goldfinch, red-eyed vireo, nuthatch, chickadee and tufted titmouse. Others included the American redstart, pileated and downy woodpeckers, wood thrush, blue jay, catbird, crows and ravens.
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DATE: June 23 – 25, 2001
LOCATION: Blackwater Falls State Park, WV
GEOLOGY: Predominantly sandstones of the Pottsville Group in the Pennsylvanian System.
HIGHLIGHTS: I can now say that I have seen a mountain lion. This was seen by myself, Chris Lamond and Jane Thompson as we drove along FR 13 (TR113) near Blackwater Falls State Park. We were driving to the Table Rock overlook trail when we saw this ‘deer’ about 50 yards ahead in the road. It approached the tall grasses on the left, and then turned around and rather casually walked across the road to the right side and jumped the ditch and went into the woods. By the time it entered the woods we were about 30 yards from it. It was unmistakable, with it’s tawny solid pelage, long legs, and cat walk. Interestingly, its tail was bobbed; only being about 4 – 6” long. How it lost its tail we won’t know, but we will presume that it is a release, as all cougars in the eastern mountains are presumed to be. (For more information on our eastern cougar population, you can check my website at http://www.bobpickett.org/ , clicking on Appalachian Mammals, Species Accounts, and scroll down and click on mountain lion.
Another highlight was having three cubs run across the trail ahead of us. I suppose we missed the sow cross the trail before the cubs.
And a third highlight was finding a gingseng plant in bud.
A bog area had cranberries scattered throughout.
At the end of the Olsen Tower trail was a 3’ 5” diameter black cherry tree.
Itinerary: Using the Monongahela National Forest Hiking
Guide ((7th Edition), our trip is mapped on page 80-81. We drove as close to Big Run on FR 717
as the road allowed. This was just
short of TR116 at point A. (BTW,
the map reverses FR18 and FR717. FR
18 is the road that intersects US 219.
FR 717 is Canyon Rim Road)
Driving out Saturday
morning, we arrived at our campsite
at point G on page 80 by about 1:00pm.
We then hiked TR117 to the Olsen Tower, and then took TR 118 until it
disappeared in a nettles field near the point where it supposedly loops around
back north. (This is where the 3 ½’ cherry tree was located.) According the
description, a loop can be made by following the USFS logging road (FR 906) at
1.1 mile to the right to its gated entrance and junction with Canyon Rim Road at
3 miles. Maybe it does, maybe it
doesn’t. We certainly went over 1.1
miles and never came to FR 906.
Edition 6 doesn’t show this loop.
Why it’s included now, I don’t know. We bushwhacked and looped around in a
circle and retraced our steps back to the Olsen Tower. (This is where we found
the gingseng.) We then hiked along the roads back to our campsite at Point G on
the Canyon Rim Road. This hike was
about 6 miles.
Sunday, we took TR116 to Canyon Rim Road,
bushwhacked downhill to TR 115, traveling downstream to TR 142, and then back to
point L on Big Run. ONCE AGAIN, the
book shows a trail uphill from this point L up to FR 717, but, believe us, it
ain’t there! We did a adventurous/
hazardous/painful trip through rhododendron and greenbriars. Considering the rest of TR 142 to point
J and back on the Canyon Rim Road to our campsite is about 3 miles, you do not
save time, and you will save your legs from many scratches. Our total hike was about 14 miles.
Monday, we visited Blackwater Falls, including the
cliffs at the end of the Pendleton trail, visited the new Davis National Bank
(to view the historic photos of the town in it’s early 1900’s heyday), and then
to Table Rock overlook for lunch before returning home. (This is when we saw the mountain
Canopy – These forests were cut in the first quarter of the 20th Century, as were practically all of the WV forests. Current forests at this elevation (3000 – 4000’) are dominated by black birch and black cherry, with some beech, yellow birch, red maple, hemlock, red spruce, red pine, white ash, basswood, and a little sugar maple and white oak. Drier areas include northern red oak, hickory (mockernut, pignut, and shagbark), black locust, some big-toothed aspen, and pitch pine. Sycamore was found along the Blackwater River. Most interestingly, a few sourwood and fraser magnolia were found.
Subcanopy – In addition to young canopy trees, striped maple is the predominate subcanopy tree. Shadbush, witch-hazel, black gum, a few mountain maple in rocky areas, sassafras, mountain ash, cucumber magnolia, quaking aspen, paw paw.
Shrub layer – Rosebay rhododendron, mountain laurel are most prevalent. Others include spicebush, wild hydrangea, blueberries (highbush and velvetleaf – V. myrtilloides), red elderberry (in fruit), American chestnut saplings, pin cherry, hazelnut, northern wild-raisin (viburnum cassinoides), and shrubby St. Johnswort in boggy areas. Along the railway were Hercules’ club, Russian olive, slippery elm, and staghorn sumac.
Herbaceous flowers – Few flowering plants were found at this time. Two habitats were visited; the interior woods, and a long stretch along the open former commercial railway. As far as the woods are concerned, the gingseng was the best find. Also, very large leaves of recently bloomed pink lady slippers were found, along with fruiting trillium erectum and grandifolium, blue cohosh, Solomon’s seal, and fairy bells. Flowering woodland plants included wood sorrel, white avens, ramps, broad-leaved waterleaf, Virginia waterleaf, and honewort. Foliage of wooded plants included whorled aster, Indian cucumber root, black snakeroot, Canada mayflower, clintonia, nettles, ginger, wild yam and tick trefoils. Along the sunny railway, oxe-eye daisys predominated with yellow sweet clover, daisy and common fleabane, poke milkweed, black medic, viper’s bugloss, woodland sunflower, flowering raspberry, wild basil. Foliage of Solidago rugosa was common in the sunny areas, along with Indian hemp, joe-pye weed, field hawkweed, coltsfoot, poison ivy.
Ferns and fern allies – Hay-scented ferns invasively covered acres of previously timbered land. New York ferns were also common, along with Christmas, marginal, intermedia, cinnamon, interrupted, mountain, broad beech, rock polypody, and bracken. Club mosses were a common occurrence, with L. obscurum, clavatum, flabelleforme, and annotinum often found in mixed groups. Along the ditches of the railway were horsetail, Equisetum arvense.
Mammals – One mountain lion, three bear cubs, chipmunks, red squirrels, a dead Sorex shrew, and several deer. Also, tracks in the mud were found for deer, raccoon, and bobcat. An interesting bear scat was found with lots of deer fur and several deer teeth. Probable coyote scat was found.
Amphibians – Spring peepers were heard, and a green frog, a southern leopard frog, and an American toad were found.
Reptiles – Three garter snakes and a black rat snake were found.
Birds – The birds are on nests and getting quiet at this time. However, numerous black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers were heard, as were some solitary and red-eyed vireos. Other birds heard or seen over the three-day trip included many robins (including two robin nests), a bevy of eight young grouse with two adults (and about six others flushed over the weekend), two turkey, blue jay, turkey vulture, winter wren, pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hermit and wood thrush, veery, northern junco, rufus-sided towhee, American redstart, cedar waxwing, Canada warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, ovenbird, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks.
DATE: May 27 – June 10, 2001
LOCATION: Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
HIGHLIGHTS: This was a two-week Earthwatch Institute volunteer program. I assisted Dr. Roger Powell; NC State, Head of the Department of Mammology. There were seven staff and seven volunteers. We stayed at the Davidson River campground, with hot water and showers. This is a nice campground just outside of Brevard; half an hour south of Asheville. For the last twenty years, Dr. Powell has trapped and radio-collared black bears in this area near Brevard. His efforts are to identify high quality forest habitat by using black bear as an “indicator species”. The concept is that if the habitat is good for bears, then, with bears being at the highest of the food chain, by default, the habitat will be good for all species below the bear in the lower trophic levels. Use of salamanders as an alternative indicator species is also being tested to identify quality habitat. (Nesting birds were to be counted as another alternative indicator species, but the grant was not approved.)
Each day consisted of staff and volunteers walking 2- 7 miles and checking the 5 or 6 snare traps on each trail (we normally set up five trails). At 11 am, all members would rendezvous and, if a bear was captured, all would proceed to assist in “processing” the bear. This processing, after anesthetizing the bear, included many measurements, vital statistics, tattooing, pulling a small tooth for aging, weighing, and placement of a radio collar on females. (Collars were normally not put on males, since they tended to wander beyond the range of the radio reception.)
Over the 14 days, eight bear were caught, and three additional bear were seen. On the last day, a mother sow was caught, with her two cubs watching intently from high above in a tree top.
In the afternoons, if no bear were captured, we assisted in setting up grids for future salamander monitoring. Another activity was radio tracking the bear. Eight-hour shifts were maintained with 24 hours between each shift.
I handled two 4’ black rat snakes and a smaller garter snake. (Jackie’s life has been enriched by holding the small garter snake, who “warmed” to her hands.)
The botanical highlight was the Vasey’s trillium found on Buck Spring trail. For the first week of the trip, they were still in their velvet dark-scarlet splendor. The Catawba rhododendron, mountain laurel, flame azalea and more uncommon Carolina rhododendron (R. minus) were all in bloom and beautiful. It was interesting that the Carolina rhodos seen along the Davidson River (2500’) were only in bud, some on the Looking Glass trail (~3000’) were in full bloom, while those on upper ridgelines (4000’+) were ending their bloom and fading. Apparently, the coolness of the river and the deep shade, or, in the case of the Looking Glass rhodos, the aspect (NE-facing, moisture-rich site, held the lower two sites back, while the Parkway rhodos had been pushed along by the exposed, and, often, rock, road, or grass area-warmed habitats. Either that, or the lower elevations were cloud-covered for a number of days while the upper ridges were in full sun.
It was also interesting to note that the Carolina rhodos were ahead of the mt laurel on the Looking Glass trail and Parkway site, but were behind the mt laurel along Davidson River.
A family of 6 – 8 Sorex long-tailed shrews was observed racing around their den/nest for ten minutes before a failed attempt to grab one quickly dispersed and silenced the family. Initially, three shrew were seen scrambling into a rock hole, literally nose to tail, characteristic of the masked shrew’s “caravanning” behavior. (To give you an example of their fast reflexes, I slowly was able to crouch forward and down, getting my hand to within two feet of one of their entrances. Poised and waiting, I let several opportunities to strike go by so as to get a better feel for the speed needed. Finally I shot my hand out as quick as I could. By the nano-seconds my hand had traveled half-way to the capture site (i.e., one foot), the shrew had stopped. By the time my hand hit the hole, he had turned and started running away.)
Golden coral and sulfur shelf mushrooms were found and shared with the group for dinners.
One afternoon was spent with Roger Powell in search of a lost radio collar. We scrambled along the slopes of Mt. Pisgah for a few hours. Such adventures make for great possibilities. For example, several very old yellow birch were found; the largest with diameters of about 3 ½’. Being exposed on these high elevation slopes, the trees were quite twisted, with large low limbs and limited height. Twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) in fruit, yellow clintonia, or bluebead, in flower (Clintonia borealis), mountain fern (Dryopteris campyloptera), and some edible sulfur shelf mushrooms were a few of the prizes of this endeavor. After much crawling through beautiful blooming Catawba rhododendron and mountain, the fading batteries prevented us from claiming our ultimate goal. A definite highlight of the trip none-the-less.
Finally, the scenic highlight of the trip was an evening hike up to Looking Glass Rock. Prior to this, my favorite eastern US view was from Table Rock, WV, near Blackrock Falls State Park. But this scene is in a class of it’s own. Not only can you view more than 180° of unobstructed horizon, including the summits of Mt Pisgah and Cold Mountain, but you stand on the edge of a massive granite exfoliating dome-like edge, that drops precipituously 400’ straight down. The site is certainly a point of religious contemplation! DO NOT walk on this steeply sloping smooth rock surface when it’s wet! Nearby is a helicopter landing site for emergency rescues/body removals.
Other afternoon hikes took me to Mt Pisgah and the Pink Beds trail near the Cradle of Forestry site, where a massive R. maximum, 40’ x 40’ was found.
On Sunday, June 10, I drove over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to observe the “synchronized fireflies” phenomena, which occurs at the Elkmont campground during the middle of June. Unfortunately, although the numbers of fireflies was spectacular and many groups of fireflies did flash in unison, the massive synchrony of fireflies that normally occurs, did not take place the two evenings I was present. Jonathan Copeland, entomologist from Georgia State, was present. Apparently, this species, Photinus carolinus, is responsible for this phenomena. This event can be viewed wherever high densities of the species occur. Such densities can be found at around 2500’ elevation, mainly in North Carolina mountains, where little agricultural pesticides have been introduced. In addition, about a hundred bioluminescent (and clear-bodied) fly larvae were found on a soil bank, appearing like a starry constellation. Conversations with Dr. Copeland indicated that larvae of fireflies are bioluminescent and, like the fly larvae, are also known as glow worms. Bioluminescence in firefly larvae is a warning device, like the bright red of red-spotted newts and coral snakes, to warn potential predators of their toxic fluids.
A day hike on Dry Creek/Fork Ridge trails in the
GSMNP resulted in my hearing my first yellow-throated vireos and finding my
first Goldie’s fern (Dryopteris goldiana). Other than that, however, the
promised “old growth” forest was quite a disappointment, with obvious selective
cutting having removed the true giants and allowing substantial herbaceous and
woody shrub growth to invade the stream valley (especially Leucothoe
editorum; formerly fontanesiana).
Canopy – Most of the forest we ran our snares on were at 3000 – 5000’ elevation. Depending on the aspect of the terrain, the more mesic canopy consisted of hemlock, black birch, basswood, a few sugar maple and white ash, with more xeric slopes containing red and chestnut oaks, red maples, blackgum, pitch, shortleaf and Virginia pine, Red spruce were found at higher elevation in the Pisgah and Smokies.
Subcanopy – Carolina silverbell was found throughout, with sourwood, cucumber and fraser magnolia being common. A few umbrella-leaf magnolia were found on the Cradle of Forestry grounds. Others included witch-hazel, shadbush, flowering and alternate-leaved dogwood, American hornbeam, hop hornbeam, and Hercules’ club. Healthy young fraser fir trees and some mountain ash were found at higher elevations of the Smokies. (The balsam wooly adelgid apparently only affects more mature trees.). Yellowwood (Cladratris lutea) was found on the Cucumber Gap trail in the Smokies. One butternut walnut was found behind the Pisgah District Visitors’ Center.
Shrub layer – Mountain indigo-bush (Amorpha glabra) and sweet leaf, or horse sugar, (Symplocos tinctoria) were new woody plants for me. Ericaceous plants were the seasonal winners on this trip, finding all three evergreen rhododendron (Catawba, Carolina and Rosebay), three azaleas (flame, sweet, and roseum), mountain laurel, menziesia, blueberries (especially V. corymbosum, erythrocarpum, vacillans and stamineum), huckleberry (especially G. ursina), dog-hobble (Leucothoe axillaris, var. editorum), fetterbush (Pieris floribunda – only one found behind the Pisgah Inn - perhaps planted), and male-berry. Other non-heath plants included viburnum (V. acerfolium, cassinoides, and nudum), mountain winterberry, southern mountain bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), mountain pepperbush (Clethra acuminata), bristly locust, silky dogwood (C. amomum), strawberry bush (E. americanus), wild hydrangea, currant, hawthorn, black chokeberry, yellowroot, red elderberry in fruit and common elderberry in flower, Hercules’ club, and spicebush.
Herbaceous flowers – The highlight was the Vasey’s trillium. Also, one ginseng was found in bud. Others in bloom included pink and yellow lady’s slippers, Jack-in-the-pulpit, racemed milkwort, Canada violet, yellow sweet clover, yellow corydalis, wood betony, cowwheat, selfheal, gray beardtongue, spiderwort, Canada Mayflower, sundrops, winter cress, swamp saxifrage, dwarf cinquefoil, wild sarsaparilla, goatsbeard, yarrow, yellow pimpernel, golden alexanders, hairy-jointed parsnip, meadow parsnip, columbine, Virginia waterleaf, Bowman’s root, common cinquefoil, Indian strawberry, swamp buttercup, creeping buttercup, whorled loosestrife, wild geranium, blue-eyed grass, yellow stargrass, introduced lily-of-the-valley, white and yellow clintonia, great Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seal, Devil’s bit, field hawkweed, rattlesnake weed, oxeye daisy, common fleabane, tassel rue, and a common, but unidentifiable early meadow rue. Others in fruit included lyre-leaved sage, trillium (painted, large-flowered and wake robin), early meadow rue, creeping bluets (H. serpyllifolia), hooked crowfoot, fairy bells, perfoliate bellwort, twisted stalk, Indian cucumber root, Mayapple, blue cohosh, and white baneberry. Others in foliage included northern white violet, large-leaved white violet, horse balm, crested iris, cleavers, spikenard, sweet cicely, agrimony, star chickweed, fly poison, sharp-lobed hepatica, bunchflower, two species of false hellebore (Veratrum viride and V. parviflorum), Turk’s cap lily, black cohosh, wild yam, and, of course, stinging nettle.
Ferns and Fern allies – The big find was the Goldie’s fern near campsite 58 on Dry Creek in the Smokies. Southern lady ferns dominated the Pisgah National Forest, while intermedia woodfern and silvery spleenwort carried the day on the Cucumber Gap/Little River and Dry Creek/Fork Ridge trails in the Smokies. Other ferns included all three of the osmunda ferns (cinnamon, interrupted, and royal), maidenhair, hay-scented, bracken, five of the wood, or shield ferns (marginal, intermedia, spinulose, mountain, as well as the Goldie’s), Christmas, broad beech, New York, sensitive, ebony spleenwort, and rock polypody. Fern allies included Lycopodium annotinum and obscurum.
Groundcovers and lianas – Dutchman’s pipevine dominated the lianas, with grape and some Virginia creeper also found. Cow vetch and leatherflower were in bloom. The normal groundcovers were found, led by galax, and including spotted wintergreen, teaberry, trailing arbutus, smilax (including the large Smilax herbacea), raspberries, blackberries,
Mammals – No deer were seen until I got to the Smokies, where about six were seen in two days. A family of sorex shrew were found, but not caught. White (non-albino) gray squirrels were found at the Sycamore Flats picnic area. And two baby bats were found on the ground beneath a nursery colony using the campground bathroom eaves as a day roost.
Amphibians – Gray treefrogs (H. chrysocelis), spring peepers, and a few bullfrogs were heard. Jordan’s salamanders, northern two-lined, slimy, seal and dusky salamanders were found.
Birds – This was a terrific trip for warbler bird calling. Chestnut-sided, black-throated blue and green were the most common, with black and white also being routinely heard. Other commonly heard birds were solitary and red-eyed vireos, ovenbirds, northern juncos, winter wren, rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, cedar waxwings, robins, and bluejays. Other birds heard or seen included broad-winged hawks, turkey vultures, quail, turkey, mourning dove, whip-or-wills, chuck-wills-widow (at Pink Beds trail), yellow-billed cuckoo, barred and screech owls, chimney swifts, ruby-throated hummingbird, belted kingfisher, pileated, yellow-shafted, and hairy woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern peewee, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatch, yellow-throated vireos, a least flycatcher and great crested flycatchers, wood thrush, veery, blue-gray gnatcatcher, golden-crowned kinglet, Canada, northern parula, hooded and worm-eating warblers, American redstart, indigo buntings, raven, American crow, and northern cardinal.
LOCATION: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
HIGHLIGHTS: The timing of the trip was to view the spring ephemeral wildflowers. Although the last week of April is the ideal time for the general distribution of wildflowers, spring was in full flower, with our count for the week reaching 73 species. Five species of trillium and ten species of violets were found. Finley Cane trail was loaded with the nodding trillium. With our backpacking plans eliminated by events discussed below, we did several of the most popular wildflower spots. This included Porter’s Creek, Chimneys’ picnic area loop, and the first quarter mile of the Chestnut Top trail. Despite the beauty of the wildflowers, they paled besides the grand masters of the forests. The virgin forests are always an awesome and somewhat religious sight. Such old growth was seen at the Albright Grove and beyond on the Maddron Bald trail, the Ramsey’s Cascades trail, Snake Den trail, and Anthony Creek trail. Two highly recommended day hikes are the 8 mile Ramsey’s Cascade hike and the ~13 mile Maddron Bald/Albright Grove/Snake Den Mountain trail. While this later one requires a shuttle, the trip through the old growth above Albright Grove and the Maddron heath bald, with it’s unique high elevation vegetation, is memorable.
For big trees, Ramsey’s Cascade trail had 4’ diameter buckeyes, black cherry, sugar maple, and a 5 ½’ diameter red oak to go along with the portal twin tulip trees of 4 ½’ and 5’, followed by another tulip tree with a 6’ diameter. Along the Snake Den trail, near Cosby campground, were 2 ½’ diameter sugar maple, a 2’8” black cherry and 3’ hemlock, buckeye, and tulip tree. And the Albright Grove had 3’ silverbell and hemlock, and two tulip tree; one of 4 ½’ and a 5’ 9” tulip tree with an elderberry shrub growing high off the ground in the broken snag of the main trunk. Porter’s Creek trail had 3’ hemlock and sugar maple and a 5’ tulip tree just before reaching the backcountry campsite.
Another botanical highlight was the high elevation balds, with the Carolina (R. minor) and Catawba rhododendron, sand myrtle, Fraser fir, red spruce and mountain fern (still identifiable from last year’s fronds). These were found on Maddron bald and along the Alum Cave trail and the top of Mt Le Conte.
While the balsam woolly adelgid (an introduced aphid-like insect) has eliminate virtually all of the mature Fraser fir in the Park, the young growth seems less desirable (or more resistant) to the aldegid, and it was encouraging to see the healthy dense stand of young fir on Mt. Le Conte.
The weather has to be considered a highlight, with Tuesday morning (April 17) starting off at 22°, with 2” of snow accumulating during the morning. In fact, it never got above freezing that day.
The warblers were just beginning to arrive, with only the males of the black-throated blues, black-throated greens and the black and white warblers being found in any numbers. On several occasions, males were found only a few yards apart calling their little hearts out, defining each’s territorial boundaries, and on two occasions, major chase scenes between males were observed. A pair of broad winged and red-shouldered hawks were viewed soaring over the canopy.
No bear, mountain lion or wild boar sightings. And we were not in the Cataloochee region where the elk had just been released. Only some coyote tracks in the snow and boar rooting was found.
HIKE ITINERARY: This was an eight-day backpacking trip with Kurt Rowan and Jane Thompson. Unfortunately, the night before we left, Kurt called to say two of his kids had come down with pneumonia; thus preventing him from joining us.
Our planned trip was as follows:
Saturday – From Maddron Bald trail to Old Settler’s Trail to campsite 33
Sunday – Old Settler’s trail to Porter’s Creek trail to campsite 31
Monday – Bushwhack up the “manway” to the Appalachian trail north to Charlies’ Bunion, down Dry Sluice Gap to Cabin Flats trail to campsite 49
Tuesday – Continue down Dry Sluice Gap to Bradley Fork trail, Hughes Ridge trail and Enloe Creek trail to campsite 47
Wednesday – From Enloe Creek trail to Hyatt Ridge rail, Beech Gap trail, up Balsam Mountain trail to the Laurel Gap shelter.
Thursday – Gunter Fork trail to Low Gap trail to the Appalachian trail and on to the Cosby Knob shelter.
Friday – Continue along the Appalachian trail, a short distance on the Snake DenRidge trail and then the Maddron Bald trail to campsite 29
Saturday - down the Maddron Bald trail and through the Allbright Grove and beyond to Gabes Mountain trail to campsite 34.
Sunday – back out to the Maddron Bald trail, and back to the car.
However, on making our reservations, we found that the Porter’s Creek campsite was closed to hikers due to recent bear ripping up tents, and all the shelters on the Appalachian trail were booked due to the through-hikers, so out the window went our plans. Furthermore, it was possible that Kurt would drive down Tuesday and meet with us at campsite 47, but we wouldn’t know for sure until Monday whether he would actually be joining us. So, we finally decided to reserve campsites for a three-day followed by a four-day backpacking trip. The first trip Saturday through Monday was from Tremont up the Middle Prong trail to campsite #28 on Lynn Camp Prong trail; continuing to the Miry Ridge trail, Jakes Creek and Meigs Mountain to campsite #20, and finishing Monday afternoon along the Lumber Ridge trail and return to Tremont. The wild flowers were plentiful and diverse. On Sunday, just beyond campsite 28, was a wonderful display of wildflowers, including yellow mandarin, Carolina spring beauties, trillium erectum and phacelia. About 3/4 mile beyond campsite 26, was an opening in the woods with excellent views west. At this sandstone point was lots of mountain laurel, club moss (L. obscurum), trailing arbutus in bloom, galax, table mountain pine, and pin cherry. Along Jakes Creek trail, just past Panther Creek trail (over the ridge) was another wildflower hotspot, with dwarf gingseng, meadow rue, squirrel corn, yellow mandarin, black snakeroot, trout lily, blue cohosh, violets and false Solomon’s Seal. Early Monday, on the Meigs’ Mountain trail, old home foundations and rock walls reminded us of the former inhabitants of this area. A large unknown metal item made in Knoxville, TN (perhaps part of a farm implement pulled by horses), was located along the trail. At the junction of the Meig’s Mountain and Lumber Ridge trails, the aspect of the trail changed from north-facing to south-facing, and the associated vegetation was dramatic; changing from moist habitat with ash, maple and basswood, to dry barren soils with pitch and table mountajn pine, chestnut oak, azaleas and bracken fern. Numerous pitch pines were dead from the southern pine bark beetle, with the bark recently chipped off by pileated woodpeckers.
It was Monday, as we returned to Tremont, that we found out about the severe cold and snow forecast for Tuesday through Thursday (with temperatures ranging from 25 to 30 degrees below the normal). Imagining life in the higher elevations, with the possibility of very cold rain and freezing night temperatures and wet clothing, we chose to stay in the campground and do day hikes. (We also called Kurt Rowan, who was hoping to join us Tuesday, and told him NOT TO COME, since we would not be backpacking.) It got down to 9 degrees, or 12 degrees, on Mt. Le Conte, depending on whom you believe. We were joined by Ray Abercrombie at the Elkmont campground and hiked in the snow on Tuesday 11 miles from the Cades Cove campground up Anthony Creek, over Bote Mountain trail to Finley Cane trail and back along Crib Gap trail. The snow on the evergreen rhododendron along the streams was beautiful. By noon, along the Bote Mountain trail, the snow had ended, and we enjoyed views east up to the Appalachian trail at Thunderhead Mountain, where the hoar frost created a beautiful white glaze above 4,000’ elevation. Finley Cane Trail is a very nice wildflower trail, with numerous nodding trillium and a sink hole at the junction with Lead Cove trail and the main Laurel Creek road. Although the temperature never rose above freezing, the snow and constant hiking resulted in a fine day. Wednesday found us moving our campsite to the Cosby campground and hiking up the Maddron bald trail, through the Albright Grove, and up to Snake Den trail, and return to a parked car at the Cosby campground. Of course, the Albright Grove is a highlight, but the virgin growth beyond (and just before) was just as impressive. It was noteworthy to see the high tree canopy providing a cover for the open woods, enabling a wonderful plethora of herbaceous wildflowers to thrive on the ground. Then, along the trail, in the snow, was a brown egg with a corner eaten out of it. Probably a ruffed grouse. Several were seen and tracks were found. Also, a coyote had traveled about two miles along the trail, leaving it’s tracks in the snow for us to follow. Then, about a half mile before campsite 29, a short trail leads to an outcrop with a northern exposure with the first spruce, Catawba rhododendron, Leucothoe editorum, highbush blueberries, and reindeer lichen. Finally, about a mile beyond campsite 29, you near the actual bald with Catawba rhododendron suddenly replacing the rosebay even in the shade of the deciduous canopy. Then, on the left, a bank of sand myrtle (Leiophyllum buxifolium, var. prostratum) shared the slope with the native rocks, mountain laurel, rhododendron, spruce, galax, and teaberry. Shortly ahead, the sky opened and the trees parted exposing the heath bald of 8’ rhododendron, 9’ highbush blueberries, leucothoe, teaberry, galax, and a scattered few spruce and red maple. At the junction of the Maddron Bald trail and Snake Den Ridge trail, the hoar frost was reached, with two inches of frozen fog packed on the windward sides of every woody stem, with nothing on the leeward sides. At about this spot, a few young Fraser fir were found to be in excellent condition. And, as noted above in the highlights, several more big trees were found about a mile from the Cosby campground. Thursday we went up the Porter’s Creek trail to the campground and then continued up the “manway” (an unmaintained footpath) most of the way up to the Appalachian trail. Only the extremely hazardous steep, snow-covered talus slope of unbalanced rocks kept us from reaching our goal. Friday, we took the Alum Cave trail to Mt. Le Conte, and Saturday, we took the Ramsey’s Cascades trail.
Canopy: Hemlock, maple (sugar and red), basswood, white ash, tulip tree, oaks (northern red, white, chestnut), blackgum, beech, black cherry, Fraser’s fir and red spruce at highest elevations, yellow buckeye, mockernut hickory, pine (white, pitch, and table mountain), sycamore, and black walnut.
Subcanopy: In bloom, were silverbell, striped maple, shadbush, flowering dogwood, Fraser’s magnolia, paw-paw, redbud and sassafras. Other subcanopy trees included sourwood, black and yellow birch, ironwood, hop hornbeam, mountain maple, sweet cherry, witch-hazel, sweetgum, black locust, and umbrella magnolia.
Shrub Layer: Rhododendron (rosebay, Catawba, and Carolina), smooth alder, American chestnut, devil’s walking stick, azaleas, blueberries, mountain laurel, northern bush-honeysuckle, buffalo nut, sweet pepperbush (Clethra acuminata), sweetshrub (Calycanthus fertilis) (in bloom), alternate-leaved dogwood, spicebush, American holly, dog-hobble (Leucothoe editorum), Leucothoe racemosa, red elderberry (in bud), sand myrtle, viburnums (V. alnifolium-in bloom, prunifolium, and cassinoides), wild hydrangea, yellowroot, and pin cherry.
Herbaceous Layer: In bloom; bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cut-leaf and slender toothwort, dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn, wild geranium, columbine, two gingers (A. Canadensis and little brown jugs; Hexastylis arifolia), Fraser’s sedge, Jack-in-the-pulpit, great and smooth Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seal, yellow mandarin, perfoliate and large flowered bellwort, trillium (large-flowered, painted, wake robin - both red and white forms, nodding, and yellow toadshade), yellow stargrass, crested iris, showy orchis, spring beauty and Carolina spring beauty, wild pink, fire pink, star chickweed, wood anemone, rue anemone, blue cohosh, hooked crowsfoot, white baneberry, May apple, wild bleeding heart, smooth rockcress, wild stonecrop, lettuce and early saxifrage, bishop’s cap, foamflower, wild strawberry, violets (Canada, downy yellow, halberd-leaved, long-spurred, bird’s foot, early blue, common blue, marsh blue, sweet white, pale), dwarf ginseng, aniseroot, yellow pimpernel, meadow parsnip, golden ragwort, trailing arbutus, pennywort, wild blue phlox, fringed white phacelia, henbit, dandelion, plantain-leaved pussytoes, bluets, wood betony, dwarf cinquefoil, wood vetch, common and dwarf cinquefoil.
In bud: Indian cucumber root, Canada mayflower, Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis), and galax.
In foliage: Umbrella leaf, black cohosh, lilies, Virginia waterleaf, prenanthes, Michaux’s saxifrage, false hellebore, ramps, and hairy angelica.
Ground cover and vines: Blackberries, raspberries, running strawberry, wineberry, dutchman’s pipevine, poison ivy, grape, Virginia creeper, greenbriar, teaberry, spotted pipsissawa, cranesfly orchid, puttyroot, and partridgeberry.
Ferns and fern allies: Lycopodiums (annotinum, obscurum, flabelliforme), ferns (mountain, marginal, intermedia, Christmas, polypody, walking, broad beech, southern lady, maidenhair, New York, hay-scented, bracken), and Botrycium virginianum.
Amphibians: Northern red, seepage, black-bellied, and red-cheeked salamanders
Reptiles: One little garter snake and a broad-headed skink.
Birds: Warblers (Black-throated green, black-throated blue, black and white, Northern Parula, chestnut-sided, American redstart, ovenbird), solitary and red-eyed vireos, northern juncos, wood thrush, robin, cardinal, blue jay, winter wren, golden-crowned kinglet, phoebe, hummingbird, hawks (broad-winged, cooper’s and red-shoulder), turkey vulture, woodpeckers (pileated, hairy, downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker), titmice, white-throated chickadees, crows and raven.
Mammals: Deer, gray squirrel, chipmunk, two unidentified voles, coyote and wild boar tracks
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