Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville

We finally had a weekend to get out together as a family and enjoy the late spring weather. Our previous two weekends our plans were thwarted, due to Sierra being sick. Today she seems well on the way to recovery and so we headed over the mountains (luckily without any instances of car-sickness) into North Carolina to explore Asheville a little bit. Our destination would be the Botanical Gardens which we had never before explored.

The Botanical Gardens were very pleasant. We stopped at the gift shop to use the restroom and then headed over to an interesting bird feeder that was suspended by a cable and had small tree branches attached to it that birds could perch on.
looking at bird feeder
We then headed over to the main trail, a half-mile loop that passes some of the most interesting attractions in the gardens. We immediately crossed an interesting wooden arch bridge
bridge over creek
crossing bridge
and then made a right at the trail junction. There were lots of wildflowers in bloom. Some we could identify, like Carolina allspice,
Carolina allspice
Jack in the pulpit,
jack in the ;ulpit
flame azalea,
flame azalea
fire pink,
red flowers
and mountain laurel.
mountain laurel
Sierra even found a tulip poplar flower lying on a rock wall.
Sierra and tulip tree flower
 Other flowers we were not successful in identifying. 
pink flowers
white flowers

The trail passed under a rustic looking shelter.
walking under shelter
Then, at about the half way point of the hike, we found the Hayes Cabin.
Sierra and Noelle at hayes Cabin
Just past the Hayes Cabin we took a detour into a field
hiking through field
which Sierra enjoyed running in.
Sierra runs through field
We then found ourselves close to a small creek. There was a set of stone stairs that led down to the water. We took advantage of them and looked for small fish in the stream.
standing near water
We also enjoyed the ambiance of the location for a bit before moving on.
We passed a small rock shelter that Sierra said "looks like a cave". There was some interesting stratification in the rock here.
cool rock
Soon we found ourselves back at the start of our hike. We would continue into downtown Asheville to eat lunch and walk around a bit. Then it started to rain on us and so we headed back to the car for the drive back to Greeneville. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Appalachian Trail: Allen Gap to Spring Mountain Shelter

The original plan for the day was a family trip to Asheville to check out the new Sierra Nevada brewery and do some hiking. However, Sierra woke up sick. Instead of our original plan, I built Noelle a raised-bed garden for Mother's Day. I had finished my project by about noon and so I had the whole afternoon to go for a hike.

Since I would be getting a late start, I opted to stay close to home. I headed to Allen Gap
Allen Gap sign
and hiked south on the Appalachian Trail.
blaze and path
I would be headed to the Spring Mountain Shelter which I had camped at just over 15 years ago during my AT thru hike. It was pretty incredible how warm it was, even up in the mountains, for an early May day. As I hiked, sweat poured off my brow. The tree canopy had largely leafed out, but the shade did not seem to offer much relief from the heat. There were lots of wildflowers still in bloom alongside the trail.
At and trillium
The usual suspects were included: trillium,
white trillium
pink trillium
wild geranium,
and dwarf crested iris.
square iris
three iris
There were some other in bloom though including squawroot
and a plant with clusters of white flowers that I could not identify.
square white flowers

I passed a sign indicating the upper terminus of the Little Paint Creek Trail.
Little Paint Creek Trail
I had been curious as to if the trail actually exists since the Paint Creek Trail is largely obliterated due to a flood some years back. Soon after I found attached to a tree a sign that stated there was a prescribed burn in progress,
fire sign
but it seems to late in the spring to do a burn at this point. Everything is too green. It must be left from a burn done earlier in the spring. Interestingly, I never did see any evidence of a burn. I soon found myself at Spring Mountain Shelter.
Spring Mountain Shelter
It's a small and rather old looking structure. There were some other hikers there already. They talked like aspiring thru hikers. Their conversations took me back in time 15 years, and concerns about water and shelters. One confident hiker stated that he is going to get an AT tattoo when he finishes the trail. Okay, but I wouldn't count my chickens before they've hatched. I got some water and signed the register and then retraced my steps on the mostly downhill section of trail back to Allen Gap. I didn't see much wildlife on the hike. Just some birds, a centipede,
curled centipede
and some thru hikers.               

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Big Fork Ridge, Caldwell Fork, Rough Fork Loop

My trip to the Smokies was a bit of an impromptu one. Noelle is getting over the same stomach bug that Sierra had and didn't want to risk going out for a hike. However, the weather was so nice I didn't want to waste such a beautiful day. I opted to avoid Gatlinburg and head over to Cataloochee to do a relatively short loop that would get me home at a reasonable time. After getting turned around and making a wrong turn en route, I found myself at the trailhead in Cataloochee after 2 hours of driving.

I parked and hit the trail
Big Fork Ridge Trailhead
immediately crossing Rough Fork on a footbridge. I then hiked the wide and mostly uninteresting lower reaches of the Big Fork Ridge Trail.
Trail through trees
There were not as many wildflowers on the lower reaches of this trail as I had seen along Porters Creek, but I still photographed some crested dwarf iris,
dwarf crested iris
and violets in bloom.
After climbing for much of the first half of the Big Fork Ridge Trail, the second half descended and its sides were decorated with lots of painted trillium. The trillium came alone,
painted trillium 1
in pairs
two trillium
and there were even trios of trillium.
trillium trio
I spooked a bear, and then crossed Caldwell Fork
on a footbridge before I found myself at the intersection with the Caldwell Fork Trail.

I stopped for a break and snack at the junction and then headed downstream to connect with the Boogerman Loop,which I had hiked last fall.
Boogerman Trail
I then turned around and headed back upstream. Shortly after passing the McKee Branch Trail, I found a well worn but steep path heading up a hill to the side of the trail. I followed it to find a small, two grave cemetery with unmarked headstones.
grave 1
grave 2
I returned to the main trail and continued on my way. I began to see more wildflowers in bloom: a different species of trillium, doghobble
doghobble blossoms
and mayapple.
I also found a large tree just off to the side of the trail which I admired for a bit
Eric and big tree
and then moved on. A large cairn marked the junction with Hemphill Bald Trail.
cairn at trail junction
Again I stopped to eat a snack before moving on.

I passed campsite 41
campsite 41
and then found a signed side trail which led to "Big Poplars".
big poplars sign
I only found one living big poplar,
really big tree
but there was a trunk and a lot of fallen branches from another large tree. Perhaps this other tree had been a "big poplar" at one time. After admiring the one really big tulip poplar I continued on the path which was occasionally lined with an interesting looking purple flower that I was unable to identify.
purple flowers
The hiking on the Rough Fork Trail was downhill and went pretty fast.
nice path
I did have to step off the trail to let some equestrians pass, but otherwise I just kept hiking until I arrived at the Woody Place.
Woody House
There is a springhouse
and home there. I explored the inside a bit and then went to the nearby Rough Fork to soak my feet as I ate a snack. As I was putting my boots back on I realized I was being watched by a few deer.
oh deer
It was a short walk back to the car at the trailhead.