Saturday, October 31, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hyatt Ridge, Enloe Creek, Beech Gap II Lolipop Hike

My plans for this overcast Halloween was to head back over to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and finish hiking the trails off of the Straight Fork Road. I woke up early and made the drive over to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I turned off the parkway and onto the dirt Bunches Creek Road for a twisting descent through the Qualla Boundary and down to the trailhead on the Straight Fork Road. My car was the first to pull into the trailhead parking area on this overcast Saturday.

I hit the Hyatt Ridge Trail
Hyatt Ridge Trailhead
with a steady ascent through the mostly bare trees.
Hyatt Ridge Trail
Leaf litter was thick on the treadway. This time of the year there are not many wildflowers to photograph and so I steadily climbed without stopping very often to take photos. The one thing that I did stop to photograph on this first section of the Hyatt Ridge Trail was a wasp nest on the trail.
wasp nest
Luckily there were no wasps to bother me.

When I had reached the junction with the Enloe Creek Trail,
Trail junction 1
I turned left and started a pretty steep descent. Soon I could hear the cascading water of Raven Fork far below. When I had reached the stream I found a very sturdy steel bridge spanning the stream with some beautiful cascades nearby.
Raven Fork Bridge
I crossed the bridge
bridge from top
and admired the view of the thundering Raven Fork
view from bridge
before beginning a long ascent. The trail sometimes strayed far from its namesake Enloe Creek, but at other times approached it very closely.
cascades on Enloe Creek
There was one un-bridged crossing of Enloe Creek. It was easy enough to rock hop in the low water level of the fall.
Enloe Creek crossing 2
There were still a few blooming wildflowers along the trail; asters and goldenrods.
There were also a few interesting fungi decorating the trailside.

I reached the junction with the Hughes Ridge Trail
Beech Gap trail junction
and turned around. It was a pretty quick descent back to the Raven Fork Bridge.
hiking on bridge
Then it was a steep climb, in colorful but slippery leaf litter,
back up to Hyatt Ridge Trail. I turned left onto Hyatt Ridge Trail and intermittently ascended and descended. There were a few large trees scattered along the side of the trail. None of the trees were state champions, but they were still impressive. This big oak was one of the more impressive trees.
big oak
At the junction with Beech Gap Trail,
last junction
I continued on Hyatt Ridge to check out McGee Springs at Campsite 44. The campsite was pleasant, the springs were not as impressive as I had been led to believe. Resting in the spring water I found an empty can of Budweiser.
Come on people, it's called #Find Your Park, not Trash Your Park. I crushed the offending can and placed it my pack for safe transport home. Then I turned around and headed back to Beech Gap Trail.

It was a really quick descent down the Beech Gap Trail. In less than an hour I found myself at the Straight Fork Road
Beech Gap Trailhead
for the last leg of my hike: a road walk.
Straight Fork Road
The road walk was not that bad. Surprisingly , not one car passed me as I made my way back to the car. Last week this road had been really busy. I guess Halloween has kept a lot of visitors at home. The road walk offered me lots of chances to view the pretty Straight Fork.
Straight Fork
I also found an interesting improved spring alongside the road.
Finally, this "woolly worm" crossed my path.
wooly worm
I'm not sure what this coloration means for predicting winter weather though.  

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