Entries For: March 2012
What goes on at the Bent Creek Experimental Station? A group of Carolina Mountain Club members decided to find out. We had a tour and walk with Julia Murphy, interpretive guide for the Forest.
The 6,000 acres has been an experimental forest since 1925, the oldest experimental forest in the east. The general mission of Bent Creek is to study hardwood regeneration. They have data sets going back to the Vanderbilt area. Long and large data sets from over 100 years are their greatest assets.
We went on the half-mile Centennial trail. But first we had to get a safety lecture from Julia.
"There could be roots on the trail that you might trip on. Wind could blow branches in your face. And there is poison ivy, tics, snakes, bees, and wasps."
Still we all decided to go. Julia then gave us a hard hat. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they don't do any of that when you go on a ranger-led hike.
About 100 families lived in the Bent Creek area before George Vanderbilt came down. The land was burned every year to clear out the underbrush. The field started filling in with pine, then hardwoods like oaks. Now many trees were numbered in white paint, part of their study.
Julia showed us several plots that had been clear-cut. She pointed out the USFS hardly ever clear cut anymore because the public outcry. Yet, clear cutting in the Southern Appalachians doesn't bring on bare soil and erosion. The forest regenerates itself within a year.
Julia also pointed out oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant. from Japan and Korea. It wraps itself around trees and takes over native vegetation. Yet crafters still use it to make decorative wreaths.
After we returned our hardhats and thanked Julia, we went over to Hard Times Trailhead to walk a 6.5 mile loop. We had lunch on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since the Parkway is closed from 191 to NC 151, it was quiet. Cyclists were having a ball.
Spring flowers abounded: violets of all colors, star chickweeds, and bloodroot. But the most amazing were the fire pinks. They're at least a month early.
How hidden does a North Carolina place have to be to be a "hidden treasure"? Land for Tomorrow wants to know.
So they're having a photo contest. Send in your "hidden treasure", an outdoor place that not too many people would know that's special in North Carolina.
Presumably they don't want pictures of Clingmans Dome or Mt. Mitchell. But what about Wintergreen Falls - too well known? Do they want sweeping views or small details?
This is a contest with a very short life span. You have until April 24 to send your picture in one of many ways. See their website for all the details.
If you think that aging meant an inevitable slide into inactivity, you might want to consider this.
Today, Lenny and I went trail maintaining on the Appalachian Trail. It was raining when we woke up, raining when we left the house and raining when we got to the trailhead. Still we were out for several hours, clipping and picking up garbage around the trail. Twenty years ago, we would have said, "well, it's raining" and stayed around the house.
We walked up to the end of our new section - only 2.5 miles, instead of 5 we'll been maintaining for years. [Last month, we donated half the section to another maintainer.]
About two miles is the more normal length of a maintenance section but it felt short. We walked the same five miles, there and back, but didn't have that long shuttle to pick up the section car.
The trail had more garbage than usual. At one fire ring, I picked up three hot dog buns and a load of hot dogs. And lots of beer cans. The fire ring was close to an ATV trail and I'm sure all that trash was not from hikers.
On the plus side, we walked through a carpet of spring flowers - violets, hepatica, toothworths and Dutchmen's britches. Trilliums were ready to open up.
I saw my first bloodroot of the season and my first thru-hikers. Fred (aka Grandpa) looked to be doing well. If the thru-hikers are past the Smokies in March, they're doing well.
The waterfall was running swiftly.
I can't still find the name of this waterfall, so I decided to name it after us: Lennydanny Falls, about a mile north of Devil's Fork Gap on the North Carolina and Tennessee border. It's not a picturesque waterfall because of the two logs across it but it's "ours".
My second hiking guide, Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains (formerly titled Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage), has been reprinted.
My publisher, Milestone Press, gave it a different cover to match the hiking series they created. I've added GPS coordinates to all the trailheads and made some changes to trail descriptions that have changed substantially.
If you don't have the book, here are some features.
The book contains 72 day hikes, ranging in length from 1 to 13 miles. Each one includes everything you need to know to get out on the trail: clear maps and detailed directions, trailhead GPS coordinates, mileage and elevation gain, trail highlights, fees and hiking regulations, and even books and movies related to each hike location. It also includes three auto tours with shorter walks.
Throughout the book, I write about the unique history of specific trails and hiking areas, from moonshining and the origins of NASCAR in Stone Mountain's Wilkes County to Moses H. Cone's Flat Top Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers can follow the path of the Overmountain Men during the Revolutionary War, visit the fragile environment of Bat Cave Preserve in Hickory Nut Gorge, and walk beneath the monumental and controversial Linn Cove Viaduct.
His motto for this trip seemed to be further, faster, and lighter. He planned his trip thoroughly - his route, maps, food and equipment. Because of his previous trips, he was able to be sponsored by National Geographic. I would characterize his adventures as filled with
persistence, planning, and passion
He showed beautiful photos but he talked mostly about his experience and himself. He asks the basic questions:
What kind of life do I want?
Why am I doing this?
These are the questions 29-year olds should ask but really we should all ask at any age. The audience acted differently than most audiences at these talks by ultra-adventurers.
No one said the usual, "Well, he's young." They knew that they couldn't have done the same when they were his age. Or could they?
The most important aspect to Skurka is that he knows that this is his job, this is his career, not a vacation and not something to do before he figures out what he wants to do. He has figured it out.
When you're in your late 20s, you should have a direction in life, even if you change it throughout your life. Yet, he's not the usual motivational speaker where he tries to draw parallels between his adventures and the problems of middle-aged business people.
To have a base from which to keep adventuring, he's formed a guiding company. He has a staff of guides, all male of varying ages that will take you on beginning and intermediate backpacking trips. And he's written a book.
He says that some feel that "you're only as good as your last trip." That raises the ante for each adventure. For now, he's on a speaking tour and doesn't know what his next trip is going to be.
I know how he feels.
Sometimes you don’t have to have a reason to drop in on a local museum. But on the way to a Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting, I did have a reason to stop at Wheels through Time Museum. This private museum is a homage to everything motorcycle.
I was only on a motorcycle once in my life. I was a passenger a long, long time ago and I remember being terrified. But seeing motorcycles of all vintages is another thing. And I’m always thinking: would this make a good excursion at the ATC Biennial Conference next year?
The museum specializes in American motorcycle memorabilia. So plenty of Harley-Davidson, Indians and maybe a few others.
The motorcycles date back to the beginning of the 20th Century but everything runs. If it has two wheels, it runs. They have a restoration shop which keeps everything humming. And for a group, they’re willing to let you in the restoration shop. They’ll also start up a few machines.
Besides the motorcycles, they have posters, oil cans, sidecars, old leather helmets and motorcycle suits. A big climbing hill is in the middle of the floor to honor the competitors who climbed in the dirt with their bikes. They also have farm equipment and even a light plane powered by Harley Davidson engines.
For some reason, a few Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals in mint condition are also displayed. I don’t think they have Harley-Davidson engines.
What’s missing? Any mention of the movie The World’s Fastest Indian? Anthony Hopkins plays Burt Monro, a New Zealander who restored a 1920s Indian motorcycle and won a land-speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.
But I digress. Would Wheels through Time make a good ATC Biennial excursion? Let me know.
Today Friends of the Smokies kicked off its Classic Hikes of the Smokies series with a four-mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a long way to go for a four-mile hike but the mileage wasn't the point. It was to encourage North Carolinians to experience their Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Kephart Prong Trail is about eight miles from Oconaluftee Visitor Center outside of Cherokee. It was named after Horace Kephart though Kephart spent his time on the Hazel Creek/Bryson City part of the Smokies. At the beginning of the trail, artifacts of the Civilian Conservation Corp era are still there. A little further up, a small stone trout hatchery is perched at the top of a rise on the left side.
We thought this was going to be a history hike but spring flowers made their debut: Yellow and purple violets, spring beauties, Hepaticas, toothworths, white trilliums even trout lilies. Is it the middle of March or the end of April? Everything was so fresh and green it almost looked artificial. Did the folks on the hike know how lucky they were to hike in the Smokies?
We walked to Kephart Prong shelter and back, crossing five bridges. We only met three or four groups that walked past the 1/4 mile to the CCC artifacts. One group of young men asked me "How bad was it?" I told them that 22 people, almost all over 50, had just walked it and enjoyed it. Why are people not leaping to get into the backcountry?
After we came back and spent some money at the Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstores, Will Butler, a seasonal ranger, gave us a tour of the Mountains Farm Museum. This is one of the benefits of being a "Friend". At APPL, I learned that a successful event always has a ranger in uniform, wearing their flat hats.
The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on Thursday, April 19 in Cataloochee. We'll do a variation of the Boogerman Trail. Go the events page of the Friends site to find out how to sign up.
Is is possible to write about Dupont Forest without showing pictures of its marvelous waterfalls?
Yesterday I led a Carolina Mountain Club hike to Dupont Forest. Above is our group after having walked almost 11 miles. And they're still smiling.
We stopped at five waterfalls, two cemetery and Imaging Lake. Yet I chose not to taken any waterfall pictures. I don't think I'm blaze of their beauties but I noted other things.
Logging. Hikers have trouble accepting that Dupont Forest is a State Forest, not a state park. So logging is allowed. I don't think they clearcut but they log. And that's OK with me.
Danger signs. What they have borrowed from state parks are all the "danger signs". It's as if the waterfalls are going to grab a visitor and take them down. If you admire the waterfalls from the trail, it is not dangerous. Yet, I've seen international visitors take the sign literally and turn around from approaching the waterfall.
And what is this?
For years, I've seen this piece of metal on Thomas Cemetery Road.
Yesterday, someone pointed out that it was part of a gate latch. There were some cables on the opposite tree. Good deduction.
Dupont Forest is always beautiful but it's more than waterfalls.
When I blog twice in one day, you know it's something big.
Today was so beautiful that I decided to forgo a session at the "Y" and take a walk in North Asheville.
I walked up to the Grove Park Inn and further up the hill. When I came down Macon Ave., I saw three bears around the Longchamps Condominiums. They had left their dumpster open. One bear was on top of the dumpster and at one point, saw him go in. The other two bears were further back in the trees.
What is the matter with the Condominium management? Don't they realize that we have bears in the city? As I watched the bears, I attempted to slow down the traffic and point to the bears.
Most cars just zipped by past me, anxious to get to the Grove Park Inn. One guy looked at me and said "What?" When I told him about the bears, his reaction was "Oh My God. That's my house."
A block later, I saw a runner with a dog, both running toward the bears. I stopped her and told her to be careful. The bears might not take too well to the dog barking and running toward them.
Sometimes you don't have to go to a Park. Sometimes wildlife comes to you.
Sorry no pictures.
Join Friends of the Smokies for a guided hike along Kephart Prong Trail, followed by a visit to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, Saturday, March 17.
This is the easiest hike in the series and is a great kick-off to the Classic Hikes of the Smokies series. I'll be leading a four-mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail to the shelter and back. The trail is full of cultural artifacts including a former CCC camp.
I have my notes ready for the cultural part but it's been so warm that I better be prepared for spring flowers as well.
We'll also visit the nearby Oconaluftee Visitor Center, featuring interactive exhibits that tell the cultural history of life in the Smokies. The most exciting part is a ranger-guided tour of the adjoining Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and preserved on a single site. Buildings include a house, barn, applehouse, springhouse and smokehouse.
Hikers should come prepared with food, water and appropriate hiking gear for the all day excursion.
If you're a member, they ask for a donation of $10 to the Trails Forever program. Otherwise you can join right there a the meeting point. Members who bring a friend hike for free.
Want to sign up? Call the Friends of the Smokies North Carolina Office at 828.452.0720. When you sign up, they'll give you all the details of where and when to meet.
Could Columbia Mammoth, sloths as big as VW bugs and camelops have roamed the earth close to present-day Las Vegas? Fossils and research have left no doubt that 250,000 years ago, these animals inhabited the area shown above, known as Tule Springs.
It's not a scenic spot. But on the last day of my trip to Las Vegas, I was privileged to be taken to Tule Springs by Lynn of the National Parks Conservation Association. The land is now owned by the Bureau of Land Management bu the ultimate goal is to make Tule Springs, a National Park Monument.
Right now, the area is not well protected and looters have taken fossils. Only National Park status will protect the fossils and will interpret what's here for the public.
We walked into a dry wash and I wondered where the Springs had been. The earth is cracked and dry but there are plenty of creosote bushes and the occasional barrel cactus which turns pink. Lynn pointed out some fuzzy bear poppies.
But it's the fossils that has everyone excited. Las Vegas has not fared well during this recession and it's understood that the economy must have more than gambling to get visitors here. Beyond visitors, Lynn explains that residents living in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas would benefit greatly from having an urban park in their backyard.
I expect to hear more about Tule Springs, soon.