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Photographer:
Paul Sherman

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Many plants and animals appearing here are also available (usually downscaled versions) at my wpclipart site, where I release them into the Public Domain.

Unaka Overlook


Just north of "Beauty Spot Bald" that lies on the Appalachian Trail, there is another hiking path that leads to the Unaka Mountain Overlook. At 4800 feet it is about 400 foot above the famous bald and reveals a panoramic view of the Unaka Mt. summit, Beauty Spot Gap, Beauty Spot Bald, and even, if clear, a glimpse of Mt. Mitchell in the far distance.

Rattlesnake Ridge Trail

A moderately difficulty 4-miler -- Rattlesnake Ridge (trail 26) has a wide variety of habitat, with open hardwoods and ferns, rocky pine ridges and dense rhodedendron "hells." The last mile is very un-maintained and can be quite a chore to climb over/through downed trees and rhodedendrons as well as, very near the summit, completely overgrown with grass, weeds and thorns. Quite unpleasant for all of us who wear shorts while hiking. (And in the summer, I believe that would be all of us :)

The diversity along the trail as well as the breath-taking view from the top was definitely worth the effort for me -- (spending about 1/2 hour breaking off smaller branches, as well as the climbing, etc.) I might have to look into doing a bit of real trail maintenance.

The trailhead is at the Rock Creek Recreation Area on Rock Creek Road (Rt. 395) in Erwin Tennessee. First I'll show you the custom topo map I made for the two mentioned trails:


Park entrance


Rock Creek Rec Area is about 3 miles from Erwin, and there is a $2 day-usage fee. You grab an envelope near the entrance, put in 2 bucks and slip it in a barrel.

Then you can drive a couple hundred yards more along the windy road and park just before the campground entrance, shown in the picture to the right...


Trailhead and first turns



Walk up into the campsite and only about 100 feet along, on your left, you will see the trailhead.

It has posts for 3 official trails and there are actually several destinations possible, including three separate waterfalls (three I have found so far -- which I will cover on another day!)




The first 1/3 of a mile is a gravel-lined path that stays close to Rock Creek along the west side of the campground...






At which point you will approach a wood bridge over the creek. There is a sign for Rattlesnake Ridge (trail 26, 3.6 miles), so take a left over the bridge here.




If you believed me then you'll go about 1/10 of a mile and be rewarded with visual confirmation of my directions (I told you so...) as there is a post indicating a split of trails 178 and 26 -- at which point you will again bear left and finally get on with the meat potatoes of the hike.




Blue Blazes!

Just to keep you on the straight and narrow -- trail 26 is marked with blue blazes (blazes are those paint marks on trees.)


Slash and Burn



From this point (~.43 miles) Rattlesnake Trail follows a ravine along a small stream that feeds Rock Creek (although the small stream is about dried up in fair weather by mid-July.)

About when it starts climbing out of the ravine you will notice a lot of burnt trees and stumps along the steep slope to the left of the trail. This was a controlled burn area -- as attested to by the sign a little over a half mile (.58) from the start of our journey.


Burnt tree trunk left of the trail.

Remnants of a low-intensity prescribed fire. Such controlled burns in this area are carried out using drip torches that pour out a stream of burning fuel which the forestry folks concentrate on old dead wood, pine needles, old brush and pine trees -- the goal to lessen the amount of flammable material in the forest (avoiding out-of-control fires that would be much hotter and more damaging to forest and soil), makes way for fresh growth as well as short-term open space for berries and grasses for the critters as well as room for better hardwoods like Oak to get their "root in the door" so to speak. Can also make the area less susceptible to the southern pine beetle.


A little further up the path, after the first set of switchbacks, there is a steady uphill climb with some undergrowth then blends into an area of pine. It was about there that I heard some fairly loud shuffling and scuffling about further up on the left, between pines and behind some shorter foilage. Most certainly a bear, and when I got closer (though I estimate he was about 50-80 feet away, off the trail) he quieted down. Not a sound.

Wind was coming basically up the hill from the southwest -- so my smell would have waifed up toward his location. I had no intention of trying to find him. All I carried was a macro lens (35mm) and a wide-angle. So to get close enough to a bear to get a picture was simply out of the question. I did spot some of his handiwork a few yards further along the trail -- sign of him stripping bark off an old, dead pine to get at the juicy bugs therein. Also spotted some bear scat that revealed recent dining on berries -- but I skipped a photograph. (You're welcome.)


Splash of light


Found in the shadows -- in mossy, humus-rich soil between pines and hardwoods. Amanita. Yellow-orange, it is easily spotted even before it sheds all the soil and twigs it pushes up and through.

I was passing this specimen just as a small stream of light filtered through the leaves above and illuminated the young schroom. It was literally just a minute or two later when the light passed it by. And so did I; I was being harassed by mosquitoes.

But a final note concerning Amanita -- whatever you do, don't eat one. They are quite poisonous.


Dick's Creek Gap and "Skoosh"-ing


About 1.2 miles along the trail you will be climbing slowly uphill when you come to an opening. Four other paths will be available, two of which are marked. To continue on Rattlesnake Ridge Trail you will take a right.

This is where I was most pestered by mosquitoes...



I had to take the shot above three times because mosquitoes kept getting right in front of the lens. From there I followed the trail marker and started a straight, serious uphill climb for the next couple hundred yards, along the way passing a registration box where climbers can put names and time on a paper in case they need to be searched for...

kinda gives things a more rugged feel.



I should make note that about a quarter mile further along the trail, my mosquito problem basically disappeared. At that point I slowed down enough to document one of my hiking companions... a little tool I named a "skoosh", which is sort of short-hand for "Skeeter Shoosher" (which is really tough to say.)

I have used these since early May, when I spotted an Erwin native walking near Martin's Creek. (Had to spy a little bit after he went by to see what he was carrying it for...) Man, is it ever handy. I cut a Rhodedendron branch (or whatever looks good) about 1 1/2 feet long and leave a tassle of leaves on the end and use it like a horse uses his tail.

Minimal effort, really good at discouraging bugs from hanging around your head and neck and back.


Groundpine


A bit over 1.5 miles in I found a patch of Lycopodium obscurum (the young plant shown was not mature enough for the spoor cones that form at its top.)

They look like baby fir trees, but they are really a clubmoss and are also commonly referred to as Tree Clubmoss or groundpine, a perennial evergreen with deep rhizomes -- which means many of them grow up from one long underground "vine". Related to Ground Cedar, which my family used to make Christmas wreaths with when I was a kid, and the ground pine pictured is used for decorations as well, since they also stay green all year.

A couple interesting facts: The spoors that form in the cones, (aka Lycopodium powder) was used in early flash photography and by magicians to make a safe, smokey "explosion" -- you guessed it, the powder is highly flammable. Another trick you can do with the powder is put water in a glass, cover surface with the powder, then slowly dip a finger in... when you take your finger out it will be covered with powder, but be perfectly dry. (Not exactly a flashy magic trick, but kinda neat.)

The forerunners of the clubmoss lived in the late Paleozoic era (more specifically in the Carboniferous period, over 300 million years ago.) They were huge, growing up to 30 meters high and were a major source of plant material that would later turn into coal beds.


Progress and location



Why the wilderness is marked so far up the trail (1.64 miles), I do not know. It was a foreshadowing, perhaps, of the trail conditions I was to find a mile or so further on...



1.8 miles out, walking along the trail as it followed a ridge. Some blueberries to my left along the mountainside -- below was the view to the SSE while peeking between the trees as I picked and ate. (Saving on water, you know...)

A Tale of Two Forests



Pines



Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana), aka Scrub Pine. Grows from NY in the north, southward as far as Alabama. You'll find them on steep slopes and sometimes on very rocky ground because they can grow in poor soil.



Greater Tickseed growing in open space between pines along a rocky ridge.

Although there is little soil among the rocks, and is acidic from the pines, the flowers take advantage of the unblocked sun and the frequent summer storms that bring them rain.

Parts of the Smokey Mountains are considered a temperate rain forest, recieving up to an average of 85 inches of rain annually. (Although Unaka Mountain gets somewhat less, but still a lot.)


Hardwoods


Part of the joy of hiking in the Smokey Mountains is how you can take a turn in the trail then BAM, it's like you're somewhere entirely different. A thicket of hemlocks, some open hardwoods and grass, pines with nothing but needles on the ground, or rocks and moss and water trickling between brooding Rhodedendrons... you never know what you're going to see next.

Here I've pictured an area hardwoods and ferns I walked through about 3 1/3 miles along Rattlesnake Ridge trail. As you can see I "stylized" the image.


Classic Rock


It behooves me, at some point, to make mention...

The Appalachians are old. Very old. They were once likely as tall and majestic as the Alps are today, and ran through the heart of the supercontinent Pangea. Torn apart (parts of the original range are in present-day Africa), worn down over the millenia, and much later, due to plate reversal, rejuvinated in the collision between what are now Africa and the Americas.

The rocks at the core/bedrock of the Southern Appalachians are over one BILLION year old. You don't see them much, with the mountains again worn down, covered with soil and vegatation -- but here and there you can spot rocks, striated, jutting out at weird angles -- left a seeming mess by folding and thrust faulting so long ago...


Almost There

The last mile of the trail was basically unmaintained. Trees crossed the path in many places, very near the end brush and weeds and thorn bushes covered the path completely -- and in shorts my legs were scratchd up for many a day after the hike. What was the worst, however, was a Rhodedendron "hell" just prior to being 3 miles in. It took me about 20 minutes to crack enough branches out of my way to get through -- and there was no way around.

Next trip there I will bring a saw and machete to help improve things a little more.

At just over 4 miles I spotted the summit down the path, but saw this flower I had never seen before to my right just off the trail... so I had to stop. I tried to take my time with the plant but I'll admit I was a bit anxious. Turns out the purple bloom is known as a Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), and has been claimed to cure just about anything and everything at one time or another.

A perennial herb that is edible as well as medicinal. Quite a pleasant suprises when I was home and looked it up -- but I moved quickly to see the view...



The View


Breathtaking.

Looking from the 4,840-foot elevation, on my left was the summit of Unaka capped by firs, panning to the right, on and on along the spine of Unaka, I could see all the spots I had enjoyed hiking the Appalachian Trail to Unaka; Beauty Spot bald, Deep Gap, Deep Gap Bald -- they were all laid out right in front of me.




Lingering, Returning



Once known as Pleasant Garden, the area on the summit is surrounded by old stonework, speaking to a time when this was likely a very popular picnic location.

I was sitting on the edge of the stones and clicked off a shot of a daisy. Nothing extraordinary, I had already taken the series of shots for the panoramic and was just sitting there soaking everything in before I headed home.




I just started back down the trail when I spotted this "remembrance" on a post -- the cross and poem facing the summit, it was easy to overlook on the way up.

A loved ones favorite place? A site that made the living remember? I can only guess...




Trail Updates



Subsequent climbs and trail clearing...

Trail grooming


08/08/2010

Spent the day sawing, mostly Rhodedendrons, but also several trees. Brought 4 water bottles but ran out.

Didn't get any pictures of the flora, but did manage to gash my leg up with the saw, blister up my hands pretty badly and wear myself out completely -- and loved every minute of it :)

Also, my pedometer read that I had gone 14 miles while only 3/4ths of the way up the trail, so I guess I can't try to keep track of mileage with it while I am sawing...




11/07/2010



Just a few flakes of snow sitting daintily on Rhodedendron leaves when we got on the trail at Rock Creek Park, but a couple thousand feet in elevation later, you can see my daughter Amanda trudging through several inches.


Didn't feel nearly as cold as it looked, the sun was out and I got quite warm working my way uphill.


Unaka's peak and Amanda are behind this snowman that greeted us at the summit. Someone who drove up likely made this the day before (no footprints on the trail from that day except ours.)



Snowball rubdown.
Mountain-man shower.

Honestly, I was so hot by the top it felt (almost) good. Certainly felt better afterward.

You can see Deep Gap Bald under my raised elbow, and Beaty Spot Bald to the far right of the ridge.


12/19/2010


A cold December.

I was hoping to get a shot from the overlook of the swift-moving clouds that were passing the ridge, but a a squall came up at the summit (about 3:30pm) and I couldn't even see the ridge, and did not have time to wait as I had the 4 mile climb down, and there was easily over a foot of snow along the upper parts of the trail.

Got these shots that I pieced together into a partial-panorama on the way up... about a half hour before the weather closed in. That's Deep Gap all frosted over.




Topics

Plants
Wildflowers and plants. Lots of wildflowers...

Animals
Many (especially waterfowl) are from Erwin Linear Trail.

Waterfalls
Only pictures of those on public land, so you can visit yourself w/o hassle.

Beauty Spot
Flowers and berries and critters -- a guide up to Beauty Spot with great shots along the trail.

Unaka Overlook
A 5 mile trek out of Rock Creek Park. Not part of AT, this is my "pet" trail. Awesome view.

Erwin Linear Trail
Photos and mapping of the trail that runs the length of Erwin along the North Indian Creek and the Nolichucky River.

Appalachian Trail
Photos, scenic and plants mostly, from day hikes along the AT.

Related Sites

Tennessee Wildflowers
Kris Light has a wonderful site full of pictures and information. Her site has helped me ID several flowers.
TN Wildflowers


Appalachian Treks
Mark Peacock has some great pictures and info on trails around my area of Eastern Tennessee.
App. Treks


Hiking Bill
Sort of an online tour guide to S. Appalachian hiking trails, by someone who obviously loves to hike.
Hiking Bill


TN Wildflower Gallery
These pages on by Cheryl Hiers, who obviously does a lot of hiking and photography.
Wildflower Guide


Flicr
Wildflower field guide. Just tons of wildflower photos, some really exceptional.
Flicr Flowers

Conservation

Plastic Waste
Every piece of plastic ever made still exists...
Very Cool YouTube Video...