Red Eft at Frozen Head



Little red efts were crawling the wet forest floor at Frozen Head State Park yesterday. They’re poisonous to eat but generally won’t bite. They live on the land but they’ve just left the water and will return again.
They’re really just another phase of newts, a flashy youthful stage in which they roam the land.

As I point out in my book they never know their parents, not even as babies.

This was in contrast to me, at age 31, living on my own but still enjoying some time with my parents on a hike at Frozen Head, joined admittedly by 21 people and two other naturalists. Dad, a plant ecologist by degree entertained the crowd by naming and providing facts about the natural world around us, such as the eft and the iris shown below. While at the time our book describes, I wanted to break free of Dad, I realize now, just how good I have it hiking with a Dad who knows so much.

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Trillium time in Tennessee!


IMG_20190413_111039427_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgFrozen Head State Park was alive yesterday with trilliums. They come in different colors: red, yellow, pink. Often, according to my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds, a plant ecologist, they cross with each other. Ants pollinate them.
They’re easy to remember because tri means three as in tricycle. They have three big green brachts and three colorful sepals. Dad led a group of nine people that day while two other groups left with other plant experts led others a total with 21 people showing up.

My Dad and co-author of “Wildly Strolling Along” will lead many more hikes as the spring goes on letting you know more about all the colorful blooming things of East Tennessee. And I look forward to joining him.

Gallaher Bend Greenway, Oak Ridge, TN


On a short winter day sometimes you just want to escape from town (Oak Ridge Tennessee) and climb a gravel path, up and down hills through woods and fields, looking down from above at Melton Hill Lake. If so, Gallaher Bend Greenway may be the one for you. At least you won’t get lost. It’s just one path the whole way and, due to study of the surrounding area, you can’t leave it. The trail is a gravel road, but closed to traffic starting at Clark Center Park. The 4.5 mile route is not flat at all though but quite hilly, making for good exercise if you’re running.

The trail’s highlight is the open field area shown above, from which you can look down at Melton Hill Lake below, bright blue on a clear day amid the gray of winter.

With big places to go like Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberlands nearby, places like Gallaher Bend Greenway may feel too mundane for me to share, but there’s a place for simple trips as well as long ones. I look forward to a year full of enjoying many different trails: showy and understated, long and short near to me and a ways away, and you can look forward to reading about the full range of them here.

Autumn in the Smokies


Fall colors on Alum Cave Trail
Fall colors on Alum Cave Trail.

My last trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was with a friend who rarely got to see the mountains or even clean wild streams. To her everything was like being on the moon would be for me: new but wondrous.

I have seen plenty of mountain streams before. But there was one thing that made this trip special: the beginning of autumn or fall as we in the U.S.A. call it. The leaves had just begun to change at a certain elevation, like here on the Alum Cave Trail, not far from parking. We hadn’t intended to get off here and wouldn’t have except for the restrooms nearby. Our goal was Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome. But this mountain stream beneath changing leaves was a highlight for her and for me. Enjoy it for yourself.

Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains


Ah, Clingman’s Dome, highest point in Tennessee! Climb the tower’s spiraling path above the spruce trees, up to the deck where you can see an amazing view of …

Foggy view from Clingman's dome
… nothing.
Clingman's Dome in the fog
This picture was in color. I swear.

But then, just as we were about to leave a wind whooshed away those clouds giving us this:

 

Sunset at Clingman's Dome, Great Smokey Mountains
This speaks for itself.

 

Clingman’s Dome is a rather odd place. It’s at the crossroads of the Appalachian Trail and a rather uphill but paved path leading up from an overcrowded parking lot. A spiraling path leads to the top of a viewing tower.

Indeed between its benches, its gift shop with cute stuffed foxes, bears and forest critters, and its interpretive signs it’s hard to think of a place less like the wild, narrow and uninterpreted AT.

The signs are unique in that they are bilingual, in English and Cherokee, using the syllable alphabet Sequoyah developed. As they explain the Cherokee found the spot to be a sacred place. Indeed the spot emphasizes the multiple traditions: scientific, Biblical and Cherokee describing the formation of the mountains.

The Cherokee tradition, as I explain in my book Wildly Strolling Along is as follows: a giant vulture shaped the land into mountains and valleys by accident through the force of his wings, feeling very sorry afterward. There’s a certain beauty to that — unintelligent design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming at Piney River


Piney River Pocket Wilderness near Spring City, Tennessee has just a tiny number of trails and even fewer roads (the main one of which is closed now). But it is a glorious place for swimming holes. The clear, cool Cumberland water is delightful in a Tennessee summer, and unlike certain other places, it never gets crowded.

While there are swimming holes further back that are so obscure you can swim nude, you don’t even have to walk far from the parking lot to get in the water. Near the park’s picnic area there are a series of clear pools for splashing about in.

But even the beaten path in Piney River isn’t that beaten. Even on Labor Day, Yvonne and I just saw a few families visiting.

I’m no expert on fish. Fishing and/or ichthyology will probably be something for another episode. For now though I’ll just say that I love the fish in wild Tennessee pools as they’re among the few woodland creatures that actually enjoy a human presence.

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This was my first time visiting with Yvonne. When I visit with Dad, we usually go on the Cumberland Trail, as in our book, with any swimming as an afterthought.

With the Yvonne and me this time, the Cumberland Trail was an afterthought. We didn’t reach any of its more impressive scenery, but rather walked to a tiny rockhouse, kissed, contemplated our surroundings, looked at what appeared to be a whole community of centipedes under the same rock overhang and then headed back, not even getting as far as the first stream crossing the CTC website lists before jumping back in the water. Streams just call to Yvonne and me.

We have the paper company Bowater, founded by the Englishman Bowater to thank for the Pocket Wildernesses, now part of the state park system. His company created privately owned parks out of forests he did not want to use. Bowater area trails and features usually have a flair for the dramatic: tall bridges and long and steep flights of stairs.The Twin Rocks, with its steep stairs protected by a cage was one such feature, although it’s closed now and the trail to the rocks is poorly maintained.