Friday, April 15, 2016

Ace Gap Trail --Early Bloom Season

Daisy Fleabane 

Ace Gap Trail --Early Bloom Season

Thursday April 14, 2016

Dana Koogler solo hike

4.5 mile RT 

Pictures are here: 
Ace Gap Pix

   I had been doing a lot of art and music and less hiking than usual for Spring.  I 
was feeling a bit one dimensional so I worked on finishing creative projects and improving my piano playing.  I had the house in good shape.  I had my desk cleared of a stack of important errands and
phone calls.  I had learned numerous songs on the piano.  I had to get out of the house and back 
to the woods.   I wanted to do something closer to home that did not involve a long drive.
More time in the woods and less time on the road.    I picked Ace Gap to Beard Cane. I figured
the wildflowers would be real pretty.    

      I made a stop by Bull Cave on the way.  I realized that I could not find my photos of Bull 
Cave.  I would just take some more.   I wanted to check out the wildflowers in the vicinity also.
I saw only one vehicle nearby.  I encountered one man who had the same idea as me. He was leaving as I was arriving.    I noticed the woods were pretty and the flowers were out, but it was still looking
early to me.  We'd had some cool days. Back into Dogwood Winter we had gone.
Bull Cave
         The cave entrance was beautiful with gray rock and verdant green growth of Spring.
The bluff towers above it and I could hear a vehicle creeping slowly down Rich Mountain Road high above the cave! I don't think I had ever stopped to consider how close the cave is when driving that road.    The cave got its name allegedly from a bull falling off Rich Mountain Road into the cave.
Back then it was a drovers path.   At 924 ft deep the cave is the deepest in Tennessee. It has over two miles of passages. It is more of a pit style cave.   Outside the entrance mounted to a tree was some monitoring equipment which I am guessing must be to check on the bats.    

        Around the sink the cave sits in were mossy boulders and some pretty wildflowers. 
Today I finally saw green violet. I knew it was supposed to be around, but today was the first time
I had sense enough to spot it.  It is not a showy bloom, but tiny green pips on what is mainly a foliage plant.  
Below is an image of green violet which looks like it is not fully bloomed out  yet.

Green violet

  I saw lots of blue phlox, bellwort and some larkspur.  It is very pretty. 
I got the best images of larkspur I ever took today.  I think the camera is part of it. The new lens is yet another improvement.   
Lavender shade of Dwarf Larkspur. 
Its binomial is Delphinium tricorne. 

More common dark blue purple shade of larkspur. 
I have seen the tall variety before but not here. I can't remember now where I was 
when I saw that kind.

Mossy boulders and in front of them are lots of little yellow bellwort blooms.
Close up view of what Large flowered bellwort looks like. It is real pretty.

    I was burning daylight with a long hike ahead of me so I did not linger too long.
I went ahead to begin my hike.  I was a bit dismayed at the look of the forest.  It was still 
a bit bleak and barren looking along Ace Gap Trail.   I began to wonder at this point if I wasn't jumping the gun on the wildflowers?  I kept having to get the camera out though to take pictures at the start of the hike.  I was very conflicted as to what I should do. On one hand I did not want to make a 12. 6 mile round trip hike out and back........... for sparse wildflower bloom. 
On the other hand I did not want to miss anything if they WERE blooming better than I was seeing.
I said a little prayer about it and decided to strike a compromise.  I would hike out to the first camp site. (the now closed CS 4) and if the bloom up to that point was not great I would turn around and 
try again a bit later in the season.   

           I continued past the rocky start of Ace Gap and enjoyed the open look of the forest.
The trail was in good shape and  the tread on it changes from rocky to sandy to pine needle duff in some spots!  It is a relatively easy trail with gentle ups and downs and long graded switchbacks that follow the contours of the mountain.  There are only a few seeping springs along it to rock hop.
Start of the Ace Gap Trail

Rocky section that comes shortly after the start.

Below are some of the pretty wildflowers that were already in bloom along the trail. 
My hike while early in the bloom season.. the earliest I have ever hiked it.. was not a total waste.
 Common Blue Violet
 Early Meadow Rue
Crested Dwarf Iris
 Rue anemone
 This is one PLS orchid the furthest along that I saw.  Most were nubs coming out of the ground.
 Halbeard Leaf Yellow violets
 One or two fire pinks
 Mountain Bellwort
Pale pink Robins Plantain

          There are partial views when the leaves are off the trees. I enjoyed the sight of the pea green leaves appearing on the trees.  Red maples and dogwoods also bloomed.    Oak trees had a few tiny, fuzzy red leaf buds.  A different glimpse of the forest this time of year.

The day was overcast and cool.  It was a good day to hike.  Also a good day for photography!
Gentle ups and downs of Ace Gap Trail. Here is where it crosses the most water you have to rock hop between the trail head and the first camp site.   

  I would look across the way and see the trail going up up up, but by the time I'd get there and actually be hiking that part of it.. it was not bad at all!  Very easy.  I rambled on to the campsite.
To my dismay the bloom got worse and worse the further I went.  It was as I suspected. It was still very early for this trail.   I got to the old camp site 4 and by that time all that was blooming was
catesby's trillium. Most of those were in bud, but not bloomed out.  

Catesby's trillium along the trail.   

  I sat down at the camp site and ate a snack and had a brief rest and something to drink.
I wandered around checking for plants and flowers I knew bloomed there. None were even out yet.
I checked the area across from the campsite.   It was the same.. only a few catesby's trilliums.
I would turn back and get in some exercise for the day and would have seen some pretty things. 
I'd come back in a week or ten days when things are more fully bloomed out. It will then be worth the effort to hike all the way out to Campsite 3.   

         I began my hike back and enjoyed the scenery. I encountered the only two other hikers I saw all day.  Two young women trail running.    I had the place pretty much to myself.  That is one good thing.    The sight of the blue mountains in the distance through the green tree leaf buds and haze of red maple buds was pretty.   It wasn't long until I was back at the jeep.    I decided I'd drive home slowly and maybe stop at some pretty spots I'd passed on the way.  

             I am very glad I did for it would have been a shame to pass up such beautiful flowers and scenery!    Blount County is a lovely place to live.  

 Ferns, dwarf larkspur and phlox.
Dogwood blooms, red maple buds, and blue mountains.  The rim of the field is lined with a wide band of purple phlox and geraniums and daisy fleabane.
Flowery path in spring. Just a touch of red dirt.. that's me.  

I also saw some yellow trilliums which were quite pretty.

  I continued toward home and decided I'd  stop by the Sea of Bluebells near my house.
I pulled over and crossed the bridge and worked my toward the river bank.   I saw a few pretty things.
The path is not being maintained anymore and the grass was at least knee high and very thick.
The river levels had washed away an entire huge clump of confederate violets.   Blue violets remained in great numbers.  
Blue violets galore.
    River side path. The grass here is only ankle deep, but it is not like it was.

 Carolina silverbells along the edge of the field.
 Glimpse of Little River
 Virginia bluebells.
 Closeup of bluebells
 Closer view of dogwood blooms
 Looking toward Walland Gap
Masses of purple phacelia with the Coulter Bridge in the background. This is Blount Beach.  

  I saw lots of purple phacelia, spring beauties, and violets and a fair number of Virginia bluebells. 
I also saw marsh marigold.   I tried to reach the Sea of Bluebells down across from River John's place.   The field has a wide buffer strip plowed and it was muddy and rough going.  I thought it was not that long, but it went on and on far as the eye could see.  The fence rows are also not being cleared at all.   I finally gave up and turned back.  It would have been easier to swim the river to get to the bluebells than what I was struggling with now.  I worked my way back to the jeep slowly.
It was still a pretty day for wildflowers and I got some exercise.  Things don't always work out like I plan, but I manage to take the party with me where I go.  


  1. Great pictures as always. Now if I can remember all those names lol. I would love you hear you play piano sometime. My Dad was a pretty good piano player. I know a couple chords ha ha. You should make a piano video!

    1. Thanks. You don't have to know the names to think flowers are pretty and appreciate them. I am a fair piano player. Getting better for practicing daily. I purchased Shawn Stockman's Visions of a Sunset today and got to work on that. It is beautiful.


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