Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Heintooga and Blue Ridge Parkway on a Blue Bird Saturday!

Pale pink Trillium grandiflora  along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Heintooga and Blue Ridge Parkway on a Blue Bird Saturday! 

Dana & Kenny KooglerSat. May 20, 2016

Hike distance 2.5  miles RT 

  Kenny and I  wanted to get out to the mountains.  We were tired and not wanting any strenuous hiking today.   He had a rough week at work and was worn out.  I thought about 
the fact the park service had opened the spur road early this year.  I thought it would be great to take advantage of it since it seldom happens.  I had also wanted to hike to Ledge Creek Falls and get a photo of it.  It is along Balsam Mountain Road which is one way traffic.  It is very narrow too. I has a few pull offs , but they are scattered out.  You can see the falls, but during the time the road is open you can't get a very good photo of it from the road. You can't leave your vehicle in the road while you hike down.  No pull offs in the vicinity.   I figured the best way to do this was to drive up Straight Fork Road which is two way traffic.  Park at the end and hike the mile or so up to the falls.  We'd bushwhack down over the bank, cross the stream and get a photo of the falls. 

      We had good weather for the day.  It was clear, sunny and we hiked under bluest skies.
A light breeze was blowing. Up in the high country it was about 68 degrees.  We saw lots of vehicles when we parked at the Upper Hyatt Ridge Trailhead.   We were the only ones hiking
the closed section of the road.  I figured we'd have it to ourselves.  It seldom gets driven and almost never hiked.    It was slightly uphill most of the way, but road walking was easy. It helped that the scenery was good.   The slopes below the road were nearly sheer in places. 
Long way down.  The brush was thick too so I was not sure what we'd be up against once we arrived at the spot across from the falls.  Turned out to be a simply climb down the bank. 
We encountered some stinging nettle and brambles, but it was not much.  The creek had plenty of water, but it was still a rock hop.   

Road walks can be pretty too. Under the blooms of the Solomon's Seal plant you can just make out Kenny's red shirt.  Way down the road.  
  Once across the stream we climbed the rocky and grassy slopes of the knoll that Ledge Creek tumbles down.  It is thick with tall green grass that lets you know the forest canopy has been opened here.   It was very deep in gloom . Remnants of many many trilliums lined the bank.  It would have been an astonishingly good wildflower spot two weeks back.   Ledge Creek Falls is about twelve feet high.Two drops of six feet each.  It is pretty, but not dramatic.  You can see there is a little more above it, but nothing special.   I got some photos and video while Kenny waited on me.   It was a nice spot and the quiet was only broken by the sound of the stream, the rustle of leaves and bird songs.    I enjoyed soaking up the few moments of mountain beauty here.     It gives you the feeling that despite it being across the road 
that no one ever comes here.  All the more reason I was puzzled and surprised when I touched what I thought was a vine near my arm and found it to be rusty metal wire!  I traced it
and it went high into the boughs of the trees, back down in a loop and back up again.  Parts of it were buried under debris on the ground.  I'd love to know what that was and how it came to be there?     

       Forest gloom and only a little dappled sunlight on the knoll where Ledge Creek Falls is.

        Rusty metal wire? What from?  


Small and pretty Ledge Creek Falls

Ledge Creek  flows down the road and follows Balsam Mountain Road.  I absolutely loved the deep green gloom of the woods here.  It was soothing.  

Below is a short video of the beautiful Ledge Creek and falls.  It is set to music.. the First Light of Spring.  It is a mournful song, but it reflects the tone of the area.    I had a strange Spring. Sad and happy all at once mixed together.   You have to look for the beauty and make peace with situations like that.  

      We spent time just studying the pretty creek and surroundings. Finally with lots of other spots we wanted to see we climbed back up the bank, and began our walk back.   Kenny is not a wildflower person, but doesn't mind that I am. I took time to look in the growth along the road for flowers.
I was rewarded by seeing a nice cluster of Vasey's Trillium. I also saw Virginia spiderwort and Puttyroot orchids!
 Virginia spiderwort
 Vasey's trilliums

Puttyroot Orchids just starting to open.  These are easily overlooked. 

   Back at the jeep we were famished so we decided it was time for lunch.  A couple hikers pulled up and there was no parking remaining.  We told him we'd pull down the road to eat lunch and let them have our spot.   Down the road below the horse camp we found a pull off by the stream.  We could see a fly fisherman out in the water casting.    Once done with lunch we headed toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I had not been up there in a good while and was really looking forward to it.  I hoped to find some Spring wildflowers still in bloom.  My Spring wildflower season was so so, but
I did not get to waller in it as I hoped I would.   

         Many times I do not pull off to take in the views from the Parkway.  It was so pretty today we just had to.  Kenny remarked almost as soon as we started getting into the higher elevations about the change we were seeing.   We were back in time about a month.  The trees were sporting new pea green leaves, bronze leaves, red leaves.  Mingled together with the deep greens and blacks of the conifers it was a sight to see.    We pulled over to enjoy some of the views.  The sky was sparkling blue and the mountains looked soft, fresh and welcoming.  Now that we have been out west and seen the Rockies for ourselves we have an even greater appreciation for the beauty of our own mountains.

Views from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Bunches Bald Overlook Tunnel 

     All long the roadside and up the slopes were loads of pink and white trilliums, purple clusters of wild geraniums, white feathery bowmans root, golden alexanders.  I saw umbrella leaf blooming alongside Marsh Blue violet in the ditches where lots of water flowed.   Below is a photo of a representative clump of trilliums and geraniums.  

         I was very excited about the possibilities for flowers now that I was seeing  they were still out.
We soon turned onto the spur road.  We saw a fair amount of traffic to begin with, but nothing out of the ordinary.  During a Summer weekend or weekday either one.. this road is little traveled compared to other areas of the park.   It is a good place to find solitude.   Good Summer wildflowers and Spring ones, but usually the road is closed until May 31st.   I was thrilled to be here on this glorious day to soak in the views. I was stopping every little bit to gaze up and down the slopes at wildflowers galore.   The trilliums were great big and healthy.  I want to come up here next Spring even if the road is closed.  Perhaps I could camp at Mile High Campground. 

          The first view we pulled off to see was the one at Mile High.  It was splendid. 
I believe it was the clearest and prettiest I've seen it.  
 Beautiful tiny red oak leaves against the blue skies
 Cluster of huge white trilliums!

View from Mile High Overlook 

Below is a photo of the K├╝gmobile sitting alongside the road. Kenny is inside napping. I'm off galivanting.  I wonder how many times over the years this has been repeated?!  The sight of my vehicle pulled off the road.  

    View from Maggie Valley Overlook from the spur road

Brilliant red Indian paintbrush.  Lots of this today.   I did nothing to the color. 

    We continued down the road hoping to see some elk. We ended up not seeing any today.
The mountain laurel and flame azalea is a few weeks away.   There is something blooming along this road most of the warm months.   Water flowed down from springs all along the road. One was particularly pretty.   It had lots of moss and tree roots hanging down a rock face.  It was a little community unto itself.   Saxifrage bloomed on the ledges.  Tiny ferns grew where they could get a foothold.  It flowed into the ground and under the road.  A bright rainbow splayed across the mist and rock face. It fairly glowed with intensity.   I got a good photo of it and some video footage of this little world.

Deep green moss and rivulets coming down Rainbow Spring

A pretty rainbow in the spring.  

Below is a short video of the Rainbow Spring

       We talked about various places we'd stopped along this road to have romantic interludes.
I have had so many fun times with Kenny in this part of the park I can hardly stand to go back without him.  It makes me feel lonely. I'm ok if I'm with buddies.  It helps me to not think on those moments if I have company.   It sounds silly, but it is true.    I was very thankful we were together today to enjoy the outing.   We did not bother to try to hike to Flat Creek Falls today.  I thought about it and it would have been flowing great. It was like this the very first time we went.  Same time of year.    We've kinda worn it out.   It is strenuous and I was not in the mood to end up filthy dirty today.      I saw a vehicle at the trail head.

  We got to the end of the road and were met by literally hundreds of jeeps.  They were having a group ride. The group was out of Ohio if memory serves.   They were somewhat of a buzzkill on my quiet and solitude, but most of them left pretty soon.  They did not leave until their hike leader got out a bullhorn and talked to them instructing them on their next stop.   That does not sound like fun to me at all, but that's just me.   We hiked out to the Heintooga Overlook and sat taking in the view.
I was again very glad not to be alone here.   Last time I was and it made me blue.  Today
we were treated to the beautiful view, green leafy trees and a raven soaring and cawing.
We sat in quiet for a spell.
 View from the Heintooga Overlook. I recently learned that heintooga means "hiding place" or refuge in Cherokee.

   We stood up to go as two men approached.  We walked up through the back of the picnic grounds.  I think this is the nicest one in the park and hope we can have a family gathering there this Summer.
It would be great to have a cookout.    We could take the kids hiking on the nature trail and on the easy part of Flat Creek Trail.   It is a good spot to play in the creek.   Corn lilies, Canada may flower, a few trilliums bloomed in the picnic area.   Lots of fir cones littered the ground.
 Corn lily and fir cone
 One of the stone picnic tables in the Heintooga Picnic grounds.

Kenny ahead of me under all those pretty hemlock trees and firs.

  Back at the parking area we found that most of the jeepsters had left. A few really lingered.
One woman was really loud and telling some outlandish story.   Gesturing and waving her arms around crazily.   I got tickled and said "Well, if we're gonna do a song and dance number I will  do one of my own." I rared back and started Iiiiiimmmm Gonnnnnaa
to which Kenny bust out laughing and called me down.  Aught! You gonna get us in trouble with that convict mouth of yours. bah ha!  I figure if its a contest of loud and obnoxious I will freakin'

The scene of my crimes Off in the distance is Miz Loud and Mouthy

   We loaded up and headed back out the road.   I wanted to have time to cruise the parkway a little more. I also wanted to take a side road and see if I could spot some Southern Nodding Trillium.
The parkway was great and so was the side road.  However....... I did not see the trillium species I sought.  It was too early for it at that elevation.  I did see some of the all time tiniest pink lady slipper I ever saw!
 Tiny pink lady slipper. It was about an inch and a half tall.

    We continued back toward Smokemont.  Everyone we saw today was laid back and in a good mood.  It makes the day more enjoyable to see other folks relaxing too.   I did stop at one spot on the drive home to check out a clump of wild iris blooming.  I have never seen these in the wild before.
The Luftee was beautiful and flowing fast.   The golden evening sun was cast upon the waters. Other spots lingered in deep shadow.   I had not realized how thirsty I was for more Spring and wildflowers and days like this until I was there.  Now the thirst was quenched and I felt better.   Heintooga is indeed a refuge.

Wild Iris

 Deep shade on the Luftee right next door to glowing sunlight of evening

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