Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bob Stratton Bald Hike--Turks Cap Lily Pilgrimage

Turks cap lily --Lilium superbum 

Bob Stratton Bald Hike--Turks Cap Lily Pilgrimage  

Sunday July 17, 2017 

Dana & Kenny Koogler

(gallery compiled from multiple trips) 

    I first visited Bob Stratton Bald in July 2012.  It was a perfect day.  I had such a good time.
I had happened upon a trip photo by the Chattanooga Hiking Club. They had visited Stratton Bald in July another year.  It  was so pretty.  I had never been at all so I figured I'd fix that problem and perhaps get lucky and find the flowers just as pretty when I went.   I did.  The mountain trail was misty with fog on my way.  I felt the entire time like I was in living dream.
It is wonderful to have such a sublime experience. The draw back to it is that every subsequent trip you want to be just that way again.  It seldom is.   I have had enjoyable trips since, but nothing to top it.  I think that is as it should be. One trip I had arrived to find the lilies past peak. I did not want to miss the peak bloom this year so I tried to time it out just right. Mid July weekend should do it.   I had seen a fellow's pictures of a week earlier and was surprised
he did not run onto any lilies yet!   I figured it had to do with his route selection and possibly
that he did not venture around on the bald much.   

    My favorite way is via the Stratton Bald alternate .. at Wolf Laurel. It is hard to beat for scenery and solitude.   It is one of those places of finding treasure.  Just when I think I've worn it out and seen all there is to see........ more things turn up.  My imagination is captured again.
I take off into new flights of fancy.  I am captured by the intrigue and want to learn more. Go further. Spend more time there wallowing in the tranquility and natural beauty.  It is one of the places I hold dear enough to be conflicted writing about it or sharing it.    

       We had planned on going Saturday.  Kenny had a VERY rough week. I had a weird, rough week as well.   The weather called for overcast and drizzly on Saturday.   Sunday promised to be a prettier day.  We decided instead to prepare and rest on Saturday and go Sunday.   
It was a good decision.   We got an early start and it seemed like no time we were turning off the Sky Way onto the side road that takes us toward the trail head.     It is worth mentioning that on the way down route 411 I saw quite a few pretty wildflowers in bloom.   Native sunflowers, loads of rose pinks mixed in with them at the light near the new Food City between Vonore and Madisonville.    I also saw a fair amount of bright orange butterfly weed.   
Lots of Sabatia Angularis<br />
Old Mecca Pike at Jalapa, TN
Sabatia angularis.. Rose Pinks in bloom now.  

          Once we turn off the Sky Way and onto FR 81 the wildflower photos ramp up!
I start pulling over every little whip stitch to take pictures.   The entire drive is pretty.  
We saw a few other vehicles on the road today, but not many. We saw no other hikers. 
We had the place to ourselves.    Great clumps of crimson bee balm line the roadside.
False asters, green headed coneflowers, and monarda in other shades begin to appear.
All told I saw five shades of bee balm today.  Red, white, lavender, deep purple, and fuschia.
I could hear Santeetlah Creek running down below the road today stronger than usual.   
One nice thing is to note is that a falls I had long sought ... which I believed need be approached from this direction has been found and visited since last time. I now know you do not reach it form here and when I survey the terrain it is a great relief!   

 Above --closeup of Crimson Bee Balm 
Below --photo of a great cluster of it.  

A type of monarda... think this is Horse mint.  Monarda punctata

   We enjoyed the sounds of streams flowing and birds singing. The sun was out and then clouds would roll past.   The air smelled sweet. Now and then we'd get a whiff of some new floral fragrance mingled with the green smell of Summer.   It was cooler here. Temperatures in this area tend to be a good twenty degrees cooler than down in the low lands.    It is a welcome thing on a July hike.      We continued following the dirt roads winding further into the remote mountains.    We saw purple phlox along the drive and began seeing turks cap lilies. 
We stopped and pulled off at one side road we did not recall.  It was a pretty spot and we thought since it had picnic tables it was new. It is the old hunters camp.  The picnic tables are a recent addition.   

picnic spot in the middle of nowhere!  

      We continued until we finally arrived at the dead end and parked.  One other vehicle was there and we never did see another hiker today.  Truck was still there when we returned.  
We gathered up our gear and set off up the trail.  We faced a climb here, but the good news is that once you arrive at the intersection with the Naked Ground Trail your climb is all done.
The remaining hike is more or less level out the ridge with a few gentle ups and downs.  The scenery the entire way is pretty. We saw lots of different colored mushrooms including the pure white Indian pipes that are parasitic. They lack chlorophyll and take all their nutrients from other plants.    Rosebay rhododendron was still in bloom in the forest.  We passed one spot that always smells sweet and spicy like curry!   The air was humid and we stayed clammy on our climb up the mountain.    I was very happy to see that Naked Ground sign.  Whew!  
About the time we leveled off .. we heard a rustle to our left. It grew louder like a gathering wind.   It was raining six feet to the left of us!  How odd to hike along side the rain but not get rained on!  We were already wet from sweating.   

      The trail has great fins of rock thrust up along it.  In places you are on a narrow knife edge.
Other spots are like hiking on a split level trail!  There are ledges below you of flat ground.
Grassy spots appear along Stratton Bald.  We passed several appealing camp sites.  
Chinquapins, American chestnut, stunted oak trees, paper birch trees, and fir trees line this forest trail.     Ferns of many sorts grow along it.  We began seeing turks cap lilies along the trail. Some are sickly and the tops are gone.  Some are the picture of vibrant health and life.
Not sure what is making some of them sick, but it is not new. 

 Deep forest gloom 
 Bright lights of orange Turks cap lilies 
 These lilies were the tallest of the day. They are nearly eight feet tall.  
One of many upthrust rock fins along the trail.

        I was more careful today and did not fall any! Last time here I fell and hit my back on a rock.    Slippery!  I learned my lesson.     We passed through the forest zone where it is like a deep brown and green tunnel. Tall fir trees here.  Next is another grassy knoll surrounded by chinquapin shrubs and mayhaw bushes for cover.     The trail is not as bad as it once was, but the briars are starting to overtake the trail again.  Someone had hiked ahead of us swinging a brush cutter, but only knicking some of it.    I am not complaining!   Kenny will never know the initial shock of hiking this trail when you cannot see past your chest if looking down. 
Wear long pants and gaiters and pray you don't encounter any snakes here.  It is far more open now than in the past.  
View to one side of our lunch spot.  Tall grass. 
Lots of the usual purple phlox. It smells wonderful.  Where are my lilies? 
   We broke out onto the bald and looked about.  It was pretty, but I couldn't see any turks cap lilies at first.  I don't mean just not in bloom either. In spots where they once were thick.... I did not see any period.   None.   I am either very early this year, or something is wrong.  Perhaps I'm just too early. I hope that is all.  Perhaps it is not a good year for lilies on Bob's Bald? 
Perhaps something is killing them?  I did not find any coming up in spots where they once were.  The purple phlox and tassel rue was up thick though.   The other flower I did not see today was the great patch of club spur orchids I had seen there in a wet part of the meadow.   This makes me hopeful I was just early.     We sat down under a tree to eat lunch. We were very hungry.
We had packed some good sandwiches and snacks.   The rain came down briefly, but then quit as suddenly as it started.  Under our oak tree we remained dry while we ate.  

    Kenny went one way to hunt lilies and I went another way.   We'd split up and maximize our chances of spotting any.    We'd meet back at the lunch tree.    We just left our packs there and wandered around the bald.   I finally did see a few lilies, but I'd say the number is roughly 1/4 what was once there.   I debated a return trip in about ten days. Perhaps come up via Fodderstack trail for variety?   I'm not saying I absolutely won't do that, but after today and talking to Kenny... probably not.     I saw the usual beautiful fern clusters, whorled loosestrife, and clumps of crimson bee balm.   We saw a peregrine falcon and two hummingbirds dueling!

 Approaching the bald from the bottom. I crossed all the way over and back. 
 The most perfect specimen of turks cap lily.. all by its lonesome. 
Biggest cluster of lilies out on the bald today.   

     We met back at the oak tree.  We reported our findings to one another. Kenny says the Fodderstack Trail approach to this bald is seeing far greater use than the Stratton Bald Trail.
He went all the way up and out across the top.   No wonder the fellow who beat me here by a week did not see any lilies. Cause there weren't any to see.      Kenny said if it were him he'd quit worrying about it and take his chances with lilies at Alarka in a week or so.   
He is probably right. That is what I should do.   I am spending all this time trying to recapture an experience that was magical from the past.  It is time to have some new experiences that are magical.    

     I lay down beneath the oak tree and stretched out.   I lay looking up at the leaves and sky.
Today was a good day. We had seen lots of lilies, but not where I expected them to be.    It was not a total bust.  Just an experiment with unintended consequences.   It proves that no matter how much I try to anticipate and predict peak bloom.. these mountains have their own ideas. 
Just as they make their own weather...... they will pick their own bloom time. 

 Closeup of Whorled loosestrife.  
 Prettiest phlox I saw today. Deepest pink. 
 Looking across Bob's Bald

   We finally took a last look around and began our return hike.  
It was certainly faster than our hike up.   Mostly level or downhill.   We were glad to see the jeep again.   We got something fresh and cold to drink and headed back down the mountain.
We stopped to see lots of lilies in the forest on the way.  Great patches of them on both sides of the road.   
 Tall perfect turks cap lilies

   We stopped to see the Swan Cabin. Someone was staying there, but in the process we discovered there is Swan Cabin II.  Not sure what the deal is with this one.  
This one is barely visible from the road.

      We kept going down the mountain and stopped to check out some falls on the stream.
Kenny was very tired and more or less over it for the day.  He went along to humor me.   We got up the creek and began to realize neither of us was up for anymore hiking. We were tired and ready to go home.   I did get some pretty photos and a short video of some lovely cascades we had never visited before along the stream.   The creek was running with a nice volume and rosebay rhododendron in pink and white blossoms framed the cascades.    The water was clear, cold and deep.  You could see each twig and rock in the bottom of the creek.   

         I  soaked up the sight of velvety green moss and pink blooms. White silky water. 
Satiny green leaves.   Golden river stones.  It was marvelous to hear the creek murmuring and the birds singing.   The leaves rustled in the trees.   We left tired, but happy.  I had images swirling round my mind of future trips here. Places to explore and treasures to find.  Questions to seek the answers to.   I think truthfully that is part of what drives me.   Much more to come back for.    I got in the jeep and used my rain coat as a pillow for the ride home.  The ride home was made shorter by sweet dreams of forest scenery.     

  That crystal ball may not always be accurate, but it works pretty darn well for me.
I think I'll keep it.   

Image result for crystal ball

Below is a short pretty video of the cascades we visited.  So much more to come. 

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