Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Roan Mountain, At last

I finally made it to Roan Mountain on September 5th, a lovely day. Unfortunately, it was also a day that the Visitor's Center was slated to be closed. So I at first worried that I would not be able to get a good hike in. You see, although the State Park web site mentions that there are roughly 12 miles of hiking trails, they made no trail map available online. And since my copy of Hiking Tennessee only mentions the park, and doesn't go into detail about any of its trails, I had planned to make my decision on the fly once I arrived. Fortunately, the park Headquarters was open, and was well stocked with trail maps. I decided to try the Fred Behrend Trail, because, according to the trail map, it is 2.3-mile loop trail that "climbs and descends steeply in places." Right up my alley!

Since there is no map of Roan Mountain State Park's hiking trails published online, at least none that I could find on their web site, I have photographed my own, already well-worn hard copy. Note that you can click on it, and even download it, to obtain a full-resolution version (this is also true of any of my other photos, in case you are just so enamored of them that you want to use them as your wallpaper :).

The first section of the trail, along the Doe River, doesn't do much climbing or descending, at least not until you eventually hit a switchback that takes you up, away from the river. The foliage on this side was heavy on the rhododendrons, and they all looked healthy and happy. Eventually the trail pulls away from the river, and heads up over a hilltop, and then makes an occasionally steep descent down the back side. For some reason the rhododendron and other plant life on the back side of the hill did not look like it was doing very well. I'm not sure if perhaps less rain falls on this side or what (or perhaps there are just some amazing tap roots on the other side that run to the river?), but the leaves were limp and curled and just generally looking unloved.

At the bottom of this descent is a little creek that is unnamed on the map. Here's what the creek looked like:

What I really wish I could convey to you about this creek, though, were the sounds I heard. The gentle burbling of the water, the light breeze through the leaves over my head, and yes, even the omnipresent buzzing of insects. This was the symphony of the forest, and rare were the intrusions of outside noises, such as big rigs moving around the campground. This despite the fact that a connector trail to the campground essentially followed this creekbed (in the direction opposite this photo) no more than .3 miles to the camping loops. Gotta love the acoustics of the forest!

After a wistful pause at this creek, I continued along the trail, crossed another, even less well fed creek (and its accompanying connector trail), and continued on up to the high point of the trail (about 3200 feet above sea level). Somewhere around that point, or a little before, if I remember correctly, I actually stopped in my tracks and gasped at the beauty of these shelf fungi when I came up on them. They were just so brilliant, and so perfect in their soft fuzziness, I had to take a ton of photos (of course I will only subject you to the cream of the crop here).

After topping out, the trail again descended to follow along the Doe River, at which point it was also directly across the river from part of the camping area. I almost felt sorry for the people I saw on the opposite bank, as they had only asphalt to walk on (unless they were occupying a riverside camp site). For some reason, my own feet, legs and knees vastly prefer pounding uneven trail to flat, hard pavement. They seemed blissfully unaware, though, walking their dogs or just themselves, and, like me, occasionally came down to visit the riverbank. I paid special attention as I walked, trying to determine which campsite would be best, should I decide to make a weekend retreat here some time. When I came upon this little cascade, I knew I had found it. There was a camp site right next to it, and though I walked back up the pavement once I crossed the river and noted its number, I have now forgotten it. :( I would have no trouble locating it, though, so no worries. The rushing sound of the cascades just below would offer excellent white noise, so if you happen to be planning to stop in this area, and camp in a tent like I do, you just might want to look for the site nearest this spot.

Alas, from another angle, it's not quite so pretty. A harsh reminder to me of why I actually prefer NOT to have natural beauty so accessible. If people can drive their cars to it, they're all too often the sort of people who don't mind throwing their trash any old where as well. And what a shame that is.

After my little hike and my small detour through the campground, I returned to the Visitor's Center, since, despite the fact that it was closed, I had noticed that two trails left from there, and my legs still had a good bit left in them. Also promising was the interpretational signage at the center. I LOVE old mines, and anything else ghost-town-esque, so this trail to a mine was just my kind of thing.

The trail was mostly wide and clear of debris, and surprisingly cool and shady considering it was, by now, after noon. I even startled a deer, which made its unhappy-deer-noise and bolted off into the brush. Of course, when I got to the actual mine, it was a little less than inspiring.

Essentially, it was an old hole in the ground. :) It was also a bit drippy inside, as I learned when my flash revealed what my eyes could not see in the dimness. I was a bit surprised by how abruptly it ended, but it is entirely possible that the parks department filled it in to comply with insurance guidelines.

This trail, though essentially an out-and-back, does have a tiny loop at the far end. As you return from the mine, make sure you take the high route out, rather than retracing your steps, as there is a raised viewing platform off to the left, offering you an even more commanding view of the surrounding area.

Once I returned to the visitor's center, I had another look at their diagram of what the site had looked like back when it was an operating mine. I noticed a clearing across the road, about where the drawing indicated the smeltry had been, so I took a little wander over there, too, just to see what I could see. Which was essentially nothing. So, don't waste your own tracks on it, unless you're especially fond of taking in views of tractor-tracked clay and grass bald spots.

Next up: Butterflies, Butterflies and more...