The Walking Posts

The posts labeled with the little “Truckin’ ” man are from my Walking Journal, which I've been keeping since January 1, 2012. What began as a simple New Year's Resolution to exercise more quickly morphed into a hiking addiction. Below are some running totals.

  MILES TIME ASCENT CALORIES
February 2022 2.41 0h 54m 196 195
Year to Date 31.28 11h 40m 2093 2534
February Avg. 22.56 10h 33m 1036 2362

Gorges SP Mushroom Walk

Posted By on July 22, 2022

Gorges SP Mushroom Walk

1.71 miles; 184 ft. total ascent; Sapphire, NC

As you may or may not know, I am a member of the Asheville Mushroom Club (AMC—not to be confused with the Appalachian Mountain Club). The club sponsors walks or “forays” for club members, and creates species lists based on our finds. These species lists are sometimes why we get granted special permission to collect, as was the case here at Gorges State Park on the NC/SC border.

In fact, on this particular walk we were accompanied by a park ranger, who showed me something very interesting about the little guy below. When startled or threatened, they give off the aroma of Dr. Pepper. Who knew???

Wildlife!

You know, sooner or later I’m going to put up a “Wildllife!” photo of an actual bear. Western North Carolina is lousy with them. But that day is not today. This guy is part of a family of millipedes known as “flat-backed millipedes.”

Now I’m not a particularly STEM-oriented person, and don’t really participate in the ID process. Members who do bring boxes and boxes of books, and some folks even have little chemical kits that they use to positively identify species of fungi. And if that’s not enough to definitely ID particularly tough species, there are some members who bring the samples home to examine them under microscopes.

Example of an ID

I am told that the above species is quite edible, although the caps tend to get mushy when you cook them, the stems (or stipes) hold up well. This seems to me to be something I could even trust my own ID on. If I ever to find them, I’ll let you know how they taste.

View

No, the main reason I love joining in on these walks, aside from the excellent company, is that I get exposed to all kinds of cool places that I need to revisit for more hiking. Gorges [or Gorgeous, ammirite???] State Park is one of those places. It seems as if, looking at the maps, this place is full of great trails. Cannot wait.

You can find out more about the Asheville Mushroom Club from their website. For more information about Gorges State Park, see this page. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

Ferguson Peak Trail

Posted By on July 18, 2022

Ferguson Peak Trail

3.25 miles; 673 ft. total elevation gain; Gerton, NC

This was a very serendipitous hike, in that I met a new friend when I went to my volunteer gig at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, and we hit it off so totally that we made a date to hike together.

Trail Marker

She took me to this short, steep trail in Hickory Nut Gap, part of a larger trail system created and maintained by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

Mountain Bunchflower

In between gasping for breath, and perhaps in order to catch my breath, I noticed this interesting green flower, the Mountain Bunchflower. This is a member of the lily family, endemic to the southern Appalachians, and highly poisonous. Good to know.

The Payoff

Yeah, this was the payoff for doing all that climbing. The view was spectacular. One might almost say breathtaking.

You can find out more about the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy from their website, and more specificaSlly, you can read about the Strawberry Gap Trail here. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

Big Butt Wildflower Walk

Posted By on May 5, 2022

Big Butt Wildflower Walk

1 mile; 303 ft. total elevation gain; Pensacola Township, NC

This was a Wildflower Foray sponsored by the Asheville Mushroom Club (I know, right?), so as such, it took us over 3 hours to walk 1 mile along this trail. And the road TO the trailhead was a serious adventure, too, in that it was gravel/dirt for about 9 miles, and I do not exaggerate. And very steep, as the trailhead itself was at about 4300-feet. I was very glad I carpooled, I’ll say that!

Also, this trail, the Big Butt Trail (I like Big Butt and I can not lie) is one I’d really like to attempt to complete someday, but I don’t know how it would work logistically, as it would have to be a car spot and I don’t know anyone who would be willing to creep along with me at my snail’s pace. But I may come back here and do a bit more of it someday as an out-and-back, and maybe I will also go to the trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway and out-and-back it from there as well, so I’d ultimately do the whole thing.

But anyway, also, I did not take too many photos for some reason. I guess I really mostly wanted to post this hike just so I could type “I like Big Butt and I can not lie.” Yep, that’s basically the whole reason right there.

Ranunculus (no idea which one)

Spotted Fairybells, aka Spotted Mandarin (Prosartes maculata)

But see? There were wildflowers! Many of the plants we saw were pretty specialized in that they can only be found above 3000-feet, so it was a cool and informative walk. But yeah, it was mostly about Big Butt.

You can find out more about the Big Butt Trail from this Asheville Hikes website. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

Big Laurel, Alarka Creek Headwaters

Posted By on May 1, 2022

Big Laurel, Alarka Creek Headwaters

2.51 miles; 183 ft. total elevation gain; Bryson City, NC

This was the second guided hike I signed up for as part of the NC Wild Plant Society’s Spring Hiking Weekend (see my earlier post about this event in case you missed it). It was considerably less arduous than yesterday’s hike, but simply fascinating, botanically. Our guide, who wore his love for this part of the world on his sleeve, was Owen Carson, an environmental consultant and past president of the NC Invasive Plant Council.

The Alarka Creek Headwaters are in what’s known as a “hanging valley” that contains a rare high-altitude bog that hosts species of plants not seen at lower altitudes, as well as conifers like Frasier Fir and Red Spruce. The hemlocks are alas succumbing to the adelgid which is the bane of hemlocks everywhere, but you can still find a few here and there.

Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata)

Rattlesnake Weed (Hieracium venosum)

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Smooth Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)

Thought I’d just let the wildflowers speak for themselves. I’d love to have some of these in my future garden, but I’m going to be nowhere near the elevation of this area, so I may not be able to. Still, I can dream…

You can find out more about, well, to be honest, I didn’t find much info online about this particular area, but there’s a nice pdf map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at this link. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

GSMNP: Thomas Divide & Kanati Fork Trails

Posted By on April 30, 2022

6.68 miles; 453 ft. total elevation gain; Cherokee, NC

I’ve been a member of the North Carolina Native Plant Society for a while now, as well as an active volunteer (I’m on the newsletter committee), so when I got the email that announced the Spring Hike Weekend, I was all over it like white on rice.

This was an overnight affair, so to speak, which included a potluck dinner, a lecture and book signing by CoreyPine Shane of his book Southeast Medicinal Plants, a plant auction, and a choice of several hikes for each day, Saturday and Sunday. I chose this one because it was a nice long stroll (wildflower walks are by their nature quite leisurely) and one of the alternatives was to go in the opposite direction which was MUCH more strenuous. Also, I have never been in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park before, and wanted to see a bit of it.

Thomas Divide

This was a really cool hike, in that we started out at around 5200 feet elevation (thanks to a car shuttle mostly) and hiked back down around 2500 feet, so it was like walking forwards in time, as plants at different elevations bloom at different times. We’d pass a plant way up at the top that was barely budding up, and by the time we got back to our cars, the same plant was in full bloom. Again, imma just let the flowers speak for themselves:

Ramps! (Allium tricoccum)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Our guide was Kathy Matthews, a Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University. She was amazing with her exhaustive knowledge of the plants on our walk. This hike was a blast!

You can find out more about the North Carolina Native Plant Society at their website. Get the skinny on the Thomas Divide Trail from this Hiking Project website. And as always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

North Carolina Arboretum

Posted By on April 27, 2022

North Carolina Arboretum

6.73 miles; 560 ft. total ascent; Asheville, NC

I’ve been a member of the Arboretum since I moved down here in early 2020, and I’ve done hikes on some of the trails here, but I never really did a tour of the place, so I decided today it was about time already!

Ilia Underwing Moth Caterpillar (Catocala ilia)

I met this little fellow right away. The adult version of this caterpillar is lovely with that surprisingly vivid underwing, but you can see the look of the caterpillar in the adult, too.

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

I’ve loved the look of these beauties since the first time I saw them. They are such a firey red—you can really see why they got that name.

Native Azalea Garden

This was really the highlight of the visit—the Native Azalea Collection. And I hit it just right for optimal viewing.

Flame Azalea

Sigh…

Azaleas in bloom

And more azaleas in bloom

Azalea

I mean, this section was breathtaking. Truly beautiful. And they’re all native to the Southern Appalachians. Stunning. The rest of the tour was actually kind of a let-down compared to this. I walked the Owl Ridge Trail again, which is always nice, and did a quick tour of some of the more established gardens, but nothing compared to the Native Azalea Collection. Maybe next time I’ll actually visit the Visitors’ Center.

You can find out more about the North Carolina Arboretum from their website. As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

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