We woke up Friday morning to the sound of raindrops on the roof. The weather forecast had predicted rain. Guess they got it right this time.
We had planned to do a hike today. Since our daytime temperatures have been in the 80s for the past several days, we thought a trail at high elevation might be a good idea. It’d be a little cooler up there.
The weather in the mountains is very unpredictable. As weather systems move across the state and then hit the mountains, things can change. Rather than just abandon our hike because it was raining in Cherokee, we decided to drive to the top of the mountains and check out the weather at the trail before making a decision.
We were planning to hike Fork Ridge Trail which is off Clingman’s Dome Road. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in Tennessee, so when I say we drove to the top of the mountain, we did almost. Clingman’s Dome Road ends at a large parking lot and the trailhead for a half mile hike to the summit.
We got to Fork Ridge trailhead about 8:30 and the entire mountain was fogged in and there was a steady rain falling. We drove on to the end of the road thinking we’d stop in the new Clingman’s Dome Information Center. It’s new since we were last here and it’s been on our list of things to do. We figured it didn’t open until 9, so we were happy to sit in the car and eat our banana while we waited. At 9, we walked up to the door and discovered the sign announcing opening at 10.
By the time we got out of the car for our walk, it had stopped raining and from time to time the fog lifted so we could actually see what surrounded us. I love the high elevation environment. Above 5,000 feet the forest is more like what you might find in Maine or Canada. The spruce and fir are dark, everything is dripping with water (especially this particular morning) and with the fog swirling around it’s an eery atmosphere.
At the trailhead we picked up a brochure explaining what we would see. The trail was along dirt sometimes, but mostly over boardwalk. We were glad for that since everything was so wet and muddy. There were three stops along the 0.3 mile loop trail. The brochure helped explain the plight of the Fraser Fir and consequentially the Red Spruce. The firs are being destroyed by the balsam woolly adelgid. It’s not certain how these tiny European insects got to the United States, but they have been in the Smokies since the 1950s. During that time they have killed “over 60 percent of the mature firs in the park.” These little buggers crawl into the cracks in the bark of mature trees to get at the sap. This damages the growth cells of the tree eventually killing it.
Because the Red spruce are so dependent on the fir, they are suffering as well. High elevations are harsh environments. Winters are brutal with heavy snows and high winds. The spruce and fir literally cling together, intertwining their roots to withstand the high winds. As the firs die it is more difficult for the spruce to survive.
The brochure was quite informative, the trail was well maintained, the rain had stopped, occasionally we saw some sunshine, we enjoyed our walk.
|The new Clingman's Dome Information Center|
So, for a rainy day we found something enjoyable to do and learned something as well. Plus we saw this great VW Bus.
That’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along.