Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Big Trees

Almost two years ago I hooked up with some of the guys from the Eastern Native Tree Society (now The Native Tree Society) for a day-long hike through our newest addition to our National Park system, Congaree National Park. It was once a National Monument but was tacked on to our National Parks--the government agency that I consider the greatest thing our nation has ever done for its citizens.

Congaree is an exceptional place. It has a truly vast and comprehensive tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forests that are relatively intact. You can tramp around in there for many miles while all around you are forest that have probably never felt the bite of the woodsman's axe. I've heard that some parts of the big forest were selectively logged for exceptionally valuable timber such as bald cypress, but even with these trees you can find some truly old groves.

One thing about this place is that I would definitely not recommend a trip there in warmer weather. I went on a very cold March morning when the day greeted us with frost and a hard freeze. It warmed up a tad as the day progressed, but because of the cold we were spared the ravages of the swarms of mosquitoes and hordes of ticks that the park is well known for. As it was, we never saw any of these nasty creepy bloodsuckers and were rewarded with a walk through an enormous and stunning old growth forest.

Since I haven't posted any notes or photos from this hike since shortly after it happened, I figured I drag some of the images out of the etherbox and show them around.

The facilities in the park are pretty good. Lots of bridges and raised boardwalks for when the water is up and the Congaree River is flooding the swamps and lowlands. We didn't have to deal with such things, it having been normally dry when we went.

Typical forest of bald cypress with the forest floor alive with cypress "knees".

Another solid bridge along the way.

You can see a party of kayakers coming down the creek as we crossed on a bridge. I've been told that the most impressive cypress trees are accessed only with the use of a canoe or kayak.

Here I am with the world's champion Loblolly pine.

This forest will make you feel appropriately small.

Everywhere we hiked we found champion-caliber trees.

Puny human!

I stand between an oak and a pine, feeling that Mother Nature runs the show.

A "walking tree". This one a cypress. Created when sapling rise from a fallen nursery log. After many years, the nursery log rots away, leaving a newer tree with root system straddling the space once filled by the nursery log.


GULAHIYI said...

That's not the easiest place to find, but I sure enjoyed a brief visit there. I'm looking forward to going back when the water is up and I have my kayak, but I can imagine the bugs would be terrible for part of the year.

HemlockMan said...

They actually have a mosquito meter at the visitor's center informing you how bad it is. I've heard some horror stories. Ticks are really horrible in there, too.

I went in the cold weather, and didn't see any biting insects at all.

Kent Tankersley said...

Looks like a cool place! I totally agree that the National Park system is something the US has the most reason to be proud of.

HemlockMan said...

It is a very special place. It's the largest intact patch of virgin bottomland hardwood forest in the USA. You can hike for miles and miles among huge trees. But, as I said, the insect issue can be unbearable. My advice is to go during cold weather.

Just now, it's under threat. The Dept. of Transportation wants to cut a road through part of the virgin forest to aid in constructing an admittedly needed replacement bridge over the river. But they need to find another way to do it. No roads in our parks and wilderness areas. Screw that.