Sunday, December 11, 2011

Old Growth Memories

I'm reminiscing now about hikes, since I'm holed up here at home for the holidays. I really am going to take some time off in January and/or February to go hiking.

The following photos were all taken on a bushwhack hike I made with my pal Andy Kunkle in late May of this year. We drove over to the Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort, North Carolina. This particular section of forest was the very first plot of land to be declared National Forest property. Hiking in, you can tell why it was chosen. For reasons of chance and topography, large patches of forest here were never logged, or only selectively logged. Much of Mackey Mountain and the surrounding ridges and coves are home to old growth forests. These days, the forests are mainly hardwoods, but up until very recently there were also big expanses of grand old hemlock trees here, also.

And the biggest of the trees remaining are poplars, also known as the tulip tree (for its springtime blossoms). In fact, the Yellow poplar/Tulip poplar is not a true poplar at all, but is instead closely related to the magnolia family. Tulip poplars grow pretty fast for a hardwood, they grow straight and tall, and they reach impressive size for an eastern tree. While they're no match for the truly huge monster trees of the west such as Jeffrey pines, Redwoods, Sequoias, cedars, and such, they are among the largest species here in our half of the continent. Only cottonwoods and sycamores and and buckeyes and (formerly) hemlocks rivaled or exceeded them in volume.

Today, if you're out in a southeastern forest and you encounter a grove of very large trees, more than likely that grove is of Tulip (or yellow) poplars.

It was in search of just such groves that Andy and I headed up into the watersheds at the foot of Mackey Mountain/Green Knob in the Pisgah National Forest. We hiked up the steep slopes and indeed we located the big trees that we were told were there. I love walking around in classic southern Appalachian cove hardwood forests. While there, you are surrounded by life, by green, by fresh air and rich soil and clean water. If you're lucky, you'll spy some wildlife in these forests, but even if you find yourself alone there, you'll be richly rewarded for the exertion.

Big tree Bob at the base of a huge poplar near Old Fort NC.

Andy Kunkle dwarfed by a monster poplar.

A towering hardwood along the watershed.

The forest floor is alive with all sorts of flora and fauna.

The earth, like a leaking sponge, gives up the fresh water it has filtered.

One tiny human amidst Nature.

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