Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting a location in Hickory Nut Gorge that had been on my to-do list for some time, but the right opportunity had not presented itself to make the trip. A few weeks ago, Ranger Stephen Tillotson contacted me along with several other folks abut participating in Earth Day festivities at Chimney Rock State Park. I participated last year with a booth on water quality in the Gorge and Lake Lure and had a blast. I set up a couple of microscopes with some slides of aquatic organisms; someone caught a hellgramite and we put that on display. It was a great day. Unfortunately, this year I am leading a wildflower hike for the Nature Conservancy on Earth Day, so I'm unable to participate in the CRSP event. Not one who is easily deterred, Ranger Stephen posed an alternative option of assisting him with a hike to Blue Rock Mountain. Not one to pass up such a great opportunity, I immediately said yes.
|Looking west at Blue Rock from the valley floor.|
|Little-sweet-Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)|
|Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus)|
|Carolina Vetch (Vicia caroliniana)|
We came to a fork in the road, so it was decision time. Ranger Stephen had given me a map so I knew which way to go, but it gave us a chance to catch our breath and discuss the property a little bit and talk about where each trail eventually leads. The fork to the left will take you back down the west side of the mountain and around to the north side to the Bat Cave Preserve. It's a long sinuous trail back down into the Gorge. The right fork (the one we were taking), takes you to the Blue Rock summit and the exposed granite dome for which the mountain is named.
We passed by the site of an old homesite, formerly a cabin until it burned sometime last year. The history of the cabin is unknown, but apparently was someone's home until fairly recently. The cause of the fire is not known, but it is suspected that perhaps some hikers were using it for shelter and may have accidentally let a fire get out of control. It also could have been arson...who knows? Either way, nobody's talking.
We made our way up the final push along a ridge that was once home to majestic eastern hemlocks that have succumbed to the invasive and destructive hemlock woolly adelgid. A few table mountain pines and white pines have also claimed the top as their own. The trail led to a small clearing which appears to have a history as a campsite (the well-used fire ring sort of gave it away). From there it was just a short walk through the rhododendron to the top of the rock face that overlooks Hickory Nut Gorge, towering above the Bat Cave Preserve property.
Granite domes such as Blue Rock are ecological treasure troves. Many of the plants found on granite domes are specialists that thrive in thin soils and extreme conditions that vary from very hot and dry, to very wet and cold. I did a little exploration of the dome which is fairly steep and narrow. There were various lichens and mosses growing on the surface of the rock, succeeded by several other plants that were not yet flowering such as marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalis), twisted hair spikemoss (Selaginella tortipila), several unidentified grasses, smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and mock orange (Philadelphus sp.). There were also several clumps of granite-dome goldenrod (Solidago simulans), a rare species found in similar locations in Hickory Nut Gorge. There were also several clumps of pale corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) which I had not seen in quite a long time (since my years working at Chimney Rock Park). Given the short amount of time and the earliness of the year, I did not get to explore Blue Rock as thoroughly as I would have liked, but that's why you make more trips, right?
We took in the view, ate some lunch, and snapped rare photographic views of the Gorge that are by and large unseen by the general public. The forecasted rain never showed up and the temperature was perfect for the kind of hiking we had done. Our group re-packed our various things and set out on the return trip, which was a rewarding, sometimes painful, downhill-all-the-way hike.
|Panoramic view from Blue Rock|
|A different view of Lake Lure.|
|View to the northwest from Blue Rock.|
We stopped occasionally on the way back down to discuss flowers that we hadn't talked about on the way up such as spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and some of the orchids that would bloom later on in the spring and summer such as puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale), cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), and downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens). We looked once again at the bloodroot that we had passed on the way up, the flowers of which had fully opened.
We came to the end of our 3.8 mile round-trip hike where we exchanged handshakes and goodbyes. Ranger Stephen drove Cayden and me back to my truck that we left at the Ticket Plaza. Cayden and I ended our exciting adventure with some wildflower pictures near the Park entrance and a hearty meal at the Old Rock Cafe, where we ravenously devoured a philly cheese steak sandwich (me) and some chicken tenders (Cayden). We headed home feeling tired but happy, knowing that we had shared an adventure that we will both remember for the rest of our lives.