Friday, June 7, 2013

Andrews Bald

The date was June 1st, 2013. It was a 3 hour drive from Greensboro to Asheville, where I met Amy. We met at the Red Roof Inn in West Asheville. Today, we planned on doing Andrews Bald, one of the more intermediate-level hikes on our list. We had a quick turnaround in Asheville and left for Clingman’s Dome at about 11:30 am.

The trailhead for Andrews Bald, which was located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingman’s Dome, was a 2 hour drive from Asheville. The sun was out and the sky was blue. There were only a couple of clouds in the sky. We were just willing the weather to stay like this, for it would make for a spectacular hike. The forecast for the next couple days was very gloomy, so we wanted to get at least one nice, bluebird day in on our first trip.

Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a popular tourist destination, known for its panoramic views.
View from parking lot
The Forney Ridge Trail was the 1.8 mile hike that led to Andrews Bald. We stepped onto the trailhead at the end of the parking lot, equipped with water, 2 GPS’s, notebooks, cameras, snacks, etc.

The majority of the hike was a descent through a spruce-fir forest. The canopy of shade from the trees was very welcoming, especially on this sunny day. One of the first things we noticed upon entering the forest was the strong smell of spruce, which was so clear that it is now what I think of when I hear the word ‘nature.’ It was just so fresh and pure. As Amy described it, the forest had an enchanted or fairytale-like feel to it, such as a place where you might expect to find a dinosaur. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a dinosaur, but more realistically I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear.  

Salamander we found beside the trail

Eventually, the forest opened up to Andrews Bald, and the trail continued out onto the Bald. There was a different sensation out here. It was an open grassy meadow, with the exception of several blueberry bushes and Catawba rhododendrons. I could turn a complete180° in front of me and see for miles in every direction. At the same time, everything was so peaceful. Just us on earth’s bald spot, taking it all in.
Forest opens into Bald

Incredible view of Fontana Lake

We stayed on the Bald for at least an hour admiring the views, taking pictures, and exploring. Before we left, we saw a field mouse scurrying around near the margin of the forest. The “edge effect,” explained by ecologist Aldo Leopold, is the idea that environmental edges or margins are likely to have higher populations of animals because there is a greater variety of food, light, soil, etc., which is important to an animal’s survival. The Balds are known for their unique and abundant flora and fauna, which will be described in the book. We talked to two hikers who said they were having a picnic on the Bald last summer when they saw a black bear through the trees. Knowing we might come across  a cool or unique animal always adds an excitement factor to the hike, at least for me.

Most of the hike back was an ascension back through the forest. The 3.6 mile round trip had definitely satisfied our longing for exercise after the long car ride. We were ready to head back and find something to eat. As we were leaving, Amy was telling me about the efforts to reintroduce elk to the Smokies (elk had vanished over 200 years ago with the arrival of settlers). It was only minutes later when we saw people pulled over to the side of the road. We stopped to see what it was, and it was a male elk eating the grass about a hundred yards away. It disappeared into the forest within seconds. We had been just in time to see it in its full glory.

We stopped at Snappy’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Maggie Valley for dinner on the way back. I had a delicious white cheese garlic, oil, and sausage pizza, and Amy had a vegetable pizza. Even more, our waitress brought me a duplicate free pizza halfway through our meal, saying that the cooks had not put enough cheese on my first one.  A beautiful sunny day, an elk sighting, and a free pizza-I don’t think it was coincidence that when we got back to the hotel the housekeeper had left a note in my room that said “Irish blessings to you.”

1 comment:

  1. What a glorious day. Food never tastes better than it does after a hike. And pizza is my favorite!