On Sunday, October 11, the Blue Ridge Discovery Center sponsored a tour hike to the Nature Conservancy's Bluff Mountain Nature Preserve on a perfect fall day. Temperature in the low 60's, light breeze under a cerulean sky, the forest at near peak fall coloration, the group of eleven hikers strolled through some of the rarest ecologies in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Above 4500 feet it appeared there had been a frost already and most of the herbaceous flora was burned and wilted. Then red, sugar and striped maples were in their fall glory. The mountain holly leaves were chartreuse and the females were spangled with brilliant red berries that shown like gems in the afternoon light. Flowers were few and far between, a smattering of closed gentian along the trail and in the fen, and tiny polygala at Perkin's Rock and the mesic glade. There was teaberry with full red ripe berries in the glade as well. A lone raven checked us out at Perkin's Rock as it soared on up the ridge towards the summit of the preserve, Cowface, where the elevation reaches 5,100 feet.
The group went off trail to visit a healthy 60' tall American Chestnut. The ground underneath the tree was littered with spiky hulls of the chestnuts but no nuts, the squirrels, grouse and deer had beat us to them.
At the vertigo bench, the dead oak that resembles a Can Can Dancer at full kick inspired a spontaneous Can Can line from four of the women hikers. They preformed admirably in spite of the slope and wet rubbly footing.
There continues to be damage from the hemlock adelgid around the Bluff, but continuing up the trail to the mesic glade the trees appear to get healthier and arriving in the glade the hemlock trees are specimens of health. An observation: where the trees are clumped in groves they are less healthy than where they are singular and spread apart.
A more pleasant stroll with good company through one of natures wonderlands sponsered by BRDC is hard to imagine!