Sunday, July 16, 2017

Natural Bridge State Park

The Red River at Hemlock Lodge.

It had rained overnight, and when I got up next morning the mist was heavy over the hills. Upon a closer look, the mist was actually a drizzle. I had breakfast in the dining room while watching the birds at large feeders near the windows. There were a lot of finches, cardinals, some tufted titmice, a downy woodpecker and a brown creeper, and the squirrels' antics raiding the feeders and fighting each other off were very amusing.

It stopped raining after breakfast and looked to be clearing up so I got my gear ready for a hike. There were two trails going up, each about 3/4 of a mile long, and I stopped by the Wildlife Center to ask which was better. I chatted with the ranger, and he explained that the second trail had over a hundred steps and was much better for coming back downhill--the first trail was the original one, in use since the early days of this natural attraction, and a bit easier. I commented that I regretted forgetting my binoculars since there were so many lovely birds around, and he was kind enough to loan me a spare pair to use during my stay.

Partridge Berry by the trail

I took the ranger's advice and followed the original trail. The trees had not leafed out yet, but the forest floor displayed some early wildflowers, fungi, mosses, and ferns. It took a bit a climbing before the sandstone formation of the natural bridge could be seen.

Natural Bridge
Under the bridge.

The trail getting up to the top of the natural bridge led under the arch and a set of steps at the back along a very narrow place between rock walls. The sides of my pack scraped the rock walls--I imagine most grown men would have to turn sideways to get their shoulders through this stretch and as for the obese... well, I don't think so.

Steps up to the top.

The trail up.

Once at the top, the view was fantastic. There were signs posted to stay away from the edges--at the Wildlife center the literature said an average of eight people a year were killed or maimed from falls off the cliffs--yet many people disregarded the warning and sat in precarious perches at the edge of the precipice. I walked the length of the bridge and continued on the Laurel Ridge Trail to the end of the upper ledge, a place called Lover's Leap.

Top of Natural Bridge

View from Laurel Ridge Trail

There were a few plants blooming here: some variety of wild cherry (Prunus serotina or P. avium?) and Trailing Arbutus (Epigaia repens), but the most interesting plants I saw were the fruiting bodies of the lichens growing on the rocks--light pink in color, I'd never seen these in bloom before. My internet research said this is a Cumberland rock shield lichen or pink bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum), which makes sense, these mountains are part of the Cumberland plateau.

Wild cherry blossoms

Trailing arbutus (Epigaia repens)

Lichen with pink fruiting bodies (bubblegum lichen?)

After reaching Lover's Leap I walked back to the bridge and started down the Balanced Rock trail. The mountain sides were covered with enormous, tree-sized Rhododendrons, (Rhododendrum maximum, I presume) which I'd love to see when in bloom. The wooden steps leading down were very artistically laid out, but there were so many of them it was a good thing I was headed down rather than up.

Trail down from Natural Bridge
Balanced Rock Trail

Balanced Rock

I was back at the lodge in time for lunch. It started to pour again while I was in the dining room, and it looked like it might continue for the rest of the afternoon. I could only hope that it might yet clear up long enough to do another hike in the afternoon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The opening two or three sentences are as good as writing needs to get, and the prose stays at this high level throughout. Martha Gelhorn's got nothing on you!

Grammar Hammer strikes again! ;-) Should be a coma after "well," in "well, I don't think so."

You will soon need to collect your travel & nature writing. They deserve to be available between covers!