Posts filed under ‘Mountain Laurel’

Prickley Pear Trail: First Blooms

Today I went for a quick hike with the dogs on the Prickley Pear Trail in the Poverty Creek Trail System. The rhododendrons at Mount Rogers aren’t expect to peak for another 2-3 weeks. But down a couple thousand feet at Poverty Creek, I found them blooming away. As an added bonus, the mountain laurel (real mountain laurel, not mountain pieris) was starting to flower as well.

Gorgeous rhododendron blooms over a beautifully textured bark

I love the shape of the wild rhododendrons and how they spread out and the branches twist and turn.

The first Mountain Laurel blooms opening up

More pictures of my trip on the Prickley Pear Trail can be found on my Flickr site.

Prickley Pear Trail
(From FS-708 to Skullcap Trail)

Mileage: 3 miles round trip

Elevation Difference: [Unsure, but I can say it doesn’t feel very steep]

4WD Requirements: Forest Service Road 708 is gravel and climbs a hill, but for the most part is well maintained.

Trailhead Parking: There is a nearby pull off on the left in front of the Royale Trailhead

Driving Directions:
(from Blacksburg, Virginia)

Take 460 West
After you pass Pandapas Pond, be on the lookout for Forest Service Road 708 on your left. There will be a dedicated turn lane for it.
Once 708 starts to flatten, watch for a wooden sign for the “Royale Trail” on your left. The Prickley Pear Trail is unmarked and starts across the street from the Royale Trail.

May 22, 2008 at 12:11 am 16 comments

Thanks a Lot, Google.

It’s 8:52 PM EST and just now I’m finding out it is the National Observance of Arbor Day?!?

I blame you, Google.  I have become so accustomed to you keeping me abreast of significant days.  Just this year, you’ve changed your logo for New Year’s, Martin Lurther King Day, Lego’s 50 Year Birthday, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, February 29th, St. Patrick’s Day, First Day of Spring and Earth Day.  I count on you, now!

But, guess what!  Not even knowing it was Arbor Day, I did invest in some trees!!! I’m redoing the landscaping of the front yard.  I’m going with an Appalachian Trail inspired theme.  So today I got:

Even though I recently joined the American Rhododendron Society, I’m not exactly a fan of most rhododendrons you see in yards.  But Rhododendron catawbiense is a species native to the Appalachian Mountains and therefore vastly superior to all its relatives.  🙂

I did look for Mountain Fetterbush, but the closest I could find was a Japanese version (Pieris japonica).  The nursery told me it is pretty hard to find Pieris floribunda. 

But that is okay– I am extremely satisfied with the current shrub combination.  It’s like a mini-Biltmore Estates!

April 25, 2008 at 8:44 pm 8 comments

Biltmore Estates

Saturday afternoon, while the dogs were disturbance-free in the hotel room, Sean and I visited Biltmore Estates.  Biltmore was built in 1895 by the Vanderbilt family and believe it or not, with its mere 250 rooms it still remains America’s largest home. 

Let me put the Biltmore’s scale in a hiking perspective.  Last weekend, I hiked 12.2 miles with great enthusiasm and no physical side effects.  This weekend, I had only walked through only 1/10 of the Biltmore rooms (about halfway through the tour) and my feet already hurt and my interest was wanning.  Of course, that was before I reached the basement and discovered this home also had an indoor pool and a bowling alley.  My interest did perk up again at that point.  Some other impressions from our visit follow.

The Triumph of Charity
This place was extremely extravagant.  Extremely.  Italian leather lined the walls of one room.  Another room featured Napolean’s chess set.  Thousands of expensive first edition books lined the hallways.  One room’s walls were dusted with 14 carat gold.  Room after room after room featured frivilous items.  And then we come into the Tapestry room.  In the Tapestry room hangs three giant, very old (I think 15th century) tapestries.   One depicts the “Triumph of Faith”, another “The Triumph of Prudence” and finally the third one, “The Triumph of Charity.”

The Triumph of Charity?  You’ve got to be kidding me. 

I think the creators of the audio tour (well worth the extra four dollars by the way) may have anticipated my skeptical thoughts.  Two floors later, when we were looking at the servants’ modest quarters a woman curator pointed out that the Vanderbilts gave back to the community and that they (possibly paraphrased) “took every opportunity to share their wealth.”

This home had 31 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 125,000 acres of land and held 70,000 gallons of water in their indoor pool.  Yeah, I think they may have missed some of those opportunities to share their wealth.  And with Sean and I having to pay over 90 dollars to get into the estate, it seems to me, there are some modern opportunities available to share the wealth as well.  🙂

The Triumph of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel
The house may have made me feel awkward, but I fell completely in love with the grounds.  There is a deliberate three mile approach to the house.  You wind through what appears to be a very indigenous area.  Blooming mountain laurels and rhododendrons lined the way. 

“I like that they kept all this instead of bringing other stuff in,” I told Sean.

Blooming Mountain Laurel

Later on the tour I found that vegetation was just as deliberate as everything in the house.  Frederick Law Olmstead planned the landscaping and used area plants so that it would appear natural to future generations.  Kudos to him.  He did his job well.  On a side note, Olmstead has quite an impressive resume of landscaping accomplishments… including New York City’s Central Park.

My Second Favorite Portrait
I don’t think portraits are a favorite medium of mine.  Off the top of my head, I do like that one of JFK reflecting.  My favorite portrait would be one that was done of my mother when she was a high school student.  I’ll always remember Jeremy Turner looking up at the portrait and declaring my mom hot.  Now, I have a second favorite!  Hanging in the Biltmore, a portrait of a man caught my eye.  He was surrounded by mountain laurel and rhododendron.  The fact that he chose to be depicted in that setting capitivated me.  It turns out it is Frederick Law Olmstead– the very man whose landscape work I had been admiring outside! 

My third and second favorite portraits – JFK and Frederick Law Olmstead

The Gardens
After the tour, Sean and I walked through the gardens and took a stroll to the Bass Pond.  Here are some of my favorite shots:

A cool tree helps cover a terrace

Brick bridge over the bass pond

This red holly leaf makes the plant more fitting for Christmas

Canadian Goose looking back at me

I may have balked at the price, but Sean and I had a great time and did end up getting our money’s worth.  More pictures from our Biltmore visit are available on my Flickr site.

May 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm 2 comments

Quick Correction to “Quick Trip, Quick Post”

In Quick Trip, Quick Post, I discussed the blooming order of three common trail plants.  I said it went Azaleas -> Mountain Laurel -> Rhododendrons. 

Welp, on our hike this week, I saw some solid examples that I was incorrect.  Here’s a shot close to Apple Orchard Falls.  It depicts rhododendrons in full bloom.  Meanwhile the mountain laurel is just getting its start, its flowers hadn’t even opened!

Rhodos and Mountain Laurel
Whoopsie.  Rhodos in full bloom.  Mountain Laurel just starting.

But on the upside, I can report that rhododendrons are still my favorite of all evergreens.  So the Christmas Tree can continue to suck it.  🙂

May 20, 2007 at 11:35 pm Leave a comment

Petites Gap to Cornelius Creek Shelter – Wildflower Row

On Saturday, I joined a group of six other hikers (mostly from the Charlottesville/Potomac Appalachian Trail Club area) for a hike along the Appalachian Trail. We started at Petites Gap which is Mile Post 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We hiked about 7.3 miles on the AT, then we went 1 mile down Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Apple Orchard Falls. From there, we backtracked 0.5 miles up Apple Orchard Falls Trail. Next we cut across Apple Orchard Road 1 mile to Cornelius Creek Trail. We ascended 0.6 miles to get back to the AT. Finally, we hiked 1.6 miles down the AT to the Cornelius Creek Shelter. We ended back up at the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Post 80.5.

This section of trail had it all– views, waterfalls, wildflowers. It offered so much, it felt like 4-5 different hikes combined into one. Some many features of this section are described below:

View of Devil’s Marbleyard
As we ascended through Thunder Ridge Wilderness, we pass a rock outcropping with a views of Devil’s Marbleyard. It’s quite a different perspective than Mike E and I had a few weeks ago at the Marbleyard.

Devil's Marbleyard
Devil’s Marbleyard from Thunder Ridge Wilderness

Thunder Ridge Overlook
Also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, we passed by an overlook near the high point of Thunder Ridge.

View From Thunder Ridge Overlook
View from Thunder Ridge Overlook

The Guillotine
As we neared the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain, we passed under a boulder balancing precariously above the trail.

The Guillotine
Ken, with remarkable faith, sits on top of the Guillotine with the Appalachian Trail below

Apple Orchard Summit
Our passage took us to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain. At 4225 feet, this is the highest point the trail reaches in some time. Northbound hikers would have go to 1000 miles to New Hampshire to reach a higher elevation. Meanwhile Southbound hikers would need to go 600 miles.

Summit sign at Apple Orchard Mountain

Ridges At Apple Orchard Summit
View from summit of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Mountain was named for the trees at the top. They are not apple trees, rather they are red oaks that have been twisted and deformed by wind and ice. To the locals, the trees appeared to be a deserted orchard. Thus the name.

Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain
Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain

The summit sports more than trees and great views. An FAA air traffic radar tower is present up there as well.

FAA Radar Tower
FAA Radar Tower at top of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Falls
Our side trek took us to beautiful 150-foot Apple Orchard Falls.

Apple Orchard Falls
Apple Orchard Falls

Black Rock Overlook
One of our final stops of the journey was Black Rock Overlook which provides outstanding views, including Peaks of Otter to the left.

Ridges from Black Rock
Layers of ridges visible from Black Rock

Peaks of Otter (Flat Top) from Black Rock

Last, but not least, our hike provided us with a steady stream of wildflower viewing opportunities. The Appalachian Trail Guide to Central Virginia describes this section well.

This area is famous for its spring flowers– acres of large flowered trillium, being crowded by mayapple, as well as a showing of bloodroot, showy orchids, large-flowered bellwort, mountain lily-of-the-valley, blue cohosh, and rattlesnake plantain (an orchid).

However, we met a thru hiker named Biker Barb who improved upon the guidebook’s description.

It is like walking through a botanical garden.

Biker Barb was right. Our journey provided such a variety and high quality of specimens, it very well could have been a botanical garden.

To Be Identified — Chickweed?

Mayapple which has a single stealth bloom underneath a broad leaf canopy

Jack in the Pulpit
Jack in the Pulpit

Two of the thousands of trilliums on the trail

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids
Pink Lady Slipper Orchids

To Be Identified – Spiderwort?


Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

It was a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Many thanks to Jere Bidwell for organizing this trip and inviting me!!!

Additional Links
Many, many more pictures on Flickr
Kevin Myatt’s article on Apple Orchard Falls for the Roanoke Times
Thunder Ridge Wilderness Area

May 20, 2007 at 10:52 pm 11 comments

Quick Trip, Quick Post

I worked in Roanoke again today, but still managed to get outside before dark.  The dogs and I did just the ascent from VA-601 towards Kelly’s Knob.  I am horribly slow on the uphills, so I targetted this section because it had the best ratio of steepness to driving distance.  My intent was pure practice, but I ended up taking lots of pictures on the way back down.  Some shots:

Jimmie off the AT

Some ferns off the AT

A Fence Post off of VA-601

Blooming Season – Azaleas, Mountain Laurel and Rhodos

If  I recall correctly, azaleas usually bloom first, then mountain laurel and then finally my favorite of all evergreens (suck it, Christmas Tree!)–  the wild* rhododendron.  I saw some azaleas already blooming (pink and orange varieties) and the mountain laurel was getting poised.  Before we know it, Southwest Virginia is going to be in its prime rhodo season.  Rhodos are pretty prevalent on the trail around here, but I would rank Angel’s Rest (Pearisburg, VA), Dragon’s Tooth (Catawba, VA) and, of course, famous Rhododendron Gap (Marion, VA) as some of the better spots.

Pink Azaleas Blooming

Mountain Laurel at Sunset

All my pictures from our John’s Creek Mountain Outing can be found on my Flickr site.

*I have a distinct distain for cultivated rhododendrons.  I’ll have to save that for another post on another day.

May 17, 2007 at 11:21 pm 1 comment

John’s Creek Mountain Trail – A Tale of Trees

The Saturday before skiing, the dogs and I finally checked out John’s Creek Mountain Trail.  John’s Creek Mountain Trail intersects the Appalachian Trail south of Kelly’s Knob, so I’ve passed it a lot in the past but never laid a foot on it.  Turns out it is a pretty nice trail that goes about four miles one way from VA-658 to the Appalachian Trail.  Most of the time you are hiking on a ridge, so I got to sneak a lot views between the bare trees.  However, it is the trees themselves that will be the most memorable part of this hike.

Giant Tree Tumor
First off, shortly after the VA-658 trailhead, I encountered the biggest tree tumor I’ve ever seen!  I stopped as I initially approached the tree and took a picture thinking, “Wow, what a big tumor.”  Little did I know, I was only looking at the tip of the iceberg!  For a size comparison, Jimmie is present in both pictures.  He weighs 56 pounds.

Think this tree tumor is big?  Bah!  You haven’t seen big!

Now *that’s* big!

Magical Mountain Laurel
At one point, the dogs and I hit a thick patch of mountain laurel.  Some of the leaves were angled just right so that the sun reflected right off of them.  As you moved, the angles changed and different leaves would reflect differently.  So as we progressed through the section, it was as if we were wandering through a twinkling wonderland. 

In his earlier work, Ansel Adams felt that his pictures did not fully capture just how majestic the sites of Yosemite were.  Even as I held up my camera, I knew my pictures would not do this section justice.  But, that didn’t stop me from trying  🙂

Twinkling Mountain Laurel Wonderland

Metal vs. Painted Blazes
In 1924, Major William A. Welch and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy designed this diamond-shaped metal marker which was used to blaze the AT:

Replicas of the AT Metal Markers can be purchased at Sun Dog Outfitters

The use of the metal markers has been largely discontinued and the 2″ by 6″ white paint blaze is now the standard.  I may have seen one reason why that shift was made. 

About halfway between VA-658 and the Appalachian Trail, I ran into this tree.  Just like the tree I saw at Bottom Creek Gorge, this tree had devoured a foreign object in its path.  The metal blaze was almost entirely absorbed by the tree.  Meanwhile, the painted blaze remained in tact:

This tree has devoured the metal blaze

I thought I was looking at a unique occurence, much like the giant tree tumor, but I found numerous trees rebelling against the metal blazes in the same manner.  Some were ever so slowly prying the nail out of their trunks:

Trees Eating Metal Blazes

Of course, no blaze is perfect.  The painted blazes have their downfalls too.  Just off the top of my head, lichen can grow on them and obscure the mark:

Yellow Blaze Being Eaten By Something Else– Lichen

More pictures from my John’s Creek Mountain Trail hike are available on my Flickr site.

April 1, 2007 at 8:18 pm 2 comments

Flickr Photos

3D Printed Products