Posts filed under ‘Rhododendron’

Products of Environments: Icicles and Red Oaks

The highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is Apple Orchard Mountain, which is named for the trees at its summit. But the trees aren’t apple trees like the name “Apple Orchard” would lead one to believe. They are actually northern red oak trees. Exposed at an elevation of 4225 feet, they are subject to strong winds and ice. The grow short and crooked and as describes they appear “as if they have been trimmed and pruned for decades.” Because of the conditions, they don’t look like the red oaks that they are:

Red Oaks
Stunted Northern Red Oaks on Top of Apple Orchard Mountain and What a Red Oak is Supposed to Look Like (Drawing courtesy of

The trees at the top of Apple Orchard Mountain are what they are because of where they are. They are products of their environment…

…and so are the icicles at Little Stony Creek on Salt Pond Mountain.

In December, Tony Airaghi and I hiked along side of the creek in search of Mann’s Bog. We never made it to our final destination, but along the way we saw a diverse display of icicles. These weren’t just simple columns of ice. Like the red oaks on Apple Orchard Mountain, these icicles gave us hints to the conditions they grew in– how the wind was blowing and where the water level was at. And some of them, were just baffling.

Mann's Bog - Tear Drop Icicles
Two tear drop icicles merge together

Mann's Bog - Rhodocicles (Cropped)
Icicles curve off the leaves of a rhododendron

Mann's Bog - Foamcicles (Cropped)
Ice amoung foam

Mann's Bog - Bellcicles (Cropped)
These bell shaped icicles hint to where the water level used to be at

Mountain Lake - Ice Claw (Cropped)
Um… yeah, have no idea how this claw of ice would have formed.

More pictures of our Little Stony Creek Hike and of Apple Orchard Mountain are available on my Flickr site.

February 3, 2009 at 8:00 am 3 comments

Reference Material: Vicky!

Last July, an artist based in Charlotte, North Carolina by the name of Murphy Ayala asked me if she could paint one of my rhododendron pictures or use it as reference material. She didn’t specify which one, but it didn’t matter! I enthusiastically agreed.

In a post last month, I talked about all the different sources Norman Rockwell used in his paintings and speculated he would be fond of Creative Commons. Just two days after that post, I got to see how thrilling it is to be a Creative Commons source! Murphy Ayala’s painting, “Mountain Rhododendron”, was complete and on her website (Click on Paintings->Landscapes).

My father has always amazed me with his ability to recall specific bridge hands and bidding sequences from two decades ago. When I was younger, I was perplexed by how he could do that. Now I understand it is a symptom of passion. We remember what we love. I have taken hundreds and hundreds of shots of rhododendrons through the years. Still when I saw Murphy’s rendition I instantly recognized the hike.

“Apple Orchard Falls!”

Photograph & Painting
My original shot from Apple Orchard Falls May 2007 and Murphy Ayala’s Mountain Rhododendron

What an amazing thrill to see scenery I love translated over to a painting!

Now, Murphy Ayala is arguably not as famous as Norman Rockwell, but she is pretty darn popular. You know how I know? When you start to type her name in a search, Google suggests her!

How Popular Murphy Ayala Is

I’m certainly not that popular. (ClintJCL, you are!)

To thank me, Murphy Ayala is going to send me some small studies she did before the final painting! Between that and a painting of a moonlit birch tree I bought at a local coffeehouse last week, it appears I’m becoming a collector. 🙂

January 22, 2009 at 10:00 am 2 comments

Rhodos All Around

Walking on an old road in Clay County, I managed to baffle a former MENSA member with a simple question.

“Would it surprise you if I told you my favorite tree was not the American Chestnut?”

And for a brief moment, I was accompanied by a silent and perplexed Ryan Somma. He finally answered, “Uh… yeah!”

The truth of the matter is I really don’t know what my favorite tree is (Good thing that wasn’t on the Mosaic Meme). There are so many species that are sentimental to me, it is challenging to pick a clear-cut favorite. Of course, I’m increasingly passionate about the American Chestnut and its restoration efforts. But at the same time, Sycamores remind me of my Grandmother. Black Locusts remind me of my childhood. Tulip Poplars make me think of my sister. I have suddenly developed a distinct fondness for the Pawpaw just in this past week! 🙂 The Keffer Oak entices me to visit repeatedly and I ever so covet getting to see a real live Virginia Round Leaf Birch.

But if there is one contender that sticks out above them all…. it would be West Virginia’s State Flower, the rhododendron.

Rhododendrons are so ingrained with my Appalachian Trail experiences (and year round– they are an evergreen!) that now the sight of them is synonymous with happy hiking memories. They make me think of the beauty and the freedom and the fulfillment that comes from a day in the mountains. Rhododendrons feel like home to me.

And so, when we were at The Greenbrier, I was excited to see a painting that featured rhododendrons.

A rhododendron painting!

And then I was excited to see there was a cafe named after the tree.

Rhododendron Cafe?!?

But little did I know there was more to come! The interior design of the entire spa was based on the rhododendron. They had rhododendron murals, rhododendron wallpaper, rhododendron curtains, rhododendron tile work. They even had a rhododendron themed laundry hamper!


Wallpaper and Curtains


More Paintings


Laundry Hamper

I may have stunned Ryan Somma the day before with my favorite tree confession, but at The Greenbrier Spa, it was he who took my words away.

He pointed out a spot where you could see rhododendron wallpaper, rhododendron curtains and real live rhododendrons growing outside a window!

Rhodos, rhodos, and real live rhodos!

How cool is that?

More pictures from The Greenbrier and all of their rhododendrons decor can be found on my Flickr site.

October 13, 2008 at 8:00 am 3 comments

Rhodo Photos by Tony

In February, I posted some Mount Roger pictures by my friend Tony Airaghi. The very last picture I shared, he was experimenting with the color accent feature of his camera. On our recent trip, Tony once again put that feature to use on Mount Rogers- this time to take pictures of the rhododendron blooms. I love what he ended up with:

Long live the color accent mode!

June 26, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Bloom Compare: Mount Rogers

Here are three pictures taken at Rhododendron Gap at Mount Rogers. The first was by me on June 7, 2008. The second one was by Nick from the Roanoke Outdoor and Social Club on June 14, 2008. The last one was taken by PassionPhish on June 16, 2008.

June 7, 2008 – All green

June 14, 2008 – And now there is pink (Photo by Nick)

June 16, 2008 – Still pink (Photo by PassionPhish)

June 25, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

How Fast Can I Post About Mount Rogers?!?

Okay. Been busy. Been real busy. And I promise to be busy for the rest of this month. But, I do need to revel in how awesome Mount Rogers was. So let’s see how fast I can get through this.

Time: 9:25 PM.

Our Crew
This year, we had 5 people in our crew. Tony Airaghi and Paul Ely went up Friday night. Meanwhile, Bill C, PassionPhish and I (oh yeah and Jimmie) hiked up on Saturday.

Our crew – Bill, PassionPhish, Jimmie and Me. (Photo by PassionPhish)

Saturday afternoon, we joined up with Paul and Tony at the campsite.

Paul blows on the fire while PassionPhish and Bill watch

It seems I pick up a food souvenir from every hiking partner. When I pack an avocado, I think of Tony Airaghi. When I pack an orange, I think of Mike E. And now, whenever I pack a big block of extra sharp cheddar cheese, I’ll think of PassionPhish. That was by far the most addictive dish (and we had smores ingredients with us!!!!). I could not get enough of that cheese. And when it got warm… it looked nasty, but it was even MORE delicious.

We were a little early in the bloom cycle for the rhododendrons. But that was good news because it meant the Roanoke Outdoor and Social Club, who was hiking the following weekend, got to see the peak blooms!

As we hiked to camp via the Pine Mountain Trail, I said to my companions, “Well… maybe by tomorrow they’ll open up a little more.” I was just being optimistic. I didn’t really believe there would be much of a difference between Saturday and Sunday, but there was! We hiked the same trail back and lo and behold there was a stunning difference.

Second Day Blooms

Second Day Blooms

Baby ponies were as cute as usual.


Okay. Well, I just recently watched a recent Jessica Piscitelli story on YouTube where she describes the fear she felt one camping trip when she heard a “bear”.

I had a moment of my own at Mount Rogers. In the middle of the night I woke up and could hear a bunch of coyotes yelping around to each other. They seemed awfully loud, so in my mind they were pretty close. I never reached the point where my fear had me call out to my companions. But I definitely laid awake a while, wide-eyed, monitoring the situation. And actually, I was not afraid for me. I was worried this vicious pack of coyotes would decide that Jimmie was particularly appetizing. And what was my beloved dog doing during this imminent attack? He was curled up at my feet, sound asleep, oblivious of any danger. And perhaps the dog knew best because I never heard any more from the coyotes.

When we were on Wilburn Ridge, we walked single file southbound on the Appalachian Trail. Suddenly a giant buzzing cloud passed to our right. It was so substantial and so loud, it didn’t seem real.

“Was that–?” Thomas uttered.

I pointed and said, “Bees?”

The cloud continued its way south. Suddenly the swarm took an abrupt left turn, right in to a couple of northbound hikers who promptly started doing a skin-crawling jig and swatting session. Alas, the couple did get stung. In retrospect, I wish that I had yelled out something, but I was so dumbfounded at the bees, I really did not digest the danger.

The two northbound hikers, after their bee attack

Emetophobe No More
Saturday evening, Paul and I were chatting with the father of the next camp over. The father is a mountaineer. Last year he climbed McKinley and this year he will be climbing Siula Grande. His stories were just fascinating, but as he talked I did notice something peculiar behind him. One of his young sons fell ill by the campfire. At first, I thought the kid was just spitting. The second wretch, it became clear it was not saliva exiting his lips. And by the third bout I interrupted the father and pointed.

“Uh…. your boy is sick.”

That boy went to bed shortly after that and the next day he was up and at ’em, climbing rocks and looking cute. So all ended well.

Which would not have been the case 7 years ago. That incident would have easily sent me in a tailspin. I would have spent the rest of the weekend worrying and thinking about all the germs on my hands. I may have cried and wanted to go home immediately. Whereas now, I can sit around the same fire, listen to stories and cook smores. So all ended well.

See all better already! Nothing to worry about!

Sunset and Smores
The seven-year old daughter of our mountaineer neighbor was not afflicted by her brother’s illness, so Tony, Paul and I spent a lot of time with her. We were the first people to expose her AND her mountaineer father to smores. I’m not sure if the father cared for the concoction or not, but the daughter asked for seconds! I think we may have also taught her another lesson. At dusk, Tony, Paul and I were heading to a rock on the Lewis Fork Trail to watch the sunset.

“Why would you want to watch a sunset?” the little girl asked.

So with permission from her parents, we took her with us.

Tony, Nikola and Paul wait for the sunset.

The colors and views were absolutely gorgeous. I can’t be certain, but I think she may understand the appeal now. 🙂

Sunset at 8:42 PM EST

Sunset at 8:55 PM EST

This was the third June in a row where I’ve made a trip down to Mount Rogers. I don’t intend for the streak to break. It’s a great trip and I will look forward to next year!

More pictures of our Mount Rogers trip can be found on my Flickr set as well as PassionPhish’s Flickr set.

Time: 11:27 PM

June 24, 2008 at 10:28 pm 6 comments

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

Cherry Blossoms vs. Rhododendrons

This weekend, I went up to Washington, DC to check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival. As you can expect, the cherry trees were gorgeous. It’s a close call, but if I had to chose a favorite explosion of pink and white blooms– I would go with rhododendrons (particularly the concentrated ones found at Mount Rogers National Recreation Area). It’s the rocky mountainsides covered in pink and green that tip the scale for me. Plus, there are less crowds. 🙂

But you are welcome to form your own opinion. And to assist you on that quest, here are some side by shots.

Cherry Blossoms Rhododendrons

Need additional data to consider? There are more pictures of the DC Cherry Blossom Festival AND the blooms of Rhododendron Gap on my Flickr account.

April 6, 2008 at 3:11 pm 11 comments

False Advertising: Maneater

Bah! Today I got roped into watching a bad movie. I knew it was going to be bad. I’m not an idiot. It stars Gary Busey and it was on the Sci-Fi Channel on a Sunday afternoon. But look at the Tivo description!

A wild animal goes on a bloodthirsty rampage on the Appalachian Trail

Amazon’s description of the DVD elaborates:

The hunter becomes the hunted when the forested shadows of the Appalachian Trail are stalked by a wild animal out of its element hungry and born to ravage. After Sheriff Grady (Gary Busey The Firm) finds a dismembered body in the area he quickly discovers a print near the scene that identifies the predator as a Bengal tiger. Six hundred pounds twelve feet from nose to tail it s one of the most powerful cats on Earth. Now it s loose and there[‘]s no man on the Appalachian Trail with the skill or the courage to take it down.

Well, heck! The Appalachian Trail in a movie? I’m in!

I watched the whole thing. I’ll overlook the fact that it was filmed in Winnipeg and the terrain* didn’t look right. But here’s an oddity. In a movie supposedly taking place on the AT, there was no mention of the trail. The tiger managed to keep a hiker-free diet…and there wasn’t even a single white blaze.

I know my conclusion may be controversial. And I know! It’s risky to take on the corporate giants like Amazon and Tivo. Tivo is especially scary since we are in the middle of a new season of Lost. But…I have to stay true to myself and my beliefs, right? So… here we go:

This movie had nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail.

That’s right, Tivo, YOU’RE WRONG. Now please, if you don’t mind, still record that new episode of Jon and Kate Plus Eight tomorrow night. Please?

*If you are saying to yourself, “Oh darn. I was really hoping to see a movie with terrain similar to the Southwest Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail”, then I know of two movies to refer right off the bat. Last of the Mohicans (filmed in North Carolina) is filled with familiar scenery and I couldn’t help but notice last time I watched Ned Betty‘s famous scene, that Deliverance (filmed in South Carolina and Georgia) features rhododendrons.

Heterosexual men– you now have an excuse to not look at Ned Betty’s ass. “Huh? What anal rape? Oooh! Sorry, I was too busy looking at the rhododendrons!”

March 30, 2008 at 6:38 pm 1 comment

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