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Monday, September 21, 2009

ENCCAer's Hike to Temple Flat Rock:

Temple Flat Rock is a 37 acre nature preserve near Knightdale, NC. It is an unspoiled granitic outcrop of an ecological significance, and one of 26 granitic outcrops in eastern Wake and neighboring counties. The unusually pristine site has never suffered destructive actions such as trash dumping or vandalism like many of the other outcrops in the area. Surrounding the rock is open pastures, and young pine woods, which provides buffer zones from nearby farming activities.

The Rock is a generally flat, but sloping in places surface feature unique to the Piedmont region. There are other granitic outcrops in North Carolina more common in the mountains. Some of the more interesting plants found on the bare rock are mosses, lichens, Appalachian Sandwort (Minuartia glabra), and Sedum smallii.

September 7, 2009
Our group met at the parking small parking lot mid-morning on Saturday. The forecast was mostly cloudy skies with a small chance of rain. We began our hike skirting the eastern edge of the woods boarding an open pasture. A few blooming wildflowers were scattered amongst the tall grass and weeds. The overgrown trail loops around southwest to an opening leading into a power line corridor. From here we crossed parallel to the power lines, and made a stop at a rock outcrop. Was this the Temple Flat Rock?

Turned out the answer was no.

After returning to the trail boarding the pasture, we entered the woods via a narrow path. A short distance in Kimberli noticed a gravestone. We thought a strange place for a burial site. We exited the woods and continued to follow the loop trail. Having not found the Flat Rock, we returned to the parking lot for some drink and snacks. By this time it was raining lightly, not enough to end the hike, but we did cover our equipment until it stopped.

While we all were eating a snack, Dan and I talked about where the Flat Rock was located. After all that was the reason we came. The directions I got by email said: enter gated pasture on foot and walk along west fence line to a trail through oak-hickory forest. We had just came from that direction so we backtracked a short distance from the parking lot. I left the others to venture off into another open field. Meanwhile Dan found the woodland trail leading to the Flat Rock. Thanks Dan for getting us on the right path!

What most intrigued me about the site is here you have a large exposed rock where every spot there is something living on its surface. It may be tiny lichens the size of a dime (or smaller) while other areas are covered with deep green mini-forests of mosses. Scattered in the sunny spots were prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), various grasses, and shrubs boarding the rocky exposure.

After taking some time exploring the area, and shooting some photos, we returned to the parking lot to decide where to eat. Seems after all this walking, albeit over level ground, we got hungry.

Pizza anyone?

Photo Slideshow on Pbase

For another read about our recent adventure ck out Kimberli's blog Carolina Towns and Trails.
In 1984, the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) acquired a conservation easement for a 5.2 acre tract of land in eastern Wake County. Then in 1995, an additional 32 acres was donation by Jim and Grace Temple of Goldsboro, NC. The Temples donated the land to TLC in memory of Mr. Temple’s mother, Louise Parker Temple, who was a native of Selma. The preserve was the TLC’s first protected property.

Visit for more info including scheduled fieldtrips, and how you can help the TLC protect our natural heritage.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Search of a Rare Orchid

July 19, 2009
Today’s adventure was a revisit to an area I first explored in July 2006 then again in 2007.
Dial Creek – part of Hill Demonstration Forest owned by North Carolina State University.

My route took me through the city of Durham via NC-147 and US-501. With a right turn onto Bahama Road (SR 1616), I suddenly found myself far removed from the city swarm. Here the gentle hills and wide expanse of open land are in stark contrast to the multilane superhighways, shopping centers, and busy intersections. This is the scenic part of Durham County.

Once on this two-lane country road, it did not take me long to spot a scenic view. After crossing the bridge over Lake Michie, I pulled over at a small gravel parking area on the right shoulder. From here you can see the lake. I followed a short trail down to the lakeside to take a few shots. Up the road from here is the boat access area. Located near the town of Bahama, NC Lake Michie is a reservoir within the Neuse River watershed, and is the primary water supply for the city of Durham.
Lake Michie
Bahama Road meanders through the gentle rolling hills dotted with woodlands, hayfields and old farmhouses. One such place caught my eye. Off in a hayfield was a small farmhouse flanked on one side by bales of hay, and boarded on the back by woods. I couldn’t resist a stop for a shot here.
Country Farm House

My next stop was at my destination Dial Creek. Located on Hampton Road (SR 1603), Dial Creek is a small waterway boarder by woods on both sides with an extensive seepage area upstream.

My mission was to locate the purple fringeless orchid (Platanthera peramoena). This was my third visit to the site. After an unsuccessful attempt in 2006, the following July I hit pay dirt. Finally, I found the rare and elusive orchid!

Would I be lucky again this year?

Entering the woods from the roadside requires some pruning of the dense vegetation. Once inside the dark woods the understory is quite open. As I continued a short distance upstream, I saw the bright, sunny overgrown thicket. From this point getting around was at times very difficult even painful. The prickly covered stems of Smilax and Rubus made for a painful walk. I have the scratches to prove it. Combine those with the tangle of honeysuckle, poison ivy, and Wisteria, I wondered how any low-growing herb could survive against all the fast growing competition.

Overgrown Thicket
After over an hour of trampling, cutting, fighting, and crawling through the jungle of dense impenetrable green, I finally found one blooming plant. It appeared weak and fragile yet still had enough energy to send up a flower spike despite the thick canopy of woody shrubs. Despite the scars from the fight, it was well worth the effort to see, and photograph this beautiful plant.

Purple Fringeless Orchid

I emailed my contact Misty Buchanan at the NC Natural Heritage Program, and she told me the area had been burned in March 2008. Usually a fire reduces the thick vegetation clearing the understory, but now the seepage was more overgrown than before. Perhaps another burn later in the season is necessary to keep the woody plants under control.

This is a neat place. A rare plant calls it home. Some effort to make it more suitable is certainly in order. Otherwise, another species will disappear thus becoming more rare than before.

For more photos check out my photo galleries In Search of a Rare Orchid  and To Bahama and Back

Next stop Spruce Pine Lodge and nature trails.
Access to Hill Demonstration Forest property requires a user permit which can be obtain by completing an application, and paying a fee for the activity of interest.
From Wikipedia:
Located in northern Durham County, Bahama was originally settled around 1750 as the community of Balltown until the name was changed to reflect three leading families of the community: (Ba)ll, (Ha)rris, and (Ma)ngum. Another unusual name associated with the community is Hunkadora, a name for the post office here during a period of the 19th century (Powell 1968, p. 19).

Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. Do not use or distribute text or images without written permission.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Falling Waters

Looking Glass Falls

Here is a video I created from short clips I took from a recent visit to the NC mountains. Soundtrack is the theme song from "The Thorn Birds" composed by Henry Mancini. I'm way behind at blogging my trip reports. I'll be posting them over the next week or so. In the meantime enjoy the sights of Falling Waters.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wildflower Exploration at Turkey Creek

Sunday April 5th, 2009

Highways lead us to destinations. We are unaware of what is lurking beyond the edge of the asphalt. Let us see what I found today…

Hwy near Turkey Creek
Most people wouldn’t think a stretch of two lane country road in rural Nash County would be a home to rare plants, yet in late March to early April there is indeed a show to be seen. At first glance, there is not much to see from the highway, but a thick tangle of the woody shrubs and leafless trees. That is until you step inside the woods.

I arrived at the site just after 1 p.m. It was a warm, sunny day. After parking my car, I walked up the road, a short distance figuring out exactly the best place to cross. You see there is a large ditch separating the shoulder of the road, and the utility right-of-way adjacent to the woods. The ditch was nearly full of water so selecting a good spot to cross was a bit tricky. I soon found an easy place to cross then entered the woods.

Once inside I noticed the ground felt soft or more specifically spongy. This is due to an underlay of sphagnum moss plus a high water table. Several small creeks meander through the site. A typical plant of low woods is cattail or Typha, which resembles – at this stage of growth – Iris leaves.

(Typha  sp.)
Wondering back towards dried ground the landscape changed. Here growing amongst last autumn’s fallen leaves was a carpet of spring ephermals numbering in the hundreds. The common trout lily(Erythronium americanum) with its dainty yellow flowers had since past bloomed, but the glossy mottled leaves were still evident. The name trout lily comes from the resemblance of the plant’s leaves to brook trout, a fish of mountain streams.

What was a surprise to find was the small yet stately Listera australis or southern twayblade! In three visits to Turkey Creek, this was the first time I had found the uncommon orchid.  Listera finds its home in low, swampy woods in eastern North Carolina. The orchid starts to bloom while temperatures are still chilly. Its tiny reddish brown flowers blend into the background of the shady forest thus it is easily overlooked. By May the entire plant has bloomed, set seed and disappeared until next spring.
Listera australis
If finding the orchids were not enough, the best prize of all was a large colony of the Carolina Dwarf Trillium – Trillium pusillum. This attractive wildflower is rare, and lives only a few spots in the entire state. Reminiscent of a tiny Great White Trillium, it is the smallest of the trillium species native to North Carolina. Growing to a height of 6 to 8 inches with flowers about 2 inches or so wide, Carolina Dwarf Trillium blankets the wet woods near the Turkey Creek floodplain. The property is protected by the N.C. Nature Conservancy.

Trillium pusillum var. pusillium
After spending a couple of hours enjoying the botanical bounty, I left Turkey Creek then made a short stop by Flower Hill. Not much blooming here yet just give it another week or so. Here is what I saw on my trip.


Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. Do not use or distribute text or images without written permission.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Madness in the Hardwoods

I look forward to this time each year. Between the frosty nights of winter and the warm sunny days of summer, spring arrives on a northwest slope in Wayne County. Here the early bloomers signal the arrival of a new season by carpeting the forest floor with color.
Known as spring ephermals, bloodroot and trout lilies welcome visitors to a scene rare in these parts. They number in the thousands, but last for only a short time. In early spring these natives emerge, bloom and set seeds all in a few weeks then go to sleep until next spring.

Below is a slideshow from last year. I'll return again this season to capture the magic of these woodland beauties.

Plummer's Paradise


Saturday, March 14, 2009

It Graupeled and Snowed Today

Blog entry for March 2, 2009

Although the calendar has flipped to March, winter here in ENC is hanging on. A winter storm was forecast to hit parts of western and central NC overnight Sunday (March 1st). In my neighborhood, the weatherman said maybe a trace to 1” accumulation. As a prelude to the winter arrival, we’ve had 5” for rain over the past 48 hours.

At 7:00 a.m. Monday morning (March 2nd) the skies were dark gray, temps hovering near freezing, and the wind was cold out of northwest. It felt like it was going to snow, but nothing yet.

A few flurries started later in the morning, but no accumulation. Off and on throughout the day it would precip briefly then stop, then start again. As of 11 p.m. it was snowing again. A narrow band of snow showers formed near the NC/VA boarder near Kerr Lake trailing southward. Could this be lake effect snow?

What made this event different is the type of precipitation. Most folks don’t know that not all snow is created equal. For the first time in recent memory (at least at my house) what fell from the sky was a combination of the typical fluffy flakes of white, and what meteorologists call graupel.

So what the heck is graupel anyway?

Unlike snowflakes, grauple or snow pellets are small Styrofoam balls(see photo below) of white ice particles that fall as precipitation, and easily break apart when it lands on a surface. It forms when a snowflake high in the atmosphere encounters supercooled water, and ice crystals begin to form instantly on its outside edges. As the ice accumulates on the surface, the original snowflake no longer is distinguishable instead forms a ball or pellet. This building up of ice crystals is called a riming.

How can you tell the difference between graupel and hail? Graupel typically falls apart when touched or when it hits the ground. Hail is formed when layers of ice accumulate forming a very hard solid piece of ice.

Because graupel is powdery and white, it’s considered to be a form of snow. However, some meteorologists have argued it’s more correct to call it “soft hail” because the formation via layering of ice crystals - is known as accretion - is similar to hailstones, which often accompany strong thunderstorms.

Another common frozen precip of winter is sleet. It forms in an entirely different way than either hail or graupel. Sleet forms when liquid water, either rain or melted snowflakes, falls through a shallow layer of cold air, and freezes solid before hitting the ground. Freezing rain is rain that freezes on contact with a surface at or below 32 degrees. For neat graphic illustrations of winter weather check out Snow, sleet or freezing rain? at

Here is a cool video demonstrating supercooled water:

Below is a photo of graupel and snow. Notice in the first image the round form or balls while in the second image you see fine pointed needles typical of snow that forms when temps are around 23 degrees F.

photo of graupel

photo of needle snowflakes


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snowy Morning Take Two

February 4th, 2009

The forecast was for snow. When I woke up around 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, I peeked out the window to see a thin blanket of white. At the time, it was snowing lightly. What a change from just 24 hours ago when the temp was near 60 degrees. Call it winter in North Carolina.

Since the ground was still somewhat warm from the recent spring-like temps, I figured the snow accumulation would not be as high as the previous snow two weeks earlier. I patiently waited until the precipitation ended before venturing outdoors.

With my camera in hand, tripod, gloves, and a layer of warm clothes, my first subject was a birdhouse in the backyard. The Leyland cypress (Callitropsis ×leylandii) were covered with snow, and made a wonderful backdrop for my subject. At this point the snow was done, the gray, dreary clouds cleared thus giving way to bright sunshine and a blue sky.

Now the temperature was rising. I felt a need to hurry if I was to capture winter’s latest appearance. After shooting some of the cover covered tree branches in my yard, the next place to go was to the woods. I crossed the open rye field now covered in white, entered the woods via a deer path, and then stopped. Something about walking into a wood on a snowy day is magical. All I heard was the crunch of snow beneath my feet. No sound of birds, wind, traffic, nothing. A quiet peaceful solitude at this moment in time.

As much as I’m enjoying the relaxing feel of the woods, I must make quick of the opportunity. The wind was starting to pickup, which meant the snow-covered forest would be changing as the flakes fell to the ground. In certain situations it’s tricky, well actually down right difficult to capture with a camera what your eye sees. What appears to my eye as a beautiful tangle of snowy branches looks in a photo as a confusing subject devoid of any definition to the viewer. When you look at a photo and have to ask. "What am I lookin at?", then the purpose of the image is gone. So I sought out compositions of form and scale the view could easier ascertain.
It was a wonderful experience to walk through the woods in the snow. I was able to capture some vivid memories of the perhaps last snowfall of the season. They are rare in these parts.

By the time I reached the rye field on the way back home, the snow was vanishing….to return again another day as summer rains, and maybe, just maybe white flakes of crystalline water next winter.

Snowfall Photo Gallery


Monday, February 16, 2009

Green Swamp on Fire

A prescribed burn in a southeastern Carolina pine savanna.

When you see a fire or smoke your first thought most certainly would be to call the fire department! On the day of 2/01/09 the locals near the town of Supply, NC may have been inclined to do so. In this case, the fire department is doing the burning.

So what happen on the first Sunday of the month? The woods were on fire. Not by accident, but what is called a prescribed burn. The Nature Conservancy – owners of the Green Swamp Preserve – periodically burn parts of this vast region in order to save it. We don’t usually think of fire as saving anything yet it’s Nature’s way of preserving the richness of a vanishing ecosystem.

From the Nature Conservancy’s website:
"Many of the plants in the Green Swamp benefit from periodic burning; pond pine’s cones burst and release seeds after being exposed to very high temperatures and wiregrass flowers vigorously after a fire. Longleaf pine seeds need bare ground to germinate and plenty of sunlight to grow, typical traits of plants that evolved in a landscape with frequent fires."

Fellow CA member Skip Pudney got the chance to photograph a burn in action. A scheduled burn in the Green Swamp along Hwy 211 took place on February 1st. He was able to capture images showing the intensity of fire. Two days later while on a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC I stopped along Hwy 211 to shoot the afterburn.

The woods were blacken with charcoal, and appeared dead. I know as spring arrives in a few short weeks Nature will heal the charred landscape into a rich greenery of plants unique to the savanna. This year I will catalog the progress through the seasons of change in the Green Swamp Savanna…after the fire.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Ice, Fire, and Morning Snow

Trips to WV on Sunday Feb 1st-2nd, to Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday Feb. 3rd and the snowfall at home on Feb. 4th (1.5").

The first week of February 2009 was quite memorable. Early Sunday morning Dad and I headed to Clarksburg, WV on a business trip. It came short notice so no time to really plan any extra curricular activities. Since we were staying overnight, and would have some time on Sunday for a little exploration, I took my camera. This was my first visit to Virginia’s western brother. I don’t count the two other times I briefly passed through WV without stopping. With no real plans where to stop to look around, we decided if we saw a park or interesting place along the way, we’d check it out.

Leaving home we traveled I-40 W then connected to Hwy 52 N toward Mount Airy, NC. You can tell the topography of the land changes along this route. The one standout feature along Hwy 52 about 20 miles south of Mt. Airy is Pilot Mountain. Unless you are asleep, you cannot miss this famous North Carolina landmark.

Called Mt. Pilot in 1960’s TV series The Andy Griffith Show, "Pilot Mountain rises more than 1,400 feet above the rolling countryside of the upper Piedmont plateau. Dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in 1976, this solitary peak is the centerpiece of Pilot Mountain State Park."

I had only seen it one other time so I was not about to miss a photo op. Once we saw the mountain in the distance I told him(Dad was driving at the time) to stop at the next exit, which turned out to be #129. He turned left at the end of the exit ramp, drove over the bridge, and parked along the shoulder of the road. I got out to shoot a safe distance off the road. After taking about four or five quick snaps, I returned to the car, and we were on our way. Just as we were pulling back on the road, a NC highway patrol car drove slowly past us. No flashing blue lights so the coast was clear.

Once entering WV, we stopped at the welcome center near Princeton. This was not like the wc’s I have been to before. The architecture of the building reminded of the pyramids of Egypt (see photo below). The interior was open, airy somewhat of a conservatory feel with the glass ceiling. After about a 15-minute stop we’re back on the road.

Winter was still evident in WV. Thin blankets of snow covered the ground on the shady northfacing slopes. In fact there was quite a bit of icicles - more like small frozen waterfalls - along I-77, and then again on Hwy 19 north of Beckley. As we traveled north on Hwy 19, I saw a sign for New River Gorge. Ah, a must stop for sure.

For a sunny weekend afternoon, the parking lot was nearly empty. The sign near the entrance to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center showed a trail to an overlook. Here we go. The paved trail lead into the woods where it merged into a boardwalk with the first overlook. Here you can see a bit of the arch bridge, but not much else. I noticed the boardwalk continued down, down, down to another overlook.

About 170 steps later we arrived at a much better view of the New River Gorge below, and the high arch bridge to the right. It was sunny mid-afternoon. Can you say harsh lighting for photography? Still the view was spectacular. It was one of those times I wished I could have stay for hours to explore more of the area.
After absorbing the views we returned to the car, and continued on to our destination. Our only other photo stop was at a scenic overlook along Hwy 19. This time of year the landscape is brown and barren. What was missing? A blanket of snow sprinkled through the woods.

Clarksburg, WV is a small somewhat cluttered town. I saw remnants of old now close factories, dirty snow piled up along the roadsides, and narrow dented punctuated with cracks, potholes and broken curbsides. Bridgeport was a bit better although the downtown area had quite a few closed retail businesses. The natural scenery of WV is wonderful. The small towns not so much.

On Monday afternoon shorting after 2 p.m., we crossed the state line into NC. We stopped at the visitor center off I-77. This is one of the nicest vc’s I’ve stopped at. Outside the office is a large granite map of NC. Inside you will find books, brochures, maps, flyers, etc. from all across the state. What made this vc interesting to me was there were paints by Bob Timberlake on display as well as other items unique to NC. It’s like a mini museum. Most rest stops will have the maps, flyers, etc for travelers, but this one had some history on display too. So if your travel plans take you up I-77 near VA, stop by and have a look. You will be glad you did.
The rest of trip photos are here in my Pbase gallery: Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

For more information about New River Gorge check out these links:

Canyon Rim Visitor Center is located on U.S. Route 19, just north of Fayetteville, WV. U.S. Route 19 is easily reached from Interstates I-64 and I-79, as well as U.S. Route 60.
Hiking at New River Gorge.
New River Scenics photos of the New River Gorge and surrounding area

"The New River was designated an American Heritage River on July 30, 1998. There are currently fourteen American Heritage Rivers in the country." The river, too, has served as a migration route for plants and animals as well as people. Some of West Virginia's rarest plants are found in the area.
Next: Green Swamp on Fire.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Beauty of Rime

Scenic North Carolina

photo by Rich Stevenson ©2006
What happens to water when the temperature falls to 32 degrees or lower? It freezes right? Well, not necessarily. Water molecules need something - a nucleus - to grab onto in order to form ice crystals. These microscopic nuclei, which can be dust, smoke or any very tiny solid particle provide the impetus for freezing. Even in temps well below freezing, water droplets can remain in a liquid state, and are known as supercooled droplets. In winter when a cloud of these super cooled water droplets come in contact with exposed objects like tree branches, they immediately freeze into a milky deposit we call rime ice. The branches become the substrate for water to crystallize, and the result is a stunning transformation of the mountain landscape.

These beautiful yet fragile patterns are very delicate. The bright white colour of rime ice verus "clear ice" comes from the fact air is trapped within the structure as it grows sometimes at a rate of more than a foot per hour! It's frequent wintertime event in the Appalachian Mountains whose forested peaks are often shrouded in clouds. Notice in the photos below no snow on the ground just the trees covered in rime ice.

Max Patch Photos by SCJack © 2006

Scenic Max Patch Mountain sits upon a high knob overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Black Mountains. The 350 acres was purchased in order to relocate the Appalachian Trail off the highway, and onto national forest service land. The elevation here is about 4,500 feet. So the next time you venture out for a winter hike to the high country, the landscape can be cast in frozen beauty called rime ice.

Drive directions: From I-40 take Exit 7 Harmon Den on the NC side. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp onto a gravel road. Follow this road for about 6 miles then turn left until it ends. Turn left onto Max Patch Road. The parking area is about 2.5 miles on the right. There is a 1 mile loop trail.

For more images of Max Patch winter scenery check out these galleries by SCJack and Rich Stevenson

Update: Tonight I found a website featuring more images of rime ice and snow in the NC mountains. Check it out...the images are gorgeous!

Roan Mountain Winter Hiking near Asheville


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