Today, May 13, 2014, the field biology class (BIO 006) went on our second day of observations in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Our journey began around 9:20 a.m. (first stop of the day) and ended around 10:30 p.m. (return to the cabin). Some of the highlights of today’s trip were the Devil’s Courthouse, bear sightings, and a waterfall! The stops for the day included French Broad Overlook, Bad Fork Valley Overlook, Mt. Pisgah, Buck Springs Gap Overlook, Devil’s Courthouse, the old bog, Red Cove, and Cataloochee Valley.
Our first stop of the day was the French Broad Overlook (elevation: 2,100 ft.). The class found the blue star plant, bush honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, Solomon’s seal, and a tiger swallowtail butterfly. On the way to the next stop, Bad Fork Valley (elevation: 3,350 ft.), we saw two black bears (1 mom and 1 cub) cross the road right in front of the van! A wild turkey was also spotted on the side of the road, but the sex was not determined. At Bad Fork Valley (around 10:09 a.m.), the class found sassafras, orange sulfur butterfly, and the pearl crescent butterfly. The third stop was Mt. Pisgah (elevation: 5,000 ft.), and the class found red elderberry and Carolina rhododendron. The fourth stop was the Buck Springs Gap Overlook (elevation: 4,980 ft.), which was the first walking trail that the class explored. On the trail, the class found red spruce, yellow birch, bluets, old man’s beard, toad skin lichen, lung lichen, yellow bell flower, louse wort, fleabane, dusky wing butterfly, Appalachian azure butterfly, centipede, earthworms, spot tick, millipede, velvet mite, snail, slug, salamander, and coyote feces. The first walking trail wasn’t too bad at first, but a little narrow. However, toward the middle, the trail was really steep and was very narrow and also steep toward the end; so it was a bit difficult to climb up!
On the way to Devil’s Courthouse, Dr. Basinger retrieved pink shell azalea and Catawba rhododendron. The Devil’s Courthouse (elevation: 5,720 ft.) was the steepest climb of the day. The trail was paved at first; but eventually turned to a rock-and-gravel path, which went at a very sharp angle up the side of the peak. At the top of the Devil’s Courthouse, the class found sedge (found in Canada normally) and blazing star; both of these plant species are endangered. The view at the top of the Devil’s Courthouse was AMAZING! It was so cool to be so high up and to see that mountain tops normally have different ecosystems than the rest of the mountain. Dr. Carpenter found a Grey-cheeked salamander (Jordan’s salamander) on the way down.
After Devil’s Courthouse, the class went to an unnamed waterfall. Some of the students drank water from the falls and said that it was delicious. Five students (Melanie, Yahsnniah, Alex, Tessa, and Lexi) climbed down to the waterfall and Melanie found a water strider. The students climbed all over the rocks and played a little in the water, but the water was running too fast, so we could not go all the way in.
The old bog was the sixth stop of the day around 3:28 p.m. The class found peak moss sundew, and reindeer lichen. The bog was interesting to see, but everyone’s shoes got really wet! The seventh stop was the Red Cove (elevation: 3,915 ft.), where there was a hardwood forest cove with a creek down the middle. Some of the species found there were buckeye trees, rattlesnake orchid, maples (sugar and striped), and the slimy salamander.
The last stop of the day was the Cataloochee Valley. The class found about 17 elk (mostly cows, one bull, and one young bull), 2 more black bears (1 mom and 1 cub), 3 wild turkeys (gender not determined), crane fly, mayflies, big brown bats, and stoneflies. The class went into the Caldwell House to see the big brown bats; the house was built in 1903. There was a stream outside of the front of the house; there was also had a barn and a spring house (to refrigerate food back in the days before the use of electricity). Trout were seen in the stream, and there were bear feces right in front of the house. The road to get to the Cataloochee Valley was partially paved, full of blind and sharp curves, and subject to high winds; all in all, it was a scary drive.
- Melanie O’Rourke and Katie Gupton.