May 15

Field Biology Day 3

We started the morning learning about multiple types of ferns. We went over the Christmas fern, New York fern, lady fern, and fancy fern; and we also learned about the Fraser magnolia. After breakfast we checked the trap Dr. Carpenter set last night and found a raccoon. Then we headed to our first stop: mountain marker 375. The sole purpose for stopping here was to obtain snakes; but, sadly, we did not find any, just a lot of poison ivy and Dr. Basinger’s fire pink and red clover.

Our second stop was a creek off the Tanbark Bridge Tunnel. There the class found multiple mountain dusky and northern dusky salamanders along with crawfish and stoneflies. Krishna found bear corn, also known as squaw root, along with one dragonfly and an Indian cucumber that Tessa and Alex decided to eat. Dr. Carpenter taught us how craw fish molt, their different body parts, and how to tell a female from a male. We also found a rattlesnake fern and the granddaddy tree of the Appalachian Mountains, the American chestnut. American chestnut trees were scarce because of the chestnut blight, a fungus that kills chestnut trees, and because they were used for furniture and houses. Now, you mostly find saplings. The unisexual jack-in-the-pulpit, which we also discovered at the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel, is an interesting plant because this same plant produces male and female flowers.

Our third stop was at Craggy Gardens Trail where we found a dense heath bald. The soil is thin and very acidic, and lots of rocks can be found here. The main plant form is Catawba rhododendron. At the half way point, we stopped at a chestnut wood shelter made by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Going up a side trail, we were able to observe a grassy bald. Grassy balds are soil rich and have no trees. Humans cut woody vegetation with chainsaws to maintain the grassy bald. In the bald, the vegetation contains lots of berries, which bloom in July.

Our fourth to stop was the Craggy Pinnacle Trail where we discovered more balds. At the top of the trail winds were 20 to 25 mph. Along the trail, Dr. Basinger discovered dog hobble and gooseberry – two very interesting plants.

And, finally, our last stop was Mount Mitchell, where the elevation is estimated at 6,684 feet. Black Mountain contains 43 peaks over 6,000 feet tall and 82 peaks between 5,000-6,000 feet tall. Its highest range has 19 peaks over 6,000 feet tall. The temperature at the top of the mountain was 16.1°C or 61°F. We went down a nature trail where Tessa, Dr. Carpender, Lexi, and Alex climbed boulders. Walking the nature trail felt like something out of the movie Jurassic Park because of all of the moss covered stumps and beautiful natural scenery.

At the end of the hike, we were rewarded with sodas, Apple butter, apple cider, and various other snacks including dried cherry granola crunches. Dinner was interesting; and, when we returned to the cabin, we began a quick review with Dr. Basinger. Then, with Dr. Carpenter, we did a quick review of all the animals we found today.

Now bed is calling my name. Good night, everybody!