May 24

Day 4 – Four Seasons Trail and Falls

After lunch, we began our hike on the Hickory Nut Falls trail. The hike was not hard, but the incline was a little steep at some points. The view on the trail was amazing, and we spotted plant species that we had not seen before. At one point on the trail, we came across a bridge. Dr. Carpenter explained how the bridge came to be. The bridge was made because of a landslide caused by excessive rainfall. When we arrived at the Hickory Nut Falls, I was an awe. It was amazing to see how a small stream on the top of Chimney Rock created an amazing view and unique environment with endemic species such as the Yellow Root. At the falls, we also encountered a small Northern water snake, which was very docile and friendly. On our hike back to the van using the Four Seasons trail, we encountered a sickly garter snake. This trail was very peaceful, and I enjoyed the serenity of it until Dr. Carpenter almost stepped on a copperhead, which a fellow classmate and I almost stepped on. The day was a great day, and we ended by experiencing nature at night, which was one of the most peaceful things I have ever done and would gladly do again. I look forward to tomorrow, and my time in the mountains has been well spent.

George Negron

May 23

Day 3 – Ups and Downs

Day three has had its ups and downs. However, even though the rainy weather was against us, we still got to do just about everything we set out to do. We began our day at an art gallery where you could purchase a variety of merchandise. Nobody really purchased anything because it was so expensive, but it was really awesome to see all of the styles of arts that are produced in this area. The highlight of the day was going to Mount Mitchell, which has the highest elevation point that we will reach on this trip. Sadly, the clouds didn’t let us experience what I’m sure was an amazing view. We then hiked a fur/spruce trail that was just awesome. It really felt as if we were deep in a forest. After the hike, the professors treated us to hot chocolate and let us explore the Mt. Mitchell gift shop. After Mt. Mitchell, we drove back down the mountain, which made me very car sick; but I shook it off when we stopped at a random pond on the side of the road. I didn’t see the significance of the random ditch of a pond until Dr. Carpenter told us to really look at it. I have never seen so many tadpoles in my life! There were thousands of them. By simply dragging the net through the water, we would capture at least twenty or more tadpoles. I don’t know why, but I had the biggest urge to hold the tadpoles, and I certainly grabbed two handfuls of them. It was satisfying to say the least. I’m looking forward to day four. I’m sure its going to be an awesome time!

Ericka Skinner

May 23

Day 3 – May 23

The rain made today very interesting. I think I really would have enjoyed the hike at Mount Mitchell, but the rain was a big distraction. The trail was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There were caves, old logs, a lot of stones, and other things throughout the trail. I enjoyed walking through the woods like that though. It just would have been better to do it dry! I think the view would have been beautiful at the top, and it’s a shame we couldn’t actually see much. The museum at Mount Mitchell was pretty cool too. It had so many different ways of seeing the things we’d been learning about. We also went to the folk art center. I really enjoyed it because all of the hand-crafted items were so interesting and beautiful. I can’t imagine being able to make anything like that. I wish we could have bought things, but they were kind of expensive! The jewelry and vases were both really pretty. The Craggy Gardens Trail was also pretty cool. It was a short trail, and at the top you got to go to the balds. The balds were different. I’d never seen anything like this before, so it was good to learn about why they are there. Once again though, the rain didn’t help matters. We couldn’t see the pretty views, and it was a very wet climb. I also enjoyed Bull Creek. This was cool because we got to go off and explore, and try to find new things to identify on our own. Taylor, Erika, and I all were trying to catch the same salamander and he got away from all 3 of us! Overall, the day would have been really good had it not been for the rain. We were all soaked head to toe by the end, but the stuff that we actually did was pretty interesting!

-Elizabeth Webb

May 22

Day 2 – Elevations

Today, we visited various elevations. We began at 2,500 feet, and the highest point was at Richland Balsam at 6,020 feet. As we climbed in elevation, we noticed the trees were not lush and blooming like they were at 2500 feet, but, rather, they were more like vegetation in early spring.

Overall, today was an intense day of hiking, identifying species, observing an elk herd, and riding on the switchbacks. The most relaxing part of the journey was the Chattahoochee Valley. Watching a herd of elk was a rare sight to see. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the bats due to their being ill. We believe they may have WNS or White Nose Syndrome. While we hope they overcome this fungus, it is rapidly affecting thousands of bats in the US.

I have learned so much about the mountains in the past two days. The views are beautiful, and the students have made me feel welcome (I’m an older weekend college student) during this field study.

C. Huston

May 22

Day 2 – The Mountains Rock!

What a day! Longest travel day ever. Having been out of school for two weeks now, the 7:20 AM alarm was like the gunshot at the beginning of a race. We piled into the van by 8:30 and set out to see the French Broad, which was a historic waterway during the 1800s. Dr. Carpenter then told us that the river flowed all the way to Louisiana to the Gulf, which was crazy for me to imagine. Then Dr. Basinger explained to us the native bird songs like the chirp-chirp and how the male birds use this to attract the females. Then, we set off onto the winding roads up the Great Smokey Mountains exploring elevations starting at 2,930 feet and checking out waterfalls, plants, and trees. We also collected several amphibious species and insects until we got up to Devil’s Courthouse where we took a hike all the way up to 5,720 feet, which was really cool looking over the peak seeing the forestry and how it stretched throughout the mountain and into other states like Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. These sites were amazing to see, and we even had the pleasure of having a low-calorie lunch break at the Devil’s Courthouse, which was just fun for us all.

Jarion

May 21

Day 1 – The Adventure Begins

Who knew biology could be such an adventure? When I woke up at 6:30 am this morning to get ready to get on the van, I sure didn’t; but, at 8 am when my ten classmates and I loaded up the vans, started talking and laughing, I knew I was in for a good time. Just the ride to Black Mountain, NC, was fun! We made good time, stopping to eat in Statesville around 11:15 am, which was cool for me because my best friend just moved there and I’d never seen that town before.

Now it’s 9 pm, and the day is finally over (I say finally because I’m so tired!). As soon as we arrived, we unloaded the vans, unpacked our bags, and went straight outside to explore our new surroundings. Erika and I went straight down to the creek beside our lodge, and I caught a salamander! We named him Soloman but then changed the name to Sally because I think it’s a girl. Anyway, then Dr.Carpenter and Dr. Basinger came back to the lodge to start our first hike. We started at Christmount and saw hardwoods and pine trees. The weather was beautiful in the mid 70s, with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds just a little. We took the Blue Ridge all the way to the Azalea Trail that, then, took us back to our lodge. The trail was long, winding and steep! I’m a college athlete, and it was a little workout walking up and around and down the trails; but I had so much fun.

We learned about so many plants today: the great rhododendron, Fraser magnolia, jack-in-the-pulpit, daylily, mountain laurel, sour wood, white clover, ivy, Asian bittersweet, eastern hemlock, rag wort, Indian cucumber root, maiden hair fern, rattlesnake fern, lady fern, New York fern, and a Christmas fern. As we talked about these plants, we even tasted some of the edible ones (only when Dr. Basinger said it was okay, of course!). We were turning over logs and looking under rocks for critters and creatures and found some of those, too – a wood roach, a centipede, a millipede and a snail.

After the Blue Ridge, we turned right onto the Azalea Trail and started our journey back to the lodge. We saw a broad beech fern, umbrella magnolia, a chesnut tree, and a goatsbeard; but we weren’t on this trail very long because it started to thunder very loudly, and we walked a lot faster back to the lodge, just barely avoiding the rain. All in all, it was so much fun! I hope you enjoy this blog and continue to check in because we will be posting new blogs every night that we’re here.

Taylor Parrish

May 21

Day 1 – Hiking and Learning

Today, we explored Christmount. We hiked up to the trail and took note of some of the plant life that grew along the side of the road. We saw several different types of ferns including; lady fern, Christmas fern, and New York fern. We learned that different types of ferns have different types of arrangements from opposite to alternating: opposite, in which the leaves are symmetrical on both sides of the stem; and alternating, in which the plant is not symmetrical on both sides of the stem, but instead there is only one leaf across the stem in each row. We also learned that ferns are edible in the fiddle head stage when it is purplish red and curled up at the top like the handle of a violin. We discussed invasive species such as English ivy and Asian bittersweet. Invasive species are considered so if they displace the natural species, spread/reproduce rapidly, and cause damage.

When we entered the forest, we made sure to overturn rocks and logs that might have critters underneath. We weren’t very successful to begin with; but, further into the hike and higher up the trail, we were able to find a wood roach, a couple of millipedes, a centipede, and a snail. Upon coming to a stream, we spotted a few black snails and some salamanders. We were able to catch and observe a mountain dusky salamander in this stream. We continued along the trail; and, when we reached the halfway point, we heard the rumble of thunder. We continued up the trail and came down the other side, which was primarily a switchback: the arrangement of the trail in a zigzag formation. The purpose of the switchback is to prevent major erosion of the mountain side and mud slides during rain. The path became very narrow while we were descending the mountain. Luckily, there were trees to hold onto to steady oneself as we descended. We didn’t collect as many specimens on the way down as we had going up; and, in addition to the difficult hike down, it had begun to rain. We all made it out of the woods alive and without any issue; and, when we returned “home,” we reviewed the species that we had collected out on the trail. Most of the specimens that we collected were plant species, and most of those ferns. It was indeed an interesting hike.

Ashley Maamari

May 20

A Week of Wonder

What happens when you take 12 students and immerse them into a new habitat in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina?

The experience of a life time.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but no picture taken throughout this week could truly capture the sights, sounds, thoughts, or feelings that were experienced. To take a step outside of the classroom and really learn about an entirely different world than what you’re used to everyday has taught me more than I ever thought was imaginable. Each student was challenged to step outside of their comfort zone as we hiked through the trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway, looked under rocks for salamanders, caught snakes out of trees, fished crayfish out of streams, and hiked up to the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell. Each day was a new adventure with new plants, new animals, and new things to learn. We identified dozens of trees, ferns, wildflowers, and shrubs and even learned that some of those plants were edible or could be used medicinally. Being able to touch, smell, and, yes, even taste these plants was more educational than just reading about them in a book or copying down notes from a powerpoint. The entire area surrounding us was our classroom, and we never stopped learning, no matter where we went.

Out of the whole week, my favorite memory is the hike to Hickory Falls at Chimney Rock Park. The sheer size of the waterfall was enough to leave you speechless. The sound of the falls combined with the soft mist that gently cooled you as the water cascaded over the edge and crashed into the rocks below was so overwhelmingly peaceful I didn’t want to leave. With the natural beauty that constantly surrounded us, this week did not feel like a class at all, but rather an educational vacation. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend a week in such a majestic place and hope that many others get to do the same and are able to share in the wonderful experience I had.

Best wishes to future travelers,
Emily Humphreys

May 18

Day 5 – Fauna at the Falls

Today was a great day in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The day started off with a visit to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. This center is home to species native to western North Carolina. The center had many species that we have not been able to see in the wild, such as the timber rattler and the copperhead. The cougar, which is no longer found in North Carolina, can also been viewed at the center. Our trip to the Center was a refreshing change from the strenuous hiking that we have engaged in all week. Our second stop of the day was the Catawba Falls. To get to the falls, we hiked a rugged trail crossing over streams and the Catawba River multiple times. The search for more snakes became a success when the northern water snake made an appearance at the falls. This snake was captured by Dr. Carpenter for our viewing. It was over two feet in length. Although water snakes are known for their aggressive attitudes, this one was very cooperative. Dr. Carpenter was, however, covered in the snakes pungent musk. Species such as crawfish, stone flies, the Dobson fly, and small fish were also examined at the falls. We caught many crawfish this week; however, it was Catawba Falls that produced the first female of the trip! The new species were not the only highlight, but the falls themselves were majestic. The water was clear, and the sounds of the forest were relaxing, making the three-mile round trip well worth it.

Max Evans

May 18

Day 5 – Seeing, Hearing, and Handling the Wildlife

Today, we started out at the Western North Carolina Nature Center. There they had species native to North Carolina. My favorite animal that I got to see was the grey wolf. I did not realize how big these wolves actually are until today. They are beautiful animals; there was a white one and a grey one. Also, first thing this morning we got to hear the coyotes howl and yelp. I have heard them several time in the wild, and it is still an amazing thing to hear. One animal that I wanted to see was the red wolf. I guess it stayed in its hut all day. Another great animal was the timber rattlesnake. There were three different colors of the rattlesnake.

Our second stop was Catawba Falls. It was a long hike, but was very relaxing. At the start of the hike, we missed a snake that we tried to catch. Once we got to the waterfall, we captured crayfish, stone flies, may flies, Dobson flies, larval fish, and a northern water snake. It was a good-size snake, maybe two-feet long. It had a strong musk smell. Also, while at this site, Max caught the only female crayfish. Today was an exciting day.

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