Sipsey Wilderness in November

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#1)  Sipsey Wilderness in November

Postby Zachary S » Thu Nov 28, 2013 7:44 pm

ENTS...

On the morning of November 16th, for my 23rd birthday, my grandfather and I took a trip a couple of counties over to the Sipsey Wilderness of the Bankhead NF, as we do with some regularity. The weather was expected to be cool and cloudy with rain beginning by late evening, with pockets of dense fog; however, we dealt with bouts of unexpected rain. This led to humidity being rather extreme, but also bathed the landscape in an ethereal mist that perfectly complemented the stark late-fall landscape.

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Fall color is well past peak here, and the cool and windy conditions as of late have helped the stragglers drop their leaves fairly quickly. But the Sipsey Wilderness is gorgeous in any season.

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Steep bluffs on either side of the Sipsey River provide a beautiful and imposing frame for the dense old-growth forest located within their shadow.

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The Sipsey River Picnic Area trail, probably the most heavily traveled trail in this part of the park, does not contain the largest trees in the Wilderness, but nevertheless is flanked by very tall tuliptrees and beech, among others. Not having height measuring equipment, and until I get some assistance in college not being that great at the mathematics required anyway, I can't be certain, but many of the trees in the more sheltered prongs and coves easily top 100' with some poking past into the 120' range. Other areas of the Wilderness contain taller trees and an even greater diversity of species. Regardless, the tall leafless spires of tuliptree trunks pierce the November sky like sentries, their stark contrast in the low light giving a breathtaking character to this magical landscape.

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The largest tree that I have personally measured on the trail is a chestnut oak, which if I recall is roughly 14' around at breast height. It's located well above the trail, between a large boulder and the bluff that it fell off of eons ago.

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Of course, relevant to the group and Eastern forests in general, the most notable facet of the forest in the Bankhead NF is the disjunct population of Eastern hemlock, reaching very near the southernmost point of their native range in this area. While a large chunk of the national forest, which extends well past the border of what one would consider the 'core' with old-growth forest into drier hardwood and pine forest, is relatively devoid of hemlock, the coves in the core of the park are full of hemlock. They form nearly pure stands in some areas, casting a shade so deep that noon feels like daybreak. The picnic area trail contains countless smaller hemlocks and several very large trees, 6-8' in circumference.

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The forest here has an increasingly rare distinction - dense hemlock coves completely free of adelgid.

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In my years of visiting the forest, I've yet to see a single sign of the dastardly invader... but they're coming. The Forest Service expects them to arrive in the Bankhead NF probably by 2015-2017, and if nothing is done, they will make short work of this very small isolated population. My talks with a ranger have led me to believe that they have not put forth much effort to prevent or treat the spread of adelgid; one person I talked to even said she didn't believe they would ever thrive here because of the humidity. Being familiar with GSMNP, I can assure anyone that humidity is NOT too much of a factor in keeping adelgids under control.

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Until then, though, the forest remains gorgeous and lively, with the only widespread mortality being in pines which fell victim to beetles during a drought a decade ago and various trees that have fallen in the many storms that have swept through the forest in the last few years. Some trails have been absolutely devastated by storms, particularly in April of 2011, but the picnic trail only has a handful of fallen trees here and there, most of which have been dislodged from shallow rooting in the rocks and bluffs that flank the valleys.

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For anyone who loves forests, the Bankhead is a gem, and arguably the most beautiful place in the entire state. The rest of Alabama has some of the most intensive and frequent logging found anywhere, despite being mostly forested, and such an undisturbed swath of forest is easily discernible even on satellite views.

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It's an absolutely magical place to visit, and a true diamond in the rough in a state with very few pockets of virgin wilderness. It's definitely worth a visit, even in the shadow of GSMNP just six hours away. This wilderness on the very southernmost tip of Appalachia is truly a treasure worth preserving for future generations.

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These images plus several others can be found in an Imgur folder I made whilst writing this post. http://imgur.com/a/lYN5P

- Z S

For this message the author Zachary S has received Likes - 7:
bbeduhn, Chris, Jess Riddle, Matt Markworth, PAwildernessadvocate, Tyler, Will Blozan
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#2)  Re: Sipsey Wilderness in November

Postby PAwildernessadvocate » Sun Dec 01, 2013 10:36 am

Wonderful post, thank you very much. I love America's National Wilderness Preservation System. Have not personally visited the Sipsey Wilderness but hope to do so one day. It has a very interesting history of expansion, and how that was accomplished (1988). Definitely on my "bucket list," so to speak.
"There is no better way to save biodiversity than by preserving habitat, and no better habitat, species for species, than wilderness." --Edward O. Wilson
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#3)  Re: Sipsey Wilderness in November

Postby Ranger Dan » Sun Dec 01, 2013 11:30 am

Thank you for the beautiful images and descriptions.  This is the kind of post I find really worthwhile in taking the time to visit.  The time I explored a small part of Sipsey Wilderness, I was truly impressed by the wonders inside its hollows.  The area seems to harbor a treasure trove of mysterious and difficult-to-access coves that might also contain some remarkable trees, waterfalls, mossy boulder gardens, and alcoves under the bluffs.  I would enjoy seeing more of that!
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