Alum Cave - GSMNP

Moderators: edfrank, dbhguru

#1)  Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby dbhguru » Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:32 pm

NTS,

  Today Monica and I went to Alum Cave, one of the most popular scenic trails  and about 0.3 miles beyond. Monica had never been on this trail, and wanted to experience the richness of an upland cove forest. She was not prepared for the abundance of large, old yellow birches. She is used to seeing the species in New England's and New York's forests, and we measured some very large ones in the Adirondacks, but the Alum Cave Trail shines for this species. Heights are not great, but girths are. I measured four over 12 feet around (13.5, 12.9, 12.4, and 12.3), all within a corridor of about 1.4 miles. Complementing girth are bizarre old-growth forms.  Here is a sequence of images of the yellow birches. I could have taken many more.

               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-1.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-2.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-3.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-4.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-5.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveYB-7.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCaveTrailYB-8.jpg
                                       
               


Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder and Executive Director
Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest

For this message the author dbhguru has received Likes - 3:
bbeduhn, eliahd24, Will Blozan
User avatar
dbhguru
 
Posts: 4064
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:34 pm
Location: Florence, Massachusetts
Has Liked: 4 times
Has Been Liked: 1087 times
Print view this post

#2)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby Larry Tucei » Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:43 pm

Bob-Wow those are off the scale. I've not seen YB that size before. Larry
User avatar
Larry Tucei
 
Posts: 1852
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 11:44 am
Location: Southern Mississippi
Has Liked: 706 times
Has Been Liked: 591 times
Print view this post

#3)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby jamesrobertsmith » Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:47 am

What's the situation in the Park for Yellow birches? Are they one of the species under threat?

I think I've hiked the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail more than any other in the Park. It's my preferred route to the summit of LeConte.
User avatar
jamesrobertsmith
 
Posts: 903
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:32 am
Location: Matthews, NC
Has Liked: 524 times
Has Been Liked: 118 times
Print view this post

#4)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby Josh Kelly » Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:23 am

Bob,

Great pictures!  I'm loving your photo tour through the Blue Ridge.  

One observation is that picture #3 looks oddly like Aesculus flava.  Is that a possibility?  

Josh
User avatar
Josh Kelly
 
Posts: 124
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2010 7:13 pm
Has Liked: 5 times
Has Been Liked: 70 times
Print view this post

#5)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby dbhguru » Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:47 am

Robert,

 I'm not aware of any threats to the yellow birch,

Larry, et. al.,

 If I had to characterize the Smokies relative to other ranges in the Appalachian chain, the Smokies could be considered an over-achiever. If its species diversity, the Smokies go to the head of the class. Big trees? Well, the Smokies have them in abundance for virtually every species growing within the boundaries of the Park. Tall trees? First in the East with no real competition. Pretty mountain streams? Nope, can't beat the Smokies there either. Elevation? Although Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig in the Blacks are the two highest peaks in the East, the Smokies have more 6,000 footers and more high elevation. For 36 consecutive miles, the crest of the Smokies stays over 5,000 feet in elevation.  

  I measured a tall red spruce along the LeConte Trail to where I couldn't see it base in the rhododendron. I got 150 feet. Will previously measured that tree by climbing down to it and putting some kind of a marker above the rhododendron. He got 155. But, my point is that even for a northern species, the Smokies excel. I've hunted the Adirondacks, Whites, Greens, Berkshires, etc, for really big red spruce, all their best offerings are puny compared to the Smoky Mountain giants. In fact, in the Whites, only white pines really make an impression. Other tree species are of ordinary size.

  Now back to yellow birch. I have measured large yellow birch in the Dacks, but it is very unusually to find more than one giant in close proximity. I've never come across as many large specimens so close together as I did along the Alum Cave Trail. The statistics have to be compiled and comparisons made for the story to be told.  It is true that the Smokies have long been recognized as a big tree haven thanks to the National Register of Big Trees. But for a variety of reasons, the story doesn't end there. It is often the clustering of exceptional trees. For example, in Baxter Creek's tall tree hotspot, there are more 170-foot tall trees than in any area of comparable size in the Northeast - by far. Congaree NP may have a 170 or two, but that's it. And so on.

   Part of the problem is that nature writers, journalists, and even naturalists and scientists don't know how to put the big tree hot spots into context. An isolated big tree at a site is often cited as though there might be many of such distinction, when in actuality, there may be only one, and it of the open grown variety. I have yet to read of an account that does justice to the yellow birches along Alum Creek. Descriptions of the area often mention hemlock and yellow birch, but give no other information. The authors are usually clueless about what they are seeing or what the collection represents. This is why NTS is so valuable, and with new members like Matt Markworth who has taken it on to himself to help spread the word. We need lots of lists, comparisons, and a steady presentation of such to the public. Thanks to the Internet and big Ed's tireless exploration of ways to get the word out, I do believe that we are making progress.

  I'll close with three scenics from the trail.

               
                       
GSMNPAlumCave-3.png
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCave-2.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPAlumCave-1.jpg
                                       
               


   Now, it is off to Baxter Creek again.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder and Executive Director
Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest

For this message the author dbhguru has received Likes :
Matt Markworth
User avatar
dbhguru
 
Posts: 4064
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:34 pm
Location: Florence, Massachusetts
Has Liked: 4 times
Has Been Liked: 1087 times
Print view this post

#6)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby Joe » Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:22 pm

Wow, Bob, the topography in your last few pictures is strange- those narrow ridges close together, not common here in the NE, at least to me- maybe because the  Smokies were not glaciated? I think the glaciers would have planed down those narrow ridges and filled in those narrow valleys- but that's just a guess. Ed?
Joe
User avatar
Joe
 
Posts: 1757
Joined: Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:26 am
Location: Massachusetts
Has Liked: 0 times
Has Been Liked: 171 times
Print view this post

#7)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby Joe » Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:24 pm

Bob, pre pale faces- did the Natives spend much time in the Smokies? No doubt they inhabited the lower valleys, but did they hunt in the wilder parts?
Joe
User avatar
Joe
 
Posts: 1757
Joined: Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:26 am
Location: Massachusetts
Has Liked: 0 times
Has Been Liked: 171 times
Print view this post

#8)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby dbhguru » Wed Apr 17, 2013 4:13 pm

Joe,

  The Cherokee did roam the mountains, but lived in the valleys. Much of the mountainous terrain is too steep and chocked with rhododendron, laurel, dog hobble, etc. to travel through. Off-trail travel is much easier in the northern Appalachians. So, I expect that the Cherokee established a trail network and stuck with it. Rainfall varies in the Smokies, but the lower coves typically get 60 to 70 inches per year and the upper elevations can average over 80 inches. A few spots may make it to 100. The result is rainforest luxuriance.

  The western slopes of the Smokies are really large mountains. Elevations at the base of the range is between 1200 and 1700 feet, and in one area of the Park only about 900 feet. The tops of the Smokies are between 5,500 and 6,600 feet with the tallest spot being Clingman's Dome at 6,643. In places, thewestern  base to summit rise approaches 5,000 feet and in the case of Mount LeConte is approximately 5,300 feet. With such a mountain mass and and ample water, the diversity is off the charts. Over 1,700 species of flowering plants have been cataloged. The Smokies are pretty much the salamander capital of the world. The area is an international biosphere reserve.

   A lot of science has been brought to bear on understanding the Smoky Mountain diversity, but what has been missing is a good statistical profile of the dimensions of the different tree species, numbering about 131 or 132 in all. That is where NTS is shined. Thanks to Will Blozan, Michael Davie, Jess Riddle, Josh Kelly, and a few others, in including yours truly, we have reasonable maximums for the Smokies for between 2 and 3 dozen species. Will can say for sure what the number is, and we can state with confidence that the cove forests of the Smokies are the tallest of all eastern forests. There has been some confusion about that because of a very flawed measurement done in Congaree NP back in the 1990s. But climbs of trees by Will and team and saturation measuring leaves absolutely no doubt that the Smokies rule.

    Today Monica and I returned to Baxter Creek. My mission was to remeasure several outstanding trees by request of Will Blozan. I managed to do just a little before the rain showers put an end to the measuring. One of the trees to check on was a mountain silver bell. I settled on 131.7 feet. I have to check with Will on where that stands in terms of the absolute tallest of the species. But, I think the 131.7 is pretty far up there.

    I confirmed another 172.0-foot tuliptree, and can't be sure that I found the absolute top. It bring the total number of 170-footers remeasured in Baxter Creek on this trip to five. A huge one that Will wanted me to check on fell short. I got up to 168.5 feet, but couldn't go higher. The rain stopped any further measuring.

    Today, Monica and I identified 41 species of flowering plants within a distance of 1.5 miles. A few had finished blooming or were getting ready to. Baxter Creek is a major area for wild flower viewing. Lots of groups come up to see the bloom. However, none are aware of the exceptional stature of the trees, or if they are, they don't look up. Pity.  The trees of the Smokies Mountain coves make a heck of an impression on tree lovers. They give one pause to reflect. The surrounding cutover lands look absolutely anemic by comparison. Here are four images from today. Yellow trillium followed by a white, then a look at silver bell bark. Finally, four tulip trees with the nearest being the 172-footer. I think the others are in the 160s.

               
                       
GSMNPBaxtersCreek-YellowTrillium.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPBaxtersCreek-WhiteTrillium.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPBaxtersCreek-SilverBell.jpg
                                       
               


               
                       
GSMNPBaxtersCreek-Tuliptrees.jpg
                                       
               


Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder and Executive Director
Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
User avatar
dbhguru
 
Posts: 4064
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:34 pm
Location: Florence, Massachusetts
Has Liked: 4 times
Has Been Liked: 1087 times
Print view this post

#9)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby Don » Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:08 pm

Bob-
My Alaska eyes are wondering about the number of YB root systems being so exposed...my guess is that over the time they've resided there, there have been enough weathering events to have in some measure, eroded original soil base?
-Don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org
User avatar
Don
 
Posts: 1455
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 1:42 am
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Has Liked: 69 times
Has Been Liked: 228 times
Print view this post

#10)  Re: Alum Cave - GSMNP

Postby jamesrobertsmith » Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:25 pm

The Smokies do suck when it comes to waterfalls. Due to the softer nature of the rock, they just don't have very many good waterfalls. A few, yes, but nothing like what you'd expect from a range that large and that high. Compare it to the area around Higlands NC...it pales. Even the Unaka Mountains to the north of the Smokies are covered in great waterfalls. It's the one wow-factor that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lacks.
User avatar
jamesrobertsmith
 
Posts: 903
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:32 am
Location: Matthews, NC
Has Liked: 524 times
Has Been Liked: 118 times
Print view this post

Next

Return to Tennessee

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests