I led a Friends of the Smokies hike on Hemphill Bald in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail borders the park on the south eastern side.
Holly Demuth, North Carolina Director of Friends of the Smokies, wants to encourage Ashevilleans to discover the Smokies. Unfortunately, today, we didn’t have any members from Asheville, but several great hikers from Waynesville.
The hike started at Polls Gap on Heintooga Road. It was cool most of the day, as the altitude is over 5,000 ft. The flowers were past their peak, but still we counted over 20 different species. In addition, the Catawba rhododendrons and flame azaleas were outstanding.
Columbines bloomed in profusions in one section. I associate columbines with western hiking, but here they were on the Smokies trail.
But wait! What is this beautiful and delicate pink and green flower which attached itself to leaves?
We checked out its flowers. Then I turned it over and it wasn’t a flower at all but a butterfly, that had maybe just emerged from its caterpillar stage.
We reached Hemphill Bald at lunch time. Judy Cocker, who owns Cataloochee Ranch, came to talk to us. She outlined the history of the ranch, which was started by her father. It has adapted to modern tourism and is doing well. The third generation has been absorbed by the business.
In 1993, they led the way in conservation by putting over 300 acres in a conservation easement with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. This way, they protect the land from development in the future.
Reluctantly, we finished lunch and our conversation with Judy and walked back to the cars. I’m ready to plan the next Friends hike.