Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hike to Gregory Bald

Yesterday, Nancy and I and Linda Barclay hiked to Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the Azalea show.

Mid to late June every year the Flame Azaleas and the Catawba Rhododendron bloom on Gregory Bald. In the Smokies a "Bald" is an open area with no trees high on a mountain. In the pioneer days balds were used for grazing livestock, but it is not known how they originally formed.

This was no easy hike. My GPS showed the round trip mileage at 11.3. The elevation gain was over 3000 vertical feet. Except for about 100 yards, every step was uphill for 3 1/2 hours. We went from about 1900 feet above sea level to almost 5000 feet.

White Rhododendron surrounded the trail much of the way. In some places the blooms began to drop their petals and the trail was carpeted with white flowers. We saw a few orange Flame Azaleas on the way up but nothing like the show on top. Gregory Bald in June is 10 acres of wild azaleas of many different colors. Orange and red colors predominate, but there are also yellow, fuchsia, and even white.

Here is a slide show of the photos we took.

We only stayed at the top for about 15 minutes taking pictures of the azaleas and a very tame female deer until an incoming thunderstorm chased us back down. We hiked and ate our lunch in a downpour with lightning in the was great!

If you go next June, there is a shorter route you can take that is only about 9 miles round trip with a 2000 foot elevation gain. Just talk to a National Park Service Ranger for the directions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fly Fishing with Jimmy Carter

Ray and I went to Pennsylvania to fish a couple of Trout Unlimited's "100 Best Trout Streams" last week.

We fished the Little Juniata (locally called the Little J), Spruce Creek, and two others, Yellow Creek and Bob's Creek. We caught trout on all 4 streams and some pretty nice ones. We caught mostly Browns, several Rainbows, and one Brook Trout.

Spruce Creek is a beautiful, fairly small stream, that is all located on private land except for six tenths of a mile on Penn State University owned land that anyone can fish. The private land includes a couple of lodges where folks with lots of money go to get away from the regular fishermen. Larry Csonka, Dick Cheney, and former President Jimmy Carter fish the private waters of Spruce Creek. While we were there Jimmy Carter was upstream for a several day fishing trip. We can therefore correctly say that we went fly fishing with Jimmy Carter. He just happened to be 5 miles upstream.
The owners of the local Tavern in the 20 house hamlet of Spruce Creek said that Jimmy always stops in for dinner when he is in the area. They said that he has about 6 Secret Service guys with him that come in ahead of time wearing brand new fishing vests for disguise and slacks and penny loafers and radio earpieces and microphones up their sleeves.

We had good weather, outstanding fishing, and a little fun with our fishing buddy Jimmy. We didn't get a chance to straighten him out about his politics.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Listen, can you hear them?

Have you heard them? They are here but they won’t be for much longer. I am talking about the Periodical Cicadas. They have been around for a few weeks now but since they only live 4-5 weeks they will soon be gone.

I don’t know if you hear them everywhere in the Glade but you sure can up around my house. The 1 ½ inch long insects are loud. Depending on the species they make several different sounds…some make a series of clicks and buzzes, some sound like a water sprinkler, and some make a sound like the word “pharaoh” extended. These are male cicadas calling females to join them for a bottle of wine, some candlelight and a good time. Interested females respond with a little wing flick, kind of like a wink. And they are calling vigorously because they have waited 17 years for one night of romance.

Periodical cicadas have an amazing life cycle. Once the adults mate and the females lay their eggs in pencil sized twigs their job is over and they die. The eggs hatch in a few weeks and the tiny ant sized nymphs emerge from the twig, drop the ground and tunnel down 18-24 inches to suck sap from tree roots for the next 17 years. Even thousands of cicadas do little to no damage to the tree. After 17 years the nymphs dig to the surface (in mid-May in Tennessee), crawl up on any nearby vertical surface and break out of their nymphal skin to emerge as adults to begin the cycle all over again. Amazing!

The cicadas here this year are Brood number 14 (technically Roman numeral brood XIV) of the 17-year cicadas. There is also another race of cicadas that are 13-year cicadas. Tennessee has both races of cicadas. You don’t have to wait 13 or 17 years to see and hear periodical cicadas again because different broods emerge in different years. The next big year for cicadas here in Cumberland County is 2011 for Brood XIX of the 13-year cicada race. There are other cicada species that emerge annually late in the summer every year, but not anywhere near the great numbers of the periodical cicadas. The annual cicadas have a ten second long high-pitched whine that you can hear in August.

I remember about 7 or 8 years ago I was in Washington, D.C. when an especially large periodical cicada brood emerged there. Cicadas were everywhere! They were climbing up anything not moving (including humans) flying into people, and generally just scaring the heck out of everyone. Their big red eyes might look scary but Cicadas are harmless; they don’t bite or sting.

Early settlers to North America thought the periodical cicadas, which are only found in eastern North America, were plagues of locusts coming to eat their crops. The name has stuck in many places but cicadas are not locusts. Locusts are actually a type of grasshopper and do not look anything like cicadas. Pesticides have little or no effect on cicadas because they don’t eat vegetation. The adults only eat small amounts of sap during their short time above ground.

There is one way you can control cicadas in a very limited way…eat them! That is right, eat them. Birds, squirrels, snakes, fish, mammals, even dogs and cats love them. Any why not, cicadas are high in protein, low in fat, and have no carbs. People say they taste crispy, crunchy, and nutty. They are said to be especially good sautéed in butter with garlic and basil. I would recommend a nice cool bottle of California Chablis with that.

The 17-year periodical cicadas will be gone in a week or two. So enjoy them while you can. Go out and look for the empty beige nymphal skins on tree trunks or the beautiful red-eyed adults on vegetation. If you are still here in 2025 you can look for the sons and daughters of the cicadas that are here now. Mark your calendar so you don’t forget.