This is so fitting for me! 💚🏞
So, since I have the majority of the summer off (yay teacher benefits!) my Dad and I have been hiking a lot lately. We decided to do West Fork Trail a couple days ago because I had never done it before. West Fork Trail is one section of the Benton Mackaye Trail. It was a rather simple hike honestly. The trail comes out at West Fork Rough Creek (my dad kept referring to it as Short Creek. Apparently that is what locals call it).
A short distance from there he took me off trail to show me a rather interesting Beech Tree. (I will make a separate post for it… it is a really interesting find. I did include one picture of it on this post though!) We kept going another mile or so up the old road and Dad showed me the remains of the old bridges and culverts that were once used. The road and bridges were closed in 1986 when the area was added to the Big Frog Wilderness. He also told me a story from when he and one of my uncles were hunting up in there 30+ years ago. He said they were hiking up that road when it started showing. Dad said the snow was coming over the mountain like giant waves. I love hearing his old stories. 😊
Anyway, we had to cross the creek 3 different times to get to the end of the road where the camp site was. We managed to successfully cross (with pup in hand might I add) all three times without getting our feet wet. **Note to self: Bring a pair of water shows to make crossing ten times easier?!
Did I mention we saw a bear? It was ADORABLE. I believe he was playing in the creek when he heard us, panicked, and hauled ass up the side of the mountain. Overall, it was a fairly easy hike. Moderate at most. The elevation gain was minimal. According to my book (Hiking Trails of the Cohutta and Big Frog Wilderness-AMAZING) the trail actually loses about 240 feet of elevation going down the trail and then gradually gains elevation back until it ends. =)
I would (and will) hike again
Top L-R: The pup and I believe a woodpecker feather, Crawfish I caught flipping rocks, and salamander!
Middle L-R: Another salamander (found in rotted log) and some kind of creepy translucent worm that was in the creek.
Bottom L-R: Another salamander (notice his scarred tail and missing back left leg 😢.. I should note he still seemed to be thriving though! 😊), Dung Beetle (aka: Tumble Turd… this is what we grew up calling them. 🤣), and that same creepy worm from above in my hand.
Saturday I had to make a trip to Blue Ridge to run some errands, so decided while I was up there to take one of my babies (let’s call him K) and do a quick hike on Aska. According to the radar it was supposed to start raining at 4, so we had a couple hours to hike/adventure. We saw the usual few squirrels and K went berserk. I’m not sure he’d even know what to do with a squirrel if he did manage to catch one. I think he just likes to hear himself bark. 🙄
There are several trails on Aska, I just mostly like this one because when I’m pushed for time I can get a good hike in fairly quickly, plus it isn’t quite as busy as the other trailhead. The entire time I was on the loop I only saw 3 other people and they were all together.
There was a good sized tree down at one point. Thankfully, someone had already cleared a small path around it. I didn’t see the first critter (other than squirrels) but I did take a couple quick pictures of the old rock wall (not sure how old it is or the origin of it… Maybe Google could tell me) and the big chimney that’s still standing at one point along the trail.
Overall, it was a beautiful, cool day. Hoping to go hike the trail with a couple co-workers soon. I think they’d like it. 😊
I went on a short hike with Dad Friday evening after work (3ish miles.) The plan was to walk to a spot we walked to a few weeks before and see if the wood ducks had managed to hatch and leave the box yet. (A couple months ago I found a screech owl [red morph] in the box and then 3 weeks ago found a sitting wood duck). We assumed they had, but wanted to check anyway. When we first dropped off the trail and down to the fields nearby we were instantly met with grunting, snorting, and splashing. Though we were unable to see them, we were very much able to hear a momma hog and her piglets splashing in the water/mud just through the large thicket where we were standing. I would have love to have gotten a picture, but the briars and trees were so thick it would have been damn near impossible… unfortunately.
We slipped passed them through an old trail that would eventually bring us to a little pond that is backed up off the Ocoee. Not a very big area but absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous. (See pic 1). It took us about 15 minutes to make our way through the briars and carry logs to lay across the water/mud in order to get across to where the wood duck box was. (Did not have to do that last time… but thanks to all the rain we have had lately, we had no choice this time. 😐) When I got to it, I managed to attach my phone to my selfie stick (yes… I have a selfie stick, it comes in handy!) and make a short video of the contents inside the box. (I am too short to be able to reach the box otherwise). The eggs had hatched (all but one) and the ducks were gone. I can’t even explain how much I’d LOVED to have seen them leave the nesting box. My only hope is they made it safely to the water and away from any predators. (I’m attaching a picture of momma duck and her eggs that I managed to take the last time we ventured that way. I can’t get over how adorable she is!😊)
After checking out the nesting box, we decided to walk back through the fields but venture a bit further to see if we could see any deer, the hogs we had heard, or the turkey we saw last time we were down there. We did manage to see the turkey again, but this time she wouldn’t really offer to fly or run away. Dad said she either had a nest nearby OR babies. He taught me how to chirp like a baby turkey and would you believe the momma walked right out of the woods and within 20 feet of us! When she saw it was us she turned and went back the direction of the bushes she had just came out of. My first time attempting to call a turkey. (And unlike my brother, I didn’t shoot it!) I got a couple pictures of her also. I posted one of them below. I’d love to go back soon and try to sneak a picture of her AND her babies.
On the way back to the car, Dad showed me a flower he said they always referred to as a “chigger flower” when they were kids because he said they got chiggers every time they touched them. I told him it looked like a sweet pea of some kind and when I pulled out my little guide it said it was called Goat’s Rue. Pretty nifty little flower. I shared a picture below as well. Dad and I have been on a kick lately with IDing plants and trees. Dad can name just about every damn tree in the forest, Me, not so much. I’ve almost got down the oak trees… Chestnut Oak is easiest for me. Post Oak, Red/Scarlet Oak, and White Oak are a little more difficult. There are like 8-10 different flipping oak trees here in the southeast but by golly I’ll be able to ID them eventually. The last couple weeks Dad and I have been attempting to learn some of the ferns that grow around here. It’s just that plants are so hard for me. I can almost immediately ID any snake, mammal, or insect you show me and tell you specific details about them, but if it has leaves, bark, or petals there is a 95% chance I won’t know what it is. Maybe eventually I’ll get those down…
The last picture is a shot I snapped as we were walking up the old logging road back to the car. I’m always a fan of sun pictures even if the right-of-way is right smack dab in the middle of where I’m standing.
Overall, it was an awesome little adventure. I’m always a fan of seeing (and hearing critters.) Perhaps we will sneak back down there again soon and try to get some shots of momma turkey and her babies or even Ms. Piggy and the piglets. If so, I’ll be sure to post an update.
✌ & 💚 y’all