May 2, 2017

Experiencing Appalachian Spring

Redbud trees along the Blue Ridge Mountains Blue Ridge Parkway seem to glow through the early, budding trees on my trip back from North Carolina two weeks ago.

Just a photo essay from my trip though the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. It's been a dream of mine to travel through the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia and especially during spring - crank up the Aaron Copeland and join me for a visual journey via photos.

This is the land of Redbuds, ofRamps and Dogwood. Of Shadblow trees, migrating thrushes and songbirds of the Eastern deciduous forest, which of course also means peak bloom underfoot with ephemerals - the trilliums and even meadow wild flowers were everywhere, as were the spring showers - I just had to take a few extra days to travel home and why not - I don't have a schedule right now! 

As you may have read earlier, Ramps were in season,  which made my trip even more worth while. This 'wild leek of Appalachia' is also known as Allium tricoccum var. burdickii - a local foraging treat that now finds itself on the hippest tables of foodies across the Northeast. I was able to find some to pick at a friends house but also was able to get some seed - who knows if I can raise them in our woodland, but I am going to try in a raised bed where I grow trillium seedlings.

On this trip I drove from Raleigh, NC to the small town of Mt. Airy and Pilot Mountain (as in 'Mount Pilot - where many stores were themed around the Andy Griffith Show - really - I can't make this stuff up!). The parkway is managed by the National Park system, which means that the road was incredibly scenic (and a bit odd, as it wound through some back yards and a farm here and there, later disappearing back into the mountains like a relic from the past. Real human roads would cross it, but mostly, it was as if a National Park was just a road, and as long as one remained on it, you were transported back to 1800.

Rocky Knob & Mabry Mill was about as scenic as a postcard (remember those?). Once a gristmill and a saw mill, it in now a popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. It was Easter Sunday, so I basically had the road to myself, which was kind-of nice. I felt as if I travelled back in time to 1800.

This meant that along the parkway, there was nothing to remind one that it was the year 2017 - not even cars as this was Easter Sunday, and I seemed to have the road to myself.  I stopped at a couple rest areas to see a log cabin or to hike a short trail to a vista on a ledge, but I could hear gunshots in the distance (target practice?)  at one stop which this Yankee felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and then the rumble of thunder - which at this elevation, I didn't want to risk being caught on a rocky ledge.  Best to drive on.

Old dogwood trees and wild flowers were everywhere.

I drove through Fancy Gap, the Meadows of Dan, Cave Spring, Stuarts Draft and then through the lovely Shenandoah Valley, Pennsylvania home towards Massachusetts. I listened to folk music and basically immersed myself in Mountain Dew, listened to pro-Trump ad's on the radio and even ate at a Waffle House in my new camo hunting jacket that I bought at the Cabella's flagship store.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are many historic sites, this one had amazing split rail fences,  but I couldn't explore long as a line of thunderstorms was moving in, and I was on a ridge.

Later in the evening, just on the West Virginia Border, a thunderstorm on the Blue Ridge Parkway produced this rainbow as it passed just south of me.

After the storm, the migrating songbirds became very active, and I could hear various thrushes including robins, orioles and many warblers.

As thunderheads moved away in the distance, the sun returned and suddenly, everything looked like a nineteenth century painting.

As the sun set, the thunderheads which continued to grow in the distance far in the east, captured the setting sun.

The mountains became bluer, and one can see why they earned their name.

The next day, I continued my journey through Maryland, and later, central Pennsylvania where I came across this field of rape seed or mustard in full, spring glory. I saw it in the distance, and decided to take an exit from the highway and explore a bit on the back roads.

This was farm country, and every farm looked like a toy - don't worry, it wasn't an omen! Or, was it?


  1. I lived 25 years in NC and will be moving back, after 5 years in Montana. Can't wait.

  2. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Wish I'd known you were coming. I would have bought you an ice cream cone at Klines.

  3. What a contrast to here in Amazonian Ecuador! While both have incommensurate natural beauty, the funny thing I miss the most from the US is wooden structures such as the mill and the fence. Here termites rapidly devour anything wooden unless the wood is from one of a few species that are resistant.

  4. Anonymous6:31 PM

    dear matt,
    loved the pix of the redbud effect! (less happy is the escaped Prunus calleryana effect in those hollers and ridges.) if i had known you were on the roam i would have encouraged you to visit plant geek friends along the way, especially in the blue ridge. our daughter lives down there and almost went out of her mind experiencing her first piedmont spring -- so different from the cold and late maritime springs of our neighborhood.
    all best,
    ~ 02568


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