The "busy season" has now arrived! On Saturday I led a hike for the Tennessee State Natural Areas Week up House Mountain in east Knox county. The hike is a 4-mile loop with a 1000' elevation gain. I had 11 participants, mostly ladies in their 60's and 70's. I was very impressed, that is not an easy hike and they did great! I hope I will be as agile and active in 20 years! :) You go, girls! Here is the group after we refueled at lunchtime.
We saw 23 different species of wildflowers, including one I hadn't seen in over 20 years, called Yellow Corydalis. Another pretty flower was Fire Pink (right), which is actually red. Other wildflowers included: Perfoliate Bellwort, Plantainleaf Pussytoes, Wood Vetch, Birdsfoot Violet, Smooth Rock Cress, Wild Geranium, Lemon Trillium, Blue Phlox, Bluets and many more.
As we were trudging up the mountain I heard something rustling in the leaves next to the trail. I signaled for everyone to stop so I could see what it was. Suddenly, an 8" lizard scurried up on a fallen branch to warm itself in the sun. When I got closer, I could see it had blue belly scales. My reptile ID book listed it as a male Eastern Fence Lizard. What a handsome guy he was! Later in the afternoon when we were hiking back down, I heard someone behind me say, "There's a snake!" It turned out to be a large Black Rat Snake that was in a hollow log. It was a great day for reptiles!
Another "hike-stopping" moment was when I spotted 2 Birdsfoot Violet plants blooming along the trail at the top of the mountain. The flowers are quite large in comparison to the rest of the plant. It is always a thrill to see them! Even though the trail is on the south side of the mountain, we still saw a lot of different wildflowers. The north side is on private property and not open for hiking.
Sadly, the trails have suffered some serious erosion problems because some hikers have not followed the trails. By cutting switchbacks, they have damaged some of the trails beyond repair. This photo (right) shows the damage that can be caused by making new trails down a steeper part of the slope. I took the photo from the trail above, the lower part of the trail can be seen in the upper middle part. The switchback goes down the center of the photo. If people would follow trail etiquette, this type of damage would not occur. It will cost the state (ultimately, the taxpayers) a lot of money to repair the damage.