Drive along the Parkway.

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It was a gorgeous day so I took the car up the Blue Ridge Parkway again.  I never get tired of its views.   This activity is so relaxing to me.

The first picture (above) I took at Craggy Gardens, which has an elevation well over 5000 feet.  The trees here are stunted, short, and knobby looking, due to both the cold and the wind.  A little higher up, and deciduous trees disappear completely and are replaced by a spruce/fir forest, similar to what you might see in Canada.  This is the home of the Frasier fir, similar to the kinds of trees you find in a northern boreal forest, but native to the southern Appalachians.  The Frasiers were almost killed off some years ago by the wooly adelgid, a parasite that attacks balsams, hemlocks, and fir trees, but they have grown back.  You can still see the white “skeletons” of the dead trees here.  Contrasted against the deep green of the live trees, they give the scenery an eerie feel.

The next four pictures are from Mt. Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi, just a little higher than Mt. Washington in New Hampshire), in the Black Mountains, the range of the Blue Ridge having the highest peaks.  The sign shows the elevation I was at when I took the picture.

There’s a road that branches off from the Parkway and continues to climb until you get to the parking area, which isn’t far from the summit.   It’s interesting to observe the changes in both microclimate and the ecosystem as you go higher.  It was a hot day, in the low 80s, but at the top of Mt. Mitchell, it was a frosty 55!  It was also interesting to me that the last deciduous trees, just before you reach the all conifer forest (taiga) were not merely stubby and short, but were also only just starting to turn green.  At this high an elevation, it looked (and felt!) more like March or early April than the end of May!   They probably aren’t even fully green until the end of next month, and of course winter comes here early too.  The trees here are green probably for only about 3 or 4 months or so, maybe from June until September.  Brrr!   I wonder how high a mountain would have to be this far South for the trees to disappear completely and be replaced with tundra.  Of course, there aren’t any mountains that high here.  I remember back in the 1980s, when I climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with some friends.  Mt. Washington is almost the same height as Mt. Mitchell, but the last few hundred feet or so was a stark, grayish tundra.

The last three pictures are from farther up the Parkway, near Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge.   As you can see from the tree types, this is not as high an elevation, though it’s still pretty high.

 

Mount Mitchell State Park: 

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Grandfather Mountain/Linville Gorge area: 

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I have to say, I think these are some of the best pictures I’ve taken of Blue Ridge Parkway scenery.

 

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