THE ALLIGATOR BACK

 

 

I had an unusually light work schedule last week.My job was scheduled to start on Tuesday, and for once, I didnít have a report to write from the previous week.Since I didnít get a chance to hike over the weekend, I decided to head for the mountains on Monday.

 

I had two main goals.First, I needed to get a good workout in.Christy and I leave for Peru in five weeks, where we are planning to do some serious backpacking.At this point, I canít claim to be in tip top shape.That needs to change, and the best way for me to get there is to do a lot of hiking and backpacking in the next few weeks.

 

I was also hoping to find a good wildflower hike.Iíve managed to miss a lot of the best blooms this spring, and I wanted to correct that.The ideal choice wouldíve been a hike at Roan Mountain.The wildflowers there would be near their peak, and the hike from the valley to Grassy Ridge is enough of a grunt to get me a fine workout.The only problem is that I didnít really want to do that hike.It seems like I do that hike every year at this time, and I feel like Iím in a bit of a rut.I wanted to change things up, and do something different.

 

I wasnít able to come up with a completely new hike within a reasonable drive of home.Instead, I chose a hike that I hadnít done in a long time.My plan was a long hike to Bluff Mountain in Doughton Park, off the Parkway near Stone Mountain.It had been several years since Iíd hiked there, and even better, when I do go there it is usually in the winter.I was looking forward to seeing Doughton Park at a different time of the year.I wasnít sure what wildflowers Iíd find, but I figured something was bound to be blooming.

 

I escaped Charlotte traffic Monday morning and drove up I-77 to Elkin. From there, it was a relatively painless drive to the trailhead off of Longbottom Road.The parking area was deserted when I arrived, which was pretty much what I expected on a Monday morning.I was looking forward to some quiet time in the woods without a lot of people around.

 

I freed Boone from the car and followed him up the old Grassy Gap Fire Road alongside Basin Creek.The valley was impossibly green with ferns and shrubs, but I didnít see much blooming.The main exception was Firepink, which was blooming in several places along this stretch of trail.

 

After 30 minutes or so I reached the ford of Basin Creek.The water was fairly low, and rock hopping was easy.On the far side I passed by the designated campsites on Basin Creek.These campsites are really pretty, situated in a lovely Hemlock forest.I was pleased to see that at least some of Hemlocks here have been treated with pesticides.It wouldíve been a shame to find that grove dead from the blight.

 

I began the climb there.Initially I had trouble finding the ďprimitive trailĒ that leads to Bluff Mountain.Finally I spotted a switchback hidden behind some deadfall.I attacked the climb aggressively, looking for the maximum exercise benefit.Fortunately, it was a cool morning.In fact, it was chilly enough that I could see Booneís breath as he darted past me on his way up the mountain.

 

Wildflowers were in short supply on the ridge.There were a few blooming Mountain Laurel, but otherwise there wasnít much to look at.I focused on the climb, eager to reach the summit before lunch time.I knew I was nearing the top when I reached an open glade covered in ferns.From there, it wasnít much further to a day-use shelter a short distance below the summit.From the shelter I was treated to my first view of the day.I gazed out to the south, looking over green valleys towards the Brushy Mountains in the distance.

 

From there, I climbed a bit more, reaching a meadow a short distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway.I joined the Mountains To Sea Trail there, and arrived at a rock outcrop just beyond the summit of Bluff Mountain a few minutes later.From there I had a great view of the Parkway below and the high peaks of Ashe County in the distance.I had lunch and attempted to identify some of them.Mount Jefferson, Three Top, and Elk Knob were all prominent, while Grandfather Mountain was actually visible farther to the south.

 

There were some interesting shrubs blooming on the summit.Iím not sure what they are, but they looked like they might be some sort of Azalea.

 

From there I descended on switchbacks to a parking area and the shoulder of the Parkway.From that point, I continued following the MST, which runs parallel to the road.Just beyond the parking area I reached an impressive rock outcrop with fine views back to Bluff Mountain.Beyond Bluff Mountain I could see the jagged ridge I had hiked to reach the summit.This ridge is known as the Alligator Back, presumably due to its rugged nature.

 

From there I continued through woods and fields, never straying far from the Parkway.I found some nice flowers along here, including lots of Fire Pink and my first Flame Azalea of the season.I also passed the only other hikers I saw all day.

 

The only real drama of the hike came a few minutes later.I rounded a bend to see a handful of cattle sprawled in the middle of the trail just ahead.Boone was ahead of me, and he chose this moment to display selective hearing.He wasnít interested in coming back to me to get leashed.What he was interested in was playing with these fascinating new creatures heíd found in the middle of the forest.He started dancing around them, playing like he does when he meets an energetic dog at the bark-n-park.These werenít dogs though, and they didnít appear to be very amused with Booneís antics.I was a bit concerned that Boone might get stomped by a cow.I finally resorted to ďangry daddyĒ voice, and Boone finally came to me.I leashed him and we walked past the cattle.I didnít set Boone free until after we passed through a gate in the fence that indicated the end of the pasture.

 

A bit later we passed the upper end of the Grassy Gap Fire Road.I couldíve returned on this route, but I prefer to avoid horse trails when Iím hiking with Boone.Instead I continued on and reached the junction with the Flat Rock Ridge Trail a mile or so later.I took this trail, which also leads back to the Longbottom Road Trailhead.Early on I passed a couple of decent views, along with some blooming Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel. Most of the rest of the hike was an uneventful stroll along the ridge through hardwood forest.By the time I reached the road, I had covered about 13 miles of trail, and had climbed around 3000í or so.This loop gave me the workout Iíd wanted.More importantly, it had given me the chance to spend a day out in the woods.




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