Thursday, July 28, 2011

Graveyard Fields Hike

I was able to get away from Ash Grove for a little while yesterday (27 Jul 2011) and went to Graveyard Fields for a hike.  It has been hot here in the mountains, so I wanted to go to a high elevation where it is cooler, and the Fields, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, has an elevation of 5120'.  It was 76 degrees in the parking lot.
Why the name Graveyard Fields?  The sign at the beginning of the Graveyard Fields Trail reads: "A natural disaster occurred here 500 to 1000 years ago. A tremendous "wind-blow" uprooted the spruce forest. Through the years the old root stumps and trees rotted, leaving only dirt mounds. These odd mounds gave the appearance of a graveyard, and the area became known as Graveyard Fields.
The forest eventually recovered, only to be destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1925. This fire consumed the entire spruce-fir forest and the ancient mounds. The forest again is slowly recovering. The 1925 fire burned deeply, destroying the soils nutrients. Blackberry briers and other small plants have taken hold, adding decaying vegetation to the earth each season, gradually enriching the soil. With time, this process will establish larger plants and trees. A spruce-fir forest might once again flourish in Graveyard Fields."
There were a LOT of cars in the parking lot, but I knew that most people would be headed for the 2nd Falls, which is a great swimming spot, so I headed for the Upper Falls, less spectacular, but beautiful none the less.  It is a hike of about 3.5 miles, round trip.  The blackberries and blueberries that cover the mountainside were a little past their prime (and well picked over), but I managed to find a few succulent berries.  You pass through a mixed grassland and small-treed river valley for much of the hike.  The open grassland provides habitat for many wildflowers.

The clouds of honeybees on these golden flowers were so intent on gathering the nectar that they didn't even notice my passing.   Further on were some Turks Cap Lilies, this one hosting a butterfly. 

When first arriving at the waterfall, you are at the tail of the falls (you can't see the main part from there) and I heard a couple of people say, "We hiked all this way for THIS?!?"  I wouldn't have been disappointed if the tail was the whole falls, but there is so much more.  The main cascade is 50' or so.  The other time that I hiked here was in our drought about 3 or 4 years ago, and there was hardly a trickle coming down, but I was rewarded this time.
This is a great moderately-easy hike that just about everyone could enjoy.