Beauty spot is a "bald" (treeless area) on top of a ridge along the Appalachian Trail, just east of Erwin, Tennesee. The panoramic view from the summit is atop each page on hikingimages.com (click to view large image.) The spot is about two miles from Rt. 395 and can even be reached without hiking if you don't mind driving your vehicle on a sometimes rough gravel road.
My first hike up this portion of the trail was on the 4th of July, 2010.
Background informationI have seen Beauty Spot referred to as a "natural" bald, but in truth there must be a reason for having a grassy field atop a mountain ridge along the verdant Tennesee/North Carolina border...
It could be related to the fact that the area was used as pasture many years ago. Might have been burned, cleared and used for grazing. There are clues.
The wooden A-shape you see to the right, one of several along the Appalachian Trail near Beauty Spot, is a ladder once used to climb over a barbed-wire fence, where the wires have long since rusted, broken and been taken down beneath the leaves...
Barbed wire was not used before the late 1800s, but the use of the area for pasture may well predate these fences by a couple hundred years.
Other theories include an intense fire atop the ridge, overgrazing, or maybe farmers liked the view, encouraged wild raspberries and used the space for big picnics? OK, maybe not -- but the truth is no one really knows for sure. The area is now periodically mowed to keep it free of trees and large shrubs. And the view is excellent.
I live in Erwin, so I drive to Rock Creek Road (aka Rt. 395) and drive 6.3 miles to the state border. Last mile or two a little steep and twisty, but not too nerve-wracking -- good shoulders on the road help. There is some parking on both sides. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road here but I was heading toward Unaka Mountain, so I entered on the left (north) side of the road.
4th of July, 2010 had temperatures in the upper 80s and mostly sunny skies. Several folks had taken autos up the gravel road to catch a peek from Beauty Spot, but I only ran into one lone hiker along the trail. And at my slow pace (as I stop often with the camera) I was out on the trail for nearly 5 hours. Guess most folks were at get-togethers and/or staying cool elsewhere.
The listed distance to Beauty Spot is 2.3 miles, but by my pedometer was an even 2 miles. You actually enter the beginning of the "bald" meadow at 1.67 miles out.
I wasn't even a quarter mile along, just beginning to go uphill, when I was forcibly detained by a crowd of succulent blueberries.
I am not a native of Tennessee, rather of NY -- and I was under the impression that blueberries would usually ripen around August. So finding this treat slowed me down a bit on the way in.
(And much more on my way out :)
I had not enjoyed wild blueberries in many years. I was used to the large, bland, domestic ones I usually get in a store. Therefore I was suprised when the larger of the wild blueberries turned out to be the sweetest.
So bigger really IS better. Yooo-Hooo!
A couple of landmarks along the way.
First, at about .55 miles in, you cross the power lines.
They wrap around the next mountain and out of sight to the SSE, but you can see them cut a narrow swath down the mountain to the NNW, crossing the Nolichucky watershed just north of Erwin, then over the next couple mountains before dropping out of view into the valley beyond.
Lot of Black-eyed Susans and other wildflowers in July, taking advantage of the treeless area running along the high voltage lines.
At .9 miles the trail crosses the gravel road (Beauty Spot Gap Road.)
Earlier in the season (early May) I had gotten pictures of Dwarf Crested Iris just before reaching the road, and other wildflowers on the way to the ridge just above this location. The hardwoods are somewhat more open (more sunlight) in this section than in most, lending itself to an unusually wide variety of flora on the forest floor.
The trail climbs to the east from here, then turns to the North ascending along the east side of a ridge.
Lots of flowering plants finally giving way to ferns (for a while) on this section of the AT.
Dominated by yellow-colored flowers (which I'll show you later) in early July -- but I spotted this blue, Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana) just a few feet off the trail right where the path turned toward the north.
USDA Plant Database entry
I went a few feet along the ridge and heard a sound like large raindrops striking leaves all around me quick and fast. But there was sun, no rain. Popcorn being popped in a microwave? Not likely...
Looking close I realized it was hundreds of grasshoppers. Leaping out of my way in reckless abandon. They jumped and hit leaves and plant stems and bounced off twigs and ferns like some sort of insect slapstick comedy.
There were sesveral different colors and sizes of hoppers. I spend a great deal of time looking up plant and animals I photograph here in my new home state, but I could not find this particular grasshopper anywhere. Black body, green forelegs and white stripes on hind legs. If anyone knows, I would appreciate a heads up.
Many of these Greater Tickseed (Coreopsis major) were blooming along the trail leading to the bald, hanging out into the path and soaking up the sunlight filtering through the trees.
USDA Plant Database entry
This plant needs a decent amount of sunlight, so the somewhat "open" nature of the hardwoods in this area lends itself to this and other sun-loving plants. This is notably true on parts of the climb to Beauty Spot, and even moreso along parts of the Appalachian Trail between Beauty Spot and Unaka Mountain, especially on the south-facing ascent.
Flora continuedTurks Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)
USDA Plant Database entry
Cheating a bit here -- I spotted this one a couple hundred yards or so past Beauty Spot. There was a small cluster of them to the right of the path.
Since I already had a panoramic of the view (taken in April when the lack of foilage allowed a view to the SE) I wasn't going to stop and take summit shots. Also there were two groups of car-arrivals, and the tourist factor was looming large so I just kept moving.
Happily I was soon treated to these stout beauties -- their downward-facing blooms about 4-5 feet off the ground. They are a favorite of hummingburds, as well as several large moths and butterflies.
Heading backBlack-eyed Susan
USDA Plant Database entry
I had not started out until noon and had taken a lot of time taking pictures (also still nursing a sore foot) so at 3pm I decided to head back. I got a better shot of a cricket, then stopped by the flowers under the power lines, playing around with different angles and views.
Waiting for clouds
I had the camera set on my hiking (smaller) tripod, very happy with my setup (the Black-eyed Susans above)... I was all ready for what I thought was a good shot. But at 4pm in solid sunlight, I was waiting for some clouds to come by and soften the light. The contrast in direct sunlight can be pretty horrible-looking. I thought it unusual the clouds were floating in from the north. As they did so they kept breaking apart and not catching the sun. Something to do with downdrafts for clouds coming past Unaka Mountain toward the valley? I had time to spin theories...
Quite frustrating for over half an hour but, as it turns out, this butterfly came by to keep me company. I reached over, very slowly, and took the camera off the tripod and managed to click off a frame when he opened his wings.
I entered the trail at noon, left a bit after 5 and only walked a little over 2 miles in each direction. Since I don't walk that slow, even nursing a sore foot, you can tell I stop a lot along the way. Taking pictures usually, but on July 4, 2010, a certain blueberry patch held my attention the longest.
I was careful not to damage any unripe berries for future hikers, but I managed to dribble a lot of berries (those I did not eat right away) into the plastic bag I always carry to cover camera in case of rain. Filled my little Pyrex bowl when I got home.
Read NOT to wash them before freezing to prevent freezer burn. Rinse them AFTER thawed. (I could not very well eat all those berries upon my return. I was sort of full by then.)
I want to note this tidbit that suprised me:
I have become used to very large, not-too-flavorful blueberries purchased in the supermarket. (Though not frequently, as they can be quite expensive.) When picking I thought larger berries would be flatter-tasting but to my delighted suprise, the larger the berry, the sweeter it tasted. So sometimes I guess it really is true, that bigger IS better. YOOOO-HOOOO!