The majority of my hikes from here on out will be spent tackling the North Carolina side of the park. If you were to color in the trails that I've done overall, you would see the Tennessee very full and the NC side very blank. With this week's hikes, that's about to change. Anytime my family would ever drive up the Clingmans Dome Road, one would always see the sign for the Noland Divide Trail of to the left, leading off into the woods, shrouded in mystery. I've been aching to hit this trail for ages, and now was a great time. Like I said, my long distance hiking as of late was lacking, as was my usual push for an early morning start, in which I decided to sleep in. The weather forecast called for a chance of storms, but the radar showed everything still a ways to the north.
The drive up the recently renovated Clingmans Dome Road was a delight. In between the breaks of clouds rocketing over the main ridge one was afforded clear views into the valleys below. Plus the roadside was continually lined with large, dense patches of crimson red bee balm and coneflower in peak bloom. When I pulled into the trailhead, it was somewhat cloudy but pleasantly cool. What would make today's hike so different was that I would begin by descending and finish with all up, the total elevation change being about 3,500 feet. Typically one goes up to a point and the returns by heading back downhill, so I was curious to see how I would handle such circumstances.
The beginning of the trail followed an old roadbed, now heavily overgrown with grasses and thick patches of heal all in bloom. The grass was still wet so my legs were getting soaked right from the get go. At an S-curve in the trail, I passed by what looked to be an abandoned radio tower. Just the way randomly appeared in the woods reminded of a scene in the TV show Lost. It had a taken a beating, with several massive blowdowns falling into and around it. One tall stag had gone straight into the side of it and was tangled somewhere close to the top, while others had smashed in the base and surrounding chain link fence.
The trail was occasionally overgrown with brush and those annoying nettles, but nothing that would slow me down. The grade of the descent and smoothness of the trail was especially gratifying, which goes a long way when you've got a lot of miles ahead of you. The first few miles also saw the berries of yellow bead lily coming to fruition in greens and blues.
When I reached the junction with Pole Road Creek, it was time for more downhill. Immediately I was stunned by number of different wildflowers in bloom. Wide leaved sunflowers, yellow gerardia, yellow fringed orchids, sweet joe pye weed, carolina lilies, starry campion, rattlesnake plantain, mountain mint, white asters, and the bright red berries of trillium. The experience reminded me of my trip up Scott Mountain Trail back in April, when I came in with low expectations but was blown away by what I saw. Pole Road Creek is an isolated area of the park, so I bet that plays into it. Two of these wildflowers were of particular interest. Now if you look through my wildflower page and see two pictures that look identical, you'll probably say, "Uh oh, John's losing his mind!" On the contrary I say. The notable difference between the carolina lily and the turk's cap lily is simple. Carolina lilies have only one to four blooms at the top, while the turk's cap lilies have many blooms that spread up and down the entire stem of the plant, plus the bloom has a greenish star at the center. So there ya go! Another plant of interest was the mountain mint, with blooms similar to that of the basil and red bee balm. But as the name describes, the plant's uniqueness comes in its fragrance. If you rub your fingers on the leaves, you stir up the smell of mint. So every time I passed by this plant I would always get a wiff of the minty goodness.