Tornado Damage at Black Rock Mountain State Park

A greater variety of trees grow in the southern Appalachians than in any other region of the United States.  The temperate forests in North America are more diverse than those of Europe because the mountains run from north to south instead of east to west.  The ranges of European trees couldn’t retreat south when Ice Ages began–the Alps blocked their way.  Late in the Pliocene many plant species disappeared from northern Europe, never to return there.  But in North America, plant species ranges were able to expand and contract in correlation with the retreat and advance of glaciers.

I visited Black Rock Mountain State Park near Clayton, Georgia on my vacation last week and enjoyed seeing the diversity of trees.  I found white oak, black oak, red oak, sycamore, sweetgum, river or sugar birch?, elm, shagbark hickory, black walnut saplings (no mature trees), tulip, locust (Gleditsia sp.?), red maple, southern sugar maple, hemlock, white pine, Virginia pine, and shortleaf pine.  I also found a single chestnut but couldn’t locate the tree it came from.  It’s likely from a sprout that will eventually succomb to the blight.  The forests in north Georgia differ greatly from what I saw in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year (see “Gatlinburg Tennessee: Tale of a Tourist Trap Nightmare”).  I barely saw any oaks in that park, but I noticed in north Georgia that white oak is one of the most common trees from Hiawassee to Clayton and black and red oak are abundant as well.  The forests in north Georgia must be younger than those around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Oaks are fire tolerant/shade intolerant.  Tulip and maple shade out oaks in old growth forests.  The National Park trees are also much larger in diameter.  In north Georgia I couldn’t find a single tree greater than 3 feet in diameter.  Black Rock Mountain State Park was purchased from private landowners in 1939, so the forest here is only 72 years old.  I prefer the younger oak forest over old growth tulip and maple forests because they support more game.

View from Black Rock Mountain

White oak in Black Rock Mountain State Park.  White oaks are one of the most common trees in northeast Georgia but are declining in much of their former range in the midwest.

White oaks are declining in abundance throughout much of their range due to fire suppression.  In the midwest maples are replacing them, and oaks can’t grow in their shade.  Fire destroys maple trees and opens up the forest canopy for oaks.

I didn’t see any bird species in north Georgia that I don’t normally encounter in Augusta.  However, blue jays were very abundant–they go hand-in-hand with white oak forests.  Some scientists believe it was blue jays that helped facilitate the return of oak forests to the midwest and New England following the retreat of the Laurentide glacier at the end of the last Ice Age.  In the region about 100-200 miles south of the ice sheet, oaks persisted in small thermal refuges alongside rivers, but these oak woodland relics were surrounded by boreal forests and prairies.  Blue jays carried acorns for miles, storing them for future use in hidden caches.  Acorns never retrieved sprouted in sunny meadows and dying spruce forests that were failing due to a warming climate.

A tornado wrecked this tree.

When a tornado felled this tree, the roots ripped a big cavern into the earth.  This would make an excellent bear den with a fallen tree as a natural roof.  The bear might dig making it a  little deeper.  Bears are unlikely to use this one though because it’s next to a trail.

Earlier this summer, a tornado destroyed many of the trees on Black Rock Mountain.  Roofers were repairing all the houses bordering the park.

Many different kinds of flowers abound in sunny areas of the southern Appalachians.  This one looks like some type of aster but I’m not sure.  Maybe somebody can help me out with the ID.  I also saw orchids, field daisies, and many I couldn’t identify.

A chipmunk hole?  I saw a chipmunk not too far from this hole.  The park provides perfect habitat for chipmunks.  They like to tunnel under tree roots and boulders, and there are lots of acorns.  This is 1 of 2 species of mammals I observed in north Georgia that I don’t get to see in Augusta.

Hiawassee, Georgia

We stayed at the Ramada Inn across from Lake Chatuge (pronounced Chatoo as in Achoo…bless you for sneezing), an artificial reservoir created by a dam that backflows the Hiawassee River.  They have a handsome living room.

Bear skin rug and other trophies decorate the living room at the Ramada Inn in Hiawasee.

The lake meanders in front and in back of the hotel, but to get to the swimming beach it’s necessary to cross a fairly busy road.  The lake abounds with green bream which swarmed around me while I swam.

View of Lake Chatuge from the Ramada Inn.

Swimming beach at Lake Chatuge.  The good looking woman in the foreground was marred with tattoos.  What is it with tattoos these days?  It used to be just bikers and sailors had tattoos and they were small and tasteful.  Now wimps and women have big ole ugly tattoos all over their bodies.

The Cherokee Indians originally settled Hiawasee which was a major village on an Indian trail through a pass between the mountains, and they lived here until 1836 when greedy white crooks kicked them to Oklahoma.

A small patch of clover behind the hotel attracted a pair of fat woodchucks every afternoon.  Woodchucks are close to the present southern limit of their range here, so I got to see another animal that doesn’t live in Augusta.  During the Ice Age woodchucks occurred as far south as Brunswick–their fossil remains having been excavated from Clark Quarry.

This is the best photo I could get of the woodchucks that live behind the Ramada Inn.  I just missed getting a closer image.  It went down the hill, eating like a little hog all the while.  Click on the photo to enlarge and look to the left of the white pvc pipe.

There are no restaurants to get excited about in Hiawasee.  The people who live in north Georgia must not believe in seasoning their food.

We didn’t get to eat at the Smoky Rings Barbecue.  They had no handicapped access–the first with no wheelchair ramp I’ve ever seen anywhere.

At Daniel’s Steakhouse my daughter ordered a sirloin steak which was grilled to perfection but unseasoned.  They didn’t season my trout either.  The average age of their customers is 70.  Perhaps that’s why the restaurant served such bland food.  Older people are supposed to watch their sodium consumption, and they probably complain if food is too spicy. I regard bland food as an abomination. 

Here’s my recipe for steak seasoning salt: 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp celery salt, 1 tsp garlic salt, 1 tsp onion salt, 1 tsp ground coriander, a few scant drops of soy sauce.  Mix all the salts and spices on a plate.  Be careful with the soy sauce–too much and the mixture will clump up and won’t go through a salt shaker.  Pour this mixture into a salt shaker.  Sprinkle liberally over steaks and chops, or in ground sirloin for chopped steaks and gravy.

Here’s my recipe for fish coating: 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 tsp ground black pepper and lots of freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp garlic salt.  Dip the fish filets in beaten egg, then in the flour and spice mixture before frying.  Adding egg, buttermilk, and minced onion to the above recipe makes an excellent hushpuppy batter.  Cut fish fillet into fingers and dip it in the batter before frying and use the leftover batter for hushpuppies.

All-you-can-eat buffets are popular in Hiawasee.  It’s hilarious to watch how much food some of these old folks can put away.  I guess they think they’re making a profit, if their stomach capacity surpasses the restaurant’s cost of the food.

The other local restaurant we tried was called Georgia Mountain Country.  Again, bland food rules here. On the buffet blackeyed peas were served separate from ham.  The peas were unsalted, but mixing them with the ham made it acceptable.  Pole beans mixed with fatback were cooked to smithereens.  I think this recipe is based on an old pioneer dish.  The pioneers used to store pole beans by stringing them together and drying them, creating something called leather breeches beans.  To make them palatable, it was necessary to stew them with salted pork for hours.  In modern times it’s no longer necessary to cook them this way. To produce a similar taste, steam pole beans until just tender and drizzle a little warm bacon grease on them.  The cornmeal muffins served were dry as a desert and not a pat of butter in sight.  I did enjoy the baby beets, despite the lack of seasoning, because they were fresh and naturally sweet.

The best meal I ate was in a bar in Helen where we stopped for lunch on the way home.  Helen is a tourist trap–everything is more expensive because the town is built to look like a German country village.  I ate a bratwurst served on a fresh baked herb roll and smothered with sauerkraut and cheese.  Too bad I was driving and couldn’t wash it down with a beer or three.

On the way home I stopped and took a photo of the approximate location of the Great Buffalo Lick, according to Dr. Devorsey.

Approximate correct location of the Great Buffalo Lick, according to Dr. Devorsey’s research.  It’s ~.5 miles south of Buffalo Creek on Highway 22.  Today, it’s just nondescript second growth.

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2 Responses to “Tornado Damage at Black Rock Mountain State Park”

  1. Mark LaRoux Says:

    Mark, it sounded like you were describing Sand mountain, Alabama except for the beach…even the food is the same. Any mention of timber rattlers while on the mountain? We’ve had an invasion of young ones this year…nobody gets bitten, just moms upset from garden suprises and a couple of roadkills.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Didn’t see any snakes there.

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