Up and Down Lavender Mountain

I visited Berry College Wildlife Management Area for the 3rd time a few days ago.  I saw deer sunning themselves in the open places behind the campus, and I encountered them bounding in the woods.   I’d already photographed Berry College deer on a previous visit and was going to forgo taking any more pictures of them.  But on the way out, we drove adjacent to a complacent herd of a dozen laying so close to the road that I couldn’t resist.  However, by then the camera batteries had lost their juice.  Nevertheless, I did satisfy my urge to climb to the top of Lavender Mountain and take photographs from there

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View from the top of Lavender Mountain

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Another view from the top of Lavender Mountain.

I didn’t know the Longleaf Pine Trail leads to the top of Lavender Mountain.  The Longleaf Pine Trail is an uphill climb, but in my ignorance I chose an even more rigorous route straight up a steep slope.  The rocky soils support an open forest of shortleaf pine and black oak with longleaf pine saplings on the lower part of the slope.  It looked so open that I didn’t think I would have any problem finding my way back.

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I found this potential rattlesnake den on the way up the mountain.  A tree had fallen, and its roots left a convenient cavern for serpents.  Many of the tree trunks on the mountain have burn marks from prescribed fire.

I reached the top of the mountain and a large hawk flew over my head.  The sight of the raptor seemed like a reward for my effort.  But the open nature of the terrain had deceived me–I looked down the steep mountain and couldn’t see my vehicle where my wife and daughter awaited.  In my haste to return I fell on my tukous 3 times and shredded my legs negotiating through a blackberry thorn patch.  A deer bounced about 10 yards in front of me, clearing the infernal thorns with ease, and in my paranoid imagination I thought of the deer attacking me in vengeance for all its brethren slain by hunters.  I pictured myself using boxing skills to ward off slashing hooves.  I avoided the potential rattlesnake den and discovered the trail that an educated hiker would’ve taken.  It was easier to descend than my chosen route.  After a brief period of directional confusion I was reunited with my family.

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Sign marking the Longleaf Trail–the route I should have taken instead of straight up a briar-choked steep slope.

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This is me at the base of a forked chestnut oak (Quercus montana) before my adventure up the mountain.  I was still excited about Georgia beating Tennessee thus stepping on their face with a hobnailed boot and breaking their nose…again!

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They have a longleaf pine restoration project at Berry College WMA.  A pine bark beetle infestation took out a number of shortleaf and loblolly pines, and managers burned and logged the area and planted longleaf pine saplings.  Longleaf pine is more resistant to pine bark beetles than other types of southern pines.  Lavender Mountain originally hosted an unusual disjunct population of longleaf pine which is normally a species found on the coastal plain rather than the mountains.

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Another view of Lavender Mountain through a firebreak.  The firebreak serves the purpose of isolating experimental populations of longleaf pine.

Mark Gelbart’s Scratched up Legs

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Look.  I’ve got a birthmark on my left leg that’s shaped like the state of Georgia.  My legs got scratched up while descending through a Lavender Mountain brier patch.

A long time ago, when I was about 20, an older woman, whose husband was serving overseas in the U.S. Army, told me I had ugly legs.  A few days after she uttered this unkind remark, she made a pass at me.  I didn’t respond.  At that age my social ability with the opposite sex was about as sophisticated as that of a mud turtle.  Being a dullard with thick skin had its advantages–I didn’t mull over her contradictory strategy of hurting someone’s feelings, then making them feel better through sex.  (The above photograph reminded me of that long forgotten incident.)  Now, after half a century of life experience, I’m sophisticated enough to know she was a bitch.  Shame on those people who use her strategy.  I’m sure there are plenty of relationships that consist of jerks who play with their partner’s low self-esteem to manipulate them emotionally.  They take advantage of vulnerability.  I’ve got no use for them.  Luckily for me, I didn’t take the bait.  Who knows what kind of trouble that would have brought me?  I had 1 friend who had an affair with a married woman.  He was murdered, allegedly by a drug fiend bribed with a line of coke.

The Estelle Mine Trail

A century ago, miners dug iron ore from an area on Pigeon Mountain.  Today, there’s a 2.9 mile trail leading to the abandoned mines.  I only hiked about a mile on the trail because I didn’t want to leave my wife alone in the car for more than 40 minutes.  My daughter and I saw some evidence of mining but didn’t reach the big tunnels in the rock that are probably located near the end of the trail.

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Side of a ravine where iron ore may have been extracted.

The trail is easy to follow.  Its eroded in places from horseback riders, and it tends to follow through ravines.  It’s hard to tell which ravines are natural and which are the result of mining.  A 2nd growth forest of white oak, chestnut oak, shorleaf pine, maple, sweetgum, sycamore, and black walnut has reclaimed the area around the mines.  I’m sure it was a barren clear cut a hundred years ago.  I kept hearing a pileated woodpecker and found the tree upon which it was roosting deep inside the forest.  I also saw a red-headed woodpecker.

We didn’t get this far on the Estelle Mines Trail, but I found this picture on google images.


4 Responses to “Up and Down Lavender Mountain”

  1. James Smith Says:

    Again…I would loved to have hiked those trails! I have heard about the effort to restore those longleaf pine forests on Lavendar. Have you driven the road on the tops of the high ridges behind Berry? I’ve heard that those are strikingly pretty.

    One of these days my wife and I will haul our travel trailer in that corner of Georgia. I used to live so close to it and never explored it. One place that is very high on our list is a National Forest site called “The Pocket”–I’ve heard very good things about it. Our plan is to use that, and Cloudland Canyon as a base of operations.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    I didn’t even know there was a road on the high ridges behind Berry. I’ll have to look at my map again. Large sections of Berry WMA appear roadless on the county map.

  3. James Smith Says:

    When I was traveling in north Georgia once we stopped in this store out in the middle of nowhere. And as I was poking around I saw this amazingly detailed map of Berry College and environs. It folds out to about table-top size and is PACKED with EXTREMELY detailed information. There are roads all over Lavender Mountain. Roads all around the ridges and valleys surrounding Berry College.

    One of the guys I went to high school with got full academic and athletic scholarships to attend Berry. He ran track for them after he won two golds and one silver in his events in high school, plus he had the highest SAT score in the state of Georgia the year he graduated. Valedictorian, etc. etc.

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