Posts Tagged ‘mountain laurel’

Brasstown Bald–The Highest Mountain in Georgia

June 10, 2011

Buzzing bees weaved through the blooming mountain laurel as I ascended the half mile trail leading to Brasstown Bald, the highest elevation in Georgia at 4784 feet above sea level.  A fragrant aroma from the laurel flowers permeated the air, though in some places the smell was a bit funky as if fallen flowers were composting.

Mountain laurel alongside the trail leading to Brasstown Bald.  I took all the photos for this blog entry.

Oppressive 95 degree F heat wilted most of the rest of the state, but I was cool here, a pleasant breeze provided a natural fan that wasn’t even necessary because the thermometer on the mountain top read 70 degrees.  Last week, I incorrectly supposed that, unlike in Russian’s far east, Georgia’s temperatures never fell to -40 degrees F, even during severe glacial cycles.  I stand corrected–the record low at Brasstown Bald since man has recorded temperatures here is -27 F, so surely Ice Age temperatures at this location fell even lower, perhaps colder than -40 F.

Brasstown Mountain is a heath bald and has a different origin from grassy balds which likely were created and maintained by a combination of severe climate and megafauna trampling and grazing.  Heath balds grow in areas with thin acidic soils.  Trees become stunted and shrubs dominate.  Mountain laurel and sumac cover much of Brasstown Bald.  Birch, white oak, hemlock, and maple grow here and there but few are more than 30 feet tall.  Even so, they’re not nearly as stunted as trees that grow in alpine meadows.

Exposed paleozoic age rock.  Thin soils grow over the rock layer on the top of Brasstown Bald, partially explaining why it’s dominated by shrubs.  Tree roots just can’t grow deep enough to facilitate growth.

View from Brasstown Bald.

Another view from Brasstown Bald.

The name, Brasstown Bald, is based on a complete mistranslation of the original Cherokee name for the place.  The Cherokee Indians named the village here where they lived, “Unripe Vegetation.”  The Cherokee word for unripe vegetation sounds much like the Cherokee word for brass.  A European mistranslated the name from the Cherokee language.  Brass has nothing to do with the mountain.

At the top of the mountain is an interesting museum.

It took the early pioneers a whole day to fell a tree with a saw like this.  Nevertheless, by the early 1900’s, most of the original forest in the southern Appalachians had been clear cut.  Although covered by forest today, this is second growth.

Mounted black bears at the Brasstown Bald museum.  Supposedly, bears still roam the north Georgia mountains.  I’ve never seen a live one, nor any sign of one.

Mounted bobcat at the museum.  I did see a live bobcat once, across the street from my house in Augusta, Georgia.

Indian weapons.  That atlatl is much longer than the one I have.

Quartz arrowheads.

I would like to commend the National Forest Service for making Brasstown Bald handicapped accessible.  A shuttle van runs up the mountain every 15 minutes or so.  The man let us follow him up there in my car.  The museum has an elevator, wheelchair ramps, and nice clean bathrooms.  My wife was able to wait for us in the cool shade, while my daughter and I hiked up and down the trail.  The trail is steep requiring a hiker to be in good shape.  I jog 3 miles 4 or 5 times a week, so it wasn’t hard for me, but out of shape folks will want to take advantage of the shuttle van.