Archive for November 8th, 2018

08
Nov
18

Unexpected Old Growth Forests in Autumnal Foliage

I just drove about 6,000 miles, from San Francisco up to the Columbia River, and then crossing the country, with stops in Colorado, Vermont, New Jersey and North Carolina.

On the way I hiked in the woods, beginning with my favorite redwood hike in Prairie Creek State park.

 

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I wasn’t thinking of fall color because I knew I’d be hitting Vermont after the colors had peaked, but I was in for many surprises. The first of these was the intense color of the underbrush of the old growth coniferous forest at the crest of the Cascades in Oregon.

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I crossed hundreds of miles of high plains sage in Idaho and semi-arid scrub in Utah, and when I visited my favorite put-in of all whitewater rivers, Deerlodge Park on the Yampa River in NW Colorado, I was surprised that I was lucky to catch the riparian old growth cottonwood groves in peak color.

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Further on, after passing Steamboat Springs I was in the Rockies enjoying the brilliance of the aspen groves on mountainsides of dark coniferous forests.

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When the road passed through an aspen grove, I’d stop and walk through the splendor.

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It was a long haul from Colorado to Vermont, and the forests of the midwest, East of the Mississippi were not memorable. Even when I got to the hills of Eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania, the colors were not impressive. New York had a few nice groves along the thuway, but the western edge of Vermont was well past peak color, cold and rainy.

Southward, New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway was a pleasant surprise, as was I-95 south through Delaware and Maryland. I decided to detour into the Shenandoah of Virginia, and was rewarded not only with some beautiful color, but with occasional groves of old growth Eastern Hardwood Forest.

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This brought back great memories of college days when I spent so many autumn weekends in the Appalachians. Old growth forest is rare in the Northeast, but my school of agriculture and environmental science had its own majestic grove of huge oaks, maples, ashes, hickories, sweet gums and more of the many species of the East. After school I spent one fall walking through Vermont and have fond memories of old growth beech forests–massive elephant-skin trunks in an atmosphere and carpet of yellow leaves. These can no longer be found. Because they are so rare, the mature Eastern Hardwood forests probably fill my heart more than it did the painters of the Hudson River School, who have had such an influence on my eye as well as my heart.

Imagine then, what I thrill it was to discover the abundant old growth forests of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. I had never been in this area before, and I had assumed old growth forests were as rare here and anywhere else in the East. Indeed, the maps I’ve seen of the last vestiges of virgin forests in the United States have never shown anything in the Southern Appalachians. I had my mind blown by the extent of mature stands of trees with a diversity beyond anything I’ve ever seen in North America. Species of the North, like Maples, grow in the shady north-facing coves, while on South-facing slopes I saw my first huge mature ancients of Southern species like Sassafras. There are well over a hundred species here.

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It turns out that there are over 100,000 acres of virgin forests in the Southern Appalachians. ( https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/magazine/july-2005/ancient-appalachia-the-southeasts-old-growth-forests/ )

The first question that comes to mind is “Why?’ I assume these areas escaped the pressures that the industrialization of the North put on those forests. Also, these Southern species tend to be softer and not preferred woods for shipbuilding.

They can tower 125 feet tall, with trunk diameters of 4 feet or more, like this majestic oak:

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But even the areas of younger trees had a charm:

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Maybe it was because they were enchanted, or maybe it was me that had been enchanted.

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Blog readers are welcome to buy prints of these photographs at a holiday discount of 50% until December 15. Because I am on the road, I cannot sign the prints. They will be shipped to you directly from the printer. the discount prices are:

11×14″ $78,          16×20″ $150,             24×30″  $225.              tall aspen photo, 8×16″  $70.

Not all photos an be printed at any size. Please email me to inquire: tomreed@mcn.org

 

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