Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rock and Shoals Outcrop Natural Area; Blue Trail

The Rock and Shoals Outcrop Natural Area must be one of the best kept secrets in plain sight in Georgia.

Although we’re still looking for wildflowers along traveled roads, it’s clear that we need to find access to areas off-road to see wildflowers that occur in different ecological niches.
I first ran across Rock and Shoals Outcrop Natural Area listed in Georgia's Wildlife Management & Wildlife Resources Division Areas. Since no map was available, I ‘googled’ Rock and Shoals Outcrop Natural Area in search of an address. There were a couple of links to articles in the Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald’s OnlineAthens that extolled the value of this area but didn’t tell how to get there. Both articles - ‘Two unique 'natural areas' found in Athens' backyard’ and ‘Desert in the woods’ - are well worth reading to get a flavor of the area. This area was listed as an area of interest, and adjacent to Colonels B&B at Angels Oak Farm but still no directions. Discover Life website listed it as a place to see False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve).

And then I found it. Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia by Hugh and Carol Nourse. This book provides information on 20 walks in Georgia, some in each of four areas: Cumberland Plateau Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain. The Blue Trail in the Rock and Shoals Outcrop Natural Area near Athens was one of the walks. And… The authors gave directions to the trail. At last!

The weather alternated between cloudy and sunny, and affected the atmosphere in the woods during our
walk. The woods had an eerie appearance when it was cloudy and cheerful when it was sunny. We didn't see many birds but were serenaded throughout the walk by some woodpeckers that were hammering on trees in search of food.

The trail head. Indeed, the mailbox did contain copies of the trail map. I suspect that the folks at the Colonels B&B may replenish the supply. If so, thanks! The trail is accessed down a set of steep stairs. There now is a handrail – if somewhat unstable and low – by the stairs but care should be taken when descending them. Once on the trail, the going was generally easy.
Note: The guidebook indicates that the trail is marked with blue tape. There was no tape but the trail is well worn and we had no trouble finding our way.

The trail winds its way beside a small stream in gully that drains into Cedar Creek. There are many points of interest along the trail. The trail is less than one-half mile long round trip, but we spent more than two hours exploring.

A fallen tree that is covered with moss.

A tree with a hollow at its base. We saw several similar dark holes at tree bases, under rocks, and along the stream bank. It was cloudy and a little eerie. We started to joke about expecting to see elves in the woods.

The bank was open here and we could see the course the stream was following.

The stream bank was steep here. We encountered some squabbling Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) and Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) in the branches to the left just below the center of the photograph. It’s also clear how much the sunshine brightens the atmosphere in the woods.

The stream just above the cascade.

The cascade from ‘below.’ To reach the stone outcrop one has to ford the stream on solid granite rock just above the top of the cascade. There were some patches of dry rock so we could cross without getting our feet wet. If it has rained recently one couldn’t cross without getting one’s feet wet. The trail to the stone outcrop goes straight uphill from the crossing. However, many walkers have worn a trail along the stream bank in order to photograph the cascade. This photo was taken from this side trail.
Note: The stone outcrop is difficult to photograph but I'll share some plant photographs from that area in the next post.

This photo was taken on the return trip looking across the stream just above the ford.

Almost back to the trail head. Tree trunks in the sun.

Some of the websites that listed this area gave phone numbers to contact regarding this area. I suspect there is some concern about attracting too many visitors to this area. Parking is at the end of a road through a subdivision and is very limited.

We found many plants of interest along the trail even this early in the season and will be visiting this location many times to try and view others that bloom during the year. More about the plants in the next post.

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