It’s been three years now since this picture was taken up on the top of Roan Mountain. We were a bit early for the full bloom but even what we were in time for was impressive. Every time we go back to North Carolina I try to take the time to run up to the AT and the Garden’s. Even an old fart like me can walk a bit of the AT on the Roan. And the views go on and on and on, even when the ceiling is hanging low and the mists are brushing your hair as you walk.
Roan Mountain is actually a massif, or mountain mass, with two summits. It is part of a ridge known as the Roan Highlands, and is the highest peak in the Unaka Mountain Range. At its lower elevations, vegetation as southern as subtropical orchids can be found. But at the mountain’s height, vestiges from the ice age remain, including wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), witch hobble (Viburnum alnifolium), and green alder (Alnus crispa), a species usually found in New England.
In June, Roan’s open balds burst with the magenta-colored blooms of Catawba rhododendron, which John Fraser designated Rhododendron catawbiense on this mountain during his 1799 expedition. Each plant in the 600-acre spread of natural rhododendron “gardens” might produce as many as 100 flowers.
The combination of heath balds, Canadian-zone spruce-fir forests, and, at lower elevations, hardwood coves, supports more than 1,500 species of native plants, flowers, herbs, trees, shrubs, ferns, club mosses, lichens, and mushrooms. Bird scholar Fred W. Behrend named the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) when he discovered it wintering on the balds. The area is also home to one of southern Appalachia’s greatest concentrations of threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and wildlife species, with nearly 30 identified, including Gray’s lily, saxifrages, sedges, the saw-whet owl, and the northern flying squirrel. In 1941, 7,000 acres of this naturally significant area were incorporated into the Pisgah National Forest and Cherokee National Forest.
We have spent a number of hours walking through the Gardens on the Roan. Considering the actual number of hours we have spent exploring North Carolina, there are just a few places that have monopolized our time more. I look forward to eventually sitting on top of the Roan in the winter with the balds covered in snow…Probably wont happen this year, but soon, my friends, soon I’ll be North Carolina Mountain Dreaming for good.
Sherpa Guides are one of my favorite websites when it comes to checking out the natural world of the Appalachians. I spent so much time reading them on-line I finally chased down my own copies through Amazon. Check out the website, they have the full text of the books online. Then go pick up your own copy through the links below…The copies I have were all bought used through Amazon. I saved a few bucks and added some great guides to my bookshelf.
Source: Sherpa Guides | North Carolina | Mountains | Roan Mountain and Roan Mountain State Park
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