Monday, July 20, 2015

Muddy Slog: A Quick, Wet Trip to Dolly Sods

Last weekend, we made a quick day trip up to Dolly Sods, hoping for blueberries and wildflowers. I was more than aware that it had been wetter than normal. The DC area had its wettest June on record. We received more rain during one month than we usually get all summer (As an aside, we might be to blame for that: we put an irrigation system in our garden this spring...). However, it had been a few days since the last time it rained, so I didn't think anything about what the trail condition might be out there. I would probably have chosen a different place to hike if I had known what we were in for.

We started from the Blackbird Knob Trailhead by Red Creek Campground. The trail starts on a short boardwalk. And then the boardwalk ends. Normally, that is where a standard path through the woods begins. Last Sunday, that's where the mud and water started. It never really ended. We got a few breaks when we climbed up small hills, but the whole day was a lot of slogging through mud and walking through water, hoping that you didn't misjudge the bottom. The place was hammered. We saw lots of big groups and a lot of trail damage (widening) from people trying to avoid the mud. As much as possible, we tried to stay on the path and just walk through it, but it was tough.

On the bright side, there were blueberries! There were also lots of wildflowers. Red Creek was as high as I've ever seen it, which made crossing an adventure. The falls at the Forks of Red Creek were running high, too, which was very cool to see. We had a good hike, it just wound up being tougher than we expected. The weather also held, which was good, because the only thing that would have made the mud better would have been a good downpour!

Pictures (click to enlarge):

 One of the driest places on the Blackbird Knob Trail.
All of the rain meant lots of cool mushrooms going off in the woods. I definitely need to get a mushroom reference book at some point.
This is pretty typical of what the trail looked like through any of the meadows. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the pools of water. Michael is in the center of the photo.
Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John's Wort) on the Blackbird Knob Trail.
A large cairn on Red Creek.
A small slug on a tree at the junction of Blackbird Knob Trail and the Lower Red Creek Trail.
Trees reflected in a pool near the forks of Red Creek.
Rhododendron maximum (Great Laurel) near Red Creek
Rushing water on the left fork of Red Creek.
 Our canine escort cleaning her feet off.
Small waterfalls on the left fork of Red Creek.
The Falls of Red Creek.
More awesome mud on the way out.
Lilium philadelphicum (Wood Lily) on Forest Road 75. I first saw these stunning lilies five years ago in the same place. I've never seen them anywhere else, although they do grow elsewhere. They are listed as endangered, threatened or a species of concern in several states because people like to pick them and they don't tolerate grazing.
Another, double, L. philadephicum
The view to the east from the Bear Rocks area of Dolly Sods.


  1. I was on the Cranberry the week before that and it pretty much rained the whole time. I've never seen the river that high. They actually had to close the campground.
    Looks like you got off easy. :-)
    One thing I'm wondering is what kind of flowers these are. They were found along the road next to the Cranberry in a few places. Thought you might know.

    1. Greg, that is Monarda didyma (Bee Balm). Very pretty flowers and very easy to grow.

    2. Thanks! Yes, they are very striking amid the intense green. I'll have to get some seeds...