Happy Trails


Painting - "Showy Orchis" - Terri Waters

     On a chilly Sunday morning in April, in a two-car caravan, we started through the mountains on an impromptu wildflower pilgrimage. We opted for the Cherokee Orchard-Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a quiet, uncrowded section of the park graced with sturdy, weather-grayed cabins and cold, rock-strewn mountain streams. Driving slowly on the narrow winding road, we spotted wildflowers through our open car windows - yellow trillium quivering in the wind, white and purple violets intermingled in young soft grasses.

     Then came the open fields of Cherokee Orchard, fields thick with the gnarled trunks of old apple trees. The trees were full with flowers, pale white blooms that foretold of apples in the coming autumn. At this point we stopped the cars and picked our way among the rocks and moss-covered logs littering the terrain. The land held masses of white trillium, their whiteness bespeckled occasionally by the pink of aging flowers. I discovered something I hadn't known before: as the white trillium grows older its color changes, first to pale pink, then a deep, almost red, a signal of the trillium's impending death. Throughout the nature trail, wherever we saw a field of white trillium, always the white monotony was broken by intermittent spots of pinkness.

     Leaving Cherokee Orchard, we entered a shadowy wooded area known as Roaring Fork. At once we noticed a fall in the temperature, though we continued to stick our heads out the windows to look for wildflowers, particularly the leather leaves of trailing arbutus (which I never managed to see). We stopped for lunch beside a rocky stream, eating our sandwiches as we looked through woodlands that were carpeted with partridge berry and trillium, a few wake robins as well. Our necks craned, as we gazed upward at the pines, giants that dwarfed the rest of the forest. How long they had grown there was something we could not know, without unnecessary speculation, however, we again took up our journey on the narrow road.

     We drove at a leisurely pace, stopping occasionally to take a picture of nodding yellow trout lilies or the steadfast jack-in-the-pulpits firmly rooted in the rich, moist ground. Our next-to-last stop was the Ephraim Bales cabin, a tiny two-part structure surrounded by an old picket fence and log out-buildings. Exploring around the homestead we made our wildflower discovery of the day: showy orchis that were just beginning to bloom. Shiny green leaves lay low against the earth, bearing the tiny purple buds of would-be flowers. Showy orchis is a rare wildflower found in isolated spots of the Smokies. When it does appear, it grows in a cluster, several plants within a radius of a few feet. We walked around ever so carefully, so as not to step on any of the delicate young leaves. It was the first time I had seen showy orchis, and next week the flowers would be full.

     With the old homestead left behind, the road led down, the waters of Roaring Fork beside it moving in a steady roar. The road lay in shadow, cold and damp, as we approached one of the beauties of the train - Dripping Springs. Cascades of water poured from a steep rock face, its spray splashing the leaves of nearby white trillium and violets. A pathway of stone steps led up the hill to the springs, where one could sit on a rock and watch the waters fall ever downward. The air was cold with the fine mist of water, so we didn't stand too long watching. It had been a good trip.

~ Elaine Hurst