Pisgah National Forest
Appalachian/Toecane Ranger District - Roan Mountain
Jewel of Nature
Nature's hand designed a special feature for visitors of the Pisgah National Forest of NC and Cherokee National Forest of TN: Roan Mountain, a 6,285-foot ridge straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee State line.
The Roan is famous for its' natural gardens filled with a potpourri of wildflowers and rare plants. But the plant acclaimed for beauty is the Catawba rhododendron.
The mountain's treeless areas, called "balds," offer panoramic views across a sweeping flow of grasses. Arranged on the summit are spruce-fir forests, an ecosystem normally found in Canada.
Another feature is the site of the Cloudland Hotel. Passing nearby is the Appalachian Trail, which extends from Georgia to Maine.
WHERE DID THE ROAN GET ITS NAME?
The mountain's name is linked to many legends. One legend says Daniel Boone was a frequent mountain visitor, riding his "roan" or reddish-colored horse-hence the name. Another story claims the name refers to the red color of the mountain when the rhododendrons bloom or mountain ash berries appear in the fall.
A GARDEN OF MAGENTA BLOSSOMS
At the mountain's crest, the Roan Mountain Gar- den shows Nature's work at her best. Carpeted in thickets of rhododendron, the gardens are flooded with thousands of pink and lavender blossoms in late June. Pruned by Nature's hand, one mature, plump rhododendron bloom can produce 100 flowers. The garden's trail winds around this natural wonder, taking visitors to a platform that over looks a sea of rhododendron and the valley.
THE BIRTH OF BALDS
Many theories and legends exist concerning the phenomenom of the bald. Some scientists suggest that prehistoric animals, such as mastodons and mammoths, grazed these areas. When these animals became extinct, bison and elk took over the job of keeping the balds treeless. One legend says the balds came about when Devil walked in the mountains. Each of his footsteps caused the growth to be stunted. Another possibility is that lightning striking the high mountain peak caused fires that have periodically burned off the drier tops of the mountains.
THE MOUNTAIN BALD
This is aunique ecosystem, where wind gently strokes a 1-foot deep grass carpet that stretches for miles. Wildflowers and bushes break the green pattern with splashes of color. This is the spring and summer scene of the Roan balds - Round, Jane, Grassy Ridge, and Hump Mountain. Unique features of this ecosystem are plants commonly found in northern climates. A relic from the ice age is the Greys lily, a species found only in New England. The balds are also havens for other plants that normally thrive in high elevations of the southern Appalachians.
Remnants of cold climates During the ice age, spruce-fir forests covered the southern Appalachians. Tundra-like vegetation cloaked Roan Mountain, one of the coldest peaks. As the climate warmed over the last 20,000 years, the spruce-fir forests gradually retreated northward. Today these forests remain in the southern appalachian's highest points, such as the Roan.
Standing on the summit in clusters are Fraser fir skeletons--victims of ice storms, harsh winds, and an insect called the balsam woolly adelgid. Growing below these carcasses are seedlings, treasures for Christmas-tree growers.
BUILT IN LAND OF SKY
Today only a trace remains of a 300-room hotel built in 1885 on the Roan Mountain summit. Brainchild of Civil War General John T. Wilder, the Cloudland hotel became a retreat for hay fever sufferers and city folk. Advertising the mountain's pristine environnent, one ad states, "Come up out of the sultry plains to the Land of the Sky-magnificent views where the rivers are born.. one-hundred mountain tops over 4,000 feet high, in sight." Sometime around 1910, the building was abandoned. Attributed to the hotel's demise were the expense of shipping goods and the short 3-month business season. From the hotel's site, visitors can view the mountain balds sitting in a row. In the summer,, the summit's cool and gentle breeze offer refreshment from the oppressing heat below.
For more information:
Appalachian/Toecane Ranger Disirict
P.O. Box 128
Burnsville, NC 28714
(On old US 19-E bypass in Burnsville)
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