The last day of the Pilgrimage, Sunday, features only one program, the Big Trees hike. Led by Will Blozan, arborist and co-founder of the Eastern Native Tree Society, this hike often covers quite a bit of ground, some of it off trail. Will has one speed — sprint. Keeping up with him can be quite a challenge. Susan and Allen Sweetser, Annette Ranger, Mary McCord, and I decide a slower pace is in order and opt to saunter Baskins Creek Trail instead. We leave a car at the start of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and drive to the trailhead near the end of the one-way loop road.
Baskins Creek Trail is a mere 2.7 miles long, and the elevation change is just 700 feet. Hiking in our direction, however, that entire 700’ comes in one 3/4-mile section near the end. Some parts are steep, at least for a Sunday morning saunter, but we are ready. The day is cloudy and pleasant. We are all headed home at the end and are in no particular hurry.
This area was extensively settled. Two cemeteries are located along the trail. Bales Cemetery is short distance from the parking area on Roaring Fork, positioned up a shallow bank adjacent to the trail. The other is more than halfway in with a side trail leading to it. Rock piles, wall remnants, and old roadbeds are further testament to the lives lived here.
Like Gabes Mountain, there are some narrow, protected draws where the flora lags behind. We find a lovely patch of Crested Iris still in flower, plus Showy Orchis, Foamflower, and Doll’s Eyes. The Vasey’s Trillium are spectacular here too. There is Flame Azalea in flower, Dog Violet (Viola conspersa), Wood Violet, Fraser’s Magnolia, Doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana), annual Cow Wheat, Yellow Star Grass, Alumroot, Deerberry, Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), and some lovely Bear Huckleberry. I photograph one of the smallest fertile Rattlesnake Ferns I’ve ever seen.
The flowers of Summer Bluets are just beginning to open and we spy a small patch of Ground Pine (Dendrolycopodium obscurum). On all of the trails there is a bumper crop of Chestnut Oak seedlings. No surprise there. In some places the ground is covered with them. Mother Nature will have to cull quite a few.
Near the halfway point is a spur trail leading to Baskins Creek Falls. The trail meanders fairly level about a quarter mile before descending steeply to the base of the falls. It could be slippery and treacherous in wet weather. Across the creek is a manway leading to a cluster of Gatlinburg homes at the dead end of Baskins Creek Road. The Pilgrimage uses this manway for wildflower walks. Narrow, muddy, and in poor repair in some places, it can be tricky to negotiate, but it is quite lovely in spring. There isn’t a great show of any one thing; instead, this manway seems to have a little bit of everything. The variety is quite remarkable, and it is peaceful too. The main Baskins Creek Trail is not used very often either. If you have an aversion to crowds, shun the masses trekking to Rainbow Falls and head out on this trail. Though not nearly as impressive, the falls at Baskins Creek are still quite lovely and will offer a commodity rarely found at Rainbow — solitude.
Every now and then, you come across something unique along the Smokies’ trails. Allen’s eye catches something “different” and upon closer inspection, he has found a “Quintrillium.” Possibly a white-flowered Trillium erectum, this specimen has five leaves, five sepals, five faded petals, ten stamens, a white ovary with 6 or 7 pairs of ridges, and a stigma fringed with 6 or 7 projections. The white ovary is not typical for this particular trillium species, but neither is any other aspect of the plant. Growing right next to it, perhaps from the same tuber, is a normal plant.
Near the end, Baskins Creek Trail crosses Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and finishes a few dozen yards later at a junction with Trillium Gap Trail. Our cars are a short walk down the road.