Perhaps I should backtrack briefly before discussing Meigs Creek. I mentioned Leconte’s Haploa moth at the end of the Meigs Mountain account yesterday and speculated that the moth’s name probably has no relation to the famous mount in the park. Well, perhaps I spoke too soon. After a night’s rest, I decided to do a bit of research just to see what might show up. There is one particular bloodline of LeContes that produced an impressive number of men who contributed greatly to the furtherance of North American natural history in various scientific disciplines. Beginning with Guillaume LeConte who upon persecution in his home country of France fled for Holland and joined forces with William, Prince of Orange, to wrest control of the British Isles from James II. Guilliaume took his rewards and emigrated to New York in 1698. A few generations later we find Louis LeConte of Georgia and his sons, John and Joseph, both of whom became University of California professors. Joseph was a geologist of high regard, and John helped determine the exact elevation of the Smokies’ Mt. LeConte. The park’s prominent peak is believed to be named for him. John’s uncle, John Eatton LeConte, was known for his work in scientific literature, including published papers on North American insects, one of which dealt with butterflies. His son, John Lawrence LeConte, was also an entomologist of note whose specialty was beetles. All this to say, that a capital “C” notwithstanding, the moth and mount could indeed be related.
While we are discussing names and historical figures, might as well recap the origin of Meigs. The mountain, creek, and falls recognize Return Jonathan Meigs, a surveyor who retraced boundaries as part of the 1802 Cherokee treaty. His father gave him that unusual first name. Seems his mother played hard to get for quite a while and just as dad Jonathan was about to give up and walk away forever, she relented and pleaded for him to “Return, Jonathan.” OK, enough history…on to the trail.
Mary and I are hiking Meigs Creek from its junction with Lumber Ridge and Meigs Mountain Trails to the Sinks. Apart from a brief rise of about 250 feet just before the final mile, Meigs Creek is a gentle 800’ descent over 3.5 miles through the creek’s valley. Most trails quietly echo the general ebb and flow of landforms, forest types, and plant communities in the Smokies. Each has its distinctions, but few stand out in an exceptional way. Meigs Creek Trail is particularly outstanding and not just for the 18 unbridged creek crossings. The personality of this trail becomes clear within minutes.
My exact words are “this trail gives new meaning to the term lush!” Lush indeed. Not only is there a profusion of different plants, some of the species occur in vast, thick stands or are especially robust in size. One plant that I would never characterize as vast, thick or robust is Partridgeberry, but along much of the upper half of Meigs Creek, the trail sides are a rich, green carpet of solid Partridgeberry foliage. You cannot see the ground. The normally tiny leaves are double in size here, and this goes on and on. There is an occasional break, but the Partridgeberry soon returns as thick as ever. There are sweeping banks of New York Fern, impressively sized fronds of Broad Beech Fern, and large recurring stands of Crested Iris. An open area is filled with Rosebay Rhododendron in flower – huge white puffballs tinged deep pink with buds and visited by bees. As one might expect, many species of mosses just love this valley. Tucked into a moist rock crevice is the little fern Maidenhair Spleenwort. Rattlesnake Plantain buds are rising from the white-netted foliage rosettes.
Other plants in flower include Teaberry, Smooth Hydrangea, Yellow Wood Sorrell, and Enchanter’s Nightshade. A dry, rocky ridge facing south is crusted with a variety of lichens and has Whorled Tickseed and Toothed White-topped Aster (Seriocarpus asteroides) in flower. Fortunately, no Rattlesnakes are hanging out today. The afternoon has turned cloudy and thunder is rumbling in the distance.
From the first creek crossing, Mary and I change into water shoes. Several crossings are up to and over our ankles, but the cold mountain water feels great on feet now plodding through mile eight of a ten mile hike. We don’t bother with rock hopping and just plunge right in to the delight of tired tootsies. Near the bottom is a stand of River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea ssp. gigantea) and Cinnamon Fern. The guide book says there are Pawpaws here too, but I didn’t notice them. It’s time to call it a day and head for the campground.
Back at Elkmont, Mary and I are eating when a couple of Robins kick up a major fuss nearby. I look around and see something large sitting on a Hemlock branch. It is a Barred Owl. It totally ignores the Robins’ screams and allows me to get a picture before silently swooping to another tree. The Robins follow, loudly protesting its somber presence.