Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alum Cave Bluffs In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Trailhead to Arch Rock
The Alum Cave Trail provides many scenic overlooksThe Alum Cave Trail begins its ascent at 3,830 feet (1,170 m) by quickly crossing two streams: Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek, the latter of which flanks the trail for the first 1.3 miles (2.1 km) of its length. This first leg of the trail leads the hiker through an old-growth forest, consisting largely of hemlock and yellow birch and is relatively easy, as the climb is gradual and the footpath is well-maintained due to its heavy traffic. The first notable landmark comes 1.3 miles (2.1 km) into the hike at what is known as "Arch Rock", which is a large black slate rock that has, over millennia, come to create, as the name indicates, a large natural arch. Hikers maneuver easily through the cold, moist rock via stairs and steel cables acting as handrails which are placed at numerous points along the footpath.

Arch Rock to Alum Cave Bluff A hiker who ascends beyond Arch Rock will gradually hear the shift from the powerful company of Alum Cave Creek to the smaller Styx Branch, which accompanies the path for a short distance. Inspiration Point is the next landmark along this less trafficked, though still popular, portion of the trail. Upon this outcropping of rocks about 4,700 feet (1,400 m) in elevation, a hiker can, on a clear day, get an unobscured view of the surrounding landscape, most notably Little Duck Hawk Ridge. Not far from Inspiration Point, the Eye of the Needle (a round, see-through hole cut into the side of Little Duck Hawk Ridge) can be seen to the left as the hiker continues along the now rocky trail. Not far from there, at 2.2 miles (3.5 km) from the trail head, the hiker finds the ubiquitous orange clay of Alum Cave Bluff. The bluff is at 4,950 feet (1,510 m) in elevation [3], and is 80 feet (24 m) in height. The bluff is the final destination along the trail for many hikers. In winter, massive icicles often form and crash down onto the trail, making the bluff dangerous; in other seasons, the bluff forms a shelter from the frequent rainstorms in these mountains.

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