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Big poplar on Kalanu Prong April 2, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , , ,
Tree and me

Tree and me.

On a beautiful warm spring day, I decided to do a hike in the low elevations, where I could see wildflowers. For years I’ve been hearing about the giant poplar along Kalanu Prong, but I’d never been there. I knew there was an unmaintained path that started along False Gap Prong and led up to the tree. So off I went.

Right at the start I saw yellow trillium that hadn’t opened up yet, but the leaves were so pretty I took a picture anyway.

A few more days and they'll be out.

A few more days and they’ll be out.

I passed through the Plemmons cemetery, noticing that the appropriate flags had been placed on graves of a Confederate Civil War veteran and U.S. Army veterans. Many of the gravestones are very roughly hewn and hard to read, if they have inscriptions at all. By chance on my way back I met a friendly individual named Butch Strickland, and we chatted about points of interest in the Porters-Middle Prong-Ramsey Prong area. I learned from him that if you bring some flour in a zip-loc bag, you can gently rub it on the gravestones and see the inscriptions more easily. The flour disappears with the next rain.

Ghosts may dwell here.

Ghosts may dwell here.

Along this stretch of the path, flowers grew here and there. Higher up, it would become solid flowers.

Yellow violet.

Yellow violet.

I’d noticed a reading of “high fire danger” on a sign as I entered the Park. You wouldn’t guess that from looking at the streams, which are running high from snowmelt. But in the lower elevations, it is indeed dry, and I know from experience that unseasonably warm weather can lead to fires especially when the trees haven’t leafed out to cool the ground. It got up above 80 degrees today.

False Gap Prong was running high.

False Gap Prong was running high.

Fortunately, I did not have to cross False Gap Prong on this hike.

This old wall is now owned by mosses and ferns, not by a nearby home dweller.

This old wall is now owned by mosses and ferns, not by a nearby home dweller.

Trout lilies near Woolly Tops Branch.

Trout lilies near Woolly Tops Branch.

Longspur violets.

Longspur violets.

Newly emerging buckeye leaves.

Newly emerging buckeye leaves.

Past where the path leaves False Gap Prong to turn up Kalanu Prong, the woods were carpeted with flowers. It was a magical place.

Enchanted forest.

Enchanted forest.

Mayapples were popping up among the spring beauties.

Mayapples were popping up among the spring beauties.

After climbing up and over a side-ridge with an increasing number of blowdowns, I reached the big poplar. As any photographer knows, it is impossible to take a picture of a big tree. You just can’t get the whole thing into the lens at once.

Flowers grew among its roots.

Flowers grew among its roots.

It is very difficult to give a sense of scale. Here you see it over toward the left, growing amongst “normal” trees.

To the left, dwarfing its neighbors.

To the left, dwarfing its neighbors.

Looking up.

Looking up.

Taken from up the hillside.

Taken from up the hillside.

Mighty roots.

Mighty roots.

I sat and soaked in the wonder of the forest for a while, then slowly made my way back to the outside world.




1. Kent Hackendy - April 2, 2014

There’s a certain quality about a warm day in early spring that hard to describe. Just seeing all that new growth regenerates you after a long, hard winter. Sounds like you had a marvelous day!

I have been known to pause for extended periods whenever I come across old cemeteries, so I’ll have to keep the flour trick in mind.

Your post picked me right up on a day I was lagging a bit. Thanks Jenny!

2. Jenny - April 3, 2014

You’re very welcome.

3. DP - April 3, 2014

How do you get that trail?
thank you for sharing.

Jenny - April 3, 2014

It’s easy if you are comfortable with following unmaintained trails. The path leads directly to the tree, but there are places toward the end where it is a little obscure. You drive in to the Greenbrier section of the Park off 321 and turn left at the bridges that lead toward Ramsey Cascade. Park on the right just after the second bridge and you will see an unmarked road leading straight upstream. In a short distance the road heads left and a path heads straight. You can go either way, but if you want to visit the cemetery, go left. At the far end of the cemetery you will find a path that heads back toward the stream. That connects with the other path, so you turn left and continue upstream. Just keep following the path—it will get you there. Good luck!

4. Al - April 3, 2014

Maybe 2 – 3 years back there was some buzz about the largest poplar tree in North America being in the Fork Ridge area of Deep Creek. Will Blozan and members of the Native Tree Society visited this tree and measured it. They could not release its exact location as they were asked not to by the NPS. Mike Harrington or Ed Fleming might have more recent information.

Jenny - April 3, 2014

It’s tempting to go look for it!

Al - April 3, 2014

I corresponded with Will Blozan several years ago and while he would not give me the tree’s location he said I could join the tree team as a support/crew person and ”see the tree that way”. I did not follow up though.

5. Michael Ray - April 3, 2014

Jenny, I enjoyed your adventure. I’ve been planning to go to Porter’s Creek to revisit the phacelia display, and thought I might check out the flowers you talked about, while I was in the area. Looking for more information about the area, I came across a website by Will Blozan discussing your tree among others. It’s funny that his name came up in your discussion, before I could give you the information. Anyway, here’s the link:


Here’s the index for the rest of the park:


Keep up the good work!

Jenny - April 3, 2014

The subject of big trees seems to fascinate a lot of people! Last spring a friend and I looked for the national champion red spruce near Raven Fork (which had been identified by ENTS), and we found a candidate but couldn’t know for sure it was the one.

6. Al - April 4, 2014

Jenny, wonder if you have visited the Hemlock Leviathan in the Laurel Branch drainage ? Its a NTS find too and was featured in a lot of news papers several years back. The SMHC went to it a few years ago and we joined them at the Ramsay Cascades parking lot.

Jenny - April 4, 2014

I’ve never been there, Al. Now that it’s dead, I think it would be too sad for me to look at it. Going there must have been great some years back. That area is very interesting. I’ve been up Woolly Tops from both Little Laurel (you were on that trip) and Big Laurel branches. I need to revisit Woolly Tops.

Al - April 4, 2014

Yes its dead but just to observe the trunk near the ground is worthwhile. You can crawl inside. The tree is in a beautiful flower covered small valley that leads off Laurel Branch to the east at 2800 feet. (The branch forks at 2900). Once there its easier to go over the gap to the Chapman Prong side and take the manway back to the RC road.
Woolly Tops was a quiet and somewhat lonely place, kind of like the top of Mt Guyot.. Great climb and descent.

7. Tom - April 6, 2014

Great account of wonderful hike. Greenbriar has become my favorite part of the Park. And thanks for the photo of the author for your South Florida, flat-lander fans. Say what they will, the girl is still easy on the eyes!

8. Jenny - April 7, 2014

You are too flattering, my friend!

9. Gary Howell - April 7, 2014

A wonderful day for a hike. Thanks for sharing it with us all.
(rain here today).


10. Al - April 8, 2014

I was up there with a group a few years ago. We met an elderly man (like me) and 2 teens that were returning from the big tree. He looked at me and asked my age, I told him and he seemed relieved that I was a bit younger. He definitely want to be the eldest (ever ?) to make it up to the poplar at age 86.

Jenny - April 8, 2014

I’m not such a spring chicken myself. I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest person to climb Charlies Bunion (the Tourist Bunion) from the bottom. I was 60 years old when I did it in October 2012. There’s talk of another excursion up the Bunion this coming Sunday. If I do that trip, I’ll be 61 going on 62. When I wrote my “Twelve Streams” novel I made the protagonist 10 years younger than myself because I knew readers would simply not believe that a lady in her 60s is doing this stuff. I’m crossing a divide now… no longer caring about being an aging female, the least valued category of male/female/young/old.

Kent Hackendy - April 8, 2014

A few thoughts on getting older:

The first time I hiked up the summit of Mt. LeConte in July, 2012, I was passed on the way up by a man and woman who, I’m sure were in there late 60s or early seventies – a bit of a humbling experience, that. (I was 49 at the time.)

Our perception of what is old is influenced greatly by the fact that most people, by and large, don’t take very good care of themselves – in the U.S., anyway. So many people around me seem old and worn out before they reach 50. I have a good friend who constantly complains she’s getting old (she’s one year younger than me). Of course, she rarely exercises and she’s a chain smoker. I keep trying to get her to turn over a new leaf, though, but I’m beginning to give up hope she ever will.

I’m not really as concerned about how long I live, but rather retaining a good quality of life while I’m here. And to that, you have to keep moving and continue to challenge yourself.

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