An ascending cascade of clouds was climbing up Sinking Creek Mountain.
Black locust trees and pinxter azaleas were in bloom as bodyguards and I drove over Johns Creek Mountain and along Johns Creek Mountain Road, following the rain-swollen stream as it surged against its banks and spilled into the adjoining fields. We drove out Tub Run Road to the spot where we’d turned around when we previously walked from the Johns Creek end. My odometer pegged that distance as 3.8 miles, one-way, a round trip of 7.8 miles, about normal for us. There is a huge complex of deep, muddy puddles at this spot. I pulled Old Blue off the road and re-GPS’d the spot, for my little unit had forgotten its previous marks due to low battery. Then we set off.
Slanting shale beds stood out on the banks to our right and extended into the road, a chippy, gray rock with rusty stains. Lichen cushions and scattered birdfoot violets clung to the slopes. Wind shook water drops from the tree canopies onto us. Red-eyed vireo sang his measured song as we passed a bermed side road leading up the flank of Johns Creek Mountain, then a stand of ferns to the left. A loud stream below became louder as we neared the notch where it came plunging down, over boulders and under overhanging rhododendrons, though which could be seen, far above, the sky behind the crest of the mountain. The first mountain laurels were opening their flowers, pink buds paling to white. Through trees to our left, Potts Mountain, its ridgeline shrouded in low clouds, was intermittently visible. Bright flowers of yellow-eyed grass stood along the road margins and an equally eye-catching goldfinch took wing. Small, young trees stood on both sides of us. Each hollow we crossed had a torrent of water tumbling down its narrow slot. Here was a campsite with a special amenity, its own rectangular grill, perched on the rock ring surrounding its fire pit. Brambles sporting white flowers arched over the road; blueberry plants were hung with little white bells; and the white saucers of laurels had a deep-red point where each stamen was attached. A few scarlet wintergreen berries still clung to the low-growing plants.
A great crested flycatcher announced his presence: wheep! Serviceberries had young, blueberry-like fruits. Pinxter azaleas were nearly done blooming, their spent, fading blooms still attached and dangling. Scarlet tanager rasped his hoarse song, as we neared a series of puddles where small frogs plopped into the water at our approach. We crossed a narrow spur where a campsite lay beyond a mossy swag. The clouds on Potts Mountain had lifted, and blue patches appeared in the overcast. We’d been walking for just over an hour. The road had been cut though shale, leaving ragged edges of the rock layers standing out on a cliff-like scarp like the pages of mutilated books. Clucking noises were the calls of a yellow-billed cuckoo. As the clouds broke up, blotches of sunlight appeared on the slopes of Potts Mountain, where the greening of spring had not yet reached the crest. A straight stretch of road gave a brief view along the length of Potts Mountain, including a communications tower—not a terribly useful landmark, since there are more than one, but they are all on the far side of Rte. 311 from where we were. Then I got a good look at a red-roofed church, which must have been Craig Springs Church, at the intersection of Johns Creek and Granny’s Creek Roads. Plants with pinkish little daisylike flowers were everywhere. A side road with well-packed surface ascended to our right; was it Caldwell Road, shown on my topographic map?
The sun came out; it wasn’t quite 1 P.M. A black butterfly with iridescent blue hindwings sailed past, and a broad-winged hawk soared above: t’peeee! I got another look at the tower on Potts Mountain and decided it was the one closest to 311. There was a steep dropoff to our left, and we went down a long descent; the road leveled, then went down again. Fewer trees overhung the road, and I began to feel overly warm in the sun. Addie sloshed through a puddle, sending the resident tadpoles wriggling away. There must have been a lot of pollen in the air; I began to feel groggy. The histamine released by allergic reactions makes your capillaries leak, and as your blood loses fluid to the surrounding tissues, it lowers your blood pressure, leading to drowsiness. (I got into so much trouble as a kid for being “lazy” at times when I could barely keep my eyes open.) We reached the post for mile 6, which indicated we were 2.2 miles, road distance, from Old Blue. Now we climbed a little, encouraged by chickadee’s song and surrounded by galaxies of yellow-eyed grass. We went through a series of climbs and descents, where crumbling slopes were undermining the moss capping them. Here there was shade, and the form of a soaring vulture flickered behind the trees downslope. The new leaves of chestnut oaks and sourwoods were a green so vivid as to be almost painful to the eye. Tiny wild-cherry petals sifted down around us like snow. Most of the streams draining the mountainside had narrow, rocky beds, but I noted one whose channel was broad and mossy.
I began to watch for a good turnaround point; here was one, a place wide enough to park Old Blue and turn him around. I GPD’d the spot so I could find it again, and we took a break as a vireo sang from the mountain rib above. The sun was in my eyes as we retraced our steps and glinted on water on the road. At the mile 6 marker, the GPS said we were 0.5 miles straight-line distance from our turnaround. Hemlock saplings stood on the slope below. Metallic green beetles, as wary and agile as flies, took wing as we came into view. At mile 7, we were heading up and up, and the GPS said 1.0 mile from turnaround. I picked up a big bolt that was lying in the road among caterpillar-like fallen oak catkins. Now the air was fall-like in its clarity, the clouds had diminished to scattered clumps of stratocumulus, and the backdrop of sky was an unblemished blue. Pale tulip-tree petals, each with an orange chevron, lay underfoot. A huge, gnarly burl stood out on the trunk of an oak shaped like a slingshot. The sun, trending westward, provided shade, and a nice breeze sprung up. Addie, unable to resist any of the puddles we passed, had accumulated an impressive caking of mud on her belly fur.
Past open woods with green understory of blueberry plants, a mystery dropping on a rock left by some unknown animal, and a passing tiger swallowtail butterfly, the bodyguards detected something enticing among the trees and took off briefly, leaving me wishing I had that much energy. Up what I hoped was the last climb, I finally saw good Old Blue. My knees felt okay, but hip and big-toe joints were creaky. If the ratio of 1 mile of road distance to 0.5 mile straight-line distance is right, the GPS distance of 2.7 miles from our turnaround translates to 5.4 miles of road distance, for a round trip of over 10 miles. That seems a bit far to me. Our next walk on Tub Run Road will complete our exploration of it, and I will check the distance with the odometer. I had to put Old Blue into 4-wheel drive to get through the puddle complex and go a little way to find a good place to turn around. Much of the road isn’t too bad, but that spot would stop a passenger vehicle.