Sunday, October 23, 2011

October Treat In The High Knob Landform


Upper Tennessee River Basin
High Knob Massif - October 23, 2011
Morning Glory In The Southern Appalachians
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.


On a clear, crisp October morning there is nothing quite like the breaking of dawn in the High Knob Massif of the famed southern Appalachians, where glowing light from a sun rising well beyond the visible horizon was captured in all its glorious grandeur by photographer Roddy Addington as it illuminated the scenic mountain landscape of this wildly diverse Upper Tennessee River Basin.

Purely AWESOME!  

High Knob Massif - October 23, 2011
Frost Coats The Colors Of Autumn 2011
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Morning temperatures in lower to middle 20s amid colder mountain basins of the highcountry generated a hard freeze that continued the major leaf fall initiated by the October 19-20 storm.

October 23, 2011
High Knob Lake Basin of Jefferson National Forest
Endemic Southern Appalachian Northern Hardwoods
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

This left a few trees clinging to leaves in more sheltered places as the forest itself is quickly being transformed into one that is settling in for a long winter slumber!

[ Mountain slopes visible in the distance are notorious for holding snow cover for long periods of time, with well over 100 days having 1" or more of snow depth during moderate-severe seasons ( 80+ days with 12" or more of depth were observed in the 2009-10 winter ) ].

October 23, 2011
Beauty Of Life - High Knob Massif
Kaleidoscope Of Colors & Melting Frost
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

WOW...what else can be said!


[ Please NOTE:  While more information will be presented on the High Knob Landform about its vast underground world, its final frontier, it is the policy of this website that no cave locations will ever be given.  Do not ask.  Thank you very much ].


Going Subterranean
In The High Knob Landform
( Colors Beneath The Surface )

Today it is finally becoming understood that the High Knob Landform is a great karst landscape with a vast and yet unknown network of complex subterranean passages that carry and store water vital to all life upon and beneath its surfaces.

[ For a better understanding of this underground world please reference the Virginia Natural Heritage Karst Program website ].

Most caves in the High Knob Landform are solution caves which over time have developed in calcareous rock types, while others have formed amid more resistant stratigraphy. 


Karst hydrogeology is one aspect that makes this vast world beneath our feet, as highlighted so well above, especially amazing in the High Knob Landform since it is proving to be the wettest area in Virginia ( wetness driving its extensive karstification ).

[ At the end of October a general 60.00" to 70.00" of total precip ( rain + melted frozen precipitation ) have fallen across the High Knob Massif and City of Norton during 2011 ].


Cave Salamander ( Eurycea lucifuga ) In Gilley Cave
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

This cave is GATED and owned by the

[ Gilley Cave is one of the most significant caves in Virginia.  If you would like to donate to the Gilley Cave Fund or visit this cave, please contact the Appalachian Cave Conservancy ].

More than 1,000 caves have formed amid the expanse of the High Knob Landform, with Gilley Cave being the destination of a recent Appalachian Cave Conservancy ( ACC ) trip on October 22. 

Chepultepec Formation of the Knox Group
Complex Features Of Cave Wall In Gilley Cave
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

[ ALL CAVES must be treated with the greatest respect! ].

Gilley Cave is interesting for many reasons one of which is that it has formed in the Knox Group, within the same geological formation hosting the famed Natural Tunnel.


October 22, 2011
High Knob Landform
Majestic Flowstone Falls - Gilley Cave
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Flowstone is a product of deposition of a carbonate mineral called calcite, and although it may look rigid it can be damaged by only the softest touch. 

It must be remembered that these Richard Kretz photographs were taken beyond the zone of light penetration, amid a total and complete type of darkness unknown to those having never before been deep within caves or mines.

It is here that amazing & unique environments exist for the development and support of a surprising diversity of life forms, many endemic to a specific cave or drainage basin.

October 22, 2011
High Knob Landform
Gilley Cave of Powell River Basin
Flos-Ferri ( Flowers of Iron ) Aragonite Crystals
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Aragonite is the other carbonate mineral that often occurs along with calcite in caves; although, it possesses a different crystal lattice than calcite to generate different forms like these lovely but very delicate flos-ferri flowers.

October 22, 2011
Upper Tennessee River Basin
Cave Salamander ( Eurycea lucifuga ) In Gilley Cave
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.


While Eurycea lucifuga is relatively common, the Virginia Natural Heritage Program follows around 80 rare cave adapted animal species in the Upper Tennessee River Basin.


October 22, 2011
High Knob Landform
Looking Across The Powell River Valley
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

It is when the surface and subterranean are joined as one that the true and vast significance of the High Knob Landform emerges as the rarity and richness epicenter for limited range species within North America, by union of the Upper Tennessee and Upper Cumberland river basins.

Map Adapted from Precious Heritage:
The Status of Biodiversity in the United States
Map produced by The Nature Conservancy 
Eastern Conservation Science GIS, 5/19/00.
© 2000, The Nature Conservancy.

With a total vertical life range zone of at least 4,670 feet it has plenty of room for a vast variety of habitat types to support a yet unknown amount of total biodiversity ( * ). 

( * ) - The elevation span across the High Knob Landform between its highest point above the surface and deepest subterranean cave currently known ( the deepest east of the Rockies and north of Mexico on the North American continent ).

October Colors Below Ground
Cave Column Inside Gilley Cave
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Much of this unknown biodiversity resides in huge groups of organisms with many species such as bryophytes, fungi, insects, and microorganisms galore ( including many endemic cave organisms )


October 22, 2011
Powell Valley Overlook of Powell Mtn
Multiple Ridges Across The Landscape
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

As the "highest" organism of them all we are most foolish if for a moment it is believed that what lives amid such a complex surface + subterranean landscape is known, or even understood in how it all fits together to impact the whole! 


( Updated: October 29, 2011 )
Final Storm Of October 2011
More Cold Rain & Elevation Snow

High Knob Massif
Storm Event of October 27-29
Pristine Run-Off From Rain & Melting Snow
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The final significant storm event of October 2011 generated more than 1.00" of total precipitation across much of the High Knob Landform to boost monthly tallies into the 4.00" to 5.00"+ range.

Climatologically the month of October is typically the driest of the year across the High Knob Landform, with 2.50" to 3.50" amounts being more common from lowlands to highlands.

High Knob Massif
Beauty Of Pure Water - A Great Local Blessing
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

This sight is a great local blessing often taken for granted, in a world lacking abundant, clean water.

The High Knob Massif retains more than 1 BILLION gallons of water in just its five main mountain top lakes, with 632 Million gallons held in Big Cherry Lake alone.  Many more gallons are held in wetlands and other ponds across the massif.

An untold number of gallons are held INSIDE this great remnant massif by extensive subterranean conduit systems.

October 29, 2011
Remnant Massif of The High Knob Landform
Snow & RIME - Third Event Of October 2011
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Rain changed into snow during evening hours of October 28 in the highcountry surrounding the High Knob peak to mark the third wintry event of this month.    

NAM Model 850 MB Initialization - 8 AM October 28, 2011
Image Courtesy of Unisys Upper Air Chart Archive

Although all three events were minor snow makers for this massif, the setting for October 28 featured low-mid 30s air temperatures all day and a lack of snow only due to a warm layer aloft at the 850 to 750 mb level nosing northeastward from the Tennessee Valley.

If all three events could be added together the total snowfall would likely not exceed 4" to 5" at the summit level; although, most places never had more than 1" on the ground at any given time.  Clearly the significance was in the number of early season events, not in their snow production.

High Knob Massif - October 29, 2011
Snow & Icicles On Fancy Ferns ( Dryopteris intermedia )
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

There appeared to be some high elevation icing on the low-level easterly upslope prior to a switch to all snow and gusty NW winds into early hours of October 29.

High Knob Massif Crest Zone
Looking Toward Head of Clear Creek Basin
Trees Blaze As Sunshine Returned Into Afternoon
Image by Steve Blankenbecler - © All Rights Reserved.

A blaze of shining whiteness was observed when sunshine returned into the afternoon, as captured by my friend Steve Blankenbecler.

It was impossible to capture an image with any distance when my friend & photographer Roddy Addington was there during the morning, by contrast, since the entire crest zone was obscured in icy, cold clouds with light snow falling.

October 29, 2011
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Darlene Fields - © All Rights Reserved.

Dropping just below the main crest zone a much lighter coating was observed on trees in the High Chaparral community.

In both images above note the distinct lack of leaves as trees across much of the High Knob Massif are now largely bare at higher elevations, with hollows and sheltered locations still holding some foliage.

Elevation 3300 feet
Fluffy Snow On The Ground In High Chaparral
Photograph by Darlene Fields - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Darlene Fields shows a little better coating of snow on the ground beneath the trees.

Elevation 2650 feet
Long Ridge of the Tennessee Valley Divide
The Rose And The Snow - October 29, 2011
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner Photograph Thoughts...
"This little rose has provided color & beauty all summer. The blooms are now bowed with the weight of the first snow to blanket Long Ridge."

[ Light snow accumulated enough to cover grassy surfaces, leaves, and above ground objects from portions of Norton into the Wise and Sandy Ridge plateaus ( mainly above 2000 feet ) ].

High Knob Massif Crest Zone
RIME & Very Light Snow - Morning of October 29
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Not being able to see very far never deters Rod, the master rime photographer of this region!

High Knob Massif - October 29, 2011
Windward Growth - The One Sided Nature Of Rime
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The amazing windward growth of rime is very evident upon turning this photograph on its side, revealing clearly the incredible one sided nature of its accumulation.  

Remember that rime is the visible product of moisture extraction by trees and vegetation of frozen clouds of water vapor.  It is a major secondary moisture source in the High Knob Massif during the cold season, having been well documented on this website.


When rime melts you get this...

Pristine Water From The High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Enough Said!


( Updated: October 31, 2011 )
More Color Of Autumn 2011
Middle Elevation Thermal Belt

October 30, 2011
Long Ridge of the Tennessee Valley Divide
Looking Up At The Last Colors Of Autumn 2011
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner Photograph Thoughts...
"Late in the season of fall colors,  let's just stop and look up at the maple leaves against the October sky."

My friend Wayne Riner highlights in his great photography a truly amazing feature of this most wondrous Appalachian landscape, the protective effects of the middle elevation thermal belt zone in which him and wife Genevie live, as do so many others across Dickenson & Wise counties.

The thermal belt in this area consists of ridges and exposed plateaus which rise into the 2000 to 3000 foot elevation zone, below and above which temperatures tend to be much colder throughout the year ( especially in mountain valleys at night ).

In the High Knob Massif area the thermal belt is bumped upward in elevation since many valley floors rest between 2000 and 3600 feet, while in other locations like the Kentucky foothills the thermal belt is found much lower in elevation above valleys that drop beneath 1000 feet ( in elevation above mean sea level ).

October 30, 2011
Long Ridge of Tennessee Valley Divide
Yellow Maple Leaves Glow In Late Afternoon Sun
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner Photograph Thoughts...
"The late evening sun brings a life of color to a group of small maples.  They will soon be barren."

October 30, 2011
Upper Tennessee River Basin
Brumley Mountain of Clinch Mountain Range
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Some miles southeast of Long Ridge my friend Roddy Addington highlights beautiful leaves still clinging to portions of majestic Brumley Mountain.

The next day brought snowflakes to High Knob for the 4th time during October 2011, with gusty winds and a fury of flakes for at least a brief time during Halloween day.

Doppler Radar At Time Of Snow On High Knob

Temperatures at the summit level dropped to 29 degrees for a time during the early afternoon of Halloween, amid gusty S-SW winds of 10-20+ mph.  BRRR........

What a way to end October 2011.

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