Thursday, October 15, 2009

High Knob Landform - Glorious Color Climax

October 14, 2009
City of Norton's Flag Rock Recreation Area
( The Front Slopes Are Called Pickem Mountain )
Rugged Stone Mountain of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The High Knob Landform

The mesic, cool, northern slopes and lofty basins of the richly diverse High Knob Massif are boasting a vivid array of spectacular autumn color. 

It's simply WOW in 2009!

For many years, and now decades, I have written that color shows in this great mountain landform are consistently as good as any which can be found in all of the Appalachians.

There are several notable reasons for this, with a diversity of climate, geology & topography all working together to support a flora possessing an abundance of northern species at 
mid to upper elevations.

A truly rich array of maples, birches, and other colorful northern climate species gives the massif an interesting Great Lakes and New England flare, with the gorgeous golden-orange Sugar Maple ( Acer saccharum var. saccharum ) becoming the dominant canopy species above 3500 feet.

October 14, 2009
Water Elevation 3318 feet
Benges Basin of High Knob Massif
Majestic Colors At Upper Norton Reservoir
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Species with southern affinities come to dominate lower elevations, with some notable exceptions, to generate a diverse range of tree, shrub, and sub-shrub types amid its significant vertical elevation expanse ( 2000 to 3083 vertical feet of elevation spread between the many high mountain crestlines and ecologically renowned Clinch and Powell rivers along the massif, with up to 3200+ feet of vertical relief across the High Knob Landform ).

Species with Midwestern and Piedmont-Coastal Plain affinities are also present, along with an array of relics & endemics both above and below the surface ( the HKL contains the deepest cave system east of the Rockies & north of Mexico on the North American continent and among the highest cave densities in the Appalachians and Old Dominion of Virginia ).

October 14, 2009
Flag Rock Recreation Area
Pickem Mountain of High Knob Massif
The Flag Rock of High Knob - Elevation 3100 Feet
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The clouds ( called fog ) visible in these Flag Rock photographs are often how orographic clouds develop as air is forced to rise across the High Knob Massif.

For those living down below, in the City of Norton, it may only appear as ragged fog.  However, it more often than not is the actual beginning of condensed moisture which continues to rise upward to feed and support the persistence of an orographic cap cloud.

As of early on October 16 ( of 2009 ) clouds have capped the great High Knob Massif nearly continuously for 8 long days with RIME and snow to soon become a threat to trees with leaves.

Flag Rock Recreation Area
The Flag Rock Blazes - October 14, 2009
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Rod Addington Photography

One of the notable aspects adding to the mix of colorful hues observed during autumn are rugged cliff lines and rocky outcrops, with more than 50 air miles of great calcareous cliffs ringing the High Knob Massif alone!

An array of sandstone cliffs also outcrop across the High Knob Landform ( HKL ), especially along its rugged northwestern flank. 

As well illustrated by high resolution NASA satellite images & graphics throughout this website and within my main High Knob Landform section, this extends from majestic Pickem Mountain, above the City of Norton, southwest to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and into a portion of northern Tennessee.

Reference the following section for maps & graphics:

and the HKL Google Map link on upper right of this page.

Good illustrations of this can be observed in Roddy Addington's first photograph above, and his Flag Rock pictures, where resistant quartz arenite sandstone cliffs dramatically outcrop along the Pickem-Stone Mountain sections of the massif.

It can also be observed in glorious fashion in the following photograph, taken near windy Little Stone Mountain Gap of the massif, where jagged sandstone cliffs create a Rockies-like image along a major spur ridge that climbs upward toward the main peak of High Knob.

A close inspection at the top of the photograph below will also reveal a likely Buteo ( soaring Hawk ) taking advantage of the air flow that so often funnels through this section
of the High Knob Landform.

Rockies Style Landscape In High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

These dramatic cliffs do more than merely break up the forested landscape, as they create xeric settings amid a very mesic area to allow numerous species of flora to grow which would not typically be present.  This adds an array of color to the autumnal palette, while also generating jagged contrasts in the topography with variations in light, shadows, and reflectivity.

People will drive to Tennessee, North Carolina, or far beyond to see autumn color when the best in the entire region may literally be found right where they live during numerous years. 

In a most dependable fashion, as I have documented since the 1980's, colorations along these cliff-laden outcrops and rugged northern slopes of Pickem Mountain, Little Stone Mountain, Stone Mountain, and Cumberland Mountain ( i.e., the northwestern flank of the HKL ), from the High Knob Massif to Roaring Branch Gorge, Keokee Lake, and the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, are simply outstanding year after year, after year ( dependable & sure )!

But do not wait too long as bright color often begins emerging amid upper elevations in the High Knob Massif during the mid-September to early October period.  Many who go up after that period may find muted color and think that the season was a dud when, in fact, the best and brightest colors had already come and gone from much of the high country ( the trend has been for later peaks at all elevations but the high terrain peaks first ).

Example of Early Autumn Color Changes In 2012

NW Flank of HKL
Majestic Keokee Lake
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Keokee Lake rests upon the northwest arm of the HKL, called Stone Mountain, between Roaring Branch Gorge and Cave Springs Wilderness Area in northeastern 
Lee County.

It is one of numerous lakes which rest along this rugged mountain arm which, despite possessing different local names, is the same continuous mountain crestline broken only by water level gaps at the Big Stone Gap and Pennington Gap, and by wind gaps at Little Stone Gap and Cumberland Gap.  Simply magnificent!

The aspect which limits the color show within this corridor, and across the sprawling landscape of the HKL, is most often not its quality but the type of weather conditions that develop AFTER the near peak to climax arrives ( heavy rain and strong winds being especially detrimental ).

A perfect example being the upcoming cold blast, with mid-upper elevation snow and sub-freezing temps, which will shorten the best color period during 2009 ( hurry if you wish to catch the best )!

Flag Rock Recreation Area - Pickem Mountain
Sweeping High Knob Massif Vista - October 14, 2009
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Another major aspect which greatly adds to the autumn color show within the High Knob Massif area, in particular, is its vast array of cold air basins and corridors that collect and funnel cold, dense air downslope on many nights.

On an annual basis this is an extremely important aspect of the local climate, with simply dramatic impacts upon the ecological domain of the massif area ( to include the lives of those humans who reside within it! ).

As highlighted within the Ecological Description section of my Biodiversity and Climatology work, this aspect has generated a floral assemblage unique to Virginia where major corridors draining cold air from the High Knob high country empty
into the Clinch River Valley of northern Scott County.

Upper elevations of the High Knob Massif possess a floral assemblege, where its not been recently altered by mankind, which is endemic to the magnificent southern Appalachian highlands 
of southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina ( as well as the highest crestlines 
of what remains of Big Black Mountain, Kentucky ).

This Southern Appalachian Northern Hardwoods ecosystem begins taking shape in the High Knob Massif around 3300 feet elevation on northern slopes and 3500 feet on southern slopes.

Of particular interest with respect to autumn color within the High Knob Massif are the cold air drainage corridors which, due to their cool, moist, and shaded environments, are dominated by fingers of mixed-mesophytic northern hardwood species ( per my local climatic and biodiversity research, since these are not generally recognized by regional authorities given the lack of climate study in this mountain area ).  

In effect, these cold air drainage corridors allow northern species of plants and animals to finger downward from the main northern hardwoods ecosystem, capping the massif, into much lower elevations than they would otherwise live.
Truly amazing!

A couple of local floral and faunal examples can be cited to illustrate the microclimatological impact of these cold air drainage ways.

Yellow Birch ( Betula alleghaniensis ) is an interesting floral example which locally grows within cold air drainages to near the valley floors along northern and eastern slopes of the High Knob Massif, at elevations of between 1600 and 2400 feet above sea level.  These are anomalously low elevations for a high elevation tree species, typically associated with northern hardwoods 
and spruce-fir forests.

The Veery Thrush ( Catharus fuscescens ) is a notable faunal example, with Veeries singing during the summer breeding season within these cold air drainages of the massif ( Legion Park being an excellent place to hear and see them every summer at 2300 feet, with Veeries at even lower elevations in some adjacent drainages along the northern and eastern slopes ).

Once away from cold air draining from the High Knob high country, species such as Yellow Birch and Veery Thrushes can no longer be found at such anomalously low elevations ( for Veeries this means during the main breeding season as they can often be heard or seen in migration 
at any given location ).

High Knob Massif In Autumn 2009
Flag Rock Recreation Area - City of Norton
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Cold air drainages, typically taking the form of steep hollows and deep gorges with connections to highcountry, add vast variety to Mother Nature's autumnal color show by bringing floral species with northern affinities into middle and lower elevations of the High Knob Massif area.

Since air within the main drainage corridors is in nearly constant motion, flowing downward on nights conducive to cold air drainage or rising upward with daytime heating and during times of forced ascent, these cold air drainage corridors tend to generate differential rates of color change and leaf drop as well.

It should be noted that the impact of these cold air drainage corridors are most significant within the ones, as noted above, with a direct connection to elevated highcountry expanses.  For example, short hollows which only begin along middle and lower slopes that plunge steeply are NOT what I consider to be cold air drainage corridors due to their very limited drainage areas.

Another notable aspect endemic to the great High Knob Massif, in specific, which adds 
to the color spectrum is its atypically wide 
base-to-base widths. 

As highlighted within the main HKL section of Endemic Characteristics, no other mountain in western Virginia can match the total combined base-to-base widths of the High Knob Massif as one changes diagonals along various compass headings ( i.e., from SW-NE, W-E, NW-SE, N-S ).

The implications of this sprawling expanse of mountain are truly vast, influencing so MANY things, and with respect to autumn color act to generate a greater range of natural settings in which it may develop.

An example being the atypical number of mid-upper elevation basins within the High Knob Massif, which initially collect air draining down from the peaks, or knobs, before it plunges through the steeper cold air drainages into lower elevations.

The sheer number of highly elevated basins within the High Knob Massif set it apart from other mountains, a few of which will be highlighted below.

These topographical characteristics being further enhanced by the distinct mixture of calcareous and acid based stratigraphy present within the HKL, with each strata type creating a multitude of settings preferred by specific species.

October 14, 2009
Sweeping High Knob Massif Vista 2
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Colors are rapidly changing, so that even all of these wonderful photographs are outdated! 

Bark Camp Lake is now even more colorful as the week of October 11-17 will likely be recorded, with 20/20 hindsight, as the climax period for 
mid-upper elevations of the High Knob Massif 
( a few places peaking around October 10, prior to more significant leaf drop this week along the highest crestlines ).

Lets take one more look at that fine group, of good looking folks, at the 3rd Annual High Knob Naturalist Rally held at Bark Camp Lake on October 10.  This via a somewhat bigger image, for all you asking for a closer shot of these happy faces!

October 10, 2009
Water Elevation 2734 feet
Bark Camp Lake of High Knob Massif
Autumn Color Peaks For Naturalist Rally
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

For those not familiar with the High Knob Landform ( HKL ), all these basins and lakes may get confusing.

View From Long Ridge of Tennessee Valley Divide
High Knob Massif Across An Autumn Horizon
 Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

A listing of cold air drainage basins within the High Knob Massif, many with lakes & wetlands includes:

High Knob Lake Basin
High Knob Lake - Water Elevation 3490 feet
High Knob Lake Cold Air Basin - Elevation 3400 to 3600 feet

Benges Basin
Upper Norton Reservoir - Water Elevation 3318 feet
Lower Norton Reservoir - Water Elevation 3239 feet

Big Cherry Basin
Big Cherry Lake - Water Elevation 3120 feet
Big Cherry Wetlands & Valleys - Elevation 3120-3250+ feet

Laurel Fork of Stock Creek Basin
Wolf Creek Wetlands - Mean Elevation 3000 feet

Glady Fork of Big Stony Basin
Glady Fork Wetlands - Mean Elevation 2900 feet
Glady Fork Valley - Elevation 2880 to 3000 feet

Cove Creek Basin
Cove Creek Coves - Elevation 2700 to 3200 feet

Clear Creek Basin
Pickem Mountain Cove - Elevation 3250 feet
Stidham Fork Cove & Hollow - Elevation 2725 to 3150 feet

Upper Little Stony Basin
Bark Camp Lake - Water Elevation 2734 feet
Robinson Fork Wetlands - Elevation 2740+ feet
Little Stony Creek Valley - Elevation 2350 to 2950 feet
Davey Land Branch Cove & Hollow - Elevation 2820 to 2860 feet

Dry Creek Basin
Upper Dry Creek Gorge Snowdrift Zone - Elevation 2775 feet

Burns Creek Basin
Burns Creek Cove - Elevation 2700 feet

Machine Creek Basin
Machine Creek Cove - Elevation 2700 feet

Lower Little Stony Basin
Ramey Branch Valley - Elevation 2520 to 2624 feet
Corder Branch Valley - Elevation 2460 to 2550 feet

Mill Creek Basin
Mill Creek Pond Cove - Elevation 2530 feet

Chimney Rock Fork Basin of Big Stony
Bearpen Branch Cove - Elevation 2500 feet

Stock Creek Basin
Stock Creek Cove - Elevation 2500 feet

Plus many more......

On the Little Stone Mountain
arm of the massif rests:

Rimrock Lake
( elevation 2880 feet ) 

Appalachia Lake
( elevation 2360 feet

Many additional lakes sit southwest of these along the extended northwestern mountain flank of the great HKL ( such as majestic Keokee Lake highlighted previously by Harold Jerrell ).

There are also many other ponds and small wetlands within the High Knob Massif that are privately owned, or rest upon National Forest public lands, not listed above.

A gorgeous sunset looking toward the lofty highcountry of the High Knob Massif, taken by Wayne & Genevie Riner from their beautiful home on the Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge in southern Dickenson County, is highlighted below with an array of orographic wave clouds being illuminated above the massif. 

This picture is complete, with
orographic gravity waves & awesome color!

Sunset Over The High Knob Massif
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

A Special Thank You To:

My friend & talented photographer...

 Roddy Addington

whose gift for picture composition is truly special.  His unique and diverse photography is creating a wonderful legacy for future generations.

My friend & talented photographer...

Richard Kretz

whose contribution to the documentation of the natural world of the great Clinch River Basin is renowned.

My friend & talented photographer...

Harold Jerrell

whose classic photography is a true tribute to Lee County and the great Cumberland Gap National Historical Park of the HKL and the southern Appalachians.

My friend & talented photographer...

Wayne Riner

whose sunrise, sunset, and many fog views are only a small part of a growing collection of gorgeous works documenting these wondrous mountains. 

I am so very blessed to know these talented photographers, whose contributions to my work and to the documentation of this truly awesome southern Appalachian landscape is from their hearts, pure and true.

Such passion is reflected in all their works, 
to which I am most honored to display!

Pictures on this website are NOT to be reproduced without the express permission of their photographers.

Finally, To Close This Update...
A new photographic submission by Wayne Riner highlights beautiful autumn colorations along the Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge in southern Dickenson County. 

Long Ridge is part of the Tennessee Valley Divide, and lies approximately 19.0 air miles northeast of the highest peak of the High Knob Massif ( which is not visible in the photographs above that feature Eagle Knob as the highest horizon point ).

Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge - October 19, 2009
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.