Backpacking Memories: A Guided Adventure

July 19, 2017  |  Permalink

Throughout the year, Tennessee State Park staff lead guided backpacking adventures. These guided trips provide guests with the tools, equipment and knowledge needed for a successful backpacking trip. The following is an account from one of the trip attendees, photographer David Pineros:

Recently, we had a fantastic backpacking trip into the backcountry of Henry Horton State Park. We hiked six miles total while passing through different ecosystems, including hard wood forests, cedar glades, and a wetland. Along the way, we talked about the natural history and relationships with the ecosystem of the various wildlife and plants. For the majority of the time, we were hiking through the hard wood forest, with big trees such as maples, tulip poplar, oaks and many others. One of the most interesting features here is the sinkholes and caves formed by the erosion of the limestone. These landforms are a unique habitat for plants and animals because they hold a lot of humidity and are some degrees cooler than the surface. While we were there, we climbed down into one of these caves. The entrance is a narrow hole in the ground, however, once you pass that, it opens up into a wide dark tunnel. These caves have unique animal species. For example, we found three beautiful lung-less salamander species that are not very common to see.

The summer can be very hot, but we were lucky to have some rainy days before this trip. This caused the soil and plants to retain moisture, creating the perfect conditions to find mushrooms. The forest floor was decorated with colorful mushrooms, varying in colors of white, yellow, red, orange, purple and pink. They also had different shapes-- from umbrellas to coral, puffballs, shelf and jelly mushrooms. Finding such fungal diversity gave us some insights into the good health of the forest. We found many mycorrhiza type mushrooms, which are fungi species that bind to the roots of trees and help them find water and minerals to grow. Many trees can be sharing mycorrhizal fungus, which means that potentially all trees in the forest are interconnected and communicating. We also found many saprophytic mushrooms, which are those that eat dead matter. Their activity is crucial for decomposition and nutrient cycling in the entire ecosystem.  

We hiked for at least 2.5 hours before arriving at our campsite located up on a hill above the Duck River. Once we set up camp, we regained our energy and went for an evening hike. This time we were heading to the wetland section of the park. This section is a very open landscape with no big trees, but instead is dominated by tall native grasses and herbs. This ecosystem can hold great quantities of water, creating the perfect habitat for many plant and animal species. As many wetland systems, the water levels vary with the seasons. Right now it is quite dry, but it will recover all of its water during the late fall and wintertime. Yet, we did find some ponds with some temporary residents such as box turtles taking a shower. This wetland is in process of restoration and we expect that in the future it will be an important reservoir of biodiversity and water. 

During this time of the year, we have the longest days in terms of sunlight. We were in the wetland around 8:30 PM and we still had some sunlight. We witnessed a vibrant sunset, with pink and purplish clouds. Then, the remaining sunlight went away and we found ourselves hiking in the dark, hearing the awakening of all the nocturnal life. All the space quickly got filled with frog and cricket calls and we had stars both in the sky and on the ground with hundreds of fireflies shining around us.

After a long day of exploration, we found some rest by a very warm campfire. The fire has a strange hypnotizing power when you look at it. Maybe because of its dance or maybe its the sparks that fly and disappear. The fire warmed us through the night, and the next morning the coals were still hot and orange. We enjoyed a peaceful morning, then headed back to hike our way through the woods. 

If you would like to join us, Henry Horton State Park hosts backpacking trips every month. Click the button below to view the park's event calendar:

EVENT CALENDAR

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Tennessee State Parks