Bluebell Heaven: Monte Sano Sinks Trail

My favorite flower in all the world is the Virginia Bluebell.  This is a fairly recent discovery for me, actually.  I don’t remember ever even seeing one growing up, though I hiked a lot with my dad in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’ve looked up the range for these flowers, and though it looks like they’re native to my home county, the spots where I’d have been hiking are in a county with no sightings. Maybe that explains it. In any case, I first saw these flowers as an adult and was instantly charmed. Blooming as they do in the early spring, their pink, blue and purple blooms almost seem to glow against the backdrop of brown leaf litter. Magical. I’d only ever seen a clump of just a few flowers growing in the wild – at Short Springs Natural Area near Tullahoma, Tennessee and on the Land Trust of North Alabama’s Matthews Preserve on a members only hike. When my friend and officemate Rachel mentioned to me last year that the Sinks Trail on Monte Sano had the most bluebells she’d ever seen in one spot,  I marked it down on my “to-do” list for this year to get to that trail while the bluebells were in bloom.

Last week, I heard the word – bluebells had been sighted! And it couldn’t have been on a worse weekend. Chet had commitments Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon was stormy and horrible, and Sunday I had a commitment into the early afternoon. That left us a sliver of Sunday afternoon to squeeze in a hike. To make matters worse, I woke up Sunday morning with a horrible backache. By the time I was free and the back had settled down, it was getting a little late to be starting a hike but we started packing up anyway, only to realize that the all-important camera batteries were dead and the backup set was not charged either. We delayed long enough to get a little charge in the batteries, which had us leaving the house after 3:00. On the way, we realized that neither of us had a cent to our names, so we’d have another delay as we had to hunt out an ATM to get some cash for the entry fee for the state park. I was starting to wonder if maybe this hike was just not meant to be, but finally, at nearly 4:00, we made it to the trail head.

This hike starts out at the overlook near the planetarium. There were a few other cars in the lot, but most folks seemed to be just enjoying the view from the overlook. We headed around the gate that closes off the old Bankhead Parkway and started down the paved road. At .2  miles, what I think of as the actual trail – the part on dirt – heads off to the right and down into Mills Hollow. Along the way we spotted our first wildflowers but they were few and far between. The trail turned a little slick and muddy, as well. I still wasn’t convinced this hike was a good idea.

Several switchbacks led us down .2 of a mile to the intersection with the broad Mountain Mist Trail. We crossed and kept on going downhill, though at a gentler grade. We spotted some trillium almost ready to bloom, but still the wildflowers were pretty sparse. A little less than .1 mile from the intersection with Mountain Mist, we came to the intersection with the Logan Point trail, where there was a lovely little tree in bloom. We later decided it was most likely a Mexican plum. Here, the Sinks Trail turns right to continue on down the hollow, while Logan Point Trail goes straight ahead and starts back up to reach Logan’s Point. The Sinks Trail at this point got even muddier, but that made me more hopeful for good wildflowers. We spotted another one of my favorites – spring beauty –  along with a few scattered other violets, hepatica, and bloodroot.

And then finally, off to the left, a patch of bluebells! It was a patch of bright green leaves and tall blue and purple flowers bright against the dull brown forest floor. It measured about 6’X6′. I was so happy! I had Chet take a picture of me next to them.

RuthwithBluebells1

And then…

Chet suggested we hike on up to the top of the little rise to get to where we could see the sinks themselves. He thought there might be more flowers there. Boy, was he right. I have never in my life seen so many bluebells in one spot! The hillsides were covered uphill and down, both sides of the trail. It was incredible. There isn’t a collective noun for a large group of bluebells (you know, like a “murder of crows”) but I think there needs to be. What should it be? A carpet? A gasp? A peal? A wowza? An epiphany? A joy? Oh I know!  “An eloquence,” after Anne Bronte’s poem “The Bluebell,” which contains this stanza:

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

We wandered around the bluebells taking pictures and just soaking in all the beauty for a while, but then reluctantly left that magical place to head back to the truck before sundown. We ended up hiking only about 2.1 miles by our GPS track but by our count we’d seen at least 10 wildflowers, which of course meant ice cream! Chet had the brilliant idea to get (what else) Blue Bell ice cream – dutch chocolate for me and coffee for him. Bluebells and Blue Bell ice cream – a perfect day after all!

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