Last week my 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, accompanied me on a kid-friendly business trip to the Asheville, NC area just minutes from some of the tallest and most massive trees in North America. Will Blozan and Brian Beduhn were nice enough to give us detailed instructions on how to find the Boogerman Pine and the Sag Branch Tulip Poplar in the Cataloochee sector of the Smokies. The Boogerman Pine, or simply the “Boog” as Will affectionately refers to it, is 186' – twenty one feet less than when it had its full top in 1995. See http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips/gsmnp/boogerman/boogerman.htm
for Boog pictures and more details. The Sag Branch Tulip (http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips/gsmnp/sag_branch/sag_branch_tulip.htm
) is the most massive living tulip poplar known to man.
My daughter Sarah and I parked at the unmarked trail head at GPS coordinates N 35’ 37.8939; W 83’ 05.3155, crossed the swollen Palmer Creek (see picture below), and set out on the Caldwell Fork Trail. At a moist spot in the trail we saw what I think were Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor).
We took the first left onto the Boogerman Trail after 0.8 miles and headed up the hill. Brian and Will both warned me that the Boogerman Pine was easy to overlook and they were right. I’m sure I set eyes on it many times, but I couldn’t tell you which one of the many towering white pines it was. I did locate an 8 foot 1” CBH pine at GPS coords N 35’ 37.3324; W 83’ 05.1120, but I believe that was too far up the trail from the Caldwell/Boogerman intersection. (Not to mention that I was reminded once back at the hotel that the Boog has a CBH of 11’, 5”.)
Closer to where I believe the real Boog resides there was a 14’, 0” tulip on the right side of the trail at coords N 35’ 37.2313; W 83’ 05.2811 just before a hairpin turn to the left. Almost directly across the trail from the 14 footer, on the hillside enclosed by the hairpin, there is an 11’, 9” CBH poplar. Sadly, there are at least a dozen dead hemlocks in that area as well. Piecing together comments from Will and Brian, I believe the Boog was probably on the hillside enclosed by the hairpin near that poplar.
A little disappointed that we couldn’t positively ID the Boog, but undaunted in our determination to find the Sag Branch Tulip Poplar, we forged ahead on the Boogerman trail. We passed a group of hikers from the “Friends of the Smokies” who had never heard of the Boogerman Pine or the Sag Branch Tulip Poplar, but did tell us to check out the hollow poplar along the trail a couple of miles ahead. We found the hollow tulip at coords N 35’ 36.8033; W 83’ 05.0185. It has a CBH of 18’, 4” by my measurement. The tree is completely hollowed out all the way to where it splits into a compact canopy. In one of the pictures below you can see a pin prick of light nearly 90 feet high when looking up inside the tree.
Soon after crossing the main prong of the Sag Branch Creek, we began our ascent into what Brian aptly called the “cathedral”. Early on in the ascent there is an 11’, 0” CBH oak near a sharp left bend in the trail (N 35’ 36.3661; W 83’ 04.9266). A few hundred feet later as the trail levels out there is a huge 16’, 6” CBH dead red oak. A few more feet down on the right is a 14’, 4” poplar with tree tag “2581” nailed to the face opposite the trail. At about this point I realized that I could stay in the cathedral measuring trees until the sun went down, so I put away the tape and just basked in the late afternoon sunshine streaming through all the monstrous trunks.
Out of respect for Will and others who know and love the Sag Branch Tulip, I will let them be the ones to share the exact location of the monster tree with those who choose to contact them, but suffice it to say that as we followed Will and Brian’s directions to find the Sag Branch Tulip we encountered many tulips including at least three 13’+ footers and one massive 17’, 1” CBHer. At last, near the fountain of the west tributary of the Sag Branch Creek, we saw a huge tulip crown rising above a small knoll to the left. In Will’s directions he said “the immensity will draw you in”, and he was right. There was no doubt that we had found the crown of a tulip in a league of its own. We stumbled over the underbrush keeping our eyes on the crown until at last we could make out the huge 22 foot girth trunk. It is a truly amazing tree surpassing any other tulips in the cathedral by 5 feet or more in circumference. We took pictures, had a snack, and admired the healthy trunk and robust, symmetrical crown. Sarah wondered if she was the youngest person, at 9 years old, to ever to visit the Sag Branch Tulip Poplar.
We made our way back to the car – a 7.5 mile round trip hike – just as the sun was beginning to set. As we left the Smokies we stopped to get a photo of a couple of wild turkeys along the roadside and then continued on our way to the Asheville Cracker Barrel for a late and well-deserved dinner. It was a day that neither of us will soon forget!