Fall and Spring are the best times to visit Max Patch Mountain on the TN-NC border. There is nothing like a cool breeze on top of a grassy bald with a 360° view of the Blue Ridge, especially when camping in good company. This bald mountain is ideal for hiking, camping, and stargazing. Far from any major city, on a clear night Max Patch offers an excellent view of our galaxy and is my go-to spot for Earth-visible-space-phenomena like the “Super Moon” of 2013. The summit offers an unrivaled view of the Appalachians that extends for miles in every direction .
Grassy balds are a neat feature of the Appalachians that have proven to be an ecological mystery with debatable origins. Hypotheses include forest fires, clearing by settlers, and my favorite, clearing by the North American Pleistocene megafauna like Megatherium, Gomphotheres and Mastodons. However, evidence suggests that some of the balds predate some Native American tribes due to the appearance of these mountains in their legends. The balds were used for grazing by European settlers and today are a focus of conservation efforts.
Great things about Max Patch: 1) The Appalachian Trail runs through it. 2) There is free parking directly beside the mountain for those of us that wouldn’t make it 5 miles on the AT. 3) Camping is allowed on the mountain. 4) From the summit, you can see five separate groups of mountains- the Bald Mountains, the Unakas, the Black Mountains, the Great Balsams, and the Great Smoky Mountains. 5) Sunsets. 6) Geology!
Max Patch has a Late Proterozoic granite unit bearing its name that can be found on site. The porphyritic granite unit does not outcrop frequently on the mountain, but when found it’s unmistakable. This granite exhibits foliations in many places, but this feature is not due to magma flow like many granitoids. Max Patch granite has been metamorphosed to the point that feldspars become altered to form epidote (giving it a brilliant green color) and in some places the rock has a gneissose texture. Another sign of metamorphism is the presence of chlorite and hornblende resulting from biotite alteration.
My favorite feature of the Max Patch granite is the unakite contained in some portions of the unit. Unakite is considered to be a semiprecious stone and looks spectacular when polished, cut, or carved. It is a highly altered form of granite in which a large portion of the feldspar has become epidote. The remaining rock contains mostly pink/red orthoclase feldspar and quartz, giving it a stunning color scheme. While I have yet to find any (I don’t know where to look yet), I hope to make a trip in the near future to collect some. While unakite was described first in the Unaka Mountains to the north, the rock is not exclusive to North Carolina and has been found on multiple continents.
For directions or ideas to beef out a trip to the area, or if you have any good suggestions for unakite hunting, feel free to email me at email@example.com
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