Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 41] Chunky Gal Mountain gained its evocative name from a Cherokee legend about a chubby maid who fell in love with a young man from another tribe. Her parents attempted to snuff the budding romance, but the determined young woman abandoned her family to follow her heart, finding her way across the mountain's slopes to be with her beloved.
Chunky Gal forms a roughly 8-mile ridge that runs between the Appalachian Trail and US 64 (at Glade Gap, in the Fires Creek area). The geology of this little-known area helps explain its considerable botanical significance. Outcrops of amphibolite account in part for the relatively high pH of the area's soils, which allows them to support rich cove forests. In those cove and upland forests, many rare plant species can be found, such as the dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius), American columbo (Frasera caroliniensis), yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea), Goldie's fern (Dryopteris goldiana), and glade fern (Athyrium pycnocarpon).
Another geologic feature, the world-class deposit of olivine in the Buck Creek area, deserves special mention. Dunite, the rock that contains the olivine, accounts for the presence of rubies, as well as garnets, sapphires, and other gem stones at Buck Creek. Much of the area is under lease (hence, off limits), but at Corundum Knob, a public rock-hunting area, people dig along the creek, as well as higher up the mountain (commercial activity is prohibited, as is disturbing the creek banks).
The unusual geology supports an equally distinctive plant community called a serpentine barren, which is home to many rare species. Southern Appalachian bogs, with their own distinctive species, are also found on Chunky Gal.
Rare insects include the mountain catch fly (Silene ovata), found at the break between the rich cove and montane oak forests, and several species of butterflies: the large, distinctive diana fritillary (Speyeria diana), the silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus), and the early hairstreak (Erora laeta).
Beaver activity is evident along Buck Creek, and the new habitat created by these industrious builders attracts blue-winged teal (Anas discors) and wood ducks (Aix sponsa). The area also supports a strong wild turkey population, and cerulean warblers (Dendroica cerulea) have been spotted here.
The 22-mile Chunky Gal Trail [Fig. 41(21)] offers abundant opportunities for extended backpacking expeditions. The moderate-to-strenuous trail can be combined with others in the adjoining Fires Creek area, as well as portions of the Appalachian Trail. Many of these trails are not well maintained, however, and there are no developed facilities. The Chunky Gal trailhead is accessed off US 64. At a gravel road (unmarked FR 71) .3 mile west of the Macon/Clay county line, turn left and travel for 6.8 miles to the junction with the Appalachian Trail in Deep Gap. The trailhead begins at the parking and picnic area.
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