A Southern Gray-cheeked Salamander is between some leaves

Salamander Census at Purchase Knob

I am standing in front of the Appalachian Mountain range

There is so much to explore in this world,

and I will, just one mountain at a time

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to around 30 species of salamanders. It is every herpetologists dream to visit this salamander have. As I arrived to the park, I went through two weeks of ranger training. On my seventh day in the Smokies, I went to Purchase Knob, a donated estate to the park, and now an education and research center. Greeting us was Natrieifia and Kahawis, park rangers that work education programs in Purchase Knob and the south district of the park. Alongside me was Cheyenne, Rianna, and Jessi, interpretive park rangers. Although the visit to Purchase Knob was already stated beforehand, the reason for our visit was unknown. A tear of happiness was shed when Natrieifia told us we were going to do a salamander census. Before starting the census, we made a circle and started passing around a beach ball randomly, whoever grabbed it had to answer the question written down where their hands touched the ball. My question was, “favorite hobby?”, to which I answered, “exploring wildlife”.

Purchase Knob Salamander Census

We walked around 5 minutes to where the census would take place, going into the high elevation forest. They then showed us how to take data such as soil humidity underneath the cookie, temperature, salamander length, and identification keys. The most important part was learning to grab the salamander without harming it. We would use ziplock bags to avoid skin contact and have better grip for measurements. Cookies stationed around the area functioned as salamander habitats, and I have to admit, they work very properly. They gave us an introduction on how to do it and I’ll tell ya’, I was bamboozled.


And that’s how you grab a salamander

After our training, we started flipping cookies to find salamanders. It didn’t take too many cookie flips to find my first salamander. I was also lucky enough to be the one ready to grab it.

Witness my first salamander sighting, a Southern Red-backed Salamander

We continued our search for more salamanders and I saw a couple more.

Purchase Knob Hike

After we were done with our salamander census, we ate our lunch and went for a hike in Purchase Knob. I hope the pictures express what I lived.

Purchase Knob summit

It took us around 40 minutes to reach the top of the mountain, when we got there, scenic mountains views, nice seats, a wooden bridge, and a box turtle were waiting for us there. What a gorgeous site we had. We relaxed together, enjoyed the view, and chatted. It was truly a wonderful day.

Needless to say, on our way back we saw a couple more salamanders.

After Purchase Knob

On the road home, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened today. I had a wonderful hike, met amazing people, saw beautiful mountain views, and to top it all, I saw more than a dozen salamanders. I could not have asked for anything else, to spend my day exploring the outdoors and discovering new animals. Purchase Knob is a definite hidden gem in the park, you are blessed if you have the opportunity of visiting it. I hope one day I’ll be able to bring my kids so they can learn about salamanders and explore besides me. Thanks Purchase Knob.

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