The Raleigh Naturalist

December 2, 2007

Welcome to The Natural History of Raleigh

The Natural History of Raleigh

Raleigh lies at the edge of the Piedmont, edging the eastward coastal plain with long ridges of ancient, deformed and partly rotted granite called the Raleigh Belt on geology maps. Tucked into these ridges are gnarled streamcut valleys and occasional domes of harder, younger granite that have withstood the slow erosion of the Piedmont “peneplain” – the huge flattened wedge of material washed down over millions of years from the formerly towering Appalachian mountains. 
The topographical features of the Piedmont are not pushed or folded up, but instead cut into this gently sloping plateau by the slow relentless action of water. “Our landscape … deepens”, says Michael Godfrey in the bible of Piedmont naturalism. In Raleigh, this process has created a broad rippled dome that shoulders down to the beginnings of the Coastal Plain. The gently rolling hills of clay to our west and north represent a very different landscape from the sandy flats just to our south and east.


I learned this topography bicycling around central Raleigh ( which, in the late fifties and early sixties, was all the Raleigh there was). I experienced this topography gravitationally and intuitively. As a teenager I discovered that downtown sat on a flattened dome, so that if I got a good start in the parking lot of Tabernacle Baptist Church on Person Street, I could ride all the way home from choir practice no hands, nearly all the way going downhill to my suburb at the edge of Crabtree Creek’s floodplain in East Raleigh. As a young child in this neighborhood, I has already fallen in love with Crabtree Creek, which along with Walnut Creek to the south, carves and shapes Raleigh’s lowlands. Crabtree became a strong symbol in my life, framing a big chunk of my childhood memories and haunting my early bad poetry.


Now as an adult I find the city has paved and bridged all of my childhood creek haunts and more, providing a greenway system that maps the waterways and helps defend a buffer of streamside woods that is the final refuge for an astounding variety of wildlife and botanical wonders. These gar, coons, deer, turtles and woodpeckers eke out a co-existence with an emerging mid-sized city. Raleigh wants and tries so hard to be a “real” city, with all that implies. Yet it retains some of the best features of a Southern town, not least of which is close proximity to authentic rural landscape. And one of the best and most-promoted urban features is the park and greenway system. With much continued support, this resource can assure us of a unique place in the hierarchy of national destinations. Join me to explore Raleigh’s parks, greenways, and other natural areas. I promise you will be impressed by the sights and nature lore to be found inside the beltline or within a mile of it.


IMG_0090_1_1.JPG IMG_0566_1_1.JPG IMG_0772_1_1.JPG IMG_0613_1_1.JPG       go to Natural History of Raleigh Photos 




  1. Good afternoon! I’m sorry to contact you through here, but I couldn’t seem to locate an email address for you. I’m with Turner Publishing and we have a new title out “Historic Photos of Raleigh” by Dusty Wescott and Kenneth Peters. This book is a 10×10 pictorial narrative of the city’s history told through black and white, culled-from-the-archives photos. We would love to send you a complimentary copy for possible review. The authors will also be signing on June 7th at 2pm and the Borders on East Six Forks Rd.
    Again, we’d love to send you a free copy. If you’d like to have one, please email me with your physical mailing address and I’ll get one out to you right away. I hope to hear from you soon, and thanks for your time!

    Comment by Liz — April 10, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  2. Comment brought forward from old site:
    Jan.3, 2008

    Your blog is very interesting. I would like to accompany you on some of your information gathering adventures.


    Comment by raleighnaturalist — January 11, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: