The Raleigh Naturalist

June 29, 2008

Ranging the Piedmont

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 11:20 pm

This post was originally published on June 21, 2008

Haven’t posted, haven’t been on the greenway. Been furiously finishing up my school year, doing some arts writing, and starting a new personal blog. And now I’m off for 5 days to the mountains. Doing a big environmental education workshop at the Pisgah Forest Institute in Brevard. Once I get back, I’ll be posting more often.

On my way to the mountains, I will traverse this widest section of the eastern U.S. Piedmont, which stretches 225 miles from Raleigh to the scarp of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At Morganton, I will travel just north of the South Mountains, which are significant, “real” mountains but not part of the Blue Ridge system at all. They are monadnocks, outcrops of rock even more ancient than the Appalachians, which have withstood the millions of years of erosion and flattening that produced the Piedmont. They look decidedly odd in the midst of the Piedmont’s gentle swells, as I hope you will get some idea of, below.

These are from south of the South Mountains, off the 64 route rather than 40. Below is the development just beginning within sight of this peak. My drive on State Road 10 and 64 reminded me that it is not just near the big cities that Piedmont vistas are filling up with homes and shopping centers.

Below is a scene from South Mountain State Park, which was closed due to being completely filled the Memorial Day Monday I went. Another trip we will explore the unique granite faces associated with these Piedmont mountains.


The Continental Divide at Interstate 40

After the South Mountains, I will drive through the Piedmont watershed of the Catawba River, then begin the climb up to the valley of the Swannanoah River, which runs from Black Mountain to Asheville. At Ridgecrest, I will cross the Continental Divide. Water falling to the east goes to the Catawba and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean. Water falling west of the crest will go north via the French Broad, find the Little Tennessee, and eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. As a child at Camp Ridgecrest, a summer facility of the Baptist Conference there, I learned this fact standing on a mountain ridge, where we were invited to spit in alternate directions and imagine the geographic adventures of our saliva. It was, truly, an unforgettable moment, and one of many that shaped me into a naturalist.

The state-published geological guide to Interstate 40, using mileposts, instructs you to look at this dark rock at the top of the incline, which is part of the Blue Ridge, and compare it to the lighter rockfaces in the roadcuts at the botttom. I tried – safely – but pictures of those lighter rocks will have to wait for a safer scenario than Memorial Day weekend!

I’ll see you again before July 4th! Have a great one!



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