The Raleigh Naturalist

January 26, 2015

Anderson Point Anchors the Union of Crabtree and the Neuse

moss mountains by Crabtree

moss on a rock outcrop by lower Crabtree Creek

Crabtree is usually a low-flow creek, but after long and heavy rains, its flow can rival the Neuse River, of which it is a major tributary. The newly completed lower Crabtree Trail, featured in my previous post, provides a very long bridge that gives you a good sense of Crabtree’s large size as it approaches Anderson Point to flow into the Neuse.

Crabtree bridge at Anderson

Crabtree begins in Cary and after passing though Morrisville and Umstead Park, arcs across north Raleigh, roughly parallel to 440. It gathers water from Brier Creek in the north to downtown Cary in the south: a huge swath of Wake County’s terrain. As it approaches Anderson Point Park, it is large and wide.

Crabtree Trail crosses the creek at Anderson Point

Crabtree Trail crosses the creek at Anderson Point

Anderson Point Park is a large complex amenity. Off Rogers Lane (from New Bern Avenue or New Hope Road) you can park before the bridge over the 64 bypass to access the Neuse River Trail and canoe put-in, or cross the bridge into the park proper, where large fields, picnic shelters, and specialty gardens attract many local families. At the bottom of this large and open expanse, a wooded path leads to the confluence of Crabtree and the Neuse. The connector with the Crabtree Trail is back at the top of the slope.

Crabtree Trail at Anderson

Following this path northward from the park, one gets a great sense of Crabtree’s lower floodplain forests. Large beeches are profuse, and American holly greens up the dark stands of winter sweetgum and ash.

beech on lower Crabtree Trail

American holly in Crabtree's floodplain

American holly in Crabtree’s floodplain

The ancient age of Crabtree can be inferred from sandstone outcrops – huge rocks built by the creek itself over eons. Just before the creek crosses under Rogers Lane, it crosses over flat sheets of even older, harder rock and is only a few inches deep in times of low water. On the day of this visit, the water was high and the “rapids” were only visible as white ruffles in the brown flow.

rocks by lower Crabtree

My favorite spot on both my recent visits was a rocky overhang where the creek makes a sharp turn before approaching the river. The rocks are covered with a minature forest of moss, and on the second visit they were sunlit and quite photogenic.

moss on rocky overhang

Buckeye Trail, seen below, represents the oldest and “wildest” section of Raleigh greenway. Now it also presents a connection to a huge greenway loop around Raleigh, utilizing the Neuse River trail and the long extension of the Walnut Creek Trail to the River. Anderson Point is a great focal point for these connections, The exciting Mingo Creek Trail connection, just upstream, will have to wait for another post. Happy hiking or biking on our wonderful, ever-growing system!

Winter sycamores guard Buckeye Trail connector on Milburnie Road

Winter sycamores guard Buckeye Trail connector on Milburnie Road


February 13, 2010

Snowy Tree Blocks Buckeye Greenway

Downed Tree on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh Blocks Snowy Greenway

High winds on top of rains toppled quite a few trees in the area, including this pair of medium specimens lying across the Buckeye Trail greenway at the bottom of Suicide Hill, as it was labeled by the cross country runners who used the greenway before its recent upgrade.  Lowered grade, I should say, since the cruelest, steepest stretch was lengthened and terraced to bring this oldest section of greenway into national codes.  Suicide Hill climbs a rugged quartz and sandstone outcrop that forms the Rocky Overhang, one of the seminal pillars of this blog, as it represents my favorite Crabtree hangout.

Raleigh Nature’s  “scoop” on this downed tree is wonderfully fitting as I get back to basics after a bit of hiatus. Enamored of the Ken Burns series, engulfed by teaching responsibilities, and constantly lured by my current intellectual fling, Ray Johnson/Black Mountain/mail art, I have wintered in the blog a bit, but could not resist the lovely, harmless 3 inch fluff that ended on a Saturday morning.  So I took off for my favorite sight-seeing greenway, Buckeye Trail from Milburnie Road. At the edge of Rollingwood, Crabtree has carved out a tall bluff (at least for this part of Raleigh) and under this 40 foot hump the creek has gouged a fishing hole complete with overhanging boulder shelves from which to cast.  Drowning worms  and hauling up the occasional catfish or bream at the Rocky Overhang is a family tradition for me as child and parent.  Heck, I took dates there, I loved the place so much. I was slightly horrified the day soon after Hurricane Floyd came through to see that a very large sycamore tree across the creek had fallen directly onto the Rocky Overhang, and for several years it was too tangled to get down there.  The kids and I mourned but also learned some valuable lessons about how Crabtree changes over time.  Now that tree has finally eased its way mostly into the fishing hole (after forming a hideous litter trap for more than a year on the way in) and the boulders have cleared somewhat.  In the spring, we’ll take a look, but for now here are more snowy scenes from Buckeye Trail, a gall tale, and a link to the photo album from my snow walk.


The baby beeches we have admired before looked nice mixed into the snowy pines.  Below is the scene at the beginning of Buckeye, where Longview Branch parallels Milburnie as it slides into Crabtree.


Below is a  ditched brook that brings water from the slopes of Rollingwood under the greenway and into Longview Branch just before it reaches the creek.

Just off  Milburnie is the old landfill that now forms a rich meadow, a favorite browsing place of the numerous deer living in Crabtree’s floodplains in East Raleigh. 

Below are some deer and coon tracks in the February snow.

The stump of a large oak I miss very much looked just as sad in the beautiful snow.  This tree had the largest gall I ever saw – a triple-grapefruit sized lump that housed the larvae of box elder beetles.  Greenway maintenence brought it down – I doubt the gall was a factor, but I’ve wondered.

the oak gall

Photo Album of my snow walk


December 8, 2009

Lassiter Mill Shows Crabtree at Strength


 The previous post talked about Crabtree Creek’s tendency to flood – last week again brought heavy rains over the Crabtree watershed that brought the creek up to the edge of  its large channels.  This also sends an impressive load of water over Lassiter Mill Dam, as seen above.  I shot a video clip of the rushing water from below the tailrace, as linked below.

video- Lassiter Mill dam at high water

What happens at Lassiter Mill vividily and intensely demonstrates what happens lots of places more gradually – the deposition of new soil by spreading flood waters.  This is an essential part of the natural systems of the Piedmont, and our flood control measures prevent the process from periodically enriching the soil with a layer of mud and silt – though the process continues to work just fine in the “waste” lowlands that remain in Raleigh.  An astounding number of these lowlands have become major thoroughfares – roads built relatively later in Raleigh’s long history, on land left undeveloped due to the floodplain.  The Beltline follows the low contours of Walnut Creek, House Creek, Crabtree Creek, Big Branch, Marsh Creek and then Walnut Creek quite precisely as it curves from Cary’s Buck Jones to Glenwood, over the crest of North Hills, and around southeast to Poole Rd and then Lake Wheeler Road.  The water is piped and rushed away from underneath these elevated roadways, carrying its minerals with it.

The suburbs and businesses near these roads certainly don’t need the sediments!  But the stuff has to go somewhere, and these days there is a lot of stuff.  When streams are buffered by a healthy band of water-loving trees and shrubs, erosion material is reduced greatly. In central Raleigh, Crabtree is clogged with lots of dislodged soil, construction materials and unnaturally exposed red clay.   But the deposition process is a vital one, and it gets exaggerated at Lassiter Mill, where the water brings its load of suspended minerals hurtling over the dam and then slows and spreads its course below.  As it slows, it drops much of its sediment load.  The area below Lassiter Mill changes yearly as the creek alternately erodes and builds up materials.  Check out the new load of sand deposited by the recent high waters.

There are several caveats and complications to consider.  This is a large load of sand!  Eight or nine inches at a dose, and not the silt and mud that the plants would prefer. But nature adapts, and the Lassiter “beach” is fun to browse, with a wide variety of weeds incubated from the loads of  soil and debris.  The silt and sand that currently washes down Crabtree is terribly unhealthy for the filtering mussels and other delicate aquatic life.  The red clay that paints Crabtree brown is such a strong pigment that Crabtree often changes the color of the Neuse where it conjoins.

Crabtree builds itself “shoulders”  as it repeatedly overflows, dropping the heaviest particles first as the water disperse into the floodplain.  This is why Crabtree presents such a tall ditched appearance as above at Hodge Road.  The plants arrange themselves in an orderly sequence beside or on top of these embankments according to their tolerance for flooding.

The next time Crabtree rises over it’s banks, put on your rubber boots and check out the glistening mica-rich silt that covers the greenways before the city sends its scrapers to clear it off to the side, where it enriches the plants as well as any landscaper’s mulch.  You are walking in the stuff that makes our floodplain soils, a rich muck delivered by the yearly floods. floodplain info

BBC floodplain story


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!


Hot Spring Critter Sightings!

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 11:12 pm

This post was originally published in May 2008

This owl swooped down and landed on a branch directly above Crabtree Creek as I walked on the high greenway that traverses a steep hill off Capital Boulevard.  This is just east of the sad section that has recently had its woody buffer appropriated by bulldozers.

 It sat there for the 20 minutes or so I watched it from different angles.  I believe it’s a Barn Owl.  This was about half hour before dusk.  The owl was getting ready for work.

The owl is somewhere in the scene below.  Crabtree takes a sharp bend as it approaches Capital Boulevard near the beltline.  It is turned by a large rock outcrop that underlies the hill on which a large former car dealership resides, framed by the south ramp off the beltline.  The slope from the back of the car dealership down to the creek is some really interesting terrain, and the troublesome but dramatic walkway that clings to the hillside is one of my favorite stretches in the whole system. One reason being it’s a great place to spot turtles, as you will see below. (snapper story below that)

Below is the rock that turns Crabtree.  It looks dark and foliated, but it’s drenched in algae, so Iwon’t make a specific guess.



Snapper Lays Eggs

The family of one of my students had a female snapping turtle crawl up into a sandy area near their backyard creek and lay some eggs.  She finished and went on  back to the creek, and now they get to watch for babies.  Good luck to Carson and her family!


May 4, 2008

Metropolitan photos and chapters in our geologic history

Filed under: Book Reviews, Nature Lore, Raleigh History — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:20 pm

Historic Photos of Raleigh-Durham. Dusty Wescott and Kenneth E. Peters. 2007. Turner Publishing Company. Nashville, TN.


I was delighted to receive Raleigh Nature’s first ever review copy of a publication, and even more pleased to see such a sumptous coffee table book in my hands.  Well constructed and beautifully printed in black and white, the images and captions are a treasure of information, memories, and comparisions.  The museum staff who worked on the book did a wonderful job of selecting the images and writing captions to place them into context. The final product, part of a series from this publishing house, has some real oddities in its organization and framework, but these probably won’t bother you unless you are a native of Raleigh or Durham.  Historic Photos of Raleigh-Durham gathers fascinating images of both cities into a scrapbook that displays but doesn’t define the histories of these two quite different cities.  The organization of the book, unfortunately, follows the perspective of the publisher rather than the writer.


The split personality of the book emerges in the first pages.  The publisher, Todd Bottorff, states that “Raleigh-Durham is looking ahead and evaluating its future course.”  He encourages readers to use this book to help them reflect “as they go walking in Raleigh-Durham.” He seems to be using a preface template for the series and filling in the name he sees on the front: Raleigh-Durham.  The introduction by a local historian quickly apologizes for this perspective, blaming “media marketing, modern census figures, and a shared international airport” for the perception of two of the Triangle’s three cities as a single entity, and pointing out the fact that Raleigh and Durham are distinct and unique.


Enough of these quibbles!  – for now.  This large glossy book is full of delicious treats. The “chapters”  consist of photos from several decades, with intriguing titles such as   “Tobacco Trust and Trolley Cars” (1900-1919) and  “Let Freedom Ring Along Tobacco  Road” (1940-1965). Single page introductions to these sections offer a smattering of trends from the era for each city.  The natural history of Raleigh gets its due. The Raleigh Light Infantry lined up on Morgan Street in front of the Capitol in 1875 shows young trees I think I recognize as today’s giants.  The oxcart in a Capitol view from the opposite side in the early 1880s shows large mature trees that are long gone.  A blizzard and a flood in 1899 are depicted in images that relate directly to nature in past Raleigh.  And natural history aside, any Raleigh native will enjoy looking at images like the newly opened Broughton High School, with Peace Street a dirt path and the Cameron Village area a deep forest.  This was in 1929, just before the Raleigh Civic Auditorium burned, and was quickly replaced by Memorial Auditorium.  This was during the Depression, of course, and though I knew my grandfather and many others were secure throughout the Depression because of the railroad, I didn’t know Raleigh’s civic building program fared so well.


Durham gets nearly equal coverage.  The images of the Duke homestead and rural -looking tobacco factories complement picturesque memories of early motorcycles and tree-sitting contests. Durham, which I was surprised to learn was not incorporated until 1869, is characterized as strongly influenced by tobacco and Duke University, but the book’s images also convey Durham’s blue collar and African American influences. Road-building between the two cities and early airports gets good representation.  But the photographs associated with a given theme are scattered throughout the book.  Raleigh and Durham images appear side by side.  Photographs of a single subject will appear pages apart.  If you are doing anything other than random browsing, the lack of order and cohesion in the content is disconcerting.  It is as if two local folks were hired to gather archival images and write captions, and then someone in say, Paducah, Kentucky, gathered them and laid out with only one idea – “look nice.”


The book looks quite nice indeed.  The arbitrary and sometimes truly odd juxtapositions can perhaps be provocative in a positive way.  I have never seen most of the images before.  I am glad to have the book, and recommend you buy it, if you have a strong interest in the area, or like nice coffee table books.  And perhaps we can learn from our unenlightened publisher:  The Triangle is an emerging mini-megapolis, whose borders are blending.  Raleigh and Durham will always have a strong separate identity, but the world is working out how to classify us.  RDU, RDC, Raleigh-Durham – these are all labels trying to capture who we are. This book gives us many wonderful images of who we were.

The authors of this book will be present at Borders on E. Six Forks on June 7, 2007


Exploring the Geological History of the Carolinas. A Field Guide to Favorite Places from Chimney Rock to Charleston.  Kevin G. Stewart and Mary-Russell Roberson. 2007. UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC.


This is a magnificent resource for understanding the land in which we live.  I rank it with Michael Godfrey’s Field Guide to the Piedmont as an eminently readable popular introduction to a complex field of information.  The introductory chapters make geology seem important to you as a resident of the Piedmont. If you choose or need it, they can provide the basic geology concepts needed to appreciate the book.  Most of the book, however, is devoted to the geological context and significance of prominent and popular natural areas.  It is indeed a field guide in the best sense – a book to carry with you as you explore some of our finest natural areas.


The field trips offered are an outstanding selection.  My favorite spot on earth, Linville Gorge, is featured as an example of “spectacular geology” to match its scenery. The seventeen pound gold nugget that led to gold mining in North Carolina is connected to the fantastic geological tale of how pieces of Gondwana, the ancient super-continent, ended up in the Piedmont, with its gold-filled quartz veins intact.The dramatic 800 foot rise in seas and oceans evidenced by the Cliffs of the Neuse, is described in seamless harmony along with Tuscorora ceremonies, iron-clad warships and moonshining.  The essential focus, however, returns to the image of the cliffs, whose geological existence  will be brief, as the remnant of the greatest global warming event ever experienced by the planet.


Geology can be difficult for anyone, even a dedicated naturalist.  This book explains the concepts through immersion into the geological contexts of our favorite nature sites. It strongly connects the history with the observable features of the landscape.  The result is an education travel guide that gives you all the more reason to visit, explore and contemplate these beautiful spots.

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