Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rock Castle Gorge Rocks!

From my day today:
Rock Castle Gorge National Recreational Trail
Milepost 167 Blue Ridge Parkway VA
Old Growth Yellow Poplar Tree at Rock Castle Creek
Tree Huggers
Over 200 species of Wildflowers in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Trillium - three petals, three bracts and three leaves
Wild Iris
Pink are the flowers where we got the term "pinking" shears!
Fire Pink
The trail follows the creek and climbs higher elevations for a total of 10.5 miles

Old Bridge
Proof I was here!
Fiddlehead fern
Ant on a fern
This spectacular area is recognized as a National Recreational Trail due to the great biological diversity, the historical significance, and the challenging nature of the 10.8-mile loop trail. Located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, this area features 60 species of native trees, 25 species of delicate ferns, and over 200 species of wildflowers. 

It also provides insight into a community of 70 families that carved out a living among these 4,000 acres over a century ago (using the creek for milling), they left to work in the cotton mills. 

In the springtime to early summer, nearly 200 varieties of wildflowers are visible along the trail area. You'll see tunnels of Catawba rhododendron (and later in the summer Mountain Laurel) and other thick mountain foliage, a splashing stream, and high open meadows. The entire loop is 10.8 miles and the elevations range from 1,700 to 3,572 ft. A few small historic structures are visible along the trail, including a Civilian Conservation Corps camp (when they built the Blue Ridge Parkway during the Great Depression).

You can begin the trail and descend from the campground or park at the Fire Gate near the creek. Up top you can go to Rocky Knob Picnic Loop where the Raptors migrate in the Fall MP 174 near Mabry Mill near Rock Church Road.

Rock Castle Gorge Elevation: From 3,572 feet at its highest point on Rocky Knob near the Blue Ridge Parkway to 1,700 feet at its lowest point in the Rock Castle Gorge.

Gottasee factor (scenery, scale 0 to 4): 3.5. Another Appalachian sampler hike. Features include open vistas, a cascading stream, plentiful and varied flora and fauna, and a boulder field.

Creek beds are good places to spy on native brook trout (the lure for local anglers), but also a good place to hunt for salamanders. Northern dusky salamander is abundant, but several other species are likely to be present as well.

Another place (with limited parking) but on the lower Rock Castle Creek Loop is the fire gate off Hwy 8 at the CCC Camp Lane Woolwine, VA 24185.

At an elevation of 1,721 feet, the Lower Rock Castle Creek Trail forms a 4.5-mile leg of the 11-mile loop called Rock Castle Gorge Trail. This trail follows a gated fire road alongside Rock Castle Creek.