Sunday, December 18, 2011

Falls Ridge Preserve: Autumn Photo Log V

We're fortunate to live near the Nature Conservancy's Falls Ridge Preserve. Tucked into a narrow, flat valley near the North Fork of the Roanoke River, it's only about 15 minutes from the house. Falls Ridge is a 655 acre preserve described by the Nature Conservancy as:
Part of a steep, rugged ridge that rises from the valley of the North Fork of the Roanoke River, Falls Ridge Preserve boasts a spring-fed travertine waterfall approximately 80 feet in height.  Salem Fault runs through the preserve, dividing it into two different rock types-Precambrian limestone and shale/sandstone. The corresponding difference in soil types generates a diversity of vegetation, particularly wildflowers and smaller flora.

Sign on a bridge downstream from the waterfall.

To get there, you drive down North Fork Road, take a right, cross a rickety bridge over the North Fork of the Roanoke River, carefully cross the railroad tracks, then park at the end of this field:

That's our car, way down at the end of the field.
The travertine stream waterfall isn't typical in this part of the country - most waterfalls tumble over granite and are very "rocky." Falls Ridge, however, is distinguished by the limestone sediment. Again citing the Nature Conservancy:

The rocks in the travertine falls watershed grew steadily, as minerals and lime dissolved in the water precipitate upon them. Over thousands of years, the build-up of calcium carbonate steepened the stream's gradient and slowly created both the waterfall and one of the largest-known exposed travertine deposits. Large sinkholes on part of the land also indicate the existence of underlying caverns which have never been explored.

The falls.

Barrie on the stairs going down to the falls overlook.  It was a chilly day.
Another view of the falls.
The trail winds up around the falls, then levels off, where it wanders along atop some sandstone cliffs.
Cliffs to the right of us, stream to the left.
 The trail wanders back down to the creek.  The cliffs are to the left, another trail to the right. 
Barrie heading down the trail

Sandstone cliffs with lots of little caves. The folks in the distance just stepped out of a cave when I took this picture.

The stream below the waterfall. 
This land was donated to the Nature Conservancy in 1974. It has an interesting past, as befits such a rich, fertile field and stream located near the towns of Blacksburg and Roanoke. Again citing the Nature Conservancy:

A large Indian settlement was located upstream of Falls Ridge Preserve on the North Fork of the Roanoke River, but the only direct evidence of Indian activity has been the discovery of a few white flint arrowheads. In 1823, the Governor of Virginia granted to the Birchfield family 700 acres of land, encompassing part of the present day preserve. A local family, the Dudleys, later acquired the land and used it not only for farming but also to operate several enterprises: a wool carding mill, general store, post office, lumber milk gram mill and a livery. In 1939, a kiln to produce burnt lime was installed at the falls by Harry Dudley. Calcium carbonate cliffs (travertine) deposited by the stream were blasted loose, crushed and carted by mule to the top of the kiln. Traces of this operation can be seen near the falls.

The lime kiln at Falls Ridge.