Diversity: Rock Castle Gorge

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Rock Castle Gorge was one of the first places I explored after becoming a biology teacher at Wytheville Community College in 1975.

A friend at Tech (previously from Auburn) had heard about it as a botanical destination. I drove over from Wythe County passing through “downtown” Floyd early on a Saturday morning. Talk about your sleepy rural village.

A friend and I made a casual mile walk down and back along the severely-washed out trail (in some obvious places) and accumulated a couple of dozen species in bloom or fruit.

Because it was the time we had available, we did our walking between noon and 1:00–especially poor time for photography with the full-sun contrasty lighting from directly above.

I looked for situations, like with this dwarf crested iris, where an overhanging limb cast a shadow behind the object to provide more sexy lighting than was typically available.

I think I only kept four shots from that ramble, but it was not about a bounty of keepers but just to be there in what passes for an “undisturbed” forest with some small indication of the diversity that once existed in these woods.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Those “undisturbed” areas are rare and becoming rarer. We have forests in Canada that are protected for now, but always in danger of being invaded. There are just so many people who want that experience, but don’t know how to respect the pristine nature of the forest once they get there!

  2. Is this lovely photo from 1975? You were already a good nature photographer. How different is this gorge now, 41 years later?

  3. NO this iris shot was from yesterday. I was passionate but not skilled in ’75 with a Minolta SLR and too cheap to burn up enough film to get much better at it until the freedom of “free” digital film.

    Being part of the National Parks land it had received a good bit less upkeep at either end than it once did, and there are very few guided walks anymore. It is being overtaken by vinca and wisteria, left over from the settlement that existed there a century ago.