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Art Lander’s Outdoors: New book is first to highlight the unique diversity of Red River Gorge watershed

Rock Bridge is one of more than 100 natural sandstone arches in the Red River Gorge. (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Red River Gorge National Geological Area, a unique natural area in Daniel Boone National Forest, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to east-central Kentucky.

Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin is the first book of its kind on the Gorge and the Red River watershed.

They come to hike its demanding trails, fish in its pristine streams, camp, rock climb, or just take in the rugged beauty of its sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls and natural bridges.

The Red River Gorge National Geological Area, which encompasses about 29,000 acres, includes the 13,379-acre Clifty Wilderness, a roadless area in the heart of the Gorge.

The region’s remarkable variety of ecological zones support diverse plant and animal life, with remote pockets of soaring old growth timber.

While books about day-hiking, backpacking, sport climbing, and other recreational activities in the area are readily available, Dan and Judy Dourson’s Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin, recently published by University Press of Kentucky, is the first book of its kind on the Gorge and the Red River watershed.

The 488-page, 6 x 9-inch paperback ($39.95), is richly illustrated with 815 color photographs, one map, and 68 line drawings, and is much more that a field guide for species indentification.

Chapters by contributors provide concise background information on the region’s prehistory, cultural history, geology, ecoregions, and habitats in the Red River basin.

The Jack-in-the Pulpit, with its distinctive tubular, bi-color flower, is found on wooded hillsides and ravines in the Gorge. (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

The first inhabitants of Red River Gorge were native peoples who arrived as continental glaciers were retreating, about 13,000 years ago. They were hunters and gatherers. The first white Europeans to explore the region were John Finley, and Daniel Boone, in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

The focus of the book is the incredible diversity of both common and rare flora of this unique ecosystem. Over 1,500 species are currently known to exist in the watershed. Rare and endangered species are highlighted, accompanied by high-quality color photographs.

Other, often ignored, non-flowering plant groups such as green algae, fungi, slime molds, lichens, and mosses are also included in the book, and there’s a section on flowering woody vines, shrubs, and small trees.

Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin is the most comprehensive guide to one of Kentucky’s most well-known natural areas, and a reference book that every naturalist — amateur or professional — should own.

Dan Dourson is a wildlife biologist who worked with the U.S. Forest Service specializing in non-game management in Red River Gorge. Judy Dourson is an educator, researcher, field technician, and editor of the books they co-authored.

To order online visit The University Press of Kentucky website

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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