Monday, April 2, 2012

The Older Mountains

On our way to and from the Florida Keys, we crossed the Appalachian region, entering it in Ohio and leaving it in Georgia. That experience brought various memories, not least one of old speculations of mine. We got to know the region when we lived in Virginia and spent some vacation events in Virginia’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountain, a part of the range. “Country roads, take me home.” We sang John Denver’s song as we drove through foggy heights—and did so on the last trip again. One of our valued charities is the Christian Appalachian Project (link), and we are eager readers of its magazine, The Mountain Spirit. It is good to spend time in those regions of the world beneath the deadly radar of modernity—and to give them money. Now to my speculations. It always struck me odd that there should be two major mountain ranges running north-south through America (well, more or less), one immensely high, majestic, and daunting, the Rockies, the other relatively low and humble, and yet, and yet… Well, real! Real mountains nonetheless.

Today I discovered something about the age of mountains. The Rockies are young, the Appalachians are old. The Rockies were formed in what is known as the Laramide orogeny. That was a new word form me; it derives from the Greek for mountain (oros) and formation or birth (gene). The word means the process of mountain formation; it took place an estimated 55 to 80 million years ago; as mountains go, that’s young. The first part of that name comes from the Laramie Mountains in eastern Wyoming. The Appalachian Mountain Range was formed in the Ordovician geologic era (named after a Celtic tribe) about 480 million years; in mountain time that’s old. And the Appalachians used to be one of the tallest range in the then known world—although no one could then take snapshots from the plains. They are the humble mountains that they are thanks to the relentless workings of water, wind, and erosion. But the memory of greatness still lingers on.

The two images I present here are from Wikipedia (link) and from the Appalachian Regional Commission (link). The first shows the geological reach of the range well into Canada, the second the cultural region as defined by our history and laid over the mountains.

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