Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina


The photo above is not enhanced in any way.  Looking toward a direction slightly north of west, it shows a typically hazy Summer view of the south half of the longer east limb of the Black Mountain Range.

The Black Mountain Range of North Carolina is a part of

the Blue Ridge Province of the Appalachians.

As indicated below the photograph, the image above shows you only part of the range.  ALSO, AS INDICATED BELOW THE PHOTO, TWO LEFT CLICKS WILL GIVE YOU MAXIMUM ENLARGMENT. At the end of this posting I have included a distant view of the entire east limb (the shorter west limb gets much less attention).  Many people have been in the Blacks without knowing it. This is because at one time or another they have visited Mt. Mitchell State Park (named for the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River) without realizing the name of the range to which it belongs. Mt. Mitchell’s summit is but one of a string of mountain peaks on the Black Mt. Crest Trail – which is a difficult hiking trail. It can be reached easily (in favorable weather) on North Carolina State Road 128 which dead-ends near the crest of Mt. Mitchell 6 miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The towns of Burnsville, Marion, and Spruce Pine and the village of Little Switzerland are nearby.

Through the years I’ve hiked in many beautiful places

characterized by rugged topography –

including the Sierra Nevada of California, the Tetons and the Wind River Mts. of Wyoming, the Ruby Mts. of Nevada, and Grand Canyon. I’ve been above the tree line many times in mountains carved by glaciers and have been to the top of formidable peaks like Mt. Whitney. But, in spite of their “lowness” and densely forested slopes (compared to most of the mountains I’ve hiked) I find the Blacks to be so very special and unique. Furthermore, no trail has tested me as much as the Black Mountain Crest Trail when including the limb that runs down the western slope of the range near Bowlens Creek. The Blacks are extremely old compared to any of the mountains of western North America.  The convergence of the North American lithospheric plate with the African plate caused the compression that squeezed and rammed the mountains into being.  Weathering and erosion have carved the mountains to a mere remnant of what they used to be – more like the Himalayas at one time before those, currently the world’s tallest mountains, were lifted.  The agents of weathering and erosion (mostly water) have rounded the Appalachians and minimized the rocky outcrops that are so much more abundant in the younger mountains. But the soil derived from the weathered rock has become a medium providing an excellent foothold for the myriad trees along the slopes and on the tops of most of the mountains – both conifers and deciduous trees thrive making for a wide range of colors in the Autumn.

The Blue Ridge Province and

the Ridge and Valley Province

of the Appalachians trend “northeast to southwest”

as can be seen in a map of the U.S.A. showing topography. You can also see that trend running diagonally across the bottom-right quadrant of the Bing map that I’ve entered above.  However, some people who visit the Black Mountains, particularly people like me who like to be oriented direction-wise at all times, notice that the trend of the Blacks is closer to true “north to south.” In other words, they formed somewhat “against the grain” of most of the neighboring mountains. Though they are not the only mountains of the Blue Ridge Province trending that way they are, by far, the most conspicuous – probably because of how they tower above the South Toe River and the Kane River valleys.

Only one left click will adequately enlarge these last four images.  Two left clicks will probably make them too large for you to view each entire photo on your screen.

One of the most surprising characteristics of the Blacks,

even to some people who have visited the area multiple times and even some who live in the area, is that the range is not shaped like the letter “I.” Instead, it is shaped like the letter “J” – open on the northwest side. In other words, it would appear on a map just as a “J” appears on this printed page so long as the top of the map is the traditional north edge.  Perhaps you can detect that “J” shape in the Bing map. The image above, copied from Google Earth, shows the range looking from the west toward the east. Do you see the “J?”

If you don’t see the “J” configuration, look at the next image where I’ve traced it.  I’ve also labeled some of the peaks for you including two on the shorter west limb of the “J” as well as the town of Burnsville and the beautiful community of Mountain Air.  The vertical exaggeration of these two images is 2x.

Finally, here are two inserts of the same photograph, one unlabeled and one labeled of the entire longer east limb of the Black Mountain Range.  Details on distances and directions are given in the second image.

I urge you to visit the Black Mountains.

The ever-changing views are breathtaking and the movement of clouds in the vicinity can be almost hypnotic.  It is a place of extremes in weather and there are no guarantees regarding the views.  Of course safety must be ones primary consideration.  Awareness of the weather and its potential for rapid changes is essential.

The new observation deck atop Mt. Mitchell is an easy walk from the parking lot and those assisted in wheelchairs have access too.  With sensible precautions a short hike to a point a bit more than a mile north of Mt. Mitchell will have you upon the Crest of the second highest mountain in the eastern half of the United States, Mt. Craig.  Enjoy!

Note:  When I produced this last image I felt that Mt. Mitchell and Deep Gap were conspicuous enough that white line locaters were not needed.   For another view from even further away go to the following site and scroll down to image 21 taken from the trail leading to the top of Table Rock Mountain:

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