Knobs, Gaps and Forks

The Blue Ridge Mountains

I don’t know if it’s a difference without distinction or a distinction without a difference but driving on a road versus rolling over ground is different regardless.  It’s really the first thing you notice when you “drive” the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The speed limit is 45 mph, there is essentially no traffic, and nothing really impedes your progress save the twists and turns in the road.  As a result, you get a distinct feeling of rolling over the ground.  And that makes you think.  It makes you think about the people who built the road — largely CCC workers after the depression — the geology that established the terrain — the original separation of the supercontinent maybe a billion and half years ago, followed by a couple of periods of uplift, eruption, a re-collision of continents, and then lots of erosion — and it makes you think, period. 

The Blue Ridge and Northern Highlands of the Appalachians run basically from the Great Smoky Mountains of North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina all the way through Virgina and Eastern Pennsylvania, through Vermont and New Hampshire up to Maine. The area of mountains, valleys and folds represents the the oldest chain of mountains on the continent.  And traveling this section via The Blue Ridge Parkway, is a sublime and peaceful journey through hardwood forests, boulder fields, granite outcrops and bald meadows.  Locally, the names are almost all descriptive — but largely within three categories.  There are Knobs, Gaps, and Forks.  Occasionally a Bald is thrown in for good measure.  The road itself generally goes around the knobs, across the gaps and through the balds, but oddly, there are no forks.

Camped for the first night in what was at first a pristine, cool evening breeze atop one of the knobs, things changed about sundown to a torrential flash flood.  It easy to see, when in it, how erosion has played a role in taking these mountains from towering rockies, to knobs and knolls. Of course this same “Appalachian rain forest” effect creates a diversity of plant life that both colors and contributes to the mists and fogs that give the smokies their name.  We suffer through and lose a little gear to the elements, but in the end, survive, just as these knobs have and will continue to.  Changed, but mostly for the better.

Tomorrow, we finish the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah and head into the Allegheny section of these old mountains.  And we get a little closer to Nova Scotia and the Eastern Reach.

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