The east of North America is defined by a natural boundary in the form of an extensive and fascinating mountain range.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some interesting Appalachian Mountains facts.
1. The range is located within the border of 3 countries
The Appalachian Mountains are a mountain range in the east of North America. This range runs all the way from southeastern Canada in the north, to the northern parts of Georgia and Alabama and the western part of South Carolina in the south.
One of the most remarkable Appalachian Mountains facts is that it also extends through the islands of Newfoundland and Saint Pierre and Miquelon. The latter is an overseas territory of France which means that it’s located within the borders of 3 countries, the United States, Canada, and France.
The range has a total length of about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) and varies in width between 100 and 300 miles (160 and 480 kilometers). That’s why it’s considered to be a natural barrier for east-to-west travel in North America as most highways and railways have to cross it.
2. The Appalachians are divided into 3 distinctive sections
Because it’s such an extensive mountain range, it features multiple smaller mountain ranges and is divided into 3 distinct different sections. These regions are:
- Northern Appalachians – Runs from the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador to the Hudson River in New York.
- Central Appalachians – Runs from the Hudson River in New York to the New River in Virginia.
- Southern Appalachians – Runs from the New River to the northern parts of Alabama and Georgia.
While there are many famous mountain ranges that are part of the entire Appalachian Mountains chain, such as for example the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smokey Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains in New York aren’t. This range is a southern extension of the Laurentian Mountains in Canada
3. They were formed 480 million years ago
The Appalachian Mountains have formed during the Ordovician Period (496–440 million years ago) about 480 million years ago. That’s when plates collided in what is now North America which formed the first mountains.
This event was set in motion when an oceanic plate referred to as the “lapetus” collided with the “Appalachian passive margin.” The lapetus subsequently started sinking began the North America Craton and started pushing it upwards.
This upward motion created volcanoes and mountains all along the continental margin.
4. They were originally connected to a mountain range in Africa
This chain of events eventually resulted in the creation of the supercontinent “Pangea,” a process that took place between 335 and 175 million years ago.
The world looked quite different back then as North America was still connected to Africa and the Appalachians were right in the center of this supercontinent, extending as far as modern-day Scotland. That’s why this mountain range in Pangea is referred to as the Central Pangean Mountains.
One of the most interesting Appalachian Mountains facts is that this means that they were connected with the Anti-Atlas in Morocco, now part of the extensive Atlas Mountain Range in North Africa!
5. The mountains in the range were once much higher than today
Even though the Appalachians is an extensive mountain range, its peaks are relatively low. The highest mountain in the range is Mount Mitchell in the Black Mountains of the Appalachians in North Carolina at a height of just 6,684 feet (2,037 meters).
The average height of all the peaks in the range is also pretty low at just 3,000 feet (910 meters) and the main reason for this is the range’s age. The mountains have been exposed to the natural elements for hundreds of millions of years resulting in erosion reducing their height.
6. The highest peak in the Appalachians holds a remarkable record
Mount Mitchell is located near Burnsville in Yancey County, North Carolina, and is part of the Black Mountain subrange of the Appalachians. It can be found about 19 miles (31 kilometers) northeast of Asheville, the biggest city in the region.
One of the most amazing facts about Mount Mitchell is that it’s the highest point east of the Mississippi in the United States. A State Park to protect this magnificent feat of nature has been created as well and is referred to as the “Mount Mitchell State Park.”
The mountain is covered in vegetation as well as it’s surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest.
7. The first Spanish to arrive in Florida gave the range its name
So how did the Appalachian Mountains get their name? The name can be traced back to the first Spanish explorers who set foot on land in northern Florida in 1528. This expedition was referred to as the “Narváez expedition” and included Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of just 4 survivors of this mission.
The men were sent out by Charles V with the goal of conquering a territory called “La Florida” and as they arrived here, they were informed that there was a Native American village of the “Apalachee,” near what is today Tallahassee, Florida.
The Spanish not only used this name to describe the people but also to identify the entire region. This resulted in the mountains being called “Apalchen” and printed as such on maps as early as 1562. Today, Appalachee is the 4th-oldest surviving European place-name in the United States!
8. The range is split in two by a great valley
One of the most fascinating Appalachian Mountains facts is that an enormous valley runs pretty much all across the range. This valley is referred to as the “Great Appalachian Valley” and runs for a total of 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) all the way from Quebec in Canada in the north to Alabama in the United States in the south.
This enormous valley is, just like the mountain range itself, a chain of valleys and lowlands running through the central part of the mountains. This means that the range is pretty much split into two sections by this enormous valley which is considered to be one of the most famous natural features of eastern North America!
9. The mountain range is extremely rich in natural resources
The mountain range is rich in various types of coal which have been mined extensively since the 19th century. The area of northeastern Pennsylvania is even referred to as the “Coal Region.” More recently, mountain top removal mining has been reported to threaten various parts of the Appalachian ecosystem as well.
In 1859, the Drake Well was discovered in Pennsylvania, an event that pretty much launched the oil industry in the United States as it was the first commercial oil well in the country.
Just like, for example, the Ural Mountains, the Appalachians are also rich in various other natural minerals including iron and zinc.
10. The vegetation remains similar all throughout the Appalachians
Even though the mountain range is so extensive, the type of vegetation remains pretty consistent throughout the Appalachians. That’s why they are even considered to be a floristic province, an area in which the vegetation is uniformly similar, to the North American Atlantic Region.
The mountains are home to various types of spruces such as the Red Spruce (Picea rubens) and Black Spruce (Picea mariana). Other types of trees common in the mountains are various types of spruces and pines such as:
- Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)
- Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)
- Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)
- Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens)
- Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata)
11. It’s home to a wide variety of animals, including black bears
Because of the dense and amazing forests that cover the mountains from north to south, it’s not unsurprising that they are home to a wide variety of animals that prefer to hang out in trees.
The most common creatures you will find in the forests are five species of tree squirrels. These include the:
- Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
- Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)
- Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans)
- Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
- Appalachian northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus)
Perhaps the most fascinating type of animal in the mountains is the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), a relatively harmless type of bear (at least compared to its infamous big brother the grizzly bear) that is arboreal (which means it loves to spend time in trees).
12. It features a scenic hiking trail that runs all across the range
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, commonly known as the “Appalachian Trail,” is one of the most fascinating hiking trails in North America. It has various sections and has a total length of 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers).
Apart from being one of the longest hiking trails in the world, it’s also one of the most popular ones with an estimated 2 million people hiking on part of the trail each year.
The trail offers various magnificent lookout spots and is maintained by the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.