November 29, 2002

My World From Space

Playing the armchair traveler again. Ron, I guess this one is for you, since the last maps were a real yawner. Sorry. This map-lust of mine is longstanding, but more recently related to my newfound interest in the history of place, specifically, my place in southwest Virginia. Understanding where I fit in the TIME events of where I live is what written history can tell me. In the same way maps, in all their forms, can tell me WHERE on Earth I am. Astronomy and cosmology take this another level and give one bearings with our relationship to the universe. Beyond that, and including all that, theology seeks to answer the big WHY. Deep wading.

Ah, the map. The digital image of Western Virginia (large and perhaps slow loading). You can find similar maps of your own state, and I know you'll want to rush right off and do that. I don't imagine a place like Kansas would look very interesting; Colorado, on the other hand, would probably be quite remarkable to a map freak such as me, given its considerable relief (relief constitutes differences in elevation as portrayed by the different colors on the map).

Let me give you a quick tour of the map. Stay awake now.

Green marks the lowest elevation. Note that the piedmont of Virginia and the false-mountains of West Virginia are both about the same elevation. The 'mountain state' indeed. Much of West Virginia consists of 'erosional remnants', not true mountains formed by the colliding of tectonic land masses. West Virginia is technically the 'hill state'. All the roads, railroads and hiways follow the pathway of creeks and rivers that cut their way down into the flat-layered hills. (In the 'true mountains, the layers are all jumbled up like a marble cake). The undisturbed nature of sedimentary beds has made possible the feasibility of 'strip mining' where all the coal, lying in one undisturbed layer, can be mined by simply removing the top of the mountain, dumping that 'overburden' in someone's back yard and creek, and dredging out the coal with monstrous scooping machines. But that's another story.

The Appalachians on this map are generally shown in pink and purple, with the very highest peaks, a light blue. Note that the mountain chain runs northeast to southwest, as this was the angle of collision between two huge floating land masses many hundred million years ago.

Note the broad brownish valley near the upper right corner. This is the Shennandoah that continues southwest, narrowing as it runs past the present town of Lexington, on to the sheltered valley of Roanoke. (The blue Smith Mountain Lake looks like a finger pointing at Roanoke). The left-facing 'thumb' of the lake points directly toward the edge of Floyd County. When we lived on the Parkway before moving to Goose Creek, we could see the lake about 40 miles away, glistening in the early morning sun. The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the Blue Ridge, dropping down to flat country around Roanoke before rising again toward Peaks of Otter.

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the Appalachians from this vantage point in space is the "Ridge and Valley" province, evident as long sinuous parallel ridges (chiefly of resistant rock like sandstone and conglomerate) with narrow valleys of resistant limestone in between. All these substrates represent ancient sea floor material (sand, single-celled diatoms et cetera leaving the calcium carbonate of limestone) laid down in successive layers many thousand feet thick. This geological 'lasagna' was 'rumpled' like a rug being pushed from one edge, creating many wrinkles or folds.

These generally low (3000 ft or less) stringy mountains resulting from this ancient mountain building represented considerable obstacles to western migration, as you might imagine. Finding the Cumberland Gap in far western Virginia where it meets the Kentucky border was as important in its day as landing a man on the moon. This discovery made Daniel Boone a national hero, even though another man, Dr. Thomas Walker, had discovered it some time before. Come to think about it, finding the Gap was more important in practical utility to the lives of the people determined to 'conquer' the untamed and largely unmapped West than leaving footprints on a large, lifeless rock in space.

One last thing: You can see the higest point in Virginia in the blue mass above the word "longitude", right on the VA-NC-TN border. This is the Iron Mountain Range that includes Mt. Rogers. How many wonderful hours and days I have spent on those summits! I know you'll want to follow this high country southwest, onto the North Carolina Digital Map. One day I'll treat you to a tour of that map describing the two places we lived in the NC mountains. I am sure you're giddy with excitement.

Posted by fred1st at November 29, 2002 07:43 AM

I feel smarter already!

I am a big fan of the Mt.Rogers/Grayson County/Damascus area myself. The stretch of White Top Laurel that flows through Taylor's Valley is as gorgeous as any trout stream in the country.

Posted by: ronbailey at November 29, 2002 08:27 AM

Fred, I forgot to mention, you may be interested in checking out DeLorme's "Gazetteer", a large format book containing topo maps of the entire state. I know the Barnes and Noble store in Roanoke carries it, as well as the Orvis Store downtown. It's required equipment for anyone who wants to hike/bike/fish anywhere off the beaten path around here.

Posted by: ronbailey at November 29, 2002 08:32 AM

Walton County, where I live now, holds the highest point in Florida. A grand 357 feet above sea level.

Without using a very fine scale I suspect a topo of my state would be pretty much monocolored.

That's Florida. Dull. Except during elections :)

Posted by: Jim at November 29, 2002 09:00 AM

Cool. Another map freak. I love it! I love maps, and I am glad you are sharing the geography of your home state. I have seen many movies that indicate in the credits that some footage was shot in North Carolina or Virginia. It must really be beautiful country from what I've seen.
Hope you're having a great Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Peach at November 30, 2002 01:25 AM

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