All mountains are old, but the Appalachians are incomprehensibly old
July 16, 2021 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Yes, all mountains are old, but the Appalachian mountains are incomprehensibly old. Have you ever wondered why we don’t find fossils in the Appalachian mountains? The truth is, we do, they’re just not the kind of fossils you might think of—there are no mammals, no dinosaurs, no reptiles. There’s something else entirely. (Single link twitter thread) (threadreader)
posted by Karmakaze (86 comments total) 101 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm embarrassed to say that as a long time resident of The Paris of Appalachia, I had no idea about the history of the chain.
posted by octothorpe at 11:41 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


very interesting read, thanks! I grew up in Virginia, being envious of the big sharp mountains out west. I still am to a degree, but the stately, dignified hills of the Blue Ridge mountains has more appeal to me as I grow older. Learning about the fossils is really cool.
posted by skewed at 11:42 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


If you like this kind of thing, you'll love Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee, Pulitzer for Nonfiction 1999
posted by lalochezia at 11:51 AM on July 16 [33 favorites]


Very interesting! Thank you for posting this, Karmakaze.
posted by Lexica at 11:57 AM on July 16


It’s a good thread, but “incomprehensibly?” I mean the universe had cycles of star formation and death before the solar system formed, and you’re sweating a half billion years?

They are pretty mountains.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:57 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


A good clear summary of the geologic history. I support all popular education in the earth sciences, more-so since most of its disciplines have been relegated to just a couple units of instruction during Middle School in the US.

and also more props to John McPhee, the three volumes of geology in Annals of the Former World are:
In Suspect Terrain, (also about the Appalachians)
Basin and Range, and Assembling California
posted by TDIpod at 12:12 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]


I can't believe this is my second chance to make an "eponysterical!" comment about GenjiandProust's habit of taking the long view.

Also, I love the eponironic trivia fact that my home state of Virginia's own New River is actually older than the Appalachians and hence once of the oldest rivers in the world.
posted by sy at 12:15 PM on July 16 [25 favorites]


I was impressed, long ago, by John McPhee's description of the Appalachians as the stubs of mountains that had grown, then been ground down. Twice. I never looked for fossils while walking those mountains. But until now I did not put that together with the ancient nature of those rocks.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:23 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I mean, the universe is also incomprehensibly old.

We have a number for the age of the universe (about 13.8 Gyr), and the age of the Appalachians (0.48 Gyr) is about 3% of that number. So in one sense we can say that we "comprehend" those ages because we can write down what they are and do arithmetic with them and use them to ask questions. But the way we understand timescales that long is completely separate from the way we usually experience time, in terms of "do I have time to write this Metafilter comment before I get back to work" or "will I pay off this mortgage before I retire."

I mean, my premature baby is taking the test for her learner's permit today. I'm having trouble understanding that, and I was involved the entire time. This week a mostly-forgotten family friend reached out to my parents, and sent some photographs from 1972, when my sister was a toddler and my parents were half the age I am now. I have an emotional, visceral connection about how a week relates to a year relates to a decade relates to a half-century. Extending that visceral understanding to "the Appalachian mountains are older than fishes or flowers" is work that I haven't done. I think most people haven't.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:25 PM on July 16 [62 favorites]


Of all things, I am spending the weekend in Oleiros, Portugal which is where the Portuguese bit of the "International Appalachian Trail" is. It's lovely country.
posted by chavenet at 12:26 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


My family went camping up by Sudbury, Ontario, last weekend and I was giving some half-remembered junior high school geography lessons to my kids about the Canadian Shield and how old it is, much older than dinosaurs, which is why we probably wouldn't find any fossils of them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:27 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how the Appalachian's being old explains that we don't find mammal or dinosaur fossils because the range predates those creatures. Would seem more likely that a young mountain range would lack those fossils, no? There must be something I don't understand about fossil formation.
posted by wigner3j at 12:29 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Also, I love the eponironic trivia fact that my home state of Virginia's own New River is actually older than the Appalachians and hence once of the oldest rivers in the world.

The New River starts in North Carolina and flows north up to the Ohio River. Another of the world's oldest rivers also starts out in North Carolina: the French Broad River. It also meanders through the mountains until it ends up in Tennessee
posted by NoMich at 12:34 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how the Appalachian's being old explains that we don't find mammal or dinosaur fossils because the range predates those creatures. Would seem more likely that a young mountain range would lack those fossils, no?

The sediment that turned into the stone that formed the Appalachians was laid down in the time before dinosaurs. Newer mountains were formed by sediments that were laid down during the time of dinosaurs. The youngest mountain ranges are sand on the ocean floor, to solidify and rise up in the future, after the time of dinosaurs.
posted by Think_Long at 12:39 PM on July 16 [18 favorites]


Fossils form when the rocks are being made. The rocks are so old that they were made before the animals in question existed. Then the animals ran around on top of them.

As it states towards the end of the thread, there actually are some mammals and dinosaurs in the Appalachaians, but it's harder to get fossilized when the land around you is being worn away by the elements than it is when the land around you is being built up by sediment. So they had to play the same lottery as lots of other rare fossils, by, e.g., dying and falling into a mud hole or something.
posted by Horkus at 12:40 PM on July 16 [30 favorites]


Thank you!
posted by wigner3j at 12:41 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I live about 25 minutes from the Blue Ridge / Skyline drive
and it's just perfect for me.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 12:48 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


The most common fossil I've found here, in copious amounts in creeks and gorges, is a kind of round worm, it almost unscrews from the rock. Also sometimes shells.

Anyone who says they're not dramatic mountains has not visited Roan Bald. Blue ridges layered up until it seems they must melt into ocean.
posted by joeyh at 1:05 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


Random fun fact: The Appalachian range originated as part of the same geological province as the Welsh valleys (which also have significant coalfields) and the Scottish Highlands.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 1:08 PM on July 16 [20 favorites]


I recognize that rock cut: Sideling Hill on I-68 just west of Hancock, Maryland. I have taken countless naps at the rest area there. There's a pretty good information center there too.
posted by hypnogogue at 1:09 PM on July 16 [12 favorites]


Very interesting. Does this imply that mountain ranges in Scotland and Norway are of similar age?
posted by Phanx at 1:09 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


This article in the Asheville Citizen Times quotes a UNC-Asheville geology professor saying that, yes, the original Appalachian mountains were probably built 350 some odd years ago, but those most certainly completely eroded away and then get rebuilt about 20 million years ago.

"However, recent research suggests that the 300-million-year-old, Pangaean-aged mountains actually eroded away completely," Wilcox said, adding that as a rule of thumb he teaches his students that any mountain chain will erode away in less than 50 million years once mountain building ceases. "Instead, our current Appalachian Mountains were re-uplifted much more recently, on the order of 20 million years ago. The more recent uplift occurred along some of the old Pangaean faults, and of course our mountains still contain the old rocks from the middle of those earlier mountains. If this is the case, then our mountains (and the French Broad and New Rivers that cut through them) are not as old as their reputation suggests."

The key part of that quote, though, is that the newer version of the Appalachian contain the rock of the original version.
posted by NoMich at 1:12 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


I grew up in Virginia, being envious of the big sharp mountains out west.

They're certainly more pointy, but the Appalachians do a lot "better" when you think about them in terms of prominence (height above their surroundings) instead of elevation.

They won't be anywhere near the most prominent mountains in the US -- those are mostly in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Cascades. But Mt. Mitchell, Katahdin, Mt. Washington -- those all have prominences that would be entirely respectable out in the Rockies.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:20 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


i guess this explains that time i was wandering the backwoods of maine, found a strangely noneuclidean door hidden beneath a decaying stump, and then found myself fleeing a horde of winged polyps.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:36 PM on July 16 [16 favorites]


Hiking those mountains - deep into the backcountry - their age is literally visceral, a completely different feeling than one experiences in the raw, jagged, exposed adolescent ranges in the West. They just feel so so old, incomprehensible is surely not an inaccurate description from my considerable times spent exploring their course.

Driving from Marathon, Texas south to Big Bend, - as desolate an 80 miles as I have found in the U.S. - there is a stretch where one can see, if memory serves, to the southeast the weathered, worn los Caballos, improbably formed somewhere around 250 million years ago near the end of the Appalachian upheaval, and to the west ragged pointed peaks formed a "mere" 65 million years ago along with the Rockies. It's the only place I'm aware of where one can see what 200 million years of erosion looks like and imagine the time and forces required to burnish those jagged peaks to the rolling forms of their elders.
posted by thecincinnatikid at 1:36 PM on July 16 [31 favorites]


So those nice vintage mountains you thought you got at the garage sale? Not really so old. Looks original, but it's just a reproduction.
posted by aniola at 1:45 PM on July 16 [14 favorites]


I have an emotional, visceral connection about how a week relates to a year relates to a decade relates to a half-century. Extending that visceral understanding to "the Appalachian mountains are older than fishes or flowers" is work that I haven't done. I think most people haven't.

Geologist here. Have lived near or in the Appalachians for most of my life. I've done the work and I can state with confidence that it's impossible: no human will ever understand a span of time like that as anything more than a number or as a fuzzy flood of awe. Some things are far, far, far too big for our brains to process, and that's as it should be. 480 million years -- and the fullness of what happened in that span of time -- absolutely dwarfs the processing power of any human mind by, oh, I'd guess about five orders of magnitude if I'm feeling generous. I liken it to the electromagnetic wavelengths that are visible to certain organisms like mantis shrimp but not to humans. I understand that there are wavelengths I cannot visually process as colors, but that does not mean I will ever see those colors.

PS, the Taconic was not the first orogeny that occurred where the Appalachians are today. If you ever hike up Old Rag Mountain in Virginia, you may have the good fortune to spot a few chunks of beautiful blue quartzite. Those quartzites are remnants of the Grenville Orogeny, which occurred about 1.1 billion years ago. For context, that was around the same time as the first putative evidence of sexual reproduction in eukaryotes. The Old Rag Quartzites: As Old As Sex.
posted by cubeb at 1:46 PM on July 16 [104 favorites]


Does this imply that mountain ranges in Scotland and Norway are of similar age?

Yep (also the Ordovician takes its name from a Welsh tribe, the Ordovices).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 1:52 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


I'd always heard life was old there. Older than the trees, even. Younger than the mountains, though.

(Not sure what growing like the breeze means, however. Open to interpretation, I guess.)
posted by MrVisible at 1:59 PM on July 16 [15 favorites]


It's a pretty remarkable coincidence that when the country was new, the Appalachians were settled by people from Scotland, where the very same mountain chain continued. When I was younger, I found their settlement a bit more capital-R Romantic, as it appears in Tim O'Brien's myth-trading song "The Mountaineer." But then, of course, the Scotch-Irish had no better right to the land for being downtrodden, and it did not make them any nicer. Still, they are my own ancestors.

I wish I liked mountains better. They unsettle me. They loom; they hedge you in. But then, the first ones I visited were the Smokies, which are Appalachian, and get their name from the constant hovering fog. As a kid, it creeped me out. I would like to think I sensed their vast, Lovecraftian age and responded instinctually, but the fact is that I was a big weiner as a kid. Nonetheless, I retain the opinion.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:09 PM on July 16 [15 favorites]


This was great, thanks
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 2:18 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


The neatest bit in that thread was how the mountains became valleys and vice versa, because the mountains were more easily eroded.
posted by zompist at 2:23 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


I always get the feeling that I am walking on the 'bones of the earth" when I go up to my cottage on the Canadian Shield -- 3 billion years old! The Appalachians are brand spanking new by comparison!
posted by fimbulvetr at 2:31 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


See, you can comprehend it. Not every moment or detail, but you can put it into a frame that makes sense and allows you to compare one thing to another.

Also, pretty mountains.

Also, also have you been listening to Old Gods of Appalachia? There’s some comprehending for you, right there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:49 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Countess Elena, there's at least moderate evidence that agricultural settlers prefer to go to familiar environments, so it's not *that* much of a coincidence. (Out of my hat, even if settlers were randomly settled, wouldn't the people whose new environments matched their old ones be more able to maintain their material culture? Would non-material cultural continuity follow?)
posted by clew at 2:50 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


the Appalachians were settled by people from Scotland, where the very same mountain chain continued.
Lord Beverley granted Scots-Irish settlers land in Augusta County in the 1740s. In Staunton, they named two mountains Betsy Bell and Mary Gray, after two mountains in County Antrim (Wikipedia says County Tyrone) where they had been settled. Those two mountains were named after two women in an old ballad. So, the Scots-Irish took their mountains with them
posted by CCBC at 3:23 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


I recall reading that the Scots-Irish were settled in the Appalachians by the English more or less on purpose as a buffer against the native people in a "let's you and him fight" move. No cite for that, though.
posted by echo target at 3:37 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Also just made the connection between Appalachian mountains shaping Ireland and Scotland, to then have their emigrants shape what we consider Appalachia.

The reasons for Scots Irish coming to Appalachia were numerous - the lure of cheap land (which wasn’t already claimed by a crown, landlord, etc) made it easy to get people to move. I went to college in central PA and now live in Belfast, and the accent overlaps still surprise me at times.
posted by mrzarquon at 4:02 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


The "Scots-Irish" were mostly lowlanders from the "debatable lands" along Hadrian's Wall (or their second or third generation descendants who went to Ireland in the Plantation of Ulster).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 4:21 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I am not Scots-Irish (kind of the opposite, actually) but I adore Shenandoah. I grew up within an hour of Skyline Drive, and went to college in the shadow of Carter Mountain. My favorite memories are just sitting outside with friends with a bottle of cider, watching the sun sneak away and paint the mountains an unworldly blue. One of my college friends got married in this TIIIINY little church in the middle of nowhere, and when I looked it up on Google Maps I was like ???? but then I got there and was like OH.

The Rockies and such are impressive, no doubt, but they have a harshness to them. Whereas the Appalachian Range are mountains that shelter you, like a friendly grandparent who moseys along and always gives you lemon drops from their purse. And then once a year they bust out into this absolutely stunning display that takes your breath away.

James Barbour, 1835:
Let us, the inhabitants of the South-West Mountains, rejoice and be grateful that our benefits greatly preponderate over our ills. And so far as my testimony goes, resulting from actual observation of near one-third of the entire circumference of the earth, I feel no hesitation in declaring that I deem them the most desirable abode I have ever seen.
posted by basalganglia at 4:33 PM on July 16 [9 favorites]


Came to point out the Route 68 road cut, which is one of the very best roadside synclines you can see here or elsewhere, found that I'd been beaten to the punch. :) I live in the Ridge N Valley section of PA and think the mountains are nice.
posted by which_chick at 5:41 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


That comment about no fossils was so confusing! I grew up on Ordovician land and know all those fossils very well! Brachiopods! Crinoids! Trilobites! Coral! [PS- Sometimes I've driven to the Sideling Hill rest area, visited the information center, looked at the roadcut, and then driven back home.]
posted by acrasis at 7:06 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


When the map of the State College showed up, I was like, yep! and I-99 was delayed because of the fool's gold they exposed. The discovered Lincoln Caverns while doing road cuts.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:19 PM on July 16


I wish I liked mountains better. They unsettle me. They loom; they hedge you in.

Being a flatlander, I know what you mean; it's like something always being behind you, and also huge. Makes me jumpy. Driving in mountains is a special hell for my anxiety, which is convinced we will all sail off into space any second and die.

But standing still in the Smoky mountains and listening to the birds among the trees and smelling the utterly fresh air is still a favorite memory of mine, too.
posted by emjaybee at 7:44 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


"If you like this kind of thing, you'll love Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee, Pulitzer for Nonfiction 1999"

This is an AMAZING BOOK that everyone should read, but be warned if you live in the Midwest, it's all like, "So there's a bunch of flat stuff ...? That seems very old ...? Anyway it's hard to dig down that deep so here's some wild speculating that covers everything from the Appalachians to the Rockies, and we will not discuss New Madrid, hope you don't die!"

"Also, despite being a very good journalist, I somehow didn't learn that the Chicago Tribune had to move its printing presses pretty far north, and then sink oak tree piers 30-40 feet into the earth like it's St. Petersburg, Russia, because the presses shook so much that when they were in downtown Chicago, they shook themselves down into the swamp and destroyed the buildings and even up here they need super-deep foundations pushed incomprehensibly far down to find some actual bedrock!"

"the French Broad River. It also meanders through the mountains until it ends up in Tennessee"

This is a great river and you should go to Hot Springs NC along the French Broad!

"I wish I liked mountains better. They unsettle me. They loom; they hedge you in."


Totes. I'm like, HOW CAN I TELL WHAT DIRECTION I'M POINTING WHEN THE SKY IS FULL OF GROUND? I hate being in mountains, it's like wearing a super-uncomfortable shirt that won't let you stretch without wrecking it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]


This is a great river and you should go to Hot Springs NC along the French Broad!

We have! Winters nights in a spa there are great. Hot Springs is also where we hiked (the entire width of) the Appalachian Trail. The ol' AT. That spa never felt so good after that gruelling trek.
posted by NoMich at 8:01 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I'm like, HOW CAN I TELL WHAT DIRECTION I'M POINTING WHEN THE SKY IS FULL OF GROUND?

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinkin'
And you spend your life just thinkin' 'bout how to get away

And the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinkin'
And you spend your life diggin' coal from the bottom of your grave
posted by thecincinnatikid at 8:21 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]


They won't be anywhere near the most prominent mountains in the US -- those are mostly in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Cascades

Death Valley is a short ways east of Mt. Whitney, highest peak in the contiguous states. The Sierras are rather prominent from CA's central valley too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:46 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I've spent the last fifteen years of my life faintly upset at the lack of mountains in the background most of the time. It never occurred to me that other people would find them unsettling.

I really miss the Appalachians.
posted by biogeo at 10:06 PM on July 16 [15 favorites]


I grew up east of the Rockies. I indeed thought the Appalachian rather flat and unspectacular, even though I definitely knew they were flatter due to being older (and being old Was Cool in my kid perspective).

What has never really fit in my perspective is the High Sierra. They jut out of the ground like a rendering error. Or maybe like the foreshortened buildings at Disneyland; at Disneyland my brain knows the buildings are not as high as they seem and there is some forced perspective going on. Near Whitney, my brain assumes those ridiculously tall spires must also be false because no honest mountain would rise that high that fast without even respectable foothills for foreground.

A hike up Whitney (from Whitney Portal) is 6200’ of elevation gain. None of the Colorado 14ers have a standard hike with that much gain— except Pikes Peak which you can drive up. And at least net gain wise the whole of the Appalachian trail gains less elevation.

Oh also how all y’all can find your way around without mountains to your west that you can see anywhere, I will never know.
posted by nat at 12:49 AM on July 17 [7 favorites]


A friend of mine from Jerome, Virginia enlisted in the Navy. He was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base and never could get used to no mountains. He said he felt like somebody was looking over his shoulder all the time.
posted by CCBC at 2:13 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I'm another Mefite with a good bit of Scots-Irish ancestry. I have no idea where exactly in Scotland or Ireland they came from originally or finally, but most of my ancestors ended up in the hollers of Henderson County, NC. Since coming down to the Piedmont, my family has pretty much always vacationed in that general area. I usually don't believe all the "in your blood" nonsense, but I feel more at home in the Appalachians than anywhere else. The ancientness is like a sense, and the streams just keep wearing the mountains down even more. That mica, that shale, they've been there forever from our species' perspective. Just got back from a week up there and plotting when I can go back up (north and a few thousand feet in elevation).
posted by hydropsyche at 7:40 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I'm with biogeo. I love the Appalachians very much.

Whenever I'm on flat land (like Florida or Texas) I feel so EXPOSED. There's just SO MUCH SKY.
posted by Archer25 at 7:59 AM on July 17 [7 favorites]


I'm on the high plains of North Dakota and the big sky/horizon can be utterly overwhelming to some who are used to city dwelling (mountain folks, not so much). There's something so all-encompassing to the sky here, especially when we have summer storms.
posted by Ber at 8:34 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Gondwana has always been at war with Laurentia.
posted by flabdablet at 9:14 AM on July 17 [8 favorites]


he big sky/horizon can be utterly overwhelming to some who are used to city dwelling

I wouldn't put it to city/country so much -- I had that "too much sky" experience when I moved to Denton TX, but I moved to Denton from near-in boonies outside Chapel Hill where the nearest building that wasn't a house or little church was around 5 miles away.

For me it was the trees. I was used to eastern trees. Dallas/Fort Worth is just far enough west that trees start becoming these scraggly little things that struggle to get taller than a two-story house.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:16 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


And I’m the opposite - I’ve lived mostly in Oklahoma and Texas (brief period in NYC) so I’m discombobulated in a place with a lot of trees and hills. I love it; trees and mountains are beautiful and soulful but I have no sense of direction or space when I’m outside of the plains.
posted by double bubble at 9:36 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


When I moved away from Salt Lake City (with its huge mountains in the East), I was like, "how am I supposed to know my directions without the mountains for orientation?
posted by aniola at 10:03 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Oklahoma and I hate the plains. Give me as many mountains and tall trees as you can, please.
posted by fedward at 10:10 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Whenever I'm on flat land (like Florida or Texas) I feel so EXPOSED. There's just SO MUCH SKY.

This, so much this. I grew up in the Southeast, the Piedmont. Hills, ridges, creeks, ravines, pine trees, remnants of hardwood forest. My first trip across the country, when I got to the prairie, I found the absence of trees to be very unnerving. It felt like an owl was about to snatch me up for dinner.
posted by thelonius at 10:42 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I used to strongly dislike the plains because they're so very windy, but I just got a sail recumbent trike (which my partner promptly turned into a sail tandem), so now I'm looking forward to biking through the windy plains.
posted by aniola at 10:46 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I'd always heard life was old there. Older than the trees, even.

It just occurred to me to check and, yeah, the Appalachians were originally uplifted before there were trees.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:43 AM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Totally agree on “Annals of the Former World.” Though there are actually four books that it collects: “In Suspect Terrain,” “Basin and Range,” “Rising from the Plains,” and the final one, “Assembling California,” which was the first I discovered and read.
posted by buffalo at 1:36 PM on July 17


One of the great things about McPhee’s books is how he writes about the system of ‘new’ roadcuts, created by the interstate system, which opened up snapshots of the country’s geology to geologists. Now there are books, guides, that talk about significant roadcuts along certain highways for laypeople driving though.
posted by buffalo at 1:43 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I still got some favorites left today if anyone wants to mention Sideling Hill again.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 3:43 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


It’s a good thread, but “incomprehensibly?” I mean the universe had cycles of star formation and death before the solar system formed, and you’re sweating a half billion years?

If you want to try your brain at comprehending how big a billion is, Tom Scott has you covered in what is in my opinion the most deniably seditious video on the internet.
posted by tigrrrlily at 5:37 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


If you want to try your brain at comprehending how big a billion is

I imagine a football stadium, full with, say, 50,000 fans. Then, just stack up 20,000 of those.
posted by thelonius at 6:35 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Flatlanders vs hill folk: I grew up in the hills then moved to a flat land; when looking for our new home we were given directions to turn right at the top of the hill; after driving about 20 miles we asked directions again .. oh, it's 18 miles back that way ?!?

(Hills: North York Moors; flat: Cambridgshire)

We also lived in the Grampians for a while, another part of the Appalachians. The highest point is now a bit over 3,000 feet in what was once one of the highest ranges in the world way back when. Geologic time is awesome.
posted by anadem at 8:01 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


While we struggle to contemplate the age of the universe, it's really not "old" at all - it's been around 13.8 billion years, sure, but it will endure for perhaps trillions of years yet. We're most likely living in the early days of the universe still.
posted by Acey at 2:36 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I grew up in one of the flattest parts of the Midwest, lived for a while in Wisconsin where I thought I knew what hills were, and then, after moving to Chicago, went on a family vacation to the Cumberland Gap. The memory of seeing those mountains in the early morning light still sustains me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:55 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Also, Last of the Mohicans was nominally set in upstate NY but actually filmed in the Smoky Mountains, and even as a west-coast Sierras and Cascades person I find them deeply beautiful. Ending scene (TWs for graphic violence, torture & self harm).
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Oklahoma and I hate the plains. Give me as many mountains and tall trees as you can, please.

The Arbuckle mountains in Oklahoma are 1.4 billion years old. I don't understand how you can get excited about these young upstart mountain ranges :).
posted by Quonab at 10:04 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I was skimming these comments, misplaced a decimal, and had to check to make sure the Arbuckle mountains were not slightly older (geologically speaking) than the universe.
posted by aniola at 10:36 AM on July 18


The Arbuckle mountains in Oklahoma are 1.4 billion years old. I don't understand how you can get excited about these young upstart mountain ranges :)

Lawn. Off. Get.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


The Arbuckle mountains in Oklahoma are 1.4 billion years old. I don't understand how you can get excited about these young upstart mountain ranges :).

Geologically, it may be impressive; physically, they barely clear 1,400 feet, and in several months of living in OK, I never heard of them. I mean, I might have had a look-see if I knew about them, but I'd have rather seen Black Mesa (not to be confused with this one--or is it?), way out on the fingertip of the Panhandle, and partially resident in New Mexico and Colorado. But the pictures of the Arbuckles do look very pretty.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:08 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


in several months of living in OK, I never heard of them

By way of contrast, there's a good chance that bits of the Hamersley Range are within a few feet of you right this minute.

Lot of iron comes out of there.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 PM on July 18


I once had a whole theory about how religious ethics in mountains/forests depend on human enforcement (because people can sneak off and have secret sex) but religious ethics on the plains/steppes are based off the idea that GOD CAN ALWAYS SEE YOU but probably nobody else can.

Upon research, this idea is mostly crazy, but I remain secretly convinced I can make it work.

Anyway, mountains make me nervous, looming on the edges of my sight like that!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:18 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Weirdly, despite growing up in a hilly place and then moving to an even hillier place, neither deep and forested hollows/canyons nor flat plains (or even flat Florida) bother me. They are each nice in their own way.

Having only experienced old, worn out mountains until I was an adult, it was pretty neat seeing the craggy new mountains out west for the first time, though.
posted by wierdo at 4:42 AM on July 19


And then there's the clouds, which are also very different from region to region.
posted by aniola at 9:31 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


physically, they barely clear 1,400 feet, and in several months of living in OK, I never heard of them.

The Sulphur Springs Reservation on the edge of the Arbuckles was established in 1902 and then as Platt National Park in 1906, only the seventh National Park created. It was for a time the smallest park in the National Park system, until Hot Springs Reservation was reclassified as Hot Springs National Park in 1921. In 1976 Platt National Park and Arbuckle Recreation Area were combined into the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It sees around 1.5 million visitors a year.

I lived in Oklahoma for 27 years and I'd heard of the Arbuckles and the park located there, but I don't think my family ever visited. We tended to stay closer to Tulsa (e.g. Grand Lake O the Cherokees or the former Fountainhead on Lake Eufala) or leave the state entirely.
posted by fedward at 9:42 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I've spent the last fifteen years of my life faintly upset at the lack of mountains in the background most of the time.

It me. After growing up in the Rockies I've always found their absence on my (DC) horizon vaguely unnerving.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:24 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


and you’re sweating a half billion years?

They are pretty mountains.


both my parents were geologists. This is pretty much the small talk I grew up with.
posted by philip-random at 8:03 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


This is fascinating - I go fairly regularly to the Natural History Museum and I had no idea. I also only knew the word "orogeny" from Jemison's Fifth Season books, so it was cool to learn it's actually a real thing.
posted by Mchelly at 8:45 AM on July 21


Please tell me that places where mountains are forming are called "orogenous zones"
posted by secretseasons at 8:49 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


And here I am, sitting on dirt that's barely 10,000 years old like I'm some jerk with no mountains.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:59 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


I wish I'd added in my comments re: Smokies - the smooth, worn shapes of the stones and the river boulders, the coursing sound of the waters overshoes stones in their age-old course, the smells of the ancient soil and the mosses and lichens and endless decomposition in midst of perpetual humidity and frequent downpours that give them their name, the nearly impenetrable walls of laurel and rhododendrons ... everyone who's spent considerable time in those mountains knows exactly the experience I'm referring to. It's an ecosystem that imprints on one's mind its ancient origin.
posted by thecincinnatikid at 5:56 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


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