Southern Blue Ridge Provinces

Southern Blue Ridge Province: Geographic Location & Influences


The Appalachians — Created between 300 and 250 million years ago as a result of periods of mountain building brought about when the North American continental plate collided with the plates forming the European and African continents — extend some 2,000 miles from Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula to north Georgia and Alabama.  they have been described as “The most elegant mountain range in the world.

The Southern Appalachians can be defined as the ranges south of the point in northeastern Pennsylvania to which glacial ice sheets extended at the height of the Wisconsin epoch 18,000 years ago.  THat region consists of four geographic provinces:  Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, and Plateau.  The Blue RIdge is by far the most significant in regard to mountainous terrain.

The Blue Ridge Province of the Southern Appalachians extends from just south of Harrisburg PA to the hills of north Georgia just north of Atlanta, encompassing mountainous portions of southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, east Tennessee, northwest South Carolina, and north Georgia.  The Blue Ridge can be divided into northern and southern provinces, with the Southern Blue RIdge Province (SBRP) consisting of the terrain south of Mt. Rogers in southwestern Virginia to Mt. Oglethorpe in north Georgia.

The eastern front or escarpment of th SBRP is clearly defined from Virginia into South Carolina. On its western front the SBRP consists of the Unaka, Great Smoky, Unocoi, and other massive ranges.  Connecting the eastern and western fronts are transverse ranges:  Blacks, Great Craggies, Great Balsams, Nantahalas, and many others.  THe Appalachian system as a whole reaches its greatest elevation, largest mass, and most rugged topography in the SBRP where 125 peaks rise 5,000 feet or more, with 49 of them surpassing 6,000 feet. (From Mt. Rogers in Virginia northward to the Gaspe Peninsula only Mt. Washington in New Hampshire exceed 6,000 feet.)

This topography profoundly influences the region’s average temperature (and thereby its plant and animal life, which exhibit strong northern affinities).  The principle of verticality states that for each 1,000 feet gained in elevation the mean temperature decreases about 4-degrees F, equivalent to a change of 250 miles in latitude.  (This means that if you travel from the lowest elevations in the SBRP at about 1,000 feet to the higher elevation above 6,000 feet, it’s the equivalent of traveling more than 1,200 miles northward in regard to the habitats you will encounter.)

The SBRP is situated where winds bringing saturated air masses from the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Coastal Plain are cooled and lose much of their content.  (Air cools while rising to pass over a mountain range and can hold less moisture than warm air; therefore, heavy condensation occurs when large fronts first encounter massive ranges, as is the instance along the Blue Ridge divide.)  The heaviest rainfall in the entire Appalachian region occurs along the GA-NC-SC borders, resulting in annual rainfalls of over 90 inches in many area. (As much as 145 inches have been recorded with regularity since 1935 along the GA-NC line by the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab located near Otto, NC). Taking this into consideration, some professional observers now refer to the area as a temperate rain forest. The higher elevations of the SBRP can be thought of as a peninsula of northern terrain extending into the southeastern US where typical flora and fauna of northeastern and southeastern North America flourish. The region features approximately 1,500 vascular plants (man of which are considered to be showy wildflowers) and 125 species of trees (in all of Europe there are only about 75 species).

–George Ellison, Bryson City, NC





Bad Fork
Photograph and Copyright Barbara Mattio 2017

Geography of Place

I’ve lived in Western North Carolina now for three years, and have kind of gotten a feel for Asheville and Greenville and Hendersonville; of the falls and some of the mountains around my home area.  But I’ve taken several literary classes this year that have dealt with the literary and geographic aspects of Western North Carolina and I have found that I am now spreading my wings, so to speak, and developing a wider expanse of this place I now call Home.

I am enjoying discovering the richness of the mountains, the culture, the lore, the music, in addition to the fresh air and sunshine that I have been enjoying since I moved here.  I have been honored to meet some of the great literary authors of Western North Carolina, and that and their writing has made this a year of openings and beginnings and new experiences.

I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I am just east of the Great Smoky Mountains.  I know the history of how these mountains became part of the National Park System and the highs and lows of building that system.

I know the thrill of opening up my blinds every morning and looking out at the French Broad River; of seeing it flowing past, and thinking “I am so lucky to be here”.  Quite frankly, a day never goes by that I don’t drive somewhere, look up to see the mountains and think, “I live in a picture postcard”.

This is a poem written by George Ellison, who is a prolific writer and journalist in Western North Carolina.  He lives here with his wife Elizabeth, who is an illustrator and artist, and he has loved these mountains for the last 40 years.  He dedicates this poem to their granddaughter Daisy Ellison:


When Salamanders Sing

When water and stone whisper

of faraway places with no name

of clear springs and dark pools

of currents that swirl and fade

of leaves blinking in the wind

and of surfaces dimpling as droplets

descend from the blue-green high country

heralding the steady rain in which sloe-eyed salamanders

bedecked like clowns in silver mottles or yellow polka dots

bedecked like ladies sporting regal chevrons and crimson checks

bedecked like warriors with lightning down their backs

will emerge from dank burrows and fallen logs

and mica-flaked crevasses in nearby cliffs

to sing the farewell song they always sing

for those who have become their friend

–George Ellison

(from Permanent Camp)


Walking up the Cowee Mound Photograph and Copyright Barbara Mattio 2018


Towards the Cowee Mound Photograph and Copyright Barbara Mattio 2018


Country Church, Western North Carolina, near Cowee Photograph and Copyright Barbara Mattio 2018