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Geography of the Appalachian Plateau Region of Georgia

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Georgia can be divided into five distinct regions. In this lesson, we're going to check out a region that's not too big but still has quite a lot to offer as far as geographic diversity goes.

The Appalachian Plateau Region of Georgia

When you ask people to describe the things that immediately come to mind when they hear the word ''Georgia,'' you're likely to get responses about barbecue, beaches, barbecue, Southern history, barbecue, Georgia pines, and quite possibly, barbecue. However, any resident of Georgia can tell you that it would be a huge mistake not to include geographic diversity on this list as well.

Georgia can be divided into five distinct geographic/ecological regions, each with something unique to offer. One of these regions is the Appalachian Plateau. Located in the northwest corner of the state, the Appalachian Plateau is the smallest of Georgia's five regions, but it's also widely considered to be among the most scenic. Let's take a look and see what's so great about Georgia's barbecue--I mean, Appalachian Plateau.

The History of the Appalachian Plateau

To start, we have to understand the Appalachian Plateau is not a feature unique to Georgia. In fact, it's one of the largest geographic features east of the Mississippi, stretching from New York to Alabama. So, what exactly is it? The Appalachian Plateau is a high-elevation region, relatively flat, which marks the western boundary of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Appalachian Plateau region occupies a small corner of northwest Georgia.
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The plateau was created much as the Appalachians themselves, formed by the deposit of sediments into a shallow sea millions and millions of years ago. The rocks in the plateau are almost entirely sedimentary, notably limestone and shale, created between the Cambrian and Pennsylvanian period of geologic history (roughly 540-300 million years ago). Later tectonic movement caused the uplift that turned a shallow sea into a massive mountain range, which is actually one of the oldest surviving ranges on earth.

This uplift folded and twisted the rocks, giving the Appalachian Mountains their distinctive shapes and peaks. However, the western edge of this formation was uplifted a bit less traumatically. The Appalachian Plateau region was created with the mountains, but the deformation was much less severe. Instead of substantial folds and vaults, a relatively flat plateau was formed, stretching nearly the length of the Appalachian Mountains themselves.

The Look and Feel of the Plateau

The Appalachian Plateau stretches across the United States, with only the very bottom edge of it piercing the modern state of Georgia. Still, this region has become important to the state. So, what does the Appalachian Plateau look like in Georgia?

On one hand, you've got a series of prominent flat-top mountains that make up the Plateau. The most notable of these are Sand, Lookout, and Pigeon mountains. Cutting between them, however, are a series of valleys that have been carved into the plateau. These include Lookout Valley, McClemore Cove, Wills Valley, Cloudland Canyon, and Sequatchie Valley, which is the longest of them all and stretches into Alabama and Tennessee. These valleys have fertile soil and lots of moisture (even if they don't have too many notable rivers), and are home to lush forests and abundant wildlife.

The region is defined by high plateaus cut by winding valleys.
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More Geological Features

The Appalachian Plateau region contains a few other notable geological features as well. For one, much of the bottom of the plateau is made of limestone. Limestone, when submerged in groundwater for millennia, erodes due to natural acidity in the water. The result is a maze of intricate caves that weave throughout the region. Some of them can be pretty impressive.

On the top of the plateau, there's an equally impressive but very different situation. These rocks (mostly sandstone) are more resistant to weathering than limestone. So, there are no caves. Instead, you've got large boulders in odd shapes that are distributed in bizarre patterns. We call these rock towns, and they're pretty cool to see. Geologists think these rock towns formed because of shale intermixed with the sandstone. As the sandstone weathered and broke apart into large blocks, these blocks shifted on the unstable shale and slid away from each other, creating a truly unique boulder field. The best place to see one of these features in Georgia is probably on the crest of Pigeon Mountain.

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