"The Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go..." - John Muir

I find myself thinking the same thing as I drive to work every morning - "Screw you, North Carolina! How dare you be so beautiful?" I say this with love of course. I mean it too. My daily commute takes me through the Cowee Mountains, which represent only the tiniest fraction of the giant fold in the continent that we collectively refer to as the "Appalachian Mountains." Driving between these forested peaks, it feels as if time stands still. They are a stark and constant reminder of just how small and insignificant our time on this planet really is. 

What so few realize is that these mountains are some of the oldest on Earth. They are the collective result of some serious geology. Between 325 million and 260 million years ago, Africa slammed into North America (though it wasn't the continent we know today) causing massive upheaval of the crust. This was also the birth of the super-continent Pangea. The resulting upheaval produced a mountain chain similar in size to the present day Himalayas (think Mt. Everest). They have been steadily eroding ever since. 

Today, the highest peaks reach somewhere in the 6,000 feet (1,800 m) range. Despite this reduction in size, the Appalachian Mountains have nonetheless been a major driver in the ecology of eastern North America. They have served as refugia for species escaping glaciation, they act as corridors for migration, and they even produce their own climate. They may not be the snow capped mountains of the American West but they have a uniqueness all their own. There aren't many places in this world in which one can explore broadleaf deciduous forests at elevation. If I could end up here I think I would die a happy man. For now, I am spending every free moment absorbing the beauty and splendor of this place. It is going to be hard to leave...