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The Blue Ridge Mountains began forming during the Silurian Period over 400 million years ago. Approximately 320 million years ago, North America and Europe collided, pushing the Blue Ridges up higher.


The Blue Ridge Mountains consist of a nearly unbroken chain of mountains stretching from Virginia and North Carolina and extending nearly 100 miles into Georgia. They make up the southernmost part of the Appalachian mountain chain, a vast complex of ranges that extends from north Georgia through New England. Most of the rocks that form the Blue Ridge Mountains are ancient granitic charnockites, metamorphosed volcanic formations, and sedimentary limestones. In many places along the Parkway, there are metamorphic rocks (gneiss) with folded bands of light-and dark-colored minerals, which sometimes look like the folds and swirls in a marble cake.

The geology and topography of the Blue Ridge are the results of mountain-building processes that began more than 500 million years ago. The processes include rock folding, faulting, upward thrusting, and a great collision that took place about 320 million years ago between the North American and African continents in a process called plate tectonics. The collision buckled the Earth’s surface and pushed huge masses of rocks westward, causing them to pile up.

For the past 100 million years, erosion has carved away much of the mountains leaving only their cores standing. Erosion continues today and is constantly altering the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rest of the southern Appalachians. The slow, steady forces of wind, water and chemical decomposition have reduced the Blue Ridge from Sierra-like proportions to the low profile of some of the oldest mountains on earth. The almost constant wind that blows across the exposed ridge tops of the mountains plays an important role in the weathering and eroding processes. Summer thunderstorms bring torrents of rain. In the winter, freezing and thawing water in crevices brings occasional rock slides that bear witness to the erosional processes in these mountains.

Geologic resources of the Blue Ridge include copper, gold, marble, talc, and other minerals. Gold was mined at Dahlonega in Lumpkin County, Georgia in the early 1800s; a branch mint there produced gold coins from 1838 to 1861. The bituminous coal fields of western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, southeastern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia contain the sedimentary form of coal.

Citations, “Blue Ridge Mountains”, “Appalachian Mountains”

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