shaded relief map the VirginiaSource: USGS Open-File Report 99-11, shade Shaded Relief Map that the Conterminous united States

Virginia is no flat. Elevation different from sea level in tidewater rivers eastern of the loss Line come the tallest peak, mount Rogers in Grayson County, in ~ 5,729 feet.

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For numerous years, cutting board Jefferson and also other Virginians assumed the highest spot in the colony/state that Virginia to be the Peaks the Otter, in component because level Top and Sharp peak stood the end as distinctive peaks compared to the nearby ridges. Jefferson recognized that the hills in Virginia were short ridges, compared to the tall peaks in south America and also Europe:1 ...our mountains are not solitary and also scattered confusedly over the face of the country; however that castle commence at about 150 miles from the sea-coast, space disposed in ridges one behind another, running nearly parallel v the sea-coast, though fairly approaching it as they development north-eastwardly...

The hills of the Blue ridge, and of this the Peaks of Otter, space thought to be of a higher height, measure up from your base, than any others in our country, and also perhaps in phibìc America. Native data, which may uncovered a bearable conjecture, we expect the highest peak to be about 4000 feet perpendicular, i m sorry is not a fifth part of the height of the mountains of south America, no one one 3rd of the elevation which would certainly be vital in ours latitude to preserve ice in the open up air unmelted through the year.

The ridge of mountains next past the Blue ridge, referred to as by united state the phibìc mountain, is of the biggest extent; because that which reason they were called by the indians the countless mountains.

Flat height Mountain, checked out from the height of spicy Top mountain (Peaks the Otter in Bedford County)

Jefferson hoped the the low height of the Appalachians meant that mountains in the western claims would be equally low. After being elected president in 1800, he sent out Meriwether Lewis and also William Clark on an exploration to find a pathway indigenous the Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean.

If the French principle of "symmetrical geography" was correct, climate the western edge of the north American continent would be a mirror photo of the eastern edge. If Lewis and also Clark found low mountains commencing around 150 mile from the west seacoast, disposed in ridges one behind another, climate American trade courses from the newly-acquired Louisiana are to the Pacific ocean would be basic to develop. (Of course, Lewis and Clark found the Rocky Mountains instead of a mirror picture of the Appalachians.)2

Gov. Francis Nicholson had ravines filled in to develop a flat battle each other of Gloucester Street in the brand-new capital the WilliamsburgSource: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

What is tall sufficient to be dubbed a "mountain" in Virginia? There space no official federal government criteria for distinguishing a "mountain" vs. A "hill." local custom has established place names, normally as europe colonists first settled one area. The us Board of geographic Names prefers to use typical names produced by local residents, so united state Geological inspection maps brand streams together a "run" or "creek" or whatever is the commonly-used term. Paul Larson at southern Utah college has said one criterion because that a topographic standard:3

...the difference between a mountain and a hill is in vegetation changes. If the is high sufficient for upright zonation to happen it is a mountain, however if the exact same vegetation kind covers the whole height of the feature, it is a hill.

moisture in wait masses propelled up by mountains will cool and can condense right into orographic clouds, as at big Meadows top top Skyline DriveSource: national Park Service, Winter in Shenandoah

Today, we recognize that Grayson ar is the "roof" of Virginia, the county with the greatest average elevation and the highest possible peaks in Virginia. Whitetop Mountain appears to be the tallest height for numerous casual observers.4

Whitetop, like the Peaks that Otter, stands contempt apart from various other ridges. The treeless, fully appearance (the white top...) also makes the mountain an ext eye-catching than nearby Mount Rogers, which is much more than 50" taller. If the Fraser firs and red spruces extending Mount Rogers and blocking the see from the top proceed to dice off, climate there"s a opportunity that the highest allude in Virginia will be much easier to recognize.

the three tallest summits in Virginia are situated in Grayson CountySource: us Geological Survey, Whitetop hill 7.5x7.5 topographic quadrangle (2013)

Using the 1:24,000 range topographic maps developed by the united state Geological Survey, we deserve to identify the individual summits in Virginia. A topo quadrangle map that has actually not been updated for 50 years will still have actually accurate key data, even though the indications of land usage (especially limits of urban/suburban development) might be inaccurate.

follow to the geographical Names info System (GNIS), Virginia has about 1,850 features named a "summit" (about 100 over 4,000 feet tall), plus almost 700 documents of a "ridge."

However, height is a family member feature. In Accomack County, the called ridges space low in elevation, but the slight difference in height above the surrounding land is important sufficient to be influence the drainage and to be noticed. Bulls Head in Accomack ar is referred to as a summit - even though the website is simply 2 feet over sea level, and also appear come be an ext of a allude that a summit.5

Popular summits in Shenandoah nationwide Park, such as Old Rag at 3,274 feet, are relatively low compared to mount Rogers. According to the geographical Names details System, there are only two counties in Virginia with called summits exceeding 5,000 feet in height:Grayson County- mountain Rogers (5,729 feet) - Whitetop hill (5,525 feet)- Pine hill (5,525 feet)- Haw Orchard mountain (5,007 feet)Smyth County: - Buzzard rock (5,095 feet)

Bulls Head "summit" in Accomack CountySource: united state Geological inspection (USGS), nationwide Map

Grayson and also Smyth counties, with highest possible elevations in VirginiaSource: NOAA, global Land One-km basic Elevation project (GLOBE) database

At 5,729 feet, mount Rogers is taller than the mile-high city that Denver. However, the mountains in Virginia room not breath-taking peaks, since there is rarely an ext than 2,000 feet the topographic relief in Virginia. "Relief" is the distinction in elevation between the optimal of a mountain and also the bottom of the surrounding valley.

From a distance, the hills in the western says offer a dramatic contrast to the level valleys/plains at their base. The Rocky hills rise countless feet indigenous the great Plains, and Mount Whitney in California provides 14,000 feet of relief in between its optimal vs. Death Valley.6

Tetons in Wyoming (Virginia has no "relief" comparable to the Rocky Mountains...)

Tourism officials make the many of the continuing to be topographic relief in the state, highlighting scenic mountain vistas and also cool summer nights in the mountains. The Appalachian follow is set to follow the ridgelines the Virginia mountains, so the views can be spectacular. (You can s-t-r-e-t-c-h the conventional explanation the Virginia topography a small further. If you think in regards to tectonic plates quite than continents, Virginia could be explained as getting to not simply from sea level, however from the Abyssal level of the deep Atlantic ocean to the optimal of mount Rogers.)

relief the Virginia, indigenous Atlantic ocean to Blue Ridge summitSource: NOAA nationwide Geophysical Data Center

The east side that Virginia, bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and also Atlantic Ocean, is fairly flat. The hills are concentrated on the west side of the state. Why is Virginia not totally flat, or completely mountainous? Virginia is reasonably flat for the same factor that the state has only two natural lakes: after ~ 200 million years of erosion, the land has been worn down. Virginia"s hills were produced as much by erosion together by uplift, and also whatever is at the surface of the land this particular day will end up in the streams.

At one time, 200 million years earlier after Africa had actually collided v North America, Virginia had mountains the would have actually rivaled the Alps or Himalayas. Since then, rain, wind and also gravity have transported the rocks down, down, downhill.

Source: USGS earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, national Elevation Dataset - Shaded Relief Map of Virginia
the brand-new River, often described as the earliest river in Virginia, has sculpted its channel much faster than Cloyds/Brush, Walker/Gap, and also Buckeye/Spruce run mountains have been uplifted through tectonic forcesSource: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

One research showed mean erosion the the bedrock in the Blue Ridge to be 6 meters/million years. At the rate, the Appalachian mountains that to be 6,000 meter (20,000 feet) high about 250 million year ago, after gift thrust up by the collision the Africa and North America, would have actually eroded right into a level peneplain in ~ 100 million years. Obviously there is uplift tho occuring in Virginia and erosion. Otherwise, the contemporary landscape across the state would certainly be as level as in ~ Dismal Swamp.

Since the Appalachian/Alleghanian Orogeny, that uplift is prompted by three forces. The tectonic key is still gift squeezed together it migrates westward, so there is part upward pressure from the drift on continental plates.

There may be currents deep in the mantle, with hotter-than-average rock rising exterior from the core. At the surface, the warm magma pushes the solid crust of the planet upward. The impact is comparable to the method that bubbles rising up from the bottom that a pot of boil water will develop ripples ~ above the surface.

A third factor is isostatic uplift. If you ar a thin wood board on peak of 2 bricks and then place a load in the center, the board will certainly bend downwards remove the weight, and also the board will spring back to a flat horizontal shape in "isostatic rebound." When mountains pushed increase by tectonic or other pressures erode away, the earth"s late rebounds slowly and regional uplift occurs.

Also vital to Virginia topography is the different varieties of bedrock exposed in ~ the surface. Tough metamorphic and also igneous rocks, such together the Catoctin greenstone in Shenandoah national Park, erodes slower 보다 sedimentary limestone and also shale. Massanutten mountain exists due to the fact that there is a tough sandstone class on the eastern and western sides, eroding slower than the limestones and shales in the web page Valley come the east and the Shenandoah sink to the west.7

the southern Fork and the north Fork of the Shenandoah River space carrying far the sediments the erode off Massanutten Mountain, and also etching out valleys on one of two people sideSource: USGS earth Resources Observation and also Science (EROS) Center, nationwide Elevation Dataset - Shaded Relief Map of Virginia

Differential erosion (and some current uplift) has left Virginia some staying minor "ups and also downs" with cliffs and also waterfalls, yet don"t come to Virginia to climb 14,000-foot mountains. Virginia"s see is also old, too eroded, as well worn out. To climb tall peaks, go west where the Rocky mountains are only 65 million years old. The tall mountains and natural lakes in the western states have not to be drained by their outlet streams however - however the time will certainly come as soon as the Rockies are as old as the Appalachians, and the relief will be much less.

Butcher Fork is eroding the ridges in wise County, as watched from Powell valley Overlook on united state 23

The high components of Virginia room still being eroded away; the solid planet is moving. Southwestern Virginia is washing downstream towards the Gulf of Mexico, as the tributaries the the Tennessee River and the brand-new River carve away at the Appalachian Plateau and carry sediments downstream. The tributaries of the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, James, and Roanoke rivers are carrying Virginia"s hills to the Atlantic Ocean.

the hills erode and particles walk to whereby the rivers walk - some to the Gulf that Mexico and also some come the Atlantic OceanSource: Virginia room of Game and also Inland Fisheries (DGIF) Watersheds that Virginia

Rain carries sediments down hillsides into valleys, and also sediments accumulate in the valleys till rivers lug the floor particles additional downstream. The Blue Ridge in Shenandoah nationwide Park is eroding today at around 20 meters per million years. If the is an typical rate due to the fact that the Alleghanian Orogeny 250 million year ago, then 14,000 feet the the hills in Virginia at the finish of the Paleozoic Era could have washed away. Erosion may have been quicker when the hills were higher - various other studies report erosion in ~ 30 meters/million year in the good Smoky Mountains, and also up to 54 meters/million years in the in Susquehanna river basin.8

Today the granite "roots" that those genealogical Appalachians (such as the Vulcan quarry in Occoquan, or the granite rapids in the James river in Richmond) provide the best evidence that the old mountains that as soon as stood top top the east edge the the Piedmont, where traffic now races under I-95.

Virginia"s valleys room eroding now, just as the mountains are attract away and getting lower over time. Rainfall after each storm carries few of Virginia down in the direction of sea level. After ~ every rainstorm, muddy water running off every parking lot of transports sediment downstream come the drain, mimicking the "carry me under to sea level" result of erosion across the state.

One issue debated through geologists: space the mountains and valleys that Virginia in "dynamic equilibrium" and also eroding in ~ the same rate? If Virginia"s mountains are eroding faster than the valleys, climate Virginia will show up to obtain flatter and flatter end time and also relief will disappear, until the state is a flat, topographically boring peneplain.

However, if Virginia"s valleys are being excavated quicker than brand-new sediments are eroding native hillsides and re-filling the valleys, then topographic relief in Virginia will increase as valleys get eroded lower at a rate quicker than surrounding mountains.

Looking towards the Blue Ridge ~ above the western boundary of Fauquier County

Various studies, using different techniques, carry out not administer a basic answer because that all mountain ranges. In some places, the sample is clear. In the Basin and also Range district of Nevada, sediments room accumulating in valleys so fast the hill ranges room being buried - if in the valleys the Vermont, rivers room removing valley sediments at least as quick as the floor is washing down the mountains.

for the central Appalachians, sediments on the continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean administer evidence of boosted erosion in the critical 3-4 million year - yet where walk those sediments come from? Climate changes during the Quaternary Era (including multiple ice ages) may have increased removed of valley sediments quicker than mountain slopes eroded. If the is the case, then the topographic relief in between valley floors and mountain top increased, and also it would show up the mountains of Virginia have grown an ext impressive.9

the such as mountain topography the southwestern Virginia resulted in tourist attractions such as Cascades on little Stony Creek (Giles County)

despite Virginia"s topographic relief is not good compared come the western joined States, the Blue Ridge and also the Appalachians still influenced the travel routes of the native Americans and also served as a barrier to European negotiation in the 1700"s. The physical geography helped shape the limits of social regions and county boundaries, and also of food the path of canals, railroads, and modern-day highways.

Interstate highways were developed through 3 gaps in the Blue Ridge: I-77 goes through an intricate Gap, I-64 with Afton Gap, and also I-66 through Thoroughfare gap (yellow circle) and also Manassas gap (red circle)Source: USGS planet Resources Observation and also Science (EROS) Center, nationwide Elevation Dataset - Shaded Relief Map the Virginia

to minimize topographic relief ("grade"), the Orange and Alexandria rail bypassed county seat in Fairfax and also Prince William and also built a branch heat in Fauquier CountySource: Library of Congress, central Virginia: showing Lieut. Gen"l. U.S. Grant"s campaign and also marches that the militaries under his command in 1864-5 (US battle Department. Engineer Bureau, between 1864 and also 1869)

I-77 cuts through the hills in Bland County

the big Walker mountain tunnel ~ above I-77 in Bland County

Eastern Virginia is for this reason flat, the European settlers who arrived on the Atlantic coast were may be to migrate westward with couple of physical borders for 100 years - until they got to the Blue Ridge.

The 1,000-foot rise up with the gaps in the Blue Ridge to be a far-reaching barrier to take trip from east Virginia right into the Shenandoah Valley. Till the 1900"s, most vehicles struggling up the hill roads were one-horsepower wagons.

immigrants moving west indigenous the Chesapeake Bay had actually to climb up/over the Blue Ridge

In contrast, European inhabitants coming indigenous the Philadelphia an ar could accessibility the Shenandoah Valley with an much easier route, there is no the mountain climb. Starting in the 1730"s, the Pennsylvania "Dutch" in addition to the Scotch-Irish moved right into the Shenandoah sink from the north. Today, the Amish, Mennonites, and Dunkers in Virginia space still concentrated west the the Blue Ridge, reflecting that historic migration in the mid-1700"s.

The europeans who first settled in the Shenandoah valley were different from the europe who very first settled in Tidewater. Differences in farming crops, the extent of slavery, and also even the shape of the barns between Tidewater and also the Shenandoah Valley have the right to be traced earlier to the initial settlement pattern, and that pattern was shaped by the topography; over there is a clear link between physical and social geography.

topography promoted immigration of Pennsylvania "Dutch" (German) immigrants to the Shenandoah ValleySource: global Land One-km basic Elevation (GLOBE) Project

In the last 400 years, farmers have actually leveled fields by removing humps the soil and also filling short swales to simplify tilling for wheat, corn, and other heat crops. Homeowners have actually done the same to grow turfgrass, without having actually low spots in the lawn that assistance weeds. Designers of roads, ballfields, and also landfills very carefully reshape the local topography to drainpipe water indigenous the facility to the sides, and urban designers have developed a facility pattern the storm drains to lug rainwater far from structures.

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the construction Demolition and also Debris landfill at Lorton (Fairfax County) topped the end at 410 feet in elevationSource: Fairfax County, Lorton CDD Landfill Closure

Quarries and also landfills are usual revisions that Virginia topography. Many quarries excavated prior to the last century have actually been re-filled, leaving little evidence of their previous use. Over there is a Quarry roadway in the City the Manassas, but no quarry today. Modern quarries are likely to be repurposed together lakes. Both Loudoun and Fairfax counties have actually arranged for quarries to it is in converted into water banks, storing drink water that will certainly be needed in a drought.

since the polite War, the forest has regrown end the historical quarry at Thoroughfare void in west Prince william County

Mining the kyanite in ~ Willis Mountain has actually transformed it. Across the Appalachian Plateau, mountaintop removed for strip mining coal has adjusted the topography even much more dramatically.

Transportation Tunnels in Virginia

strip mining charcoal by mountaintop removal has actually reshaped the topography the the Appalachian Plateau in Southwestern VirginiaSource: GoogleMaps


Mount Rogers ar Trip (Radford college Geology ar School)US Geological inspection (USGS)

Virginia county limits in 1732 present there still were no arranged political devices west of the Blue RidgeSource: Newman Library - Atlas of historic County Boundaries

Fort Valley between the exposed flanks of the Massanutten mountain syncline,in the Shenandoah Valley in between the Blue Ridge and also West Virginia(can you identify where the forks of the Shenandoah river merge, after flowing northward ~ above either next of Massanutten?)

erosion + time = topographic relief

looking native Butt mountain towards the Narrows in Giles County

Virginia has actually mountains and also valleys with greater relief than states in the mid-continent, however more-recent tectonic pressures have uplifted the Rocky mountains to develop peaks end 14,000 feet highSource: nationwide Oceanic and also Atmospheric Administration, GLOBE: A collection of High Resolution pictures


1. Thomas Jefferson,, Notes top top the State the Virginia, "Query 4 "Mountains" A notice on the Mountains?," http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/JefVirg.html; "Peaks of Otter," Monticello website, http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/peaks-otter (last confirm August 30, 2011)2. "An Easy communication Betwixt the flow Meschacebe and the south Sea," in the Lewis and also Clark: The Maps the Exploration, 1507-1814 exhibit at the university of Virginia, http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/lewis_clark/easy_comm.html (last checked September 2, 2011)3. "Domestic names - frequently Asked inquiries (FAQs)," plank of geographic Names, http://geonames.usgs.gov/domestic/faqs.htm (last checked September 2, 2011); Larson, Paul, ~ above Geography Education listserver GEOGED