Friday, September 23, 2016

These Old Mountains

As my Artist-in-Residence in the Great Smoky Mountains begins for the fall of 2016, I thought that a brief introduction to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in order. The park is the star and provides the setting for my camera as summer transitions to fall. As an introduction,  I will start with an abridged description of park geology. This may seem mundane, but it is the geology along with the climate that has shaped the natural and human history within the park and made the Great Smoky Mountains as it is today.

The story of the Smoky Mountains begins approximately 200-300 million years ago when tectonic forces lifted these mountains. These are some of the oldest mountains on earth, and at one time the Smoky Mountains resembled the rugged Rocky Mountains. Millions of years of erosion have whittled down the Smoky Mountains.  It is nearly incomprehensible to imagine that mountains can be laid low by simple everyday forces of precipitation, freezing and thawing, but the aggregation of almost imperceptible erosion over 200 million years wears down even the loftiest of mountains.

The land forms resulting from these geologic forces are the foundation for all life in the park, and as well the incredible biodiversity. The Smoky Mountains were not significantly impacted by glaciers in the last ice age 10,000 years ago. As the glaciers pressed south, many plants and animals retreated from the glaciers and found refuge within the park. Many northern species have persisted in cooler climates at the highest elevations or in other cool micro climates. Elevation differences create  climatic zones which mimic the zones typically found on a traverse from south to north. These zones are compacted within the park from the lowest elevation of 875 feet to the highest at 6,643 feet (Clingman's Dome). These diverse climatic zones as well as the smaller scale climatic variations provide habitat for the more than 10,000 identified species (tens of thousands of additional species are thought to exist here).

Although it will not be readily apparent,  my photos of scenes and life in these old mountains will be  the result of the nearly invisible hand of relentless geologic forces for hundreds of millions of years.