Mountains have always captured our imaginations. Their apparent motion skyward, reaching higher and higher has become a metaphor for our own ambitions. We think of scaling a mountain as a momentous achievement. The climb is an epic journey like life which is fraught with danger, but promises exhilaration at the summit.
Mountains result from the collision of plates, as described in the Theory of Plate Tectonics, which revolves around the movement of the earth’s crust atop a liquid mantle. Because these plates are constantly in motion, mountain ranges are common on our planet. Some mountains, like the Rockies of western United States and the Himalayas in south central Asia, are still rising, because the collision which formed them is still taking place. Others are receding, due to erosion. Mountains like the Appalachians, in the eastern US, were once as tall as the Rockies.
What all this means for us is that we can visit mountains on any continent without traveling incredible distances. Mountains, in an ecological sense, are often barriers to the expansion of a species’ range. They present an entirely different environment with extreme challenges for creatures. They were once barriers to Man, as well, but no longer. With air travel and the ability to construct roads and tunnels almost anywhere, mountains have become much more accessible (look at the difficulties faced by the pioneers in 19th century America compared to a cross country road trip today).
Lee and I love mountains. The scenery is often breathtaking; the environment seems much more unspoiled and wild; there is usually abundant wildlife; and the cool, crisp air seems healthier somehow. I particularly love driving in mountain regions because of the hairpin turns and the ever-changing landscape.
Come with me on a tour of some of the mountains we haved visited in our travels. Let’s begin in New England, where what we call mountains are truly just hills. The White Mountains of New Hampshire are, nevertheless, spectacular to visit, especially in the fall, when the leaves are changing color.
The Green Mountains, in Vermont, are equally lovely.
In New York, the Adirondacks feature Lake Placid.
Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, showcases the Blue Ridge Mountains, which overlook the Shenandoah Valley. Visitors can view the interesting scenery from Skyline Drive, one of America’s premier scenic drives.
Further south are the Great Smokies, home of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America. Here, the transpiration from the lush vegetation created a perpetual haze above the forests, hence the “Smokies.”
In the West, the Rockies dominate the landscape, especially in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and California. Glacier National Park, in northern Montana, on the Canadian border, features wonderful vistas.
The Grand Tetons, just south of Yellowstone National Park, a extremely young mountains, hence the jagged peaks and dramatic rise above the land below.
Colorado has Rocky Mountain National Park, with many examples of mountain scenery.
Many of Colorado’s mountains are part of what is known as the Front Range, because these mountains are the beginning of many ranges for the westward traveler. One of the famous mountains in the chain is Pike’s Peak, whose vista inspired the song, “America the Beautiful.”
Yosemite National Park is mountain scenery at its best.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, northern California, reminds us that there are volcanoes interspersed with the mountain ranges of the Western US.
Mount Rainier is another example of a volcano in the Cascade Mountains.
Alaska has numerous mountain ranges, including a coastal range which parallels the Inside Passage.
Juneau is surrounded by mountains on all sides except the sea side, so it is unreachable by road.
Of course, the most significant mountain in Alaska is Mount McKinley, otherwise known as Denali. It is the tallest mountain in North America, but is seldom visible because it creates its own clouds and weather. We were in the vicinity for several days without getting a glimpse. However, we were able to see it from about 60 miles away on the road to Fairbanks.
In British Columbia, mountains seem to be everywhere. Here is the scene just a few miles north of Vancouver, on the Sea to Sky Highway.
The Canadian Rockies, especially around the village of Banff, are positively spectacular.
Look at the jagged peaks which frame the beautiful Moraine Lake.
In Eastern Canada, the mountains are smaller and more rounded, like the Appalachian Chain in the US. These are the “mountains” of Cape Breton, the northernmost section of Nova Scotia.
In South America, there are of course the Andes, which we have not yet visited, but we did see Mount Avila, in Caracas, Venezuela, and impressive sight, overlooking the city.
In Europe, the Alps are the primary mountain range. They are normally associated with Switzerland, but also spill in France, Italy, Austria, and Germany. They brood over Innsbruck
and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany.
The Swiss Alps are spectacular!
In China, look at the mountains across which the Great Wall traverses.