Writer Joseph O'Donnell

Writer Joseph O’Donnell

This is a six-part story of Virginia. It attempts to explain its beginning, how it was formed, and what we know of it today.

The Land

To know Virginia, you must understand the land. Virginia is an agricultural area locked between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Coast. These mountains, and the Appalachian chain just to its west, not only shields the area from the storms coming off the Central Plains, but also irrigates the soil with water and minerals that trickles down the hillsides to enrich the soil.

These mountains are the oldest in North America and once were known to be as high as the Andes of South America. They are older than the Rockies but wind, water, and natural erosion over time have created what we see of them today. Between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian lay what was once called the Great Valley by early settlers. Today we now know it as the Shenandoah Valley.

The Appalachian Mountains are part of the Appalachian Plateau and were unbreachable by the early settlers and helped mark the boundaries of the colonies in the early years of our country. To go back even further in time, we must start in the Paleozoic Era. According to Wikipedia the continent originally straddled the equator and was periodically submerged by shallow seas. During the Middle Ordovician period a neighboring ocean plate collided with our continent and began sinking under it causing it to push up its crust. This new subduction zone gave birth to the early Appalachians. Volcanoes grew and ‘thrust faulting’ uplifted the land and older sedimentary rock rose shaping what we see today.

Erosion began to wear the mountains down and then streams and rivers carried their debris down-slope to be deposited in the lowlands below. With plate tectonics in motion the continent of Africa moved towards the North American plate and other smaller land masses followed until they all formed the singular continent of Pangea, with the Appalachians at its core.

During the Mesozoic Era Pangea began to break up and the Appalachians were eroded to an almost flat plain.  During the following Cenozoic Period, the land was uplifted once again then streams began cutting into the rock forming what we see of them today. The Appalachians span across five mountainous provinces as defined by the USGS. They are the Appalachian Basin, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Piedmont Province, the Adirondack in upstate New York, and the New England Province. To the east of these lay the Coastal Plain bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

The natural erosion from the Blue Ridge Mountains created the fertile fields for the farmlands in Virginia and farming here today would not be as productive without this ongoing process. Early settlers were rewarded by nature’s efforts when they came to this region to begin farming the land. An earlier population of native people left its mark as well and I intend to share their history in the next installation of SNJ.


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