Unusual geographic locations always get my attention

mtnvoicesSome of my happiest times here in the Blue Ridge have been those hours spent locating grassy balds, gorges, sinkholes, boulderfields, wind forests, beech gaps, cove hardwoods, bogs, and the like. I have discovered that the things you truly find — those that mean the most in retrospect — are quite often not what you set out to discover in the first place.


The Eastern Continental Divide along the eastern rim of the Blue Ridge from southwestern Virginia into northeast Georgia marks the point where waters on either side eventually flow into either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. The ECD fascinates me. My interest renewed this summer when I learned that Young Lick Knob along the Appalachian Trail in Georgia is considered to be the southern terminus of the ECD. At this point it becomes a “triple divide:” on the northeastern flank of the Knob waters flow into the Chattooga-Savannah rivers and the Atlantic; on the southeastern flank waters flow into the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola rivers and directly into the Gulf of Mexico; and on the western flank waters flow into the Hiwassee-Tennessee-Ohio-Mississippi rivers and thereby eventually to the Gulf.       

Several years ago in mid-September, my wife, Elizabeth, and I drove to Tray Gap in Georgia and hiked north along the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Tray Mountain. Caught up with anticipation of reaching Young Lick Knob three miles in the distance, I failed to take in the vista from Tray Mountain. All I could think about was “geography.”  

Young Lick Knob wasn’t exactly a bust. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most exciting place on the face of the earth. If you weren’t looking for it armed with maps and guidebooks, you’d pass around Young Lick Knob and never pause.     

On the way back, I started to pay attention again … goldenrod, starry campion, white snakeroot, aster … sphagnum moss glowing emerald green on the damp cliffs … wind in the oaks … American redstarts migrating southward… … just walking with Elizabeth … together again … high above the everyday world. The late evening view from the rock outcrops at Tray Mountain was stupendous. 

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..      

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