There is something mystical about the Blue Ridge Mountains, a special kind of energy that percolates in the air when one sees the rolling dark green mountains with a tint of blue enveloping the surroundings. It’s captivating and rejuvenating at the same time. And, of course, just like any visitors, we wonder what that translucent blue hue that surrounds the mountains is? What makes Blue Ridge Mountains blue?

In the Native American culture, mountains have a special place. They are believed to have an important role to play in renewing and sustaining indigenous communities and cultures around the world. They give fresh water to all living organisms - from plants to animals and humans. They are also home to many animal and bird species, thus creating a unique ecosystem that balances our environment. The towering mountains have the power to influence the weather patterns; no wonder they are seldom called ‘rainmakers and rain takers’ since rising air cools down as it moves up and over the mountains forming clouds and precipitations. Mountains are generally formed when two plates of the earth’s crust collide together, pushing one beneath the other. This feature allows them to become natural boundaries for countries.

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History Of The Blue Ridge Mountains

The magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains stretch across the eastern side of the United States. They are the go-to place, especially during autumn, when many take the 574-mile scenic route through the Blue Ridge Mountains to bask in the kaleidoscopic landscape of the region. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a famous National Parkway lauded for its scenic route. It is the longest linear park that winds down through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Many visitors come here to marvel at the 1 billion years old the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form part of the Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. Blue Ridge Province extends through eight different states, such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. It is usually classified as the oldest mountain in the world. Interestingly, the tallest mountain in this system is no other than Mount Mitchell, nestled in North Carolina, rising at 6,684 feet high, while Brasstown Bald makes the tallest peak at 4,784 feet above sea level in Georgia, located 30 minutes from downtown Blue Ridge.

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Thanks to its moderate climate and its timeless beauty, the Cherokee Indians lived here about 12,000 years ago. The environment was simply well suited for the indigenous people to settle down. With the abundance of food and water, the Native Americans hunted and farmed in the meandering valleys and mountains they called ‘Sa-Koh-Na-Gas,’ which somehow can be translated to ‘the land of the blue smoke. In the Blue Ridge in Virginia lived the Siouxan Manhouacs, Iroquois, and Shawnee, while the Cherokee Indians lived in the Blue Ridge, which is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The same blue hue has attracted famous historical personalities such as Thomas Jefferson, who once took the scenic parkway. Unfortunately, the Native Indians had to abandon their home to live on the Trail of Tears.

According to historian Lella Smith, there were gypsies who took the path through the mountains with their mules or horses and painted wagons. Occasionally the mountains were also a site for civil war skirmishes. There are also some sites in the mountains that were once used as ‘dancing grounds’ where the native people would gather to dance in the moonlight. There are some sites that have spiritual significance to the indigenous people. For instance, when Andrew Jackson, former President of the United States between 1829 and 1837, ordered the implementation of the Indian Removal Act in May 1830, whereby Cherokee villages were burned, forcing the inhabitants to move to Oklahoma, there was Wallace Black Elk, a medicine man (a traditional Lakota Elder and spiritual interpreter) who requested to conduct medicine ceremonies at the Oak Grove.

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What Makes The Blue Ridge Mountains Blue?

Apart from the majestic landscape of the old Blue Ridge Mountain, there is the iconic blue haze that wraps the mountains, making it very special and captivating to visitors. It’s of no surprise why the native inhabitants would call it ‘the land of the blue smoke. Jonathan Horton, an associate professor of biology at the University of North Carolina who holds a doctorate in forestry, claimed that the mystery of the blue haze lies in the trees in the mountains. These trees have a defense mechanism; especially during summer, they tend to protect themselves from the stress of the excess heat by releasing a scent, a hydrocarbon called isoprene. Isoprene molecules released in the air are interacted with other molecules in the atmosphere to create that distinctive blue haze that we all get to see. In fact, we perceive blue color due to the light rays that are scattered on the earth. The light reaching our eyes has a high ratio of short, and since blue wavelengths have smaller waves, we find it easy to detect blue thanks to our eye receptors.