The Ridge and Valley physiographic province, a geographic region, is characterized by intermittent high ridges and deep valleys. It is located between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Front and extends for 1,200 miles from the St. Lawrence Valley to central Alabama. It is a part of the Appalachian Mountains, and covers about a fifth of our state, including all of five counties and parts of seven others in eastern West Virginia.
More than 200 million years ago, at the end of the Paleozoic Era, ancient igneous and metamorphic rock moved northwestward, creating linear folds in the younger sedimentary formations of the Ridge and Valley province. Narrow, steep, and sharp crested ridges developed, from 2,000 feet to 4,800 feet high. A typical example of the tight linear folds are the 12 mountain ranges encountered along a 38-mile straight line from Capon Springs, Hampshire County, to New Creek, Mineral County. Many of the ridges in the Eastern Panhandle, particularly in Pendleton County, are topped by peaks, known as knobs, that extend several hundred feet above the prevailing ridge tops. These include High Knob, 3,287 feet; Panther Knob, 4,508 feet; and Brushy Knob, 2,800 feet.
The valleys are eroded in many instances from 500 to 1,800 feet below the ridge tops, into the weaker limestone and shale formations. Caves, sinkholes, and underground streams such as Lost River in Hardy County are evidence of limestone. Springs are ubiquitous in the Ridge and Valley province, and none is more renowned than White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County. The most famous valley is the Shenandoah, located in part in Jefferson County, one of the world’s longest mountain valleys and a great north-south natural highway from early times to the present.
Master streams such as the South Branch of the Potomac and the Cacapon, Shenandoah, Greenbrier, and Bluestone rivers have incised their meanders in the valleys. These and their tributaries cross ridges through water gaps, coming together at nearly right angles to produce a trellis-like drainage pattern. The valleys with their gently rolling surfaces and limestone soils have been devoted to farming since the first settlements, and counties of the Ridge and Valley Province currently generate three-fourths of the value of agricultural products of West Virginia. The ridges covered with regrowth forest of spruce, pine, and northern hardwood figure prominently in the state’s forest industries. And the natural features are combined in such a way as to produce one of America’s most scenic regions.
This Article was written by Howard G. Adkins
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Fenneman, Nevin M. Physiography of Eastern U.S.. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1938.
West Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer. Yarmouth, ME: Delorme, 1997.
United States Geological Survey Maps, Scale 1:250,000. Baltimore, Bluefield, Charleston, Charlottesville & Cumberland quadrangles.