“The story of the White Mountains begins over 400 million years ago when a collision between continents thrust flat-lying rocks into high peaks in the Presidential Range. Other areas of the Whites, including Franconia Ridge, formed later when large volcanoes erupted across the region. At their maximum height, the White Mountains were about 15,000 feet tall—as high as the Rocky Mountains are today, but not as tall as the Himalaya.”
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Gigapan photograph by Jim Surette
To hike the Appalachian Trail is to hike a seam where an ancient ocean once closed, bringing together all the world’s continents into a single landmass. When continents collide, it is analogous to a head-on collision of automobiles: rocks caught up in the wreckage are broken and crumpled into jagged mountains like the folded metal of a car’s front end. By the time Pangea was complete, the Appalachian Mountains stood as the planet’s grandest range, a belt of peaks stretching from Alabama to Newfoundland and even beyond, into mountains across Great Britain and Scandinavia.
The reconstruction of Pangea (below) uses modern political boundaries to view the supercontinent in the context of the world we know today. Strictly speaking, not all of these landmasses existed during the time of Pangea. The positions of many areas are estimated. Graphic by Massimo Pietrobon.