The view across the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau from Satulah Mountain

 High Falls, one of the book’s featured Special Places

Panthertown Valley, home to more than a dozen featured Special Places

About Whence These Special  Places?


Cashiers, Highlands and Panthertown Valley are part of a high-elevation area known as the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. Located in southwestern North Carolina, the Plateau is unique not just for its elevation, but also for its soaring walls of bare rock, numerous waterfalls, and grand vistas. Whence These Special Places? explores the geology that has produced this special area at this particular point in the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history.

While solidly grounded in science, the book is written for the non-scientist, using everyday language and concepts. Its large format was chosen to better display over 100 photographs, each selected both for its beauty and its power in explaining the geology.

It is difficult to live on or visit the Plateau without wondering about its physical features — Why are its valleys so high (and the roads up to them so steep and curvy)?  Why do Dry, Bridal Veil and Schoolhouse Falls have sheer drops, while Granny Burrell and Warden’s Falls are smoothly rounded?  How did those great rock walls come to be? Why does Whiteside Mountain have a different shape than Bald Rock, and why is Rock Mountain rounded while its close neighbor Chimneytop has a pointy summit?

To explore these questions, Whence These Special Places? opens by discussing 500 million years of geologic processes that have produced the broader area we call the Blue Ridge. As the narrative comes forward, it focuses on processes that make the Plateau unique, including its numerous plutonic intrusions and the erosion patterns that have shaped the modern landscape.

The second half of the book is devoted to applying the principles thus developed to more than 60 individual Special Places — the mountains, waterfalls and other features that have been known and loved by generations of the Plateau’s settlers, residents and visitors. In each case, the author identifies the underlying geology that makes a particular feature similar to or different from its neighbors. The discussion is informed not just by more than a century of academic work by dedicated geologists, but also by the author’s personal field trips to each feature. In a number of cases, his field work identified previously unmapped geologic relationships that he believes are important in understanding the nature and shape of particular Special Places.

Whence These Special Places? will serve in different ways for different readers at different times. It is a highly readable treatise on the geology of the Blue Ridge and the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. It is also a field guide that will enrich visits to the Plateau’s waterfalls and mountain trails. And when at rest between such uses, it will serve as a photographic compendium of the region’s spectacular natural features, suitable for the coffee table of any mountain home.