Have You Ever Wondered How the Blue Ridge Mountains Got Their Name?
The Blue Ridge Mountains wind over 500-miles through southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas southward into Georgia. The mountains are named for their long, cool, and comforting shadows of soft blue hues. The blue shadows of the mountains can be seen along the entire length of the mountains and are especially prevalent along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountains are filled with stunted growth oak and hickory forests on the Appalachian or western side, while the eastern side is mostly spruce and fir trees mixed with hardwoods.
The blue hues of the mountains can be seen while driving the parkway, especially through Virginia and the Carolinas. The blue hues give a relaxing and stunning view of the peaks and into the deep valleys. Many have driven the parkway and have often wondered, what makes the mountains blue?
The immediate answer is it must be natural causes. Well, it is, and science gives us the answer to the calming blue hues and how they form. In a 1964 New York Times article, Dr. F.W. Went theorized that the trees of the mountains produce the bluish vapor that hangs on the mountains. The theory was tested by Dr. R. Rasmussen and others sought to prove Dr. West’s theory that ‘molecularly dispersed organic substances derived from plants’ and ‘under the influence of light, this material condenses and produces a blue haze.’
The University of North Carolina TV summarizes the theory and research, writing ‘that the amazing amount of vegetation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, especially the conifers, release what are called Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs are organic chemicals that easily form vapors at normal temperatures and pressures.’ They further write, ‘In the wild and in large numbers, all of those tiny molecules react with natural ozone molecules already in the air to form new particles and scatter blue light from the sun.’ Simply said, it’s the light being scattered through the air created by the forests of the Blue Ridge created the colorful blue hues!