Or: Montreal to Montgomery
A 20-mile or so wide lowland running 2000 miles (3200 km) down the middle of
the Appalachian region in eastern North America.
The Valley is considered the easternmost feature of the Ridge and Valley Province. There may be a graben or an aborted rift valley lying underneath of it, and parts of the north may have been gouged out by glaciers, but
the valley exists today because the rocks that once filled it were less
resistant than the mountains to either side.
As you travel up the Richelieu River in the Eastern Townships of
Quebec, you will eventually see the northern Green Mountains
rising on the left. By the time you reach the northern border of the United
States, you will also see mountans ahaead to your right -- these are the
Adirondacks. Between the two is a lowland filled by Lake Champlain;
you are in the Great Valley.
Driving down the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) you follow
the Valley through Plattsburgh, New York along the western shore of Lake Champlain for awhile, but the Northway goes up
into the Adirondacks and you must take New York State Highway 22 to stay
in the lowland. Past Fort Ticonderoga, site of the first American victory during the Revolutionary War, and avoiding Lake George, you follow
an even smaller road down the shore of Lake Champlain until you finally
hit US Highway 4, which takes you south, parallel to the Champlain Canal,
to Hudson Falls. You are now in the upper Hudson River
You can jump back over to the Northway to visit Saratoga Springs, site of Benedict Arnold's important 1777 victory over the British, and also a Gilded Age retreat for the wealthy. You might also follow US 4 along the Hudson.
Whichever way you take eventually brings you to Albany. South of Albany, you might take the New York State Thruway on the western shore of the Hudson, or jump over to Troy and take
US Highway 9 on the eastern shore. The lowland here is bordered on the
west by the Catskill Mountains, or rather their Shawangunk foothills,
and on the east by the Taconic Mountains. Enjoy Poughkeepsie and dream of Washington Irving stories if you like, but the Hudson flows out of the valley as the valley bends to the southwest. To stay in the
lowland, you turn west at Newburgh, perhaps following
Interstate 84 over to Middletown. South of Middletown,
you get on a small state highway (284) to stay between Shawangunk
Mountain on the north and Scunemunk Mountain (a southwestern extension
of the Green Mountains) on the south.
As you enter northwestern New Jersey, Shawangunk gives way
to Kittatinny Mountain and Scunemunk to the New Jersey Highland, partially
a continuation of the Green Mountains and partially the nothernmost extreme
of the Piedmont Province. You go through places like Sussex,
Ross, and Newton. Taking New Jersey 94 southwest out of Newton,
you will see Kitattinny Mountain (on the right) break. This is the Delaware
Water Gap, with the Delaware River flowing southeast across it. You will
hit the Delaware River a few miles ot the south of the Gap, but a short
side trip up Interstate 84 to the state park there won't hurt.
Crossing the Delaware into Pennsylvania at Portland,
you see that the valley bends somewhat to the west. You might as well follow
the Delaware along Pennsylvania 611 to Easton, where you can take US
Highway 22 past the abandoned steel mills of Bethlehem
(once a religious retreat) and Allentown, with Kittatinny
Mountain looming to the north and the Reading Prong, the last gasp of
the Green Mountains, to the south. As you travel west, US 22 merges
with Interstate 78, and German names start to appear:
Hamburg, Strausstown, Schubert. This is, after all, the Lehigh Valley,
heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country; dairy farms abound, as well has
hay farms to feed the cows. Interstate 78 eventually hits interstate 81,
taking us into Harrisburg.
Interstate 81 will be your route for much of the remainder of the trip.
It follows the valley as it bends south, but west of Harrisburg, you are
now in the Cumberland Valley, with Blue Mountain to the northwest and
South Mountain to the southeast. Go past Carlisle
and Chambersburg down into Maryland. During
the Colonial Period, Pennsylvania Dutch and Scotch-Irish settlers followed
the same route you are taking to promises of a better life in the South
and West. Their only highway, however, was the valley!
The Great Valley spends only a brief time in Maryland.
The Catoctin Mountains are on the east; Fairview Mountain is on the
west. Follow Interstate 81 to Hagerstown, but get off
to follow Maryland 65 through Sharpsburg, site of the
bloody Civil War Battle of Antietam, finally crossing
the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry, scene of the
confrontation between John Brown and the US Government (in the person
of Robert E. Lee).
Although this is the Shenandoah River Valley, you will be in West
Virginia for a very short time (despite any songs you may have heard). Take US Highway 340 out of Harpers
Ferry, past Charles Town and its racetrack.
You will soon enter Virginia, passing through Berryville, missing Winchester and eventually
reaching the "inland port" of Front Royal. the
south Branch Mountains lie to the northwest, and the Blue Ridge lies
to hte southeast. Continue on 340 or take Interstate 66 west back
to I-81 south. This isn't so much a "valley" here as a place where
the ridges of the Ridge and Valley Province aren't quite so high.
As you head south towards Luray and Harrisonburg,
the valley flattens out again. Recall the bloody campaigns
of Stonewall Jackson and the later bloody campaigns of Philip Sheridan
for control of this valley. Past Staunton and Lexington, the valley narrows a bit, but eventually you will reach Roanoke. Peters Mountain now lies to the north. When you finally get to Christiansburg, you have entered the Mississippi River drainage basin.
Passing Radford and eventually Pulaski (pronounced
'pyoo-lasskey') the valley rises, again becoming less a valley and more
a less-mounjtainous area. Mount Rogers lies to the southeast, and
Walker Mountain to the northwest. Another hour gets us to Bristol.
Crossing into Tennessee, the valley widens and flattens again.
Follow the Holston River as the Great Smoky Mountains rise on the left
(southeast), and the Cumberland Mountains rise on the right. Interstate
81 merges with Interstate 40, but you will eventually reach Knoxville.
Traveling west out of Knoxville, you will soon reach Oak
Ridge, site of the Manhattan Project and still an important nuclear
research facility. You can follow Interstate 75 south, but you can also
wait and take US Highway 27 south past the lakes formed on the Tennessee
River by Tennessee Valley Authority projects. Either way, you
will eventually reach Chattanooga, site of the "Battle
above the Clouds".
Follow William Tecumseh Sherman and US Highway 27 south from Chattanooga
into Georgia, but shun the lights of Atlanta; when
you get to Rome turn west onto US Highway 411, following the
The mountains have petered out on both sides as you cross into Alabama,
but the Coosa River Valley contains the last stretch of the Great Valley,
squeezed between rolling Piedmont hills and the last traces of the Cumberland
Plateau. Follow US 411 through Gadsden, then at Ashville take US highway 231 south. 231 skirts the Coosa at Pell City and Harpersville, but then you should
take Alabama 25 and Alabama 146 south to Clanton, where you
can get on Interstate 65 and leave all traces of the Appalachian Mountains
behind. Find a hotel and take a well-deserved rest in Montgomery.