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Earth Sense: Great views from up high require caution
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Fall is a great season for getting an elevated view of Georgia. The sky is at its deepest blue, and from the mountaintops one can see into far corners of our state.

Stone Mountain offers a moderately demanding one-mile walkway to the top. It takes visitors up to 1,685 feet above sea level, which is roughly 800 feet higher than the parking lot.

Stone Mountain isn’t unique, as there are similar chunks of granite rising above the Southern Piedmont. But its formation is unusual nevertheless, beginning with a large mass of molten rock that cooled inside the earth’s crust. After millions of years, the surrounding landscape was worn down enough to expose the now-cooled rock.

With the weight of that overburden removed, the granite mass is still expanding, and huge slabs of rock are detaching themselves. The south side shows some particularly interesting cases. Rainwater accumulating in depressions of the surface makes pan-shaped hollows, and where it runs off, channels have formed.

Visitors are warned not to go past the marked areas, because unlike other mountains, Stone Mountain has a curved shape, and it’s very hard to tell where the terrain gets too steep to maintain a foothold. Fatal falls have occurred in the past.

For the really high view, there’s Brasstown Bald. A good hour’s drive from Cleveland or Helen takes the visitor close to the top. Admission is $5 per person, but it comes with a free shuttle ride up to the observation tower, for those who don’t want to walk up six-tenths of a mile on the paved trail.

At the top, there are a few stairs or an optional elevator to reach the viewing platform. The facility offers an interesting movie show about the history and natural setting of the area, and a museum with Appalachian exhibits. Near the top, the visibility is breathtaking in the fall.

To the north, there’s Hiawassee with Chatuge Lake. In the east, Mount Yonah stands up like a sugar cone, owing to the same process that formed Stone Mountain. Some claim to have seen the buildings of Atlanta, but it takes exceptionally clear weather to look that far.

Brasstown Bald is the highest elevation in Georgia, topping out at 4,786 feet. Unlike the granite mountains, it formed from erosion by the Chattahoochee and other streams, which have carved scenic valleys into the landscape.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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