The Appalachian Mountains (French: les Appalaches) are a large group of North American mountains. They are partly in Canada, but mostly in the United States. They form an area from 100 to 300 miles wide, running 1,500 miles from the island of Newfoundland in Canada to central Alabama in the United States. The individual mountains average around 3,000 ft (900 m) in height. The highest is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina (6,684 ft or 2,037m). Mt. Mitchell is also the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River as well as the highest point in eastern North America.
The Appalachians today are the worn-down remains of a once huge mountain chain. They first formed about 480 million years ago during the Ordovician and once reached heights similar to that of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains. The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east-west travel as ridgelines and valleys run north-south and travelers must climb them again and again. Only a few mountain passes run east-west. The Erie Canal was built through one of them. In most places the Appalachians are the watershed between the drainage basins of the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean.
The term Appalachia is used to refer to regions associated with the mountain range. It refers to the mountain range and the hills and plateau region around it. The term is often used to refer to just areas in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. These areas usually include parts of the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and sometimes extending as far south as northern Georgia and western South Carolina, as far north as Pennsylvania, and as far west as southeastern Ohio. In 1965 the United States Congress created an Appalachian Regional Commission to include these areas and more, as far west as Mississippi.
The birth of the Appalachian ranges, some 480 million years ago (mya), was the first of several mountain-building plate collisions which made the supercontinent Pangaea. The Appalachians were at the center of the newly formed Pangaea. North America and Africa were connected, and the Appalachians were part of the same mountain chain as the "Anti-Atlas" or Little Atlas Mountains in Morocco. This mountain range, known as the Central Pangean Mountains, extended into Scotland, from the North America/Europe collision (see Caledonian orogeny).
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