THERE'S MUCH MORE TO KNOW!
Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is unique for many reasons. Though not comprehensive, we’ve listed and described several distinctive aspects of the region that will help visitors get the most out of their trip.
Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is rich with geologic landforms, such as rock arches, rock chimneys, caves and waterfalls. The rocks of the region were created by sediments deposited by an ancient delta. Over many millions of years, multiple deposits of sediment laid down in layers (strata) created a sequence of sedimentary rock strata over 14,000 feet thick before the waters of the inland sea receded.
The rock strata of the Cumberland Plateau consist primarily of sandstone (cap rock) resting on layers of limestone. The Plateau exists today because sandstone is more resistant to erosion than limestone, which easily erodes by slightly acidic percolating groundwater. This combination of sandstone and limestone deposits caused unique patterns of erosion, including deeply incised gorges – locally called “gulfs” – that are often rimmed by sheer cliffs and features such as rock arches, bridges and chimneys. Rivers that have eroded through the sandstone cap rock layers rapidly erode through the underlying limestone layers. This is why there are so many waterfalls on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.
Exploring Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, you’ll discover that its unique geology determined many of the natural aspects of the region and influenced the culture and history of the area. The rugged, isolated nature of the land created a vast array of habitats that support an abundance of life forms. It also lured groups of people to create utopian societies in the “wilderness” of the Cumberland Plateau and demanded a self-reliance of the people who chose to live there.
CERULEAN WARBLERS & SONG BIRDS
Many species of North American songbirds fly south to the tropics or sub-topics, then return to the Southern and Central Appalachian hardwood forests in the spring and summer months to breed and raise their young. These birds are known as neotropical migratory songbirds. They typically have bright plumage and distinctive songs.
Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is home to many species of neotropical migratory songbirds, including a small, bright-blue bird known as the cerulean warbler. The cerulean warbler is considered one of the highest priority birds in need of conservation in the eastern United States.
Cerulean Warblers prefer unfragmented forestland with mature trees and a somewhat open understory. Because it still contains extensive, contiguous, unfragmented hardwood forests, Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau remains a summer home to substantial populations of cerulean warblers and is becoming known around the country as a place to see these stunningly beautiful little birds. Each year, the ceruleans typically arrive in Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau from mid-April to mid-May, and may begin returning to their wintering grounds in early August.
FRESHWATER FISH AND MUSSELS
Freshwater fish and mussels have a unique connection to one another. Each species of mussel depends on a certain species or type of fish to complete its life-cycle. This association is intricate and unique to freshwater mussels. In addition to this truly fascinating relationship, many of the freshwater fish and mussel species found on Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau are endemic, that is, they are found no where else in the world. When present, many of these fish and mussel species are also considered to be excellent indicators of good water quality.
Freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of organisms in the United States. Most of the species of freshwater mussels are found in the Southeastern US and they are especially sensitive to pollution and sedimentation. At first glance these critters look to be little more than rocks, it takes a bit closer inspection and a sharp eye to see the defining features that include bright yellow and green spots, stripes, and pearlescent interiors of these fascinating creatures. That same sharp eye might spot some jewel bright blue, orange or green darting through the water as well. Freshwater fish, especially during the early spring breeding season are easily as colorful as tropical varieties. The waters of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau are teaming with life.
While visiting Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, we encourage you to look for freshwater fish and mussels in the rivers and streams, however, please do not remove them from the water or try to pry them open, as that will kill these ancient, but sensitive, creatures.