Is this ancient volcano coming to life again?

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

There is a very interesting detail to the Miccosukee Migration Legend.  Even though the Miccosukee had been living in southern Florida for over 150 years, when the article on them was published in the Palm Beach, Florida newspaper in 1917, they still remembered their mountain origins in Northeast Georgia and much earlier in Mexico.  They believed that their gods lived on high mountains, in particular, ancient volcanoes.  This is an identical belief that that of the Totonac People of east-central Mexico and of the inhabitants of the great city of Teotihuacan.  You will learn about Teotihuacan in the videos below.

The Itza, allies of the Soque both in Mexico and Southeastern North America, also were from the mountains of Mexico and migrated to the Southern Appalachians.  Their first colony was in the Nacoochee Valley. Even in the early 1700s, the largest town in the Nacoochee Valley was called Itzate (Itza People). They later spread to the Little Tennessee River Valley in Northeast Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  The original Creek name for the Cherokee town of Chota was Itzate.

I am currently studying the geo-spatial relationships of important town and shrine sites in the Upper Chattahoochee, Soque and Upper Tennessee River Basins.   On Sunday October 20, 2019, I took my GPS surveying device, laser measuring device and 3D compass into the field again.  I strongly suspected that Chimney Mountain was one of those benchmarks that determined town locations.  I was right.  There was a big, big surprise, though, when I reached the foothills of Chimney Mountain.  I will tell you about that later.

Of course, the Nacoochee Valley, with its dozens of large and small mounds, is at the foot of Yonah Mountain.   The main Soque mound is aligned to both Chimney Mountain and Brasstown Bald Mountain.  The Soque Mound is also due True North from the Fritchey Mound.  The line between the Kenimer Mound and the Fritchey Mound marked the azimuth of the Winter Solstice Sunrise.  The line between the Kenimer and Nacoochee Mounds marked True East-West.  There is a 345 feet long stone effigy of a Maya ceremonial mace which points toward Brasstown Bald Mountain. The line between the Alec Mountain Stone Oval and the Arnold Mound marked the azimuth of the Winter Solstice Sunset.  The lines between several smaller mounds point toward the Winter Solstice Sunset, the autumn/spring equinox, the Summer Solstice or the Winter Solstice.

Prominent peaks were used as benchmarks for locating mounds

What’s going on at Chimney Mountain?

Last Spring, several residents around Batesville, GA told me that they had recently been experiencing frequent minor tremblers and from time to time were seeing steam or white smoke come out of the top of the ancient volcano.  I didn’t really believe them and assumed that they were seeing small, low clouds or perhaps fog blowing out of the ravines beneath the mountain.

Telephoto view of Chimney Mountain from Lynch Mountain Road. Note the bare rock face and brown top.
Detailed view with telephoto lens
Chimney Mountain from the southeast. Note the brown trees on top.

WELL . . . to my surprise all the trees had dead, brown leaves at the top of the mountain.  They were not turning to their autumn color, because taller mountains to the north were still green on the top.  I pulled out my digital binoculars.  I could see no soot on the exposed rocks or the tree trunks.  What I did see were a lot of crevices and cracks in rocks that look like bedrock with the naked eyes.  Furthermore, the top of the mountain looked “rockier” than I remembered in the past. 

Sure enough, when I compared the photo above, made in early April 2017 with the photos made on October 20, 2019, there were several large expanses of rock, which were covered in trees in 2017.   This evidence suggests that there is hot steam or perhaps toxic, sulfuric gases coming out of the mountain.  There are several locations in northeastern Georgia and western North Carolina, which emitted sulfuric steam in the years immediately preceding the 1886 Charleston Earthquake.

Thomas Clingman (Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies) studied the gaseous volcanoes in the Western North Carolina Mountains that ceased to erupt after the Charleston Earthquake.  The largest one was a 1000+ feet long crack in the side of a mountain in Clay County, NC about 16 miles north of Chimney Mountain.  These volcanoes sometimes exploded violently, but only emitted sulfuric gases, steam and solid rocks. None emitted magma.  There are no reports of volcanoes emitting lava in Georgia either, but Clingman did not study any tectonic sites in Georgia. There is an important difference!

In his lecture before a national conference of geologists in New York City, Clingman postulated that the North Carolina volcanoes were not true volcanoes, but rather were caused by the friction between rock faults underneath the surface. This means that there were active fault lines in western North Carolina, but officially today, there are no active faults in Western North Carolina.

Detail of Georgia State Geology Map

In 1971, the Georgia Office of Mining, Mines and Geology issued a booklet by Geologist Robert D. Hatcher, Jr. entitled The Geology of Rabun and Habersham Counties, Georgia (Bulletin 83).  It was the results of a series of geological surveys that had been carried out since 1955.  The geologist identified an extremely, 18-mile diameter ancient caldera in Habersham and Rabun Counties, which he called the “Tallulah Falls Dome.”   Batesville and Chimney Mountain were on the northwestern edge of this dome.  There was a younger caldera, which covered most of northwestern Habersham County.  Batesville and Chimney Mountain were on the edge of this dome.  The region is crisscrossed by short faults, but a major fault runs along the foot of Chimney Mountain then intersects with the Brevard Fault at Tallulah Gorge. For most of its journey to the Fall Line in Columbus, GA the Chattahoochee River follows the Brevard Fault.

So . . . the smoke that former came out of the top of Chimney Mountain until 1886 was probably created by the fault at its edge.  It is not known if there is a magma pool beneath Chimney Mountain because no geologist has ever looked for one.   We may be seeing the first stages of minor tectonic activity around Batesville, which will eventually climax with another major quake near Charleston, SC.   We really don’t know.   What I do know is that I am finding very young, scoria lava bombs in my topsoil and a layer of volcanic ash between the top soil and red clay sub-soil in several areas of my property.

The Truth is out there somewhere!

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