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Research Areas > Great Smokys > Cades Cove

Geologic Story of Cades Cove

Surficial Processes and Deposits

     Surficial deposits include debris terraces and an alluvial plain of unconsolidated material in the bottom of the cove.  Boulders of Elkmont Sandstone cover the terraces only at the east end of the cove, where the Ranger Station, picnic area, and campground are developed.  Elsewhere debris of cobbles and silt is derived from the finer-grained Metcalf Phyllite and Cades Sandstone.  There are at least 2 distinct terraces, designated lower and upper (oldest) levels. Exposed bedrock along the margins of terraces suggests that the older deposits are not very thick.   Water wells drilled in the western portion of the cove suggests that the younger alluvial plain may be as much as 300 feet thick (Delcourt and Delcourt, 1985: Clark and others, 1989).  Abrams Creek and its tributaries flow on gravel with bedrock only exposed near the bridge on the Loop Road and near Tipton Olivers Place.  Abrams Creek is an intermittent stream because surface water infiltrates the alluvium and colluvium deposits and underlying cavernous limestone during the summer.

     Sinkholes are developed on the terraces and alluvial plain.  Analyses of pollen, fungus, and charcoal from "Lake in the Woods", a natural pond developed in a sinkhole on a terrace north of Cable Cemetery reveal a 6600 year history (Davidson, 1983).  Episodic sheet-wash occurred during a moist climate between 6600 and 6500 years ago, followed by a drier climate until 1900 years ago (Delcourt and Delcourt, 1985).  Two shallow ponds northeast of Carter Shields Place are interpreted also to be water-filled sinkholes.

     Southwest of the Primitive Baptist Church and cemetery at the edge of an upper terrace and near Hyatt Lane are prospect pits for a residual deposit of limonite and hematite.  The ore was probably used in the production of iron tools by local blacksmiths from 1827-1847 (Dunn, 1988).

     The highland landscape consists of steep slopes with rare bedrock outcrop within a larger area of thin colluvium and weathered rock called regolith.  Hollows and steep valleys are underlain by an unsorted  mixture of boulders and fine sediment called diamicton.   The running water in streams locally remove the fine sediment leaving abundant boulders.  Locally the streams have incised downward and flow on bedrock.

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surficial deposits map
Surficial Deposits

debris terraces
Debris Terraces


cavernous limestone
Cavernous Limestone

sinkhole in the woods

lake in the woods
Lake in the Woods

water filled sinkhole
Water Filled Sinkhole


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