Tennessee ranks 36th in size among the states of the Union, with an area of 109,150 sq km (42,143 sq mi), including 2,398 sq km (926 sq mi) of inland water. The state has a maximum extent, from east to west, of 790 km (491 mi), a maximum north-south distance of 185 km (115 mi), and a mean elevation of 300 m (900 ft).
Tennessee’s seven natural regions lie between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east, and the Mississippi River on the west. The Tennessee portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains is known as the Unaka Range, a sparsely populated and mostly forested region along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Within the Unaka Chain is a large portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Clingmans Dome, which rises to 2,025 m (6,643 ft) above sea level and is the highest point in Tennessee.
The Ridge and Valley Province, containing the Great Valley of Tennessee, stretches westward from the Blue Ridge for 90 km (55 mi). It consists of a succession of relatively fertile and generally cultivated valleys that are separated by forested ridges. The ridges and valleys trend northeast-southwest, and rise to elevations between 600 and 750 m (2,000 and 2,500 ft). From the Ridge and Valley Province the land rises abruptly over an escarpment to form the Tennessee portion of the Cumberland Plateau, which ranges northward into Kentucky. About 80 km (50 mi) wide, the once relatively flat plateau surface has been heavily dissected by streams, which have carved deep V-shaped valleys.
Parts of the plateau are extremely rugged and difficult to access, and the usually flat-topped hills reach more than 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level. The upturned eastern edges of the plateau, identified from south to north as Walden Ridge, the Crab Orchard Mountains, and Cumberland Mountain, in places rise to more than 1,060 m (3,600 ft) in altitude.
Elevations drop sharply from the Cumberland Plateau on the west to the Highland Rim, an upland plain of low-to-moderate fertility that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The eastern portion of the Rim (Eastern Highland Rim) averages 300 m (1,000 ft) above sea level, but elevations decline somewhat toward the south and west.
Nestled within the Highland Rim is the Nashville Basin, a somewhat oval-shaped region extending 80 km (50 mi) east-west and 130 km (80 mi) south-north. Most of the basin is flat, with elevations ranging from 150 to 210 m (500 to 700 ft). Although some parts of the basin contain deep soils that support prosperous agriculture, other portions have thin soils that are limited primarily to grazing activities. The Nashville Basin is similar in geologic origin, composition, and structure, to the Blue Grass Basin of Kentucky, and both regions are known for raising fine horses. The north-flowing Tennessee River marks the western boundary between the Highland Rim and the Gulf of Mexico portion of the Coastal Plain, which is characterized by gently rolling to flat surfaces.
The rougher and higher parts lie closest to the Tennessee River. Overall, this region contains the state’s largest and most productive farms. Its east-west extent is about 160 km (about 100 mi). The westernmost natural region in Tennessee is a narrow strip of land along the Mississippi River known as the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Also known as the Mississippi Bottoms, this is the smallest of Tennessee’s natural regions. Its low-lying swampy surface contains the lowest elevations in the state (54 m/178 ft). On the east it is bounded by steep bluffs. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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