West Virginia ranks 41st in size among the states, with a total area of 62,755 sq km (24,230 sq mi), including 376 sq km (145 sq mi) of inland water. The maximum distance from north to south is 380 km (236 mi); the maximum extent from east to west is 425 km (264 mi). Its mean elevation of 460 m (1,500 ft) above sea level makes West Virginia the highest state east of the Mississippi River. Elevations range from 73 m (240 ft), along the Potomac River in the northeast, to 1,482 m (4,861 ft), atop Spruce Knob in the east. Much of the land is mountainous. Flatlands are scarce, located mainly along the major river valleys.
West Virginia lies within the general geographic region of the eastern United States known as the Appalachian Mountain System, which extends from Vermont to Alabama. Within the state are parts of two natural regions, or physiographic provinces: the Ridge and Valley province and the Appalachian Plateau.
The Eastern Panhandle lies in the Ridge and Valley province of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, long parallel mountain ridges, running from northeast to southwest, are separated by narrow valleys. The ridges are heavily forested and rise to between 900 and 1,200 m (3,000 and 4,000 ft). Soils of the Ridge and Valley province are rich and are used for agriculture or as grazing land for livestock. Included in the province is the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, which embraces the extreme Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. About one-sixth of West Virginia lies within this province.
Immediately to the west of the Ridge and Valley province, and including about five-sixths of the area of West Virginia, is the Appalachian Plateau.
The northern part of the boundary between the Ridge and Valley province and the Appalachian Plateau is marked by the rugged mountains of the Allegheny Front. Numerous peaks in the front, which includes Spruce Knob, exceed 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in elevation. To the west of the front, elevations average more than 300 m (1,000 ft). Here is located the Kanawha section of the plateau, which rises and falls irregularly across a succession of deep V-shaped river valleys that are separated by steep-sided upland areas. This section of West Virginia contains deposits of coal, oil, gas, salt, and iron ore. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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