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Georgia’s “secret” volcanic range

Georgia’s “secret” volcanic range

POOF member, Suzanne Ward, mentioned the volcanic cones in the Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range.   Virtually nobody knows about this unusual geological feature in the Southeast  . . . even the state’s geology professors seem to be unaware of it.  I called the directors of the geology departments in Georgia’s three largest public universities.  None of them knew much about the geology of the North Georgia Mountains and didn’t even know that the volcanic cones were there.

The Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range is located west of Lafayette, GA and east of Lookout Mountain.

The Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range is located west of Lafayette, GA and east of Lookout Mountain.  The dormant volcano on the right last erupted in 1857.

The only reason I know is that there are frequent tremblers under Pigeon Mountain.  It is dormant and last erupted in 1857.  The frequent little earthquakes trigger the “Earthquake Code” requirements of the International Building Code.  I telephoned the professors so that I could get more specific information on the amount structural reinforcement, my buildings needed.  They were no help at all.

The generally extinct line of volcanoes begin at Curahee Mountain near the Savannah River and are aligned roughly East-West across the state.  They cross the Blue Ridge Mountain Range and have distinctly different shapes than the Blue Ridge Mountains.   They are the source of the gold, copper, ruby, sapphire, garnet and diamond deposits in North Georgia.

Collapsed calderas

Calderas are especially large volcanic basins.  There are several ancient collapsed calderas in North Georgia.   We know of three that contain  complexes of Native American tombs.  They are often called caves by the local mountaineers, but were hand dug for burials. This is what a collapsed caldera looks like on a topographic map.


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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    The back story on this from me is that I was about 17 when I found the Obsidian. Was told it was flint. Carried some pieces I picked up with frozen froth and trapped air bubbles inside the glass like structure. Took it to the only geologist I knew at the time over on top Fort Mountain, he ran a rock and gem shop. His wife told me I was right. It was indeed Obsidian. When I attended Memorial University of Newfoundland, one professor I had there told me how wrong I was. I carried my samples to the dept head, Hank Williams was his name. He was amazed as the rest, disagreed, then later apologized and admitted my samples were Obsidian.
    It’s a strange kind of story. I have been all over Pigeon Mountain. It is hollow inside and contains many things, some seen by very few eyes.

    • Yes, and my gut feeling is that it will blow one day. Someone needs to be paying more attention to those tremblers underneath it.

      There are supposed to be diamonds in some volcanic tubes at Pigeon Mountain. The Spanish bought diamonds from the folks at Copal (Track Rock Gap) which they mined from the extinct caldera that they were living on.


      The rock that you picked up that was “frozen froth and trapped air bubbles” is called tufa. It is a rare thing, but is the product of water from a limestone spring depositing calcium at a lower waterfall, mixed with algae. Flint deposits, in the form of chert nodules, are common at Pigeon Mountain. The Indians mined that flint and traded it all over the eastern USA. If you found any “obsidian”, it was an import, and there are no volcanos or igneous rocks within 100 miles of Pigeon Mountain.


      Obsidian and flint can be tested. Flint has a hardness of 7 and has conchoidinal flakes. Obsidian is more glass like, and has a hardness of about 5. It can be tested for hydration, and dated by that method. None is older than the Cretaceous Period because it self-destructs when exposed to water.
      Flint is most commonly black at Pigeon Mountain, [I found some today!] and obsidian is NOT found in Georgia, nor anywhere east of the Mississippi river, south of the Ohio. Obsidian degrades over time, and the rocks at Pigeon Mountain date to the Cambrian-Carboniferous period, much too old to contain any obsidian. Slag glass from foundries and railroad beds is very similar to obsidian, is easily mistaken for it, and Pigeon Mountain has a long railroad history, and is a source for the black glass. Obsidian has enough mineral additions that they can be traced to the original volcanic source.


    Are you a geologist now? What geological process can you cite to confirm the formation here? Gut feelings about blowing volcanos, you can’t script it better then that!

    • Actually, architects and structural engineers must have extensive knowledge of geology, which we must prove on our national licensing exams or not pass. Sorry, your sarcasm didn’t pan out. It is not just earthquakes that concern us, but also underground caves, groundwater and seasonal movements of soil. Perhaps all anthropology students should be required to take a course in “What other professionals know that you don’t know”. That would end the sophomoric arrogance that pervades them today.

      As for Pigeon Mountain, that’s a good question. The Pigeon Mountain Volcano experienced a moderate eruption for a month during 1857. It blew out flames, gas, smoke and rocks. Once can still see the rocks. People living in the region heard repeated loud explosions. The USGS has studied the cave systems in the Pigeon Mountain Range, but has not been able to explain the constant tremblers under and near the mountain. As a precaution though, the USGS designated NW Georgia Level 2 and 3 tectonic zones in regard to the structural requirements of the International Building Code.


    With the plumes/supposed brush fires in the area happening now, could they actually erupting now? They haven’t show any real video of the supposed flames.

    • I saw flames in the North Carolina forest fires. The Georgia volcano last erupted in 1856.


      Pigeon Mountain in North Georgia has had no brush fires, and no plumes or eruptions. it is NOT a volcano. It is the escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau, all sandstone and limestone. The article quoted describes and eruption near Augusta, in 1857, which is hundreds of miles away from the mountain I live near. There is a hint of bogus-ness in this whole article, like an Onion satire. It is the result of poor research and gullibility.


    Sorry, this makes a fun a story, but I don’t believe a word of it. There’s a good reason the geologists weren’t aware of the volcanoes–they don’t exist. Geologically, what you are claiming makes no sense. The Vulcan quarry is mining LIMESTONE, a sedimentary rock, from the side of your “volcano.” The “extinct caldera” is called The Pocket, and it too is formed of sedimentary rocks.

    • Have you ever been in the Pigeon Mountain Range? It sits on top of a fault line. There are soapstone boulders all around the crater. Soapstone is metamorphic pumice. The New York Times article is wrong on one accord. Pigeon Mountain is near Chattanooga, not Augusta

      Pigeon Mountain volcano, Georgia
      The New York Times, June 20, 1857

      A Volcano in Georgia.
      A writer in the Sentinel states that a volcano has lately made its appearance in Pigeon mountain, about ten miles from Augusta. On the 24th, ult., the mountain was violently agitated, and the citizens in the vicinity were aroused and terribly frightened by the commotion. When observing the mountain they were more than ever terrified, for a brilliant light was plainly seen issuing from the summit. The atmosphere soon became strongly impregnated with a disagreeable sulphuric odor. On the following day a thick torrent of smoke and ashes ascended from where this light was previously seen. No blaze has yet been seen to issue from the crater. It had continued up to the 29th ultimo about as above described, emitting smoke and ashes without intermission. The crater is thought to be about 100 yards in diameter. No one has yet ventured near enough to ascertain anything of its general depth.

      Several springs in the vicinity have totally disappeared. Many of the citizens are very much alarmed, and some even are moving out of the valley, through anticipation and fear of a violent eruption. The writer states that the principle of a volcano has for many years been germinating in Pigeon mountain. About ten miles south from where the present appeared, is the crater of an extinguished volcano, which appears to have been in an active state at no very distant period.

      Every appearance goes to vindicate the conjecture that it has been in a state of eruption within less than five hundred years. Several persons of credit have stated that in the Winter of ’48 or ’49, the earth in the vicinity was in a remarkabley warm state. Others have avowed to have seen smoke with a sulphuric smell issue from a very remarkable cavity which is found in the neighborhood of the place.


        I know Rodger personally, and he is a caver of great renown. He has been all over and under Pigeon Mountain in the major caves there. It does sit on top of a fault line, the one that caused the anti-clinal McLemore’s Cove. it is cross faulted as well, and that fault is the site of the Ellison’s cave system. These faults are only slightly active, mostly the result of erosion lightening the overburden and the readjustment to those lower pressures.
        If there was a volcanic eruption in 1857, it was near Augusta as described, and NOT here in Walker County.

        • For your information jackass, I got the information from a serious geology website, which was pondering the cause of two mini-volcanoes, both in sedimentary regions, one in NW Florida (Wakulla) and the other in NW Georgia, which occurred simultaneously with the Charleston, SC earthquake. Simultaneously, the extinct fumarole on Buzzards Roost Mountain in Union County, GA emitted smoke that smelled like sulfur. Theoretically, such things are impossible in sedimentary regions, but Buzzard Roost is the remnants of an ancient volcano. Since 1886, none of these three phenomenons have emitted smoke or fumes.

          There are no mountains near Augusta. The only Pigeon Mountain in Georgia is the one near Lafayette. I have done some research. What may have caused the mini-eruption was water trickling down into super-heated rock strata. Steam volcanoes can throw rocks long distances and create craters. They may or may not have magma come out later.


            I can see you have never been to the Walker County Pigeon Mountain. I have been 1050 feet down inside the mountain, and the temperature gradient only rose a few degrees above the average cave temperature. There are no super-heated rock strata there. It is a 13,000 foot deep pile of sediments, with no volcanism within 1oo nautical miles.
            Union County is on the other side of the state, in a completely different mountain range. I am curious as to what “serious geology website” included information about a Pigeon Mountain volcano.
            Your photo that depicts the caldera feature of the Pocket is a total falsehood. That was my family’s farm for 44 years, many geologists, professors, and their students visited it to study the limestone karst and visit the caves, it is the result of 200 million years of erosion and solution, and not a magma chamber collapse. The peaks are the result of the sandstone caps, which include Rocktown, and not cinder cones.
            I do not understand why you continue to make that claim. Maybe you can link to the “geologists” who are promoting that? The newspaper article specifically mentions being nearby to Augusta, which is many hundreds of miles from here.

          • 40 years? you’re the mouthpiece for the geologist at the Fernbank Science Center, who didn’t even know that large diamonds have been found in North Georgia . . . of course, east of the Cartersville Fault

            Actually, I went hiking on Pigeon Mountain many a time while living in Rome and wondered why there were so many rounded boulders. Then when FEMA suddenly required us to use Zone 3 Earthquake design with Pigeon Mountain as its epicenter, I became real curious about the range. And of course, I know that Union County is another geological zone. I am an architect. There is something beneath the Pigeon Mountain range that is not typical. It is tied to a fault in coastal South Carolina. My guess is that there is a magma shaft underneath the sedimentary strata. Calcium carbonate decomposes at a much lower temperature than its melting point. Pottery with a calcium carbonate flux begins vitrifying at 1000 F and fully vitrifies when only cherry red. Thus, superheated air from a vent after having water drip down it for eons would have the same appearance as water decomposition. That is the only way that one can explain the Pigeon Mountain range being the only source of obsidian in Georgia, even though it is in a sedimentary zone.


            Show me piece of obsidian that came from the Pigeon Mountain. Just one.
            The area is covered in flint deposits, chert nodules, and is the source for many Indian artifacts. But real obsidian, the kind that looks black, but refracts gold in sunlight, is what is found at volcanic sites, and there is NONE of that anywhere on Pigeon Mountain.
            The rounded boulders are sandstone, and caused by erosion and not volcanism. The limestone found on Pigeon Mountian is very sharp and ragged, as would be expected form normal water erosion. The caves and stratigraphy of Pigeon Mountain are the same as for Lookout Mountain, Sand Mountain, and Walden’s Ridge, but no one is making the same claims of diamond filled lava tubes or gold veins there. What is the name of the geologist at Fernbank that makes the claim about the Cumberland plateau being a source of volcanism?
            I can find no reputable geologist that thinks that the Pocket is a caldera, all have laughed out loud when I even asked the question. Moonshiners used the spring waters from Pigeon mountain because of their high levels of calcium. No moonshiner would ever use the sulfur waters from a volcano to make mash.
            I am going there today, and will find no soapstone deposits. Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, and there is no evidence of metamorphism anywhere near Pigeon Mountain. On the subduction zones east of Dahlonega, there is a source, and they make tombstones from them. But NONE are in the Cumberland Plateau.
            Your claims of volcanic activity in Walker County are unsupported and false, and based on spurious and misinterpreted information. There has been , and is, volcanic activity in Georgia, just hundreds of miles away and in a different geological zone.
            Again, your aerial photograph of Pigeon Mountain with its claims of volcanic cinder cones and clad eras is blatantly false. There must have been another mountain near Augusta named Pigeon in 1857, or else that is a false and fabricated myth.


          There must be some credit to be given to this story, how else do we find some much amethyst in this whole general area, including the best amethyst which comes from Western to Central South Carolina, it takes heat and pressure to do such things. Volcanic heat not friction heat by the way. But what do I know. I am just some guy on the internet stating a basic fact of the region in question.


            Central South Carolina is in a different geological zone, and has a history of volcanism 500 million years ago. The Carolina terrane was a chain of volcanic islands and is now part of the Piedmont, with gneiss and granite for bedrock. Parts of Georgia have monadnocks like Stone Mountain, and the Gold Belt through Georgia and the Carolinas was on a subduction zone that produced, gold, copper, and marble.
            But The Cumberland Plateau area which includes Pigeon Mountain is not part of that chain of extinct volcanism. it is totally sedimentary to a depth of 13,000 feet, and is much younger, geologically speaking. The sandstones and quartzite conglomerates are the result of the erosion of the igneous rocks to the East of the Cumberland Plateau.
            The nearest amethyst geode deposit is in Heywood County, NC, in the igneous rock on the east side of the Blue ridge mountains.


    Pigeon Mountain in Walker County, GA, is 100% sedimentary rock, and is a part of the Cumberland Plateau. There is NO evidence of volcanos there, except for a thin layer of Bentonite, the sedimentary ash form a distant volcano in South Carolina. It is a stack of limestone, crinoidal iron ore, and shale, capped with sandstone, not soapstone.
    South Georgia does have thermal springs and the monadnocks are evidence of a distant past of volcanism.
    But nowhere in the past billion years has Walker County had any igneous rocks.
    I own a farm at the base of Pigeon Mountain, and my family owned the Pocket. I can tell you…it is NOT caldera. It is filled with karst features, a product of limestone.

    • Then why was there a minor eruption there in 1857? It is well documented in contemporary newspapers. Have you considered that the sedimentary rock overlays igneous rock? There are definitely a line of extinct volcanoes across North Georgia. A geological report stated that a chain of ancient volcanic islands, similar to the Hawaiian Islands were overridden by the plate the we see on the surface of North Georgia.


        My family has been on or near Pigeon Mountain since the last Cherokee was hauled away in 1838. I can assure you that there were NO eruptions on Pigeon Mountain in 1857. The sediments under Pigeon mountain date to the pre-cambrian, and are 13,000 feet thick.
        As a member of the Walker County Cave Rescue team for decades, i have been ridgewalking and exploring that mountain all under and over, and there is NO evidence of any volcanic activity. None.
        For the record, I have climbed several volcanos, Mount Asama in Japan was one, in 2010 right after the major eruption.I do know what igneous rocks and volcanic vents look and smell like.
        There are no lava tubes with diamonds, and no igneous rock formation. There are some large limestone caves that I have rappelled onto, some with 500 foot waterfalls.
        The news report from 1857 was either confused about another site, or completely fake and based on faulty reporting. Any claims of Pigeon Mountain being a volcano, as pictured above are totally bogus. The domed shape peaks on the north end are the result of the sandstone caps and escarpment.
        Stuff like this gets started on the Internet, and is hard to stop. I hope that you weren’t the one who started all this bogus-ness.


          When I first read your article I was intrigued but after looking through multiple Georgia state geological surveys I could find no mention of this. I belong to the NE Georgia Mineral Society and when I mentioned it to one of the members he said it didn’t sound right. However, I recently bought a book at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA, (they have an extensive mineral & rock exhibit, BTW) by the title of “Pamela J. Gore and William Witherspoon, Roadside Geology of Georgia (Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 2013), which mentions “volcanic islands” in NW Georgia (specifically Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain). I did a Google search of “Northwest Georgia USA volcanic islands” and found the following online article,, from the Georgia State University Perimeter College which was originally published 01/07/06 and edited on 08/06/15. This article also makes mention of “volcanic islands” in NW Georgia. Thought it was interesting.

          • Well that is what I was taught at Georgia Tech. We had to know what was under the ground, because it radically affects how you design the foundation.

            I lived in Cartersville for five years and was friends with the director of the former mineral museum.


            Did the article or book mention Lookout and Pigeon Mountains specifically in reference to ‘volcanic islands”?
            South of the Gold Belt, a subduction zone from hundreds of millions of years ago, there is evidence of volcanism. The entire Piedmont area that is south of the Blue Ridge mountains is a remnant of the chain of volcanic islands along the Carolina coast. But they have been extinct for 500 million years, and pre-date the Appalachian Orogeny 260-325 million years ago.
            Monadnocks like Stone Mountain, and Kings Mountain, and hot spring in southwest Georgia are all that is left of any volcanic activity in Georgia.

            But that is NOT Northwest Georgia. Never in the geologic history of the Cumberland Plateau was there volcanic activity here, except for the bentonite layer that is evidence of South Carolina volcanos leaving ash falls from hundreds of miles away.


        Just what you may be looking for!


    Any Roadside Geologist that would call the sedimentary rocks of Northwest GA “volcanic islands” is wrong. Those are in the extreme NorthEAST parts of Ga, and were from volcanic events 630 million years ago, not recently.
    If you have a name of any geologist that makes the claim that Walker County’s Pigeon Mountain is of volcanic origin then they must have gotten their degree from a Crackerjack box. It is part of the Cumberland Plateau, which has been sedimentary rocks for 550 million years.
    The geologists from the Tellus Museum should be consulted about this fraudulent claim before you further embarrass yourself.
    There are NO volcanic origin rocks there, no pumice, no ash, no granite, no basalt. There aren’t even any volcanic origin rocks there that are metamorphic, those are restricted to the Piedmont and Southern Blue Ridges which is a completely different geologic zone.
    Gore and Witherspoon’s book does not “specifically mention Lookout and Pigeon Mountains” as being of volcanic origin., they are talking about the area near the South Carolina border.


    I have perused my library, and can recommend some books for you:
    “The Geology of the Sand-Lookout Mountain Area of Northwest Georgia….by John Wentworth Sullivan. This is the state DNR, Division of Mines and Geology report.
    Pigeon Mountain is a spur of Lookout Mountain, and the sedimentary strata of Pigeon Mountain as well as the mineral resources are extensively covered. There is NO mention of anything even remotely volcanic in that book, nor in my “Geological Survey of Georgia”-SW McCallie, State geologist.
    As an international caver, I know a wide circle of geologists, and am well acquainted with Pigeon Mountain. I passed around the geologic map in your post here to several of my professional geologist friends, who are professionals in the petro- and mining industries, and got their degrees here locally, and are familiar with the Cumberland Plateau and Pigeon Mountain.
    After the face-palms, head-desks, smirks of scorn, and howls of derision, they all stated that whoever dreamed up this idea should have their geologic credentials revoked.
    Volcanism at Pigeon Mountain is an ideological opinion, and not a geological fact. It has no more credence than my local preacher’s claim that the Cumberland Plateau sediments were washed in over a period of weeks during a flood that included an ark about 4000 years ago.


    I’d like some scales for the maps and some indication of what the heck I am looking at in the photo…LABELS!?

    Lots of interesting features in a small area.


      All the claims of volcanic activity on Pigeon Mountain in Walker County Georgia are an elaborate hoax. There is no geologic evidence of ash, cinder cones, pumice, or lava flows. This was started from an obscure newspaper article from the 1850’s, when hoax stories about volcanoes in the Blue Ridges were fairly common.
      I am a member of the cave rescue team for this area, it is on my county, and my family owned a 960 acre farm right in the fraudulently marked “caldera”. Pigeon Mountain is a typical Cumberland Plateau geologic feature, with coal deposits, sandstone escarpments, and limestone karst features. Including the deepest cave in the Eastern USA. For some reason, a small group of people have invested an emotional response, a conspiracy theorist twist to a non-story.


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