7 ½’ quadrangle: Benham, KY
       Harlan County
       Private land, posted (see waiver information below)
       Cumberland Plateau

4,145 ft (1,263m)

Black Mountain from the abandoned fire tower (photo from

Bedrock: Hignite Formation, Breathitt Group


Siltstone, shale, coal and sandstone - - typical Coal Age cyclothems - - lie within the Cumberland Overthrust sheet, carried westward above the Pine Mountain thrust fault during the Alleghenian Orogeny. To the east in Virginia this thrust sheet was folded, but it is much less deformed in Kentucky, so that strata on Black Mountain are nearly horizontal.

The Hignite Formation includes interbedded olive- to medium-gray and almost black siltstone and shale, with lenticular light to dark gray micaceous sandstone and at least nine coal beds, chief of which are the 4.5-foot thick High Splint bed, 3-foot thick Morris bed and 3-foot thick Cornett bed. Much of the High Splint coal, which lies at an elevation around 3800 feet under Black Mountain, had been removed by underground mining by 1970. The bedrock map shows the summit area as "artificial fill".

Parts of Black Mountain were threatened by mountaintop removal methods until December 31, 1999, when the state of Kentucky bought timber and mineral rights to the summit. However, because the mountain is an actively mined area, and still owned by a coal company, hikers must receive permission to visit the summit. The owners "are concerned about being held liable if one of the coal mine tunnels under the summit should collapse". The following web page provides up-to-date information on the necessary waiver:

Surficial Geology: Beyond the reach of Pleistocene glaciation

Soil Series: Kimper silt loam: deep, well drained, sloping, very dark grayish-brown silt loam, with yellow-brown channery silt loam at depth, derived from siltstone.

Selected References:

  • Childress, J. Daniel, 1992, Soil Survey of Bell and Harlan Counties, Kentucky: United States Soil Conservation Service.
  • Froelich, Albert J. and Byron D. Stone, 1973, Geologic Map of Parts of the Benham and Appalachia Quadrangle, Harlan and Letcher Counties, Kentucky: USGS Geological Quadrangle Map GQ- 1059, 1:24,000.

Other suggested sources of information:

*You are viewing pages printed from
These pages appear differently when viewed online.

If you are the owner of this site and you would like to print the page as it appears online, please refer to the file "QuickStart.html" for instructions.