Sourland mountain

So having mentioned the Sourland mountains (and laughed at their diminutive size) I looked them up, half thinking it might be just a family name for that tiny rise on the western horizon – but no, it’s a real thing. Sourland Mountain.

Sourland Mountain is a 17 miles (27 km) long ridge in central New Jersey, extending from the Delaware River at Lambertville to the western end of Hillsborough Township near the community of Neshanic, through Montgomery Township and into Hopewell Township in Mercer County.[1] It comprises the largest contiguous forest in Central Jersey, nearly 90 square miles (233 km2) in area. The highest point is only 568 feet (173 m) above sea level, but the way it rises steeply from the surrounding farmland has earned it the title of ‘mountain’. The ridge itself sits within a larger area of rough terrain called The Sourlands.

568 feet! Hahahahahaha – the hill I live at the top of is 500-something feet, and nobody calls it a mountain, even though it does rise steeply enough that the east and west sides of it are mostly green belt.

But it’s New Jersey. Where the mountains are short and the license plates don’t (yet) say ATHEIST.


  1. CaitieCat says

    Hamilton, Ontario does this as well: those living on the Niagara Escarpment (the ancient shore of a much larger proto-Lake Ontario) are said to be living “on the Mountain”, and those at the foot of it are called “mountainside” places in ads. The Escarpment is probably less than 120m high at that point.

    *shrug* People call things “forests” in cities that I would call “copses” or maybe even “stands”, place-names are often figurative and locally-relative. Hell, East Asia has the yin and yang method of naming places (the “yang” side is the sunny side, usually the southern, while the “yin” side is the shady, usually northern, side), and I don’t think they physically mean that the sunny side is the “masculine” side. Toponymy is weird.

  2. says

    I live in a country that says it has mountains, but the highest peak is 4400 feet.

    I used to go to my grandmother-in-law’s summer cabin in California several times a summer–at 7500 feet, which was nowhere near the highest mountain in the neighborhood, much less the country.

    (May I offer a link to a blog about that sort of thing? )

  3. smhll says

    There is a movie titled The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain that might be relevant.

  4. Claire Ramsey says

    I always had to stifle my snorts of laughter in San Diego where the very cute coast range is referred to as “mountains.”

  5. eigenperson says

    I’ve always thought the difference between mountains and hills is more about shape and climate than height. The Sutter Buttes, for example, are clearly mountains to me, even though one could find hills that are higher (e.g. in Appalachia, where they call them “mountains” but are mistaken).

  6. says

    I’m just being a mountain snob, because I grew up with no mountains at all whatsoever and now I can see mountains from my windows. Mountain snob, mountain snob!

  7. says

    Sourland is unclear and a few theories exist. It could be derived from the term “sorrel-land”

    It’s rather uncanny what Wiki says vis-à-vis ‘Sourland’, as during the summer months as a child residing practically in the countryside, I forever ate ‘sour’ leaves (as they were commonly called by children in my institutional midst) that grew abundantly in a sloping grass field, not too far from the Wicklow mountains. It wasn’t until I grew up that I discovered the tangy reddish-green leaves were in tact ‘sorrel’ leaves. They were to be avoided if they looked evergreen in colour.

    Enjoyed reading the history surrounding Sourland.


    I’ve always lived near the Ohio River. I had a similar response to yours, Ophelia, the first time I saw the Santa Fe River. I’ve seen ditches bigger than the mighty Santa Fe.

  9. Brian E says

    An unprepared visitor to the Australian Alps might mistake them for rocky foothills without Alps. And the Snowy Mountains are mostly rocky, with seasonal white stuff (less with climate change).

  10. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    There is a movie titled The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain that might be relevant.

    It is. In England and Wales a mountain is defined as over a thousand feet high, which is significant to the plot.
    Cees Nooteboom wrote a book, In de bergen van Nederland,, translated as In the Dutch Mountains.
    Another joke about comparability: The Patagonians have two poets. Neither is good, but the less bad is known as “the Patagonian Shakespeare”.

  11. spike13 says

    We do have taller mountains than that…..and some of the most beautiful beaches in the nation.
    Don’t believe everything you see on the Sopranos.

  12. Maureen Brian says

    The inclusion of “sour” in a place name is unsurprising in Yorkshire and Cumbria. Close to me is Sowerby – the original hilltop village, appears in Domesday – and next to it the Industrial Revolution town of Sowerby Bridge in the valley bottom.

    In both cases the “sower” is given the Yorkshire pronunciation of “sour” – as a single syllable.

    I’m told it means sour farm – whether from the quality of the land or some plant which grew there – see @ 8.

  13. M can help you with that. says

    The highest point is only 568 feet (173 m) above sea level, but the way it rises steeply from the surrounding farmland has earned it the title of ‘mountain’.

    Here in California we call something which rises <=568 feet above the surrounding landscape a hill. That’s about four percent of the high point in this state; sorry, that’s not a “mountain”. Maybe if it were as little as ten times that elevation, it might be able to make a claim…that’s in the “peninsular range” (a.k.a. “San Diego County coastal pseudo-mountain”) category. At the very least a mountain should have a prominence of at least a couple of thousand feet.

  14. MadHatter says

    Squiddhartha @2

    Having grown up in Colorado I always have to call the hills where I’m at now “cute” 😀 I really offended someone here once by asking where the mountains were they were talking about…but this country barely has hills…

  15. left0ver1under says

    If it’s tall enough for a fall to kill you, hill or mountain really doesn’t matter.

    Speaking only from opinion, the difference between hill and mountain is whether one or a chain of them can affect the weather. In British Columbia, where I’m from (but not anymore), the Coast Mountains force ocean clouds up and they drop all their rain on Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, while the Okanagan and southern interior are dry and even have deserts. And the Rocky Mountains stop the high pressure cells that develop over northern Canada in winter, preventing them from reaching the coast. The winter high pressure cells can go as far south as Texas because it’s mostly flat and there aren’t enough mountains to stop them.

    The same is true of other large mountain chains around the world. Smaller mountains and chains have some effect on the weather, but not as much or as drastic. Can anybody say whether the Appalachian Mountains have much effect on eastern US weather (i.e. hurricanes, snowstorms, etc.)?

  16. says

    The Appalachians do affect the weather patterns. I live east of the Great Smokies (a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains), and we get far less rain and almost no snow compared to the western side. Although this year, we’ve been inundated with almost continual rain all year — probably due to climate change.

    Curiously, there appears to be no standard definition for “mountain”. Clearly, however, craggy peaks and snowcaps are not required. So all of you mountain snobs can come off your high horses.

  17. Pieter B, FCD says

    When driving from Omaha NE to Sioux City IA, viewing the vast flat expanses known as the Great Plains, it always amuses me to see the sign alongside I-29 that says SKI AREA NEXT EXIT.

  18. MrFancyPants says

    Squiddhartha @9:
    While climbing in the Peruvian Andes, I had a halting conversation with my guide, a Quechua-speaking native whose spanish was as bad as mine. Fortunately he spoke a little english, so we could converse a bit, and he asked me where I was from. “Colorado!”, I answered cheerfully, and he laughed. “Oh yes, Colorado,” he said, and holding up his thumb and index finger close together, he added “Colorado: tiny little mountains” with a smile and a wink. The base camp we were sitting in while having this conversation was at nearly 15,000 feet!

  19. says

    568 feet?!? In Colorado, to get to 568 feet you’d have to go to the lowest point in the state. Then get a shovel. And dig a hole half a mile deep! Nice mountain you got there, Snookie.

    (Heh, read the comments after typing this post. Glad to see I’m not the only CO resident, or the only mountain snob.) 😀

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