The Unaka Mountains, which form a boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina, get their name from the Cherokee word unega, which roughly translates as “white,” perhaps referring to the foggy haze that distinguishes the Great Smoky Mountains, of which the Unaka Mountains are a part, or to the Unaka’s domes of exposed white granite, quite striking and very white against the dark green forest background. Like the Baraboo Hills in Wisconsin, the Unaka Moutains, called at various times the Iron Mountains and the Iron and Yellow Mountains, were formed when hard, erosion-resistant rock stayed put, as it were, while softer rock around the group of hills was worn away by weather, water, and time. In the lexicon of geography, unaka has been a generic term denoting an erosion-resistant range of hills, but the term, used in this way, is regarded as out-of-date. Properly used, Unaka is now a place-name only. Unakite, a pinkish-green granite gemstone, gets its name from these mountains.

Gretchen Legler