by Chris Wayan, 2005-6
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The Jahar Mountains rise north of Heloon Crater, stretching 2500 km southwest to the Wula Sea. They're a classic line of hot-spot shield volcanoes, identical to the Hawaiian Islands and their long "tail" of seamounts (eroded stumps of older islands). The Hawaiian chain is waist-deep in sea, but Tharn's dry climate exposes the Jahars from head to toe--a massive range of overlapping shield volcanoes. Mt Umblam, the youngest, highest and furthest west, tops 16 km (52,500'). Seven or eight others are Himalayan in height, though not appearance, of course; they're steeper than Terran shield volcanoes, with more terraces and cliffs, but most slopes are only ten to twenty degrees; summits are broad, often with quite spectacular lake-filled calderas--Tharn's low gravity allows cliffs nearly as high as Mars. These would be a great tourist draw if anyone could visit--but six miles up, even Tharnians can't breathe the stratospheric air.
Concentric climate belts ring the mountains, from Martian down through alpine, forest, savanna and desert. The lower rings are heavily settled, for soils are fertile--broken-down lava.
At first glance one wonders if these volcanoes are a response to the huge impact the left Heloon Crater; is it possible? Maybe hot spots in the mantle form in reaction to massive impacts like Heloon. But the line-up suggests otherwise; the oldest peaks, in the northeast, don't line up with the impact and probably predate it.
Since the impact, the tectonic plate bearing Heloon has drifted fully 30 degrees east of the active hot spot, now under Mount Umblam--presumably. The spot may really have drifted even a bit further west now, under several recent vents--little cones no higher than Fuji or Ararat.
The Jahar Range helps create the Heloon Desert to the south. Due to the region's latitude, it'd be semi-arid even if the Jahars were bulldozed flat; but by squeezing all the rain from these winds, the mountains create a sharp line: savanna and woods to the north, desert south. Note how, on the east side of Heloon Crater, where the land is flat, the savanna fades slower into desert; a Sahelian plain stretches hundreds of km south. Rain is fickle and stingy there, but still enough for dry grass. Not so, south of the Jahars!
But while the Jahar Range creates a desert, it also creates snowmelt streams pouring into it--braided oases dead-ending in brackish Lake Falnet. These clean, year-round streams make the desert habitable for small groups of farmers and pastoralists of several species.
The northwest slope of the Jahars is called The Terraces. Here great scalloped, cliffwalled lava flows have overlapped like wax pooling at the base of an old candle. Each terrace has a different altitude, climate and dominant species. Snowmelt from the great volcanoes collects into large winding rivers on these plateaus, then plunges in falls rivaling Niagara.
Despite Tharn's lack of oceans, the Jahars are still an island chain--both ecologically and culturally. Half a dozen intelligent species share the Mediterranean foothills, often in mixed towns: heat-loving species like the graceful, equine veltaurs, and scaly bos, as well as elegant feline centahs, riverine thotters, childlike plains wingbok, and even a few jabbering flyotes. Most of the Terraces, from an eighth to a quarter of the way up, are cool, dense evergreen forests, and most of the residents are squawking, feathery mops and chubby camaroos.
It may yet happen--the mamook tribes in Oosh Tundra have been debating an expedition. The plan is to head north along the high ridges of Wula Rift, then dash across the desert in late orbital winter. But mamooks don't risk their lives lightly--and rightly so. They can live a century or more before their hip joints finally fail. Would you risk it all for mere real estate?
So for now, the heights are silent, home only to the noon stars in the purple sky...
On Earth, great mountains may be scenic, even holy, but they're rarely centers of culture or population. Quite the opposite: transport's difficult and the land's less fertile. There's a reason for the word "hillbilly"! The Jahar volcanoes are worse than many Earth uplands: their summits are true dead zones outside most of the atmosphere. Yet these upwellings of death support one of Tharn's livelier cultures on their slopes. So many habitats, so close together! Here, contact and trade between species who elsewhere would never meet becomes easier. The pooling of ideas has made the Jahar Culture tolerant, progressive, and technologically advanced.
It's a common pattern on Tharn. Civilization huddles around seas, in the depths of trenches... and on mountainslopes like these.
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