The New Kaaterskill Falls Overlook
The Catskill Geologists, The Mountain Eagle, Aug. 17, 2017
Robert and Johanna Titus
Have you been to Kaaterskill Falls lately? People have been visiting there for two centuries. We have seen initials carved into the rock there dating back to 1810. It was probably landscape artist Thomas Cole who first made it famous with his paintings, done in the 1820’s. It’s scenic but, it is a dangerous place; many people have died there.
Something needed to be done. Work began in recent years. The whole trail system, approaching the falls from downstream, has been refitted. But our focus today is on the new trail to the upper falls. You get there by taking Rte. 23A east to Haines Falls. Then you turn left onto County Route 18 and continue east. Turn right onto Laurel House Road and drive to the end. If you have been there in the past you will be pleasantly surprised by the new parking lot. You will have no trouble finding the new trail. It’s right there. It is paved and winds back and forth through the woods in a fashion that allows it to have nothing more than a gentle slope, making it all the more accessible for the elderly and probably even for those on modern powered wheel chairs.
When you get to the end of the trail you will find a fine viewing platform with sturdy guard rails. The bars are high enough to provide safety and thin enough so that they do not block the view. And what a view it is. They were careful to select just the right spot for this platform. You look down and see all of the upper falls. Our photo could not do justice to this view; you will just have to go there yourself. You can scan sideways and see, off in the distance, High Peak and Roundtop Mountains. It is a much better view than could ever have been seen in the past.
And we are sure that it will be a lot safer than the old trail, the one that went to the top of the falls. Nobody is likely to want to climb over the bars here, so it is far less probable that there will be so many accidental deaths. If you insist, you can find the old trail and you can go and visit the top of the falls, as in the past. But they have made that trail unobtrusive and we are guessing that there will be much less traffic in that direction. That will only allow limited numbers of people going where the dangers are greatest.
There must be some good geology here or we would never have paid much attention to the place. There is. Take a good look at our photo. There are three massive ledges of Catskill sandstone, commonly called bluestone. One is at the top, or the lip of the falls, and the second is halfway down and hard to see. The third makes up the platform at the bottom of this, the upper falls. All this belongs to a unit of rock called the Oneonta Formation, a late Devonian aged rock formation that can be traced all across the upper Catskills. It is part of the fabled Catskill Delta. Those sandstones are ancient river deposits. Those ledges were once sands, and that sand filled the channels of rivers that crossed the old Catskill Delta.
In between those sandstones are thicknesses of brick red shales. These comprise more of the Catskill Delta. They formed, originally as overbank deposits. That is, they formed as floodplain deposits in between the old river channels. So, altogether, the strata of Kaaterskill Falls constitute a very representative cross section of the Catskill Delta.
Make sure you go there soon. We applaud what has been done at Kaaterskill Falls. Two thumbs up!
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