"I will never kick a rock"

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Robert Titus

Robert Titus has 309 articles published.

Roeliff Jansen Kill – Part three – the Taconic Hills 5-12-22

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“Old Man River”

Stories in Stone

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

We have been traveling down the length of the Roeliff Jansen Kill and we would like to continue on the third episode of this journey. Last time we explored the “drowned lands” of the Copake region. There we “saw” the Roeliff Jansen drainage basin as it was when ice age meltwater had drowned much of it. Now we continue our journey west and downstream as we pass through into the Taconic Mountains. These aren’t actually much more than hills, but they do exert a profound effect upon the very nature of the Roeliff Jansen Kill.

This week’s journey begins at the village of Ancram and finds us heading west on Route 7. We have left the swamps and marshes of the drowned lands behind, and what we see is something that is a much more conventional river valley. We are driving west through Gallatinville, and Spalding Furnace, two old towns with a lot of history. It’s a pretty landscape and it is easy not to notice the geological details. But there are things that we hope you will take note of.

At Ancram itself you will see bedrock in the stream. In fact, there is a pretty good ledge of it. That’s something we have not seen so far on our explorations of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. Back at the drowned lands we saw nothing in the way of bedrock. The whole upper part of the drainage basin is blanketed in ice age sediments. Much of it is sand and gravel, a lot of it is probably ice age lake sediment.

But from Ancram on west to Elizaville we will see, here and there along the stream banks, a number of nice ledges of bedrock. Sometimes you can see glimpses of the river from the highway, and you will look down into something of a bedrock canyon. At other times you will have to make a left turn and follow a side road down to the Roe-Jan. There you are, again, likely to be rewarded with another nice view of a bedrock.

These are the Taconic Hills, and they are made of very old units of rock. In our minds eyes we can travel to shallow and deep-water oceans that existed here hundreds of millions of years ago. Those ancient oceans accumulated masses of sediments which have, since then, hardened into rock. Mountain building events, which occurred 450, 375 and about 250 millions of years ago, have lifted these deposits to their current elevations.

We don’t know when the Roeliff Jansen Kill was first established, but it was likely a very long time ago. All rivers patiently erode away at the landscapes beneath them, and our Roe-Jan is no exception. And that gets us to the most important part of this column. This stretch of the stream is very, very old, many millions of years at the least.

Look left and right and, when the view is a good one, you will appreciate that a lot of erosion went into the creation of the valley here. And that erosion took a very long amount of time. Here is our hypothesis for this part of the river: Erosion of the valley between Ancram and Elizaville began millions and millions of years ago. During that long stretch of time the valley reached pretty much its present size and depth. Then, during the Ice Age, the whole region was buried in glaciers. After these glaciers melted the Roeliff Jansen Kill found its way back into its old channel. Back upstream, glacial sediments clogged the old valley, and the drowned lands came to be formed.

We are not yet done. Route 7 meets an intersection with Rt. 2, and you should follow Rt. 2 toward Elizaville. It seemed to us that the canyon grew deeper as we headed west. There were some very good bedrock exposures along the highway too. At Elizaville this stretch of the Roeliff Jansen Kill comes to an end. We have reached the western edge of the Taconics and are about to leave those hills. We will find a new geological province and see a different stretch of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. But that part of the journey will come next time.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist.”

 

 

Roeliff Jansen Kill – Part 2 – the Drowned Lands

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The Roe Jan, Part Two: The drowned lands – May 5, 2022

Stories in stone

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

Last week we began a journey down the Roeliff Jansen Kill to learn about its geology and its ice age history. We traced the stream back to its origins above Bash Bish Falls and followed it to the village of Copake. We witnessed the melting of glaciers and the tremendous flow of meltwater that once rushed out of the Berkshires and into Columbia County. To see this is a privilege that comes with learning an area’s geology.

But this time we are going to see a very different sort of Roeliff Jansen Kill. If you look at a map of its drainage basin from Copake to about four miles off to the west, you will find something that we can call the “drowned lands.” At the heart of this region is a parcel of land owned by the Columbia County Land Conservancy. It is officially called the “Drowned Lands Swamp Conservation Area.” This is only part of the total drowned lands which covers much of Copake and most of northeastern Ancram.

The Roeliff Jansen Kill flows through the region. Here the stream’s landscape is entirely different from anything we will see downstream or have seen upstream. The drowned lands are characterized by ponds and small lakes. The largest of these is Copake Lake which you can see, northwest of Copake on Route 7. We counted at least a dozen others; most of them are off the highway and out of sight.

The ponds and lakes are not the most important features in this stretch of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. Far more important are the numerous, and often very large, wetlands. Wander the roads of this area and you will commonly observe swamps, marshes, and bogs, big and small. All this we are, herein, referring to as the drowned lands.

There is a hierarchy of terms that we use to describe types of wetlands. Swamps are just dry enough to support trees and shrubs without drowning them. Marshes are so wet that trees and shrubs are excluded. Bogs are still wetter, and, over time, they accumulate peat deposits. I expect that all three will be found in this region.

But how did the drowned lands come to be? What was their origin? To answer that we have to go back, once again, to the end of the Ice Age. We have seen that vast quantities of meltwater were pouring down through Bash Bish Gorge and flowing out across the lands of Copake. Off to the west, starting in western Ancram, were a series of small hills. These impeded the westward flow of all this water and much of it would be pooled in the area of today’s drowned lands. We like to use the word “puddling” to describe this. Our wetlands are remnants of this ice age history, but there is more.

Along many of the banks of the streams that flow through this area are exposures of fine-grained sand deposits. We would like to spend more time studying these, but we are guessing that they are generally lake sediments and date back to post ice age times.

As you drive this area, try to imagine a few more feet of water covering all of the swampy locations. Go to the Drowned Lands Preserve and see it as a fairly large lake. If you want to, you can add a mastodon or two along the shores!

It would take a lot of very strenuous field work to properly document all of this. A geologist needs to hike about with a soil auger. He will stop here and there and drill holes into the ground to see the extent of the lake deposits. Over time, if he keeps at it, he can construct a map of the old lakes and ponds as they were. We wish we could do this, but we do not have the time.

Still, we are fairly confident of what we are hypothesizing here. We travel the region of the drowned lands, and we look into an ice age past. Then we see a landscape still struggling to overcome the effects of that history. We see Roe Jan drainage which has, even today, not yet developed enough efficiencies to get rid of all the meltwater that has accumulated.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist.”

Birth of the Roeliff Jansen Kill – Roe Jan 1

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Ice age birth of a river

Stories in Stone

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

We have been thinking about the Roeliff Jansen Kill lately. It’s no Mississippi but it is one of the largest rivers in Columbia County and, when we got the maps out and looked it over, we found it has a lot of history to tell. So much that we think we will spend several weeks describing it, starting today. Let’s take a slow journey down the river.

The first thing the people normally describe about a river is its source. The Roe-Jan has an inauspicious head in southernmost Hillsdale. It flows south from there and eventually becomes a real stream. But we found a better, and more realistic, beginning for the river when we looked at the map of its first major tributary. That’s Bash Bish Brook and we think it represents the real source of the Roe-Jan. Let’s go there and take a look.

Bash Bish Brook originates in western Massachusetts and flows west. As it crosses the state border it flows through a very fine gorge; that’s where the Taconic State Park is. The gorge is no accident; it is, we judge, a product of the Ice Age. It’s when our story begins. We would like to take you to the park as it was at the very end of the Ice Age, roughly about 14,000 years age.

If you go there, we would like you to picture the gorge as it was back then. Up in the hills behind the gorge in Massachusetts there was still a lot of glacial ice, and it was melting, and melting very quickly. Vast quantities of water were pounding down the gorge. Bash Bish Falls is a pretty noisy place today, especially after a heavy rain. But back then, it was something else. Look up at the full expanse of the gorge and, in your mind’s eye, fill it to the top with foaming white water. Make it loud, like a continuous explosion. Feel the pounding which would have almost made the ground shake. You have to go there and really let your imagination have free rein. Then, and only then, can you appreciate that which is right in front of you. Bash Bish Falls is a scenic location; we are lucky to have it. But it has an ice age heritage that you have to know a little to truly understand it.

Let’s keep going.  Drive west to the village of Copake and then take Route 7a south a short distance, cross Bash Bish Brook and look to your left and right. You will see a nondescript plain. If you look carefully, you will notice that there is just the least bit of a slope, dipping to the southwest. We geologists will notice such a landscape and it speaks to us. It is, we think, best described as glacial outwash; it’s mostly sand and gravel that was washed out of the hills above during that end of the Ice Age rush of water.

We would like to look at this landscape again and see it as it was back 14,000 years ago. There is a rush of water coming out of the Bash Bish Gorge above. The brown water is laden with sediment, much of it sand. The currents have broken up into dozens of small streams criss-crossing each other. We call these braided streams. Braided streams are typical of situations where there is an overabundance of sediment, far more than the stream can carry. That sediment is deposited upon a barren looking, glistening wet, gently sloping plane, which is inclined in a downstream direction. There are few if any plants to be seen; they have not yet had time to grow. This is Bash Bish Brook as it was back then. From time to time there were even greater rushes of water out of the hills above. For brief periods of time sizable sheets of water spread downstream across the whole surface.

That’s not the case anymore. Long ago, the glaciers melted and the braided stream that was Bash Bish Brook subsided to become the lesser flow of today. We are back in our own time. We will continue our journey, from here, next time. And we will see a very different sort of Roeliff Jansen Kill, and a landscape with a very different history.

Reach the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist.”

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Ecology in the Anthropocene

The Catskill Geologists

Robert and Johanna Titus

 

The frontiers of science are always exciting places to be. There can be so much creativity going on, sometimes even a frenzy of fast paced deep thinking. Our field, geology, is a very old and a very mature science so you might think that little of this occurs anymore. Maybe – or maybe not. In recent times our science has been debating something called the “Anthropocene.” That’s a, so far, hypothetical unit of time that may have only recently begun. The question is “has mankind altered the world so much that the fossil and stratigraphic record will record and recall the impact of this alteration?” Will geologists of the distant future find stratified rocks that record dramatic and worldwide changes that date back to our times? Late at night in geology bars we, today’s geologists, debate all this.

 

Well, the two of us think that this notion of an Anthropocene just might be legit. We think that there are two trends going on currently that will dramatically alter the future fossil record. First, there seem to be reasons to foresee a general decline in worldwide biodiversity. That’s because of, more than anything else, habitat reduction. Our human species numbers about 7 1/2 billion individuals today and that will quite possibly continue increasing until leveling off at about 11 billion by the end of this century. There were only two billion of us as late as 1930 so you can see that a dramatic population growth has been underway.

Along the way we have also been expanding into habitats where we had been, not long ago, few in numbers. Currently our accelerating expansion into the Amazon Basin is one of the most striking example of this. All this has led to worldwide habitat reduction which has been literally squeezing out one species after another. We have, for example, real fears for the near future fate of the Amazon Basin. The rapid reduction of elephants is also another cause for concern. We can only guess that the future fossil record will see a depletion of species diversity, recorded in the stratified rocks of our age. That would mark the beginning of the Anthropocene’s new and very different fossil record.

But there is something else. Our expansion throughout the world has facilitated the appearance of abundant invasive species. Where we live, in Greene County, there has been an increasing abundance of Japanese knot weed. Throughout the American South there are massive infestations of kudzu. Both are invasives that were transported from Japan with the help of human intervention. Among other things, invasives have the potential of reducing or eliminating native species. The invasive chestnut blight fungus has, for example, all but eliminated the chestnut. Our images of the Anthropocene ecologies are thus not just depleted in species but far more homogenous as well. Future geologists will likely see depleted and homogenized Anthropocene fossil records. That will help define the new time unit.

We want to make a few more points. First, none of this has anything to do with global climate change. If we could push a button and carbon dioxide emissions would come to a complete halt, that might stabilize the climate, but it would hardly stop or even slow human population growth. So too, it would not end habitat reduction. Nor would it even slow species invasions. Second, we do not recall seeing a lot of discussion of these issues. We suspect they have been overshadowed by talk of climate change. These are altogether different ecological problems. That’s troubling.

Are these changes enough to define a new epoch of geologic time? Others think the appearance of radioactive wastes is important. And how does human driven climate change fit into this scenario? Late at night in geology bars…

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook age “The Catskill Geologist.” Read their blogs at “thecatskillgeologist.com.”

Ghosts at Clermont

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Ghosts at Clermont

The Woodstock Times 2009

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

A geologist never knows when he is about to take a trip into our distant past. It’s just part of the job. We began one of those time travels recently when we were visiting the Livingston mansion Clermont on the Hudson. Just north of the visitor’s center we saw a fine honey locust tree. The honey locust is certainly not the greatest of trees; there are bigger and prettier ones. Nevertheless, there is something very special about this species. Honey locusts are “armored” with very dangerous looking spikes. These can be three or four inches long, and often they occur in mean-looking clusters. The biggest of those is found on the lower reaches of the tree’s trunk. Up above, there are plenty more strung out on the lower branches.

 

Brush up against this tree and you will quickly find out what they are for; they are viscous defense mechanisms. The lower branches hang down and seem to reach out with their spikes as if intending to do harm. Browsing mammals will soon find out, and long remember, the dangers of trying to eat the foliage of this tree.

But who are these spikes defending against? Your might guess the white-tailed deer, especially if you are among those who have prized shrubbery in your yard. But white-tailed deer would hardly be bothered by these spikes. They have slender snouts, and they find plenty of space to pick between the spikes. No, locusts have never much worried about deer.

But, if it is not deer, then who? There are no other obvious browsers in today’s woods so why do the trees go to all that trouble of growing those nasty long spikes? Those spikes, also, had to be aimed at something a lot bigger than a deer. And a lot taller too; they reach up to about 15 feet or so above the ground. There is a real problem here; the fact is that there simply are no big creatures in today’s world that threaten our locusts.

But there were some a long ago. Back at the end of the ice age the Hudson Valley did have a great herbivore which might very well have pestered our honey locusts. And it was plenty large enough too. It was the mastodon.

Modern elephants have a bad reputation for tearing up forests. They love to pull down limbs and they are perfectly capable of stripping bark off the lower trunks of trees as well. In fact, elephants can virtually create their own habitat. They destroy so many trees that they break up the forests, creating lots of meadow in between the remaining patches of forest.

That rambunctious behavior creates just exactly the right habitat for honey locusts. Locusts like broken forests, preferring to be right on the border between meadow and trees. So, it would seem that evolution had cleverly adapted the locust for life with the mastodonts. These great elephants created the habitat that was just right for locusts. At the same time the spikes protected the locusts from any potential damage from the mastodons.

And there was more: the honey locust seed pods very likely appealed to the mastodons. Those seed pods hung just above the spikes; the elephants could just reach beyond the spikes, eat the pods and then deposit the seeds elsewhere within their droppings.

All in all, the Mastodons and honey locusts enjoyed a very fine symbiosis. But then, abruptly, it all ended.

The mastodons went extinct about 11,000 years ago. The locusts lost the elephants that had helped them so much in reproduction. They have survived to this day, but surely, they are not as successful as was once the case. Still, in the end, it is quite the concept to contemplate. These trees and their long spikes vigilantly wait for the elephants that will never ever come again. It is only the ghosts of mastodonts that still haunt our forests.

Contact the authors at randjtitusprodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist,”

Ghosts at Clermont

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Ghosts at Clermont

The Woodstock Times 2009

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

A geologist never knows when he is about to take a trip into our distant past. It’s just part of the job. We began one of those time travels recently when we were visiting the Livingston mansion Clermont on the Hudson. Just north of the visitor’s center we saw a fine honey locust tree. The honey locust is certainly not the greatest of trees; there are bigger and prettier ones. Nevertheless, there is something very special about this species. Honey locusts are “armored” with very dangerous looking spikes. These can be three or four inches long, and often they occur in mean-looking clusters. The biggest of those is found on the lower reaches of the tree’s trunk. Up above, there are plenty more strung out on the lower branches.

 

Brush up against this tree and you will quickly find out what they are for; they are viscous defense mechanisms. The lower branches hang down and seem to reach out with their spikes as if intending to do harm. Browsing mammals will soon find out, and long remember, the dangers of trying to eat the foliage of this tree.

But who are these spikes defending against? Your might guess the white-tailed deer, especially if you are among those who have prized shrubbery in your yard. But white-tailed deer would hardly be bothered by these spikes. They have slender snouts, and they find plenty of space to pick between the spikes. No, locusts have never much worried about deer.

But, if it is not deer, then who? There are no other obvious browsers in today’s woods so why do the trees go to all that trouble of growing those nasty long spikes? Those spikes, also, had to be aimed at something a lot bigger than a deer. And a lot taller too; they reach up to about 15 feet or so above the ground. There is a real problem here; the fact is that there simply are no big creatures in today’s world that threaten our locusts.

But there were some a long ago. Back at the end of the ice age the Hudson Valley did have a great herbivore which might very well have pestered our honey locusts. And it was plenty large enough too. It was the mastodon.

Modern elephants have a bad reputation for tearing up forests. They love to pull down limbs and they are perfectly capable of stripping bark off the lower trunks of trees as well. In fact, elephants can virtually create their own habitat. They destroy so many trees that they break up the forests, creating lots of meadow in between the remaining patches of forest.

That rambunctious behavior creates just exactly the right habitat for honey locusts. Locusts like broken forests, preferring to be right on the border between meadow and trees. So, it would seem that evolution had cleverly adapted the locust for life with the mastodonts. These great elephants created the habitat that was just right for locusts. At the same time the spikes protected the locusts from any potential damage from the mastodons.

And there was more: the honey locust seed pods very likely appealed to the mastodons. Those seed pods hung just above the spikes; the elephants could just reach beyond the spikes, eat the pods and then deposit the seeds elsewhere within their droppings.

All in all, the Mastodons and honey locusts enjoyed a very fine symbiosis. But then, abruptly, it all ended.

The mastodons went extinct about 11,000 years ago. The locusts lost the elephants that had helped them so much in reproduction. They have survived to this day, but surely, they are not as successful as was once the case. Still, in the end, it is quite the concept to contemplate. These trees and their long spikes vigilantly wait for the elephants that will never ever come again. It is only the ghosts of mastodonts that still haunt our forests.

Contact the authors at randjtitusprodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist,”

The New Kaaterskill Falls trail, Part 7 – Art at the falls.

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Where they sketched: Winslow Homer, “Under the Falls.”

Tri County Historicql Views; Spring 2021

Robert and Johanna Titus

 

We are endlessly fond of the landscape art done throughout the Catskills by 19th Century painters. Most of them were members of the Hudson River School of Art. Winslow Homer does not belong among those artists. Homer came along just a little too late to be in that School. He started out as a commercial illustrator and, only later, took up oil and watercolor painting. He is best known for his marine subjects, but he did one image in the Catskills that is among our personal favorites. It’s a wood engraving which is kind of an illustrator’s version of a Hudson River School painting. That’s “Under the Falls,” an 1872 picture of Kaaterskill Falls. Take a look at our figure 1. This was originally published in Harper’s Weekly, and copies are commonly found for sale in antique shops and online.

 

FIG. 1. “Under the falls, 1872.”

FIG, 2 – The same spot today.

 

The picture shows something that is sometimes called the “amphitheater,” a great cavity lying directly below the top of upper Kaaterskill Falls. Two attractive and well-dressed young women gaze downstream from a perch on the western side of the falls. In the distance are a number of other hikers. It is a typical summer day in the year 1872 and the falls are a busy place.

We just couldn’t keep ourselves from going there. It was years ago when we first climbed up to where Homer sketched. You can follow in our footsteps and see what we saw. Look at our figure 2; we took it from what we think was Homer’s very spot. That was a slope just above the western side of the falls (our figure 3).

FIG. 3- Slope on distant left is where Homer sketched

But we are geologists, not art historians; what is the geological story here? We look into this image and our focus is on the deepest recess of the “amphitheater.” It lies just below an enormous thickness of sandstone and sandstone is rugged material. See our figures 4 and 5. That’s a brown quartz sandstone above and it’s the stuff of an ancient river channel.

Fig . 4 – Fossil red soils below, brown sandstone above.

We have gone back to the Devonian time period, about 385 million years ago, and are standing upon a riverbank deep within the great Catskill Delta. Those thick sandstones are now lying before us as the channel sands of a river. It is an enormous river, deep and wide. It had to be in order to accumulate all that sand. We gaze east and we see, in the distance, the river’s opposite bank. Standing, all around us and on that distant shore, is a forest of primitive trees. That’s the famed Gilboa Forest. Evolution has only recently produced forests, and none of the trees we see here even remotely resemble those of our modern world. Below these trees we spy a brick red soil. Our modern-day selves look at the falls and peer at the brick red sedimentary rocks that make up the lower part of the amphitheater. See our figure 5. Then we look up again at the river sandstones. Our journey into the past has been a fruitful one; now, in a scientific flash, we understand the geology of Kaaterskill Falls, especially its amphitheater.

FIG. 5 – Red petrified soils below river channel sandstones; photo by Don Teator.

It was all those millions of year ago that a great river flowed across a delta that was large enough to rival the Mississippi Delta. Let’s call our stream the Kaaterskill River. It had a powerful flow and that caused it to erode into its banks as it migrated back and forth across the floodplain. Geologists actually prefer to use the verb meander. This meandering stream cut its way through the red soils and muds of its own floodplain. As the Kaaterskill River migrated off to the west, it left a channel filled with brown sands lying upon a sequence of red soils. All this would eventually harden into the rocks of Kaaterskill Falls. Again, see our figures 4 and 5. Those red soil deposits erode easily while the river sandstones resist and for jutting ledges. That is the origin of the amphitheater and Winslow Homer’s art.

We had been privileged to sit where Homer sat and to see what he had seen, But, for us, there was actually so much more.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist.” Read their blogs at “thecatskillgeologist.com.”

The New Kaaterskill Falls Trail, Part Six – Ancient Rivers – Mar. 31, 2022

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The New Kaaterskill Falls trail: Part Six: Ancient streams

On The Rocks; The Woodstock Times

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

It’s a funny thing about our geological wanderings. Sometimes, when we are on our way back down a trail, we see things that we missed on the way up. That was the case with our adventures at Kaaterskill Falls. We thought we were pretty much done with the day and were hiking back when we just took notice of things that we had not seen earlier.

Take a look at our first photo. It shows a rock type called a conglomerate. That’s a rock composed mostly of pebbles. It is allowed to have at least some cobbles too, especially if they are small ones. That’s what you should be able to recognize in our photo. We found a fair scattering of boulders composed of this rock type in the Kaaterskill Falls canyon. We looked but did not find any bedrock horizons composed of this stuff.

These conglomerates were stream deposits, but not just any streams; these were special ones. It takes a lot of energy for a stream to be able to move a pebble, let alone a cobble. We measure the energy of a stream in terms of current speed. Faster flowing rivers have more energy than the slow ones. These had likely been very fast flowing streams. But that may not make much sense if you have been reading our recent columns. We have been describing ancient streams that were flowing across the broad flat floodplains of a major river delta. There is almost no downhill on a delta so the water should not have picked up much speed. How could such stream deposits have formed?

Modern river deltas almost always display sluggish rivers flowing gently across flat surfaces. Look into any of these types of streams and you find fine grained sand, not pebbles, and certainly not cobbles. So, where did these rocks come from? These were mountain streams; they flowed down the steep slopes of a mountain front. But where were those mountains?

When we got a chance, we looked east and, on that horizon, we envisioned the profile of a tall mountain range. Those were the Acadian Mountains. We have written about them from time to time. Those were lofty mountains that rose up, probably tens of thousands of feet, where the Berkshires are today. We looked east, and into the past; we saw the steep west-facing Acadian slopes. Pounding, raging, foaming, thundering mountains streams cascaded down those hills.

Those were the streams with enough energy (velocity) to sweep up and carry off pebbles and cobbles. You have, no doubt, seen mountain streams. They are sometimes also called whitewater streams and for good reason. We want you, from now on, to be watching for the conglomerates that we are describing. They are in those mountain streams. When you see one, we want you to form an image in your mind’s eye of what they represent.

But we still have a problem here. Whitewater streams are supposed to be on steep mountain slopes so again we ask – what are such rocks doing in the deposits of the Catskill Delta? We pondered that for a while and then hypothesized that these streams must have had so much momentum that, by the time they got to the flat delta surface, they simply continued onward, out across it.

We were happy to have noticed those conglomerates and then we continued on down the trail, almost getting back to the Rte. 23A. But there was still one more stratigraphic feature. Take a look at our second photo. Here we see a cross section from one of those typical Catskill Delta streams, one of those that had slowly meandered across the delta.

Those streams do become far more energetic during flood events, and we saw the evidence. Our photo shows strata dipping to the left and to the right. This is called trough cross bedding. These are flood deposits. During one moment of flooding the currents deposited sediment one way and a little later, sediments were deposited the other way. This is not terribly unusual or uncommon, but this was a very nice example. It was visually striking and made for a good photo, so here it is.

We continued on down to Rte. 23A and made our way back to the car; our day was over. We had explored the new Kaaterskill Falls trail and found it well worth the effort. We are grateful to the Department of Environmental Conservation for what they have done here. They have dramatically improved what had already been a fine scenic trail.

We want you to share this experience and urge you to follow in our footsteps, but we would be remiss if we did not leave out a warning. Soon after our visit a 17-year-old boy fell to his death here. It is a very dangerous place. Go and enjoy it but be very careful.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Visit there facebook page “The Catskill Geologist” or their blog site “thecatskillgeologist.com.”

The New Kaaterskill Falls Trail, Part Five – March 24, 2022

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The New Kaaterskill Falls trail: Part Five: Beyond the falls

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

We continue our adventures on the newly renovated trail system at Kaaterskill Falls. In our last installment we had climbed up the Canyon below the falls. Then we climbed the new stairs and reached the top of the falls. Now we are ready to continue on toward Kaaterskill Clove itself. It used to be that the trail up the canyon was officially a dead end. It ended at the bottom of the falls, and hikers were discouraged from going any farther. They were the cause of too much erosion, foot erosion. Now, however, as we have seen, you can climb the stairs and hike on to the top of the falls.

From there we can now easily continue on to the rest of the trail system. From the top of the falls we turn around and head back upstream. We walk up the path on the left (west) side of the stream. It does not take long to reach a place where you follow the trail across the stream. When we were there last, we had to make an easy crossing, hopping across large boulders. Since then, a small bridge has been constructed here. Cross it, ascend the trail and head east until you reach a junction with the fabled Blue Trail, otherwise known as the Escarpment Trail.

The Blur Trail may just be one of the most picturesque hiking trails anywhere. It begins just west of Windham High Peak and continues south, many miles to Kaaterskill Falls. The Escarpment Trail then links with parts of the Long Path and then the Overlook Mountain Trail. Altogether, this is a wonderful hiking experience. The recent renovations have, of course, only made it better.

Our goals, when we were there, were less ambitious; we just wanted to reach the north rim of Kaaterskill Clove. We continued south on the Blue Trail, and found our way, skirting the southwest flank of South Mountain. Soon we reached the Layman Monument. It’s a commemoration of the sacrifice made by Frank Layman here in the August of 1900. Layman died fighting a forest fire. His monument commands a view of Haines Falls in the distance (see our first photo).

We continued down the Blue Trail, heading to the east. The trail is blessed with a number of very good views into the clove. People have been coming this way for two centuries. Almost all of them came here for the scenery. You find a good location, pause, and gaze downward. There are massive ledges of sandstone all along the rim, each forming a cliff. The blue trail hugs those cliffs, assuring a picturesque experience. Below, the clove narrows to a knife edge at the bottom, about a thousand feet down.

You look up and gaze across the Clove. On the other side is an equally steep slope. It is cut by several picturesque streams. They include Santa Cruz and Wildcat Ravines. These two streams don’t just flow downstream, they plummet. Each follows an almost perfectly straight line from their tops to their bottoms. They are recognized as belonging to a special category of streams, called parallel streams. After an especially rainy spell they are powerful, raging, foaming, pounding, thundering torrents. They are called “parallel” because they all flow straight downhill, parallel to each other. The steep slopes generate those straight pathways. It’s important to understand what such streams are, and to be able to recognize them; you need to know these things in order to truly comprehend and truly appreciate landscapes such as these.

We continued on until we reached a scenic view which has just the right name. It is “Sunset Rock.” It is a great ledge of sandstone that towers above the Clove. (See our second photo). It’s not just a pretty face; there is a lot of good story telling that can be done right here. Look at our photo and take note of the flat surface. When you are actually there, you will also notice glacial striations that were carved here by a passing glacier. That glacier’s ice once filled all of the valley below and overran the ledge. That’s when this flat surface was carved.

Now, look east from Sunset Rock and envision a great glacier coming out of the Hudson Valley. It advances toward us and, as it does to, we look down and see it rising within the Clove. It swells up and passes over Sunset Rock and scours that flat surface. It will continue westward and enter the canyon below Kaaterskill Falls. Then it will rise up that canyon, cross over the falls, and flow onward as far as South Lake. This is the flow of ice that created the scenery here. Stand atop Sunset Rock and slowly turn a full 360 degrees. Drink in the beauty here. Nothing here is accidental; it is all the product (we think the gift) of the Ice Age.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Visit their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist” and their blog site “thecatskillgeologist.com”

The New Kaaterskill Falls Trail – Part Four – The Top of the Falls.

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The New Kaaterskill Falls trail:  Part four: The top of the falls

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus

 

Kaaterskill Falls has always been renowned for its scenic beauty. It first became widely known after the nearby Catskill Mountain House Hotel opened in 1824. From the hotel the young landscape artist, Thomas Cole, went exploring and visited the falls. He painted two of his most well-loved views here, one from the top of the falls and another from the bottom. You will have no trouble finding these images online. The falls have, subsequently, been painted by generations of artists who followed in Cole’s footsteps.

Generations of recreational hikers have also visited the falls and now the new staircase makes such visits much easier and far more practical. We have always admired the scenery at Kaaterskill Falls, but we are different from most others; when we visit the falls or look at those paintings, we see glaciers! We stand at the top of the falls and look down to see a glacier filling the valley below us; as we watch, it slowly rises up the canyon and then we have to step out of the way as it swells up over the falls themselves.  We lift ourselves up into the air and turn around to watch as the flow of the ice continues on to South Lake. Geologists can do that sort of thing.

How can we claim such otherworldly visions, especially as scientists? It is an extraordinary claim and Carl Sagan said it best when he said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Can we back up our “visions” with evidence? Yes, we can. It all began down at Bastion Falls where we began our trek several columns ago. We had climbed down from Rte. 23A and were about to ascend the canyon. But we looked around and noticed a number of boulders with remarkable features on their surfaces. Take a look at our first photo; see one of these boulders. Notice that the surface of this rock is covered with large deep scratches. These are called glacial striations. This rock had been swept along with the flow of ice and dragged along for who knows how far. Along the way it was dragged up against many other similar rocks, and each impact left a scar in the form of a striation.

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After seeing the first of these down at Bastion Falls, our eyes were trained to notice more – many more. These comprised the “extraordinary” evidence of the glacier that had, long ago, flowed down the Hudson Valley, risen up Kaaterskill Clove and then turned into the falls canyon. We kept finding more of those striated boulders as we climbed up all the way to the bottom of the falls. We realized that we had been following in the path of the glacier that had been here about 14,000 years ago. But, the question remained: had that glacier ascended up and actually crossed over the top of the Kaaterskill Falls themselves. Those falls are 260 feet tall; could a glacier have actually “climbed” over them? We needed more extraordinary evidence. We climbed the new stairs and hiked on to the top of the falls hoping to find that evidence.

At the top of the new staircase a hiker is led to a dirt trail. That trail, in turn, leads to an intersection with the Blue Trail. A right turn there takes you on to the northern rim of Kaaterskill Clove; a left turn takes you to the top of the falls. We went left. Soon we were standing on the great ledge that makes up the top of the falls. We gazed down the canyon below and could not help but envision it filling with the ice of a glacier that slowly rose right up to where we were standing. But had that glacier actually passed this spot; had it risen and continued on to the north? We looked about and there was the evidence, something we had never noticed before at this spot.

It had been very dry in recent weeks and the flow of water was very low. Most of the bedrock at the bottom of the stream was now exposed and on its surface we found the evidence we had been looking for. The sandstone came from a Devonian stream channel and it contained several small quartz cobbles.  These had been carried by that long-ago flow of water. All these cobbles had originally been rounded by the Devonian streamflow. But now, each one had had its upper half planed off. Its flat upper surface had been scraped flat so that it lay at exactly the same level as the surrounding sandstone (see our second photo).

These were ice age features that we have frequently seen elsewhere at North Lake. When a glacier moves across a sandstone landscape it is likely to intersect cobbles within the country rock. It will plane right through them. These are fairly common on the Blue Trail at South Mountain and near Sunset Rock, but this was the first time we had seen them at the top of Kaaterskill Falls. They are features unique to the flow of glacial ice; we had our undisputable (and extraordinary) evidence. Our glacier had risen up over the falls and scoured off the tops of those pebbles as it continued upstream. But there was more.

At the top of Kaaterskill Falls lies a gigantic boulder (our third photo). Curiously, it does not have a name, but we immediately recognized it as being what is called a glacial erratic. Erratics are boulders that were swept up in the flow of ice and transported from where they came from and left where they are found today when the ice melted. This erratic had likely fallen off of South Mountain and onto and into our advancing glacier. It then flowed with the moving ice just to a site which would eventually be the top of the falls. Then the climate warmed, the ice melted and the erratic was lowered down to where it is seen today. It’s additional convincing evidence of the local glacier.

Climbing up to the top of this boulder is not easy but it is worth the effort. We did so and found the name Sanford Robinson Gifford inscribed on its top. Gifford was one of the most esteemed members of the Hudson River School of Art. He had painted here and commemorated his visit with the inscription. We wondered if he knew the ice age origins of this boulder.

One final treat for us was to walk down the dirt path that leads to the lands west of the falls. It only took us three minutes to get to the new deck with its knockout view of all of Kaaterskill Falls. We described that in the next  issue.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Visit their facebook page “The Catskill Geologist” and their blog site thecatskillgeologist.com.

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