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The Glasco Pike #4 – A Fossil River

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The Glasco Pike #4: A Fossil River

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


We have been exploring time itself over the course of the past several columns. Physically, we have been moving westward along the Glasco Pike. But, in terms of time, we have gone back to the early Devonian time period and have been moving forward. Our goal is to look at our local geological history in the way that geologists see it. We are looking at several million years of time and history. This is history that took place during the Devonian time period. Young world creationists do not believe in the Devonian. They commonly attempt to fit their view of geological history into the catastrophe of the Noah’s Flood. Our job is not to criticize that but to explain the point of view of geologists. Let’s continue our journey.

We are going to drive about a mile west of our last stop where the Saw Kill crossed the Glasco Turnpike. We will climb a hill and then, to the right, is a fine ledge of rock. Parking is tricky here and we don’t want anyone to be hurt so use good judgment. You might just glimpse and run. It’s best to view the ledge from across the highway. When you do so then you can begin to see what these sandstones represent. They make up a fine cross section of an ancient river channel. Take a good look; you will see the channel is deepest in the middle and it shallows both left and right.

This is a petrified river. That is likely to be a novel idea for most of you. There are petrified trees and petrified dinosaurs, but a river? Who has ever heard of such a thing? Well, Catskill area geologists have, and they have heard of a lot of them. When we left off last time, we were watching the Woodstock area as it was rising out of the sea. Our view of the outcropping along the Saw Kill showed a shallowing sea. The strata at the top of that outcrop formed near the ancient shoreline. If that interpretation is correct then it cannot be much of a surprise that younger, overlying rocks should display evidence of having formed in a terrestrial landscape. What is more “terrestrial” than a river?

We have entered into the realm of the great Catskill Delta. It is a petrified delta and there we encounter another one of those surprising phenomena. Yep, there are petrified trees and maybe petrified rivers but a delta!? Look out the window and up into the Catskills. Try to imagine that the whole thing is a petrified delta. Kind of changes your perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The best way to come to understand the Catskill Delta is to get out a good map of Bangladesh. That Asian nation has been developed upon the Ganges River Delta. A good map will show a landscape dominated by scores of rivers, big and small, all emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Our little petrified river was very similar; it was one among scores of rivers crossing the Catskill Delta and emptying into a body of water called the Catskill Sea. Our river’s waters had descended down the slopes of the Acadian Mountains: a great range of mountains in what is today New England. Mountain streams had eroded into the Acadians and turned a great deal of mountain into sand. Our river had carried a lot of that sand as a channel deposit. See top of our first photo.

When you look at a river, it appears to be something that will last forever. Who can possibly imagine the Saw Kill or the Esopus Creek not being where they are? But rivers don’t last forever; someday even the Hudson will disappear. It’s easier to lose a river on a delta. There rivers have a habit of jumping from one site to another. During great floods, a river can be diverted of to a new direction, leaving its old channel abandoned. This is, no doubt, what happened to our little petrified river. Its flow of water jumped to a new site and went in a new direction and the old channel sands were left to slowly petrify. All memory of that river was lost until geologists came along and recognized what is there, along the Glasco Turnpike.

Charles Darwin is remembered mostly as a biologist, but he was a very good geologist as well. He would have understood the story of the Catskill Delta and this view of rocks would have fit very nicely into his mindset.

Young Earth creationists will likely have a problem here. If the Catskills are a great petrified delta, then that is something that must have taken an enormous amount of time to have been deposited. A mere 6,000 years is not going to be enough time, geologists think that it took many millions of years. And that is the point of this whole series of columns; We am laying out the evidence. We report and you decide!

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




The Glasco Pike: Rising out of the Sea Nov. 6, 2021

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Retreat of the sea

On the rocks, The Woodstock Times.

Robert Titus


Charles Darwin’s great theory is based upon two of the fundamental concepts of geology: first, the Earth is a very, very old, very slowly changing place and, second the fossil record has been gradually changing throughout all that vast length of time, with primitive creatures coming first and more advanced forms coming later.

We have been journeying down the Glasco Turnpike with the intent of testing these notions to see if Darwin was right. If he was right, then our explorations into the distant past should bring us to very different images of the Woodstock region from that which we know today. We should find a fossil record which reveals very different plants and animals from those of today’s Ulster County.

So far, so good: these rocks are a little less than 400 million years old, and they speak to us of a slowly changing Ulster County. Our first stop brought us to the shallow tropical seas of the Helderberg Limestone. We saw bedrock composed of lithified sedimentary limestone that had accumulated on the floor of something very much like today’s Bahamas. Our second stop, at the Bridge that crosses the Esopus Creek, at the eastern end of the Glasco Turnpike, showed us the same ocean after it had become much deeper and very stagnant.

Our journey, today, has taken us west to just across the Plattekill Creek. Towering above the highway is an almost magnificent outcrop. It rises a hundred feet or more above the Plattekill. The lower half of the outcrop is composed of very dark shale. Above that are a number of lighter colored, thick strata. All these strata belong to something called the Mount Marion Formation, which makes a lot of sense as that mountain rises above us at this site. This thick sequence speaks to us of a very important chapter in the history of the Woodstock region.

Those black shale beds, at the bottom of the outcrop, tell us about the moderately deep water, very quiet sea that was once here. Try to imagine a very dark, very still sea bottom. Current activity is rare, so silt and clay particles have no trouble settling to the bottom. That’s the stuff that has hardened into the dark shale. There was nearly no oxygen in the sediment and that is why it is so dark. Black is the color of carbon-rich biologic material which is all that is left of most of the few animals that once lived here. Oxygen, in the sediment, would have destroyed that dark stuff and bleached the rock, but there just wasn’t very much of it.

That absence of oxygen was important. It was too deep and dark for any plants, so they didn’t make any. It was too quiet for currents to sweep oxygen downwards from the air above so, all in all, this was nearly an oxygen-free habitat. That’s likely why fossil shellfish are so uncommon here; I remember finding a few ten years ago when I last searched this location, but I found none this time.

How deep is deep would be a fair question. But we geologists get really evasive when asked that one. It is not easy to come up with a good estimate. We would guess a few hundred feet, but another geologist might come up with a very different “guestimate.” We don’t know!

It’s the upper half of the outcrop where things get a lot more interesting. If you look up there carefully you will see a number of much thicker strata. We weren’t ready to scale these heights, but we strongly suspect that these beds are thick sandstones. Usually this is the product of moments of depositional excitement. Something, probably a major storm, stirred up the old seafloor and transported large quantities of sand far enough offshore to get here. After this curious event, things settled down and more dark shale was deposited.

The fact that these sand beds are found only in the upper half of the exposure suggests strongly that this was a shallowing sea and that the shallowing was associated with an advancing shoreline. As the shoreline approached and the waters shallowed, it became easier for storms to stir things up here and to form those strata of sand. We call such a shallowing sequence a “regression.” The sea was literally draining away.

We are not used to seeing regressions in modern times. The glaciers have been melting and, worldwide, the pattern has been one of rising seas over the past 10,000 years or so. We live in a time of transgression and that just, to us, seems to be normal. But, in the distant past, things were often different. Earth history presents us with as many regressions as transgressions. In the Glasco Turnpike is showing us one of them.

But there must be a bigger picture here. There must be a lot more to the story. There is. Next time we will rise out of the sea.

Reach the authors at randjtjtitus@prodigy.com. Join their facebook page “thecatskillgeologist.”

Glasco Pike #2 – The Poison Sea 10-21-21

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The Poison Sea

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times; Feb. 3, 2011

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


We have been, in this column, spending several months driving west on the Glasco Turnpike. We are actually exploring time. Our goal is to come to truly understand something about the passage of enormous lengths of time and to see how a region changes through those lengths. This is the vicinity of 74 degrees west longitude and 42 degrees north latitude. We want to see how this dot on the globe changed as millions of years of the Devonian time period passed by.

We are also interested in testing the theory of evolution. Darwin’s great theory predicts that the world is very old. Creationists, who challenge the theory, often argue that the planet is only 6,000 years old. Who is right? We shall continue to see some of the evidence.

Last time, we visited the Helderberg Limestone, along Rte. 9W. This time let’s turn west onto the Glasco Turnpike itself and cross the bridge. There on the other side is a very fine outcrop. It is definitely not the Helderberg Limestone; it is a towering cliff of fine grained, black rock. The unit has a name; it is the Esopus Shale. That’s a bit of a misnomer as the rock is not actually shale. Geologists have struggled to find just the right name for it, without much success. Some call it the Esopus Grit and that might be as good a name as any. Whatever its name, it does have a story to tell.

If you visit the site, you will see what appears to be stratification in the rock; these “strata” are nearly vertical. That is an illusion. We will come back to this in a later column, but for now, take a closer look. About two thirds of the way up the outcrop, you can see the real strata, they are very faintly seen as bands of dark and very dark gray. These strata, like other rock units in the area, are tilted to the west.

To us, what this rock is today is less important than what it was in the distant past. It is Devonian in age, and a little less than 400 million years old. This dark, fine-grained rock used to be dark, fine-grained sediment. Anybody would have looked at it and called it mud. Back in the Devonian the mud would have been very wet and squishy. It quite likely would have reeked with a foul, maybe sulfurous stink.

This sort of stuff accumulates at the bottom of a very deep and very stagnant ocean. Stagnant seas never have enough agitation to bring oxygen in from the air above and, in the absence of oxygen, there is no decay. Without decay, all the black organic matter remains well preserved and hence the dark, malodorous nature. Today, the Black Sea of Asia is a modern analogue; scientists, such as Bob Ballard of Titanic fame, have to technology to actually go down and see such a deep seafloors. But we are the mind’s eye and we don’t need technology.

We would like you to stand along the edge of the highway here and wave your hand through the space around you. This space was once at the bottom of a very deep sea. We are the mind’s eye and we can go back to that seafloor. It’s inky black, too deep for any light to penetrate. These are the tropics and the water is quite surprisingly warm. There are no currents down here and, of course, there is no oxygen. All this helps to make it stagnant. Because of that, there are no animals to be seen. No fish have swum in these depths and not even shellfish can be found. It is a spooky place.

It is quite a contrast to our last visit into the past. Recently we stopped along Rte. 9-W and saw the Helderberg Sea. That had been a very shallow tropical sea, something of a paradise in that it had a very rich assemblage of animals living in it. Now, everything is different; the waters are deep, dark and lifeless. What happened?

Between the times of the Helderberg and Esopus Seas, the crust has experienced a dramatic subsidence; it has just plain sunk. The waters have grown progressively deeper. Off to the east there is a rising land mass and off to the west the waters are still very shallow. So the Esopus Sea is an isolated deep basin. That’s how it came to stagnate.

We have just witnessed the sort of dramatic change that can affect a region over a very long period of time, a few million years, no doubt. This is the length of time needed for evolution to occur and this is the sort of environmental change that helped to drive evolution. In this, our second stop down the Glasco Turnpike, we have continued to explore a changing geology that is very much in accord with the Darwinian view. But we still have a long way to go. (Next time: retreat of the sea)

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

The Glasco Pike #1″ the Tropical Sea Oct. 21, 2021

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The Glasco Turnpike 1: its Ancient Tropical Sea

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times, 2008

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


Wherever you might happen to find yourself while reading this, please wave your arm through the air around you and begin to wax philosophical about it. This spot has been here for as long as the Earth has been here and that is about 4.6 billion years. Contemplate the history that has unfolded right here. Think of the plants and animals that occupied the very space where you are now. Geologists are accustomed to being awed by the things they discover and encounter and this is one of those marvels.

This location has a longitude and latitude. Woodstock is at 42 degrees latitude by 74 degrees longitude. If we could go back in time and bring a GPS device, we could find this spot and see what it was like way back when. That notion is mostly beyond the reach of science but just not entirely. We would like to take you back in time to this location and see what it was like at several important moments in time. It is all part of our effort to bring to meaning of the theory of evolution to you, the local readers.

Evolution only works if the world is very old, billions of years, in fact. Our aim over the next five columns is to take a journey through time, curiously our trek will be mostly along the Glasco Turnpike. Let’s head east on the Glasco Turnpike until we arrive at its intersection with Rte. 9. Turn right, which is south, and go a short distance, just a half mile or so. Notice the gray ledges along the east side of the highway. That is our first time-travel destination.

This is the Glenerie Limestone. It is very, very fossiliferous so we geologists are very fond of these rocks; they are always a lot of fun to visit; their time is fun to visit too. As you approach the roadside outcrop, notice the horizontal layering to the rocks. This is, of course, called stratification. The marvelous thing about these horizons is that each was once the bottom of the Glenerie Sea. When you get to the outcrop, put your finger on one of those beds of rock. You are actually touching a seafloor. That’s not exaggeration, it’s not literary license, it’s a fact. The water is gone, and the old sediments have hardened into limestone, but each horizon was once the bottom of a sea.

That was a long time ago; in fact, that’s the whole point of this article. We have now visited the Devonian time period; it is just a little more than 400 million years ago.

Now, take a good look at the various strata. Some are not very exciting, just dull gray rock. But other horizons are enormously fossiliferous. You will quickly find beds of limestone which, upon careful viewing, appear to be all broken shells. Some of these beds are just a complete hash of shells. They have lost their original bright colors, but they are still shells.


These are invertebrates, mostly forms called brachiopods. Like modern clams, they had two shells, but that’s all the similarity that the two groups share. Brachiopods are not mollusks; they belong to a wholly different category of invertebrate. They were very abundant back in the Devonian and made up the dominant form of sea life here.

We are the mind’s eye; we have waved our arms through the air, and traveled back into time, all the way to the early Devonian. We find ourselves adrift on the surface of the Helderberg Sea. All around us, in every direction, an empty and endless sea stretches out to the horizon. There is no land to be seen anywhere. The waters are aqua in color, that’s typical of a tropical sea. And that is exactly what the Glenerie Sea is. We feel the water temperature and it is a balmy 82 degrees.

Below us, the sea is so shallow that we can see the bottom. There are active currents and that has swept much of the seafloor clean. We see a lot of pink, very coarse sand drifting and shifting back and forth as waves sweep across the bottom. There are a lot of broken shells down there, most all of them are from brachiopods; they have suffered during common storm events and have come to be broken up into a colorful hash. We look around but do not see and living brachiopods. That’s just bad luck; we picked the wrong moment to visit the Glenerie.

It is an exhilarating experience to travel through time like this. It is such a privilege to see the distant past. But the main point is that this bas been a Darwinian journey to a very ancient world populated by very different creatures from those of today. Such visits are always all too brief. In a blink of the eye, we are back on Rte. 9G. It is winter in Ulster County. The highway is dirty with grit and salt; the outcrop is dirty and drips with icicles.

Next time: the stagnant sea.

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

A high impact event Oct 14, 2021

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A High Impact Event

Stories in Stone; The Columbia County Independent

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


Is there anything more emblematic of domestic bliss than a husband and wife trading sections of the morning newspaper over the breakfast table? Well, it’s just a little different when both are scientists. So, it came as no surprise when Johanna, the molecular biologist, handed Robert a copy of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and asked him if he had read an article in it. He was glad she did as he might well have missed it and the story was a very good one. It led the two of us to envision another of those very rough days that occasionally affect Columbia County, and, at the same time, it may have solved several longstanding geological mysteries.

Geologists have long known of a series of enigmatic crater-like structures, scattered across the eastern coastal plain of North America. They are called the “Carolina Bays.” Elliptical and oriented from the northwest to the southeast, they have long suggested an ancient impact event, but we have never been quite sure. We have also long known of a puzzling thousand-year long cold spell called the Younger Dryas. Then there was the mystery of the extinction of the North American megafauna and the sudden disappearance of the Clovis Indian Culture. Many large mammals, and the Indians that may have hunted them, disappeared, or at least declined abruptly about 13,000 years ago. All these puzzling events may have recently been tied together with a thin seam of dark earth. Read on.

It seems a large team of high-powered scientists had recently described an inch-thick, carbon rich seam of earth that is found at sites across much of the continent. The seam is rich in iridium, magnetic micro-spherules, soot and glass-like, carbon-rich nano-diamonds. The seam, in the many places it has been found, is always dated at just about 12,900 years in age. It has been found at exactly the top of strata containing Clovis points, which is also the same horizon where mammoths and other large fossil mammals disappear. The age of this corresponds to the start of the Younger Dryas cold spell. The seam has been found to pass through a large number of the Carolina Bay craters. It is an incredible find; it ties together all the above-described scientific problems. But what exactly does it tell us?

The word iridium may remind you of the ash deposited by the asteroid which is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. If that catches your attention, it should. It sounds like we, all across North America, had our own mini dinosaur extinction event. From the composition and abundance of the impact materials it is estimated that the object was actually a comet, and it was four kilometers across.

If you know much about the turn of the century event in Tunguska, Siberia, then you can envision the story. Here in the Hudson Valley, we would have seen the comet coming in from the northwest at an oblique angle. At some point it exploded and the enormous impact of all this caused the great continental glacier below it (remember, this was still the Ice Age) to largely melt. Vast quantities of meltwater resulted. But the impact was so very hot that, not only did the ice melt, but farther south, vast stretches of forest caught fire. Huge widespread wildfires raged across North America. That’s where all the soot came from. An impact of this sort tosses huge amounts of rock and earth up into the sky. When it comes down, friction sets it ablaze and so even more fires are set. You get the picture.

The result is something that is often called a “nuclear winter” and that gets us to the Younger Dryas cold spell. The dark sooty clouds, generated by the impact initiated a cooling that would last for a full millennium. The extinction of about 30 types of large mammals suddenly has a natural explanation. The Paleo-Indians, it would seem, are off the hook for this crime. But human populations plummeted as well. It must have been a very difficult time for Indians and the Clovis Culture disappeared altogether. All this reminds us, once again, how fragile our existences are.

We wrote this years ago. Sadly, this hypothesis currently seems to be falling out of favor.

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



Mt. Merino in the Ice Age Oct. 7, 2021

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Visions on an Art Trail past – Mt. Merino

Robert and Johanna Titus

On the Rocks


We have been touring the Hudson River Art Trail, all this year (2010), and today, sadly, we reach the end of our journey. There are 18 stops up and down in the Hudson Valley, with more being added by the trail sponsor, Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole Historic Site in the Village of Catskill. This is only number nine, but all the others are quite distant. We have to end somewhere, and we choose to make it here. This final visit takes us across the Hudson River and up to the city of Hudson.

We would like you to go to the Cedar Grove website and navigate to the Art Trail page. Go to the Hudson Valley sites and find stop number nine. It displays an image of Sanford Robinson Gifford’s view of South Bay in Hudson. It was painted in 1864. It’s a pretty scene; the artist was looking across South Bay and toward Mt. Merino. On the left is an old dirt road. It looks to have been an important highway back then. To the distant right Gifford painted the far away Catskill Mountains. He cheated a little to make them look better; he raised them higher than they are. Below the Catskills, a number of sailboats are seen on a very serene Hudson River. To the distant left is Mt. Moreno. Back then the slopes were nearly bare. It was very early autumn and a few trees had just changed color. In the foreground a fisherman is preparing to go out onto South Bay on a small rowboat.

It is a lovely scene, and a very peaceful one; that betrays the fighting going on in Georgia and Virginia on that very day. Gifford knew the scene well; he lived in Hudson and his studio was there. He knew the violence of the Civil War well too; he had served with the Army of the Potomac.

But what does this scene look like today? One of the main purposes of the Hudson River School Art Trail is to allow people to go and see the many locations where these painters worked. We resolved to go and find this site. We crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and headed north on Rte. 9G. We entered Hudson and then started a little exploring. We turned left at Allen Street and left again on South Front Street. About a city block south of the Railroad station we found our destination; it was the very spot where Gifford had worked – 149 years earlier. It wasn’t the same.


We have marveled, in working on this series, how often the sites our artists sketched were still, today, pristine wildernesses. There are reasons for that. Most of these sites lie within the blue line of the Catskill Park; they have been preserved. But not here; Hudson, during the last century and a half, has endured the rise and fall of all sorts of industries. The scars are there to be seen. In the distance we could still see the Catskills and Mt. Moreno; it was the foreground that had suffered. The old dirt road could still be recognized although it was no longer of much importance. It had, no doubt long ago, been paved. In Gifford’s time it was tree lined; today the trees are all gone. In Gifford’s time the road abutted the very edge of South Bay. Now, running along where the old shoreline was, are railroad tracts. In the distance there is an ugly, black metal bridge. The railroad crosses ground that, back in Gifford’s day, was submerged by the waters of South Bay. That’s where it got so much worse. A great deal of old South Bay had, somewhere along the line, come to be filled in. Today it is a broad flat bare earthen surface baking in the sun. We were guessing that, in the past, this filled-in land must have been used for long forgotten industry.

It gets even worse. We slowly turned a full 360 degrees and surveyed the landscape of a beat up, old, and mostly rundown looking urban center. The last 150 years had seen the rise and, even worse, the fall of industry here. It was inevitable; after all Hudson is a city and cities are supposed to be commercial and industrialized. But it was so sad to see; we can only imagine what Sanford Robinson Gifford would have thought.

In the end, it serves to help a person appreciate the value of the Catskill Park. We can, today, enter the park and see so many landscapes, much as they always have been – still in a nearly natural state. Visiting this part of Hudson is a much more somber experience.

But there is more to the story here; there is an ice age history. The story we saw was surprising. It took us back to the end of the Ice Age. The climate all around the world was warming up. Glaciers were melting and the newly freed waters were raising sea levels everywhere. South Bay is one of many similar embayments along the banks of the Hudson River. When you look at the local topographic map you learn a great deal. South Bay lies at the downstream end of a complex tributary system. It began to submerge as those sea levels rose.

Imagine, long ago, when this stream flowed into an older Hudson River. That was when there were still so many glaciers worldwide that sea levels were lower than they are today. So too, the Hudson River and its tributaries occupied much lower elevations than now. The South Bay creek flowed into that lower Hudson River and carved valleys to that lower level. But then the glaciers melted, and sea levels rose. The Hudson rose too and the lower reaches of the South Bay creek were flooded, first with water and then with sediment. So, melting glaciers and rising sea levels combined to create South Bay and its once very handsome natural landscape. Gifford painted it in a near natural state. We should all be glad that he did.

Our journey along the Art Trail is now completed. It is a series of lessons in art. But we found it to offer lessons in ice age history as well. We have very much enjoyed our journeys and hope that you will follow in our footsteps: and also follow in those of our revered artists.


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


Gullies in Plattekill Clove Sept. 29, 2021

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Cabin Tales #Five: The Gullies

On the Rocks; The Woodstock Times; July 14, 2011

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


We have been exploring the vicinity of the little red cabin, property of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. That land is at the top of Plattekill Clove, and it lies on the slopes of Plattekill Mountain. The best way to hike up into the mountains here is to take the Green Trail, that’s part of the “Long Path” which extends 347 miles from Ft. Lee, New Jersey to Altamont, New York. Watch for the local trailhead along County Rte. 16; cross the bridge there and begin your ascent into the Catskills. Along the lower reaches of the Green Trail is some very prominent evidence of bad land management.

Today’s hiking trail was once a highway and a busy one at that. We have to imagine what it was like to be here during the late 19th Century. Back then Plattekill Mountain was the heart of the then very active bluestone industry. Dozens of quarries were being worked at that time and an enormous amount of bluestone was being transported off the mountain. Most of it probably traveled south, down the Meads Mountain Road and on through Woodstock for eventual shipping, by boat, down the Hudson. The rest traveled north, down the Green Trail.

Today’s Green Trail would have been a primary road back then, and it probably saw a fair amount of traffic. And the evidence is that it saw enough to cause real problems. You start your modern day hike up the trail and very soon you encounter deeply rutted gulley’s close to the modern trail.


These ruts have a history, and it is one of environmental abuse. They, no doubt, date back to the late 19thCentury; they are contemporary to the times when this was a real highway. You have to remember that this “real highway” was a dirt road back in those days and that horse drawn vehicles were driven up and down its lengths. The wheels of such wagons had a deeply rutting effect upon the paths. When it rained those ruts would have been widened and deepened. We don’t know how much care went into maintaining these roads and it is easy to guess that they were left to get worse and worse.

In fact, that is what the evidence suggests. There are not just one set of ruts, but at least two. It appears that the original highway came to be so badly rutted that it was abandoned. A new road, near to the first, came into use.  With time, and years of more use and abuse, that second pathway became unusable, and it too was abandoned.

Somewhere along the way, history saw the end of this, the Overlook Mountain Road. Most likely the bluestone industry came to be abandoned as the quarries gave out. There was still a small tourist industry up there with some boarding houses, but eventually that ended too. There were fewer reasons for people to live up there and they moved on. The road simply fell into disuse, and it evolved into today’s hiking trail.

Human feet can be quite erosive, but they are not the match to horse hooves and wagon wheels.  Our hiking trails, like the roads of old, have to be abandoned or occasionally rerouted in order to minimize the damage. In my years we have seen a number of hiking trails blocked off and moved to a new direction. It is something that just has to be done.

But we are just a little more enlightened nowadays. We purposely reroute our trails, usually long before the damage gets out of hand.

It is not as if Nature is all that careful about what she does to the landscape. In exploring Plattekill Mountain, we had no trouble finding naturally rutted creek beds. Plattekill has very steep slopes and when natural creeks descend them, the tendency is to damage the landscape not much less than horses and wagons. Such creeks are very erosive when they descend steep slopes. If you do a little exploring along the Green Trail, you will see these too; watch for vertical bedrock walls one either side of these creeks. When we were there in the summer of 2010 it had been dry for quite a spell. Those erosive creeks should have had a lot of water flowing through them, but they were dry as a bone.

The good news comes with time. Nature heals man’s wounds.WeI saw little or no signs that any of this erosion had been recent. In fact, these ruts seem to be a century or so in age with no evidence that they will ever be active again. Nature does her healing by allowing plants to grow over the damage and by overseeing the return of soil profiles. These old ruts have a soft, rounded shape to them. It will take a lot of time to complete the healing. But, in the meantime, the great ruts that can be seen here form a somber testimony to what happens with poor land use.

Contact the authors at randjtitus@prodigy.net. Join their facebook pagre thecatskillgeologist.com.

Nosy Neighbors Sept. 23, 2021

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Nosey Neighbors

The Woodstock Times; On the Rocks

Oct. 8, 1998

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus



Autumn is much too important to miss. The Hudson Valley, with its many scenic roads and bulging farm markets, is a lovely place to spend the autumn of the year. But as far as we are concerned, the place to be in this season is up in the mountains. Our Catskills are certainly at their best from the middle of September to the middle of October. They’re not all that crowded in this season either, especially if you are among those fortunate enough to be able to get out on a weekday.

One of our favorite locations in this season is Vroman’s Nose. “Nose” seems to be one of those peculiar local words. You see it used in the northern Catskills and Mohawk River valley. It refers to a small, but steep, mountain. Most of the noses that we have heard of are in the Mohawk Valley, but Vroman’s Nose is a fine one. It’s located in the Schoharie Creek Valley a few miles south of Middleburgh, close to Rt. 30.

Vroman’s Nose is isolated from the rest of the hills in the region. This steep hill is sometimes referred to as the “sky island of the Schoharie.” Its morphology is the product of glaciation. Its peak was overrun by a glacier. The passing ice yanked loose large blocks of rock which left behind a south facing cliff. Above that is a beautiful glacially polished ledge called locally the “dance floor.” From the dance floor is a spectacular view of the lower Schoharie Creek valley. You can see for miles up the valley from up there.


Vroman’s Nose is almost entirely undeveloped and covered with forest. That might not have been. We have heard that some time ago there were plans to either sell the land for building lots or even to construct a motel up there. Talk about a room with a view! At any rate, the thought of developing the site alarmed many in the local population, especially the still abundant descendants of the Vroman family. One thing led to another and soon there was a Vroman’s Nose Association. This group of good neighbors was able to raise enough money to purchase the site. Now Vroman’s Nose is a community park, open and free to all.

Drive north along Rte. 30. You won’t have much trouble identifying the sky island; you’ll spot it miles away. Across the highway from the nose, if you watch carefully, there is a home with a box marked maps. Wally Van Houten, a retired earth science teacher, lives there and takes care of the mountain. The map shows three trails to the summit of the nose. The green trail is the best for family hiking. It’s the long way, but the slope is gentle. The red trail ascends straight up the steep front of the mountain, and it can be a very difficult climb. The blue trail is the “Goldilocks” trail, it’s just right.

On your way up you will pass a number of exposures of dark, fine-grained sandstones. These belong to the Devonian Hamilton group, and they run about 375 or so million years old. These sediments made up the floor of the Hamilton Sea that was once here. It was a relatively shallow water, mud bottomed ocean. The dark color tells us that, unfortunately, there was relatively little oxygen in the quiet sea floor. That means that few animals could survive and indeed there are not many fossils to be found on Vroman’s Nose. We have found a few shellfish, brachiopods mostly, and there are some worm burrows as well. Not much of a haul.

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

Hurricane Katrina’ floods – right here? Sept 16, 2021

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Katrina’s Floods: Here?

The Daily Star, 2007

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


The enormous destruction inflicted upon New Orleans back in 2005 fulfilled warnings that many geologists had been making for years. The city lies below sea level, hiding behind man-made levees, and it was only a matter of time before river flooding or hurricane storm surges would overwhelm it.

At the heart of the problem is that New Orleans and all of the Mississippi Delta has been sinking. It’s the weight of the sediment that the river has carried onto the delta that has pressed down and caused the subsidence. Ironically sedimentation builds and maintains the delta, but at the same time, causes it to sink. In recent centuries, however, man has disrupted this process. We have built levees to prevent floods and they have mostly done that, but they have also kept those floods from carrying sediment to pile up onto the delta plain. Without those sediments the entire delta is doomed to continue its sinking, probably into the sea.

It used to be a lot like that in Oneonta.

Take Main Street south to Rte. 28. Turn right and begin the ascent up Franklin Mountain. Travel exactly two miles and you will see a sequence of red shales and sandstones along the left side of the road. You have entered the realm of the great Catskill Delta. A bit less than 400 million years ago a sizable ocean, the Catskill Sea covered all of central and western New York. Large rivers flowed out from New England and into that sea. Those rivers deposited a delta that easily matched the one in Louisiana. The sediments of that ancient delta are still around; they have hardened into the rock that we call the Catskill Mountains. Our mountains are a fossil delta. Those roadside red shales and thin red sandstones are the deposits of the Catskill delta plain. Much of that material is the product of the many floods that occur in such a setting. These are exactly the deposits that levees have kept from forming in Louisiana. What you need to know is that these sediments always accumulate at just about sea level.

Continue a very short distance up the road and pull off at the dirt lot. Look downhill and you will see some thick gray sandstone ledges. Look uphill and you will see some more red shales and then another gray sandstone ledge. Those two sandstone ledges are petrified rivers of the Catskill Delta. Both of them, in their own times, were also formed at exactly sea level. The red shales are floodplain deposits, essentially floodplain soils.

   Gray sandstone, above, is river channel deposit. Red shale below formed on floodplain.

We have traveled about 50 feet uphill from our first sea level outcropping. We have probably also traveled through thousands of years of sedimentation, but we are still looking at deposits that formed at sea level. What gives? What happened long ago is that the Catskill Delta subsided slowly and, as it subsided, sedimentation filled in behind so that the net effect was no change in elevation at all; sea level was maintained.

Let’s drive up the road to the top. There, near the garage with all the hub caps is still another gray sandstone ledge. Again, we are looking at another delta river. And, of course, this one too was deposited at sea level. Now we have risen 200 feet and now, of course, the crust beneath us has subsided an equal amount.

Our journey illustrates the inevitability of what is happening to New Orleans; someday it too will sink 200 feet and by then it will be totally buried, a fossil city completely forgotten. Man can fight this with levees; man will lose.

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

Birth of a Gorge Sept 9, 2021

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Birth of a gorge

On the Rocks the Woodstock Times, Sept 2011

Updated by Robert and Johanna Titus


We are the mind’s eye, the human imagination and we are located about where Stoll Road is today. The date, however, is Jan. 15, 18,608 BC. This, it will turn out, will be the coldest day in the history of Woodstock. Tonight, the temperature will plummet to 63 degrees below zero. This is the peak of the Ice Age but, even so, that sort of temperature is extreme.

We look around and, even though it is late afternoon, all is very dark. We are at the bottom of the Hudson Valley Glacier and a few thousand feet of ice lie above us; no sunlight will be seen here today.

If there is no light, there are at least a few sounds to be heard. From time to time there is a low groaning. Then too, there are occasional loud snaps that echo through the ice. These are the sounds of ice under intense strains. The glacier is frozen solid, and it should not be moving, but there is a constant pressure from the north. Back in Labrador the glacier has been slowly accumulating new ice and the weight of that ice, here in the Hudson Valley, is being translated into a southward shove.

We, the mind’s eye, rise up through all of the ice and ascend into the Arctic sky. Below us and all around we see nothing but the flat white of a great ice sheet. We climb higher into the sky and then disappear into the vastness of time. The mind’s eye can do that . . .

When we reappear, we are back in the Stoll Road vicinity. It is August 8th, 14,387 BC. All around us, it is still black; the Hudson Valley glacier still covers all of our region. But that will not last. Today, above the ice, the temperature will climb to 63 degrees above zero, the hottest it has been here in about 9.000 years. Up above, the ice is melting and melting quickly.

That is why it is so noisy all about us. Again, the glacier is groaning and popping; the ice is now very unstable, sinking here and there and lurching to the south as well. But there is more: now there is a low roaring sound in the distance. Nearby there are gurgling noises as well and these are pretty loud. The glacier is melting, and enormous volumes of water are draining through the ice. We cannot tell it from down here, but the ice is thinning. Once again, we disappear into the ether of time.

Now it is 600 years later; the date is July 14, 13,787 BC and during these 600 years most of the Hudson Valley ice has melted away. The climate has continued its warmup. Now, all around us, is the very loud roar of flowing water. We find ourselves in a powerful current of water. We are within a sub-glacial stream. It’s a raging torrent of ice water which has originated from the melting glacier, drained through the ice and formed into this stream. The current would kill mortal humans, but we are the mind’s eye and cannot be harmed. We can stand still in the flow, if we want, or we can drift along with it, if that is preferred.

We stand in the current for a short period of time and feel the pressure of the passing ice water. Not infrequently, large blocks of ice pass by. It is clear that we are watching the very disintegration of a great glacier. Suddenly, and with a loud crash and violent splash the icy roof of this stream caves in. Now sunlight shines where it has not been for thousands of years

Over a period of days we watch as more and more of our stream’s roof caves in. We soon observe that this flow is something that one day in the distant future will be called Sloan Gorge. We are privileged to be there at its birth. The current is so powerful that it transports great blocks of rock. We can watch boulders as they bounce by, buoyed by the pressure of the flow.

The river we see here today is a raging, foaming, angry torrent. Its powerful flow is enormously erosive; it is carving the canyon that today’s inhabitants of Woodstock are familiar with. The flow is dense with sand and that exerts a powerful abrading force on the bedrock. Sloan Gorge is having its violent birth. We, once again, disappear into time.

We reappear and it is August 24, 2008. Sloan Gorge is its modern self. It is not a torrent; in the late summer it is a place with little water at all. Sloan gorge is what geologists call a “paleoform.” That’s a landscape that is an anachronism; it belongs to that other time: the time at the end of the Ice Age. But, we are the mind’s eye and it has been our privilege to see the Gorge as it was.

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

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