Friday, September 28, 2007

The Gorge at Watkins Glen

Friday morning we all set off for the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail. Here's a short note about a part of its history:
Around one hundred thousand years ago, the summer climate in the northern hemisphere began to get cooler. Farther north the winter snow would fall and fail to melt some summers. When this happened, local temperatures fell as the white snow reflected more warming sunlight back to space. Before long a cycle of cooling had taken hold. From a center in Labrador where the first snows accumulated, glaciers advanced to the south. Fed by moisture evaporated from warm ocean currents, the Labrador glaciers continued to expand. By nineteen thousand years ago at the height of the ice age, the glaciers extended south fully to Pennsylvania. Watkins Glen and the entire Finger Lakes region were covered with up to a mile of ice. Winter snow accumulating farther north forced the ice itself to flow, dragging rocks and debris for hundreds of miles. This glacial scouring carved "v" shaped river valleys into the wide "u" shaped valleys which now hold the Finger Lakes.
As the glaciers began their final retreat approximately twelve thousand years ago the Finger Lakes region was becoming uncovered again. It is interesting to consider that the first people to see the gorge may have been a band of hunters trailing some of the last Wooly Mammoths near the glacier's edge. At the time the gorge would have been little more than a shallow gully down the hillside. Because the gorge shows no signs of accumulated glacial debris it is thought to have formed entirely since the last ice age. Erosion of the modern gorge was probably just beginning with a roaring flood of glacial meltwater.

Today, two gorges are open to the public. Watkins Glen State Park has been a visitor attraction since 1864, and in 2006 celebrated 100 years of being a State Park.

The Gorge is noted for having nineteen waterfalls throughout the first ¾ mile of its 1 ½ mile length, during which one climbs approximately 600 feet, the last few being the stiffest, consisting of a long staircase of 109 steps. The pictures I've chosen show the eroded layers and the various waterfalls, and one shows a very determined tree growing out between two layers of rock. Many professional pictures are available at

After finishing the hike, we lunched in the village, caught a local Farmers' Market (where Terry found carrots in yellow and purple and lemon orange) and headed off for Cayuga Lake State Park on the next of the Finger Lakes to the east.


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