Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Seven Natural Wonders of the Adirondacks

Here is (in no particular order) Adirondack Almanack’s List of the Seven Natural Wonders of the Adirondacks. The Seven Human-Made Wonders can be found here. Feel free to add your comments and suggestions.St. Regis Canoe Area
The Adirondack Region has a wealth of navigable waters – about 30 percent of the Adirondack Park is within the Hudson River basin, and four other drainage basins also flow through the park, including those of Lake Champlain, the Black, St. Lawrence, and the Mohawk rivers. Notable paddling routes include the Oswegatchie River (125 miles long) and the Saranac or Raquette chains (hundreds of miles each). Any of the over 1,200 miles of rivers in the region offers some great paddling – just ask the folks who take on the 90 Miler Adirondack Canoe Classic. Our choice, however, for the Seven Natural Wonders is the St. Regis Canoe Area. The St. Regis includes 58 ponds (only two of which are reached without a carry) and the headwaters of the West and Middle Branch of the St. Regis and the Saranac rivers. At 19,000 acres, the St. Regis Canoe Area is the largest wilderness canoe area in the Northeast and the only designated canoe area in New York. Located about 18 miles northeast of Tupper Lake, it is closed to motor vehicles, motor boats and aircraft. One of the two mountains located in the area (which includes St. Regis Mountain – 2874 feet, Long Pond Mountain (2530 feet) is only reachable by water.

Unnamed Peak (44 deg 10’N, 74 deg W)
The tops of Adirondack mountains offer some of the best views east of the Rockies. More than 65 lakes can be seen from the summit of Whiteface Mountain and the experience at the top of Boundary near Algonquin is unparalleled in its sense of remoteness. Others have suggested Blue Mountain and Pyramid but the bottom line is that a climb to almost any high point in the region offers incredible aesthetic and spiritual rewards. Most popular are the 46 originally designated over 4,000 feet (since reduced by four by the USGS), but there are another 60 or so that are above 3,400 feet and hundreds more of lesser height. Many people reach for the highest peak, or the most popular routes, the ones they see from cars, or named for someone they admire. But they all have their own charm and to prove it, our choice is an unnamed peak at 44 degrees 10 minutes north, 70 degrees 2 minutes west. It’s ranked 49th in height and the view from its summit may not be the best in the park, but that’s not always the reward. Sometimes challenge and success are their own reward. So Find it. Climb it.

Lake George
There are at least 2,759 individual lakes and ponds larger than a half acre in the Adirondack Park – about four percent of the total area of the park (almost a quarter million acres). The park’s lakes offer recreation, and public and private water supplies for communities, individuals, agricultural, and industry, not to mention power generation (there are about 100 hydro plants in the Adirondack region), and water flow regulation (such as Hinckley Reservoir and the Great Sacandaga Lake). Lakes are a large part of Adirondack culture and an even larger part of its tourism industry; data collected in the 1970s showed that 84 percent of leisure homes were located within walking distance of a body of water. Our choice – Lake George – may seem obvious, but the Queen of American Lakes deserves it name for a variety of important reasons. First, it’s a traditional waterway stretching far into the prehistory of the Americas. It was a pivotal body of water in the 17th and 18th centuries and includes some of the highest density of military sites from that period. The large military encampments that attended the big campaigns of that era were among the largest cities in America, albeit for short intervals. It was the warpath of nations (Dutch, French, British, Native American, and American) for King Williams War (1688-1697), (Queen Anne’s War (1701-1713), King George’s War (1744-1748), the French and Indian War (1754-1763), and the American Revolution (1775-1783). Its history is only equaled by its natural beauty: Anthony’s Nose, Deer’s Leap, Roger’s Rock, Indian Kettles, Tongue Mountain (a rare eastern rattler habitat) along with Sugarloaf, Prospect, and Black mountains, Shelving Rock, Pilot Knob, and The Narrows. In all, Lake George is home to approximately 165 islands. No wonder it has been a destination for tourists from all over North America and Europe for centuries.

AuSable Chasm
There is not a lot written about Adirondack gorges. The Hudson and Sacandaga deserve mention, as does High Falls Gorge, Chapel Pond Gorge, and Indian Pass. None come close to AuSable Chasm, the sandstone canyon in Keeseville through which the AuSable River flows on its way to Lake Champlain. It was formed nearly 500 million years ago during the Cambrian period but it wasn’t until James Tute of Rogers Rangers first saw it that the rest of the world heard of its wonders. In 1765 William Gilliland, an immigrant from County Armagh, Ireland settled at the Boquet River, took a bateau north and into the mouth of the AuSable. “It is a most admirable sight, appearing on each side like a regular built wall, somewhat ruinated, and one would think that this prodigious clift was occasioned by an earthquake, their height on each side is from 40 to 100 feet in the different places,” he wrote in his journal “we saw about a half a mile of it, and by its appearance where we stopped it may continue very many miles further.” Unfortunately, New York State Electric and Gas, has blocked public access to the Chasm for decades without justification, leaving the only real access through the private tourist facility. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has required NYSEG to complete a whitewater flow and access study and proposal. The data was collected over the summer and fall of 2005, but NYSEG has failed to issue the report.

OK-Slip Falls
Without a doubt the best hike to see the beauty and power of Adirondack waters is the “The Waterfalls Hike” – possibly the greatest waterfall hike in all of New York State. Its short ten miles pass at least a half dozen falls, not including side trips to others: Beaver Meadow, Rainbow (150 feet), Pyramid, Wedge Brook, and the 90 foot Fairy Ladder Falls on Gill Brook (reached only by bushwhack), are all at hand. Other Adirondack falls rate high on any list of wonders for their picturesque beauty (Buttermilk Falls on the Raquette River, Indian Falls on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, the 300 foot Roaring Brook Falls in Keene). There are so many we couldn’t begin to mention them all. Our winner for greatest fall of all is Ok-Slip Falls, located on Ok-Slip Brook in Indian Lake. Although the public may yet get to see the falls up close soon legally (though not yet!) thanks to the historic 161,000 acre Finch Pruyn purchase by the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy – the Adirondack’s highest falls have been off-limits to the public for more than 145 years.

161,000 Acre Finch Pruyn Backcountry
Dubbed “The largest conservation and financial transaction in the history of The Nature Conservancy in New York,” the purchase of former Finch and Pruyn wild lands in the heart of the Adirondacks promises someday – when they are finally opened to the public (after more than 145 years and counting) – one of the Adirondack region’s greatest backcountry wonders. The land includes more than 80 mountains and over 250 miles of rivers and shorelines (70 lakes and ponds) in the towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson, Minerva, and Long Lake. It also includes the Essex Chain lakes, the Upper (Upper) Hudson Gorge, OK-Slip Falls (itself a natural wonder), the Opalescent River headwaters, and the Boreas Ponds. In terms of flora and fauna the area includes rare ferns and mosses growing around even rarer limestone outcroppings and includes 95 significant plant species (37 of which are rare in New York and 30 rare or uncommon in the Adirondacks). The area is also home to the Bicknell’s Thrush and the Scarlet Tanager – it’s truly one of the Adirondack’s greatest natural wonders.

Barton Garnet Deposit
The Mount Colden Trap Dike, the Stone Bridge and Caves in Pottersville, the Iron and Graphite deposits or the places like Avalanche Lake, Indian Pass, the Chimney Mountain caves and rock formations and the 480 million year old coral reef remains known as the Chazy Reef, all deserve a place on our list of natural wonders. But one geological formation surpasses, for a number of reasons, all the rest – the Garnet deposits. Although there are garnets scattered around various locations in the Adirondack region (notably at Humphrey Mountain, near Chimney Mountain, at the Hooper Mine, and Peaked Mountain), the Barton deposit on the backside of Gore Mountain in Johnsburg (the oldest family owned and operated mine in the United States) is one of the world’s largest and includes the largest and hardest garnet crystals in the world. The source of New York State’s Official Gemstone, was founded in 1878 to mine and mill garnet for the sand paper industry, but today Barton mines the world’s highest quality abrasives for specialized applications like waterjet cutting from another deposit, but the Barton Mines are still open for public tours.

What do you think?
Fire away – let us know which Adirondack human and natural constructed things/places are the most significant, must-see attractions, marvels of engineering, historically important, or have other significance that makes them one of your top seven?

Remember – two lists – one for the human-made wonders, one for natural wonders.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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