Posts Tagged ‘geology’

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dozens of New Landslides Reported in the High Peaks

Dozens of new landslides have been reported in the High Peaks following heavy rains and winds from the remnants of Hurricane Irene which reached the Eastern Adirondacks as a Tropical Storm on Sunday.

Regular Alamanack contributor and Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown snapped a photo of a new slide on Wright Peak, near Angel Slide. Formally two adjoining scars, Angel Slide is a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers named in honor of Toma Vracarich who was killed in an avalanche there in 2000. The slide now includes a third route, longer than the rest. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Keene Property Values Slide with Land

For more than a month, millions of tons of earth and millions of dollars in property value have been inching down a Keene Valley mountainside. As 82 acres of trees and homes continue to break loose, a state geologist says other Adirondack slopes could fail.

The slow-moving landslide on the side of Little Porter Mountain is unnerving residents in the town of Keene, which includes the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley. The year-round population of 1,000 is nearly doubled in summer by wealthy seasonal residents, many who live upslope for the lofty views of the High Peaks.

Four half-million-dollar houses at the top of the slide have been affected—pried wholly from their foundations or partially destabilized—and at least one vacation home appears to be in its path below. The value of the land in motion is expected to be reduced from about $3 million to zero, while sales of similar properties are thrown into limbo. Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the town has begun to seek emergency state reimbursement to help make up anticipated losses in property tax.

Andrew Kozlowski, associate state geologist with the New York State Museum, says the slide is the largest in state history. It’s nothing like the quick tumble of trees and thin humus familiar on high Adirondack terrain. This one started as a subtle shift below 2,000 feet on a 25–35 degree slope. It was triggered by the melting of deep snowpack compounded by more than a foot of rain in April and May. The slide does not seem to pose a risk to human life, but it is reactivated when new rains slip into soil cracks that are growing wider every day. Because it’s logistically difficult to drill borings in shifting soils to measure their depth, Kozlowski can’t estimate when the mass will stop moving; he says it could be months or years.

A dirt road runs parallel to the top of the landslide. Keene residents are questioning whether mountainside building is responsible for altering drainage patterns. “Does the development help? Probably not. Was it the actual cause? Probably not,” Kozlowski said.

There were pre-existing conditions, he explained. He detected on the site signs of a landslide hundreds or thousands of years ago. At the end of the last ice age, Keene Valley was submerged by a glacial lake, and deep sand on the hillsides is evidence of 12,000-year-old beaches.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery collected by aerial survey can provide high-resolution digital images and help identify shifty soils, he said. Eight New York counties have collected LiDAR data but none in northern New York, which has the state’s steepest topography. Keene Supervisor Ferebee said aerial images could be useful to all towns in Essex County, and he is exploring how the county might cover the $150,000 cost.

Residents are also concerned about the future of homes on other Keene mountainsides. “There is danger of this happening elsewhere,” Kozlowski told a group of two dozen citizens who gathered at the community’s K–12 school earlier this month. “Will it happen on this scale? We don’t know.”

Real Estate and Rain

Annual rainfall in the Lake Champlain watershed is three inches greater on average than it was during the mid 20th century, when the first houses were built on the side of Little Porter Mountain, according to United States Historical Climatology Network data. A range of climate models predict the Champlain Basin could receive 4 to 6 inches more precipitation a year by the end of this century, with heavy storms becoming more frequent, according to a 2010 report by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack and Vermont chapters.

The Little Porter slide has suddenly become an unforeseen example of something other Adirondack mountain communities must consider in a potentially wetter future.

“Throughout the Adirondacks there is going to be a lot more concern about this now,” said Martha Lee Owen, who owns vacant land on the failed slope. She is a real-estate broker whose father, Adrian Edmonds, lived at the base of Little Porter and pioneered homebuilding on Keene’s mountainsides. “He’d be just heartbroken,” she said. “It’s just terrible that it’s affected so many homeowners.”

Owen said it never occurred to her to recommend that potential buyers hire a geologist to evaluate slope stability, but she will recommend it now. She would also like to see LiDAR data collected for Essex County. “Of course it’s a huge concern to me in terms of selling properties, not just my own but selling any properties,” she said. “So far buyers aren’t asking a lot of questions, although everyone is just sort of shocked by this. You have to get used to it before you take it all in.”

Jane Bickford, a Saranac Lake resident who has a summer home beneath and — she hopes — outside the projected path of the slide, said the mountain-climbing mecca of Keene Valley is more than an investment to people who own property there. “The piece that’s important is, Can we keep living there?” she said. “The financials are pretty terrible but Keene Valley represents to people a touchstone. It’s where my kids grew up and where they are bringing their own kids up. This is where children’s values are developed. To the people who go to Keene Valley it’s not just a house. It’s a place where families get together and where bonding happens.”

Photograph courtesy of Curt Stager.

Link to video of the landslide site.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Curt Stager’s Fresh Look at Climate Change

Paul Smiths College Professor Curt Stager’s new book, Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) is a fresh look at global climate change. Stager’s approach is that of the paleoecologist, a discipline that has traditionally been focused on reconstructing the paleoenvironment using the fossil record to clarify the relationship that plants, animals, and humans have to their environment in the past.

Typically, paleoecological researchers have aimed their attentions on the Quaternary period (the last two million years), particularity with studies of the Holocene epoch (the last 11,000 years), or the Pleistocene glaciation period (50,000 to 10,000 years ago). Stager’s Deep Future looks in the other direction, 100,000 years into the future.

Stager is quick to point out that no, humans won’t go extinct; some species will win, some lose, because after temperatures rise, they’ll fall (at a slower rate). Deep Future is built around the Anthropocene, the first epoch in which humans have come to influence the Earth’s ecosystems.

Scientists are somewhat divided over when the Anthropocene begins. Some suggest 8,000 years ago, when we began clearing forests to raise animals and grow crops during the Neolithic Revolution, others establish a date as late as the Industrial Revolution of the 1750s. Both agree that what’s significant is that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a faster rate, and to a much greater extent, that previous glacial-interglacial cycles of the past million years, and that humans are the cause.

Deep Future illuminates the changes of the coming 100,000 years, among them the effect we’ve already had in delaying the next ice age. Describing himself as a “converted climate skeptic” thanks in part to research at Paul Smiths into weather and lake ice records in the Adirondacks, Stager explores the idea that our distant descendants may well applaud us for the changes we cause, but many of the earth’s species will suffer dramatic transformations. Acidification of our oceans will impact sea species, shifting micro climates will force great species migrations to adapt, which on land may be blocked by human development.

The bottom line of Deep Future is that what we decide to do now about controlling our carbon emissions will have tremendous impacts on our future descendants. Putting it into an even larger context, Stager offers this unique perspective: “If we burn through all our fossil fuels now, we will leave nothing for the people of the future to burn to stave off future ice ages and prevent the crushing devastation of migrating ice sheets.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Adirondack Mining: George Davies’ Lyon Mountain Stories

Last week’s subject, iron miner George Davies (1892–1983) of Standish and Lyon Mountain, was a kindly gentleman with a powerful work ethic and a can-do, pioneer spirit. Interviews with him in 1981 were key to my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town (a convenient plug for the 4th printing, which will be available from Bloated Toe Publishing and The North Country Store in mid-November). Humble and matter of fact, he shared recollections from nearly 80 years earlier.

At one time, Lyon Mountain had a large Swedish population [there is still a section of town referred to as Sweden]. George recalled the great strength and toughness of one of their number who worked at the Standish furnace. “It’s quite a job carrying that pig iron, you know. It [the molten iron] ran down like water, and they had to let it cool, and then throw sand on it. They’d walk on there with wooden shoes with big thick soles and break the iron up with a bar. It’s a pretty hard job, I’ll tell you.

“They had a big Swede come here. He weighed about 225 or 230 when he came here. He used to break the iron. They’d go down to the trestle, and throw them over the trestle. They had a V-block down below, and when it hit that, it would break it right in two. They used to wear a hand leather so that the iron wouldn’t cut their hands up.

“That big Swede, he had what they call a ‘double pig.’ It was two of them together [130 pounds], and when he went to throw it, it caught in his hand leather and it pulled him right over. He struck headfirst into the pile of iron that was sticking up. Well, I came along there and I picked him out of the iron. ‘Aw,’ he said, ‘I guess I’m not hurt much,’ and he was rubbing his head.

“He just had a suit of overalls on and a shirt, and the blood was running out of his pants leg. I said ‘You’re hurt all right,’ and he rubbed the back of his head some more and said ‘I’m not hurt much.’ Well, I took him over to the office and they took him to Plattsburgh, and found out that his skull was fractured [a story I later verified in newspaper accounts].

“That fellow drank a couple of quarts of liquor a day, and you’d never have known he was drinking. He was about six feet six inches tall. He didn’t die from that accident. He was so strong. They used to load the iron by hand at what they called the wharf. It was piled up like cordwood, you know. He carried 106 tons of iron in one day, and he got six cents a ton for carrying it.

“His first name was Nels [Nelson Holt]. He only weighed about one hundred pounds when he died, and he was still carrying iron just before he died. He used to work in the cast house, and I’d see him go down to break a cast of maybe thirty or forty tons, red hot with sand on it.

“I’d see him take a half-pint of liquor and drink it right down. He’d go ahead and break the cast, and you’d never know he’d had a drink. He died because his liver went all to pieces from the liquor. He was a powerful man, but the liquor got the best of him.”

Sudden violence struck the mines almost on a daily basis. More than 160 miners died in mining accidents, but hundreds more suffered terrible, often crippling, injuries. Much of it was connected to workers’ ignorance of the dangers at hand. George: “There were several boarders in town. One time there were three Polish fellows boarding at one place, and they all got killed at the same time. [They died in 1930 in a massive dynamite explosion, one of the few accidents that was never solved.]

“Well, you know, those Polish people came here, and they didn’t know what the mines were in the first place. I remember one time, they used to put the powder [dynamite] together with the caps up on top and then send it down. They weren’t supposed to do it, but they did it anyhow. One fellow saw the stick of dynamite there. He held the stick in his hand and lit the fuse. Well, he didn’t have to let go of it, because when it went off, his hand went with it. It blew half of his hip off at the same time, just because he didn’t know any better.”

George described another accident that is still recalled by some in the village. “One fellow used to be a foreman, and he used to repair the train cars. One end of a car was all bent, and he wanted to straighten it up, so he said to a worker ‘Get a block, hold it against that spot, and I’ll bump it with the electric motor.’ The guy wouldn’t do it, so he went and got the block, and he got somebody to hold it. He was going to give it a hard bump with the motor.

“When he bumped it, the block came right inside the cab where he was working and took his leg right off. He did survive, and he got some money out of it, but he also got a wooden leg out of it. Cliff Cayea was the guy’s name. He’s lucky that he wasn’t killed. [Remarkably, Cayea was 62 years old when the accident occurred in late September 1966, less than a year before the mines closed for good.]

George and many others like him offered hours of candid recollections about life in the mines and in Lyon Mountain village, all of it important to regional history. Besides the books (including Out of the Darkness: In Memory of Lyon Mountain’s Iron Men) on the town’s amazing story, more can be learned by visiting the Lyon Mountain Mining & Railroad Museum. Housed in the former railroad depot building, it is operated by volunteers from June to early October. Look for it again in 2011. It’s well worth the trip.

Photo Top: The furnace at Standish (1930s).

Photo Middle: Rows of pig iron similar to those at Standish (Canadian archives photo taken at Midland, Ontario, 1900).

Photo Bottom: Lyon Mountain village in the 1940s, with company row-houses, main operations, and mountains of ore tailings.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adirondack Geology: Some Fascinating Rocks

I was going to write about skunk cabbage today, but I find myself sitting in a local rock shop where the proprietors offered to let me use of their Wi-Fi. Surrounded by all these geological wonders of the world, I feel compelled to tip my hat to some of our local geologic treasures.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, geology isn’t my strong suite, but I sure do love rocks. I suspect most of us do. Who hasn’t, at least as a kid, stuffed his or her pockets with rocks found along beaches, roadsides, or in gardens? Some of us never outgrow this obsession. And even though geologic terms run through my mind like sand through an hourglass, I am drawn to the varied forms and colors that most of us only encounter in rock or New Age shops.

When it comes to local (Adirondack) rocks of note, the one that springs first to mind is garnet. Garnet is found in pretty good quantity in the North River area, where Barton Mines is the primary business capitalizing on this semiprecious gemstone. I have been to programs where Barton representatives gave presentations, and it is simply amazing what garnet is used for. Most of us probably think of garnet as a lovely wine-red stone that is featured in jewelry and is January’s birthstone. But at Barton, much of the garnet that is mined is used for things like sandpaper, or to make a blasting compound that is used to etch glass. Who’d have thought it?

A mineral that we find in pretty good quantity around the Park is mica. Usually we only find little bits of broken flakes, but I have found small sheets sitting on top of the ground. In North Creek, at the Ski Bowl Park, some folks put in a lovely garden, complete with some terrific boulders. On these boulders are fanned protrusions of mica, thin sheets, stacked one on top of another, and then fanned out and emerging from the hardened grasp of the rock – it is amazing to behold.

Labradorite is a feldspar mineral found in large crystal masses of anorthosite. For those who don’t know, anorthosite is one of the major rock types in the Adirondacks, or at least in the High Peaks. It is a very old rock, not common on earth and found on the moon. One of the neat things about labradorite is the way it can shimmer with colors, an effect called labradoresence, or the schiller effect. Lesley, one of the shop owners here, showed me some labradorite rocks she picked up from the Opalescent up near Calamity Brook in the southern High Peaks. She polished them up and there, when the light catches it just right, it looks like blue and green northern lights skittering across the glossy surface. Of course, I had to purchase one for my collection.

Another interesting rock here in the shop is moonstone, which is a type of feldspar. Apparently rockhounds used to be able to mine it up in Saranac Lake. It isn’t a rock with commercial value, except in the rock-collector’s world. Lesley showed me a large chunk she got from up in Saranac Lake, as well as some jewelry made from small polished bits of moonstone. Like the labradorite, it has a bit of the schiller effect – a blue, green or even pinkish dash of color when the light hits it just right.

For those interested in Adirondack geology beyond the academic level, rock shops are the place to go. The folks who run these places love rocks and geology and are always willing to share their passion with others. I wrote before about the shop at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, but other rock shops dot the park, like Lesley’s Minerals Unlimited in Long Lake. While much of her merchandise is from other parts of the world, she has a nice collection of local rocks and minerals that make a stop here well worth the drive.

Photo credit: Labradorite, courtesy Wikipedia.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adirondack Cairns: Rocks For The Ages

Why should I be fascinated by cairns? Aren’t they just heaps of stones?

Yet whenever I come across one of these heaps on a wild and windswept ridge—on Jay Mountain, for instance—I feel cheered. Aha! I am not alone. Someone else has been here before me, and no doubt someone will pass here after me.

A cairn exists to point us in the right direction, but it often evokes an appreciation that can’t be explained by its utilitarian purpose. You don’t react in the same way to a paint blaze.

As an analogy, think of the difference between a word’s denotation and connotation. The word rose refers to a flower. That is its denotation. But a rose can symbolize love or passion, among other things. So whatever Gertrude Stein may have said, a rose is not just a rose. And a cairn is not just a heap of stones.

The word cairn derives from Gaelic and dates back at least to the fifteenth century, but the building of cairns is an ancient custom, not exclusive to the Celts. Its primitiveness is part of the cairn’s appeal. The cairn connects us to humanity across the ages and reminds us that we are all wayfarers. It is a symbol of our journey.

Cairns appeal to our creative spirit. On many mountains, they resemble sculptures. A fine example is the cairn in the photo above, from the summit of East Dix.

You can read more about cairns on the Adirondack Explorer website by clicking here.

And if you have a favorite cairn, please tell us about it.

Photo by Phil Brown: Cairn on East Dix.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Commentary: Uplands Need More Protection

Politicians often complain that the Adirondack Park is over-regulated, but a case can be made that in some respects the Park is under-regulated.

All it takes is one house on a mountaintop or ridge to spoil a wild vista, and yet the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), which was created to safeguard the region’s natural resources, has no regulations aimed at protecting the uplands from unsightly development.

The uplands are clearly at risk. Given that most of the Park’s private waterfront has been developed, people with money are turning to the next best thing: a big home on a hill with a commanding view.

An article by George Earl in the September/October issue of the Adirondack Explorer reveals that dozens of conspicuous homes—visible from roads and trails—have been built in the uplands of Keene over the past few decades. And that’s just one town. The same kind of development is occurring in other parts of the Park, most notably around Lake George.

The APA does have tools to protect uplands when it has jurisdiction over a project. For example, it can require that a house be screened by trees or situated to minimize its visual impact.

The problem is that the APA often lacks jurisdiction. The agency does have the authority to review projects above the 2,500-foot contour, but this is essentially meaningless. APA spokesman Keith McKeever could not think of a single house built above that elevation, not even in Keene (“The Home of the High Peaks”). Near Lake George, Black Mountain is the only summit that exceeds 2,500 feet, and it lies within the state-owned Forest Preserve. In short, all the development around Lake George and the rest of the Park takes place below the 2,500-foot contour.

The APA also has jurisdiction when a house is built on property classified as Resource Management—the strictest of the agency’s six zoning categories for private land. Much of the Park’s uplands fall within this classification, but many stick-out homes are built on less-regulated lands where the APA does not automatically have jurisdiction.

Finally, the APA lacks jurisdiction even in Resource Management lands (as well as other lands) if a home is built in a subdivision approved before the agency’s creation.

Most of the Park’s towns lack zoning rules or the expertise to deal with upland development. So it’s up to the APA to address the problem. It will be difficult politically and technically. Even the definition of “upland” is tricky in a region where the elevation ranges from 95 feet at Lake Champlain to 5,344 feet at the top of Mount Marcy.

If nothing is done, however, we’ll continue to see a degradation of the Park’s wild character. It’s said that you can’t eat the scenery, but this isn’t true. Natural beauty is an economic asset that has been drawing tourists to the region for well over a century. For this reason, too, the uplands should be protected.

Photo by George Earl: Upland home in Keene.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Adirondack Bovidae: Bison or Buffalo?

“So, Pat,” I said, “got any burning natural history questions you’d like answered?” She stared at me. “What?” “I need a topic for an up-coming article and I’m fresh out of ideas.” She pondered for a while and then asked “what are those animals at the Buffalo Farm?”

“Ah!” I said. “Those would be bison, scientific name Bison bison bison, commonly called buffalo by most people because they don’t know they are actually bison. The buffalo,” I continued, “is actually a wholly different animal, native to Africa and parts of Asia, like the water buffalo (Asia), and the Cape buffalo (Africa).”

“Then why do they call bison buffalo?” Good question.

Not too many years ago, in geologic time, New York used to be home to one of the largest land mammals to call North America home, the eastern wood bison (Bison bison pennsylvanicus). [Note: some authorities claim that this is an invalid subspecies.] According to the literature, these animals were larger than the plains bison of Western fame, with darker, almost black, fur (wool? hair?), grizzled around the eyes and nose, and an almost negligible hump over the shoulders. The last wild herd was slaughtered over 200 years ago down in Pennsylvania (winter 1799-1800), and the last individuals were wiped out in West Virginia twenty-five years later. Not too long after that the plains bison would be headed down the same path (although, fortunately their total annihilation was prevented).

Another subspecies of wood bison, Bison bison athabasca, called western Canada home. This animal is also larger than the plains bison, and its large hump rises forward of the front legs, making it easily distinguishable from its plains cousin, whose hump rises above the front legs. Probably because western Canada was settled more slowly than the American west, these wood bison held out longer. 1900 is usually given as the date by which they were considered to be extremely rare, but, like the plains bison, they avoided extinction. Today about 3000 still roam wild.

So, how does this tie in to the Adirondacks? Well, we do have that bison farm. Some folks have speculated that the bison on this farm are hybrids, a bison-beef combo known as a beefalo. According to their website, however, these animals are 100% plains bison – the same animals (well, the same species) that Buffalo Bill would’ve eyeballed when he roamed the plains. Bison meat is really quite good – it has a fine flavor and is very lean. The animals, however, apparently have a less-than-amenable disposition.

Is it possible that the eastern wood bison, which populated New York and points south (as far south as Georgia), made its way up to the Adirondacks? I posed this question to a friend of mine who has a fondness for extinct megafauna. He speculates that an Adirondack presence was probably unlikely since these animals were grazers, and let’s face it, until the last hundred years or so, there wasn’t a whole lot of open space for grazing in these here mountains. The rugged terrain and dense forests, not to mention all the wetlands, would probably have been a great deterrent to these mighty animals.

Still, it is fun to speculate on “what might have been” back when the glaciers started to retreat. All sorts of giant mammals roamed North America: giant ground sloths, the stag-moose (or elk-moose), mastodons, woolly mammoths. Then there were the carnivores, like the dire wolf – the name alone almost makes one shudder. Might any of these wondrous animals have tromped the trails to our backcountry lakes and ponds? Maybe not, but just because we’ve found no bones, doesn’t mean that one or two didn’t pass this way.

Now, as to why bison are called buffalo, here’s what I found out. Going back linguistically to the Greek, we have “bison,” which referred to a large, ox-like animal. The French called oxen “les boeuf”. It seems that French fur trappers called the animals they found here “les boeuf” because they reminded them of they oxen back home, and, as will happen with languages, the word stuck and was corrupted, eventually becoming “buffalo.”

Finally, just in case there are some folks out there who will insist that a bison by any other name will still smell the same, here are some buffalo vs. bison factoids:

Buffalo: 13 pairs of ribs; no hump
Bison: 14 pairs of ribs; big ol’ hump at the shoulders

Also, bison are considered to be more like mountain goats, muskoxen, and big horn sheep than buffalo, although all are in the same family, Bovidae. And, just for the record, there is a European bison, too, which is smaller than the American version, and is mostly found today in Poland, although there are some small herds living in neighboring countries.

In the meantime, there are some modern day bison that call the Adirondacks home, and they can be found not too far from Newcomb: down the Blue Ridge Road, just off exit 29 from the Northway in North Hudson. Because these are wild animals (don’t let the word “farm” deceive you), visitors cannot get up close to them (a wise precaution – bison can be snarky animals). But, there is a great viewing platform right there where one can gaze down into the pastures and almost picture what it might have been like 500 years ago…just outside the Park.

Photo courtesy The Adirondack Buffalo Company


Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Adirondack Bouldering Unethical? Illegal?

Glacial erratics are part of the Adirondack landscape. On just about any trail, you can find one of these boulders left behind by retreating glaciers eons ago.

In places, you can find collections of giant erratics. One such place is near Nine Corner Lake in the southern Adirondacks—a major attraction for those who practice the art of bouldering. The guidebook Adirondack Rock describes Nine Corners as the largest boulder field in the Adirondack Park, with more than a hundred “problems” (mini-routes) on about fifty boulders.

Regular Adirondack Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler writes about Nine Corners bouldering in the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. You can read the story online by clicking here.

Last week, I posted the link to the story on Adirondack Forum’s rock-climbing section and was surprised that it touched off a debate over the ethics of bouldering.

As hikers know, boulders are usually covered—at least partially—with lichen, moss, ferns, and other vegetation. As Alan’s story notes, climbers often scrape off vegetation when creating routes.

A few people on Adirondack Forum suggested that removing vegetation from boulders is wrong.

One poster wrote: “There are few things more beautiful in the forest than a moss cloaked, polypody fern capped erratic—I know I’d be exceptionally ticked if some climber came along and ‘cleaned’ the moss and other vegetation off of a boulder, which undoubtedly took centuries to accumulate. ‘Cleaning moss’ strikes me as a selfish act of vandalism.”

Another contended that cleaning boulders violates regulations against removing or destroying plants growing on state land.

The critics raise valid points. To play devil’s advocate, however, one could argue that removing vegetation from portions of a relatively small number of boulders in the Adirondack Park does little or no harm to the ecological system. I can’t imagine too many people are bothered by it, as most visitors to boulder fields are boulderers. At the same time, bouldering gives great pleasure to those who do it. Applying the principles of Utilitarianism , you can make a case that removing vegetation to facilitate bouldering is, on balance, a good thing. It adds to the sum of human happiness.

Anything we do in the Forest Preserve creates some impact on the environment. Hikers create erosion, trample plants, disturb wildlife, and so on. But these impacts are small, and no one suggests we should ban hiking. The question is how much disturbance of the natural world is acceptable.

What do you think? Do boulderers go too far?

Photo by Alan Wechsler: A climber at Nine Corners.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Adirondack Mountain Club Presents: High Peaks Bedrock

The Adirondack Mountain Club will be offering an all day program on August 19th on the fascinating bedrock geology of the High Peaks region. Mineral types, crushed rock fault zones, hybrid rocks, and the structure of the mountains will be seen in the field. ADK naturalist Matt Maloney will show rocks on display at the ADK’s Heart Lake property and then lead visits to several field locations in the Keene area. This program will run from 9am to 3pm.

Participants should meet at the Adirondak Loj. Directions and other pertinent information will be sent to participants. Participants must pre-register by calling 518-523-3441. Cost is $20 for ADK members/$25 for non-members. Maximum of 12 participants.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the New York State Forest Preserve and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.

For more information about our programs, directions or questions about membership, contact ADK North Country office in Lake Placid (518) 523-3441 or visit our Web site at www.adk.org.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Governor George Clinton and Pok-O-Rushmore?

Untouched scenic vistas and natural landscapes are treasured in the Adirondacks. Seventy years ago, a popular landmark, since admired by millions, was nearly transformed into something far different from its present appearance.

It all began in 1937 with the editor of the Essex County Republican-News, C. F. Peterson. Formerly a Port Henry newspaperman, active in multiple civic organizations, and clearly pro-development and pro-North Country, Peterson was a force to be reckoned with. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Adirondack Geology: Mysteries of Rocks and Minerals

Geology – it’s the backbone of this planet, and one area in which I find myself deficient in knowledge. It’s not that I don’t like rocks – I had quite a large collection as a kid, and even today I am drawn to rock shops. It just seems that geology is something my mind refuses to hang onto. Oh, the broad strokes are easy enough to remember (like how the Adirondacks are built of some of the oldest rocks on Earth, but the mountains are fairly young), but the little details, well, those I always have to relearn. So, I thought I’d put myself through a small crash course in rocks and minerals, and on the off-chance that others out there are similarly confounded, I decided to write about my findings.
First, what is the difference between a rock and a mineral? A mineral, according to Discover Nature in the Rocks by Rebecca and Diana Lawton and Susan Panttaja, is “the solid phase of a non-living, naturally occurring substance.” Minerals are composed of atoms arranged in a crystalline structure. Now, these atoms could be all of one kind, like they are in native metals. For example, in silver all the atoms are silver atoms. Other native metals include copper and gold. Some minerals, however, are composed of molecules of more than one kind of atom. Many multiple atom minerals are familiar, like table salt, which consists of sodium and chloride atoms. Chemically we call table salt sodium chloride, while its mineral name is halite. Minerals found, and some even mined, in the Adirondacks include mica, quartz, garnet, and pyrite.

Rocks, on the other hand, are all part of the Earth’s crust. From the small pebbles that get into our shoes to the glacial erratics and mountains that make the Adirondacks what they are, all these rocks originated in the thin layer that covers the molten and semimolten mass that forms the basis of this planet. Rocks come in three flavors: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.

Anyone who went through Earth Science in high school should be familiar with these terms. Igneous rocks are formed from once-molten material. The majority of igneous rocks were made by minerals that crystallized out of molten materials (magma) from deep below the Earth’s surface. Here in the Adirondacks, every time we see a piece of granite, we are looking at an igneous rock. Granites are rich in several minerals: silica, potassium, sodium, quartz, and alkali feldspars.

Sedimentary rocks are created when particles (or sediments) come to rest after being moved by wind and/ or water. Their final resting place is usually underwater, but some end up in deserts or on sand dunes. Sandstone and shale are two examples of common sedimentary rocks.

Metamorphic rocks were formed under either great heat or great pressure. They started life as either sedimentary or igneous rocks, or maybe even as a another metamorphic rock, but then they underwent a change. A simple example would be a slab of shale that gets squashed by a heavy weight (say, a thick layer of additional sediment) and ends up compressed into slate. Marble is an example of a metamorphic rock that was created when a chunk of limestone underwent extreme heat. Grenville marble forms the bedrock under Rich Lake here in Newcomb. Because of its limestone origin, it has provided a natural buffering agent to the lake, protecting it from the effects of acid deposition. A third type of metamorphic rock is formed when mineral-rich water is heated to extreme temperatures. This superheated liquid moves through the rock around it and either changes the rock’s structure or its mineral composition.

Contrary to popular belief, rocks are not static. They are constantly changing, but few of us witness this change because it happens in geologic time; in other words, very slowly. Still, the observant naturalist can see this change if he or she looks for it. A great place to start, and one easily found here in the Adirondacks, is at a glacial erratic. These boulders are found lying about the woods, far from their native homes. The term “glacial” tells us that they were deposited by the glaciers that passed over this area over 10,000 years ago. The word “erratic” means they came from somewhere else. Here at the VIC in Newcomb we have a wonderful glacial erratic sitting next to the Rich Lake Trail. In almost ten years of passing this rock, I’ve noticed that the crack that runs down its face has widened. Water gets into this crack and alternately freezes and thaws, each year making the crack a little bit wider. Eventually, I suspect the slab will fall away from its parent rock, but probably not within my lifetime.

Some rocks and minerals are fairly easy to identify, like mica and pyrite and granite. Others may require more in-depth investigations. I recall from a soils class I took in college that we had to test various rocks with chemicals to get positive IDs. I find, however, that the easiest route to take is a visit to the local rock shop, where the proprietor is often quite happy to help me out with any geologic conundrum I pick up. I have discovered that rock-hounds are a lot like birders – they are intensely “into” their subject and know a great deal. The Adirondack Park is fortunate to have more than one rock shop. I know of two within about a half-hour’s drive from where I live: one in Long Lake, and the other at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves in Pottersville. Kids love rocks and these shops can be a lot of fun for serious rock-hounds and novices alike.

The problem with being a JOAT (jack-of-all-trades) is that I find too many things to be interesting. Here I was happily buzzing along thnking that insects were my latest “thing,” but now I find myself wanting to know more about rocks and minerals – geology. I’ll take some time to finish reading my Discover Nature in the Rocks book and see if I can’t commit some of it to memory. But before that happens, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if something else came up and my curiosity swept me away down another tangent. Ah – the joys of being a naturalist!


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches

Photo of Angel Slides on Wright PeakYou can see the Angel Slides from Marcy Dam: two adjoining bedrock scars—one wide, one thin—on the southeastern slopes of Wright Peak. They are a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers.

The slides got their nickname following the death of Toma Vracarich. Ten years ago this month, Vracarich and three other skiers were caught in an avalanche on the wider slide. Vracarich died under the snow. He was twenty-seven. The other skiers were injured.

It remains the only avalanche fatality in the Adirondacks, but it put people on notice that the avalanche risk here is real. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Flooding: Tracking Local Rivers With Streamgauges

As Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler reported yesterday, the big rain we had on Monday has wrecked havoc on Adirondack winter recreation. Alan noted that ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and local ski resorts were particularly hard hit (West Mountain just south of the Blue Line was forced to close), and to those we should add snowmobiling, as many trails around the region are all but impassable. Even the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival felt the pain, when rain seriously damaged this year’s Ice Palace necessitating builders to almost start from scratch.

Over the past two days the region’s nearly 30,000 miles of streams, brooks, and rivers have gathered volume and strength. In Washington County the Mettawee and Hoosic Rivers have flooded their banks, and the Batten Kill is near flood stage. The Hudson and Schroon Rivers are running very high and the Boquet has topped it’s banks, but the most serious flooding has occurred in the Franklin County community of Fort Covington where flooding along the Salmon River has threatened a number of buildings and required evacuations.

Those interested in accessing information about what is happening to streams in your local area as a result of the heavy rain can access the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) streamgage network, which operates a nationwide system of about 7,000 streamgauges that monitor water level and flow. Streamgages transmit real-time information, which the National Weather Service uses to issue local flood warnings, and which paddlers in the know can use to estimate conditions. Some streamgauges have been operational since the early 1900s; the gauge just upstream from the Route 22 bridge over the Boquet, for instance, has been recording since 1923.

For more information about area streamgauges, check out the USGS’s National Streamflow Information Program. There is also a nice short video here.

Illustration: The level of the Schroon river over the last few days at Riverbank.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sea Serpents in the Adirondacks? You Bet!

Scandinavian folklore has described eskers as being formed by large sea serpents crawling inland to die. Celtic lore describes eskers as being formed by monks carrying baskets of sand inland from the sea as a form of penitence. What are eskers?

They’re glacial features that kind of look like an up side-down riverbed. As a glacier retreats, it leaves behind outwash deposits of sand, gravel, and stone that may form long, interrupted, undulating ridges. Sometimes, just like a river, they branch off and there may be two or three in a roughly parallel arrangement. Colloquially, they have been called horsebacks, hogbacks, serpent ridges, and sand dunes.

Luckily, these interesting features are commonly encountered while paddling (and carrying) in the Adirondacks. Most Adirondack eskers run in a NE to SW arc, starting near the N. Br. of the Saranac and extending to Stillwater Reservoir, with the highest concentration within the combined St. Regis/Saranac basin. Others are found in the drainages of West Canada Creek and the Schroon, Moose, Hudson, and Cedar Rivers. The Rainbow Lake esker bisects that lake; A. F. Buddington, an early geologist, says this is one of the finer examples of an esker and considers it to extend (in a discontinuous manner) for 85 miles.

There is a long discontinuous esker from Mountain Pond through Keese Mill, passing between Upper St. Regis Lake and the Spectacle Ponds, and continuing to Ochre, Fish, and Lydia Ponds in the St. Regis Canoe Area. Other very interesting eskers are found on the lower Osgood, at Massawepie Lake (you drive on the esker to get to this lake), near Hitchins Pond on the Bog River/Lows Lake trip, and along the Saranac River near its namesake village. An esker in the Five Ponds Wilderness can be paddled to (though is usually hiked to). It bisects theses ponds and, at 150 feet high, is among the tallest.

Examples of twin or double eskers are those at Rainbow and Massawepie Lakes and there are triple ridges near Jenkins Mountain and Cranberry Lake. Eskers make for great hikes. They generally support tall stands of white pines. You can often see related glacial features such as kames, kettle holes, and kettle ponds. If you’re lucky, you might also find some sea serpent scales. If you can’t find these, put on your penitent face and bring along a basket of ocean sand on your next paddling trip.

Map of the Rainbow Lake esker (to come) by A. F. Buddington, 1939-1941. Esker ridges are indicated by yellow shading. Source: Geology of the Saranac Quadrangle, New York, a 1953 New York State Museum bulletin (# 346)