Escape the Urban: Unexpected Discoveries

27 Mar

I have a bias towards novelty. Given the chance to forge a new trail or return to an old friend, I chose the unknown. And while this makes me not unlike most Americans (humans?), it does mean I miss some delightful surprises when an old dog shows new tricks, as Counterfeiter’s Ledge reminded me earlier this month.

As a review, Counterfeiter’s Ledge is a Nature Conservancy property east of Akron where I volunteer at preserve steward. That fancy title means I keep an eye on the place and stick my nose into as much ecology and restoration work as I am allowed, being an enthusiastic amateur naturalist (really, the only kind). On a recent weekend Ethan (Community Beer Works mogul) and I did an end-of-winter visit, dodging half-frozen puddles instead of snow drifts to see how the landscaped fared over the long dark cold. We noted freshly downed trees brought low by ice and wind, evidence of hungry bear ravaging a dead tree stump to eat the termites inside, and piles and piles of deer pellets, signs of a significant herd. We also found a sheer cliff that stopped us dead in our tracks. I literally had no idea it was there.

Now I was well aware that a ledge existed, the name “Counterfeiter’s Ledge” referring to the craggy limestone exposed during the last Ice Age. When Lake Ontario (not to be confused with Ontario Lacus) was known as Lake Iroquois, and drained out the Mohawk and Hudson rather than the ice-dammed St. Lawrence, the shoreline extended much further to the south. As the ice shelf retreated and the lake drained, it created a series of shorelines, digging out the loose material through wave action at each successive point. Each of these shorelines became a different escarpment, the most famous of which produces Niagara Falls. But there are a series of smaller escarpments south of the main ridge, one of which produces Counterfeiter’s Ledge and Akron Falls.

So while the ledge was not unexpected, the size and impassability were. In other locations the ridge is an annoyance but not a transit deal breaker. This was not scrabbling and bouldering terrain – slick with ice and a vertical wall, Ethan and I walked to the edge of the dark precipice slightly dumbfounded, our scouting of the east perimeter suddenly cut short. We weren’t going any further that way that day. As we were forced to retrace our steps I was reminded that even well-worn and oft-trodden lands have new secrets to share.

6 Responses to “Escape the Urban: Unexpected Discoveries”

  1. RaChaCha March 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Speaking of enthusiastic amateur, that’s kinda me and geology. Akron Falls is on the Onondaga Escarpment — cool Onondaga Escarpment features can be found along Rt. 5 from WNY east across the state (UB South Campus is part of the escarpment, and there is a filled Onondaga limestone quarry on campus). The escarpment can be glimpsed throughout Clarence Hollow, and there’s a rail-trail from there out to Akron that might make for some cool exploration.

    One feature found all along the escarpment is “fossil waterfalls” — sites where there were spillways or creeks draining the higher-level post-glacial lakes (like you mention), but now no water flowing over the limestone ledge. In fact, since almost everywhere the Onondaga Escarpment has been weathered to a slope, wherever there’s a sizable section of vertical cliff chances are good there was a waterfall at that location. One of the most notable is at Clark Reservation State Park. There are also cool ones in the Genesee Country Village nature center, and along the Ontario Pathways rail-trail in Phelps.

    If this feature is, indeed, a fossil waterfall, that would add greatly to the natural history significance of what looks like a really awesome piece of piece of property.

    Thanks for the cool article!

  2. Ethan March 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    That was a fun hike, and I hope to get to know that parcel even better; you’ve got a partner for further exploration whenever I can spare the time myself.  I’ll bring the beer!  (no joke.)  I do think we should explore up the creek at the bottom of that ridge… do you have the USGS Survey Map for that area?

  3. Chris Sasiadek March 29, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Aldo Leopold would have loved this post.

  4. Brian Castner March 29, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    @ Chris – that’s an extremely high complement. Thank you.

    @ Ethan – who needs a map?

    @ Ra Cha – the best example of a fossil waterfall is actually Devil’s Hole, which emptied Lake Iroquios as well, I think. I could do a little bit on some of them – I’ll explore some of your suggestions.

  5. Ethan March 29, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Nobody *needs* a map; but I happen to love ’em.  Believe me, I’ve done plenty of bushwacking but also plenty of orienteering; I like ’em both.


  1. Escape the Urban Travelogue: Hidden Treasures « - April 3, 2011

    […] written several times about finding joy in the simple, or the pleasure of unexpected surprises. In light of that continuing theme, consider this recent good fortune (or what the Vikings may […]

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