New York Geological Attractions and Destinations

01
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Barton Garnet Mine, Adirondack Mountains

Biggest garnets you ever saw
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

New York is full of geological destinations and boasts a fine pedigree of research and researchers dating from the early 1800s. This growing gallery features just some of what's worth visiting.

Submit your own photos of a New York geological site.

See a New York geologic map.

Learn more about New York geology.

The Barton Mine's old quarry is a tourist attraction near North River. The working mine has moved to Ruby Mountain and is a major global garnet producer.

02
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Central Park, New York City

Polish worthy of city stone
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2001 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Central Park is a splendidly maintained landscape preserving the exposed stone of Manhattan Island, including its glacial polish from the ice ages.

03
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Coral Fossil Near Kingston

Silurian rugose coral
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

New York is richly fossiliferous nearly everywhere. This is a rugose coral of Silurian age, weathering out of limestone by the roadside.

04
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Dunderberg Mountain, Hudson Highlands

Thunder dome
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2006 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

High hills of ancient gneiss more than a billion years old stood tall even as the continental glaciers of the ice ages smoothed their outlines. (more below)

Dunderberg Mountain lies across the Hudson River from Peekskill. Dunderberg is an old Dutch name meaning thunder mountain, and indeed the summer thunderstorms of the Hudson Highlands magnify their booms off the stern rock faces of these ancient eminences. The mountain chain is a welt of Precambrian gneiss and granite first folded in the Grenville orogeny starting 800 million years ago, and again in the Taconic orogeny in the Ordovician (500-450 million years ago). These mountain-building events marked the beginning and the end of the Iapetus Ocean, which opened and closed where today's Atlantic Ocean lies.

In 1890, an entrepreneur set out to build an inclined railway to Dunderberg's top, where riders could view the Hudson Highlands and, on a good day, Manhattan. A 15-mile downhill train ride would begin from there on a winding track all over the mountain. He put in about a million dollars of work, then quit. Now Dunderberg Mountain is in Bear Mountain State Park, and the half-finished railbeds are covered with forest.

05
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Eternal Flame Falls, Chestnut Ridge Park

A country gaslight district
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo courtesy LindenTea of Flickr under Creative Commons license

A seep of natural gas in the park's Shale Creek Reserve supports this flame inside a waterfall. The park is near Buffalo in Erie County. Blogger Jessica Ball has more. And a 2013 paper reported that this seep is especially high in ethane and propane.

06
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Gilboa Fossil Forest, Schoharie County

First forest
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2010 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Fossil stumps, discovered in growth position in the 1850s, are famous among paleontologists as the earliest evidence of forests about 380 million years ago. (more below)

See more photos of this place in the Fossil Wood Gallery and in the Fossils A to Z Gallery.

The story of the Gilboa forest is intertwined with the history of New York and geology itself. The site, in the valley of Schoharie Creek, has been excavated several times, first after major flooding scoured the banks clean and later as dams were built and modified to hold water for New York City. The fossil stumps, some as tall as a meter, were early prizes for the state museum of natural history, being the first fossil tree trunks to be found in America. Since then they have stood as the oldest trees known to science, dating from the Middle Devonian Epoch about 380 million years ago. Only in this century were large fernlike leaves found that give us an idea of what the living plant looked like. A slightly older site, at Sloan Gorge in the Catslkill Mountains, has recently been found to have similar fossils. The 1 March 2012 issue of Nature reported a major advance in studies of the Gilboa forest. New construction work uncovered the original exposure of the forest in 2010, and researchers had two weeks to document the site in detail.

The footprints of the ancient trees were fully visible, exposing traces of their root systems for the first time. The researchers found several more plant species, including tree-climbing plants, that painted a picture of a complex forest biome. It was the experience of a lifetime for the paleontologists. "As we walked among these trees, we had a window onto a lost world that is now once again closed, perhaps forever," lead author William Stein of Binghamton University told the local newspaper. "It was a great privilege to be given that access." A Cardiff University press release had more photos, and the New York State Museum press release provided more scientific detail.

Gilboa is a tiny town with this roadside display near the post office and the Gilboa Museum, holding more fossils and historical materials. Learn more at gilboafossils.org.

07
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Round and Green Lakes, Onondaga County

Limnological rarities
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2002 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Round Lake, near Syracuse, is a meromictic lake, a lake whose waters do not mix. Meromictic lakes are common in the tropics but quite rare in the temperate zone. It and nearby Green Lake are part of Green Lakes State Park. (more below)

Most lakes in the temperate zone turn their waters over every autumn as the water cools. Water reaches its greatest density at 4 degrees above freezing, so it sinks when it cools to that temperature. The sinking water displaces the water below, no matter what temperature it's at, and the result is a complete mixing of the lake. The freshly oxygenated deep water sustains fish throughout the winter even when the surface is frozen over. See the Freshwater Fishing Guide for more about the fall turnover.

The rocks around Round and Green Lakes contain beds of salt, making their bottom waters a layer of strong brine. Their surface waters are devoid of fish, instead supporting an unusual community of bacteria and algae that give the water a peculiar milky blue-green color.

Because the bottom of meromictic lakes is so stable, the sediments that accumulate there are exceptionally well-preserved records of the plant species growing in the region as well as the changing aquatic community in the surface layers. Geographically, Round and Green Lakes sit on the border between two great weather systems separated by a jet stream in the upper atmosphere. This makes them very sensitive to subtle climate changes that have occurred during the last 10,000 years since the glaciers left.

Other meromictic lakes in New York include Ballston Lake near Albany, Glacier Lake in Clark Reservation State Park, and Devil's Bathtub in Mendon Ponds State Park. Other examples in the U.S.A. are Soap Lake in Washington state and Utah's Great Salt Lake.

08
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Howe Caverns, Howes Cave NY

A great cave
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo courtesy HTML Monkey of Flickr under Creative Commons license

This famous show cave gives you a good look at the workings of groundwater in limestone, in this case the Manlius Formation.

09
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Hoyt Quarry Site, Saratoga Springs

A scientific landmark
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2003 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

This old quarry across the road from Lester Park is the official type section of the Hoyt Limestone of Cambrian age, as explained by interpretive signs.

10
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Hudson River, Adirondack Mountains

White water
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

The Hudson River is a classic drowned river, showing tidal influence up to Albany, but its headwaters still run wild and free for whitewater rafters.

11
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Lake Erie Cliffs, 18-Mile Creek and Penn-Dixie Quarry, Hamburg

Hard-core fossil sites
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo of Lake Erie Cliffs courtesy LindenTea of Flickr under Creative Commons license

All three localities offer trilobites and many other fossils from the Devonian seas. To collect at Penn-Dixie, start at penndixie.org, the Hamburg Natural History Society. Also see blogger Jessica Ball's report from the cliffs.

12
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Lester Park, Saratoga Springs

Stromatolite Central
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Stromatolites were first described in the literature from this locality, where "cabbage-head" stromatolites are beautifully exposed along the road.

13
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Letchworth State Park, Castile

Grand Canyon of the East
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo courtesy Longyoung of Flickr under Creative Commons license

Just west of the Finger Lakes, the Genesee River plunges over three major falls in a great gorge cut through a thick section of mid-Paleozoic sedimentary rocks.

14
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Niagara Falls

The big one
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo courtesy Scott Kinmartin of Flickr under Creative Commons license

This great cataract needs no introduction. American Falls at left, Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls at right.

15
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Rip Van Winkle, Catskill Mountains

Sleeping Man
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

The Catskill range casts a spell over a wide stretch of the Hudson River valley. It has a thick sequence of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. (more below)

Rip van Winkle is a classic American legend from the colonial days made famous by Washington Irving. Rip was accustomed to go hunting in the Catskill Mountains, where one day he fell under the spell of supernatural beings and fell asleep for 20 years. When he wandered back to town, the world had changed and Rip van Winkle was scarcely remembered. The world has sped up since those days—you might be forgotten in a month—but Rip's sleeping profile, a mimetolith, remains in the Catskills, as seen here across the Hudson River.

16
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The Shawangunks, New Paltz

Classic climbing
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

The quartzite and conglomerate cliffs west of New Paltz are a classic destination for rock climbers and a beautiful piece of countryside. Click the photo for a larger version.

17
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Stark's Knob, Northumberland

Rare lava pillows
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo (c) 2001 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

The state museum oversees this curious hillock, a rare seamount of pillow lava dating from Ordovician times.

18
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Trenton Falls Gorge, Trenton

Classic fossil locality
New York Geological Attractions and Destinations. Photo courtesy Walter Selens, all rights reserved

Between Trenton and Prospect the West Canada River cuts a deep gorge through the Trenton Formation, of Ordovician age. See its trails and its rocks and fossils.