Route 89, Ithaca, New York
Taughannock Falls' story begins long before European settlers arrived in America. The park contains New York's highest waterfall. New York has many of exquisite waterfalls, and the Finger Lakes have a great number of these hanging valley falls into a deep gorge. But Taughannock is the crown jewel of these geological treaures.
The Taughannock landscape is a time capsule that preserves a story written in stone thousands of years ago. This splendid spectacle of hydrology was formed by glacial forces at the end of the last ice age. It began as a hanging valley, where a small river plunged over a hard, thick bed of limestone into the post-glacial lake. The waterfall eroded the soft shale under the limestone, and gradually the falls receded westward, carving a deep gorge into the bony bedrock. Green Lakes and Clark Reservation are state parks near Syracuse that encompass similar post-glacial waterfalls.
And perhaps hidden in this geological relic is a living remnant of the East's ancient forests that once extended from the Atlantic Ocean west across the Mississippi Valley.
April 28, 2002
Old growth is frequently found in small stands in areas too dangerous or inaccesible for logging operations. One such area are steep slopes and bottoms of ravines and gorges.
Land along the upper rim of the Taughannock gorge is rather flat and level, so logging was most often conducted right to the edge. The likelihood of any old growth on the rim is dim.
from north (I-90 NYS Thruway)
However, significant trees—some large enough to be ancient—are growing in the gorge on its steep-sloped walls. The total area is not large, but it may enough to constitute a niche community with a stable micro-ecology. At any rate, the rate of annual growth on the high-mineral gravel and talus on these slopes is likely very low and slow
The steepest slopes and cliffs may harbor ancient cedar communities similar to those recently documented lining the Niagara River gorge.
As I was leaving the gorge overlook parking lot, two white vans pulled up with "Western Michigan University Geology Department." Aboutt a dozen students and their professor dismounted and began to study and discuss the locale. Their presence gave me extra pause to consider the deeper geological significance of the site. One of my conclusions was the best soil was on the delta Taughannock Creek has deposited in a small peninsula jutting into Cayuga Lake. The best soils washed into the lake in the early 1800s after the first settlers clear cut the flatlands west of here, and plowed up and down the slopes, so that the humus-rich forest topsoil rapidly eroded into the lake. In very few decades, centuries of fertility washed away.