Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Shawangunk Mountains

Location:   Near Ellenville, New York
Year:   430,000,000 B.C.E.

The Shawangunk Mountains are a little-known but frequently visited area of New York State. The name means "Smoky" in the Munsee language.

The Shawangunks are an ancient long ridge of exposed bedrock, a subrange or ridge of the Appalachians that transects Sullivan and Ulster Counties. They are geologically separate from the Catskills, though geographic proximity conflates the two ranges in most visitors' minds. 

The Sam's Point Preserve ice caves are concentrated near Sam's Point at the northern end of the range. The ice caves are deep fissures in the bedrock that retain ice through the summer. This results in a cool microenvironment that supports several far northern species of trees such as black spruce, hemlock, rowan, and creeping snowberry.  A popular and much-abused tourist attraction in the heyday of the Borscht Belt, The Nature Conservancy now controls the ice caves and limits tourist access to the area. 

Lakes and wetlands occur mostly on the flat-topped ridges at the northern and southern ends of the Shawangunks. The northern Shawangunks have five lakes, the "sky lakes," which are, from north to south: Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Mud Pond, and Lake Maratanza.

The area is known for its fascinating geological formations and is a world-class destination for rock climbers.

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