Sunday, November 7 2004
I'd absorbed so much of the Catskills in the Ice Age by Robert Titus that I wanted to see some of it for myself, particularly Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills. I'd been particularly intrigued by a theory advanced by Titus that perhaps the peak of Slide had been the only landform in the Catskills to escape glaciation during the most recent glacial advance (circa 15,000 years ago). Gretchen had climbed to the summit of Slide once before (with Ray and Nancy I believe) but not me. Today we rectified the situation when Gretchen, Sally, Eleanor, and I all climbed to the summit of Slide Mountain together.
Slide Mountain is about four miles south of Big Indian, one of the towns west of Phonecia on Route 28. We parked at the Slide Mountain trailhead, 2.7 miles and 1780 vertical feet below the summit, and then began the business of climbing up the mountain. Parts of it consisted of crude stones steps installed in the mountain, while other parts of the trail made use of long-abandoned mountain roads. The forest consisted of your typical mix of Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch, American Beech, and oak until a little above 3500 feet of elevation, after which Black Spruce appeared and the only hardwood remaining was Yellow Birch. I kept looking for a dramatic gelogical change at the point where we climbed above the level of the Wisconsin continental ice sheet, but there was none to be seen. At a certain point I started noticing geological features that seemed inconsistent with glacial forces, but it was well after we'd climbed above the point where such features supposedly began. I'd read about the deeply-weathered rock ledges, the oxide stains, and the large amounts of decomposed rock, all of which are indicative of non-glaciation (these features are typically scraped away by passing glaciers). But the the features that most struck me as evidence of non-glaciation were a many examples of massive rocks that had been broken apart and were now separated by about three feet, sort of a small-scale version of continental drift. This seemed to document dozens of millenias' worth of frost heave, far more than could have happened in the 12 thousand years since the glaciers passed through. I've seen broken rocks in other places in the Catskills and generally if you can find the other part of a broken rock it's either fallen some vertical distance or it has migrated horizontally a couple of inches at most.
The rock comprising Slide Mountain is a kind of sandstone with many round quartz pebbles embedded in it. These pebbles can be as big as a couple inches across. Their presence gives the rocks the appearance of an especially obdurate variety of concrete. The pebbles had been rounded in a Carboniferous riverbed 350 million years ago and then been subsequently buried at great depth and cemented together with their surrounding sand. Near the top of Slide Mountain, much of the ancient rock has rotted away and left deep soils full of the ancient quartz pebbles, as indestructible now as they were a third of a billion years ago. (The presence of these soils and the accumulated pebbles they contain are some of the best evidence that the peak of Slide was left unmolested during the most recent glacial advance.)
Near the top there were a few places to look out and see the other peaks, particularly the ones to the north (Panther Mountain in the distance and Cornell and Wittenberg much closer in). Another hiker reminded us that Panther Mountain is suspected of being the root of an ancient meterorite impact; it is surrounded by an unusually circular valley, two thirds of which are occupied by Esopus Creek.
The north side of Slide Mountain had a thin accumulation of snow, the first I'd seen this year. Otherwise, it was a reasonably warm and sunny day for this time of year, though we encountered relatively few hikers.
At Slide's top there is a large weathered ledge of rock with a southeastward view of the Ashokan Reservoir. While we ate quirkly lunch of cheese, garlic, bread, and potatoes, a large group of hikers (seemingly Asian tourists) giggled loudly nearby. We later encountered them doing some sort of elaborate synchronized calisthenics down at the trailhead.
As we were climbing back down the mountain, I kept smelling the persistent odor of horse shit. It turned out that Sally had rolled in something unspeakable (my guess is that it was hiker scat). We had to wash her off thoroughly with wet leaves in a mountain stream.
Next on our agenda was Indian food (dot not feather) at a nearby lodge in Big Indian (feather not dot). This lodge used to be called Mountain House, back when it was connected with the dreadful Indian restaurant in Woodstock, but recently it changed owners. After a little confusion we managed to find the place, which was well off the beaten track at the end of a dead end road. Judging from the number of American flags and fucked up pickup trucks, it didn't exactly look like a hospitable neighborhood for an Indian restaurant, but there it was. (I'm sure their neighbors have trouble distinguishing between Indians and Iraqis, never mind Osama and Saddam.) The sign above the door said the restaurant was open, but when we walked in we could find no signs of human life. It was as if a neutron bomb had been detonated, leaving all the wealth untouched while destroying its inconvenient owners. Nothing was locked and we probably could have cooked ourselves a meal in the kitchen, but we'd just climbed up and down a mountain.
Giving up on the restaurant, we let Sally and Eleanor out to run around the grounds. Sally started barking at some critter hidden beneath some clutter in a shed in the back, so we ran to investigate. Just as we were convincing Sally to come with us, her prey emerged from its hiding place. It was a tiny scruffy porcupine, no bigger than a muskrat. Somehow we managed to keep both our dogs from pouncing on the bedraggled little trip to the vet.
We continued west on 28 to the town of Pine Hill, which has a reasonably good Indian restaurant. But it was closed until 5pm, so we spent an hour in a nearby antique shop talking to its owner. He said he was a local politician, a Democrat, who had recently been ousted from office after an organized Karl Rove-style campaign undertaken by development interests strongly connected to the Republican party. They'd taken out full page ads saying that, among other things, a vote for the Democrat was a vote against being allowed to illuminate your faded flag at night.
Then it turned out that our Pine Hill Indian restaurant was now operating on winter hours and was closed on Sundays. So we went across the street and ate at a cheap Mexican restaurant authentic enough for us to order in Spanish. The young children of the workers came in and sat at the bar as we ate. They were armed with plastic light sabers and spoke among themselves exclusively in English.
When we returned home, the evening was warm enough to be mistaken for early September. I even heard a single forelorn Katydid chirping in the hickory tree at the north end of the house. He had hopes, I suppose, of maybe getting laid before freezing to death.
This evening Gretchen and I finished watching the Spanish film the Devil's Backbone, a creepy ghost story set in an orphanage in revolution-era Spain. Unlike most ghost stories, its strangeness was more in keeping with magical realism than with horror. It also ended up being more of tragedy than what the makers of most horror movies have the balls to deliver.
Yellow Birch roots holding Slide Mountain together.
Snow near the top of Slide.
Broken rock pieces moved a couple feet apart.
Panther Mountain, viewed from Slide. Supposedly it is rooted in an ancient meteorite crater.
Cornell (left) and Wittenberg Mountains viewed from Slide.
Sally and Eleanor met a couple of black Labs at the Slide Mountain summit.
Sally and Gretchen on the Slide Mountain summit.
John Burroughs plaque on the rock ledge at the Slide Mountain summit.
Highly-weathered outcrops on Slide, perhaps indicating it wasn't covered in the most recent glacial advance.
Ashokan Reservoir, viewed from Slide.
A Yellow Birch perched atop a boulder on the slope of Slide Mountain.
Cloudspinners Antiques in Pine Hill. Its owner is a freshly-defeated Democratic politician.
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