Geologic History of the Rochester Area

Earth Science Week is
October 13-19, 2019

These day trips into Rochester’s geologic history, filled with drumlins, eskers, kames, kettles, fossils, house-sized boulders and a meromictic lake, will remind you just how amazing the Earth is!

Geologic History: Chimney Bluffs State Park

1. Chimney Bluffs

The bluffs, rising 175 feet above Lake Ontario, are fragile drumlins, like all of the truncated drumlins along this section of shoreline.

This area of New York State “contains one of the largest drumlin fields (12,000 km2) on the North America continent consisting of some 10,000 drumlins located between Lake Ontario in the north and the Finger Lakes.”

Learn more: Drumlins in Wayne CountyNew York State Geological Association 2000 Guidebook page 116

Rochester's Geologic History: Mendon Ponds Park Devils Bathtub

2. Mendon Ponds

The Devil’s Bathtub is one of New York’s rare meromictic lakes. It’s so deep, and so protected by the geologic features around it, that the layers in the water do not mix, or “turn over”. 

In 1969, Mendon Ponds Park was named to the National Registry of Natural Landmarks due to its geologic history and presence of significant kames, eskers, and kettles.

Learn more: Glacial Geology of Mendon Ponds Park, Glacial Geology

Rochester's Geologic History: Mount Hope Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery

3. Mount Hope Cemetery

Take the Geology Tour and you’ll learn about ice age land-forms (kames, moraines, kettles), the type of stones that make up gravestones, mausoleums and the ground you’re standing on, and residents who influenced the sciences during their time above ground.

You’ll learn to look for every minute detail as evidence in our big history!

Learn more: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Geology of Mount Hope Cemetery, Mount Hope Cemetery: The Landmark Society

Western New York's Geographic History: Little Rock City in Rock City New York State Forest
Little Rock City in Rock City State Forest

4. Little Rock City

“Little Rock City was not formed by glaciers, but through mountain building events known as orogenies. As sediment from surrounding areas was deposited over Rock City State Forest, the base for Little Rock City was formed.

“As hundreds of years passed, gravity erosion of the landscape began to separate non-resistant rock layers from those which were highly resistant, leaving us with the large boulders that are present today.”

Learn more: 4 Rock Cities Near Rochester, Cattaraugus County Geology Trail

Western New York's Geographic History: Penn Dixie Fossil Park Nature Reserve
Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve

5. Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve

Visitors can find and collect 380 million year-old animal and plant fossils that once flourished in an ancient tropical sea that covered Western New York.

In 2011, The Geological Society of America ranked Penn Dixie as the No. 1 fossil park in the country.

Learn more: Penn Dixie Field Guide, They’ll never run out of fossils at Penn Dixie

MacKay Wildlife Preserve
MacKay Wildlife Preserve

6. MacKay Wildlife Preserve

The incredible rocks found within the preserve’s 26 acres have been studied by geologists, and some were determined to be 380 million years old. They contain fossils from our tropical-sea days. There is a sea of moss-covered boulders toward the field wall.

Cal-Mum science teachers take classes here to explore the geology and biodiversity.

Best New York Attractions - Niagara Falls American Falls
Niagara Falls American Falls from the Crows Nest

7. Niagara Falls

“Approximately 12,000 years ago water found a single low pathway through the “Niagara Escarpment“, and began to carve out a channel—the Niagara River. At that time, however, “Niagara Falls” was about seven miles downstream—Lewiston, NY and Queenston, Ontario.

“Over the last 12,000 years erosion of the resistant rocks that cap Niagara has allowed the Falls to migrate about 7 miles upstream, and form the high-walled Niagara Gorge along its former path.”

Learn More: New York State Museum – Niagara Gorge Geology

Grimes Glen Second Fall
Grimes Glen, 2nd Fall

8. Grimes Glen

“The Glen is known for its waterfalls. However, it is best remembered as the source of the oldest fossilized tree in New York.

“The so-called Naples Devonian Tree was discovered in the glen by D. Dana Luther in 1882. A Naples native who served as President of the village, was a descendent of pioneers who first settled the town. Born in 1840, Dana Luther became interested in geology and spent many years assisting the research of his nephew, Dr. John M. Clarke, State Geologist and State Paleontologist for many years.

“Mr. Luther served on Clarke’s staff at the State Museum from 1891 to 1916. The fossilized tree that Luther discovered in Grimes Glen was removed by paleontologists in 1887 and put on display in the State Museum in Albany.”

Learn more: Ontario County

Eternal Flame Trail Chestnut Ridge Park Buffalo
Eternal Flame

9. Eternal Flame

“It seems that there’s only one waterfall in the world with a flame burning beneath it. This is the Eternal Flame Waterfall, on Shale Creek, in Chestnut Ridge Park, near Buffalo, New York.

“A pocket of natural methane gas in an alcove below the waterfall seeps out through a fracture in the rocks. The flame goes out from time to time (it’s not really eternal) but is easy to relight. We’ll probably never know who the first person to light it was.”

Learn more: EPOD USRA Eternal Flame

Things to do around Rochester NY: Letchworth State Park NY
Letchworth State Park NY

10. Letchworth

“400 million years of geologic history can be seen in the walls of the gorge at Letchworth State Park and are from the Devonian Age.

“The rocks in the gorge are sedimentary. Sedimentary rocks are formed from particles of sand, shells, pebbles, and other fragments of material. Gradually, the sediments accumulate and over time and harden into rock. Sedimentary rocks are, in general, are fairly soft and can crumble easily.

“The rock in the gorge is mostly shales with some limestone and sandstone. Some layers of rock have a red color to them. This red coloring is due to iron oxide in the rocks from being deposited during a high oxidizing environment.”

Learn more: Geocaching Letchworth

Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth in Ithaca NY
Museum of the Earth in Ithaca

Looking for more places to explore Rochester’s fascinating geologic history?

Museum of the Earth

Finger Lakes

Green Lakes

Bergen Swamp

The Five Pinnacle Hills (Mount Hope, Highland, Pinnacle Hill, Cobb’s Hill, and Oak Hill, which is now the University of Rochester campus. Yes, Oak Hill Country Club was located there next to the river from 1901-1921 before moving to Pittsford.)

Book Roadside Geology

Learn more about our geologic history and geoscience

Library Book: Roadside Geology of Western New York

Library Books: Various publications by Herman Fairchild

Rochester Museum & Science Center

Buffalo Museum of Science

Rochester Academy of Science

Buffalo Geological Society

New York State Geological Association + Field Trip Guidebooks

The Geological Society of America

American Geosciences Institute

Glacial Geology of Western New York

Geology of New York State

Geologic units in Monroe County, New York

Geological History and Glacial Formations of the Finger Lakes

Paleontology and Stratigraphy of the Rochester, New York, Area

Genesee Valley Glacial and Postglacial Geology from 50,000 Years Ago to the Present: A Selective Annotated Review

Western NY Geology: The Land Before Time

1902 Bulletin of this United States Geological Survey

Geology of the Erie Canal, Rochester Gorge, and Eastern Monroe County, New York State – In the Footsteps of Amos Eaton and James Hall

49 New York State Parks Within a 2-hour Drive of Rochester

Venture into one of these New York State Parks within a 2-hour drive of Rochester and discover what makes them each unique!

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13 Hidden Places Around Rochester

We drive past some of Rochester’s most unique features every day, completely unaware that these hidden places are just minutes away from where we live.

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20 Monroe County Parks

Monroe County parks are free, so take advantage of 12,000 acres of natural, zoological, horticultural, historical and geological experiences!

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26 Incredible Creeks Around Rochester

These beautiful creeks around Rochester impact us in such subtle ways they sometimes disappear into the background of our lives.

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4 Rock Cities Near Rochester

Explore these cool, quiet, mossy rock cities near Rochester, with boulders the size of houses! You’ll love Panama Rocks, Rock City Park, Little Rock City, and Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park.

Read more

Where are your favorite geo-interesting spots around Rochester?

Share with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!


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