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Cattaraugus County Geology Trail

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Activities on the Trail

Many people are surprised to hear of the natural wonders that can be found less than an hour south of the great Niagara Falls in the quiet, rural Cattaraugus County. Rock cities, ancient glacial valleys, vertical-cliffed gorges, and continental divides are just a few of the sights one may see on a day trip through the area.

Entirely situated on the western flank of the Allegheny Plateau, Cattaraugus County sits at an average elevation of about 1800 feet above sea level. Ironically, most of the exposed bedrock one will encounter was deposited in a calm and quiet sea nearly 300,000 years ago during the Devonian Period.

Cattaraugus County boasts a top ski resort destination in the eastern U.S. due to some relatively high-relief. The Allegheny Plateau is deeply dissected mainly due to river flow since the retreat of the Devonian sea. However, the most recent Ice Age (65,000-10,000 years ago) has also played a key role in the present shape of the land.

In September 2011 an advanced class of high school Geology students from Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School began research and observations of several sites of geologic interest in Cattaraugus County. Each site will open a new door to the rich geologic history of Cattaraugus County, as well as western New York State.

The following is a small portion of the students’ research. It should be noted that the students are high school-age and their work was edited by their Geology teacher. Most information is accurate, but may be slightly incomplete, as this is a work in progress.

Geologic Stops

  • Dobbins Memorial State Park - "Dobbins may be just like Little Rock City, where the area wasn’t touched by glaciers or it may be made of glacial till."
  • Little Rock City - "unique due to the large rock formations that are visible and scattered throughout the surrounding area. The formation of the geologic site has been very controversial due to the fact that it was never affected by glaciers during the last ice age 20,000 years ago, a fact unknown to many people."
  • Otto Stadial Site & Gowanda Interstadial Site - "Otto is one of only two known places in New York to have preserved till layers from first three glacier movements (of four) during the Pleistocene Ice Age. Here you will find yourself hiking along the bank side and experiencing things that you have never seen before."
  • Scoby Dam Area - "The bedrock surrounding the Scoby Dam area was formed during the Devonian time period and is mostly fissile shale and siltstone."
  • Thunder Rocks - "Most people believe that glaciers were the reason Thunder Rocks appeared, but this is not true. Instead, the giant rocks were made due to a number of things"
  • Zoar Valley - North Otto Water Access - "The Cattaraugus Creek cut through the shale at a rate of 15 to 18 feet per thousand years and formed the valley walls we see today over a period of 14 to 15 thousand years."
  • Zoar Valley - Valentine Flatts - "awed by the magnificent cliffs at each side of the river bed"
  • Rock City Park - Rock City Park is a majestic geological spectacle of enormous rock formations and is sometimes called one of the Eighth Wonders of the World. This prehistoric ocean floor is the World’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate (also called ocean spar or puddingstone) and attracts thousands of visitors yearly.