Our particular American moment doesn’t exactly inspire peace of mind. As numb as I’ve become to some things, the levels of corruption and callousness on display in Washington are still mind-boggling, and seeing what’s happening to our natural inheritance and civil rights—such as young children being kidnapped and caged by the government—is downright draining.
I learn what’s happening by plugging into (legitimate) media, and it’s how I steel my resolve to vote, vote, vote against the bastards doing this to our country. But it’s terrible for mental health, and there’s no shame in occasionally pulling back. For me, nature has truly become that avenue of retreat, and all the better if I can escape the reach of 4G coverage.
C. and I were to attend a wedding in Detroit (more on that city, perhaps, in a future post), but were lured in by the opportunity to refresh our spirits with an en route camping trip. We settled on Allegany State Park in western New York, which we had visited in the past (but never in the summer). It was as lovely as we had hoped, and more; for a brief time we were accompanied only by the forested mountains and other people looking to get away from whatever troubles or tedium ailed them.
As we left the park and continued our trip, a television at McDonald’s showed footage of a Guatemalan mother dropping to her knees and sobbing as her four-year-old daughter (separated for nearly a month) toddled toward her. It was a stark reminder of what humanity’s most vulnerable people are being subjected to, but I now felt better able to absorb the shock and turn it toward resolve.
For everyone alarmed by creeping fascism, do yourselves a favor: Visit the places where human tragedy has the littlest impact. For now, I’m happy to share some of my own experiences. I hope you enjoy the natural history and the pictures.
In the last ice age, most of what is now known as Upstate New York was covered by massive continental glaciers. Where these ice sheets advanced, they smoothed out the contours of areas like the Allegheny Plateau, but portions of the plateau, generally further south, remained untouched by the glaciers. There, the valley and hill topography remains more rugged.
The vast majority of the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau is south of New York state, save a small portion along the Pennsylvania border, mostly in southern Cattaraugus County. There, in 1921, the New York Legislature approved the creation of Allegany State Park—now a 65,000 acre near-wilderness surrounded by Allegheny National Forest to the south, and by the Allegheny River and the Allegany Indian Reservation (Seneca Nation) to the north.
Over the years, the state of New York labored mightily—entire communities and townships were dissolved, residents evicted, and lakes formed on dammed streams—to create a conservation and recreation area the equal of most national parks. Two built-up areas (Red House and Quaker) with cabin lodging, campgrounds, and recreational and commercial facilities are surrounded by rugged hills and forests. Three main paved roads connect the developed areas with each other and to the park’s entrances; elsewhere, only rough gravel roads and trails reach most areas.
The Allegheny Highlands Forest in the park is primarily composed of beech, maple, oak, hemlock, and white pine. Allegany State Park boasts more than a dozen tracts of old growth forest—meaning it has never been harvested for timber, and that it has maintained maturity through natural cycles for thousands of years—one of which is nearly 1,000 acres.
Meadow and clearing
Across the park, the forest cover is absent in a number of places. Grassy lawns are mowed near the developed areas for recreational purposes; elsewhere, more natural clearings feature native grasses and wildflowers. One of our favorite discoveries, though, was the butterfly meadow, an interpretive exhibit managed as a compromise between the park’s recreational and conservational impulses.
The portion of the unglaciated plateau in Allegany State Park does not reach particularly notable elevations (the park’s high point is less than 2,400 feet, making it less lofty than other areas of the unglaciated plateau), but the terrain is often steep, with deep ravines and stunning vistas.
Southwestern New York is known for formations called “rock cities,” which are fascinating geologic formations resulting (in these cases) from quart conglomerate protrusions. While the most famous rock cities lie outside of the park, we had visited Thunder Rocks on a previous visit. This time, our longest hike took us through the “Bear Caves,” a minor rock city on the shoulder of Mount Seneca near the Quaker Area.
While surrounded on three sides by the Allegheny River (and its reservoir to the west), most water within the park flows down narrow valleys in the form of small brooks and runs. Waterfalls are surprisingly rare, although most streams drop quickly in elevation. In two places, larger creeks were dammed to create reservoirs. While artificial lakes are often less scenic than their naturally occurring counterparts, Red House and Quaker lakes reflect the natural beauty of their surroundings.