There are several sites with unique rock formations in the southern part of the state where one can enjoy the great outdoors, along with the wonders of nature, while learning about the history and geology of the area.
Rock City Park, a 23-acre park hidden in the woods about 5 ½ miles south of Olean, is the largest formation of quartz conglomerate, known as “pudding stone,” in the world. This rock, which resembles concrete, was formed millions of years ago when quartz was carried from the mountains by rivers and streams and deposited in the sand and mud along the oceans. This type of rock is of great interest to geologists, as it is ocean bottom rock, not glacial effect rock. During a recent visit, my family was amazed by the size of the rock formations.
Cindy and Dale Smith have owned the park for five seasons. Prior to that, the park was owned by the Booker family since 1890. “I love rocks,’ said Cindy Smith. “I have collected rocks my whole life.” The Bookers knew of her love for rocks and asked her if she would like to buy the park when they retired.
Visiting Rock City Park is no walk in the park, so wear comfortable clothing and shoes when you visit. You should also be in fairly good shape to hike the park, as much climbing and walking is involved. Our youngest, a pre-schooler, enjoyed the park; however you do have to be especially vigilant with little ones, as there are many crevices and drop-offs.
If it’s a clear day, you can see 35 miles from the massive rocks at the beginning of the trail. Head down the iron staircase and squeeze through the crevice known as “fat man’s squeeze,” then walk through the immense “dining hall pass.” You’ll feel dwarfed as you walk among these huge formations. The next few formations, “Indian camp” and “tee pee rock,” reflect the time when the park was used by the Seneca Indians as a fortress. You can almost hear the beat of their drums when you imagine them living among these towering rocks.
Balancing Rock, a huge 1,000 ton boulder balancing precariously on another rock, will probably make you nervous. The Indian stairs, a steep stone stairway is believed to have been built by the Senecas. At the top of this stairway, “signal rock,” was used by Senecas to send smoke signals.
Another area formation, Panama Rocks in Chautauqua County, about seven miles south of Chautauqua Lake, is privately owned park that is the largest outcropping of glacier-sculpted quartz conglomerate rock in the world.
About 300 million years ago, these rocks were sea islands, part of an ancient river delta. Eventually, thousands of feet of sediment built up over the sea islands and the rock was compressed, forming quartz conglomerate. During the last Ice Age, a glacier covered this area; after it melted, thousands of crevices and passageways were left.
Current owners, Craig and Sandra Weston have been operating the park, which originally opened in 1885, since April of 1979. The Westons happened to be taking a drive and saw the for sale sign. Since they were looking to move away from city life, they made an inquiry and ended up buying the park.
Panama Rocks is made up of a ½ mile ridge of rocks that is about 50 yards wide. A one mile long trail circles the ridge; the lower portion of the trail has more dramatic scenery, along with a variety of crevices and dens, which are fun to explore. Craig compared the park to a giant playground, in addition to being a scenic wonder. While you could walk the trail in 20 minutes, most people take at least 1 ½ hours or more to explore the park.
Another rock formation, Rock City State Forest, a 6,000 acre state-owned forest, is located near Little Valley in Cattaraugus County. There are numerous hiking and mountain bike trails located throughout the forest and as well as several areas of rock formations. One of the more scenic areas is referred to as “Little Rock City,” an area of conglomerate rock that has many giant size boulders, passageways and caves.
If you go
Rock City Park (716-372-7790 or 1-800-404-ROCK, www.rockcitypark.com ) 505 Rt. 16 South, Olean, NY. Follow Rt. 16 south from Olean for about 5 ½ miles and watch for the driveway on your right. Open 9-6 daily, May-October. Admission is $4.50 adults, $3.75 over age 62, $2.50 age 6-12, children under 5 are free. A season pass, which you can share with others, is $8.95.
Panama Rocks (716-782-2845, www.panamarocks.com) 11 Rock Hill Rd. (CR 10), PO Box 176, Panama, NY. Open daily 10-5, mid-May to late October. Admission is $6 ages 18-24, $4 ages 55+ and 13-17, $3 ages 6-12 and under five are free. Take the I-90 to Westfield (Exit 60). Turn left on NY 394. About 2-3 miles south of Mayville, turn right on County Route 33. Go south to Panama on County Route 33 (10 miles). In Panama you will come to a flashing light. Turn right at the light, onto NY 474 West. Go less than 1/4 mile. Turn left onto Rt. 10 West. Drive up the hill, and turn left at the park entrance.
Rock City State Forest (for information, contact DEC Allegany sub office 716-372-0645) Entrance located off Rock City Rd., Little Valley. To reach the trailhead, take NY 353 south from Little Valley to Whig St. to Hungry Rd. to Rock City Rd.