Age-Old Chimney Bluffs
Nature is an awesome force. It's constantly reshaping our world. Sometimes on an immediate basis,
like the action of December 2004's tsunami, but more often the changes are more gradual, like the
erosive forces of wind and rain. There's a special place in Wayne County that I'd been to before to
see the effects of these slow changes. I was drawn to Chimney Bluffs again recently to witness the
progress firsthand, to see the natural sculptures and connect with the passage of time. I could see the
effects of aging on me - were the bluffs experiencing it too?
The first change I noted was that Chimney Bluffs State Park has been upgraded. There's now a
paved parking area and a rest room building. And, the trail leading north from the parking area is
paved. I followed it northward, into the cool, fishy smelling wind coming off Lake Ontario. In a few
minutes I was on the bank, looking down at the stony shoreline and across the wide expanse of dark
blue water framed by a lighter blue sky.
I climbed down the steep bank to the water's edge, kicking the small water-rounded rocks with my
boots. These cobblestones are a product of the glacier and the ravages of nature, just like the bluffs I
plan to visit. Between 11,000 and 21,000 years ago, the place where I'm standing was buried under a
series of successive glaciers. The glaciers brought the rocks with them from the far north. As the ice
melted, it first formed the gigantic Lake Iroquois, then the smaller Lake Ontario. Wave action rounded
the stones that the glaciers dumped, to create the beautiful multi-colored cobbles. Early settlers in this
area gathered these cobblestones and used them to build their houses.
But, I digress. I'm here to see the aging bluffs, so I climb back up and follow the grassy trail parallel to
the lake, heading east. The trail begins to climb and my breathing becomes labored. I'm climbing a
glacial drumlin - a long, narrow, rounded hill of sediment (sand, clay, silt, gravel, cobbles and
boulders), formed when the glaciers passed by. This drumlin is a part of one of the most extensive
drumlin fields in the world, containing over 10,000 drumlins. These ridges sit north-south across this
region and resemble an old-fashioned washboard.
The trail turns to dirt and I continue to climb. Then I see it - just ahead, through the trees. A sharp
precipice forms to my left. It's the first of the 150-feet-high sculpted spires that form Chimney Bluffs.
This particular drumlin has a high clay content that acts like cement, binding gravel and cobblestones
together. Still, the cliff face continues to erode, as much as 5 feet per year in places, making the cliff
edge trail dramatic but dangerous. In places, where erosion has been particularly strong, the trail is
on the very edge of the precipice. This is no place for small children or people with a fear of heights.
But for the rest of us, it's a natural garden of modern art.
Repeatedly I stop along the trail to gaze out over the sculpted cliffs to the lake beyond. Sea gulls dart
and glide over the water making their cackling calls. A rumble echoes off the cliffs as a motorboat
passes by on the lake far below. I scrutinize the shallows along shore, searching for large fish. Then
gaze back up at the bluffs. Some form long ridges, others are short pointed spires. The edges are all
sharp, honed by wind and rain.
Yes, the bluffs have changed over time, just as I have. Even though it has been thousands of years
since the ice melted off the land, the land continues to rebound rising at a rate of about a foot each
century. Then the wind and rain action take over, reshaping the cliff edges. It would be interesting to
do a photographic time study of this area. It has certainly changed but my mind can't recall an exact
picture of how it used to be, for comparison. All I can do is marvel at the current beauty before me.
I continue gingerly along the trail, clinging to the edge, savoring each new view as it unfolds ahead of
me. Sated with the beauty, I turn right to follow a loop trail back through the woods, downhill to the
parking lot. Such a difference! Along the bluffs there were sharp contrasts in colors with the golden
banks framed by a bright blue sky. Here in the woods I find softer browns and greens. Together, they
create a wonderful palette of natural colors. Time changes all things, but even changed, their beauty
Chimneys Queens NY