Windows Through Time: Along the Side of a Road


You just have to take your chances sometimes. The two of us did just that recently. We were coming down Route 23A in Kaaterskill Clove, after being at a Mountain Top Historical Society event, and we decided to go home “another way.” We usually head north on Route 32, but this time it would be different. We thought it might be nice to drive around Glacial Lake Kiskatom. We crossed Route 32 and then took a left onto Ramsey School Road and then headed north along the old eastern shore of the lake.

Lake Kiskatom formed toward the end of the Ice Age. It was a body of water that spread out across the lowlands at the base of Kaaterskill Clove. Long ago, its waters drained and now all that is left is a flat landscape that you can see from the intersection of Routes 23A and 32. We thought it would be fun to drive around its old shores and see what could be seen. 

There is a place where Ramsey School Road crosses Mountain Turnpike and it gets a new name on the other side: Paul Saxe Road. Well, that’s where we got one of those lovely surprises that you frequently find in geology. On the northeast corner of the intersection there lies a perfectly lovely outcropping. The rocks are not ledges, like most outcroppings; instead they make up a very low, almost smooth “floor” of rock. That’s very unusual; most outcrops tower above the road. In fact, this one is easy to miss. But, we are pros; we spotted it.

Well, okay, it was a decidedly inconspicuous outcropping, but it was just the sort of thing we had hoped to find. You see, the ice age glaciers that passed down the Hudson Valley were very good at creating planed-off outcrops of just this sort. They did the job here by scouring into the rock. We thought there might be a good ice age story to be found, so we pulled over and got out. The professors Titus went to work on those poor unsuspecting rocks.

If you get a chance to go here, please take it; this is a very interesting exposure of rock. The first thing was just exactly what we had been hoping for. The ice, as it scoured across this surface, had scoured it down to make it so smooth and low. Then the glacier really went to work and it carved what we call glacial striations into the surface. The moving ice dragged cobbles and boulders across this surface, gouging scratches into the rock. These parallel striations are abundant and they tell a good story about the moving ice.

We always have a compass in the car and we got it out. All the striations measured five degrees west of south. The ice had thus been moving almost due south down the valley. That was not much of a surprise, after all glaciers are supposed to move south, but it was a nice confirmation of the obvious.

But there was more. We found structures that are called chattermarks or crescent marks, being two names for the same things. These consist of series of crescent shaped gouges in the rock surface. They formed when boulders were being dragged across the rock. The weight of the ice held those rocks down while pressure from behind shoved them forward. The boulders remained still until the pressure from behind won out and the boulder “leaped” forward. Successive skips of this sort created each of the gouges that we saw. 

All in all, we were looking at the very bottom of a glacier; we were seeing all the things that the ice does to bedrock as it passes across it. Such surfaces are seen frequently, but this location is really among the best. It’s worth the trip.

But it all got better as we wandered around. Geologists are always looking down and for good reasons; there are interesting things down there, and we found some beauts. Somebody had, no doubt a very long time ago, carved a fine image of Franklin Roosevelt onto this surface. We kept looking and, sure enough, there was Eleanor Roosevelt. From their looks, these carvings may well date back to the 1930s. Who knows! 


    Robert and Johanna Titus have a new book out: The Catskills: a Geologic Guide, 4th expanded edition, by Purple Mountain Press. Contact the authors at