Our family is on a nature exploration kick lately, and no one is more surprised than me. It’s never really been our thing. Granted, we stick to “bunny slope” versions of hiking trails, and I don’t go anywhere without a backpack filled with antibacterial wipes and provisions for a potential week in the wild.
Earlier this fall we scrambled over a mossy rock embankment to reach the Old Stone Church in Dover Plains, a town park in the Hudson Valley. Most recently, we explored Rock City Park, home to the world’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate, in Olean, New York. It’s a small city in the western part of the state, just north of the Pennsylvania border. And it was a little—okay, a lot—out of the way as we headed toward Niagara Falls, but we got to spend some time with Matt’s cousin, who told us about this “world’s largest.” We couldn’t resist!
This place makes you exclaim “wow” on a continuous loop. Rock formations, created 320 million years ago, surround and engulf you as you make your way through the 45-minute hiking trail. The rocks represent a combination of shale with exposed quartz veins, non-quartz sediment, and Olean conglomerate. Geologists believe the crevices and fractures formed 280 to 225 million years ago.
Your tour starts by descending down stairs into one of these crevices, called “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” There are endearing names like this for most points along the trail, as well as for many of the largest rocks.
Yet for all this large-scale grandeur, this park is wonderfully accessible to older kids. Ours are seven and 14, and had no problem negotiating the sometimes narrow passageways and occasional steep stair climbs. I wouldn’t bring a three-year old here however, especially one who likes to run, because of the lack of railings on the higher points. There is an overlook called “Signal Rock” where you can see more than 35 miles in the distance. I appreciated it from ten paces back.
You’ll get a printed guide listing all the rocks, with a map marking short cuts. The start and end point to your visit is a museum, fluorescent rock room and gift shop. (The Girl had to have a pink agate ring as a memento). Rock City Park opened as an attraction in 1890. Today, it’s open daily from May through October. For a nominal admission fee, you get to appreciate the age and magnitude of this remarkable landscape, and your relatively small place in it.
Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Rock City Park
505 Route 16 South, Olean, NY 14760