John Boyd Thacher State Park

John Boyd Thacher State Park

I have this book that I flip through often. I look at it to read about places I’ve hiked. I like to see what I missed, where I was, where I should have gone.

I also look through this book to find new places to go hiking. Planning adventures. Although planning isn’t really the right word to describe how I prepare for a hike. It’s more like, I want to go there. It’s not too far away. Let’s go!

The first weekend of May 2015, Nathan and I decided to go for a little hike. With so many choices living in the northern section of the Great Appalachian Valley, it’s not always easy to decide where to go. We have an ambitious goal for the Adirondacks since they are so near, but the terrain is often challenging for me. I wanted something easier. I picked up my book and started looking for something close and spectacular.

Hiking New York: A Guide to the State’s Best Hiking Adventures

Capital-Saratoga Region – Honorable Mention

“This 2,300-acre state park west of Albany boasts 6 miles of the famous Helderberg Escarpment – one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world – as well as Mohawk-Hudson Valley panoramas, a historic Indian trade route, echoes of Tory spies, and a Revolutionary-times paint mine. Waterfalls and mixed woods complement the limestone cliff landscape.
“The park’s premier Indian Ladder Trail wraps below the 100- to 200-foot-high light-colored platy cliffs of Helderberg Escarpment. Here the Mohawk Schoharie built a shortcut to the valley, placing a sturdy notched trunk against the cliff for descending and scaling. Today stonework steps pull that duty. The cliffs command eyes skyward with bulges, overhangs, flutes, fissures, clefts, and hollows” (pg 201).

I had found John Boyd Thacher State Park. I was eager to explore the Indian Ladder Trail based on the description alone. When Nathan and I got to the park, we stopped at the Cliff Edge Overlook before our hike and the view was amazing! I could see the Mohawk and Hudson Valley, Adirondack Mountains in New York, Green Mountains in Vermont, Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, as well as a portion of the Helderberg Escarpment. My pictures certainly don’t do it justice.

View from the Cliff Edge Overlook (11/13/2015).

Helderberg Escarpment

A sign at the Cliff Edge Overlook read, “The Helderberg Escarpment probably takes its name from the Dutch helder bright or light, and berg, mountain. It was formed several hundred million years ago when a series of limestone, sandstone, and shale layers were gradually uplifted and then eroded by streams and weather. As softer rock was worn away, undermining the harder limestone above, blocks broke from the cliffs along vertical joints, leaving a perpendicular rock wall. Two limestone formations, the Manlius and the Coeymans (which date from the Silurian and Devonian geologic periods – almost 450 million years ago) make up most of the escarpment you see today. The altitude of the cliff, which ranges from 800 to 1,300 feet above sea level, is emphasized by the steep drop to the valley floors below.

“Historically, this area was crossed by a footpath used by the Schoharie (Mohawk) Indians. Beginning at Albany, the path led over the Helderbergs, down Fox Creek Valley and ended in Schoharie. Traditionally, an old Indian ladder used to lean against the cliff where the path descended, thus the name Indian Ladder Trail.”

View of the Helderberg Escarpment from the Escarpment Trail (11/13/2015).

Quick Fact: The Helderberg Escarpment is the northeast edge of the Allegheny Plateau (NYSDEC).

The Hike

The farther it gets from the time I have visited a place, certain details are lost. For instance, if the weather wasn’t extreme (really cold, snowy, high humidity, or very hot) I don’t remember the exactness of how the day was. Also, if the hike is short and/or flat, I can’t remember whether the hike was “difficult.” Being uncomfortable certainly sets the scene for me while hiking. Although I know I was excited about every geological feature I came across, I was having a hard time writing about my experience.

It was suggested by my friend Michelle to go back. Revisit the Indian Ladder Trail and see it fresh.

Indian Ladder Trail

November 13, 2015 – I parked at the LaGrange Bush Picnic Area and was pleased to discover an entrance to the Indian Ladder Trail at the edge of the parking lot. I must admit I was a little confused about where to begin. I thought I was entering the trail from the same place as when I visited the park in May with Nathan, but I was wrong. I actually approached the path from the opposite end I intended, but it made for a whole different perspective and experience. I was eager to get started. I wanted to rediscover the breathtaking features seen along the half mile Indian Ladder Trail including majestic waterfalls, underground streams, and limestone caves!

The weather was moody with intervals of sun and rain… but mostly rain. The park was nearly empty. In May, Nathan and I ended up exploring the park the first weekend the Indian Ladder Trail was officially open. I remember there were so many people out and about that it was difficult to take pictures without getting people you didn’t know in them.

Minelot Falls (05/03/2015).
See the tiny people and snow?

November on the other hand, two days before the trail officially closed… I came across two people on the trail, nine people in the park total.

Minelot Falls – 116 ft. (11/13/2015).

I took my time, enjoying my aloneness at Minelot Falls. Appreciating the view of the valley from behind the waterfall, looking closely at all the underground stream outlets.

Behind Minelot Falls (11/13/2015)
Underground Stream Outlets beneath Minelot Falls (11/13/2015).

A sign nearby read, “Here, the Coeymans and Manlius formations are well exposed. Below them, along the base of the cliff, you will see a very thin rock formation called the Rondout. Consisting mainly of fine-grained dolomitic mud, the Rondout has eroded under the Manlius. The rust-colored stains in the rock are iron pyrite crystals that have oxidized, or rusted, from exposure to moisture. Iron pyrite (also known as Fool’s Gold) was once mined here, giving rise to the name ‘Minelot Falls.’

“Minelot Creek, like Outlet Creek to the northwest, has lost most of its water to underground streams. During spring thaw and after heavy rains, Minelot Falls is in its glory. Below, are huge boulders that the powerful falls caused to break away, carving out a gulch in the cliff.”

Me behind Minelot Falls (05/03/2015). You can see plenty of the rusty color behind me in this photo.
The second picture up is what is seen from my point-of-view.

I continued on, trying to figure out the differences in the limestone formations that make up the escarpment. It seemed to me that there was a noticeable line of demarcation where the Coeymans and Manlius formations met. I’m far from a geologist, but I certainly did my best to learn all about the two limestone formations so I might stand a chance at telling them apart. I only know for sure that the Manlius limestone rests beneath the Coeymans limestone along this escarpment of the Allegheny Plateau. Although I’m still not 100% sure.

Line of demarcation between the two limestone formations (11/13/2015).

Stairs. I didn’t remember there being so many stairs. Perhaps it was because I was so very alone along the escarpment, things seemed exaggerated. The cliffs seemed taller too. More towering. More foreboding. The dripping water had an eeriness about it and at times I thought I could hear the limestone cracking deep within the hillside.

Nathan with some stairs on the Indian Ladder Trail (05/03/2015).
Nathan on the Indian Ladder Trail (05/03/2015).
I am always making him pose near tall things for scale because he is 6′ 6″

I went along and saw Outlet Falls. Although the drop of the water from the edge of the escarpment is spectacular, along the trail… beneath the falls… there is a fantastic underground stream escaping the side of the cliff.

Outlet Falls – 100 ft. (11/13/2015).
Underground stream beneath Outlet Falls (11/13/2015).
The bottom of Outlet Falls (05/03/2015).
On the left you can see water rushing down from the underground stream pictured above.

Leaving the falls, a bridge crosses the Underground Stream Outlet, fed by Thompson’s Lake about two miles away. A sign nearby read, “As surface water seeps into the characteristic cracks and vertical joints, it eventually dissolves passages through the soluble rock, and underground streams form. Over time, the passages enlarge to form caves and caverns.
“A stream flows out of Fool’s Crawl Cave here, at the base of the limestone, where it reaches a layer of rock that erodes easily. A similar underground stream is beneath nearby Outlet Creek waterfall. All these streams converge below with Minelot Creek and flow down to the valley, ultimately reaching the Hudson River.”

Underground Stream Outlet also known as Fool’s Crawl Cave (05/03/2015).

As I rounded the corner… the sight of a cave coming into view? It literally made me gasp. I mean, I was looking forward to investigating the caves, but approaching it from this different direction… Wow! It was daunting. Magnificent. It THRILLED me!!! I became giddy thinking that I could explore the caves without anyone around.

A sign nearby read, “Although this site was historically known as “The Bridal Chamber” or “Giant’s Castle,” the origin of these names has been lost” (11/13/2015).
In May, I only took photos of one cave. There are two caves across from each other along the trail, but there were far too many people swarming one of the caves, and I didn’t wait around to see it.
Crevice Cave (05/03/2015).

The anticipation. Not knowing at all what I was going to see!

Approaching the “other” cave… (11/13/2015).

As I got nearer, excitement turned more into panic. What if there were bats? I spooked myself. The cave was a lot darker and deeper than I expected. I looked into the blackness of the cave. I couldn’t tell how far back it went… My mind kept playing tricks on me. Having fear rise up in me and choke me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t step forward. I couldn’t explore. Maybe if I had a flashlight I would have gone in… No, I think it’s safe to say (and you know this if you have ever seen me encounter bats) I would never have gone in the cave alone.

I took this photo with my flash on because I could not see very far into the darkness.

I continued on until I got to the stairs leading up to the Escarpment Trail. This was where Nathan and I started in May. I followed the Escarpment Trail back to my car making the hike about a mile loop.

Escarpment Trail

In May, Nathan and I had started our hike parking in the Minelot Picnic Area. We walked along the Escarpment Trail the opposite direction than what I ended up doing in November. Just like the Indian Ladder Trail, I had a whole new perspective coming from a different direction. As I walked I kept taking pictures… basically of the same thing, but it was as if each view was somehow better than the last.

Escarpment Trail (11/13/2015).

I passed Historical Markers for the Tory Cave and the Indian Ladder Trail, as well as signs about The Tory Cave and Thacher Point. Some new construction was taking place nearby. I had heard it above and could see it in the distance when I began, but I didn’t realize it was actually New York State Parks building the Thacher Park Center.

Tory Cave Historical Marker (05/03/2015).
I am not sure of its actual location, but I think it’s safe to assume the Historical Marker wouldn’t have place where it is unless the Tory Cave was somewhere nearby. The Tory Cave is no longer open to the public.
Indian Ladder Historical Marker (11/13/2015).
Thacher Point (05/03/2015)

I passed the creeks that feed the waterfalls. The sun came out and teased me so. Making all the autumn colors bright just for a moment. Too soon, the clouds came and everything was dreary again.

Escarpment Trail (11/13/2015).

Eventually, I made it back to my car and the view compelled me to go to the cliff side at the crest of the hill.

View from where I parked at LaGrange Bush Picnic Area (11/13/2015).

The view was fantastic! I was so awed by seeing my entire hike before me. I could see Minelot Falls as well as the construction taking place where I came up from the Indian Ladder Trail and started walking along the Escarpment Trail.

View of my hike (11/13/2015).

-History of Thacher State Park

Voorheesville, NY – May 3rd, November 13th 2015
Distance Traveled ~1 mile.
Difficulty – Moderately Easy with Stairs
For more pictures from both hikes… Click Here!