Buttermilk Falls State Park Geology Tour

Travel through geologic time as you hike the gorge trail!

Buttermilk Falls State Park Geology Tour

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: South Hill Elementary School

Tour Information

Welcome to the tour developed by the fourth graders of South Hill School during the Fall of 2016. The summer of 2016 was a summer of drought, so we got to see the structure of the gorge well because the water was low. Groups of children focused on points of interest throughout the gorge, and wrote the descriptions you will experience together.

Many, many thanks to the experts that gave us the tour and taught us about the geology of the gorge. (any mistakes are our own!) :

Josh Teeter, NYS Parks Recration and Historic Preservation, Environmental Educator, Finger Lakes Region

Rob Ross, Paleontological Research Institution, Associate Director for Outreach.

Tony Ingraham, Owl Gorge Productions, author A Walk Through Watkins Glen, and host of Walk in the Park http://ithacafingerlakes.com/

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

The Creek

Swimming in Jennings Pond is fun. Have you ever thought about where the water goes?  Well, the water goes to Buttermilk Creek.     Then, lots of tributaries come into this main creek.  Upstream damming and agricultural has an impact on... Read more
Swimming Area

Pool Party at Buttermilk Falls! Woosh, splash, splash, you jump in the cool water.  Doesn’t it feel good?  One of Buttermilk's amazing features is it’s dazzling swimming area and plunge pool!!!     The swimming area was originally ... Read more

Rockwall or Rockfall? Beautiful scenery or danger ahead?     390 million years ago the land where we stand today was covered in a tropical ocean.  The Acadian Mountains were 29,000 feet tall, they were as tall as the Himalayas are today... Read more
Masonry Steps

What are Masonry Steps? Masons are fixing the steps so people are safe. Lots of people (about 158,000 in 2013!) walk on this trail.  It is rocky, and sometimes slippery, so it is easy to fall and get really hurt.  Be careful!  The park r... Read more

Look Up, Look Down, Look All Around! Think the gorge was made by people? It was made by the earth!   Hundreds of millions of years ago, the tectonic plates moved.   Africa collided with North America making cracks going North to South. M... Read more
The Amphitheater: Pulpit Falls

All the rocks and loose soils here that were dropped by a glacier crumbled down as the stream came through the gorge.     The glacier came down south from the north ten thousand years ago! It scraped the ground and when it stopped it lef... Read more

Piece of Cake Can you count how many layers of rock there are?  We couldn’t agree!     The sandstone here is thick as a mattress and light grey. The shale is as flakey as frosted flakes and it is darker grey. The rocks are as flat as ... Read more
J Trees

How Can a Tree Hold Up a Small Cliff? The roots of this tree are as strong as a concrete wall, anchoring soil and rocks on the side of the gorge.     Look at the J tree, whose trunk looks like the bottom of an old fashioned umbrella. Her... Read more

Acid Rain, Acid Rainis Falling! Be careful! Acid rain has arrived at Buttermilk. Has it been shown that acid rain is falling at Buttermilk?     Limestone can be disintegrated by acid rain. Here is how it works. Limestone can be chemicall... Read more
The Ocean Floor

Trail Mud Bye Bye Water, Hello Rock     Come here to the Buttermilk Gorge Trail. It has so much to explore. If you get past the Pinnacle Rock you will see a bumpy rock. It was the bottom of the sea a long time ago.     Over 390 millio... Read more
Pinnacle Rock

Eroded Tower Would you like to see an amazing rock? The Pinnacle Rock is the formation to see!    The Pinnacle Rock has been here for a very long time. It’s like the leaning tower of Pisa.  One time the stream of water flowed where the... Read more
Above Pinnacle Rock

Attention! Stop at this breathtaking spot on the trail to see plenty of gorge sights!     The waterfall is as loud as a water gun blasting gallons of water! The potholes are as big as boulders. The logs are higher than a one story buildi... Read more
Potholes and Plunge Pools

Grandma Nature’s Blender      What tool did humans use to make a hole like this, if humans made it at all? Can you imagine a perfectly smooth, round hole in the middle of a stream? I bet you’re wondering “Who made this?” Mother N... Read more
Ripples in the Layers

Joints We studied the joints and cracks in the layered rocks at Buttermilk park. We learned that the layers were formed first about 300 million years ago.  Some cracks were made during the dinosaur age. Other cracks were formed by a chemic... Read more
Ripples in the Layers

Signs of the Sea Look! Look! A Beach!     Can you imagine there was an ocean here? Yes, there was, over 390 million years ago. Today it looks like ripples on a rocky beach. Ancient ripples are left over from waves crashing over ancient b... Read more

Rocks from Another Dimension Old man rock got carried along by his best friend, glacier.       Try to imagine these rocks as nature’s bouncy balls. They once were up in Canada, and the glacier brought them to Ithaca. These massive ice ... Read more


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