At the base of Whiteface Mountain in northern New York, on the road to Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, just before you cross a bridge over the Ausable River and where your eyes widen to take in the size of the mountain close up … there is a large dirt and gravel parking lot. If you park your car and walk up the mountain road, you just might miss the forest opposite the lot: it’s hidden behind rows of birch trees and ferns that have gathered in the sunlight and grown right up to the left edge of the road.
After you step beyond the birch tree gateway and through the knee-high valley of ferns, your feet land in a blanket of soft needles discarded by pine trees that have been growing and shedding for decades. Your sense of hearing is instantly altered: the pine needles absorb and mute sound from the road and river nearby just as if you’d walked through a doorway and closed the door behind you. Your footsteps make no sound. Bird-call that you didn’t hear just a few minutes earlier is suddenly everywhere, accompanied by the rhythm of a breeze fluttering back and forth over the landscape.
Inside this forest, many of the birch trees that likely grew in before the pines took over have become degenerating deadfall, scattered across the forest floor or leaning against the rocks, and the rocks … well, they’re just enormous. You’d need a ladder to climb onto most of them; their surface textures range from smooth but finely pitted to rough like sandpaper to something that feels like it was spit from a volcano — but was more likely created by snow and ice and the slow roll of glaciers that molded the Adirondack Mountains. The rocks with flattened tops have given life to their own miniature forests, where ferns, small shrubs, and even tiny trees have taken root.
Some of the pine trees have grown so close to the rocks that the rock surface and the tree trunk are barely separated: you couldn’t fit your hand in the space between the two. That’s the case with this blue-green monster that blocks your view of the river, poised as it is just a few feet from the cliffs that dive about thirty feet almost straight down. It’s striking that rocks this large are so far above the river, that they remained on higher ground while the river carved and deepened its path.
You wonder about the tension between the rock and the tree if the rock shifts and as the tree continues to grow, then you walk around them both to the clifftop and views of the boulders in the river below. The first few steps feel pretty comfortable; the second ones get your legs a little rubbery as the speed of the water flow seems to increase; then you’re just glad you brought a zoom lens.
After a few shots, you reel the zoom back in, step back into the quiet of the forest, make your way back to the parking lot, and regret that you have to leave, because:
If you got this far, thanks for reading and taking a look! These photos are among the landscape images I’m reworking; more about that project here: Flickr Reboot. If you would like to see before and after versions of the images that I processed for this post (including two bonus boulders not shown above), select the first photo below to begin a slideshow.
From the History of Clinton and Franklin Counties, New York by Duane Hamilton Hurd, published in 1880, here is an elaborate, beautifully worded description of Ausable Chasm in Ausable, New York:
The town [of Ausable] boasts some of the finest natural scenery to be found in the world – one of the most sublime natural curiosities, the Ausable Chasm, the favorite resort of numerous tourists, being situated in its southeastern section. The Great Ausable River, in its impetuous course to [Lake Champlain], here breaks a passage through the solid Potsdam sandstone, towering many feet above its bed, and follows a rugged and irregular channel for a distance of nearly two miles. At several places the river is compressed to a width of less than 30 feet. The river plunges into the chasm in a succession of beautiful falls of from 60 to 80 feet in height, and struggles through the tortuous channel, foaming and tearing and whirling over its rocky bed as though bent on freeing itself from the thraldom of the gigantic cliffs which overhang it. By means of artificial stairways, galleries, and bridges, erected and owned by a party of Philadelphia gentlemen, and by boats, this stupendous work of nature may be traversed its entire length.
This freak of nature is but one of a system of rents in the earth’s surface that extend over the northern portion of the State…. The walls, that are now from 10 to 15 feet apart, were undoubtedly some time united and solid; projections on the one hand are often faced by corresponding depressions on the other; layers of rock on one side are duplicated on the other. Professor Emmons, State geologist, found here petrified specimens of the lowest or first orders of animal life, and ripple-marks made when the rock was in its plastic state; above these, in successive layers, towers 70 feet of solid rock.
Popular with photographers (see Ausable Chasm on Flickr and Ausable Chasm on SmugMug), the Chasm is also often featured in landscape painting, including the work of Adirondack artist Emmett Pine (see Emmett Pine: The Keeseville Ausable Chasm and Lake Champlain Railroad), and Hudson River School painter Benjamin Champney (see Benjamin Champney: Ausable Chasm).
I took these photos from the bridge over the Ausable River and from the surrounding property. Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow.
Thanks for reading! More soon!