MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
What's So Great About the Mohawk Valley?
There is no place on earth like the Mohawk Valley. It's unique in geologic formation and unique in human history.
Nature's Only Gateway to the West
The Valley of the Mohawks is the only east-west passage through a range of mountains that runs from Canada to Georgia. What's equally amazing, its western terminus was an easy-mile carry to a watershed that flows westward to the Great Lakes, providing a cross-country land and water route that has served man since time immemorial.
The significance of this "gateway to the west" cannot be overstated. It was a major route of travel for thousands of years for man and beast. When glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago and glacial lakes and rivers receded, prehistoric animals and prehistoric man traveled through this newly created valley. For thousands of years this was the route traversed by the native peoples who lived in what is now the northeastern United States.
For thousands of years the Mohawk Valley was the only east-west water route through the range of mountains that runs from Canada to Georgia.
(Images and mosaic copyright by Ray Sterner and Andrew Birrell. http://fermi.jhuapl.edu/states/
When Europeans arrived on the East coast in the 1500s and in the Hudson Valley in the early 1600s, and established outposts to trade for beaver pelts, this east-west foot and water passage became a major route of travel and transportation to and from the west.
During the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War, European and Indian armies fought to control this area. When the War of Independence ended in the 1780s and settlers moved into New York State, they traveled up the Mohawk Valley.
And when the ease of passage was greatly enhanced by the Erie Canal in the early 1800s, hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants traveled through the Mohawk Valley to settle the interior of the growing United States of America. The passage of people and products across New York State on the Erie Canal, by way of the Hudson River, made New York City one of the largest seaports in the world. Prior to the construction of the canal, Boston was a much bigger port than New York.
Richest Soils On Earth
Wide, flat and bracketed by continuously eroding highlands, Mohawk Valley bottomland soils are some of the richest on earth. When prehistoric inhabitants added cultivated corn, beans and squash to their diets, they gathered in villages near bottomlands and on nearby hills. Even using primitive and time-consuming methods (slash and burn, hill planting and moving frequently) the Indians who lived here produced tons of food for thousands of people.
When the Dutch and later the Palatines moved into the valley and used more modern methods of planting and cultivation, they produced wheat and peas in such quantity they were shipped throughout the Northeast and to Europe. Although not as densely cultivated as in the past, these bottomlands still produce more corn per acre than anywhere in New York State.
Wonders of Nature
Beneath the rich soils of the valley are layers of rock that range from sandstone to shale, dolostone to limestone. Created at the bottom of vast seas millions of years ago and exposed by glaciation and erosion, these soft-rock formations and underlying "Adirondack" base rocks, have produced such wonders of nature as gorges, glens, waterfalls, potholes . . . and quartz crystals.
While such attractions as Trenton Falls, Ilion Gorge, Boonville Gorge, Little Falls, Moss Island, Canajoharie Pothole, The Noses, Howe Caverns, Herkimer Diamond mines and Cohoes Falls are fairly well known, there are natural wonders on practically every tributary in the valley.Can you identify prominent landmarks and
streams in the Mohawk Valley?
Rivers and Streams - Lifeblood of the Valley
Hundreds of streams flow into the Mohawk Valley. For eons they were the source of food and drink for man and beast. They provided seemingly unlimited numbers of freshwater fish and mussels for the Indians that lived here for thousands of years, and for the first European immigrants.
Fish and mussel populations dwindled as settlers populated the valley and built milldams on practically every stream. These dams prevented the upstream migration of fish and mussels, and the silt deposited by slow-moving water (multiplied one hundred fold by extensive cultivation), covered eggs and larva. The few water-bound critters that survived were eventually killed by dyes, acids, oils and organic waste that flowed from streamside mills and villages.
Streams that once provided sustenance, provided waterpower to run gristmills, sawmills, fulling and carding mills, tanneries, cheese factories and all manner of industry; the lifeblood of a growing nation.
By the mid 1800s many of the smaller streams returned to their natural state as small mills were abandoned, replaced in function by the larger mills on bigger waters. Pollution, almost beyond today's imagination, decimated the larger tributaries, the river and canal. Such streams as Sauquoit Creek, West Canada Creek and Cayadutta Creek were so polluted with chemicals and organic waste they were practically devoid of life. In the early 1900s the Mohawk River east of Utica was officially declared dead.
In 1915 the Erie Canal---which ran separate from the river throughout its length---was replaced by the Barge Canal---which utilized the riverbed from Frankfort to Cohoes and maintained several crossover connections from Rome to Frankfort. In a relatively short time the river and canal pollution compounded. The huge oil and chemical barges that used the new and bigger canal added to the pollution, primarily as the result of spills at transfer stations and terminals along the canal.
Longtime residents well remember the stench of the river and canal.
A Valley Reborn
Although some communities and industries tried to control the flow of industrial and human waste, widescale pollution continued well into the 1970s when New York State passed and vigorously enforced the Pure Waters Act. This legislation and nature's propensity to self-clean, did more to improve the quality of water, the propagation of fish and wildlife and the beauty (and smell) of the Mohawk Valley than any event since glaciers swept the area clean 10,000 years ago.
Today, most of the smaller tributaries have returned to their natural state, providing water for man and beast, and habitat for fish and wildlife. Some of the larger streams are impounded to provide water for the Erie/Barge Canal, prevent flooding and generate electricity. Fact is, when controlled properly, these impoundments actually improve conditions for fish and wildlife by providing a variety of habitats and maintaining waterflow throughout the year.
When the St. Lawrence Seaway provided the means for large ships to reach the Great Lakes from the East coast, and cross-state pipelines were connected to oil terminals, the commercial use of the Canal declined rapidly. Today the Canal and adjoining lands are being developed for recreational use.
Recreational Opportunities Abound
The re-invention of the Erie Canal will add to the already abundant recreational opportunities provided by streams, rivers, reservoirs and public lands. Opportunities to enjoy such activities as fishing, hunting, canoeing, boating, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, camping, sightseeing, and visiting historic sites and natural wonders abound in the Mohawk Valley.
For more information on recreational opportunities, refer to Chapter 18.
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