MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
Chapter 13 - Wonders of Nature
Discovery: Ohio Gorge
I had driven by Ohio Gorge hundreds of times and didn't even know it was there until I studied maps of West Canada Creek. My first discovery was that most of the land on the north side of the gorge was private, so with map in hand I drove north on the Grey-Wilmurt Road to the mouth of Four Mile Creek on the south side of the river upstream from the gorge. (At that time the bridge below Wilmurt Falls that crossed to Route 8 was closed) I discovered a trail that runs along the south side of the gorge. Except for an area of giant white pines next to the Fourmile, that side of the gorge wasn't posted. (I learned later that most of it is on State land and the Town of Ohio is considering improving the trail).
Although, I walked the entire length of the trail---about a half mile---tree growth and rock projections kept me from seeing the whole length of the river at the bottom of the gorge. Except for the rapids at the upper end, every area I did see---during this low water period---was flatwater. A brief view of the gorge on the north side from Route 8 at the lower end, also revealed flatwater. Could I paddle my 10-foot canoe through the gorge?
On October 21, 1997 I parked my Jeep along Route 8 at the lower end of the gorge, unloaded Willow Leaf, carried it over the guard rail and down to the river. It was 10:30 a.m., partly sunny and 40 degrees when I pushed off to explore Ohio Gorge "from the bottom up".
A 10-minute paddle took me through the first stillwater and a short rapids to a second stillwater. At the upper end of the second stillwater, I "beached" the canoe below some mid stream rocks.
I wanted to take some photos, but the sun wasn't high enough to shine to the bottom of the gorge. While I waited for the sun to get in position, I explored on foot. Huge rocks littered the bottom of the gorge. A few were rounded, but most were square and sharp-sided; broken off from the sides of the gorge, which I estimated to be from 50 to 90 feet high. Unlike Trenton Gorge which was cut into relatively soft limestone, the walls and bottom of Ohio Gorge is granite---Adirondack rock---not easily eroded by running water. Hopping from rock to rock, sliding boots along narrow ledges, leaning against the rock wall, I carefully worked my way up the gorge.
About half-way through the gorge I discovered a small patch of sand among the rocks, and was surprised to see it perforated with deer tracks. Nearby I saw a couple of mid-stream rocks that looked like the tops were blown off. I could see the dynamite or black powder holes in these flat-topped rocks.
I learned later that this area was "log jam alley" and that blowing up rocks that caused log pileups was quite common in the 1850s and the 1890s when logs were floated down the river to Gang Mills.
Despite the sheer walls, vegetation was fairly abundant. Lichen grew on the rocks near the bottom, moss, brush, small hemlock and birch further up.
The only sounds I heard, until a blue jay signalling my presence, were the echoes of rushing water.
When the sun shined into the gorge it revealed the stillwaters were deep and filled with huge rocks; ideal trout habitat. I had left my fishing gear at home. Unfortunately, as the sun came up, clouds came in, nixing my efforts to take pictures. I walked back to the canoe and was loading it on my car before noon. I'd have to return to take pictures, sample the fishing and perhaps discover how nature created this granite gorge.
It was October 26, 1998 when I returned to the gorge with geologist and fisherman, Ron Janowski. It was 8:30 a.m., cloudy and 50 degrees when we stepped over the Route 8 guardrail and walked down to the river at the bottom end of the gorge. I wore hip boots and carried a fishing rod and cameras. Ron wore waders and carried a fishing rod and a hammer--- "to handle the fish", he joked.
While we worked our way up the gorge, Ron used the hammer to chip a "fresh rock face" and determined it was mostly gneiss (granite-like). When we were two-thirds of the way through the gorge, Ron speculated on how the gorge was created, noting that it could have been split here as a result of uplifting. Once the crack was made, the action of running water, freezing water and the glacier widened the gorge. As evidenced by the large chunks in the gorge, the widening continues.
Despite the deep, cool, shaded water, casting Rapalas, Phoebes, gold spinners and crayfish imitations didn't produce a single fish. A merganser was diving into the stillwater at the upper end of the gorge---a better fisher than we.
As we climbed out of the gorge, we discovered an evergreen stripped of it's bark. A bear perhaps? Another mystery to solve at Ohio Gorge.
A mile or so above Ohio Gorge is a pictureque falls that locals call High Falls or Wilmurt Falls. How it got to be called "high" is a mystery because it's only six feet high. Wilmurt, on the other hand, is easy to understand because on one side of the falls is the community of Wilmurt Corners and on the other side, Wilmurt, which in years gone by was also the name of the town. Today the falls is in the Town of Ohio, and located at a sharp bend in the road some three miles north of the junction of Route 365 and Route 8. This is also the location of a bridge that connects Wilmurt and Wilmurt Corners; an excellent place to view the falls.
Wilmurt Falls may not be high in stature, but it's important to the brook trout fishery in the upper West Canada. It's the barrier that has keeps brown trout, rainbow trout and other competing fish out of brook trout water.
Some historians have credited this falls with being the site of the Gardiner Hinckley Sawmill in the 1840s, but the sawmill was more likely located near the mouth of nearby Four Mile Creek where a sawmill was noted on maps in the mid 1800s and early 1900s. This was also closer to Gardiner Hinckley's farm and Hinckley Corners, now called Wilmurt Corners. Years later Hinckley and Theodore Ballou built a large sawmill several miles downstream. The village that grew up around thats sawmill was at first called Gang Mills, but in the1890s was named Hinckley.