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Volcanoes On A Great Lake

If you were told there could be volcanoes along the shore of Lake Erie in winter, would you believe it? While it may be hard to imagine, Lake Erie does in fact produce volcanoes and Evangola State Park can be one of the best places to see them!

Unlike traditional volcanoes, the ones found at Evangola State Park are not made of rock and magma, but rather water and ice. Ice volcanoes are a temporary outcome of a partially frozen lake. When ice begins to form on the water’s surface, powerful winds push large waves towards the shore. As they do, the water is sandwiched between the shore and the ice, creating a buildup of pressure.

A gap in shelf ice allows for potential formation of an ice volcano.

Eventually with nowhere else to go, this pressure causes the water to burst through cracks in the ice. The resulting spray from this burst, freezes on the ice surface, accumulating in the shape of a cone with an open, unfrozen center. With each successive wave, plumes of water erupt from the newly formed ice volcano, building this winter wonder to potential heights of 20-plus feet! Occasionally the ice may build up in the shape of a cone, but without an open center. These rolling hills of ice become so called ice-dunes.

While Lake Erie is one of the best locations to see ice volcanoes, Lakes Ontario, Michigan, and Superior can also produce these icy cones when conditions are right. For example, such volcanoes have also recently formed during the cold snap at Hamlin Beach State Park in Monroe County and Fair Haven Beach State Park in Cayuga County.

Ice Volcano at Hamlin Beach State Park in February 2022. (Photo Credit – Friends of Hamlin Beach State Park/Denise Bianrosa Duffy)

Further from home but to the excitement of many, in 2021 a 45-foot tall ice volcano formed in southeastern Kazakhstan as water from a hot spring gushed through a thick layer of ice, creating a massive volcano for all to enjoy. 

But also, to be clear, the shelf ice on a lake where these structures form can be extremely unsafe and people are strongly advised against venturing out on it to get closer to ice volcanoes.

Confine sightseeing to the shoreline or stick with a guided tour by a trained Parks naturalist. One such hike is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Evangola State Park. Check with the park to learn if the volcanoes have formed.

As a recent warning from the police department in Halton, Ontario, describes, if someone falls through shelf ice or down the opening of an ice volcano into the lake water below, it can be nearly impossible to get out even if aid is nearby. Cold lake water can quickly induce hypothermia, which can lead to death.

This graphic below illustrates the danger:

A shoreline guided tour past ice volcanoes at Evangola State Park. Remember, DO NOT venture out on shelf ice or approach an ice volcano. It is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS with the potential for falling into the lake water below with little chance of getting out.

Leaving earthly risk behind for a moment, scientists have even been able to detect ice volcanoes from several planets and moons deep in space. Typically called cryovolcanoes, these are defined as volcanoes that erupt with ice, water, or other materials such as methane and ammonia. In 2010, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn’s moon Titan and in 2016 images from the Dawn space probe revealed dozens of ancient ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet Ceres

Ahuna Mons, an ice volcano on the dwarf planet Ceres, as seen by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. (Photo Credit – NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR and IDA

Back on earth, favorable conditions for ice volcano formation here in New York haven’t been consistent in recent years. Warmer winters have resulted in less ice on all the Great Lakes. In 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that only 2.4 percent of the Great Lakes surface was covered by ice in late January, the smallest amount in nearly 50 years. It was also noted that it was ninth-warmest January on record. While strong waves are needed to form ice volcanoes, strong waves with warmer temperatures will result in their destruction or prevent them from forming at all.

Despite our changing climate, ice volcanoes can still be a common occurrence during the winter months. The biggest change is in their longevity. For example, in the past several years, ice volcanoes at Evangola State Park have only lasted a few weeks or even just a few days after forming, as sudden warm spells take hold and break them apart.

For your best chance to experience ice volcanoes, be sure to keep a close watch on your local weather forecast and head towards the lake shore after a push of cold artic air passes through. To add to the adventure of enjoying these frozen phenomena, our team of environmental educators offer guided hikes all winter long, sharing what makes our Great Lakes environment so unique.

For those interested in learning more, look for guided hikes through the Niagara Region Parks Interpretive Programs Office.

An ice volcano “erupts” (on left) at Fair Haven Beach State Park on Lake Ontario. Photo credit – Caroline Lamie, Office Manager/Senior Researcher/Tour & Event Coordinator, Fort Ontario State Historic Site

Cover shot – Ice Volcanoes in 2021 at Evangola State Park. All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Matt Nusstein, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region NYS Parks


Learn about ice volcanoes on the the Keweenaw Peninsula of Lake Superior.

Learn about the presence of Cryovolcanism in the Solar System in this report from the BBC.

Learn about other Great Lakes wonders to look for at NYS Parks in previous Parks Blog posts.

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour.…

Wonders of the Winter Beach

Getting cabin fever? Well, bundle up and take a trip to a beach-front state park! Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Long Island parks or the many parks on small lakes: Glimmerglass, Green Lakes, Long Point-Chatauqua Lake, Allegany, or many others. This is the time to explore the many interesting patterns and colors of wintertime…

Get out and explore … The Genesee Region of New York state Parks

Situated along western Lake Ontario’s shore and inland, this region includes Letchworth State Park, also widely known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” as well as a 90-mile trail on a former canal towpath, an ecologically-important lake marsh, and some spectacular lakeshore sunsets.

Covering Genesee, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston and Wyoming counties, this region includes seven state parks and two boat launches, one on Lake Ontario and the other on Conesus Lake.

Letchworth State Park is the region’s 14,350-acre masterpiece, featuring a wild 17-mile gorge carved by the Genesee River tumbling over waterfalls and meandering through the heart of the park, providing spectacular views at every turn.

Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Genesee Regoin and elsewhere, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

For longer trips, hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, even in spring as the days grow longer, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Spring can be a risky time as the tick nymphs are emerging. Nymphs are tiny and difficult to spot.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained, even if you have been vaccinated.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Livingston County/Wyoming County

Letchworth State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile (585) 493-3600: Carved by the immense forces of ice and water during the last Ice Age, this sprawling park resides in both Livingston and Wyoming counties. Within Wyoming County lies much of the original 1,000 acres that was a gift from William Pryor Letchworth in 1907 that can be seen from the seven-mile Gorge Trail. This trail travels past his beloved Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.

(Clockwise from bottom left) Middle Falls, Gorge Trail view from Inspiration Point, Gorge Trail View of Great Bend Gorge, Lower Falls, Upper Falls.

The Gorge Trail has many spectacular views of Sehgahunda (The Vale of Three Falls). The Portage Canyon represents a recent detour by the Genesee River since the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago from its ancient pre-glacial valley south of Portageville. The Gorge trail also passes a 100,000 year-old interglacial valley known as Lee’s Landing. At the Great Bend Gorge, the trail overlooks a section of gorge that is about 550 feet deep and a quarter-mile wide.

At the north end of the park, find the five-mile Highbanks Trail (listed as Trail #20 on the park map), which offers its own breathtaking views of the gorge. Highlights include great views of the Mt. Morris Dan, the largest concrete dam east of the Mississippi River which was built in the early 1950s to protect the city of Rochester from flooding. This trail also affords views of the unique ridge feature known as the Hogsback, and of numerous stream crossings. This trail is a one-way out and back.

This section of the park includes the Highbanks Tent and Trailer Campground, the C-Cabin loop, and the G.W. Harvey Swimming Pool.

The Hogsback from the Gorge Trail at the north end of the park.
Mt Morris Dam (Photo Credit – Livingston County Historical Society)

Find maps to Allegany State Park here and here.

Monroe County

Genesee Valley Greenway State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, (585) 493-3614: This unique linear park is a 90-mile multi-use trail with one end in Monroe County and the other in Cattaraugus County. The route mainly follows the old towpath of the Genesee Valley Canal, which was in operation from 1840 until the late 1870s, and remnants of the old canal can still be seen. Come to stroll, hike or bike any part of of this trail.

The Greenway Trail affords beautiful scenic views and historic sights, including a well preserved canal lock in Scottsville (Monroe County), crossing the Genesee River along a footbridge in Mount Morris (Livingston County), observing a beautiful oxbow feature in Portageville (Wyoming County), secluded woods walking in Belfast (Allegany County), and gorgeous mountain views in Hinsdale (Cattaraugus County). Be sure to check out the communities found long the route of the Greenway for some great local fare.

The Genesee Valley Greenway trail goes past remnants of former Genesee Valley Canal Lock No. 2 in Scottville.

(Clockwise from bottom left) The trail passes an oxbow pond in Portageville, crosses the Genesee River in Mount Morris, and enters forest in Belfast.

Find a trail map here.

Hamlin Beach State Park, 1 Hamlin Beach Blvd. West, Hamlin (585) 964-2462: Located on Lake Ontario with a sandy swimming beach, this park also has several miles of hiking trails.

One of the most unique is the Yanty Marsh Trail, which features a boardwalk within a freshwater marsh rich in wildlife and plants, including cattails, pickerelweed, willow and milkweeds; some 200 species of birds, and frogs, snapping turtles, snakes, muskrats, beavers, mink, fox, racoon and deer.

Yanty Marsh Trail

The flat, accessible trail of one mile is also linked to the park’s history during the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed men back to work on projects that included creation of Hamlin Beach State Park. Relics of the CCC still are visible throughout the park. This includes and old farm pound once used by the CCC men for ice skating located just off the trail. When a 1998 storm severely damaged the marsh, opening it up to the damaging effects of erosion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to assure the marsh wasn’t washed away forever. With control measures implemented, the marsh now fulfils its ecological role, to filtering toxins from run off into the lake, storing oxygen from our atmosphere, as wells as providing a home to many species of plants and animals.

The Devil’s Nose Trail along the lakeshore bluff offers beautiful views and a colorful history. Much folklore has been spun about Devil’s Nose and the suspected shipwrecks caused by the unique land feature. The name “Devil’s Nose” dates to 1802 but the origin of the name remains a mystery. At one time the nose was 150 feet tall and reached northward into the lake a quarter mile. A red lantern once marked the tip of the nose as a warning to passing vessels. Today the nose has all but collapsed but the shallow reef and large costal bluff remains. Although the reports of shipwrecks on the nose remain unproven, it is known that during the age of prohibition smugglers used the Nose’s coves and passages to smuggle goods and hide from authorities. After being closed for years due to overuse and erosion, the trail was refurbished and reopened in 2018. Patrons can access the trail through Area 5. A wonderful spot to watch summer sunsets, but please stay on the trail, as the banks are steep and fragile.

Devil’s Nose Trail

Find a trail map here.

Genesee County

Darien Lakes State Park, 10475 Harlow Road, Darien Center (585) 547-9242: The hilly woodlands of this park contain nearly nine miles of hiking trails, as well as a sandy swimming beach to sunbathe or swim once a hike is done.

The two-mile Conservation Trail has a new lean-to ready for use, while as the southern end of the trail there is a picturesque waterfall. The trail goes by woodlands, fields and streams, offering views of a variety of wildflowers, trees, birds, insects and other interesting critters.

Find a trail map here.

Cover shot – Great Bend Gorge at Letchworth State Park. All photos courtesy of NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Learn more about hiking trails in other parts of the state in the continuing “Get Out and Explore…” series, including the Finger Lakes, Thousand Islands, Saratoga/ Capital, Central New York, Palisades, and Taconic regions.

Trail Work: Excelsior Conservation Corps Helps out at Hamlin Beach State Park

Recently, members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC), an AmeriCorps program, visited Hamlin Beach State Park to help the staff with some major trail maintenance projects. The ECC is a partnership between State Parks, the Department of Conservation, the Environmental Facilities Corporation, and the Student Conservation Association. The members in this program range from ages 18-25, and have learned skills and methods in conservation and preservation of the environment. While working at Hamlin Beach, for nine days, the ECC crewmembers were given projects to work on at various trail sites.

The first area the crewmembers worked on was the Devil Nose Trail. This trail is located right next to some very high cliffs and had been closed off for a while due to storm damage. The team was given the task to help re-route a portion of the trail, so that it would be further from the edge of the cliffs. They also needed to widen the full route to 8 ft. so that a small all-terrain vehicle could drive through it in order to bring woodchips onto the path. The original trail was very uneven and hard to follow, so the goal was to create a nice finished and flatter area to walk on.

After clearing away leaves and moving the dirt aside to widen the section of the pre-existing trail, the crewmembers followed the newly flagged route to create a new trail corridor using chainsaws, and tools such as hard rakes, pick mattocks and Mcleods. The chainsaws were used to cut up fallen trees so they could be move away from the trails or used along the trail edge. The other tools were used to move dirt, sand, leaves and smaller sticks to level the path.

A section of Devil’s Nose Trail before they cleared it away, photo by the ECC.

After the trail was cleared away, the Parks’ maintenance staff dumped piles of woodchips throughout the trail, and then the ECC members spread them out with rakes.

Section of the Devil’s Nose trail completed with wood chips, photo by the ECC.

Once the half-mile long of Devil’s Nose Trail was completed, the ECC crewmembers were asked to work on maintaining a small short loop trail over by the campground. After walking the area, they marked off which trees were hazardous and needed to be taken down with a chainsaw. In the beginning of the trail the team noticed that there was a trail turnpike, but the area right after it was very muddy. Help was needed.

Two ECC crewmembers working on using the chainsaw to cut the ends of the lumber to match the ends of the lumber on the pre-existing turnpike, photo by the ECC.

The purpose of a turnpike is to raise the trail surface out of a muddy or wet area to make the trail better to walk on. It consists of two short pieces of lumber that are laid down going across a trail. They are buried about 3/4ths down, and serve as “sills”, for the longer lumber to sit on. The long pieces of lumber need to be cut out with a chainsaw so that there are little sections for it to fit the sill. This makes them sitting level with the ground. Once all of the pieces of wood are laid out the open, area is filled with gravel so it will provide a durable surface for hikers to walk on.

The turnpike in the process of being set into the sills, photo by the ECC.

The ECC members created a new section of turnpike completely from scratch. They searched for the lumber among the trees just cut down and had to actually de-bark the trees before the construction began. They then measured everything out and set up the pieces of wood to match the previously made turnpike. In the end the turnpike turned out to be 14 feet long!

The finished turnpike. The new addition is the last section furthest away in the picture, photo by the ECC.

This is one of many projects the ECC has worked on this summer. They also helped remove invasive species at Ganondagan State Historic Site and make a new trail at Mine Kill State Park.  State Parks is grateful for the help ECC provides in our parks and historic sites.

ECC is recruiting for the 2019 season. If you would like to join the crew, follow this link for more information.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC


Sand: The Beaches’ Hidden Treasures

Fourth of July is nearly upon us and it is time to hit the beach!  And beaches mean sand – sand to build sand castles, sand that tickles your toes during beach strolls, and sand for beach volleyball and bocce.

But what is beach sand?  According to http://www.merriam-webster.com, sand is “a loose granular material that results from the disintegration of rocks, consists of particles smaller than gravel but coarser than silt.”  These small particles are less than 1/10th of an inch in diameter.  The mineral makeup of individual sand particles depends on local and regional rocks, which are eroded by ice and rain, then carried to the ocean by rivers where they are deposited on gently sloping beaches. The size of individual sand particles is dependent on the slope of the beach, both above and below waterline. The color of beach sand is influenced by nearby landscapes and ocean bottom.

In New York, many beaches have a variety of minerals including quartz, white or clear particles; feldspar, buff-colored particles; and magnetite, black particles.  On beaches around the world you will find lava (black beaches), coral (pink beaches), garnet (purple beaches), olivine crystals (green beaches) and more. Some beaches have unique sand such as the orange Kerala coast beach sand in India.

New York State Parks have over 65 beaches on lakes, ponds, rivers, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean.  Let’s take a closer look at the sands on a few of those beaches …

Along Lake Erie

Evangola Beach Sand

The sand on the beach at Evangola State Park in southern Erie County is principally quartz, feldspar, magnetite, with smaller amounts of garnet, calcite, ilmenite, and hornblende.  All of the particles are approximately the same size.

Along Lake Ontario

Hamlin_Beach Sand

Located northwest of Rochester, Hamlin Beach State Park beach sands are mostly quartz, hypersthene (brown and gray), and augite (greenish).

On Long Island

Jones_Beach Sand A

Jones Beach State Park has 6-1/2 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline; different sections of beach have slightly different sands.  Some parts of the beach have sand that is mostly comprised of quartz with a little feldspar and tiny shell fragments.  Note that the clear quartz particles have different sizes.

Jones_Beach Sand B









Other sections of beach at Jones Beach State Park have quartz, garnet, and magnetite sand with a few tiny shell fragments. All of the particles are about the same size.

Robert_Moses Sand









The beach at Robert Moses State Park, also on the Atlantic Ocean side, is mixture of quartz, garnet, magnetite, and shells. The shell in the photo is about 1/3” long; larger glass piece is about 1/6” long.

Napeague_Beach Sand

The beaches on the north side of Napeague State Park and Hither Hills State Park are along Napeague Bay. Here the sands contain magnetite and garnet which give the sand a purplish hue.

Bring your magnifying glass the next time you head to a NYS Parks beach.  You might be surprised at what you see when you take an up-close look at the sand.

Thanks for Anne McIntyre, Dave McQuay, and Megan Philips for their help with collecting sand samples for this article.

Post and sand photos by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

Learn more at:

Coastal Care: http://coastalcare.org/2010/10/dream-in-color-on-the-worlds-rainbow-beaches/

International Sand Collector’s Society: http://www.sandcollectors.org/SANDMAN/The_Hobby_of_x.html

Sand Atlas: http://www.sandatlas.org/sand-types/

Pilkey, Orrin H., William J Neal, Joseph T. Kelley, & J. Andrew G. Cooper; The World’s Beaches : A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline; University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011.