Tag Archives: Niagara region

Niagara Rocks!

photo by Michael Drahms

Extending over 7 miles from Lewiston, NY to Niagara Falls, NY, the Niagara Gorge offers many recreational opportunities to explore nature. You can experience the gorge at Earl W. Brydges  Artpark State Park, Devil’s Hole State Park, Whirlpool State Park, and Niagara Falls State Park. While there, stop to see the amazing rocks that make Niagara the wonder that it is today!

Visible downstream at the lowest level of the gorge, is the oldest visible rock layer within the gorge wall. This layer was deposited along a coastal area of a warm shallow sea in the late Ordovician Period, alternating between below and above sea level. The periodic exposure of the iron rich sediments resulted in the coloration visible in the sedimentary rock of the Queenston Shale. As you travel upstream the tilt of this layer causes it to disappear below visible levels.

Niagara Escarpment

The rocks seen in the walls of the Niagara Gorge are sedimentary; they are made from sediments deposited in a shallow sea that covered much of the eastern U.S. and adjacent Canada around 440 to 410 million years ago (middle part of the Silurian Period). Rocks, such as limestone, shale, sandstone and dolostone, are seen as distinct layers. Some of these layers, for instance the soft, easily eroded Rochester Shale below the caprock of Niagara Falls, contain a great diversity of marine fossils, such as brachiopods, trilobites, corals and crinoids.

These rocks are layered, from oldest at the bottom to youngest at the top along a long ridge known as the Niagara Escarpment. The Niagara Escarpment is a prominent cliff-forming cuesta that extends from western New York into southern Ontario, northward to the upper peninsula of Michigan, and then bends downward into eastern Wisconsin and Illinois. The escarpment is capped by relatively hard, resistant rocks of the Silurian-age Lockport Group (chiefly dolostones and limestones), which are underlain by less resistant rocks (shales and sandstones, such as the Rochester Shale).

Layered Rocks

Near the end of the last ice age, around 12,300 years ago, the Niagara River began to flow over the Niagara Escarpment, located at what is now Lewiston, New York. Through the process of erosion the falls have receded to their present location.  In the past, the falls receded on average 3-6 feet per year. However, the rate has been greatly reduced due to flow control and diversion for hydropower generation, to a mere 3-6 inches per year. 50,000 years from now, at the present rate of erosion, the remaining 20 miles south to Lake Erie will have been undermined. There won’t be a falls anymore, but rather a series of steep rapids!

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While visiting Niagara Falls, or hiking in the Niagara Gorge, take some time to marvel in the events and processes that took place over time. From continental collisions to ice-age glaciers and the present day Great Lakes drainage basin, we are fortunate enough to witness the interactions of nature.

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Links to additional information about the formation and geology of the Niagara gorge and the Niagara Falls geological area.

Post and Niagara Gorge photos by Mike Drahm, State Parks, Niagara Region

A Squirrel In Every Color

Most everyone has seen a gray, and glimpsed or at least heard of a red, but have you ever seen a black squirrel?!

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An eye-catching squirrel at Whirlpool State Park with all black fur; Photo by M. Drahms OPRHP

Chances are if you have ever visited Niagara Falls State Park or any of the neighboring parks in the region you’ve seen what at first glance appears to be the shadow of a gray squirrel. That is, until it moves and starts chattering. Of the many types of squirrels in New York State, the black squirrel is not mentioned in most field guides but it most closely resembles the size and shape of the gray squirrel. It also eats the same diet of seeds and nuts with some fruits, fungi, and the occasional insect mixed in.

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A bounty of nuts and acorns are found by squirrels at State Parks along the Niagara Gorge. Photo by M. Drahms OPRHP

There is a good reason for the similarities in appearance and habits as they are, in fact, the same species. The black squirrel is a color phase of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), also known as a melanistic variant. Unlike species that change color seasonally, like the long-tailed weasel, these rodents retain the dark coloration their entire lives. The black fur is caused by a genetic mutation that is passed from generation to generation.

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Both colors of Gray Squirrel can be seen throughout the year in parks along the Niagara Gorge. Photos by A. Weibel & M. Drahms OPRHP

During winters in Western New York the ground is normally covered in a layer of snow and ice that would make the darker black squirrel easier prey for predators such as coyote, owl and domestic cats. However, a darker coat means more absorption of heat energy from the sun and so less energy used by the animal itself. In the end, the two seem to cancel each other out and gray and black squirrels hold equal dominance around the Falls.

These adorable acorn gatherers garner much attention from the visitors who come to see the beauty of Niagara Falls, hike the Gorge Trail at Whirlpool and Devils Hole State Parks, or ice skate at DeVeaux Woods State Park.

A lithograph created by Charles Parsons of Charles Ellet’s footbridge (completed 1848) commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Parson_-_Niagara_Falls_Suspension_Bridge.jpg

As to when the variation first appeared in the area around the falls, it is largely unknown. Though there are historic records of black squirrels in the new world, there are none specifically referencing our area. And so, we are left with the urban legends. So the story goes, as the locals tell it, there were no black squirrels in Niagara Falls USA in the early 1800s, but there were across the river in Canada. When the first suspension bridge was built across the Niagara River, with the help of a young boy and his kite, the avenue was open and the black squirrels crossed the river to the USA. Whether the story is true, or whether it was simply over time that the genetic variation showed up in Niagara Falls too, we may never know. But when next you visit, make sure to keep an eye out for this not so common creature.

Post by Angelina Weibel, OPRHP, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region

Ice Volcanoes

Ice volcanoes erupt at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay
Ice volcanoes erupt at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay

Trekking towards Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay
Trekking towards Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, by Dave McQuay








The turn to chillier temperatures reminds us all that there’s so much to look forward to in the wintertime at New York State Parks. One of our favorite winter phenomena are the ice volcanoes that form along the eastern end of Lake Erie shoreline. During cold weather, waves splash against the shore where the spray and slush form cone-shaped ice sculptures. In the middle of the cone is an open vent. As long as Lake Erie has open water, the waves roll under the ice volcanoes and are channeled through the vents. Water explodes into the sky as much as 30 feet high, increasing the height of the ice cone. When Lake Erie freezes over the ice volcano vents freeze shut and they become “inactive ice volcanoes.” At Evangola State Park, naturalists lead school and public groups to see the amazing ice volcanoes and ice sculptures that are a rare phenomenon found only on a few of the Great Lakes.

featured image is of park patrons in an ice cave, another unusual ice formation along the Lake Erie shoreline at Evangola State Park, photos and post by Dave McQuay.