Hiking in Panama Rocks is liking taking a step back in time.With it’s towering rocks and narrow passageways,dancing light and dark caverns, this 12 acre park located in the Southern Tier near Chautauqua Lake may be one of Western New York’s most unique.
The actual park was opened in 1885,making it one of the state’s oldest parks. Panama Rocks quickly became a popular tourist destination, particularly for honeymooners. It’s long history and surreal landscapes have made Panama Rocks a favorite for generations of Western New Yorkers.
Sandy and Craig Weston have owned the park since 1979. Sandy tells 2 The Outdoors “We have generations that come back year after year,who have brought their children,who bring their grandchildren,and then have to make it a yearly trip, and have lots of memories.”
Husband Craig adds “I have people say that all the time, that they couldn’t find things to do with their teenage sons,but this they can do all together. Even Grandparents can go along.”
Geologically, the parks’ history goes back much, much further, and is recorded in every crack and crevice of the rock. The formations began millions of years ago, through pressure,fracturing and erosion. Perhaps the most significant impact on the land came a relatively short time ago, about 10,000 years. That’s when icy, mountainous glaciers marched through, scarring the land,but leaving the magnificent natural sculptures we see today….
Craig Weston fills in the history “Finally, the last glacier came up against it and cut into it, and when the glacier stopped,and melted and receded,it left the rock standing, and then the forest grew up.”
The forest surrounding the rocks are just as magnificent ! Several species of trees here are considered ancient, the most impressive being Hemlocks that are almost 300 years old. Roots of many trees snake down the rock walls, adding to feel of being surrounded by a living entity slowly changing over eons. A hike in Panama Rocks can invoke a feeling of timelessness, as if viewing a landscape caught forever on a living canvas.
Craig says “Not only is it different on different trips, but it’s different at different times of the year. In the spring, you can find snow in places out there,and there’s one place that holds the snow usually until early July. And then of course in the Fall, with all the different species of trees, there’s quite a color array.”
Sandy adds “It’s like a total eruption of nature.and people don’t expect that. They think they’re going to go down and see a few rocks, and that’s going to be it, they don’t realize how extensive it is.”
Despite it’s long history, Panama Rocks remains a well kept secret. But a visit to this hidden gem may be one that lasts a lifetime.
Sandy says “People first discover the rocks, they come out, and they’re just in awe.And when they come as a family,they say they haven’t had so much fun as a family,because it’s so involving for the family.”
Craig concludes “It’s invigorating, it’s inspiring, and we have people that come back every year.”
There’s still a lot of time left to visit Panama Rocks ! It’s open through the Fall, and if you’d like more information, you can visit them here: www.panamarocks.com