Thacher State Park

Today’s shooting trip started in frustration and ended with a decent hike down the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park.  Thacher showcases the Helderberg escarpment – the website calls it one of the richest fossil bearing formation in the world.  I haven’t hiked any of the other trails at Thacher yet.  Indian Ladder is the only one I know to find, so when my planned trip to Thompson’s Lake State Park ended up scrapped, I detoured to Thacher instead. 

The story goes that the trail on the escarpment (read, sheer rock wall on top of a mountain) was part of a trail used by the Mohawk Iraqois tribe en route to Hudson’s trading center.  All this happens around 1570 according to the state website.  A part of the trail involved a long wooden ladder to scale the rock wall, and one side of the trail has a sign with a 1800-something period picture of the ladder and some tourists (ladies all dressed in frilly skirts, men in suits.)

Today’s tourists don’t use a ladder – instead, we hike up and down a set of steep steps on either side of the half mile trail.   Steep is an understatement.

Once you reach the bottom of the escarpment, there’s a looooonngggg drop on one side and a sheer wall on the other.  The trail is actually closed off for the majority of the cold season because the freeze/thaw cycles bring tons of rock crashing down on the trail. 

After you reach the bottom and start breathing again, you head along the rock face toward one of the waterfalls.  This trail requires a bit of agility and scrambling, not to mention decent walking shoes.


It’s frustrating for me to try to photograph the scale of the escarpment.  It’s like trying to photograph a 4-story building standing just beside the front door – you simply cannot show the entire thing. 

After you hike a little ways, you reach the first waterfall.  Our drought dropped the waterfall to a mere drizzle, but the spray still looks lovely in the capricious sunlight.  I wasn’t exactly planning this venture so I didn’t bring my tripod.  I probably looked rather funny propped up on a rock, trying to not breath while I set the shutter to 1/15th of a second.  

The second waterfall was entirely dry, but the underground spring beneath the escarpment still dribbled out and down the hill.  Unlike the dry top of the escarpment, the lower area is filled with small damp caves, lots of mosquitoes, and dripping ferns everywhere. 

Although I don’t enjoy climbing the stairs, they do offer some of the best pictures of the escarpment.  Shooting from a distance anywhere else means a long fall down the steep hill.

Trying to meter this place is a challenge – the rock itself changes color, the caves are dark and damp like all caves should be, and the sun keeps coming out here and there to pop the contrast up.

One more set of stairs to reach the top, and I pause along the way to breathe for a minute and catch a shot of ferns nestled into the rock face some 30 feet high.

After I reach the top, it’s a short hike across the top to my car, slapping flies along the way.  They seem to think the bug spray is a perfume.  

One of these days I’m going to find a map of this place and figure out where the old farms and foundations mentioned in the website are.  Of course, the website could be wrong – it certainly was about Thompson’s Lake – no hiking trails to speak of and a campsite area only.


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