Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Have you ever noticed that other gardeners always have more difficulties than you do? You mention that you have deer/rabbits/voles/Japanese beetles/shade/whatever, and then you hear how the other person has the same problem but much, much worse than you could ever imagine. I’ve noticed that it’s the same with rocks: You grumble about hitting a few rocks when digging a fencepost or trying to plant, and invariably, someone else has more/bigger/harder rocks in their garden. Well, whenever I hear someone complain about rocks in the garden, I have to think that they don’t realize how bad it could be!
Ok, to be fair, this isn’t really a garden: It’s a 5-acre field of boulders at Ringing Rocks Park in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of fascinating lore about the origins and properties of this area. It’s claimed, for instance, that no life exists among the rocks and that birds won’t fly overhead; no one told the spiders, dragonflies, and birds that, though. The lore does make for interesting reading, however, and if you’re interested, you can check out one report at The Ringing Rocks of Pennsylvania: A Musical Mystery along the Delaware.
Even without the hype, the experience of seeing and touching these rocks is unforgettable. Their weathered surfaces are fascinating and varied. Besides the natural markings, many of the boulders display man-made markings, where they’ve been struck by hammers. As you may guess from the name of the park, these boulders have a unique property: They ring in bell-like tones.
They don’t all ring, so you have to try hitting different ones to find the “ringers” and then hear the range of sounds. There is one visual clue to look for: The boulders with the most hammer markings tend to have the best sounds. You can find a couple of sound clips at the Avalon Foundation article mentioned above (here’s the link again).
Oops – looks like someone hit this one too hard! (A long, long time ago….)
The site is quite bare in the middle, but along the edges, leaves and other organic debris gets trapped in the cracks, and you can find various sorts of seedlings getting started. There are also some beautiful lichens along the wooded edges.
If you scramble down the main boulder field, you can get a great view looking back up the slope.
For many people, the experience finishes there. But if you take the trail that continues past the top of the boulder field, or if you get to the bottom of the field and take the trail that leads from it, you walk through some outstanding old woodlands filled with more boulders, rushing streams, and lovely wildflowers. The main trail takes you directly to a ledge that creates a waterfall. On a recent visit, a friend and I followed the lower trail and ended up coming out much lower on the streambed.
It’s been pretty dry here (until today, anyway), so we were able to hike back up directly on the streambed. There are so many amazing features, such as these little angular pools.
About a half-mile up, we climbed up these step-like layers to reach the area of the main falls.
Below is a closeup of the rock strata that support the falls. The water flow wasn’t much to look at when we were there, but you can get an idea of the effect from this You Tube video. (There are also some related “rock concert” videos of people ringing the boulders, too.)
The overhanging ledges seep water and create perfect habitat for ferns, mosses, and other really cool plants. Somehow, these ledges support much larger plant life as well.
Hiking back up to the parking lot, we passed some boulders with fascinating markings.
The markings below looked surprisingly familiar. Our family farm is about an hour away from this area, but we happen to be part of the same geologic feature that created Ringing Rocks.
Here’s one of our marked rocks.
Some properties very close to us have sizeable boulders, but we mostly have much smaller rocks. Efforts to farm some of the land in the distant past have left us the remnants of stone walls. The stones are very irregularly shaped, though, and not of much use for building.
We’ve let many of the former fields go back to woods: Besides being still rocky, they tend to be very wet and poor for farming. My own field is one that had been farmed much longer and more intensively, probably because it’s slightly better drained and doesn’t have quite so many larger rocks. In fact, I mostly have piddly little fist- to football-sized stones that are pretty useless for anything. Proper stone walls are out of the question. But out of desperation – I have to do something with them - I ended up with these.
Compared to Fran’s amazing stone walls shown in her post Stone: Can’t Get Enough of It over at Gardening Gone Wild, my own little rock piles seem rather pathetic. But they do have a few advantages: 1) They’re free, 2) They’re moveable, and 3) They’re expandable. You can’t get those features from many types of stonework!