The path less traveled: Spa State Park rediscovered (alternately, The Geyser Fallacy exposed)

10 Jan


I often take for granted our proximity to the Saratoga Spa State Park, and all that the park offers. In our youth, it was the perennial field-trip-and-class-picnic destination. In adolescence, the site for those first rock concerts “alone” (you know, when you and your Huey-Lewis-and-The-News-loving posse got dropped off by your folks for a night of quasi-freedom, then had to return to reality three hours later, piled into the back of the family Buick wagon…so uncool).

Now, in adulthood, we like to think we have a more mature and sophisticated appreciation for the park. We see the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra perform at SPAC in the summer. We lounge at the I’m-too-sexy-for-this-scene Victoria Pool during the two weeks it’s open (or so it seems). We enjoy ogling The Fancy People in their Ferraris at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in the fall. But ultimately, the Spa State Park is still a big, beautiful, mostly free, year-round playground. In the spring, Hubby and I enjoy riding our bikes there. In summer, we chill curbside with our camouflaged beers and listen to bunches of rock concerts for free outside the SPAC gates. Snowy winters sometimes find us there on snowshoes or cross-country skis. But we rarely take the time to explore the hidden patches of the historic park by foot.

So on Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the relatively mild and dry weather, and to stretch our legs before an afternoon of TV football playoffs (read, “napping”), by taking a hike through the park. What started out as a stroll on the park’s access road soon deviated, to a new path (to us), a more recently marked and contiguous “5 Mile Trail”. What a find! And given the absence of foliage and undergrowth, what a nice way to take in different views of the park.

We picked up this trail off North South Road, across from the golf course, and followed its meandering route. Atop a ridge overlooking Geyser Creek, down to a grassy (not snowy…eerie for January) knoll, along and across the creek at the park’s southern end, up and around the more far-flung picnic pavilions, along the freshly restored Vale of Springs…a serene walk, filled with simple surprises: red squirrels, a mysterious pine cone pyramid (work of the red squirrels), solitary “taking of the waters” at the various springs in the now-deserted picnic area, a lone moss-covered picnic table, tufa…

Wait…what? Tufa?

You know, those other-worldly, flesh-and-rust-colored mounds that we see at the base of the park’s geyser (which isn’t a geyser at all, but more on that shortly) and along Geyser Creek (near the pedestrian bridge that crosses into SPAC): Tufa. A sort of limestone, made up of accumulating mineral deposits from the natural springs. The one pictured here is from the incredibly mineral-y Orenda Spring, from which you can taste a tapped sample, about 30′ up and 30′ back from the base of this chalky, cheese doodle-y mound. And I am amazed to learn that this stuff accumulates at a rate of about a half-cup per 100 gallons of water…Am I the only one freaked out by this figure? I mean, given that no one ever turns off these natural springs, it would seem that these mounds might overtake all of Saratoga in the not-too-distant future. And then we’d know this charming hamlet as…Saratufa?

And the whole geyser thing…So hard to stomach that we proud Saratogians have been (and continue to be) duped! For years, along with “health, history, and horses”, we have bragged about having “the only geyser east of the Mississippi”. Well, thanks to the beautiful signage installed in the park to celebrate its centennial last year, we learned on Sunday that this is patently wrong. We cannot boast having a geyser. What we have, occupying its own tufa island in the middle of Geyser Creek, is a spouter.

Island spouter sign reveals The Ugly Truth

A geyser is an erupting spring whose waters shoot up and out as a result of heat-driven forces inside the earth (think magma and volcanic action), often accompanied by steam and vapors. We do not have this. What Saratoga has is a spouter. This looks like a geyser to the unenlightened, but is actually the manifestation of trapped gases present in Saratoga’s subterranean mineral waters. The irony of this is not lost on me: Saratoga is full of (not-so) hot air. Spouting crap for all these years. Ain’t that a gas?

Nonetheless, “Geyser” sticks. It has to. We have a road named after it, along with a few housing subdivisions, an elementary school, a creek, a bed-and-breakfast, a park, a mineral spring, and probably some sort of gelato flavor or panini in one of our downtown eateries. “Spouter” just wouldn’t do. But now we know.
So, a winter Sunday ramble in Saratoga Spa State Park…educational, invigorating, enlightening. And a perfect precursor to football-watching (napping).

The ramble in pictures 

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3 Responses to “The path less traveled: Spa State Park rediscovered (alternately, The Geyser Fallacy exposed)”

  1. Sarah January 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I love this post. I feel like I was there with you. May I say that your photography is wonderful? These are such beautiful images in the post, and also in your header. Thanks for the little escape. I needed it. One of these days I am so gonna make it to New York and explore. It’s beautiful!

    I’m so glad you stopped by my blog, or I may not have found this gorgeous blog. Where else am I gonna learn what a Tufa is? I had no idea….

    Fabulous writing, photographs I can get lost in…..please keep going!

    • ramblings&roasts January 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

      Ditto about your own “Place”. And that’s high praise on the photography, coming from you! Looking forward to more reading and writing.

      • Sarah January 12, 2012 at 11:23 am #

        Same here!

        (I had to come back this morning and explain to Hubby what a Tufa was). We both agree that New York needs to be on our vacation schedule. Soon.

        The picnic table picture is one I keep thinking about. I absolutely love the way you composed it. Such a pretty photo.

        Have a great Thursday!

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