I didn’t expect to be wearing a jacket on the 4th of July weekend (and wishing I had taken a warmer jacket), but that’s what hiking the Ice Caves Trail at Sam’s Point will do. We had a stunningly beautiful day for hiking– clear skies; bright sunshine; vivid colors in all shades of green, plus pinks, blues, and yellows; a brisk breeze (actually a strong wind); and incredible vistas. Sam’s Point, which is now a part of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, has a rare, dwarf pitch pine barrens ecosystem, one of the few such places remaining in the world. As we hiked, the fragrance of the pines in the sun rose around us, making the air delicious to breathe. Other sections of the trail are lined with sweet fern, also filling the air with fragrance, while mountain laurel blossoms filled the areas of deciduous woods with a pink and white blanket of blossoms.
The ice caves are a real treat on a hot day, as refrigerated air wells up from ice deep in crevasses. These ice caves are formed by an open fault– the Ellenville Fault Line, which is the largest open fault in the United States– and rock debris from the Shawangunk Ridge, which formed deep caves that stay cool enough for ice to remain well into summer, providing air conditioning for the hiker and unique growing conditions for plants not normally native to our area.
Lake Maratanza, a “sky lake” is the highest lake in the Shawangunk Ridge at 2,245 feet above sea level. With today’s wind, the lake’s surface was whipped into waves that made a wonderful lapping sound as we walked along the road beside the shore. On the west side of the lake we sat in a sheltered cove, where the water was still and a Common Yellowthroat serenaded us as I sketched.