Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nuclear Lake

Believe it or not, there's a lake off Route 55 near Pawling in eastern Dutchess County with the rather unusual name of Nuclear Lake.

How on earth did it get that name?  It's certainly not something the local Chamber of Commerce would choose.  Well, it apparently was named when a former hunting preserve around the lake was purchased in 1955 by an outfit called Nuclear Development Associates.

New York Times - February 18, 1955

The federal Atomic Energy Commission sponsored work there from 1958 through 1972 by a research facility owned by the United Nuclear Corporation.  They were working on the development of plutonium fuel for breeder reactors.

Why did they stop in 1972?  Turns out there there was a little accident.  A chemical explosion in the laboratory blew out two windows on the north side of the building spraying out an unknown amount of plutonium.  After a two-year, three million dollar cleanup, the federal government bought the property for $900,000 in 1979 and declared it fit for unrestricted use.

Today, the Appalachian Trail runs right next to the lake.

The following, from Hike the Hudson Valley, has an amusing take on it all...

I know what you’re thinking.  Why would I ever want to visit a place called Nuclear Lake?  Well, let me set your mind at ease.  The only reason it’s even called Nuclear Lake (you’re going to think this is so funny when you hear it), is that in 1972, a chemical explosion blew out two windows in the experimental nuclear research lab that used to sit on the shore of the lake, blasting an unspecified amount of bomb-grade plutonium across the lake and surrounding woods.

See?  I bet you thought it was something bad.

Okay, so maybe it doesn't sound that fantastic.  But the trails around the lake were extensively tested, cleaned and declared safe many years ago, and who am I to argue with all those Geiger counters?  I’m sure they dumped plenty of kitty litter and sawdust on top of that plutonium.  To visit the place, you’d never know anything untoward had happened at all.
To make it even more irresistible, the website also states that Nuclear Lake is the most beautiful lake on the entire 2,200 miles Appalachian Trail - high praise indeed.

How can you resist that? So today I went for a hike there.  From Route 55, it's a relatively easy walk of a little over 4 miles round trip with a little up and down but, no real challenges.  The Hike the Hudson Valley web site has a great (and accurate) trail description for the loop around the lake.

The walk in was nice, typical terrain for the Hudson Highlands with outcrops of gneiss rock (get the geology pun?) and not much in the way of interesting plant or animal life this time of year (mid-December) other than a few ducks on the lake and squirrels in the woods.

Banded gneiss

Not so green wintergreen underfoot

Arriving at the lake, one sees a fence guarding a berm on the south end (look at the Google map image above and you can see the straight line).  The fence is just to keep vehicles off the berm, it's easy to walk around it.

There's also a cleared area next to the lake which looks to be the site of the old research facility.  Nothing there anymore.

At the east end of the berm is a small stream draining the lake.  But across the lake's outlet is a boom.

So here's my question... If the site was cleaned up 40 years ago, and declared OK for unrestricted use, and nothing exists around the lake anymore, why the hell is there a boom here?  What is it supposed to be catching off this "pristine" lake in the woods?  Strange.

It gets even stranger here.  No, not this growing tree, although it was odd too.  Just wait.

The lake, as advertised, is quite beautiful with a very nice trail looping around it.  I definitely want to return in summer when everything is green (although not sure if I'd swim in this lake).

 View from the south end of the lake

View from the north end of the lake

The best thing about the lake is that it's a mile walk in from the road so that keeps out much of the riff raff.  I had the entire place to myself - not a soul in sight.  I'm sure summer would be a different story, however.

Now for some more strangeness.  At the north end of the lake, there are a bunch of stone walls in the woods.  Not normal stone walls like I'm familiar with - the straight walls that once lined farmer's fields but now lie in the woods as some hardscrabble farms were abandoned a century ago.  No, these stone walls ran up and down hills in curved paths.  Not marking farmer's fields either since no one could farm anything on the steep, stony hillsides around this part of the lake.

A curvy stone wall running to the lakeshore

Another zig-zagging wall

Who the hell builds a rock wall that zig-zags up the hill?  It's certainly not marking anyone's property line.  Another ran parallel the shoreline.  Why do that?

Is there a point to this?

One area had a wall encircling an artificial hill of stone.  It looked like a ritual space to me.

Wall went around this mound

Another wall enclosed a rectangular area but was too sloppy to be a building foundation.

Not a foundation - Again, what's the point?

Very strange.  Who built all of these stone walls (there were a lot of them!) that are running willy-nilly all over the place and why?

Here's another strange thing I've never seen before.  On the trail by the stone walls was an eviscerated bird - headless and gutless (not sure what the bird was, but I assume killed by a raptor).

But wait, if you like strange, it gets even better.  Nuclear Lake also happens to be the site of several Bigfoot/Sasquatch sightings over the years!  Some have claimed that if you take a stick and bang on a tree, you can call a squatch (those in the know call them "squatches").

So, of course, being the type of person I am, at the furthest end of the lake, the place with the odd stone walls and eviscerated bird, I picked up a dead stick and struck a fallen log three times - thump, thump, thump.  Nothing.  No squatches in the area, or so I think.  But 10 minutes later, when I was sitting down on a flat rock on the shore of the lake (hand over my heart and swear to god), I distinctly heard two thumps.  Then two thumps again.  Then, a few minutes later, a weird yowling scream (it kind of sounded like a domestic tom cat but there are no houses within a few miles of this lake).  The ducks in the lake didn't like it either since they started up a loud quacking in response.  Here I am sitting all alone in the woods, not quite helpless but feeling pretty exposed, two miles from the road, feeling chills up my spine.  Cue spooky music.

No, I don't believe in sasquatch, but I have no idea where the thumps came from (sounded like something banging a log just as I did - another squatch caller?).  The yowl may have been a coyote or maybe a bobcat, I have no idea but it was real and spooky.

All in all, an excellent hike (but bring a hiking buddy if you're easily spooked!).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How much does a millstone weigh?

Not far from the college where I teach is an old millstone laying decoratively on the ground.

I've been doing some research on millstones lately so I was wondering how much a typical millstone like this would weigh.  Measuring it gives the following dimensions:

   Diameter = 53 in
   Thickness = 8 in
   Hole = 13 in square

This millstone happens to be made of Shawangunk conglomerate which is composed almost entirely of quartz.  All geologists know the density of quartz which is 2.7 g/cm3.  I want to keep everything in more familiar units so that corresponds to about 0.1 lb/in3.

The volume (V) of the millstone would be:

   V = π (d/2)2 t

where d is the diameter of the millstone and t is the thickness.

   V = 3.14 (53 in / 2)2 (8 in)
   V =  17,641 in3

We have to subtract out the volume of the square hole in the middle (13 in * 13 in * 8 in = 1,352 in3)

   V = 17,641 in3 - 1,352 in3
   V = 16,289 in3

Now we can multiply this by the density of quartz to get the weight of the millstone.

   Weight = 16,289 in3 * 0.1 lb/in3 = 1,629 lb

Over 3/4 ton!  Imagine moving this many miles, over rough terrain, with man power, a wagon, and maybe a mule or two.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Turtle Rock in Warwick

A while ago, I saw a reference somewhere (I don't ever remember where now) to a stone turtle "effigy" in Warwick, Orange County, NY.  A little Googling led me to a Facebook page called Mysterious Hudson Valley Stone Sites with some more information.  The implication is that this was artificially carved or shaped.

Having an interest in both geology and local Native American culture, I decided to check it out a couple of weeks ago.  It was relatively easy to find (see below) but not something a casual stroll would necessarily stumble across.

Behold Turtle Rock.

See it?  The protrusion on the left is the head.  Here's a closer view.

Here's a view from the front.

After looking at the rock, I don't believe this was made by Native Americans but actually by good old Mother Nature.  Let's look closer at the "head".

If it was artificially-shaped, it's not very well done and pretty asymmetrical.  The head is clearly defined by several natural fractures in the rock.  See the crack on the right.  The top and left side of the head also follow fractures running through the rock.  There are no obvious tool marks either.

Looking under the "head".

See how the rock is spalling off?  This is a common form of weathering called exfoliation.  Perfectly natural resulting in rounded edges.

Looking at Turtle Rock from the rear.

It looks like any other flat slab of rock.  There are no markings on the top of the rock to delineate a possible shell (which I would expect if it was a carved turtle effigy).  And, looking around, one sees many similar rocks strewn about this hillside.

Pieces of weathered out bedrock and glacial erratics.  Nothing special and seen throughout the woodlands of the Hudson Valley.

Now I can't rule out that this rock wasn't seen as a naturally-formed turtle effigy by the Lenape people who once roamed these woods, but there's no evidence I've found to support that.  To this geologist, it simply appears to be a rock that coincidentally looks a bit like a turtle.  Kind of cool but nothing overly unusual.

If you'd like to visit yourself, here are the directions:

About a mile east of Warwick, on State Route 17A, is Warwick County Park.  Follow the park road to the back parking lot next to the baseball field.  There are two ways to go from here.  The easiest, but slightly longer way is to walk back down the road, down the hill, to where it splits.  On your right will be a trail that leads up the hill.  Follow it uphill and it will soon make a hairpin switchback.  A short distance later is the top of a hill.  Look to the left off the path for the turtle.  A slightly shorter, but perhaps harder to find way is to start at the same parking lot but walk between the baseball field and the tree line on the left past a couple of fields until you find a path into the woods on your left (in immediately goes down and up across a ditch-like drainage).  Bear left to follow the path to the above-mentioned switchback and then up the hill.

From the Google Maps satellite view of the park, you can see the parking lot (P) at the end of the road by the baseball field.  The blue line is the longer path and the red is the shorter path (approximated, of course).  The green arrow is the approximate location of the feature.  I'd guess barely 1/4 mile each way on the blue path.

The GPS coordinates given on the Facebook page mentioned above worked pretty well for me: 41.239157, -74.328471 (that's 41 degrees, 14 minutes, and 20.9 seconds north, 74 degrees, 19 minutes, 42.5 seconds west). The feature is only about 75 feet off the trail at the top of the knoll and obvious.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Really Chancellor Zimpher?

News out of Albany is that Nancy Zimpher, the Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, may be up for a little raise.  After all, she has to scrape by on a measly base salary of $490,000 a year - her total compensation package, by the way, is $657,953 a year and includes things like a housing allowance (she doesn't even have to pay rent out of that salary!) and a car and driver.
According to other news reports, she also collects over $75,000 a year in retirement payments from the Ohio's teachers pension fund (higher than my base salary!).

How much of a raise will she potentially receive?  The Albany Times Union thinks her salary could rise by a few hundred thousand dollars a year!  Holy shit!

As a professor in the SUNY system, I received, over the past four years, salary increases of 0%, 0%, 1.6%, and 1.6%.  This did not keep up with the cost of living meaning I effectively lost money from my modest base salary (which is less than 10% of her compensation package).

In addition, State aid to community colleges is currently 9% below the funding we had in 2009/10 (the State is "mandated" to pay 33.3% of our operating budget - they don't).  Our college struggles on a shoestring budget, students can't afford tuition and fees, our infrastructure is crumbling, we can't hire the new full-time faculty to replace ones we lost, and our chancellor lives on champagne and caviar with the other fat cats in Albany.

Have you no shame Chancellor?  Do you really think you're worth a million bucks a year for what you do for SUNY while State community colleges are struggling to exist?  I don't.