From the bridge over the Rondout Creek to the 5 mile-per-hour hairpin turn as you near New Paltz, the ascent and slope of this section of Route 44/55 makes it clear you're not on flat land. Passing through Kerhonkson and Gardiner, this scenic Ulster County route takes motorists, and bicyclists and hikers, past picturesque views from the Shawangunk Ridge, a preserve that rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level and features waterfalls, dwarf pines, and jagged white cliffs.
The ridge is formed mostly of Shawangunk Conglomerate, a mix of quartz pebbles and sandstone, that’s resistant to weathering. Formed by glacial movement, the area was once a deep ocean but actually contains few fossils.
The region’s soils is thin and spersed with dwarf varieties of the pitch pine tree (Pinus rigida), which are less than 16 feet tall. These trees are unique in that their cones are serotinous, meaning they require fire to open. According to the New York Natural Heritage Program, unlike other pine cones, which open in the fall and distribute seeds, pitch pine cones are covered by a hard resin coating and stay closed until heat from fire opens them and distributes the seeds. The fire creates an excellent bed of nutrient-rich soil for the seeds to germinate.
Pitch pines are adapted to fire in other ways as well. Even though large branches may die in a fire, their thick trunk survives and produces new branches.
Also known as the “Gunks” the area is a popular hiking destination and is of the most famous rock climbing destinations in the U.S. The hiking school at the mountain’s base offers private guided climbs and classes like rock climbing 101, self rescue, and more.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve: www.nysparks.com/parks/127/details.aspx
Eastern Mountain Sports New Paltz Climbing School: www.emsoutdoors.com/new-paltz-gunks