I have to admit that when I first came across Canajoharie Pothole while browsing through a map, the first thing that intrigued me about it was its name. The idea of visiting a natural attraction named after a common occurrence on a Manhattan street sounded like a bit of an adventure. I was sure the reference to a “pothole” had some type of a geological reference, but the original association stuck with me, and the temptation to visit this urban cousin led me to plan an excursion there.
On my map, Canajoharie Pothole was featured with a symbol which placed it under the category, “Natural Attractions”. The pothole isn’t all that far away from the New York Thruway, just outside a cluster of cities located in the state’s Mohawk Valley. Like Niagara Falls, it is nature within an urban environment. There is a good side and a bad side to this. The good side is that at least many people can get a taste of nature and a respite from the city. The bad side is that the natural environment is destroyed by pollution. But at least its existence meant that the whole city wasn’t one big parking lot with potholes. There are waterfalls with potholes, too.
Canajoharie Pothole is located at the bottom of Canajoharie Creek. The creek itself seems to, by the direction of where the falls were going, run in the direction of south to north. The falls and pothole are located at the northern end of the creek. A mile away, the creek dumps into the Erie Canal, the waterway that served as the original New York Thruway in the days before cars and trucks. The pothole is natural, regardless of the canal’s origins; it was created by erosion over time by the waterfall rushing into the gorge.
Despite it being a natural feature, there isn’t a major state or federal park associated with the pothole, at least according to my map and computerized directions. Because of this, when my spouse and I drove to the area, we weren’t exactly sure what to look for. There were no designated signs for the attraction in the city of Canajoharie. As far as we knew, the falls were located on a county highway with no way to pull over and see them. We hoped the fact that it was a featured attraction would lead someone to have created a parking area near it.
Our directions led us to a road heading south out of Canajoharie, where the designated mileage corresponded with a small park on the right hand side of the road. It gave hope, but there were no signs indicating the pothole or the falls. The park was located across the street from a school, and from the road, looked like a typical town park with a slide and swingset. We decided though, that our maps had taken us here, that we would at least give this park a try to see if it led us somewhere worthwhile. Maybe the falls and pothole were lurking in the woods behind it.
Despite there being a school right next to the park, or maybe because of it, we were the only car parked in the lot. There was a road jutting out from the left side of the parking lot heading to the woods, but a barricade blocked vehicular traffic from going through. A foot path sprouted from the right. Everything seemed still, even the school. It was early September, and the schools had just begun the new year. The leaves had a bit more color than they usually would this year, due to an unusually cold summer, but it was mild enough this day to go for a walk and not feel too chilled or overheated. Not too cold, not too hot; the day we had chosen was just right.
At the end of the lot, before the actual trail, a sign greeted us, announcing that this was a city park called Wintergreen Park, and that the falls were located in the vicinity. It also gave us a general code of conduct, and told us that our dog was allowed in the park as long as he was leashed. At least we knew we had the right park.
We headed off on the trail, which began on an open field of grass but soon led us to a woody, shaded path. The temperature felt like it dropped five degrees just by leaving the sun. We heard the rushing of water once we were in the woods coming from the left hand side; a distant and incomplete view of the falls peeked through the trees as we walked. There were numerous detours to give you a closer look of the falls through the trees, but no direct way to get down to the falls. However, there were steep drop offs that a more adventurous person might want to climb, even they all came to abrupt ends far away from the falls. I was surprised there were no gates, seeing how precariously close you could come to falling, and especially seeing the school was right here. Maybe there was never a need for it, or maybe so many people had cut it open that the city had given up on it. The view of the falls was wild through the trees. Its music accompanied us as we walked. It was surreal to think of a city being right near here.
The trail began on a fairly level incline, even though from our limited view we could tell that the pothole and falls were probably much further down. It seemed for awhile that we would have to content ourselves with this distant view. Not that it was bad at all; it was nice just to be on the path and hear the falls. The path we were on came to a fork; the prong on the left continued on the shaded path, and the one on the right seemed to continue on a grassy carpet through thinning trees towards the open field we’d seen previously. A work vehicle was sitting there, and curious about it, we headed in that direction. We’d seen a water tower from the road, and also wondered if we could find that.
We couldn’t find the water tower, although we accessed the open field with the work vehicle. It was empty, as though the driver had abandoned it and played hooky, thinking it was too nice a day to work. There was no one in the field either, so wherever the driver was, he wasn’t having a picnic in the immediate vicinity. It wasn’t only the field with its ditched equipment that seemed forlorn. Despite it being early in the school year, there was no sound coming from the institution just across the street from us. Although there were vehicles parked in its lot, there was no active traffic going in or out of the place. The whole atmosphere had a tone of an abandoned town, like its population had been wiped out by nuclear radiation several years earlier and plant life was just beginning to come back. The fact that no cars passed on the road didn’t help to alleviate this feeling.
After visiting the ghost field, we returned to our original path along the creek. Once we passed where the path forked before, the gradation finally started heading downward. The actual falls passed by on the left, which seemed to indicate that the pothole should be coming up fairly soon. We didn’t know how far the trail would take us down; if we would be able to get to the bottom near the pothole. A gated overlook ahead seemed to indicate that we had come to the end, nowhere near the bottom of the creek. A quick glance around confirmed this, so we had to content ourselves with being halfway down, but it was a clear day, no one was around, and we had the lookout all to ourselves. There was no fanfare announcing this natural attraction, which considering the humble signs preceding it, should not have come as a surprise. In fact, I was sort of taking a wild guess that where the water pooled was the pothole. Where else could it be?
It was hard to tell where the creek ran from the pothole, but obviously there was some kind of drainage system, because the water didn’t run very high on the bottom. The falls themselves were fairly tall, but definitely not the biggest I’d seen. From where I was standing, they seemed to be about seventy feet or so. It was one complete fall over a ridged gorge, not a series like Kaaterskill or Chittenango. That would make them seem taller at first glance, regardless of what their total elevation was.
Along the walk, we’d seen some evidence of the kids from the school, with the occasional soda can or fast food wrapper. But it was on the barricade where any doubt of their existence was wiped out. Graffiti was engraved and written all along the wood, indicating who loved who and for what duration of time. The most interesting scrawl was written like a great banner along the entire run of the wood, so that when you stood back, you could get the full effect. This artist seemed to have an evangelical bent, seemingly inspired to write out Jeremiah 29:11, which goes as such: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It certainly was inspirational, given the natural setting. It reminded me of my college days when people preached the word of God by writing it on the bathroom walls instead of writing it on a piece of paper. Whatever worked, I suppose. We spent some time looking at the falls and the graffiti before heading back.
As we headed back, we found the right path to the water tower, which we had somehow overlooked on the way there. The water tower was in an open area, which would not have been visible by the road. Like the falls, the tower wasn’t gated, though there was no ladder to access it to the top. Seeing that it was right across from the school, it was like a scene from the comedy “That 70's Show”, where the teenaged characters would climb to the top of their local water tower and smoke dope.
We decided to head down the barricaded road we saw in the parking lot once we got back there. Maybe by heading down, we’d actually get to hang out by the falls this time. After about a five minute walk on the path, we came upon a designated park area, complete with a comfort station dressed up as an imitation log cabin and lots of picnic tables. We walked to the tables, which turned out to be right near the creek There was a sign proclaiming that swimming was prohibited unless a lifeguard was present, which seemed literally like a positive sign for our waterfall hopes.
We walked to the edge of the creek from the tables. The creek was still fairly calm where we were, though walking along the rocks at the bank, you could sense that the rapids were beginning their swirl towards the falls below. The rocks were still dry when we were there, but I am sure if we had showed up a couple of weeks later, we would have found a different situation after the arrival of Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne. At the time, it was easy to skip across the rocks without fear of slipping. My guess was in the summertime the creek was cordoned off for swimming. I wouldn’t want to be a lifeguard risking my life to rescue a daredevil.
The walk back up the hill seemed longer than the way down, which is the opposite of what I usually experience. I guess all the walking had tired me out. A car was in the parking lot, ending our privacy, so we decided to leave. At least by taking the second trail, we had gotten to experience the creek first hand. And I had experienced a natural pothole, which made this a very successful, enjoyable one.
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