Colourful bluffs in Long Island recall the most recent ice age

Imagine a tremendous piece of land moving equipment that scraped up the soil and some of the surface bedrock from four states within the United States’ Eastern Seaboard, carrying and dragging it all the way, before dumping it on a ridge off the shoreline. That is what essentially occurred with the final advance of the Wisconsinian ice sheet, the only one which left glacial deposits visible in New York State today. Long Island is a ridge of Cretaceous bedrock with glacial deposition. The moraines there have not been ground into sandbars and spits along the western end of the north shore as much as elsewhere, because of the sheltered nature of the Long Island Sound. Therefore, shoreline bluffs expose rocks as well as glacial loess.

Fig. 1. Fishermen’s Drive takes you to the
loess deposits. To park at the beach requires a
permit. (Photo by JB Steadman.)

If you find that your journeys take you to New York City, one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, try to make time to visit Caumsett State Park at Long Island Sound. My own visit began when planning a visit to New York State’s Long Island to see my friend, Joyce Raber. She suggested various things that we might do: go to a Broadway play, go shopping and so forth. However, my list of things to do was typically “eco-tourist”. I wanted to visit the famed American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, then see nearby Central Park, where the European starling was first released in North America (a bad decision made by a fan of Shakespeare’s works).

Another favoured destination was Caumsett State Park and the glacial tills. Joyce had mentioned it to me in the past and whetted my appetite. We followed the sign for the park when we arrived in the Huntington area and, after parking in the car park near the information booth at the park, learned from a ranger that we could take our choice of two roads to the beach — Fishermen’s Drive, two miles from the tidal flats and open beach (for which a parking permit is needed); or the Service Drive, which takes one past the Caumsett Outdoor Education Center, formerly a summer cottage on the old manor home of Marshall Field III, the department store mogul, whose home was donated to the state of New York to create this large park.

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