On Friday, I had a chance to do some hiking near Lamont – Columbia University’s earth and environmental science campus in Palisades, New York. After a month and a half in New York City, I hardly notice the traffic, the crowds, and the highrises anymore; that is, until I have a chance to the world on the outside. A 45-minute bus ride from Columbia’s main campus in upper Manhattan, and I am in paradise. As I step off the bus, I am immediately hit by the wave of peace and calm that emanates from the towering trees and cozy buildings. This reminds me of the Canadian Rockies, where I’ve spent so many summers hiking and winters skiing. It’s almost weird to look around and see… space. Grass, a parking lot, a grove of trees. New York has erased these things from my memory.
I begin my hike with a tour of the campus.
Autumn at home is nothing compared to this. In a week, the trees go from green to bare, with scarcely a color in between. The leaves here are just beginning to change, and the colors are rich and vivid, almost magical.
Next, I head to my new home – the Comer Geochemistry Building. From now on, I will spend every Friday here, working on my Masters thesis. I’m modelling how natural arsenic spreads in the groundwater of a village in Bangladesh, trying to understand whether the water in their wells will be safe to drink in the future.
I spend a few hours lounging around in a comfortable leather armchair, doing my best to feign productivity. Some progress is made – I finish an article for the first issue of the Vanguard Journal, set to launch in November. Stowing my laptop away, I move on to the next phase of my adventure – the Palisades.
The Palisades are a line steep, prominent cliffs that run approximately 32 kilometers (20 miles) along the western shore of the Hudson River through New Jersey and New York. The cliffs reach heights of up to 180 meters (600 feet) and are designated as a National Natural Landmark. The name, meaning ‘fence of stakes’, was coined by explorers in the 16th Century.
So how did these cliffs form? The Palisades are a sill – an igneous intrusion that forms when hot magma forces its way up from deep in the crust and fills horizontal cracks between older rock layers. In this case, the magma hardened between sandstone and shale, forming a layer up to 300 meters (1000 feet) thick. The sill itself is made of an igneous rock called diabase. Dating has placed the age of its formation in the early Jurassic period, 192 to 186 million years ago. In the time that followed, the softer sandstone was eroded away, exposing the cliffs we see today.
As I continue further, I reach a valley cutting through the cliff face and follow roughly hewn stone stairs down to the shore of the river. Meanwhile, my jeans stage a coup, forming a less than presentable tear. I tie my hoodie around my waist as a skirt in an awkward attempt to mask the gaping hole.
On my way back to Lamont, I soak up some cool rock formations and take one last glance at the leaves.
I return home to find a package waiting for me. A perfect way to finish off the day.
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Sill diagram courtesy of Wikimedia Commons