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Little Nose view to the south from NY 5S
milepost 188, New York State Thruway

PHOTO DYarrow 6/8/02

Little Nose
NYS Thruway, Randall, New York

Survey Team Visit: June 8, 2002
Data Sheet: June 8, 2002

Little Nose and Big Nose are a major landmark along the Mohawk River—often called "The Gateway to the upper Mohawk." The lower Mohawk River valley east of Little Nose is wide, shallow and open. But at Little Nose-Big Nose, the valley narrows, slopes become steeper, and the valley walls are higher, almost forming a canyon, with vertical cliffs 150-300 feet high on the south (Little Nose), and steep, rocky slopes on the north (Big Nose). This narrow passage forces roads and railways—including the NYS Thruway—to crowd together on the riverbanks.

Little Nose and Big Nose are the result of a geological fault that fractures the sedimentary bedrock in a north-south line, tilting the layers downward to the west in a classic fault block. The upraised eastern end of this fault block creates the ridge that is Little Nose-Big Nose. To the west, a series of these tilted fault blocks form the dominant features of the upper Mohawk Valley's topography. The cliffs of Little Nose are formed by a thick bed of hard, durable Devonian Era limestone, overlain by softer shale and sandstone.
Survey Team Visits
June 8, 2002
Topographic Map
Little Nose
NYS Thruway, Randall, New York

click to enlarge

MAP www.nysgis.state.ny.us

The steep cliffs and talus slopes of Little Nose create a unique and challenging environment for vegetation. The north-facing cliffs are in shade most of the day and much of the year, limiting the sunlight reaching trees and shrubs. Soil is nonexistent or minimal, further limiting the growth rate of the vegetation. With thick, rocky talus, and thin or no soil, water is also restricted, although small streams do tumble over the cliffs at two locations. And the north-facing cliffs are swept by strong winds which funnel through the "gateway," testing the trees' anchoring, and uprooting many. Hard to imagine a more difficult, restrictive environment for trees to grow in.
Aerial Photo
Little Nose
NYS Thruway, Randall, New York

click to enlarge

PHOTO www.nysgis.state.ny.us

The consequence of these harsh growing conditions on Little Nose is that few species can survive, and those that do have greatly reduced growth rates. Along the base of the cliffs, and on many talus slopes, a mix of hardwoods—hemlock, hickory, cherry, maple, birch—reach modest sizes—small for their species, but remarkable for their difficult environment. The principal species growing in the steepest sections of Little Nose are northern white cedar and eastern hemlock. Many cedars grow directly from bare rock on the cliff faces. These cedars are mostly stunted, but not dwarf. And at Little Nose, the largest cedars seem to be growing higher on the cliffs. Reaching them to measure them and extract tree ring cores from their trunks would be a difficult and dangerous operation.
Data Details
June 8, 2002
th>Waterfall on Little Nose
small stream cascades
down the limestone cliff

PHOTO DYarrow 6/8/02

Yet, the slow growing cedars on cliff faces and talus slopes can achieve remarkable ages, although not reaching great size. They also can develop highly distorted forms, mostly caused by dieback and adventitious sprouts. Often a tree will reach a maximum height, then become unbalanced or undermined and fall over, then sprout a new leader and resume growing up the slope of cliff face.
Little Nose
Arborist Fred Breglia
prepares to climb the cliffs

PHOTO DYarrow 6/8/02

Currently, the classic example of this cliff cedar community is in the Niagara River gorge below the falls. In the late 1980s, by accident, the western New York survey team and a team of Canadian botanists discovered the cedars clinging to the cliffs of the gorge were an amazing 400 to 1000 years old. Most of the oldest trees were extremely twisted, with distorted growth forms, often growing downhill after falling over, then growing upwards again, with multiple stems, the oldest of which were dead. Such contorted trees are very difficult to accurately age. For more about these unique cliff communities, visit "Cliffs as Natural Refuges."

In addition to the cedars, the NYGOFA survey team hoped to find other remnants of ancient forests hidden among the mixed hardwoods on the steeper slopes and ravines on, above and around Little Nose. On topographic maps, Lasher Creek, Yalesville Creek and Knauderas Creek all seemed hopeful ravines to offer sanctuary to ancient trees. Frequently, these steep terrains are either inaccessible to logging, or too dangerous or costly to extract the timber.


The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003