Adventures of a landscape architect

This semester, one component of our core requirements involves weekly ecology field trips around the Philadelphia region.  When we left the city to head to the Ringing Rocks County Park, I was anticipating our visit to be merely a casual observation of some rock formations. I didn’t expect that this trip would involve an extremely sensory and awe-inspiring experience.

Before reaching Ringing Rocks, we made a stop by a sharp bend of the Delaware River to observe the floodplain area next to the water. Stepping off the bus, there was an eerie, calm feeling in the air. It seemed like I had traveled backwards into the Industrial Age. Behind me, I caught sight of the Nockamixon Cliffs, an impressive formation of Brunswick shale rising nearly 300 feet above the road. The river felt abandoned from recent human activity. The old canal next to the river was overgrown with prickly Japanese hops, and in the middle of the river was Lynn Island, a small piece of rocky land forested with rather tall and contorted sycamores. Dominating the landscape view was a large decommissioned power plant across the river that appeared to have been closed decades ago, with walls streaked of rust. The bend of river beyond the industrial plant suggested mystery and discovery.  Standing on the banks, I felt tiny compared to the landscape that stretched around me.

Finally, we arrived at the so-called Ringing Rocks park, and I was eager to see how these rocks would appear. Are they shiny? Smooth? Irregular? How would they be arranged? The path ended at a large black birch tree, whose trunk stretched out horizontally towards an open field of boulders. This four-acre expanse of rocks were so densely piled that nothing could grow within the field. Turns out that this boulder field of diabase rock was formed during the Jurassic Age by cooled magma, intruded beneath the ground. It had not been exposed as it was now, until thousands of years later when the sedimentary rock above had weathered away.

Hopping along the boulders, I could see the worn marks on the surfaces of the boulders indicating places that were tapped to “ring” the rocks. I tapped these rocks with a hammer, and truth be told, they really do ring.

We started to exit the Ringing Rocks area, heading towards a pile of boulders that “spilled” through a bottleneck of trees. We re-entered the forest on a dirt path, with exposed boulders following along our trail. Suddenly, these large boulders stopped abruptly next to a massive sheet of sedimentary rock and a large ravine appeared before us. This ravine would usually be running with full of water and displaying dramatic water falls. Though global warming would suggest otherwise, I took this dry riverbed to be a fortunate sign, affording us the opportunity to explore upriver.

The scale of this place is hard to describe, and standing there filled my body with many sensations. A cool and refreshing air was coming out of the sheets of rock. Bright yellow leaves announced the coming of fall. And the solid diabase boulder I sat upon reminded me of the earth’s sacredness. The riverbed steps called me out to me for exploration, and we begin climbing upstream. Small pools of water remained in potholes, ephemeral homes for toads and frogs. The rotting trunks and stumps of hemlocks lined the banks, a distant reminder of the how the forest used to look.


  1. after reading this post i feel like i can’t live without experiencing this park.

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