Walk among the boulders

First Posted: 8/14/2014 8:47:44 AM

CARBON COUNTY — The most popular attraction in Hickory Run State Park is 15,000 years old, and you can touch it, climb on it and even walk all over it.
Visitors routinely come into the park office to ask about Boulder Field, wanting to know how they can get to it and how the 18-acre expanse of rocks got there. Located in the eastern corner of Hickory Run, Boulder Field is actually a prehistoric relic, formed when a warming trend caused a glacier to move down from Canada, according to Katie Martens, environmental education specialist for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Hickory Run Park Complex.
As the glacier melted, water filtered into cracks in the bedrock. A freeze/thaw cycle that would occur for the next several thousand years cracked the bedrock and caused it to slide on a concoction of glacial water and soil, leaving Boulder Field in its wake.
“It brought the larger boulders to the surface and kind of sorted them,” Martens said. “The boulders at the western end, near the parking lot, are smaller because they traveled farther and eroded.”
The field consists loosely packed boulders which range in size from 25 feet to several inches in length. Most are under four feet in length. Boulder Field is 400 feet wide, 1,800 feet long, about 10 feet deep, and surprisingly flat. The boulders are predominantly red sandstone but there are also some quartz conglomerate, and they trend from angular shapes in the east side to more rounded shapes in the west side.
At one time, boulder fields were common throughout Pennsylvania, but over the course of thousands of years many have been covered by soil, plants and trees.
Perhaps it’s rarity is what makes Boulder Field a top attraction at Hickory Run State Park. That, and the fact that everyone is welcome to walk on the rocks and explore the formation.
“There’s people there all the time,” said Martens, who offers a presentation at Boulder Field every Saturday and Sunday. “I average about 40 people for each talk and on the weekends several hundred visit the field.”
One of the most well-known beliefs about Boulder Field is it’s a haven for snakes, which like to hide under the rocks. Martens said that isn’t true.
“You might find snakes on the perimeter of Boulder Field, but not out on the rocks. There isn’t any prey for them,” she said. “It’s rock on top of bedrock, so there’s really nothing there for snakes to eat.”
If you do decide to venture out onto the rocks and explore Boulder Field firsthand, Martens recommended wearing sturdy footwear as you navigate the large boulders.
“Don’t feel foolish if you have to use all fours and crawl,” she said. “However you get around on it, you’ll be impressed just to be surrounded by this huge expanse of boulders.”