Seeing Our Home Through Different Eyes

First time visitors to Panama Rocks see the uniqueness of our region that we often take for granted. Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver

Sometimes we need the vision of a “first-time” guest to open our eyes. We become desensitized to our surroundings and begin to take the wonders of our region for granted — seeing the familiar but not really seeing the unique. This happened to me recently when we took our house guests from Windsor, Ontario, to Panama Rocks.

Believe it or not, I’ve lived in Chautauqua County for nearly 25 years and have only been to the Rocks once. The one trip I took there was an incredible adventure, but I just never took the time to go back. Growing up near Olean, I had been to Rock City Park several times, and I have also spent time in Little Rock City near Little Valley. “Been there, done that — don’t need to do it again” was my mindset until I experienced the reactions and excitement of people who had not “been there and done that.”

If you are not familiar with Panama Rocks, it is an amazing little scenic park just outside of the Village of Panama at 11 Rock Hill Road. It is a short ride from Jamestown or Chautauqua Institution. From their website, I learned some incredible things that I did not know about the rock formations.

The little park is a unique outcrop of 300 million year old quartz conglomerate sedimentary rock also known as “pudding stone.” The stones, quartz, spar and flint found in these formations tend to be oval and slightly flat, apparently from being eroded by the waves on an ancient beach. During the middle Devonian period, the area that forms modern upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and Lake Erie was covered by a shallow inland sea named the Appalachian Basin. Chautauqua County, which consisted of sand flats and salt meadows, was submerged under shallow, muddy water.

The rocks extend for about a half of a mile, and luckily for us, the glaciers never reached them. The rocks would have been torn apart if that would have happened. Some of the rocks rise to a height of 60 feet. There are crevices, passageways and caves to explore. The trees you see there are part of an ancient forest which is included in the Sierra Club’s Guide to Ancient Forests of the Northeast. Ranked No. 1 out of the 20 “must see” attractions in Chautauqua County by The Post-Journal, it is a winner you won’t be disappointed in.

On the day we went, we stopped at the Ashville General Store and got some delicious sandwiches for a picnic lunch on the grounds before our hike. The tables were under shade trees and easily accessible. We were greeted by a pleasant young lady and given a map of the trail when we went to pay our admission fees, which were extremely reasonable. I asked how long it took to hike the park, but until we got going, I didn’t truly understand her response of ?It takes about an hour to walk the mile trail, but you?ll probably spend two to three hours in there once you start exploring.?

Once inside the gate, the excitement and fun lasted until we reluctantly exited the park 2¢ hours later. Our party consisted of four adults and four teenagers. The adults ranged in age from 70 to mid-40s and the teens from 14 to 18. You would never have known who was older if you were to have watched us though. The 70-year-old took to climbing the rocks like a mountain goat, only to have the 14-year-olds yell “Wait up!” We climbed and crawled, hiked and sprawled, squeezed through crevices and pushed each other up steep inclines. We laughed, joked and acted like kids on summer vacation, enjoying both the scenery and each other.

The best comment of the day came as we stood panting after a strenuous uphill climb, just before we were ready to leave. Chris, the 40-something dad of two of the teens looked at me and said, “Susie, how come you never showed this to us before? This has been the most fun of the whole vacation. We will be doing this every year from now on.”

So now that he has “been there and done that,” he’ll be sure to do it again, and I am quite sure I’ll be along for the adventure. Enjoy the summer we have left, and keep an eye out for an old lady mountain goat on the trails.

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has 1,000 acres of public nature preserves throughout the Chautauqua region, many of which have hiking trails. A listing of the preserves can be found at CWC is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or