Learn more about Catskill Mountains
The Catskill Mountains (also known as simply the Catskills), a natural area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are not, despite their popular name, true geological mountains, but rather a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Allegheny Plateau. They are sometimes considered an extension of the Appalachian Mountains into Upstate New York, although they are not geologically related. The Catskills are west of the Hudson River and lie within the bounds of six counties (Otsego, Delaware, Sullivan, Schoharie, Greene, and Ulster).
At the eastern end of the range the "mountains" begin quite dramatically with the Catskill Escarpment rising up suddenly from the Hudson Valley. The western boundary is far less certain, as the mountains gradually decline in height and grade into the rest of the Allegheny Plateau. Nor is there a consensus on where the Catskills end to the north or south, with it being certain only that by the time one reaches either I-88, the Delaware River or the Shawangunk Ridge that one is no longer in the Catskills.
Whether you are in the Catskills or not in these peripheral regions seems to be as much a matter of personal preference as anything else as an old saying in the region — "When you have two rocks for every dirt, you are in the Catskills" — seems to suggest.
Many visitors, including owners of weekend or vacation homes in the region, seem to consider almost anything sufficiently rural west of the Hudson yet within a short drive of New York City to be in the Catskills.
Within the range is the Catskill Park, part of New York's Forest Preserve. Not all the land is publicly owned; about 60% remains in private hands, but new sections are added frequently. Most of the park and the preserve are within Ulster County; however Greene County accounts for a significant portion as well and there are areas in Sullivan and Delaware counties too.
This is a traditional vacation land with many summer resorts and camp grounds. During the first part of the 20th century, many ethnic groups (Germans, Czechs, Jews, etc) established summer resorts in the Catskills that catered to their needs. The "Borscht Belt" was a collection of Jewish resorts (Brown's, Grossinger's, etc) in this region, where many comics got a start in show business (hence another name for the Catskills, the "Jewish Alps"). This ethnic tradition has mostly disappeared, although some special groups maintain private resorts. Many of these resorts now attempt to remain open all year and cater to winter activities such as skiing.
The history of the Catskill Mountains is a geologic story come full circle, from erosion, deposition and uplift back to erosion. The Catskill Mountains are more of a dissected plateau than a series of mountain ranges. The sediments that make up the rocks in the Catskills were deposited when the ancient Acadian Mountains in the east were rising and subsequently eroding. The sediments traveled westward and formed a great delta into the sea that was in the area at that time.
The eastern escarpment of the Catskills is near the former (landward) edge of this delta, as the sediments deposited in the northeastern areas along the escarpment were deposited above sea level by moving rivers and the Acadian Mountains were located roughly where the Taconics are located today (though significantly larger). The further west you travel, the finer the sediment that was deposited and the thus the rocks change from gravel conglomerates to sandstones and shales. Even further west, these fresh water deposits intermingle with shallow marine sandstones and shales until the end in deeper water limestones.
The uplift and erosion of the Acadian Mountains was occurring during the Devonian and early Mississippian period (395 to 325 million years ago). Over that time, thousands of feet of these sediments built up, slowly moving the Devonian seashore further and further west.
By the middle of the Mississippian period, the uplift stopped and the Acadian Mountains had been eroded so much that sediments no longer flowed across the Catskill Delta.
Over time the sediments were buried by more sediments from other areas until the original Devonian and Mississippian sediments were deeply buried and slowly became solid rock. Then the entire area experienced uplift, which caused the sedimentary rocks to begin to erode. Today, those upper sedimentary rocks have been completely removed, allowing the Devonian and Mississippian rocks to be exposed. Today’s Catskills are a result of the continued erosion of these rocks, both by streams and in the recent past by glaciers.
In successive Ice Ages, both valley and continental glaciers have widened the valleys and the notches of the Catskills and rounded the mountains. Grooves and scratches in exposed bedrock provides evidence of the great sheets of ice that once traversed through the region. Even today the erosion of the mountains continue, with the region’s rivers and streams deepening and widening the mountains’ valleys and cloves.
The name "Catskills" did not come into wide popular use for the mountains until the mid-19th century — in fact, that name was disparaged by purists as too plebeian, too reminiscent of the area's Dutch colonial past, especially since it was used by the local farming population. It may also have been a continuation of the British practice, after taking possession of the colony in the late 17th century, of trying to replace most Dutch Knickerbocker toponyms in present-day New York with their English alternatives. The locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, to harmonize with Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains. It was only after Washington Irving's stories that Catskills won out over Blue Mountains, and several other competitors.
While the meaning of the name ("cat creek" in Dutch) and the namer (early Dutch explorers) are settled matters, exactly how and why the area is named is a mystery. Mountain Lions or "Catamounts" were known to have been in the area when the Dutch arrived in the 1600's.
The most common, and easiest, is that bobcats were seen near Catskill creek and the present-day village of Catskill, and the name followed from there. However there is no record of bobcats ever having been seen in significant numbers on the banks of the Hudson, and the name Catskill does not appear on paper until 1655, more than four decades later.
Other theories include:
- A corruption of kasteel, the Dutch sailors' term for the Indian stockades they saw on the riverbank. According to one Belgian authority, kat occurs in many place names throughout Flanders and has nothing to do with cats and everything to do with fortifications.
- It was to honor Dutch poet Jacob Cats, who was also known for his real estate prowess, profiting from speculation in lands reclaimed from the sea.
- A ship named The Cat had gone up the Hudson shortly before the name was first used. In nautical slang of the era, cat could also mean a piece of equipment, or a particular type of small vessel.
- It has also been suggested that it refers to lacrosse, which Dutch visitors had seen the Iroquois natives play. Kat can also refer to a tennis racket, which a lacrosse stick resembles, and the first place the Dutch saw this, further down the river in the present-day Town of Saugerties, they gave the name Kaatsbaan, for "tennis court," which is still on maps today.
The confusion over the exact origins of the name led over the years to variant spellings such as Kaatskill and Kaaterskill, both of which are also still used, the former in the regional magazine Kaatskill Life, the latter as the name of a town, creek, clove, mountain and waterfall.
The supposed Indian name for the range, Onteora or "land in the sky," was actually created by a white man in the mid-19th century to drum up business for a resort. It, too, persists today as the name of a school district.
 The Catskill Mountains in culture
The Catskills are famous in American cultural history for being the site of the so-called Borscht Belt, a Jewish resort area where many young Jewish stand-up comics got their start. Many Borscht Belt performers, such as Mickey Katz, referred to them as the Katzkills.
The Catskills figure in Washington Irving's story Rip van Winkle, and were also mentioned in The Band's song "Time to Kill." The Band was also photographed in the Catskills for their first album, Music from Big Pink The Band in the Catskills.
The Catskills are also the setting for Jean Craighead George's Newberry Award winning book "My Side of the Mountain."
 Films set, or filmed in, the Catskills
Four Seasons Documentary (2006 - in production) Follows the lives of holocaust survivors in a Borsht Belt colony
WaterFall In The Catskills (1897, the Edison Studio)
Rip Van Winkle (1921) Silent film version of the classic story
Kaaterskill Falls (2001) Award winning independent film about a young urban couple befriending a local hitchhiker. Mountain country version of Roman Polański's Knife in the Water. (Actually filmed in the Catskills.)
The Catskill Chainsaw Redemption (2004) A Horror movie
Stagedoor (2006) Documentary on life at a teen camp
 See also
 External links
- Official Tourism Site of the Catskill Region
- Online Guide to the Catskill Mountains
- The Catskill Archive - History of the Catskill Mountains
- The Catskill Center
- Aerial Exploration of the Panther Mountain Structure
- Catskill Region Photo Gallery
- Jewish Women in the Catskills (Jewish Currents July 2003)