Awosting Falls is situated at the bottom of the twisting road that leads to Lake Minnewaska in Minnewaska State Park. As the name implies, however, Awosting Falls is a sibling, in part, of the outlet from distant Lake Awosting, rather than Lake Minnewaska, which lies a short distance up the winding road from it. Lake Minnewaska’s outlet contributes to the Coxing Kill stream that gathers its flow in a valley to the south and east. As referenced in Sensitive Flesh, the Coxing Kill eventually makes its way through Split Rock, before coursing through Clove Valley on the other side of The Trapps. The Peters Kill collects itself from a valley that lies further east and south of the Coxing Kill. The Peters Kill stream’s variable disposition, however, is very different than the generally accommodating Coxing Kill. After departing from Lake Awosting and valleys further to the south, the Peters Kill boisterously acts out before withdrawing into itself. It noisily plunges and thunders over large drops and stately falls. Shortly thereafter, it shrinks into itself, withdrawn, moody and secretive. In early spring, it plows through the debris fields that it once carried while drunk on it’s own concentrated powers, only to discover its overambitious surge cannot be sustained, and the extra load that it carries has to be dropped. Through much of the year, it trickles through the residual artifacts of its own abandoned activities, pooling in the tracks of its deepest memories.
A few of the Gunks’ well-known features attest to this proclivity for periodic outbursts from a variably withdrawn nature. Awosting Falls is, of course, one of them. At the falls, as elsewhere, the Peters Kill presents itself confident and bold at times, only to become irritated and impotent in between outbursts. Awosting Falls is still occasionally referred to locally as High Falls, even though there is an actual destination of High Falls just north of the Shawangunk Ridge. The fall’s impressive 40-foot plunge looks to be built on a series of stacked and curved foundations that collectively form an amphitheater. The thin broken slaps of concrete-looking sediments have been fractured by the weight of the stacks above, as if by the act of generations of laborers seeking to take up the same thought of their forefathers. At the bottom of the amphitheater, an equally stacked compilation of tones pile-drive their way into the rippling pool below from the falls above. The sounds of the fall are amplified in the concussion. When the flow is heavy, the turbulence and deep resonant display can be absolutely thunderous; but even when the water slides off the platform in shy, thin whispering curtains, the air is refreshingly ionized with moisture and sheets of a more subtle crescendo; adding wetness to the conditioned coolness that the hemlocks have already transpired into the shadows below.
It is tempting, and almost certainly the case, that upon nearing the top of Awosting Falls for the first time, newcomers migrate to the streambed for a preliminary glimpse. The initial stay is merely inquisitive at first, but it serves as a preamble for the journey below. After shuttling back to the carriageway following a glance that was designed to build expectation, the trail courses through a short series of turns that are also designed to increase anticipation until an open view of the falls is granted. Viewed from below, the falls can appear stately; or the flow may disappoint. Still, the surrounding coolness enwraps the onlooker in the sweep of hemlocks and the wide-embracing backstop of the layered rock. Upon the carriage trail, the trees begin to separate at just the right moment to provide a park-like setting and a romanticized scene that summons idealized views of horse-drawn coaches and ladies with umbrellas strolling languidly in the arms of capped gentlemen. The scene that is summoned in the pool is that of a courting couple drifting in a flat bottom boat as a supple female wrist drops delicate fingers toward the water’s surface, one or two of which caress the surface and trail sinuous ripples in their wake. The region, of course, has such overly romanticized and stereotypical Victorian images stamped into it by virtue of its developmental history. Yet even if one’s imagination launches into a different era or a deeper reach of time, the immediate vicinity appears idealized when viewed from below. Indeed, it is difficult to overcome the overly romanticized structure of the sight on most visits. Because of that structuring, vision unconsciously engages its quick little journeys across regions that the body either cannot go or is restricted access. All sides of our frontal hemisphere are explored in a rapid acquisition as the carriageway pulls us gently onward, as if our own carriage were still powered by horses. Downstream, the carriageway continues its park-like setting, but the further one strolls, the more it is apparent that the falls begins to tug us for return and suggest that a journey onward is the making of an entirely different expedition.
For many day visitors, the tug is appropriate because the falls is considered a satellite destination to Lake Minnewaska. Many have arrived at the falls only as part of a larger visit to the lake. But after making their way back to the top of the falls, the ledge beckons for a second, more meaningful visitation. On top, the Peters Kill sculpts a smooth undulating surface. Swirling steps and banked curves add intrigue to the root-beer stained conglomerate. The yellow-brown staining intermingles with a tightly packed sand matrix so that a fine-grained, crystalline texture is immediately received as more than a surface coating upon what might otherwise be considered mundane rock. The quartzite is a constituent of the entire rock depth, granting it its iconic beauty. By virtue of the region’s mandate for contrast, aged moss and lichen darken the intervening matrix of the near white surface. It is this glittering surface with a slightly angular ledge that the Peters Kill either rages over with the furry of a spring flood, or shyly clings to on the way to the pool below. Just before its drop, the streambed provides a sculpted, many-tiered destination of its own, often more interesting to range upon than the landscape below. As premonition to the space below, a mini, elongated amphitheater forms the last stage of the streambed just before the drop. There, a windswept pitch pine has positioned itself near the edge. The iconic pine provides just the right refinement to invite additional lingering as it faces two directions at once. While we face only one-half of its gesture, its distal side is oriented to the grand show below the drop. In return, a population of hemlock, oak, beech and birch surround the pool’s edge and salute the ledge with a disciplined stance that is quite noble. In the end, the two disparate spaces remain separate but merge into a single perception through the activity of the falls and the little pine near its edge. We encompass the space that we situate within up above as well as the space far below that it is stitched to through the fabric of the falling water itself. We see the Peters Kill sweeping toward us at the same time that the pool down below seems to tilt its entire volume slightly in our direction, even as the falls plunges away from us— all of it, nonetheless, a single space for vision. We see the inlet flow as part of our own body space at the same time that the outlet flow in the pool far below courses away from us in the form of a necessary exit. It is the terminal boundary of our space and the introductory movement to the adjacent space. This is the space of visual perception as it is stabilized by movement.
It is misguided to construe that because a lens cannot appropriately capture all of this at once without distortion that there exists no intimate perception of both tiers at once. Visual perception is not our personal copy of the optics that our technologies employ as they are said to copy or augment our anatomy. Natural perception achieves this solid gathering through a bound momentum, a duration that is structured by movement; not in the manner of video footage— where a series of static ‘states’ are said to build a perception over time. Actual perception is not the stitching of independent image states along with anticipation of the subsequent images to follow in the sequence. It is, rather, the late achievement of a series of unified gatherings— a “lived” whole that is never truncated or incomplete for experience, though it requires a lived duration that sometimes escapes us, and is always open to a present that is still arriving.
On summer weekends, Awosting Falls becomes so populated that the outing is transformed into a people-watching occasion. Even so, early hours and late season visits reveal again the native beauty that might have been squandered should we dismiss the location as rendered kitsch by popularity. In the depths of winter, the falls can pile snow onto the nearby carriageway— requiring snowshoes, skis, or sealed boots attached to an agile hip. The frozen pool below increasingly stacks a growing cone of ice as winter deepens. In the coldest of winters, the cone creeps up the falls until it nearly greets the ledge with a broken and crusty shell that reveals watery innards pouring out. Even when Gothic-like icicle formations do not transform the amphitheater around the falls into a wizard’s cathedral, cold water sprays the surrounding trees to glaze them in a coating that reveals its own wizardry, both practiced and granted. Late autumn has its own special charm, which of course is color, but the beauty of every season is revealed through structure. Awosting Falls presents itself, like Split-Rock, as a self-contained space encompassing both its inlet waters and its pool below— along with a short excursion paralleling the Peters Kill. Should one travel beyond the pull of the falls, one discovers that the carriageway diverts from the Peters Kill just when the latter dives under Route 44-55. On the other side of the road, the stream disperses into a wide thin sheet before leaning to the right and tipping through a long series of stepped falls on each side of a large shrubby landmass. Sheldon Falls and Peters Kill Falls are certainly less accessible than Awosting Falls, but they are infinitely more interesting to investigate, as we do in Abandoned.