The source of the Hudson River was discovered in 1872 by the naturalist and surveyor, Verplanck Colvin. It is a pond on the western slope of Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks at 1,629 m. Colvin, an ardent supporter of preserving the mountain forests and watershed, referred to the pond as 'tear of the clouds' (Schneider,
1997). He recognized that the many springs, ponds, bogs, swamps, and other wetlands provided the water flowing from the mountains to create the Hudson watershed. To Colvin and like-minded associates, these wetlands and their encompassing forests were a resource worth protecting. They lobbied the New York State Legislature to establish parkland for this purpose. By the late nineteenth century, the state began to set aside tracts of land andto preserve forestedlands thatotherwise would have reverted to the timber industry. Today these lands are the Adirondack Park.
During the colonization and growth of eastern and central New York, the Hudson River watershed supplied water for agriculture. A network of streams enabled lumbermen to drive logs from high mountain valleys to sawmills in the valleys beyond the Hudson gorge. Taking advantage of spring snow melt, water was stored in natural and man-made lakes in these tributaries and then released after the ice was out of the channel to drive rafts of logs down the river. The Hudson's water powered mill wheels, ore processing plants, and later, hydroelectric turbines. It provided potable water for communities on the river. Today, this watershed provides water for recreational boating as well as for snow making at ski resorts during the winter. Although the Hudson was not the true northwest passage sought by European entrepreneurs, the river made a major contribution in supplying water, timber, and mineral resources to the nation's economy and in opening up the routes of its westward expansion.
The Hudson River is over 500 km long from Lake Tear in the Clouds to the Narrows (between Brooklyn and Staten Island). The Hudson estuary is tidal and navigable upsteam for nearly 240 km to the dam in Troy and the locks that join the river to the barge canal system. In the Adirondacks, the watershed drains a region with 1,200 m peaks into a lowland less than 125 m above sea level. The Mohawk drains central New York into the Hudson. The watershed is also supplied by rivers that rise in southwestern Vermont. South of Albany, tributaries flow westward to the river from the Taconic mountain range and eastward from the Catskills Mountains (Fig. 3.1, Chapter 3). Many of the Catskill streams, such as Esopus, Neversink, and Rondout creeks, fill freshwater reservoirs for New York City.
The northern third of the Hudson's drainage radiates from the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Southward, the Hudson's tributaries appear rectangular, some following the trend of northeast to southwest faults and ridges, and others joining at right angles to the faults along joint planes. The river occupies its bedrock gorge, flowing over rock ledge rapids and coarse cobble point bars (from Mt. Marcy to Glens Falls), until partly blocked by mountains, it turns abruptly to the east through the Luzerne Mountain gorge. It then emerges onto glacial lake sediments and forms a broad, meandering pattern on lowlands underlain by shale for nearly 210 km (from Glens Falls southward to near Newburg).
From the Hudson's lowlands (70 km south of Glens Falls), the river is a tidal one (Fig. 2.1). For the final 240 km, it drops only about a meter to sea level, its course confined to a narrow meander band in this reach. Even though tidal, the Hudson behaves like any river at base level, depositing its bed load and some of its fine-grained suspended load in the form of sand bars.
Further southward, the river cuts laterally through the hard crystalline rocks of the Hudson Highlands (Fig. 2.1). Evenhere it has an entrenched meander pattern, shifting back and forth in its valley until it emerges from the mountains. Through the highlands the river exhibits characteristics typical of a fjord within towering rock walls. The river's course gently curves in front of the Palisades escarpment, which towers more than 100 m above the water's surface. At the Narrows, the Hudson has breached its final barrier, the terminal moraine of the last glaciation, before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. On the continental shelf the ancestral course of the river is marked by a subsea canyon.
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