Out & About

September 5, 2009

Quechee Gorge: Roadside geologists' favorite

If you go

Quechee State Park, 764 Dewey Mills Road, White River Junction, VT 05001. (802) 295-2990.

Simon Pearce, The Mill, Quechee, VT 05059. (802) 295-2711. For restaurant, (802) 295-1470.

Armed with new geologic interest after our recent immersion at Ithaca's Museum of the Earth, we recently took another look at Vermont's Quechee Gorge.

Quechee has long been a popular mainstay of the roadside geologist. Many just pass by as they drive Route 4 across Vermont. More stop and enjoy the view from the bridge. To fully appreciate this natural attraction, though, spend some time walking the nearby trails.

The gorge, 165 feet deep, runs for about a mile right where the Ottauquechee River (from the native term for "swift mountain stream") makes a sudden southward turn.

Once upon a geologic time, the river ran a more gradual course. Glaciers, specifically the Laurentide Ice Sheet 100,000 years ago, led to changes, including formation of a massive body of water called Glacial Lake Hitchcock. When the ice receded, the Ottauquechee deposited a delta on the site of today's gorge. When Lake Hitchcock drained, the river followed the sandy course of the delta. Continued erosion of bedrock created the natural feature we see today.


Though the need for a bridge over the chasm was apparent early, initial attempts were quickly washed away. In 1875, the first railroad bridge was built to span the distance; its completion was commemorated with four brass bands and 3,000 onlookers. Today's iron span dates to 1911. It, too, served as a railroad bridge until 1933. Then U.S. Route 4 was put right over the dormant rail bed.

Sidewalks accommodate overlooks on both sides of the bridge. The views are pretty, but don't stop there.

Switchbacks allow descent to the banks of the Ottauquechee River. A downstream ramble brings one to the jagged rock base of the gorge. On a warm summer day, you'll be joined by plenty of waders enjoying the water.

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