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The Bald Eagle and Muncy Valley

Farm in Muncy Township, Lycoming County, PA

Photo: Looking north from Bald Eagle Mountain, Lycoming County. In the foreground is the Susquehanna River Valley near Montoursville; in the distance is the Allegheny Front. Photographed by User:Nicholas (own work), 2007, [cc-by-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed October, 2015.

The spur of the Allegheny Mountain chain known as the Bald Eagle Mountain is a remarkably regular ridge, with comparatively few breaks in its outline. Its southern terminus is in Blair County, and its northern end – a gracefully rounded elevation rising to a height of about 800 feet above the river flowing around its base, and sloping down gently into the Muncy Valley – is in the lower end of Lycoming County. The view east from the Muncy terminus of the mountain, as well as the prospect to the north, and to the south, is one of fascinating loveliness. Stewart's History of Lycoming County unhesitatingly claims, on page 113, that it is "the most beautiful valley that was ever fashioned by the Divine Architect"; but this is assuming to know more than any of us know as to what the Almighty Designer has done elsewhere on this grand sphere, or on some other orb in the boundless universe. Meginness, on page 64 of his History of the West Branch Valley, refers in a spirit of admiration to the charms and romantic beauty of Wyoming, so sweetly sung in verse and so admirably depicted on canvass, yet says, "but in natural grandeur it does not excel that of Muncy Valley; if indeed it compares favorably with it." But undeniably it has features that command the admiration of all nature-loving people. And the comely Bald Eagle Mountain is one of the most interesting features of its charming configurations. The strata of which it is mainly formed are much older than the layers of rock underlying the valley; but as a mountain, it is a much more recent structure. This is a geological problem the reader can solve.

The Bald Eagle is a member of a large and very complex group of mountains east of the Allegheny proper, consisting mainly of the formation known as Oneida and Medina Sandstones, and extending from the West Branch of the Susquehanna to the line of Maryland. They comprise one closely related mountain system, but are known by a great number of local names, as if they were thought to exist as independent mountains, as Bald Eagle, White Deer, Buffalo, Brush, Jack's, Tussey's, Nittany, Dunning's, Bear Meadow, Tuscarora, Standing Stone, Short, Lock, Canoe, Path Valley, Black Log, etc., etc. They form such a complex group, seem so mixed up, or entangled, that our State geologists declared they found them "to defy description in words," and "can only be described by a map." A prominent feature is a general parallelism of the entire group, but some members run in relatively short zigzags, resembling zigzag lightning, and others again for miles in parallel lines, running like so many waves across the State, 'broken in many places by deep gaps, or fissures. As they consist of the same class of rocks, and differ here and there merely in the thickness of the strata, and in the inclination into which the strata have been distorted, squeezed, or jammed, their topographical and geological identity is evident. They were all formed in the same way, and-in the same cosmic era, and have a distinct family likeness.

Because the most ancient stratigraphic formation of Muncy Valley, – i.e., the oldest exposed strata, – and on account of its beauty and prominence in the landscape, the Bald Eagle is regarded with a feeling of affection, and even sometimes with a kind of cosmic veneration. Originally its strata, like all other water-formed rocks, were in the form of horizontal sheets, covered with the newer formations, the same that now lay around it and under the valley basin, and beneath the encircling hills and the North Mountain. The gentle downward slope of the mountain, of which the picture in this booklet will give the reader a good idea, may be imagined to continue under the Clinton shale at its foot, then beneath the river, and on under the other strata, thousands of feet below the upper end of the basin and under the hills. The line of fracture of the overlying formations caused by the upheaval of the Bald Eagle can be very distinctly seen on the Muncy side of the river. Rogers, in his Geology of Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, page 542, says: "The Bald Eagle axis prolonged would cross Muncy Creek about 600 yards above its mouth." Up river above the mouth of the creek the flanking strata of Clinton shale, or "Surgent" rocks, are seen to dip northward, and below the creek the dip is in the opposite direction. Near the Reading Railroad bridge, below Port Penn, and along the abandoned canal at the high stone wall just above the Ashhurst summer residence, the evidence of the upward movement of the Bald Eagle can be seen in the opposite inclines of the fractured uplifted formations. The still older strata of Lewistown limestone, or what Rogers called the Scalent rocks, now overlap and curve around the submerged part of the Bald Eagle, just as the river is seen to bend around its emerged part.

Once the lowest of the Muncy Valley outcropping formations, the Bald Eagle now stands up bold and high in the air, graceful and dignified, as if it always meant to stay just where it is and forever remain what it is; – and now the question is, how did it manage to get up in the world so high above its nearest neighbors, and higher even than the hills of Hamilton shales, Portage flags and Chemung shales, that lap around the valley basin?

The Bald Eagle was forced up by a power from beneath, and by lateral pressure. The cold crust of the earth is still in some degree flexible. The mountain was gradually elevated, and as it rose it slowly and persistently kept on cracking, pushing apart, and raising the newer strata covering it. And then air, sunshine, frost, rain and floods have meanwhile for untold ages kept on eating away at the uplifted rocks—at the Bald Eagle just the same—and the disintegrated material has been transported and laid down on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. It is not easy to predict what the condition and appearance of the earth will be twenty or forty millions of years hereafter, but all can understand that the work of erosion and physiographic changes keep steadily going on. Neither Science nor the Bible proclaim that this is a finished world. The story of the earth is a record of progress.

  • Gernerd, J. M. M., The Muncy Valley: Snap-Shots of Scenery, Geology and History, 1909, Press of the Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport PA
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