PANAMA - Looking for a place to go hiking this fall to see the leaves changing colors? Panama Rocks is a good option.
Standing tall in the 12-acre park known as Panama Rocks are 300-million-year-old monoliths.
It's one of the largest rock formations of its kind in the world, and some of the quartz-conglomerate slabs reach upward of 60 feet in height. There is a one-mile hiking trail that surrounds the formations, but the park also allows guests to climb on and around the rocks if that's more of their speed.
Tree roots snake through the ancient rock formations at Panama Rocks.
The land that makes up Panama Rocks was originally part of a farm called "The Rock Farm," which George Hubbard purchased and established as a park in 1885. At the turn of the century, the park was a popular destination for honeymooners.
It was purchased from Hubbard by D.L. Davis in 1910, who began to develop the scenic area in and around the park to make access easier. The park changed hands several more times and went through multiple renovations until the current owners, Craig and Sandra Weston, purchased it in 1979.
The Westons have continued to renovate and repair the premises whenever the need arises. Over the years they have rebuilt the foundation of the recreation hall, installed new roofs on many of the structures, re-sided the barn and even winterized the rear section of the old hotel building where they live.
"We've mainly been working on fixing up buildings. (In 2011,) we put metal roofs on the three of the main buildings and each year we've been renovating what we can," said Weston.
"The best way to get the most out of a visit to the park is to go to our website and read it," he said. "It talks about what to be aware of if you have children and what kind of footwear is the best. We also don't allow disposables in the scenic rock area since we're doing our best to keep it clean. We don't allow pets either which is something people sometimes overlook."
Although the history of the land as a recreational hotspot only dates back around 130 years, the geology of the park stretches back to the Paleozoic era. The rock giants that cover the ground now were created around 165 million years ago when massive earthquakes uplifted sedimentary rocks and they settled at their present elevation. Then, around 10,000 years ago, pressure from a massive glacier created the multitudes of crevices and passageways in the rock that are seen today.
Any hikers at the park are responsible for their own safety and the Westons recommend that everyone avoids reckless behavior while in the park. Anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. They also ask that visitors avoid picking flowers or plants, breaking tree branches, removing moss from rocks, or otherwise disturbing the ecosystem in the forest. Pets are not permitted in the park, for their safety as well as the safety of other park guests. Unfortunately, the trails are not stroller- or wheelchair-friendly.
"If you haven't been up here, you don't know how great it is," said Weston. "We rely on some good word of mouth and a great percentage of people who come here come every year. People enjoy it, it's a good price for what you get and we get good comments. People really like it - you just have to see it for yourself, though."
Panama Rocks Park is entirely self-sustaining and depends on park fees and loans from the Westons to pay for all of the park expenses. Park hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with no admission after 4 p.m. Admission for children under 12 is $5, youth 13 to 17 is $6, and adults 18 to 59 is $7. Admission for seniors, military and college students is $6. The park is located at 11 Rock Hill Road in Panama and for more information, call 782-2845 or visit panamarocks.com.