The Mystery Of New York's Eternal Flame (Trapped In A Waterfall)

The Mystery Of New York's Eternal Flame (Trapped In A Waterfall)

At Chestnut Ridge Falls, a trail in Western New York's Shale Creek Preserve, lies an old flame that’s captured many-a-travelers hearts who have come to spectate. A small fire, neatly placed under the waterfall as if woodland fairies arranged it on purpose, roars from dusk till dawn. The Eternal Flame boasts a whole eight inches in height (and that's with the cold water shrinkage), nestled in a small grotto. 

It is rumored that early inhabitants of Shale Creek Preserve lit the fire thousands of years ago and that it’s burned ever since. But can a legend out-rule science? In this scenario, it's likely other factors are at play. Scientists have an inkling that tourists re-igniting the flame from time to time with their lighters complete most of the “eternal” portion of the puzzle. But more likely, a little thing called natural gas is the motor behind this flame that never seems to plummet.      

Eternal flames are nothing new to Mother Nature. For these flames to occur, natural gas must seep up through the ground; mighty as it may sound, the “flame” is minor-- just enough to roast a marshmallow if you're lucky. So don't depend on it for warmth because you'll be toast, at the very least. 

What keeps Chestnut Ridge Falls peculiar is that it was formed millions of years ago, during the Devonian Period. That’s right- at a time where forests were still in creation. What makes the flame suspicious is its location near the water. Burning in an almost exclusively wet environment, the flame persists, keeping the party going through it all. 

But to make fire, heat is of the essence. Typically, heat found in rocks under shale breaks down the shale's carbon molecules, releasing natural gas. Though for this to happen, the heat needs to reach a boiling temperature. As noted in Outlook Traveler, the temperature of the shale found under Eternal Flame Falls is only about as hot as a cup of tea. And yet, the scientific mystery remains, as its flame still kindles. Scientists believe that cracks in the rocks allow for gas to travel up, keeping a constant source of energy, and even if the fire lights out, it can be re-lit so long as gas keeps coursing through the rocks. 

History Daily argues that “instead of being a true eternal flame, it is actually an eternal gas leak.” According to Discovery, hikers have been seen lighting the flame from time to time as the wind blows it out. Hence, it may not be that the fire is ever-present, but that the gas needed to ignite it is always available. Nature's very own loophole.

Top Image: Mpmajewski/Wiki Commons 

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