Whether you are in the Catskills or not in these peripheral regions seems to be as much a matter of personal preference as anything else as an old saying in the region — "When you have two rocks for every dirt, you are in the Catskills" — seems to suggest.
Many visitors, including owners of weekend or vacation homes in the region, seem to consider almost anything sufficiently rural west of the Hudson yet within a short drive of New York City to be in the Catskills.
The Poconos, to the immediate southwest in Pennsylvania, are technically a continuation of the Catskills under a different name. The Catskills contain more than thirty peaks above 3,500 feet and parts of six important rivers. The highest mountain, Slide Mountain in Ulster County, has an elevation of 4,180 feet (1,274 m).
Within the range is the Catskill Park, part of New York's Forest Preserve. Not all the land is publicly owned; about 60% remains in private hands, but new sections are added frequently. Most of the park and the preserve are within Ulster County; however Greene County accounts for a significant portion as well and there are areas in Sullivan and Delaware counties too.
Originally, the mountains' name was spelled "Kaatskil" by the 17th Century Dutch settlers - a spelling still attested in Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle", taking place in this area and emphasizing the Dutch origin of the earlier European settlers there; moreover, the old spelling is still used in various names such as that of the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope at Mount Tremper and the locally-published "Kaatskill Life" magazine.
In later times, the area became known mainly as a traditional vacation land with many summer resorts and camp grounds. During the first part of the 20th century, many ethnic groups (Germans, Czechs, Jews, etc) established summer resorts in the nearby Shawangunk Mountains, located south of the Catskills near the town of New Paltz. However, since the Shawangunk name was both hard to spell and to say, those resorts cleverly adopted the Catskills as their home, thereby capitalizing on the strong reputation the area already enjoyed. The resorts together became known as The "Borscht Belt," a collection of Jewish resorts (Brown's, Grossinger's, etc) in this region, where many comics and musicians got a start in show business (hence another misnomer for the Catskills, the "Jewish Alps"). Meanwhile, the actual Catskills continued to enjoy success with its large-scale resorts, country-style inns and lodges, and smaller operations. For most of the 20th century, the Catskills were also the summer home to thousands of kids and adults attending the area's numerous sleepaway camps, including Camp Ma-Ho-Ge, Anawana, Chipinaw, Ranger, Timber Lake West, Brookwood, Ta-Go-La, Kennybrook, Roosevelt, Tremper Lutheran, Lakonda, Olympus, Camp Diana-Dalmaqua, Camp Omega, Camp Shane, and many more.
This ethnic tradition has mostly disappeared, but the Borscht Belt reputation, though misdirected, is still considered part of the Catskills' heritage. Recently, a few small scale resorts have begun to return to the area, catering to outdoor adventurers and winter snow sport enthusiasts.
The history of the Catskill Mountains is a geologic story come full circle, from erosion, deposition and uplift back to erosion. The Catskill Mountains are more of a dissected plateau than a series of mountain ranges. The sediments that make up the rocks in the Catskills were deposited when the ancient Acadian Mountains in the east were rising and subsequently eroding. The sediments traveled westward and formed a great delta into the sea that was in the area at that time.
The eastern escarpment of the Catskills is near the former (landward) edge of this delta, as the sediments deposited in the northeastern areas along the escarpment were deposited above sea level by moving rivers and the Acadian Mountains were located roughly where the Taconics are located today (though significantly larger). The further west you travel, the finer the sediment that was deposited and the thus the rocks change from gravel conglomerates to sandstones and shales. Even further west, these fresh water deposits intermingle with shallow marine sandstones and shales until the end in deeper water limestones.
The uplift and erosion of the Acadian Mountains was occurring during the Devonian and early Mississippian period (395 to 325 million years ago). Over that time, thousands of feet of these sediments built up, slowly moving the Devonian seashore further and further west. A meteor impact occurred in the shallow sea approximately 375 mya creating a diameter crater. This crater eventually filled with sediments and became Panther Mountain through the process of uplift and erosion.
By the middle of the Mississippian period, the uplift stopped and the Acadian Mountains had been eroded so much that sediments no longer flowed across the Catskill Delta.
Over time the sediments were buried by more sediments from other areas until the original Devonian and Mississippian sediments were deeply buried and slowly became solid rock. Then the entire area experienced uplift, which caused the sedimentary rocks to begin to erode. Today, those upper sedimentary rocks have been completely removed, allowing the Devonian and Mississippian rocks to be exposed. Today’s Catskills are a result of the continued erosion of these rocks, both by streams and in the recent past by glaciers.
Some traces of the most recent sedimentary layers remain for the discerning eye to discover, however. Even along the glacially-scoured eastern escarpment and in the upper Hudson Valley just below it -- not to mention the glacial till-dumps and occasional terminal moraines of the southern-facing mountain slopes and valleys of the eastern and central Catskills -- fragments of quartzite ranging from bright white, banded orange and tan, to deep red and dark gray are found. Many if not most of these are no more than 6" thick, have two flat sides and are without inclusions of other native rock, e.g., gray or blue sandstone ("bluestone"), most likely indicating the presence of a shallow, wave-beaten sandy delta or beach area at the base of the Acadian ranges in the delta's final stages of sedimentation. That sand layer, mostly free of silt (hence less opaque than older layers formed with higher concentrations of silt and mud under deeper water at more remote reaches of the delta) formed one or more upper layers of the delta. With compression and time, thin layers of sandstone formed of which only the here-mentioned fragments of sandstone remain now though in comparative abundance, if one measures their frequency against those of glacial erratics of similar size and shape which are typically metamorphic in origin (e.g., feldspars, granites, basalts), which most likely originated in the geologically complex region of the Adirondacks to the north. Such sandstones and erratics are frequently found collocated in cairns and other anomalous rock arrangements of the Eastern Catskills.
In successive Ice Ages, both valley and continental glaciers have widened the valleys and the notches of the Catskills and rounded the mountains. Grooves and scratches in exposed bedrock provides evidence of the great sheets of ice that once traversed through the region. Even today the erosion of the mountains continue, with the region’s rivers and streams deepening and widening the mountains’ valleys and cloves.
The name "Catskills" did not come into wide popular use for the mountains until the mid-19th century — in fact, that name was disparaged by purists as too plebeian, too reminiscent of the area's Dutch colonial past, especially since it was used by the local farming population. It may also have been a continuation of the British practice, after taking possession of the colony in the late 17th century, of trying to replace most Dutch Knickerbocker toponyms in present-day New York with their English alternatives. The locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, to harmonize with Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains. It was only after Washington Irving's stories that Catskills won out over Blue Mountains, and several other competitors.
While the meaning of the name ("cat creek" in Dutch) and the namer (early Dutch explorers) are settled matters, exactly how and why the area is named is a mystery. Mountain Lions or "Catamounts" were known to have been in the area when the Dutch arrived in the 1600s.
The most common, and easiest, is that bobcats were seen near Catskill creek and the present-day village of Catskill, and the name followed from there. However there is no record of bobcats ever having been seen in significant numbers on the banks of the Hudson, and the name Catskill does not appear on paper until 1655, more than four decades later.
Other theories include:
The confusion over the exact origins of the name led over the years to variant spellings such as Kaatskill and Kaaterskill, both of which are also still used, the former in the regional magazine Kaatskill Life, the latter as the name of a town, creek, clove, mountain and waterfall.
The supposed Indian name for the range, Onteora or "land in the sky," was actually created by a white man in the mid-19th century to drum up business for a resort. It, too, persists today as the name of a school district and as the name of Boy Scout summer camp.
The Catskill mountains and their inhabitants play an important role in the stories My Side of the Mountain and its sequels by Jean Craighead George and in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear" & "Beyond the Wall of Sleep".
Mercury Rev's song "Opus 40" on their 1998 album Deserter's Songs contains the line "Catskill mansions buried dreams/ I'm alive she cried but I don't know what it means". The band and their studios are based in the Catskills, and the area is often referred to in interview.
Kid Rock Mentions The Catskills In His Song 'Low Life'
Carbon cycling along a gradient of beech bark disease impact in the Catskill Mountains, New York.(NOTE)(Report)
May 01, 2008; Abstract: Exotic pests and pathogens, through direct and indirect effects on forest structure and species composition, have the...
Private Catskill Mountains Estate to Be Sold at Auction on June 25 by Concierge Auctions With No Minimum Bid Required.
May 28, 2011; A secluded luxury estate perched 2,400 feet above the Hudson River in the Catskill Mountains, located within a private,...