Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017
Bearfort Mountain consists of several rocky, roughly flat-topped ridges that north-south for about 10 miles. Located in western Passaic County, it runs from just north of Route 23 to the New York border (in New York, an extension of the same ridge goes by a different name).
The northern half of the ridge, rising to the west of West Millford and the beautiful Greenwood Lake, approaches 1500 feet above sea level, and 800 feet above the valley, in various places along its length. This is some of the highest land in the NJ Highlands. Rather than culminating in a single ridge line, Bearfort's upland terrain is a jumbled mess of narrow mini-ridges of exposed bedrock, steep ledges, small ponds, swamps and stream valleys, forming a mile-wide belt of nearly impassible, rugged terrain. In a densely populated Metropolitan Area, it's significant that only one road, Warwick Turnpike, crosses this ten-mile barrier, through a water gap.
The southern half of the ridge is less rugged but more remote, extending into the mysterious Newark Watershed land. Clinton Road, just west of Bearfort Mountain, is a very lonely and desolate drive.
Geologically, Bearfort Mountain is a syncline, with erosion-resistant Schunnemunk Conglomerate exposed near its axis. This fold is part of a sedimentary belt known as the Green Pond Outlier, a sequence of folded Silurian and Devonian shales, sandstones and conglomerates bounded on all sides (in NJ) by typical Highlands ancient Proterozoic metamorphic and itrusive rocks. The Schunnemunk Conglomerate is, excitingly, "equivalent to the Late Devonian sequence of the Catskills region" (according to a USGS article), but likely closer to the source of the deformation that shed these sediments. The rock is strikingly beautiful, with its huge semi-rounded white quartzite and purple sandstone clasts in purple quartz sandstone matrix.
Several spring-fed ponds with rocky shores lie in or near the apex of the syncline. One of these, Terrace Pond is a popular place for people to hang out in the summer. Swimming isn't allowed, but people obviously do anyway. The hiking in this area is phenomenal.
To match the geological wonders, the forest is richly diverse. The climate is noticeably cooler and wetter than in Wyanoke hills immediately to the east, and the vegetation reflects that difference. White Pine and Rose Bay Rhododendron are common here, and farther west in upland areas, but as soon as you go a little south or east of here, they pretty much drop out. Hemlock and Paper Birch are also more prevalent here than in most of NJ. In richer soil areas, a mix of southern and northern species typical of the NJ Highlands can be observed. A variety of hickories, tall tulip poplars, and persimmons thrive alongside northern hardwoods like sugar maple and yellow birch. Of course the upland rocky areas are mostly in mixed oak.
On the glacially scoured ridgetops of the area, in the extremely thin soils, pitch pine forms some pure stands of sizable extent, fragrant on hot summer days.