Archbald Pothole

December 27, 2010 —Well, I needed something quick and dirty to knock the Christmas entries down a bit on the front page, and while there are probably a few things more quick and dirty than a hole on the side of the road, it at least has to place just after all the inappropriate punch lines at the top of the list.

The Archbald Pothole is a 15,000-year-old glacial feature located in a 150-acre state park just off Route 6 in Archbald, PA, which is between the towns of Scranton and Carbondale. It’s a 38-foot-deep hole in the ground with an adjacent parking lot and, honestly, something few people need to see in their life.

Apparently, a glacial pothole forms when water spills down a crack in a glacier straight to the bedrock, where the pressure of the falling water and churning debris wears away the ground until the depression is formed. Not sure how we know that. Seems like the kind of explanation I would make up on the spot if a child asked me how the hole got there. Well, if the child was too old to believe the “God sometimes takes drunken pot shots at the earth with his holy shotgun” explanation.

The Archbald pothole formed sometime between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago, and was discovered in 1884 when miners accidentally hit it, unleashing about a thousand tons of water and loose material. They ran in terror, thinking it was a cave-in. I’m under the impression that miners do that a lot.

Thanks to a fortuitous “Holes Are Radder Than You Think” media campaign sponsored by geologists at the time, the glacial pothole was preserved, named, and eventually formed the centerpiece of the Pennsylvania state park that bears its name.

The pothole is located right off the road and features the aforementioned adjacent parking lot, a viewing platform that wraps around its circumference, and a detailed sign that extols the story of its formation and discovery and dubs it a “world-class glacial pothole.” I’ve seen pieces of Christ’s cross displayed with less devotion.

According to the park website, the hole measures some 42 feet at its widest point and 17 feet at its narrowest, and it could hold 140,000 gallons of water were someone of the mindset to so fill it. I’m not sure if those numbers say “large” to you, but it really doesn’t seem too big in person. Granted, it had a layer of debris softening its bottom, but, still, if you’re going to commission a multi-sided sign, erect a platform, and name a state park after it, you’re going to raise expectations a bit.

Overall, it just seems like the kind of place where someone would film a meaningful scene in a romantic comedy that would illustrate the guy’s pliant sense of humor and the endearing quirkiness of the girl.

Of course, I visited this natural oddity only as a side-thought, while en route to somewhere else. What follows is our best attempt to take expressive pictures of a hole in direct noon sunlight in a tiny window of time while a group of bikers parked nearby ate sandwiches and watched us, probably wondering why anybody would stop there except to eat sandwiches. These are the dubious results.


Bones. Should've been bones in here.


  1. Have you ever been to either Sculpture Rocks Geologic Site in Hebron NH, or Franconia Falls off the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, NH? Both are superb examples of ice-age potholes, with the added attraction of rivers (the Cockermouth for Sculptured Rocks, and Franconia Brook for the Falls) that run through them. In addition to being sterling examples of geological potholes, they're also great swimming holes. I very much recommend that you check them out.

  2. ^ I second the recommendation to visit Kancamangus, NH. It is beautiful there, especially in autumn.

  3. NH definitely seems to have a nice amount of unique glacial features. I've been to Franconia Falls, but will definitely put Hebron on my list. Thanks, guys.

  4. "Worth seeing, yes, but not worth going to see." - Johnson

  5. One of the largest holes in the world that fascinates me is the Cave of Swallows:

  6. And let us not forget Shelburne Falls, MA, which not only has a host of glacial potholes, and the Bridge of Flowers, but isn't an actual town. Rather, it is a village made up of parts of Shelburne and its next-town neighbor Buckland.

    On the Mohawk Trail, which is always lovely.

  7. Mr.Ocker
    The biggest attraction this park has is that it is a notorious meeting area for gay men. Those "bikers" you saw were probably fantasizing about you after you left. If you were alone, you'd be writing "this place has got to be the friendliest road stop in the world". Don't get me wrong, I'm not homophobic. I never understood how some people could get angry with someone just because they liked them.

  8. So sorry you took the time to do that. But I have to say, it looks so much better that it used to. At least there wasn't paraphernalia of ALL kinds to step on like in the past.