Imagine the ancient beaches of Pangaea. Western Pennsylvania and upstate New York as a swamp. Lake Erie as a shallow inland sea bordering the now-vanished Acadian Mountains. Imagine the massive glaciers of the ice age melting to leave behind a semitropical forest with mastodons lumbering through groves of cypress.

Your mind can conjure a history of the Earth over hundreds of millions of years while walking the trail at Panama Rocks in Chautauqua County.

An afternoon here can inspire the sensation of timelessness, as if the earth can last forever, when in fact the rocks are artifacts of change, which has been sometimes slow-moving, sometimes catastrophic.

One of western New York's most unique and oldest tourist destinations, Panama Rocks is 12 acres of dense forest covering a labyrinth of caves and passageways.

Originally opened as a park in 1885, the rocks are an extensive formation of glacier-cut, ocean-quartz conglomerate, referred to as "pudding stone" or "Panama Conglomerate." They form a half-mile ridge, three times older than some of the major formations in Yosemite.

Sandy and Craig Weston have owned the park since 1979. Sandy Weston is a retired schoolteacher, and her husband is a former mental health counselor.

They had no prior experience of running a park, but curiosity led them to stop in when they saw it was for sale.

"It's a labor of love," said their son Jonathan Weston, who grew up with the rocks essentially forming his backyard. In 2013, he left a fast-paced career as a policy adviser in Washington, D.C., to be closer to his family and help run the park, along with his wife, Holly.

This season, Panama Rocks will introduce a new learning initiative with informational signs about the natural and cultural history of the park, as well as pressing concerns about its future.

There will be an educational treasure hunt for children, inspired by a 17th century gang of counterfeiters who robbed a bank carriage and hid the gold in the rocks.

While patrons of all ages commune with nature and relax with loved ones, they will learn how to identify invasive species and that native pollinators like bats and monarch butterflies are dying in dramatic numbers.

They will learn how to conserve the environment by planting native seeds, such as milkweed.

They will learn that it's impossible to take a walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time.

Panama Rocks Scenic Park

What to know: 11 Rock Hill Road, Panama, N.Y. (15 minutes from Chautauqua Lake); (716) 782-2845;

Hours: Open for the 2015 season on May 9; daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last entry is at 4 p.m.

Cost: Cash only. Admission is $7.50; $6, seniors, veterans, military and students with ID; $5, children 6 to 12; free, 5 and younger; 2015 season pass, $15.

What's cool: For the Grand Opening, in celebration of Mother's Day, every mother will receive a free native wild flower seed packet. Indoor hall is available for private events. There have been many marriage proposals here and a couple of beautiful wedding ceremonies.

Know before you go: This is a privately owned park. Patrons are responsible for their own safety. No disposable items, including disposable plastic water bottles. No pets. No wheelchair access. Rock formations extend about half a mile and reach upward of 60 feet tall. They are surrounded by a 1-mile hiking trail. Although people of all ages can enjoy the trail, there are a few moderate inclines and cliffs and crevices. Patrons should watch their steps and supervise children carefully.