May 3rd, 2010 – This past weekend I was whisked away to upstate New York by my beau in celebration of one of his best friends’ birthday. It would a couples’ romantic weekend touring the gorges, waterfalls and vineyards of the Finger Lakes region of our home state of New York. Two couples one truck and a true desire to learn more about the upper regions of the state that had been home for all of us for most of our lives.
In this two-part piece, I plan to summarize to you my readers the highlights of my trip. Share with you and hopefully expel the myth about unfriendly New Yorkers and expand your view beyond New York’s downstate city features i.e. skyscrapers, the subway and crowds.
Personally before this trip I had not been beyond White Plains in Westchester County when it came to exploring the towns and cities of New York State. Born and raised in New York City. Most of my travel has been done out of state and the country. So, when my beau presented this opportunity to me as a treat, I jumped at it.
Our extended weekend began on Friday night with a drive to Albany, from Brooklyn, NY. After a good night’s rest we headed over to his friend’s home for an early breakfast cooked by his fiancée.
Meeting our guides to the NY’s Finger Lakes Falls & Gorges
After breakfast and dropping off my beau’s rental vehicle we all piled into his friend’s truck for the three and a half hour drive towards our first tourist stop Ithaca, NY. Having had driven through downtown Ithaca, I can now see why so many of my friends that went to school upstate in this region (Ithaca is the home to Cornell University and Ithaca College) decided to stay after graduation. The sheer beauty of the picturesque tree lined streets and buildings mostly no taller than six stories, in the city’s center is enough to take your breath away.
After making a pit stop at Starbucks, we met up with our guide Alan and Caren our driver of the “Experience! The Finger Lakes“, www.experiencefingerlakes.com ) touring company. Though we were 45 minutes late, they both met us with the hospitality and genuine warmth that set the tone for an amazing three hour tour. Our touring van was clean and inviting. Each of us were given a visitor’s bag filled with pamphlets of local area attractions including further information about the falls and gorges we would be hiking. We were offered healthy snacks and given souvenir water bottles pre-filled to take with us.
Alan during the ride to our first gorge gave us an introductory geology lesson on how the Finger Lakes region had been created in the wake of cut ways and deposits left from the massive glaciers that used to cover all of New York State. Here is a fun factoid. Did you know that even New York City; before it was flatten for the creation of the street grid (The Commissioner’s Plan for 1811) that we are so familiar with today complete with East to West numbered streets and horizontal avenues was in fact home to valleys, streams and forests? Well it was. So when I think of the Finger Lakes region I can imagine how downstate looked like before the industrial age man got a hold of it.
The Falls (Taughannock, Buttermilk, and Ithaca Falls)
As the official pamphlet for Taughannock Falls state park reads “Water has shaped the natural landscape of the park.” The park includes a 215-foot vertical waterfall that is actually taller than Niagra’s and a ¾ mile gorge, woodlands and a swimming beach. Since we took our trip in early May, the temperature was just right for walking the trails. It was neither too hot nor too cold.
Our first trail took us upwards along the shoreline of the creek that is feed by the falls. The water is so crisp that it is easy to see the rock bed underneath its flow. Though visitors are clearly told not to walk the shallow waters (via the signage that is posted alongside the trail), because of possibility of slipping; many ignore the warnings and venture out to stand in its downward flow.
As for our crew, not one of us decided to nor wanted to take the risk so we did not have to be scolded by Alan. The complete trail took us across a stone bridge to the falls’ base where we stopped for a group photo. I stood there by myself for a moment to gaze at the awesome wonder of watching the mist rise from the where the water fell in its natural pool.
Taking a few more shots we turned around and walked back to the van. Before leaving the park for our next stop Buttermilk Falls (another state park); Alan had Caren drive us to the top of the falls. We stood at the falls’ overlooking area and were amazed to see how tall they actually were. Birds of prey circled above our heads; making their homes in the trees that dotted the landscape. The entire scene in its self was very serene.
Returning back to the van for the drive to the top of Buttermilk Falls from Taughannock Falls was about less than 20 minutes. As a treat for completing the hike Alan gave us each a piece delicious locally made dark chocolate. Our group had opted to walk down the Buttermilk Falls rather than up them. In hindsight I believe that was a wise executive decision made by our spokeswoman, my beau’s friend’s fiancée.
The Buttermilk Falls unlike Taughannock is more sloping. “Dropping from 1,000 to 400 feet above sea level, the park surrounds Buttermilk Creek as it plunges through a gorge down the eastern slope of the Caygua Valley at the southern edge of the City of Ithaca.” – adapted from the park’s official pamphlet.
Much like most of the trails of the Finger Lakes region created for visitors’ usage; the trail alongside the Buttermilks Falls was left rough enough for us to experience the falls without the inference of fencing or even a handrail.
An interesting highlight of this hike was we experienced firsthand a rockslide that confirmed that we were in fact at the mercy of Mother Nature. No one was hurt however it reassured our respect for our surrounding. So of course due to my history of natural clumsiness, I used my beau as my anchor as I gingerly walked down the trail. A perfect excuse for me to also hold his hand for most of our walk down it; the trail’s name we took was Gorge Trail.
When we reached the base of the falls, we were reunited with Caren and the van. Before we entered Alan told us that he had more treats and surprises for us. Upon looking at our seats we noticed that the group photo that he had taken of our party by the base of Taughannock Falls with his camera Caren had developed. The photo was framed in a keepsake frame, one for each couple to commensurate our trip! Our second treat was in fact more locally made goodies a selection of ice cream sandwiches and frozen treats to select from. I opted for an ice cream sandwich; the vanilla ice cream was sandwiched between two large chocolate chip cookies, yum is all I have to say to that.
Our last stop on our tour of waterfalls was Ithaca Falls. Located near downtown Ithaca, I must say out of the three falls we experienced to me it was the most beautiful at first glance. The locals fish in its waters and skip rocks in its currents.
After taking more photos we all returned back to the van for our return drive back into the center of Ithaca to park company with Alan and Caren. After saying our warm goodbyes; our group returned to the truck to drive the hour and half trip further upstate to Penn Yah County the home of Finger Lakes regions many vineyards and to check into our hotel.
To learn more about the state parks and facilities of NY’s Finger Lakes region, visit www.nysparks.com or reserve your own tour with “Experience! The Finger Lakes” by going to www.experiencefingerlakes.com or calling 607-233-4818
© 2010 – 2013, Lela Jefferson Fagan. All rights reserved.