Although we had been going back and forth to New York State, it was time to take the plunge and spend some time in the Empire State. Our destination was a private RV Park near Ithaca, which is located at the southern end of the longest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. Ithaca is also the home of Cornell University, so we expected a college atmosphere. The trip was less than 2 hours and since a good bit was along I-86, it was an easy trip. As we approached the Finger Lakes, I was surprised to see that we were leaving the sharp ridges behind with the terrain flatting out a good bit. In this part of New York, the most dramatic elevation changes are the dips in the terrain at the Finger Lakes. Spruce Row Campground, about 10 miles north from Ithaca along the shore of Cayuga Lake, is a large campground extending over 0.25 miles back from the county highway and of course our site was at the very back of the campground. Even though they have more than 200 sites, the vast majority are taken by seasonal campers who leave their RVs there year round. We had a nice pull-through site located right under a Norway Spruce tree. We were back to having full hookups, but limited TV coverage (we had just 2 channels which is still twice what we had the week before). I guess we are just too far from the major cities, which has many other advantages. During the week we were just about the only campers in the park, with just a couple of transients pulling in for a night or two. However, over the weekend the park was FULL with a lot of young families camping out. We met a very nice couple with two children that live in the area and spent some enjoyable time getting to know them. They were envious of our lifestyle, which made us feel good, and we talk to them about our experiences and how to live full-time on the road.
Tuesday was a nice day to begin exploring the Finger Lakes Region, so we choose to stay close and explore Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles up the shore of Cayuga Lake. The park consists of two parts, the first is a spit of land extending out into the lake with a nice picnic area and the other a gorge where one of the creeks that feed the lake descends over 700 feet from the plateau above. Within this gorge the stream has cut a gorge through the limestone with walls at the lower end over 400 feet high. Nearly all of the drop in elevation is achieved by two falls, the main Taughannock Falls and Upper Falls. Taughannock Falls is the more spectacular, being 215 feet tall, which is 3 feet higher than Niagara Falls making it the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi. There is a Gorge Trail that you can hike up the nearly 1 mile into the gorge to access the falls or you can drive to their Visitor Center which has a nice overlook of the falls. Especially since the Gorge Trail was closed for repairs while we were there, we elected to drive up to the overlook. Unfortunately the Visitor Center was also closed, but the view of the falls was spectacular, even though you could not get very lose to it. From this point we elected to take the South Rim Trail up to the Upper Falls, which was around 0.5 mile with only a couple of short steep sections. Along the trail there are a number of overlooks providing additional angles of the main falls and the gorge above the falls. There is a bridge at the Upper Falls which provide a nice view of these falls, which are really more of a series of cascades than a waterfall. From here you can access the North Rim Trail or return to the parking lot on the North Rim Trail. Our only real choice was to return to the parking lot, at which time I decided to continue down the North Rim Trail to the base of the gorge and meet Kal in the picnic area at the base of the gorge. We had a nice lunch along the shore of the lake where we had to spend some time skipping rocks since there were millions of great flat and rounded skipping stones on the shore! Even though it was still early, there was not much else to do in the park, so we headed home for the rest of the day.
Since Wednesday promised to be another sunny and cool day, we decided to continue our exploration of the Finger Lakes and headed west to Seneca Lake where you find Watkins Glen and Watkins Glen State Park. This state park is actually within the town of Watkins Glen so it easy to find and it was immediately obvious that it was the pride and joy of the town. Like Taughannock Falls State Park that we visit the day before, Watkins Glen is another gorge where the stream has cut a path through the limestone rocks to the lake. However, instead of doing it in one huge waterfall, this stream cascades through a 2 mile series of pools, waterfalls, and smoothed channels. Over the years they have spent a lot of money building the Gorge Trail that follows the streambed all the top with more than 800 steps over the 1.8 miles. It would have been an arduous climb except for the fact you are stopping every few feet to look at and take pictures of the ever changing views of the gorge. You do have the choice of either hiking all the way up and back yourself or you can take a shuttlebus to the upper end of the gorge and just walk down. However, the shuttle only operates on the weekends during the spring, so we didn’t have any other choice but to make the hike ourselves. Depending upon how you count them there are suppose to be 19 waterfalls. They have done just a spectacular job that it has been voted the third best state park in the nation by USA Today and I certainly agree! The trail begins from the parking lot with the Entrance Tunnel hand carved out of the rock. The Tunnel is certainly is a great way to start as you cannot see any of the falls from the parking lot until you exit the tunnel over a stone bridge and get your first view of one of the best waterfalls. Along the trail, which in many places has been carved from the limestone walls, you actually get to go behind two of the waterfalls. There are also two more tunnels, the neatest one being a spiral staircase going to the top of the falls you had just walked behind!! All in all this was an experience I will always treasure and urge everyone to go to, although you might want to go during the weekend when you can take the shuttle to the top. Kal was not very happy with me when I decided to go all the way to the top instead of cutting off at a spur that would have taken us to the North Rim Trail. The main reason was the climb of more than 100 steps up Jacob’s Ladder at the end of the Gorge Trail. We took the North Rim Trail to return to the truck, which since it was downhill, was much easier. It was a nice walk through the New York forests that began as a maple/oak forest that transitioned into a spruce/hemlock forest. Even though the trail was as close as it could to the rim of the gorge, there were only a couple of overlooks where you could see down into the gorge. After eating a late lunch in the truck, we headed back to the campsite for another lazy afternoon.
Thursday was spent in the campsite working on this blog and extending our reservations out another couple of weeks. We ate an early supper anticipating driving into Ithaca to watch the USA Men’s Soccer game against Ecuador in the knock out phase. Our destination was a Buffalo Wild Wings, which turned out to be a very good choice. It was not busy from 9-11 in the evening, however, the people there were all watching the soccer game (and the NBA basketball game being played at the same time) and it made for a very nice atmosphere. We did order a deluxe plate of chicken nachos, which took us nearly the entire game to eat. Especially since we won the game, making it to the semi-finals in the tournament, it was a very enjoyable, although very late, night.
On Friday I was in the mood for another hike in the woods, although I was not looking for a hike with more than 800 steps!! We found the Cayuga Nature Center about 2 miles from the campgrounds which had some easy hiking trails. They also had a nice Visitor Center with interesting exhibits about the factors impacting our natural environment. They had displays on a variety of topics ranging from the changes in land use since settlement (especially the impacts of deforestation and agriculture), global climate change, invasive species (both plants and animals) and other topics. They had a small collection of stuffed animals indigenous to the region and a small live animal exhibit of exotic species people had thought to make pets of. While looking at some of the exotic frogs they had I turned and was surprised to see a ferret checking out my leg. He and two other ferrets had somehow managed to get out of their cage and the staff were attempting to round them back up. I spent a few minutes helping to corral them before joining Kal for our hike. They had a number of trails that wandered through their woods and by maximizing their loops we were able to get in a hike of about 2.5 miles, without a lot of uphill climbs. I saw the largest stand of jack pine I have run into so far along with a lot of large maples, oaks, hickories, and hemlocks. Although they claimed this was an example of what the forests would have looked like to the settlers in the 1700s, I would judge it to be much to young yet to be making that claim, although there were a few large hemlocks.
For Saturday and Sunday, we decided to do something completely different. Along the highway on our way the past Monday, we saw a small billboard for an Old Timers Fiddlers Gathering in Watkins Glen. Kal used the internet to find out that it was a festival located at Lakewood Vinyards just north of Watkins Glen along the shore of Seneca Lake. From our camping neighbors we also learned that on Saturday was the day for the Cardboard and Duc Tape Boat Rally in Watkins Glen, which was suppose to start at 11 according to the internet. So we showed up in Watkins Glen by 10 to check out the boat rally before going to the Festival which was to start at 1:00. However, once we got to Watkins Glen we found out the boat rally was not until 2:00, which meant we had some time to kill. Since Lakewood Vinyards was not in our GPS (although it includes a lot of wineries!!) Kal memorized the route shown in Mapquest. I should have looked at the map myself, since she took a wrong turn in Watkins Glen heading south out of town instead of north. After driving a few miles to make sure, we came across one of the many roadside parking/picnic areas that are common in New York. Since we had time to kill we pulled it and had an early lunch. Even then we were still at the Winery an hour before the festival was to start. Actually this was not a bad thing as we were far from the first to arrive and it give us a chance to check out the tasting room at the winery first. Unfortunately I do lot like wine and Kal was not really interested, so we did not try of the wines ourselves, but I was very impressed with the tasting room and their on-going expansion of the facilities to attract meetings and other activities to their venue. We learned from the program that the two day Old Timer Fiddler Gathering would start with the kind of music we had expected to find. We were treated to a range of jigs, hornpipes, bluegrass, jazz, and swing tunes from New York fiddlers. It was GREAT!! We set under a tent for 6 hours enjoying the music.
For Sunday, Father’s Day, we once again returned to the Old Time Fiddlers Gathering in Watkins Glen for another day of fiddling. However, the emphasis the second day was on Scandinavian fiddling beginning with some very old (1600 vintage) Swedish music. Thus it was much more classical in nature and was a lovely selection of medieval dance music of polonaise and waltzes. The two fiddlers were experts and the tunes were great, although it was certainly more difficult to stay awake then the jigs of the day before. One of the fiddlers then stayed to play a selection of traditional tunes from Norway that were just as lovely, although not as rich as the previous Swedish tunes with two fiddles. This was followed by a local group playing Finnish music that was also very nice. Since the next activity was going to be a workshop on traditional Finnish dances, we decided we were done and headed back to the campground in time for supper. We both had such a great time attending the festival that I hope we can find more opportunities for this in the future!! I should mention that this was a perfect Father’s Day even though there were no presents or fancy meals – just a phone call from each of my children that I treasured.