We settled on a handful of things that we knew for sure we wanted to do, left space for new discoveries, and set out to immerse ourselves in this enchanting region for three weeks in June.
How The Finger Lakes Came Into Being
When I was studying a map of the Finger Lakes, I was curious about how this series of long, narrow, almost parallel lakes came into being. An oft-repeated local legend attributed to the Iroquois has the Great Spirit laying his hands on the land in blessing, leaving behind fingerprints that became lakes. As much as I like the legend, it apparently has nothing to do with the Native Peoples of the area, but instead is a fanciful tale originating in the 1920s.
Nature’s handiwork is just as interesting, though. Millions of years ago, the lakes began as small northward-flowing streams. During the last ice age, glaciers cut and deepened the streams into narrow valleys. When the glaciers receded, their slow bulldozing action left behind soil and rock dams. As the ice melted, the valleys filled with water, and voila—the beautiful lakes came into being.
I added purple stars to the map above to show where we stayed in the Finger Lakes: Lake Conesus (where we visited with our friends Sue, Dave & Lewis); Watkins Glen (for waterfalls and the Corning Museum of Glass); Ithaca (for the cool town and the Cornell Bird Observatory); and Seneca Falls (for the Women’s Rights Museum and wineries).
Exploring Watkins Glen
We’ve seen a lot of waterfalls recently—the sweet trails at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, magnificent Niagara Falls, and the lovely series of falls in Letchworth State Park at the edge of the Finger Lake region.
We had heard tales of the beauty of Watkins Glen State Park, most recently from our friends Laura and Kevin, who took photos that put this place on our must-do list. We settled into our spacious campsite and spent several days hiking the beautiful trails.
Originally a private resort, Watkins Glen was purchased by New York State in 1906. The Civilian Conservation Corps worked its magic in the mid-1930s, creating winding pathways, picturesque bridges, and staircases of native stone.
Everyone’s favorite trail is the Gorge Trail, an artistically designed trail that offers close encounters with 19 waterfalls. We descended steep stone stairs into the gorge, followed meandering paths along streams, crossed bridges, and passed behind mists and cascades of waterfalls.
Click on any photo for a larger image
An unusual creature in the park is the gray petaltail dragonfly, a ‘living fossil’ that hasn’t changed much since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Signs along the Gorge Trail educate visitors about the friendly nature of the dragonflies, who have a penchant for landing on people. Apparently, one of the greatest threats to the giant 5-inch dragonflies is people swatting at them. I don’t know about you, but my natural inclination is to swat at a big bug when it lands on me. I was glad I had read the signs and knew what to expect.
Our second day in the park brought a heavy rainstorm, and the Gorge Trail was closed because of dangerous high waters. We had fun hiking the following day when the creek raged through the canyon and the Cavern Cascade waterfall transformed into a thundering torrent.
The Corning Museum Of Glass
While staying at Watkins Glen, we made a day trip 20 miles southwest to visit the Corning Museum of Glass. Established in 1951, the museum was created to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. We spent an entire day immersed in the history, artistry, and making of glass.
We were fascinated by the myriad creations born of the alchemical process of turning sand, lime, and ash into glass. From the Corelle unbreakable dishes that we use daily in our RV to luminous, fanciful, and colorful artistic creations, glass is such an amazingly versatile medium.
The exhibit of floating glass sculptures by Italian artist Lino Tagliapietra—who is now in his 80s and still actively creating glass masterpieces—was mesmerizing. I think it was our favorite of all.