Big Papa and I spent the past week in upstate New York. We were there visiting my mother and my sister, who is ill with cancer. I knew that it would be a tough, emotional five days. So, at the end of our stay, we sought respite for two days in Ithaca.
It’s hard not to feel at peace with the world, when one is surrounded by dramatic gorges, waterfalls, gentle rolling hills, lush green fields and an abundance of wildlife. During the years when I was an undergraduate student at Cornell University, I used to marvel at how so much beauty could be packed into a thirty mile radius. Three decades later, I still do.
Back in my college days, if the weather was warm and classes were over for the day, I’d grab my bathing suit and head to the base of Cascadilla Gorge. I still remember how idyllic it felt to descend the stone stairs cut into the side of the gorge and enter into a mythical world which existed mere minutes from where I lived.
If I was lucky enough to find a friend with a car, my options for sybaritic pleasure increased exponentially: Ithaca Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Robert H. Treman State Park, and Taughannock Falls State Park were an easy fifteen-minute drive at most. Even the mind-blowing Watkins Glen State Park, lies waiting only thirty miles away.
The famous gorges and waterfalls of the Finger Lakes region, where Ithaca is located, exist as a result of the interaction between the south-to-north running river valleys, which were gouged by glaciers numerous times over the last two-million years, and streams running obliquely to the glaciers, which filled with glacial sediment.
The story of the gorges began when the Finger Lakes were river valleys with small streams flowing in from the east and west. The valleys were repeatedly filled with hundreds of feet of glacial ice that originated from glaciers advancing south out of Canada, eroding the valleys deeper.
As the ice melted and glacial sediment dammed the river valleys, deep lakes formed and streams plunged as waterfalls from the glacially steepened hills. Then over time, as the lake levels dropped, a series of steps were left on the hillsides, like at the overlook at Taughannock Falls.
Big Papa and I crammed in as many scenic spots as we could manage during our trip. The places we went to were a feast for our eyes. And our time spent in the gorges of Ithaca was, as it always is– gorgeous —in every way imaginable.