Picking Waterfalls at the Finger Lakes

A lady seeks relief from the summer heat at Ithaca Falls

15-June 2007 to 18-June 2007: ...We continued driving through the city towards the signposted High Falls fo the Genesee River. We parked at a pay structure then walked the city streets towards a pedestrian bridge traversing the Genesee River. I felt strange carrying around a tripod and DSLR camera in hiking clothes in the urban jungle, but my mind left this awkwardness when we saw the impressive High Falls.

After checking out from our hotel and picking up the car from the neighboring Falls View Casino parking garage, we left Niagara Falls (by this time we were pretty Niagara Fall'ed out) and made our way east towards the Finger Lakes area. Once again, we passed through border patrol but this time it was faster than yesterday.

Traffic was relatively light when we made it onto I-90. Of course, we were greeted with a toll station where they handed us a ticket. I guess you pay when you leave the toll road. Kind of interesting. Better not lose that ticket though!

Looking down at the Lower FallsSo the next couple of hours passed uneventfully as we left the toll road and headed north to Rochester. I think the waterfalls we were to see on this day had the unenviable position of coming after the mighty Niagara Falls. And well, the disparity was made even greater in that we took the time (and money on the toll roads) to see the Genesee Falls in Rochester.

As we explored a bit of the urban jungle in search of the falls, we first checked out the Lower Falls of the Genesee River. It was hard to get a good view of this waterfall as the bottom was usually obstructed from the park trail and we had to be careful of poison ivy. Eventually, we found a decent spot to take a photo with the bridge going across in the background. It was kind of an interesting juxtaposition of nature and urbanism. Though not photoed was the ugly factory building right next to the falls.

Juxtaposition of the Lower Falls and bridge in RochesterWe then continued further into the park to check out the Middle Falls of the Genesee River. But when we got to what appeared to be a lookout, we didn't see a waterfall. Instead, we saw an empty sluice floodway composed of a concrete channel. Hardly a waterfall in my book. So we lingered no longer here and headed back to the car.

The ruined Middle Falls of the GeneseeNext, we continued driving through the city towards the signposted High Falls fo the Genesee River. We parked at a pay structure then walked the city streets towards a pedestrian bridge traversing the Genesee River. I felt strange carrying around a tripod and DSLR camera in hiking clothes in the urban jungle, but my mind left this awkwardness when we saw the impressive High Falls.

High Falls of the Genesee River in RochesterThis rectangular falls was impressive but seemed quite out-of-place due to the presence of buildings, highways, and factories. The pool beneath the falls looked inviting (albeit fenced off and inaccessible legally) but the green color of the water probably hinted at the high bacteria levels and pollutants in the river.

Urban waterfalls... what a strange combination!

High Falls of the Genesee River in RochesterAnyways, these Rochester waterfalls could've certainly been charming in their own right (the city did make tranquil parks around them after all), but they were duds coming after Niagara Falls. I'm sure in a different frame of mind, they would've been pretty cool to check out especially if you needed a brief respite from the daily grind working or living here.

A Kodak bldg in RochesterNext, we returned to the toll I-90 and continued east. The drive was quite uneventful and proceeded at a 55mph clip which I wasn't going to test considering my co-worker's (who lived in New York most of his life) warning about strict enforcement of speed limits. It was about 3pm when we finally found the next waterfall - Pratt's Falls. It was a little bit southeast of Syracuse - home of the Orangemen I bet considering my passing interesting in college basketball's March Madness.

Pratt's FallsPratt's Falls was tall, but a bit of a downer due to the amount of obstructing foliage limiting its views. That's nature, I guess.

Next, we continued south towards Chittenango Falls. After the falls seen up to this point, I was pleasantly surprised by the size and volume of this one. There was a loop trail that was supposed to go around the falls from its top to its base, but half the loop was closed. Nonetheless, the remaining half-hoop provided more views of the falls anyways so I wasn't complaining.

Side view of Chittenango FallsAfter seeing this falls, it was getting late in the afternoon. Still, I knew I had to see Carpenter Falls before arriving in Ithaca, where we'd be staying for the next three nights.

It was 6:30pm when we arrived at the trailhead for Carpenter Falls. Ironically, we parked next to a guy with his dog, who of all people was a carpenter! After exchanging pleasantries, Julie opted to stay in the car while I headed on the trail.

Checking out the backside of Carpenter FallsThe trail immediately forked with the Upper Falls to the left and the Lower Falls to the right. So I first went left and followed the somewhat primitive path towards the falls. It was a pretty quick jaunt and I took advantage of the fact that I could go behind the falls. However, the scramble to the base of the falls was a bit steep.

By 7pm, I was back at the car park when I told Julie I was going to check out the Lower Falls.

So off I went and went through the shaded path until I was greeted with warning signs not to go further. After nearly a half-hour of walking this far only hearing but not seeing any of the falls, I pondered my options before I assessed the steep descent. I've seen worse than this and I figured it wasn't terribly dangerous unless the existing landslides gave way more, which was a chance I ended up taking.

One of the Lower Carpenter FallsClearly it seemed there was a formal trail down here as I saw a cairn down at the creek bed and I followed the trail upstream to a very pretty cascade nestled in a serene setting whose silence was only broken by the clapping of the falls. So I took the obligatory photos before I huffed and puffed my way up the steep and somewhat slippery ascent back to the trail. By 8pm, I was back at the car and we were finally off to Ithaca.

Another look at the Lower Carpenter FallsIt was past 9pm when we finally made it to the Econolodge just outside of town. Even though it was an Econolodge, we were still paying over $100/night. Niagara Falls Hotel this isn't, but it was functional and at least the prices were somewhat more reasonable.

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Not too bad of a walk to the fallsAfter sleeping in and having complementary continental breakfast, we headed out to Taughannock Falls - finally arriving at the trailhead at 10am. It was hot and sunny and it seemed rather cloudless this day. Fortunately, the trail was mostly shaded and we made a lazy mile-long walk towards the head of the gorge where the 215ft falls awaited. It was still in partial shadow so we knew photography wasn't optimal this time.

The falls in partial shadowSo we headed back to the car and briefly checked out the Taughannock Falls Overlook. Again, the lighting wasn't optimal and we vowed to return later this day when the falls and the whole canyon would probably be in shadow (for some more even lighting).

Buttermilk Falls and recreational areaNext, we headed to Buttermilk Falls. It was a very popular spot just beyond the south end of Ithaca. Fortunately, the state fees we paid at Taughannock Falls also applied to this park so we didn't have to pay more. Lots of people were swimming and frolicking at the base of the last 80ft of the falls. But we continued to climb up the trail skirting the creek alongside the falls.

A couple chilling out within the Buttermilk FallsAbove the initial climb, we saw another attractive cascade. This was memorable because there was a young couple who set up a little barbeque and a couple of chairs inside the light-flowing cascade itself. It was kind of an interesting scene made possible by the stair-stepped geology of the omnipresent flat shale in the gorge.

Another cascade of Buttermilk Falls deeper in the gorgeWe'd continue to climb up further until we got to yet another interesting cascade. We passed by a narrowing of the gorge where the creek was louder and interesting slot formations could be seen below the trail. Obviously they were inaccessible and it was difficult to photograph, but still we were amazed that such scenery could exist here in the Eastern US when we expected to see such slot canyons in the American Southwest. Of course, red sandstone dominated the scene there while here it's more grey. The cascade above this narrowing of the gorge was where we turned around and headed back to the car park at the bottom of the falls.

Ithaca Falls with some folks seeking relief from the summer heatNext, we sought the next major falls in the area - Ithaca Falls. This impressive 167ft high, 175ft wide falls was pretty but it was a bit bright for good photos. There were a few people around the falls enjoying themselves either sunbathing or cooling off in the plunge pool below the falls. This was another waterfall I wanted to come back to later in the afternoon.

Ithaca Falls with some folks seeking relief from the summer heatIt was still hot and humid (by now the thunderclouds have grown enough to partially gray out the skies) and still quite early in the afternoon. So before returning to Taughannock Falls, we opted to treat ourselves to some Purity Ice Cream at the crowded ice cream shop at an interesting triangular street corner.

Back at Taughannock FallsIt was 6pm by the time we returned to the car park for Taughannock Falls. The collection fee kiosk was closed at this time (though I doubt we would have to pay twice in a day with out pass anyways). We wasted no more time going back on the walk and heading straight for the 215ft falls.

Taughannock Falls from its baseAs expected, the gorge was shadier. There were also heaps of people going the other way. Apparently, it was the end of the day and everyone had their fill of the falls. When we got to the falls, lighting was favorable as expected and we took plenty of shots from the base. There were still rows of chairs from some kind of activity that happened earlier in the day so it was interesting to use them as subjects for some of my more artsy photographs.

Taughannock Falls from the overlookAt 7pm, we were back at the car and immediately headed to the overlook of Taughannock Falls. Barely a couple minutes later, we were at the overlook though there were still lots of people coming in and out of here so I had to exercise a good deal of patience to try to get decent photos of the stairs with the falls. I think my best shots were from the end of the stairs anyways where I was able to use the people down below as scale for the falls.

By 7:45pm, we were back at Ithaca Falls. As expected, it too had much softer lighting though the top of the falls had an orangish glow from the refracted sun through the thunderclouds. There was a group of people fishing by the base of the falls. It was surprising that we still had this much light even though it was getting late in the evening. That's what happens when you're further north latitude and perhaps it was training for the 24-hours of brightness we'd get in Iceland...

Ithaca Falls in late afternoonAs the day wore down into evening, we decided to try out this chain-like restaurant called the Boatyard Grill. The food was surprisingly decent and their dessert rivalled the BJ Pizookie in guilt. Considering all the cheap yet unhealthy fast foods and overpriced foods we tried to avoid on the trip thus far, the Boatyard Grill was easily the best place we had eaten at so far so we allowed ourselves to splurge a bit. We also used this time to reflect on the busy day that had just taken place...

Who'd have thunk that Ithaca, a Cornell University Town right off Cayuga Lake, would have its share of beautiful waterfalls? Yet they're easily the best waterfalls we've seen since Niagara Falls on this trip and yet they're having a rather dry year rainfall-wise (gee, seems like this is happening everywhere we go). We especially liked Taughannock Falls (if we can get the pronunciation correct on this one) and Ithaca Falls.

Julie and I also noticed that there were numerous young people either working or playing in the Ithaca area and the neighboring lakeside attractions. We reckoned they were probably attending summer sessions at Cornell.

Still unused to East Coast time, we uneventfully ended our day looking forward to more waterfalling in the area tomorrow...

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Enfield FallsThere wasn't a whole lot planned for today, so we got a late start and we did a little bit of some more sightseeing for waterfalls near the Ithaca area. First off, we checked out Robert H. Treman State Park, which was near the south end of Ithaca just beyond Buttermilk Falls. The first falls we saw was unimaginatively called Lower Falls. This convex-shaped falls was quite fascinating though the open amphitheater and the hot sun really heated things up in this completely sun-exposed area.

Julie checks out the Lower FallsNext, we returned to the car and we continued deeper into the park where we saw a second car park. There were lots of cars here and it turned out that most of them belonged to a wedding, which was taking place not far from the trail to Lucifer Falls.

The Enfield GorgeThe walk was developed and flat complete with stairs and shale railings. The gorge itself was impressively narrow and tall. It was the kind of scenery that reminded me of the slot canyon-type gorges in the American Southwest Deserts. Except in this case, you didn't need canyoneering gear. The only difference was the desert heat, the amount of development, and the color of the rocks.

Footballs by Lucifer FallsAfter a few minutes of walking by a few small cascades, we finally saw the impressive Lucifer Falls. I was a bit bewildered by what the football-like formations were on the other side of the falls. It wasn't but a few minutes later when people from the wedding party made their way to Lucifer Falls. I was amused when I noticed how we were in hiking attire while most of the people were well-dressed. Some of the women were in heels.

She-Qua-Ga FallsIt was about noon when we returned to the car. Next, we drove to the village of Montour Falls. Inside the town, we stopped before She-Qua-Ga Falls, which was a nice waterfall set right in between two old-style homes in a quiet setting. There was a bridge above the top of the falls to give it a little more of a classic look to it. The Louis XVIII sign by the falls was quite interesting in that it was sketched by the monarch himself while in exhile prior to ascending to the throne. The sign said the sketch is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Kinda cool that a waterfall as unknown as this (at least to us) is actually seen by millions of people in one of the most famous art galleries in the world!

Aunt Sarah's Falls flowing lightlyNext, we briefly drove outside the small town and saw Aunt Sarah's Falls, which was struggling to flow. But it was at least flowing and photographable. An elderly man who pulled over by the falls honked and beckoned at me.

We chatted and he told me that I should've been here a couple of months ago when the falls would actually spray the highway. Anyways, we got back in the car by 1:30pm and returned to Ithaca at 2pm. We decided to call it day upon our arrival. The 91 degrees Fahrenheit heat along with the humidity and threatening thunderstorms were enough for us.

We knew this was our last evening in Ithaca so we had time to reflect on our Finger Lakes experience. The nice and quiet of the area contrasted our Niagara Falls experience, but both of us couldn't wait for an even greater change of scenery and cultures in Iceland...

Moosewoods in IthacaBefore the day finally ended, we had dinner at Moosewoods Restaurant, which was a vegetarian restaurant. We figured after all the crap we've eaten on this trip up to this point, we mind as well have a relatively guilt-free meal tonight. Except for a live bug in our salad, the food was pretty good and the dessert of brownie with Dennis' vanilla ice cream (as opposed to the ubiquitous Purity Ice Cream, which we had yesterday) was a pleasant surprise.

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Today was our last day of waterfalling in New York. But we knew it might also be a great little grand finale as we would see big waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the East carved forth by the familiar Genesee River.

Upper Falls of the Genesee River with the Portage BridgeAfter checking out of the Econolodge Motel, the day was dominated by driving from Ithaca to Buffalo while managing to avoid the toll roads this time around. Towards the middle of the day, we visited the much anticipated Letchworth State Park. While in the park, we first saw the Upper Falls of the Genesee River, which contrasted the urban-spoiled ones we saw earlier in Rochester on the same river).

This waterfall had a nice bridge juxtaposed with it. Even though the park was quite known and popular this side of New York, we were surprised at how quiet things were here. Perhaps it was a weekday, which was why it was so quiet...

Middle Falls of the Genesee RiverNext, we checked out the Middle Falls of the Genesee River in the 90-degree heat. This waterfall was the star attraction of the park with its very wide flow and rippling character as it dropped over the familiar flat shale. We spent lots of time trying to photograph the falls while conveying the size of the falls. Even a trio of ladies posed for me when I took photos from an elevated path looking down upon the overlook itself.

Finally, we drove to the last of the major Genesee River waterfalls in the park at the Lower Falls arriving a little after noon. Of all the three falls, this one had the longest walk with stairs, but it was a pleasant (albeit hot) stroll into a gorge decorated by the short but wide falls.

Lower Falls of the Genesee RiverWe've seen postcards of this falls taken with autumn colors, but we obviously couldn't get such scenery in mid June. In any case, that wrapped up our waterfalling on this leg of the trip and we would spend the rest of the arvo headed back to Buffalo. We passed on nearby waterfalls such as the 350ft Inspiration Falls thinking it might be dry by now (though we could've been wrong - I guess we'll never know).

The uneventful drive ended in the Hilton Garden Inn in Buffalo just before 3pm. Well, the drive was uneventful except for a short drive through an unpaved construction area. I noticed a strange light that come on in the car and after reading the manual, it said one of the tires had low tire pressure. Huh.

The Anchor BarAnyways, we were able to drive to the Anchor Bar to try out the original buffalo wings for dinner. I guess the recipe had been improved upon by imitators over the years because the wings here weren't all that great.

Inside the Anchor BarAll in all, we had a wonderful time seeing Western New York, but now it's time to get ready for the main course of this trip - Iceland! We hope our fears of lost luggage won't come true (they're always on the back of our minds), but we'll have to find out late tomorrow evening at the airport in Keflavik, Iceland.

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