Dan and Hannah Hike the Watkins Glen Gorge in central New York

Wat map 2

Watkins Glen Gorge State Park promises nineteen waterfalls!  Hannah and I are all in!  Though we are hiking on a late October Friday in the low 40s, it turns out it’s a great time of year as many of the low hanging leaves have fallen and views are extraordinary.

Wat 1 Brooks

Brooks with his Daddy

Coming to hang out with our grandson Brooks, and, of course, his parents, we are pleased to see that they have taken to parenting like fish to water, like Dan and Hannah to pickleball, like Tom Brady to being the GOAT (greatest of all time!).  Despite the many sleep-deprived nights, Will and Laurel show their love to their happy, laughing bambino hour after hour, day after day.

Wat 1AAA Watkins sign

Driving 25 miles west of Ithaca, New York, we come upon the upper parking lot by the picnic areas and massive Dirty Dancing-size swimming pool of the Watkins Glen Gorge State Park.  The attendant takes our $8 and says that with a few more cold days, the park will close.

Wat 1AAAA H at start of trail excellent

Feeling the administration of state parks could use all the financial support they can get, we gladly pay.  It’s $8!  Please!  The employees need health benefits, a livable wage, and the park needs tender loving care.  I encourage you to go out of your way to pay the very modest fees at state parks when you hit the trails.  Check out the trio of videos and the cavalcade of photographs below to see what you get from this 1.5 miles of trail that drops 400 feet from stem to stern!

From the parking area we descend to the gorge by following, get this for irony, the Gorge Trail.  It’s all well-marked as we quickly descend through the Spiral Staircase Tunnel.  Passing behind this rocking falls, we feel the H2O that’s heading towards Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes here in central New York.

We are soon sloshing along the stone walkways of the narrow Gorge Trail from the many falls.  With 832 steps from top to bottom, we have evidence of the Civilian Conservation Corps creativity and dedication in digging into these narrow gorge walls to make a trail of slate steps.  This extraordinary waterside trail/walkway is evidence of the master craftsmanship of the stone artisans plying their trade during the Depression of the 1930s.

Busier than I would have guessed, the Friday midday crowd has us walking leisurely as we take the time to smell the metaphorical roses of the cascading water, rather than being hell-bent on getting exercise as we usually are.

With barriers to the gorge most of the way until you get to the flatter upper trail, the slate walkway is a great family hike.  The final ascent up what is known as Jacob’s Ladder is 180 steps.  By the way, Jacob’s Ladder is referenced in Genesis as the up and down pathway to heaven for angels.

As you might have guessed, we rocked with many hiking angels today.

 

More gorge photographs

Wat 1 H by red tree

Proceeding to the gorge from the parking lot

 

Wat 1AA Han at falls at start

 

Wat 1C narrow gorge

 

Wat 2 D in gorge on stairs

 

Wat 2B gorge falls

 

Wat 4 falls through trees

 

Wat 5A longer view of side falls

 

Wat 6 Jacob's Ladder sign

 

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Dan and Hannah Hike to Taughannock Falls in Ithaca, New York

Tau Ithaca map

Hannah and I have come to New York to spend the weekend in Ithaca with our son Will and his wife Laurel.  While the others sleep in this Saturday morning in late April, I awake to begin my Daily Morning Routine: an hour of stretching and meditating.   Ommmmm.   You see, at the age of 68, years of casual inattention to my posture and overall poor body flexibility have finally caught up with me.

tau max and owen

Owen (3 5/6) supporting Max as Max turns 2

You see, four weeks ago, I picked up our grandsons Owen and Max while they stayed with us for four days while Molly and Tip went hiking in Zion National Park.  By the fourth day I awoke with a stiff neck.  Unable to move my neck right or left without pain, I sought out my friend/physical therapist, Corky Thomson, for some relief.

While reasonably healthy with decent cardio fitness, I have the flexibility of a dining room chair.  It seems that my lack of flexibility was an accident waiting to happen; it wasn’t just lifting the boys but years of neglect to maintaining my flexibility.   Amazing how the pain and the possibility of not being able to be physical active (especially to play Pickleball) gets my attention and calls me to wake up and smell the coffee.

Tau Sadie

Sadie supporting me during my morning stretching

After learning stretching exercises with Corky, I begin each day with neck and shoulder stretches, arms and legs stretches.  Amazingly within a week of her instruction and my commitment, I am indeed more flexible.  It’s becoming my yoga, my California Mellow.  I get it that I have a lifetime of such morning stretching ahead.

ATM 8A  W and L at falls

Will and Laurel at Taughannock Falls

Tau trail map

Ithaca, New York is blessed with fantastic waterfall hiking at its doorstep.  On previous trips to central New York, with Will and Laurel, Hannah and I have hiked the Buttermilk Falls and Treman State Park Trails right in town.  (Go to the categories link to the left of this blog, then click on New York Ithaca area to read those blogs.)

Tau 1AA H at TF sign

It’s a twenty-minute drive from their place to the southern reaches of their own personal Finger Lake, Cayuga. Today we’ll hike in Taughannock Falls State Park (pronounced Ta-gan-ick).  On this last day of April, we have two distinct hiking advantages.  One, the park is happy with people but not mobbed.  Two, the trees have not leafed out so we can see views from above to the Taughannock River and later to the Taughannock Falls themselves that we wouldn’t see in May.

Tau 1A  steps up as trail begins

Parking at the trailhead is limited to 30 cars, but across the street there are many more spaces.  Beginning the climb to the gorge rim on granite steps, we find the climbing easy and invigorating.  Pairing off, Hannah talks with Will in front while I talk up our daughter-in-law Laurel.  We’ve hiked and spent so much time with Laurel over the past few years that the conversation flows and life is good when your child marries well.

 

Very shortly, we are at the top of the gorge on the South Rim Trail, paralleling the cliff to our right.   At the rim the hike is on level, hard packed dirt, such that our nearly four-year-old grandson Owen could hike most of it while his two-year-old brother Max would not be far behind.

ATM 2B  D and H at falls with blue elephant

Rocking along the wide trail we come to an overlook to check out the Taughannock River below.  The 52F morning of bright sun makes it shorts weather.  The South Rim goes past the 215 foot falls nearly two miles from the trailhead to a walking bridge that crosses to the other side.   At the turnaround we are at a country road parking area that allows folks a full view of the waterfall, no matter how little or much they want to hike.

ATM 5 H looking out to Cayuga Lake

Hannah on the Rim Trail looking out to Cayuga Lake

Hikers are protected at the steep sides of the gorge by four-foot fencing on a trail that today can only be described as delightful.  At the falls, we descend some 30 feet to a full frontal view of the Taughannock Falls.   Here at the falls, there is again ample parking for folks who just want to take in the view.

 

Paired off again, we four descend the descending trail back to the trailhead. Nearly four miles after our start, we arrive back at the river bottom.

Tau 1  H W L at sign at start of trail

From this point at the trailhead, we now head on the nearly level twenty-foot-wide Gorge Trail along the river to the base of the Taughannock Falls.   The Gorge Trail is far busier than the Rim Trails but in an early spring way.  Walking three quarters of a mile to the falls we are dwarfed by the high slate and shale cliffs above us.

ATM 8C  D H W at falls

Crossing the river, we are within 200 yards of the end of the trail.  There we are happily rinsed by the mist from the falls.  This video captures the falls in action.

The gentle walk back to the trailhead ¾ of a mile away gives us a six-mile morning of hiking joy.

By the way, you may have noticed a blue elephant in some of our pictures.  Having forgotten Owen’s stuffed animal Woodstock, we have at least brought Max’s Blue Elephant to travel with us as our Flat Stanley (click on this link to learn more about the young man of children’s literature) to document our travels.

tau flat stanley

Parents with school age children will know Flat Stanley (a cardboard cutout) as a young man who sees the world and has his picture taken at the various spots when his handlers (anyone who travels) see the world.  We plan to take Woodstock and Blue Elephant to the waterfalls, mountaintops, and bluffs of these our United States to take a part of Owen and Max with us when we travel.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Gorge Trail in Robert Treman State Park, New York

Hannah at the flume of the upper Enfield Creek

Hannah at the flume of the upper Enfield Creek

After two nasty winters (read: long, cold, and snowy) in the Northeast, Mother Nature has smiled on the coast of Maine and much of the East during the final months of 2015.  Why this past Thanksgiving, the Family Rothermel walked in tee-shirts and shorts in Chelmsford, MA before the afternoon meal.  By mid-December no snow has fallen.  Hallelujah brother.  As you know, you can take the boy out of Arizona, but you can’t take the Arizona out of the boy.

High above Enfield Creek

High above Enfield Creek

One Arizona Christmas Day when we were living in Tempe it was 85F.  That’s Almost Heaven, West Virginia for me.  This year Hannah and I scheduled a trip to central New York in mid-December, which is always a roll of the dice since the Snow Gods take up residence there for months on end.  However, this year, fifties and even sixties are predicted for our weekend in Ithaca, New York with our son Will and his wife Laurel.

The wrestling venue at Ithaca College

The wrestling venue at Ithaca College

Our Saturday includes a noon wrestling match at Ithaca College where Will works in the athletic department.  I never realized I was such a fan of the grappling art.  I thought basketball was the ideal winter spectator sport with its inside warmth and games lasting but an hour and a half.  Well, let me tell you wrestling is even more spectator-friendly as each of the ten matches lasts seven minutes or less.  If a wrestler gets pinned, a match can take a minute or two.  Today these ten matches are over in 55 minutes!  It certainly helped my enjoyment that the #2 nationally ranked Ithaca College crushed Oswego State 45-3.  As a fan of Tom Brady and our New England Patriots, I am used to such scores.

On the Ithaca Commons

On the Ithaca Commons

After, we walk the Ithaca Commons, a two block pedestrian mall, checking out the Ithaca Ice Festival with its ice sculpture competition.  Though it is 58F, the warm temperatures don’t deter the Michelangelos of Ice as they wield their chainsaws and drills to craft their works of art.  By the way, on the walking mall in this liberal bastion of sanity (think Burlington, VT or Cambridge, MA, or Berkeley, CA), the only political table is for Bernie Sanders.

Ith 2A D and H at start of trail with Otter

Come Sunday, temperatures remain warm as we head ten minutes out of town on the winding road to Enfield Glen, a rugged gorge in Robert Treman State Park.  In winter, due to dangerous conditions created by snow and ice, most of the park’s trails are inaccessible.  Not today!  In shorts, I am living the winter hiking dream.

Along the Gorge Trail

Along the Gorge Trail

With Will and Laurel’s Golden Shepard mix Otter, we four climb immediately into the winter forest of bare-limbed hardwoods.  The rooted and rocky trail allows us to walk side by side high above the rapids of the Enfield Creek.  Even on a leash, Otter will travel ten miles to our five.

Down river of Enfield Creek

Down river of Enfield Creek

The Gorge Trail to the Lucifer Falls winds two and a quarter miles up the narrow canyon.  The eroding tar-paved trail looks like it was constructed a 100 years ago; it just may have been one of those CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) projects during the Depression of the 1930s.

Hiking in mid-December in tee shirt and shorts

Hiking in mid-December in tee shirt and shorts

With twelve falls along the way, we soon encounter our first falls.  As I walk with Will, we talk about his job and sports (he loathes the Patriots as the Colts are his team).  I think of the great opportunity he has working in the athletic department at Ithaca College.  At today’s wrestling match, we see him interact with the student athletes and their parents.  As a kid he was good at math and sports, but he is even better with people; he engages and listens.

Ith 4C D at stonework

After almost an hour of easy hiking, we approach the 115 foot Lucifer Falls.   The stone work steps and walks which allow us to hike up the gorge are something that the builders of the Great Wall of China would applaud.  The stone wall barricades are ample protection for the steep cliffs to the creek below.

Ith 4E upper falls

Winding our way to one final falls, it is hard to believe that we are just ten miles from Will and Laurel’s home and the town of 30,000 Ithacans.  At the top of the trail is another park so families can visit the waterfalls with just a short walk.  I call out to three hiking college girls who are in happy conversation, “Is this your pre-finals stress release hike?”   They smile and laugh and then continue to enjoy the gift of a warm December day with friends.

Ith 5 Finger Lakes sign

Heading back to the trailhead on the Rim Trail, we see white blazes which usually identify a major trail, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.  Following the blazes for a few hundred yards, we see a sign which identifies them as a part of the 600 mile Finger Lakes Trail in New York.

Along Enfield Creek

Along Enfield Creek

While Hannah and Will hike ahead with Otter, I check in with Laurel on her transition to Ithaca from Virginia.  As a top-of-the line ER nurse who has lived in Miami, New York City, and Boston before Richmond, VA, she is adaptable and makes an effort to make things happen in her life and their lives.  Already they have made football watching friends and have had colleagues from Ithaca College for dinners.

Will and Laurel at Lucifer Falls

Will and Laurel at Lucifer Falls

They get it.  No matter how long they stay in central New York, Ithaca is not just a waystation for them to mark time.  They are all in.  Making their house a home and building a community of friends for however short or long they are here are crucial to living a rich and meaningful lives.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Buttermilk Falls Trail in Ithaca, New York

Our son Will with at Ithaca College overlooking Cayuga Lake

Our son Will with at Ithaca College overlooking Cayuga Lake


 

Ever been to the town of Ithaca in central New York?  Back in the early 80s, Hannah and I ventured there to visit her brother Doug and his new bride Becky.  At the time we were runners but hardly man and woman enough to handle the very hilly terrain of Ithaca.  Slogging along in slow motion up the local hills, we now learn that Ithaca College is on South Hill and Cornell University is on East Hill.  And there are a million hills in between.

Early morning on Will and Laurel's deck

Early morning on Will and Laurel’s deck

Our son Will and his wife Laurel Ann recently moved to Ithaca; she a nurse at the Cayuga Medical Center and he in the Athletic Department at Ithaca College, here on the easternmost of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake (pronounced Cue-ga).  Ithaca seems to be a smaller version of crunchy Burlington, Vermont.  We feel at home with the Bernie Sanders signs in front yards.

Will and Laurel in downtown Ithaca

Will and Laurel in downtown Ithaca

In mid-August we’ve come to Ithaca to chill, hike, and play board games (see the end of the blog).  After living in graduate housing on the Ithaca College campus, Will and Laurel bought a home on the outskirts of town.  With their noses to the grindstone and paint brushes at the ready, they have transformed their house into a soothing, peaceful, homey place.  On their recently repainted deck on a 62F Sunday morning, we talk over coffee and feast on Laurel’s yogurt and granola mix.  We are fortunate to have kids who are such good friends.

Owen at Ithaca Falls

Owen at Ithaca Falls

Known far and wide for its beautiful gorges and hiking trails, Ithaca has us water falling today within minutes of their home.  On a previous visit, our daughter Molly and her family  hiked Ithaca Falls right in town.

3 - D and H at Buttermilk Falls sign

Will and Laurel select Buttermilk Falls Trail just southwest of Ithaca for our hiking pleasure on this August Sunday morning on a day going to 90F.  Though they have an Empire Passport for free admission to all New York state parks, we arrive just before 10A so parking and admission are free for everyone.

Ithaca College selfie

Ithaca College selfie

Known for wearing my VCU gear from coast to coast, I have to say I am in transition.  Though I loved me some Virginia Commonwealth and Shaka Smart, my loyalty is switching to the Bombers of Ithaca College.  Shaka has gone to Texas and Will to Ithaca College.  Blood is thicker than tobacco.

IC bombers 2

Bombers hardly seems like a politically correct name for an open-minded, liberal bastion of sanity, does it?  It does not refer to college comedians who are not very good (i.e., bombers).  Nor does it refer to fighter pilots of World War II returning to college under the GI Bill.  It seems a sports reporter once referred to the basketball team’s long range shots (predating the three point shot) as bombs and coined the name Bombers.

With the falls to our left, we begin the Buttermilk Falls Trail

With the falls to our left, we begin the Buttermilk Falls Trail

At the base of the falls there is a natural pool with a diving board and lifeguard platform.  Still early on this summer day, no one is swimming, but we take to the Gorge Trail on our four mile loop trail made for families.  Beginning at an elevation of 400 feet we will climb over 650 feet along the series of ten falls as the Buttermilk Creek cascades towards Lake Cayuga.

Some of the many steps on the Gorge Trail

Some of the many steps on the Gorge Trail

Loose shale and porous limestone have been eroded by Buttermilk Creek making this a remarkably accessible hiking morning for one and all.  For much of the trail there are steps that appear something out of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) projects of the 1930s.  The craftsmanship of the stone steps and retaining stone walls are something Italian stonemasons would be proud of.

3C - BF more steps

The trail is a delightful never-ending climb on these stairways.  To our right is the forest of central New York and to our left the cascading Buttermilk Falls themselves. Hannah’s right leg (the non-surgically repaired one) is holding up to the climb.

5B - H at falls

On this warm, humid summer day, we see local teenagers jumping into pools along the narrow gorge that heads to Lake Cayuga.  As you would expect of those just turning 30, Will and Laurel are set a good pace and we seniors rock along with them.

7 - Bear Trail sign

Once at West King Road, we cross over for the Bear Trail.  Though an excellent walk in the woods, it has none of the breathtaking beauty of the Buttermilk Falls Trail.  We hike and talk without much elevation change through the forest with the river now placidly humming along.

7B - on road back

After two miles we cross over the Buttermilk Creek to return on the Rim Trail to the trailhead parking lot.  Unfortunately once we do cross West King Road we are so far from the Buttermilk Creek on this wide side that we see none of the majestic waterfalls.  My suggestion is go back down the Gorge Trail of stone steps and relive these magnificent falls.

8 Apples to Apples

It’s lunch of Paninis at the Ithaca Bakery, a nap, wine on the outside deck and one of our new favorite family games: Apples to Apples.  It’s just the game for the ADHD among us.  It’s a Classic Dan game with many of the joys of another Rothermel Family favorite: Mormon Bridge.

There’s some luck and some skill.  Lots of banter between participants – exalting and moaning.  The game itself does not go on forever and ever Amen.  There can be conversation throughout as it is not  a have-to-pay-so-close-attention-that-my-head-hurts kind of game.  We’ll play it the next we are together with you.