Okay, the photo location contest is over. And yes, the location is… Ithaca, N.Y., more specifically Upper Treman Park – and my sentimental favorite of the area’s several beautiful state parks showcasing deep gorges and mesmerizing waterfalls. From Upper (Robert H.) Treman, you can take a spectacular hike along the gorge (known as Enfield Glen) past 12 waterfalls (including 115-foot Lucifer Falls) down to Lower Treman where the gorge disgorges (hmm, never connected the word “gorge” and “disgorge” before) into a wide stream-fed pool that’s perfect for swimming, albeit very cold, with diving boards (popular with daredevils, young and not-so-young) and a waterfall rock face you can try to claw your way across while getting bombarded by gushing water.
The hike is easy and lovely – a wooded narrow passageway with cut stone steps that winds along the gorge, with bridges crossing over the rushing water. One time, we found a lone bagpiper playing at the bottom of one waterfall – an image and sound I’ll never forget. Last summer when we took our 7th every-other-year Ithaca family vacation (or was it our 8th? My friend Myra can set me straight – we’ve shared a cottage on Cayuga Lake with her family during all these wonderful upstate New York get-aways from the real world), the gorge was full of water – making it particularly dramatic but unfortunately upping the bacteria count, or some such, which ruled out swimming. Another favorite is Buttermilk State Park, just down the road from Treman – it too has a gorge that bottoms out into an icy cool pool for swimming.
My other favorite gorges run right through the Cornell campus – including Cascadilla Gorge, which was technically closed last summer because of damage caused to the path by the intense water but we hiked it, carefully, anyway. And the hidden area known locally as flatrock in the sweet little enclave of Forest Home on Fall Creek near the Cornell Plantations is a quiet beauty – not high-dropping falls but water rushing past and atop flat rocks you can wander around. With its elegant Greek Revival houses, two one-lane steel-truss bridges built in the early 1900’s, and remnants of old stone mills, Forest Home is where I dream of living in Ithaca.
Taughannock Falls State Park is the highest of the area’s falls (at 215 feet, it’s reportedly 33 feet taller than Niagara and the northeast U.S.’ s highest free-falling waterfall, whatever that means) but the hike to it has never grabbed me quite as much as the other parks’ hikes – it’s flatter,more open, without the stairs of the other gorge hikes, less rugged, winding, and mysterious.
Any wonder why I drive around Iowa with a bumper sticker that reads “Ithaca is gorges”?