A Medley of Waterfalls, Gorges and Bluffs
One of the best parts of my job is getting to travel to places I ordinarily never would have gone. Over the last four weeks I have been traveling back and forth to Rochester, NY. I tend to be adventurous by nature, so traveling and exploring are something I really enjoy. If it also involves nature and photography, then that’s the icing on the cake!
On my Sunday journeys through the Empire State, I found four of the most scenic state parks that are within an hour and a half drive of Rochester.
Week 1 – Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls NY
This one was a no brainer. How could I not go here? Niagara Falls was the first State Park in America. I was originally thinking that it was one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but I guess it didn’t make the global cut. However, it is one of the seven natural wonders of North America. Not too shabby when you think of all the natural beauty we have in our neck of the woods.
There was a bit of off season construction going on and there were fences that obscured some of the views. Despite all of that, this place is still incredibly awesome. The best part and an absolute must-do, is the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Wearing a one-size-does-not-fit-all blue plastic poncho, you descend down to the river via elevator and get aboard a sturdy sea-faring vessel that takes you right up to the most monstrous waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Yes, you get wet but you also see beautiful rainbows, soaring seagulls and hear the crashing of the water as it spills over 100 feet into the Niagara River below. Pictures alone cannot represent how cool this really is. Well worth the $18 ticket!
Week 2 – Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen NY
During my first week in Rochester, I met lots of accommodating people who were more than willing to give me advice and ideas on where to go next. A nice young couple in a local pub directed me to Watkins Glen and it did not disappoint. It’s another waterfall, but completely different from Niagara Falls. Glen Creek meanders through the park for two miles and descends 400 feet through a beautiful gorge.
Another old park, it was privately opened in 1863 and became a State Park in 1906. There are lovely old stone stairways, tunnels, paths and bridges which follow alongside the stream and blend in beautifully with the gorge’s landscape. There’s even a part of the falls that go over the pathway so you can stand underneath and get a really unique view.
Since it’s old, the stone pathways are subject to erosion and are in need of regular maintenance. One of the prettiest waterfalls I saw was just beyond a locked gate with a sign that warned of hazardous conditions. It was obvious that the hazard existed in the eroding stairway going up the edge of the gorge and not on the landing on the other side of the gate. With the sunlight shining through the gorge and a picturesque stone bridge spanning the gap above the fall, this was the perfect shot. So assuming the sign did not pertain to me and my intentions, I very carefully – yet slightly clumsily – made my way over to the landing to obtain this coveted shot. Once again another Sunday well spent!
Week 3 – Letchworth State Park, Castile NY
I read somewhere that this was called the “Grand Canyon of the East”, so I’m assuming there really aren’t many canyons in the east because it seemed more like a “grand gorge.” But whether gorge or canyon, this was another winner. As a matter of fact, it was voted number 1 in USA Today’s Top 10 Best State Parks for 2016 (fyi Watkins Glen was number 3 and Missouri’s own Ha Ha Tonka was number 4).
Once again there were waterfalls and beautiful old stone walkways, bridges, stairs and walls. Craftsmanship and old world ambiance seem to abound in New York State Parks. This was the most expansive of the State Parks I went to and featured many more hiking trails and a very nice restaurant – which I ate at despite my muddiness from hiking said trails after a rain shower.
The best of the waterfalls I saw was the Middle Falls. They are right outside of the restaurant and are very accessible and photographable with large paved overlooks and unobstructed views. The Lower Falls require a little hiking up and down a lot of stairs, but well worth the climb. You can get very close and feel the spray as the water tumbles into the gorge below. A short way downstream there is a stone bridge where you can view the falls and the river head on. The last waterfall I encountered was the Wolf Creek Cascade, this one wasn’t quite as visible from the trail and hard to get a clear shot of, but was beautiful none the less.
I ran short on time exploring the park due to flight delays. This is one place I really want to get back to when I return to Rochester in the future.
Week 4 – Chimney Bluffs State Park, Wolcott NY
Rounding out my four choices was Chimney Bluff State Park along the shore of Lake Ontario. I know this is going to be hard to believe, but there were no waterfalls here! Since I had pretty much had my fill of waterfalls over the last three weeks, it was kind of a pleasant change.
Instead of falling water there were rising spires. You can hike along a trail at the top of the bluff and look down on the formations, or walk along the stony beach and look up at them. But be warned, the trails are not very well maintained and there are numerous signs warning you about the dangers of erosion. Sometimes you are precariously balanced on the edge of the bluff with a steep drop off just a step away. One glance down and you see the large trees who have had the ground worn away beneath their roots and have fallen to their demise in the hollows below. Despite the perils, the vistas from up there are really quite amazing. The rain clouds rolling in over Lake Ontario offset the ruddy browns of the chimney spires and the recently emerged blossoms of the late northern spring gave a glimpse of sunny summer days to come.
A walk along the lake shore was equally as hazardous. The shore was covered in stones worn smooth and slick over time by the tide. Large pieces of debris were scattered about. This provided for lots of unsure footing and the need to climb over tangles of driftwood. As you clamber along this rocky shoreline there are some places where there isn’t much room between the incoming tide and the bluff wall, making you hope not to get caught off guard during high tide. With the waves crashing in over the large boulders, the spires towering overhead and the storm clouds rolling in over the lake it was quite a powerful scene. So I decided to take this opportunity to use the travel tripod I have been carting around with me and try some long exposure shots before the rain came in. As usual, I got caught up in the moment and my time management skills fell short. But thanks to a helpful grad student, I managed to make it back to my car just as the first drops began to fall and I avoided having to hike back along the treacherous Bluff Trail in a torrential downpour.
The adventure continues
Even though I came to the Rochester area for work, I’m really glad I took the opportunity to go out and explore while I had the chance. I never cease to be amazed at the beauty and diversity that surrounds me everywhere I go. I think it’s so important for our bodies, minds and souls to get out of the ordinary and explore nature. The world we live in is an amazing place, so take every opportunity that comes your way to learn, explore and enjoy!
Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.