My geographic knowledge of this country was tested recently when my husband and his friends suggested a trip to upstate New York for the long weekend. New York state? Isn't that a city with Times Square? Is New York city the capital of New York state? Obviously, I failed.
New York state is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the south and Connecticut, Massachusetts to the east and Vermont to the northeast. This state hosts some of the most gorgeous water bodies found in the US. The majestic Niagara, waterfalls in the finger lakes region, Adirondacks, Lake Placid to name a few. Distance and time being the trade offs, we covered only a few of these above mentioned places.
The Journey to Corning: Friday Evening
Driving to Corning from Massachusetts was smooth. Moderate traffic and changing landscapes with moody weather, a perfect scenario to start our trip...almost. About 3hrs of the drive completed, to our surprise we noticed a LED board on the freeway which read, TORNADO WATCH till 10pm. That was a first for me, I frantically started scanning the Internet on our phones (with limited data bandwidth) for more information. We began noticing the temperamental clouds rolling in and the dark moody clouds lying low. No wonder that we had up till then encountered no traffic. To make conditions more mysterious, two men near a parked motorcycle on top on a bridge over the freeway wildly twirled their tee shirts in a tornado like fashion and pointed to the left. With no idea what they could have meant by that, we continued ahead. After contemplating and discussing it over and over again, we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts at the nearest exit. It was about 8:45pm and we thought for a while on waiting out till 10pm. After a few inquiries at DD and fellow travellers who stopped there, we carried on. The TORNADO WATCH was a WATCH as the name mentions, a watch by the Met department as the weather conditions seem most ideal for one and not because of any suspicious weather movement noticed. What a relief! We reached the address Google routed us too, but it wasn't the place where we had booked our reservations, instead the board read Motel 6.
We based our trip from Corning, hence taking the budget option of staying at Budget Inn and Suites, Elmira at Horseheads. We searched for the exact name on boards for a wasteful 25 mins and called the reception up. Turns out that google routed correctly and Motel 6 was to change to Budget Inn and Suites. The bookings were messed up and we had a tough time sorting it out at the office, all in all, not the best option to stay there.
For my reviews on this hotel, refer to (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g47924-d244135-Reviews-Budget_Inn_Horseheads-Horseheads_Finger_Lakes_New_York.html).
Letchworth State Park and Cherry Springs State Park: Saturday
We reached Letchworth State Park by late morning. At the Castile entrance, there's a lovely overlook that opens up the view of the valley with the Genesee river flowing through it. Unfortunately the river looked dried up. With very little water in the river, we wondered if the waterfalls would be a pretty sight. We parked the car near the visitor centre and hiked our way to the middle falls and upper falls. The path wasn't much of a deviation from the tar road, although we found a beautiful viewpoint below a bridge. The hike to the middle falls was relatively simple with not many ascends or descends. The Middle falls view point was stunning with the milky white gush of water roaring as it hits the rocks below. A faint yet remarkably clear rainbow adorned the falls.
|Rainbow over the Middle Falls.|
This waterfall seemed to me the best amongst the three. (Upper, Middle and Lower)
We continued and hiked to the upper falls, a small ascend but an easy climb along the tar road. To watch a goods train chug along the 140-yr old rail road atop the upper falls was an incredible sight. Hiking up to get a closer view of the upper falls, we stopped by a bubbling brook and rejoiced in the cool waters. Much needed respite from the heat of that summer day.
|Train chugging along over the Upper Falls.|
Walking back to the visitors centre cost us time and we decided to drive down till the lower falls overlook. There are steps leading down to the lower falls, but the only way up was to climb those steps. Already exhausted and running short of time, we followed the signs on the board for quick look of the lower falls. The lower falls didn't charm us, although it was a pleasant sight.
|Lower falls from an overlook.|
A quick refill of lunch and we routed our GPS to Cherry Springs State Park to catch a glimpse of the milky way. A little detour as it falls in Pennsylvania, but the view of the night sky was well worth it. This particular state park is known for the clear views of the night sky and through summer, they organise night sky viewing. Google routed us through the countryside and what a silent eerie countryside that was! Surreal the experience of being one of the only two cars on those muddy roads(yes you read right, no tar roads here!), and vast expanse of fields on either side with few or no houses. Almost haunting the drive turned out to be. All through the journey we kept thinking of what would happen if the car broke down. When we finally reached the destination that google routed to - we ended up..nowhere. Did google just pull a fast one on us? Middle of nowhere and were we going to be the ones ones watching the sky that night? Couldn't be. We just continued ahead and looked for signs to the Cherry Springs State Park and there it was. A huge open ground converted into a parking lot with the park volunteers guiding us to park and towards the night sky viewing area. We were handed out red film to mask our torches and phones, as white light robs our night vision. The main volunteers used a powerful laser to point out the interesting stars and clusters. There were powerful telescopes set up for viewing of the planets. I was able to see Saturn with its magnificent rings and a double star with the contrast evident (one blue and the other red), through the telescopes. Unfortunately for us, the night sky was gradually getting disguised by the clouds. We patiently waited to be able to spot the milky way, and there it was. Just there for about 5 seconds, we could see the cluster that resembles the gigantic galaxy we live in, the Milky way. It was my first time viewing it with the naked eye, I was enamoured. Just a brief view of the milky way influenced me in the most poetic way. I was truly amazed.
Corning Museum of Glass and Watkins Glen: Sunday
The Corning Museum of Glass should definitely be on your list if you're planning a visit to Upstate New york. The museum is exclusively for glorifying glass in all its lovely forms, there are sections on the history of how humans have been utilizing it in various forms. Each exhibit was captivating with a lot to learn and a lot to awe at. I thoroughly enjoyed the contemporary glass art exhibit. A few pointers I would suggest to anyone planning a visit here, be sure to plan for half a day, it's vast with many live demonstrations and an opportunity to make your own glass as well. The Make your own glass experience, is highly hyped. All that I or the 6-yr old along with me did was, pick the structure of the glass, the colours on them and get the opportunity to blow into the molten glass when required. It wasn't all exciting as I had pictured it to be, I suppose the museum has their own limitations while working with high temperatures of molten glass. The souvenir shops is an interesting array of glass artifacts, be sure to take your time here.
|Making My own Glass.|
|Art installation at Corning Museum of Glass.|
Once done with the museum visit, we head to Watkins Glen State Park near Ithaca. By far, one of the best places I've ever been to. The beauty of the hike in this park was the gorge path that spans about 2.5 miles with spectacular views of over 14 waterfalls with my favourites being the Cascade Falls where one can feel the cold spray of the waterfalls and the rainbow falls which opens up a mind blowing scenic view.
We were almost the last ones to leave the state park. The stay at Ithaca was at Embassy Inn Motel. A satisfyingly good place.
Taughannock Falls, Lake Cayuga and Howe's Cavern: Monday
I didn't feel like leaving Ithaca the next morning. The City is lively with a thriving student population and colourful with interesting art murals. After a sumptuous brunch at Indian restaurant "New Delhi's Diamond's, we drove to Taughannock Falls. Parking very close to the overlook, we peeked over in anticipation to be awed by the waterfalls. Instead we were greatly disappointed, the width of the water was reduced to that of a thread. What a shame! A google search gives me such glorious pictures of this place, it's unfortunate that we had to see it when it was dry. It might not have been the best time to witness the falls, I would suggest visiting here after summer, probably August and September.
We passed by the longest of the famous finger lakes, Lake Cayuga on our way back, the blue waters beckoned to us, we had to make the stop. We took a quick swim in the chilly waters, refreshing and much needed after seeing so much water on our trip and unable to physically be in the water. Happy campers, barbecues and families relaxed by the lake. It was a blissful morning!
The last visit before heading back home, Howe's caverns. We were making a dash for it, because the last guided tour was at 6pm. We luckily got in at the nick of time. As the car pulled over to the destination, we see an enormous building. Quite confusing, I assumed these were natural caves in a more natural setting, a state park or so. We bought our tickets and waited in line. The tour guide, a very jovial and entertaining one, accompanied us in the elevator, down to the cave. The cave was an underground one and rather cold (Do bring along a jacket!). The caves must be explored with a guide only, and it's a path that involves a small boat ride. The experience was interesting and the cave in some parts was beautiful. I wasn't very impressed, probably because I've been biased with my experience of the vast cave "Gua Tempurung" in central Malaysia (http://www.guatempurung.my/). The tour was definitely made more interesting by the tour guide and kids would enjoy it immensely. It wasn't my best cave experience for sure.
The drive back was smooth with no traffic. In fact, the drive for the entire journey was divided into equal distances for every attraction and hence manageable on time. I'm sure this isn't going to be last time visiting New York State.