Climbing through a tunnel by the view once known as The Vista in a section of Watkins Glen once called Glen Obscura.
This short tunnel, the third in a sequence of four in all, is in a quiet, shady section of Watkins Glen once called Glen Obscura, and the view was called The Vista in the 1800s. It is just upstream from the “Suspension Bridge.” Back then, the trail did not traverse this section of Watkins Glen, but instead bypassed it on the gorge rim above.
In the 1800s, one had to climb this staircase out of Watkins Glen to the Swiss Cottage, rather than continue under the bridge into what was then called Glen Obscura, as one does today. Back then another path led back into the glen past Glen Obscura. The bridge, then known as the Iron Bridge and now called the Suspension Bridge, remains today, although without the awning. The Swiss Cottage is long gone, as is the building on the left side of this drawing, the Glen Mountain House hotel. Image courtesy of Bill Hecht
In those old days, your detour of Glen Obscura was rewarded by the chance to sit down and order refreshments at the Swiss Cottage (also known as the Swiss Chalet). Today, you have to climb all the way out of the gorge and up to the swimming pool on the South Rim to find Watkins Glen State Park‘s snack bar. But many will agree that the glen is more beautiful without buildings hugging its cliff tops.
150 years ago, the gorge in what is now called Watkins Glen State Park was known as Freer’s Glen, at least for awhile. Beginning in 1863, wooden walkways were built into the narrow chasm to pass along cliffs and climb above waterfalls. These were all replaced when the state park was created, beginning in 1906, first with concrete and later with stone structures. Here is a comparison of one of the early pre-park, 19th century wood structures with the stone steps of today, climbing up and around Central Cascade halfway through the glen.
One could only climb past Central Cascade in Watkins Glen via this wooden staircase during the pre-park days in the 19th century. Image courtesy of Bill Hecht
This stone staircase climbs out of a section of Watkins Glen called Glen Cathedral to "Folly Bridge" in the background, above Central Cascade, on the Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park.
Two snowstorms left more than a foot on the hills, fields, towns, and gorges around Ithaca, NY, as winter began at the end of 2012. Join host Tony Ingraham in this first episode of 2013 in his public access cable TV series, “Walk in the Park.” Go on a video visit to Taughannock Falls accompanied by Duke Koistra’s ethereal piece, “First Snow.” See photographer Deanna Stickler Laurentz’s pictures of a beaver feeding along the bank of Fall Creek on January 6. Travel into winter in Ingraham’s video, “Winter Water,” visiting Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls, Ithaca Falls, Cayuga Lake, and Watkins Glen State Park. Hear about the award-winning documnentary, “Chasing Ice.” Learn about the extra deer hunting season that began today and will continue until the end of January in the state’s new Deer Management Focus Area in Tompkins County surrounding Ithaca. See more Walk in the Park episodes and short videos.
This is episode 33, recorded on January 9 at PEGASYS public access TV studios in Ithaca, NY. Walk in the Park appears on Ithaca’s cable access channel 13 on Thursdays at 9:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m., and Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m., and at other times of the station manager’s choosing. As of this posting, the next showings of this episode will be tomorrow, Sunday, January 13 at 10:30 a.m., and Tuesday, January 15, at 8:00 p.m. Or, watch it right here!
Episode 25 of Walk in the Park TV, “Fall Colors in the Finger Lakes,” is now showing on television and online. It begins this evening at 9:00 p.m. on Ithaca’s public access cable TV channel 13 and continues for the next week according to the schedule below. Meanwhile, you can see “Fall Colors in the Finger Lakes” online.
Most of the Cornell campus is bounded on the north and south by gorges: Fall Creek Gorge on the north (left) and Cascadilla Glen on the south (right). Photograph by Bill Hecht
Join me, Tony Ingraham, in this visual trip around the Finger Lakes region, from the ground and in the air, marveling at the fall foliage extravaganza nature has put on for us in October. Visit Taughannock Falls and Buttermilk Falls State Parks, Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca Falls and Fall Creek Gorge, Cornell University campus, Cayuga Lake, Myers Park and Salmon Creek, Seneca County, Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Watkins Glen State Park, Sixmile Creek in Ithaca, and more. Photographer Bill Hecht’s views of Taughannock Gorge from the air are incomparable, as are his views of the Cornell campus situated between Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Glen and other aerial vistas around the region. We also visit Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, Fishlake National Forest and Zion National Park in Utah, and Glacier National Park in Montana.
See the show right here!
Or, you can catch the show on Time Warner Cable public access television channel 13 in the Ithaca area:
Thursday, 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.
It also is shown at other times as the station manager chooses.
This week’s new episode of Walk in the Park, the TV show, will first air this evening (Thursday, Sept. 20) at 9:00 p.m. on Ithaca’s public access cable channel 13. Or, you can see it here online!
Taughannock Gorge cuts toward Cayuga Lake, which winds to the north. Photo courtesy of Bill Hecht
Recorded on Sept. 19, 2012, “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” Host Tony Ingraham invites you to Heritage Day at Robert H. Treman State Park near Ithaca, then flies you over Cayuga Lake and Taughannock Falls with the East Hill Flying Club. Next over to Watkins Glen State Park to look at invasive species, to a waterfall and pool in Buttermilk Falls State Park, and to look at white snakeroot up close!
Walk in the Park, the TV show, airs weekly on Ithaca, NY’s public access cable TV channel 13:
Thursday, 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.
It also is shown at other times as the station manager chooses.
Inergy Corp.'s huge LPG (liquified petroleum gas) storage and distribution depot is being built in abandoned salt mines under Seneca Lake two miles north of the Village of Watkins Glen. Photo by Bill Hecht
WALK IN THE PARK episode 17 (recorded August 22), is now viewable online here and on Ithaca public access cable TV channel 13 (Thursday 9:00 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 10:30 a.m., and Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., each week).
[The first 15 seconds of the video below are silent. The show lasts 29 minutes.]
On August 17, 2012, more than 200 people marched from park to park through the streets of the Village of Watkins Glen, NY at the south end of Seneca Lake, largest of the Finger Lakes. They were protesting the construction of a huge northeast U.S. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) storage and distribution depot just two miles up the west shore of the lake in abandoned salt mines. Participants expressed their fears of pollution of the air by diesel and other fumes, pollution of the lake by spills of brine and other chemicals, the risk of accidents and even explosions that such facilities sometimes experience, and irreparable damage to the wine and tourism industry the region depends on. Speakers at rallies before and after the march included Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed biologist, Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars, and Nate Shinagawa, Democratic nominee for the 23rd Congressional District of New York. The march proceeded from Seneca Harbor Park to Lafayette Park in the village, then Watkins Glen State Park, and then returned to the waterfront at Seneca Lake Park.
This historic event, probably the largest protest ever to take place in this village, was well covered by newspapers in Elmira, Corning, and Hornell, but it was completely ignored by the Ithaca Journal and YNN TV news.
Woodland sunflowers bloom near the Lake Treman picnic area in upper Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY.
With more aerial views of gorges and Ithaca, Yosemite Falls in California, a trip through Enfield Glen and Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park, a visit to two peace parks in Japan remembering the atomic attacks at the end of World War 2, music with the Horseflies on the Cornell Arts Quad, a walk looking at wildflowers and listening to frog songs along Lake Treman in Buttermilk Falls State Park, watching waterfalls in Glen Alpha and Cavern Cascade in Watkins Glen State Park, and celebration of National Lighthouse Day at Cayuga Inlet. See it all on this week’s episode of Walk in the Park, the TV show, on Ithaca public access cable channel 13. First showing will be tonight at 9:00 p.m., and lasts 29 minutes. See the full schedule.
I have begun a new series on Ithaca public access television (PEGASYS) cable channel 13, called “Walk in the Park”! It is in a “magazine” format, with segments about various parks including events, park news, interpretation of cultural and natural history, park-related issues, and lots of photographs and video clips.
Each week, I will feature items posted on this blog and much more. The program runs half an hour. Soon after the show is recorded, I will post it online with a notice on this blog. I plan to create a page here with all of the shows and their summaries. If you don’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable TV in the Ithaca area, you will only be able to see the show online.
Each episode will run four times over the ensuing week. The first showing each week will be on Thursday and the final showing will be the following Tuesday.
Weekly Schedule through August:
Thursdays, 9:00 p.m.
Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.
Sundays, 10:30 a.m.
Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m.
In this week’s episode, airing first on July 12, I feature images and video from the shadows and reflections of Buttermilk Glen, a video of Ithaca’s Independence Day fireworks at Stewart Park, Newtown Battlefield State Park (with more information than last week’s blog post including bird photographs), Watkins Glen historical photos, and news from Robert H. Treman State Park about new trail features and a new exhibit in the Old Mill about the CCC camp in the park in the 1930s. Watch it here!
In future episodes, there may be guest appearances by park squatter and backwoods philosopher Ichabod. Click on his picture below to see his short commentaries and rants. But beware, they don’t call him “Icky” for nothing!
One side of a stereograph of Pluto Falls in Watkins Glen. Image from Bill Hecht.
The 19th century was another whole world and virtually no one from then is alive today to tell us about it. But it was when photography was born and much of what we know and associate from that time comes from the photographs.
Watkins Glen State Park wasn’t created until 1906, but it was a famous and thriving scenic resort since the Civil War. Photos of the structures along the Gorge Trail rarely looked the same as the bridges and rails were flimsy and easily swept away by floods and rockslides. Consider the picture above of Pluto Falls in the section then called Glen Arcadia (as well as many other names). Notice the staircases climbing the rims of the gorge in the rear of the photograph.
A different photograph of the same spot taken at a different time. Notice the rustic trail structures on the left. Image provided by Bill Hecht.
Many thanks to Bill Hecht for finding and scanning these old photographs. These two images were cropped from one side of stereographs that were looked at with a binocular stereo viewer that made them look 3D.
Look for more historic photographs in our previous posts about Watkins Glen State Park.
Before some gorge trails in the Finger Lakes region can be opened to the public, the cliffs overhead must be cleaned of winter-loosened stone. Shale, the dominant type of rock in gorge walls, is easily weakened and fractured by exposure to frost. Clay layers in the shale absorb moisture and water seeps into cracks; when rock freezes it fractures and is poised to come crashing down without warning. In the state parks, teams of “scalers” must systematically remove as much loose rock from cliff faces as they can before the trail can be opened. This typically takes place during April. Scaling was completed at Buttermilk Falls State Park last week and the Gorge Trail is open this weekend!
I took the following photographs in previous years.
A member of the Finger Lakes State Parks scaling team dislodges loose rock from the cliff above the parking lot in the Main Entrance at Watkins Glen State Park.
Scaling loose rock on cliffs requires considerable strength, agility, endurance, and courage.
Scaling the cliffs above the mile-and-a-half-long Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park typically takes about four weeks and often is not complete until May.
A scaler works on a high cliff in the "Glen Alpha" section of Watkins Glen, the first full section of gorge beyond the Main Entrance.
Cleaning off the cliff over the Gorge Trail next to Buttermilk Falls. The trail is now open.
Tropical Storm Lee last September caused flooding that did serious damage to the trail in the rugged upper gorge in Robert H. Treman State Park. Park staff are not sure when repairs will be complete. In the meantime, the section around Lucifer Falls will remain closed.
Two scalers work the huge cliff next to Lucifer Falls in Robert H. Treman State Park.
The Gorge Trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park was opened this week. Hikers take pictures on the steps by Pinnacle Rock.
I made the following short video last year. It features the scaling of the big cliff by Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park. I think you will find it amazing.
Kathie Notarfonzo, Finger Lakes State Parks Assistant Regional Director, tells me that one scaling crew will continue at Watkins Glen State Park during April and that they are making good progress; and the other scaling crew will work at Taughannock Falls this week and then move on to two other parks where gorge scaling is done–Stony Brook State Park in Steuben County and Fillmore Glen State Park in Cayuga County.
Our thanks go to these great teams that do this hard and dangerous work to make our visits to the gorges as safe as possible!