Vacation! (part the second)

 More photos from a two-day trip! Huzzah!

When last we checked in, The Wife and I had just finished up a visit to a Cayuga Lake winery. Next up was a stop that we make every single year, without fail: the great Taughannock Falls, which have the distinction of being the tallest waterfall in North America, east of the Mississippi River. Maybe next year we’ll try the longer walk on the Gorge Trail that goes up to the base of the Falls, but the higher overlook is always spectacular. This summer and fall have been pretty wet, so there was a good amount of water going over the brink. One year it had been so dry that the Falls were literally dry on the day we went.

I honestly do not remember a time in my life when I was not deeply thrilled by water, whether it be a placid lake, a running river, a surging sea, or a plunging fall.

As you drive up and out of Taughannock State Park, the road follows the stream before it starts its quick descent down its gorge before the fall. Up there it’s a beautifully picturesque Upstate New York stream, running quickly along its rocky slate bed. The temptation would be great to simply pull over and look for a swimming hole, if not for the signs all along the road pointing out the danger lurking a few bends downstream.
After Taughannock, into Ithaca we went. Unfortunately we had to miss this year’s Apple Harvest Festival, so we were just…in Ithaca. Which is fine! Ithaca is one of my favorite towns anywhere, and were I able to wave a wand and instantly move someplace, Ithaca would be the place. We went into bookstores and a few boutiques and gift shops and generally just soaked in the Ithaca vibe.

Ithaca is really a place that presses all my buttons. It’s big enough, with its population base and the two large colleges nearby, to have the cosmopolitan feel of a larger city while being very small. Its very geography keeps the degree of sprawl possible there to a minimum; the hills and the lake really keep Ithaca at a size where its only option is to expand upward, which it’s doing with a lot of high-rise construction of late. Still, the overall vibe is one of liberal weirdness. It’s the kind of place where I show up in a poofy Renfest shirt under a pair of vintage overalls, and I’m the one dressed kind of conservatively.
And the bookstores! Oh, my, so many bookstores. I only got into two this time (three if you include the comics store): Autumn Leaves, which is a wonderful used bookstore right in the middle of The Commons, and Odyssey, which is a beautiful new bookstore that just opened last year. Somehow Odyssey Bookstore has made a go of it despite having opened as COVID-19 hit. That says something. The only real downside to this year’s visit to Ithaca was that Waffle Frolic, our beloved joint for waffles and fried chicken, was closed! We arrived about 1:25pm, and Waffle Frolic had closed at 1:00. It never occurred to us to check their hours for abbreviated operation. Alas! But the day was lovely.
We passed a few hours in Ithaca and then had to strike out for home. We made one more stop, this time driving across the rise to the west of Cayuga Lake and into the valley of the next lake, the mighty Seneca Lake (largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes). Here we stopped at Rasta Ranch Vineyards, another favorite place of ours. This place is steeped in hippie vibes, with wines called things like “Uncle Homer’s Red” and “Terry’s Teaser”. Rasta Ranch is a joy, and here we pretty much wrapped up the “tourist” part of our day.

After this? Well, a sunset drive along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, and then dinner at a fried chicken joint in Geneva (sadly they were out of bone-in chicken, so we had popcorn chicken), and then a stop at Trader Joe’s in Rochester for various items. And then…the trip home.
I’m always sad when we get home from a trip, any trip, to the Finger Lakes. The whole region always feels just slightly off-the-beaten-path, just slightly forgotten. It’s an entire region that still rolls along, probably with less money and fewer people than in days long gone by, but the bones are still there, and so is the wonder and the beauty. In fact, maybe some of that decay has even helped in some way: the old railroad tracks where the trains don’t run are a part of the landscape now. A long-abandoned army depot, which happens to house a herd of white deer because their population is protected by old fences. Occasional Amish folk in their buggies. The feeling of cresting a hill, leaving a lake behind you…but there’s still another one ahead.
Maybe it’s time for me to write that sequence of stories set in the Finger Lakes, after all….

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