Earlier this fall, my husband and I took a week’s road trip around the state of New York. We try to go away at least once each year, but compared to past trips – Paris, the Southwest, Mexico – New York State seemed a far-from-glamorous destination. I knew it wasn’t going to fulfill me in the same way a foreign landscape would, and so even before we left, I was making promises to myself that the next trip would be back on the “glamorous” end of the scale.
Not that the places on our itinerary could be described as ordinary . . . We spent our first two nights in the boathouse of a friend of the family — on Brant Lake, in the Adirondacks. The house was perched right on the edge of the lake, so each night we were lulled to sleep by the water lapping against the shore. We’d awake to the sun rising over the distant trees, the foliage just beginning to turn color in the mountains all around us. Since the rest of our trip would involve a lot of driving, we chose to stay put in Brant Lake. Although we explored a little by car and by foot, for the most part we just relaxed on the boathouse deck, reading in the sun and watching osprey dive for fish in the lake.
From Brant Lake we drove to Niagara Falls. The Falls had impressed me as a teenager, when we stopped there on a family vacation. My husband had never seen them before. It seemed fitting to travel there – a place of such magnificence — to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We stayed on the Canadian side, indulging in a room overlooking Horseshoe Falls and the Niagara River.
The city itself has changed a lot in fifteen years. I remembered the manicured gardens and walking trails along the falls and river gorge, but the casino and tourist-oriented restaurants were new to me. As long as we stayed close to the falls and away from the new hotel and casino construction sites, we were happy.
Like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls is a place I could sit and look at for hours. There is so much to see, so much to contemplate – the beauty, the power, the implied danger with so much water pouring so swiftly into a relatively narrow river gorge. We spent a lot of time among the crowds strolling along the water’s edge, both during the day and at night when the falling water was illuminated with colored lights. We also enjoyed a couple of the tourist attractions, taking the Maid of the Mist boat right up to the foot of the falls, and the Journey Behind the Falls tour, through tunnels inside the cliff that the Horseshoe Falls flow over.
The next day we took a scenic drive along the Niagara River to Lake Ontario, crossed back into New York, and then checked out the park on the American side of the falls. Both sides have their merits. They say the views are better on the Canadian side, but with smaller crowds, and a less manicured, more natural landscape, the New York side turned out to be a much more relaxing experience. The views were no less impressive, just different.
From there we drove down to the Finger Lakes region, to check out the city of Ithaca, which is known for its parks and open space areas, particularly its waterfalls and river gorges. After Niagara, I didn’t expect much. We decided to hike along a mostly dry riverbed through Taughannock State Park to a waterfall that was smaller by volume, but actually several feet taller than Niagara. After a pleasant quarter mile hike up a gentle incline through birch forest and shale cliffs, we reached the falls. In sharp contrast to our experience at Niagara, we had the place to ourselves. I think it’s much more difficult to appreciate nature’s beauty when you’re standing in a large crowd. On your own, there’s so much more time and space for contemplation.
When planning the trip, it hadn’t occurred to me that so many of our destinations would involve water. In fact, our primary highway route, Interstate 90 across New York State, ran right alongside the Erie Canal. But whether planned or not, waterways always seem to end up being an integral part of my travels. I suppose I am drawn to them – in the same way other people are drawn to big cities or historical landmarks.
Traveling by water has led me to a lot of places I might not ever have seen: St. Louis, Missouri; the canyons of the Colorado in Utah; the Mississippi Delta; Cleveland. I’ve seen great beauty both in the sheer presence of water (Niagara Falls) or the near complete lack of it (the Arizona desert, on the way to the Hoover Dam). If I have my way, the Pacific Northwest will be next on the list.
by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.