We've written before about places in New York that feel uniquely foreign or exotic and Robert Wehle State Park, in Henderson NY, is one of these gems. It's not that places that have an "un-NY-like" feel are actually better. It's just that there is some magic in traveling 100 miles and feeling like you've somehow gone 600. There's something inescapably exciting about the idea that you don't know, quite as well as you thought you did, what's lies around each corner. These are the places that, with little effort, stir the traveler's imagination.
Robert Wehle State Park lies on the former estate of its namesake. Wehle was an avid hunter, conservationist, sculptor and dog lover/breeder. The estate was home to his short-haired pointers and the park now has tributes to them throughout - Wehle's own bronze dog sculptures, a pet cemetery and trails that bear the names of his beloved companions (names like Dancing Gypsy, Huckleberry, Snakefoot and Jungle). The park has over 1,100 acres to explore and approximately 20 miles of easy, level and well-marked trails that allow you to forget about your feet and get lost in the views.
The longest trail (Snakefoot), at about 5 miles, follows along the Lake Ontario shoreline and offers spectacular, expansive views of the crystal clear, aquamarine waters and rugged limestone cliffside. The landscape here reminded us a great deal of the coast of northern Maine or the Bruce Peninsula on the Georgian Bay. Rarely have we seen Lake Ontario look quite so alluring. There are several areas along this trail where you can fairly easily descend to water level and even take a dip in the beckoning, but frigid, water.
Wehle's former summer home and studio are on the grounds and are available for short term rentals. There's a rustic cabin, old barns and remnants of the property's history during WWI when infantry troops used the area as a training range for anti-aircraft firing practice. There is so much to explore here and much more than we were able to in a single day. We traveled 5 hours roundtrip to visit, and while running short on time in a day can always be a frustration, we love leaving places knowing that we have to return. We'll be seeing you again soon Robert Wehle.
We lost our pal, Ein last Fall at the age of 9. He frequently accompanied us on our many adventures, and his loss hit us hard. In November, Esme joined our family. Over the past many months, she's become severely addicted to adventure and it's been a complete joy to experience the wild with this little beast. She's now 9 months old and she'll most certainly be a regular feature here on our adventure log.
We've been terribly lax with our postings here over the past many months for a variety of reasons. Instead of detailing our excuses, we're just going to make an effort to catch up a little! Now that the weather here in upstate New York is idyllic on a regular basis, we've been getting out for frequent adventures, but before we share some of those recent posts, we've decided to do a quick overview of some of our fall and winter NY escapades. Images below are from Mendon Ponds Park, Gosnell Big Woods Preserve, Naples, Hilton, Rock City Park, Niagara Falls and Letchworth State Park.
Some places feel like home away from home despite how often you visit. We recently journeyed to NY's beloved Adirondack Park - a trip we've made every September for the last 4 years. At over 6 million acres (2.6 owned by the State), the Adirondacks is the largest park in the continental U.S. (larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks combined). We could make this annual trek every year for the rest of our lives and barely scratch the surface of what this remarkable park has to offer. With over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, over 2,000 mountains, more than 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, there is an overwhelming amount of territory to cover.
The first year we visited the Adirondacks, we found a lovely cabin, nestled at the base of a small mountain and on the edge of a pine-embraced pond. We fell in love with the place immediately and have returned here each year since. Our visits have become as much about exploring and hiking throughout the Adirondacks as they have about soaking up the charm and serenity that our unique abode has to offer. We're so attached, that for the last couple of years, despite plans to visit the high peaks region an hour and a half north for our mountain climbing adventures, we still opted to stay at our home away from home and wake early to make the 3 hour round trip drive. The cabin does not belong to us, but we leave little pieces of our soul there each time we stay, and each return visit is like a reunion with a part of ourselves we don't often see.
This year, we decided to climb Big Slide Mountain. At 4,239 feet, Big Slide is the 27th highest peak of the Adirondack's famous 46 high peaks. All of our summer gorge hiking, with steep elevation changes could not have prepared us for a solid 7 hours of mountain climbing. There's really nothing that compares and our home region of NY simply doesn't have mountains like these. We were sold on Big Slide because we could accomplish the nearly 11 miles in a single day before darkness fell and because you actually get to summit 3 times while climbing up the "Three Brothers" on the way to the top (two of the Three Brothers provide pretty spectacular lookouts). The actual summit promised impressive views of the Great Range (supposedly one of the most stunning lookouts in the Northeast), however, our reward after a long and strenuous hike was a trip to the clouds. The last thousand feet or so got increasingly cool and damp, as we made our way through dripping, fog-enshrouded forest and up steep, rocky outcrops. By the time we reached the top, we were in a thick, endless abyss of white. I could say we were disappointed that we missed out on the ultimate view, but there's something unique about standing at the edge of a precipice and facing infinite "nothingness". It makes the vast open feel both intimate and impossibly large. We stopped to eat a really late lunch before making our descent. While we sat on the edge of a rock slab eating the best backpack- squished sandwiches on the face of the planet and staring out into nothing, an intense wind blew across the mountain. For the briefest of moments the veil cleared, revealing a colorful and dimensional world. It may have only been for a fleeting second, but it was a comforting reminder that there's always so much more beyond what we can see.
Zoar Valley, near Gowanda NY is not a park. It's been technically labeled a "Unique Area", which gives it protection similar to that of the Adirondacks (and for good reason - this place is an ecological and aesthetic wonder). The Cattaraugus Creek runs through Zoar and some of the oldest and most impressive old growth stands in the Eastern US fill the steep valley walls and upper canyon forests. Some of the trees here are 300-500 years old and the whole places feels wild, timeless and mostly untouched. There are a few relatively unmaintained trails that meander through the dense woods and down to the valley floor, but we spent most of our recent visit trekking along the creek. For miles we followed undisturbed deer tracks in the thick, clay-like sediment along the shore. There was evidence of beaver activity all around us. Kestrels flew overhead and newts scurried beneath our feet. The valley is teeming with life.
Everything about this place begs you to stay a little longer and explore a little further. Every bend in the creek seduces with the mystery of what could be waiting just out of view. Zoar Valley's canyon is 11 miles long. There are 20 waterfalls, many a little hidden and to be found off of tributaries in the creek. You could get lost here, and people have. We visited Zoar once before, a few years back . It was early in the summer and the creek was especially high. We carefully crossed through rapid water up to our chests to get to the opposite shoreline for continued exploring. We ran short on time that day and have wanted to return ever since. It being Fall this time around, the water was much calmer. We were able to take off our hiking boots and roll up our pants to cross a couple of times in the shallowest parts of the creek. Yet again, we ran short on time (something I'm finally understanding would probably happen during every visit here). We ended up chasing the rapidly setting sun out of the valley, jealous of the deer whose tracks continued well beyond the distance we were able to travel. Till next time Zoar.
How well do you know your home? The romance of a journey is so alluring that it's sometimes easy to overlook the magic in your own backyard. The places that we travel long distances to visit; that are new and fantastical for us to explore, are someone else's old familiar scenes. Just as others will travel long distances to visit where we call home and think it fresh and exotic. We've spent all summer trekking to places 1 to 3 hours away from home in search of adventure and a couple of weekends ago we decided to stay local to explore. Rochester's Lower Falls is no more than 10 minutes from our front door. We've skirted all around the area many times through the years, visiting nearby Maplewood Rose Gardens and even Lower Falls Park, but never before had we tried venturing down into the gorge to walk along the Genesee River and meet the falls up close.
This entire area has impressive historical significance for the city of Rochester. For over 100 years, the falls were surrounded by industrial mills. Flour, paper-making, carpet-making, veneering and furniture mills thrived here utilizing the power of the 110' waterfall in the heart of the city. Foundation remnants of many of these structures still exist today. The Rochester Gas and Electric hydro plant building still operates on the east side of the gorge and offers an interesting juxtaposition of imagery. The striking natural beauty of this 10,000 year old gorge is met with familiar urban icons every where you look. And yet if you squint just right and use a little imagination, you can envision this place long ago, untouched by human innovation and development. You can picture the river and the gorge removed from the city, from the state, and maybe even from the country entirely. This could easily be some place far away. This is beautiful land, made even more unique because it is in fact in the middle of a city. This is in our backyard and in all our years living here, we had never truly visited. A trip to the actual falls does require leaving established paths and scrambling down into the gorge and along potentially slippery rock (especially if you visit when it's raining as we did), but it is well worth it to experience some of Rochester's most extraordinary scenery.
We have often found in our travels, that the easier a place is to get to, the more crowded it will be. While we absolutely support and encourage people getting out to enjoy nature, one of the many things we enjoy most about our own natural excursions is getting away from everything (including crowds of people). Being alone, or at least, mostly alone, allows us to feel like we are getting to appreciate a place in its natural, undisturbed state. And we can't help but love the illusion of discovery as well. This has caused us to continually seek out places that may be slightly off the beaten path and at times, more difficult to get to.
Grimes Glen in Naples New York is a popular summer destination. On a hot weekend day, the gorge is beautiful, but crowded. Two of the stunning larger waterfalls here can be accessed rather easily along an unmaintained trail that meanders through and along the sides of the creek. If this is all you came to see, it would be a nice visit. You can swim at the base of the second larger falls and take in the beauty of the gorge along a relatively short, rewarding hike. However, there are hidden treasures here to explore for those who are physically able and willing to travel a bit further. By using rope to climb three different sections of gorge wall, we were able to access quieter, more secluded parts of this park, the rewards of which were well worth the extra effort. Here you can find fresh animal prints in the sediment along the creek. Here there is no need to wait for a turn to have your picture taken in front of a waterfall. Here the path is unclear. Here the world is both tranquil and restless; quiet and uproarious. Here you can have a private commune with nature. Our climbing was steep and the walls were covered in clay-like mud, so we would definitely recommend taking all safety precautions and not going alone if exploring further. People have fallen and been seriously injured at this park. We love a good adventure, but we never underestimate how dangerous one misstep can be when you're alone in the wilderness.
We love the places in NY that feel like idyllic NY, but we get especially excited about the places that surprise us and feel somehow foreign and un-NY like. Chimney Bluffs transports us to another place and time. It feels a bit exotic. The towering bluffs remind us of Southwestern sandstone monuments surrounded by dry, bleached desert and the infinite lake view and rugged shoreline feels like a Mediterranean coast. The place feels prehistoric and the the bluffs look oddly like oversized partially buried dinosaur bones suffering the ravages of time. Were it not for the boaters and beachgoers, you could get completely lost in a fantasy here.
I've been coming to Chimney Bluffs on and off since I was a kid and my grandparents lived not so far away. Over the years the landscape has changed noticeably. The glacially carved cliffs and shoreline are being continually eroded away and I imagine the impressive pinnacles will someday be virtually non-existent. This place was made for photographs. It's beautifully dramatic. And as pictures capture singular moments as they will never be again, each image of this morphing landscape is a truly unique piece of history.