Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exploring the Finger Lakes Region

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Even though we made more than our usual number of advanced reservations for our trip east, we ended up with four or five weeks with no plans at all. We had an idea of places to go, but no set route or campgrounds. It turns out just that bit of flexibility worked really well for us.

Months ago I tried and failed to secure reservations in Watkins Glen, NY, in the Finger Lakes area. My go-to campground was the city park, Clute Memorial, but it was already booked up. It wasn't until we got to Niagara Falls that we tried one more time. Lo and behold, a spot had just opened for a week! Perfect! Without this site, I doubt we would have made it to this area so we are very glad it worked out!

All tucked in at our site in Clute Memorial City Park.

Watkins Glen is a popular destination. It sits at the south end of the beautiful Seneca Lake, which is ringed with gorgeous wineries, breweries and appealing shops selling local goods. It's also home to Watkins Glen State Park, one of the most popular state parks in the country, according to a 2015 USA TODAY Readers Choice Poll.

The reason for that is the Gorge Trail. It's very accessible two-mile hike follows the glen's stream that descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs. In the early morning it is cool and shaded, winding its way past 19 waterfalls, some of which you walk behind and through. We didn't get too wet and the mist was refreshing. Once we reached the end, we had the option to turn around and retrace our steps or take a shuttle bus back to the parking lot. We chose the latter.


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The Gorge Trail is like walking through a scene from Lord of the Rings. Pure magic.

While the trail was certainly a highlight of our visit, the one thing I was looking most forward to was the Corning Museum of Glass, which is about a half hour away in, well, Corning. It was absolutely amazing. I was mesmerized from the moment I walked in and saw the giant Chihuly installation. We started in the contemporary gallery and made our way through the historical exhibitions. We ended up in the Hot Shop, where the artists demonstrate how decorative pieces are made.

There are thousands of exhibits in the museum but my favorite was the installation featuring row after row of Corning glasses. When I was a kid we would get these glasses from boxes of detergent, or a gas station. You know, the cheap kind often used as promotional giveaways. Our kitchen cabinet was full of them, although we never seemed to get a full set in the same color. They always seemed to be whatever color was popular at the time, which would match your countertops or fridge, like harvest gold. I thought it was a very contemporary display of childhood memories and it really appealed to me.

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The Corning Museum of Glass is just amazing, from the vast collections to the hands-on demonstrations.

Years ago in Seattle, our local PBS station KCTS would hold annual fund drives featuring Dale Chihuly, arguably the best-known glass artist ever. At a certain level of giving, one of the items patrons would receive in return was a private tour of Chihuly's Hot Shop. We managed to snag those tickets on a couple of occasions, so having already been, Steven took our then 10 year old daughter, Zoe. At the time, it just so happened that PBS was shooting promos for future fundraisers and for the next few years during fundraising season, there was Steven and Zoe on television in the Chihuly Hot Shop looking like they were learning a lot about glass blowing. :)

While in Watson Lake, we made a few day trips, traveling around the lakes and visiting nearby towns. The Finger Lakes area is New York's largest wine producing region, with over 100 wineries and vineyards located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes. The area reminded me of the farms around Flathead Lake in Montana. There are hundreds of cherry orchards there. I guess the whole lake effect is good for growing stuff and that is certainly the case around Finger Lakes.

We had planned to spend a couple of days in Ithaca, home of Cornell University and other notable sites. We did make it to the Saturday Farmers Market, which was great, but the whole town was so busy it was hard to get around.

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The Ithaca Farmers Market.

We also ate some fabulous BBQ and visited a Wegmans grocery store. I had heard about Wegmans for years but never visited one until we were in Niagara Falls. I have to say I was disappointed, the isles were narrow and the place was just generally overcrowded. Nonetheless, I did find a prized item that I have not seen anywhere else: Parmesan rinds. When a store grates their own cheese, they have leftover rinds which probably got tossed in the trash until an enterprising chef decided to put them to good use and now they are suddenly in demand. I use them in soups and sauces and I love the flavor the rinds add. I now have a freezer full and that is my only love for Wegmans. :)

Brisket, burnt ends and pork belly. OMG. Being the carnivores we are, meat doesn’t last too long on our plates :)

As our week in Watkins Glen came to an end, we had planned to head north to Burlington, Vermont, visiting Cooperstown along the way. But then someone asked if we’d be attending the induction ceremony. I thought she was talking about a ceremony at the Elks Lodge and frankly, I wasn’t planning on it. But then she clarified that she was talking about the induction ceremony in Cooperstown for baseball players, where tens of thousands of people would be gathering. Oh. I didn’t even know that was a thing. But, hell no.

Since we had no obligations or reservations in Burlington, we changed up our schedule to stick around Finger Lakes. With all those orchards, wineries breweries and farms, we decided it was time to finally try out Harvest Hosts. We'd been members for a couple of years, but until now, we've never used it. Finger Lakes seemed perfect and offered lots of options! This is why we don’t like making reservations, flexibility is true freedom!

NEXT UP: Harvest Hosts-apalooza!


  1. I'm still trying to remember why we didn't get to Watkins Glen when we were at Seneca Lake as it has been on my list for years - what gorgeous and magical photos!! Will do the Corning Museum our next trip as well. I remember how beautiful that glass ceiling was at Maker's Mark and a whole place of exhibits has to be spectacular. I love that glass "cat"! Nice dodge on Cooperstown - what a nightmare that would have been!!

    1. No doubt if we come back another time we'd find lots more to see. It's a great place and I'm glad we got to stay there!

  2. Watkins Glen and Corning Glass are very close to where I grew up. Great flash back for me.

    1. You've been around! :) I'm glad you enjoyed the post, always good to hear from you!

  3. Our nephew was attending Cornell which offered the perfect opportunity for a private tour of the campus, well worth the stop. But Watkins Glen was likely the highlite of the trip, right up there with the NY farmer's markets. Of course it's all in the timing.

    1. We didn't really know it at the time we booked our stay at the city park, but Watkins Glen turned out to be our favorite place in the entire area!

  4. The Corning museum looks great, Linda! The Marathon gas stations around us would give away glasses commemerating the moon missions back in the late 60's and early 70's.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers those glasses! I don't recall getting any wine glasses, though. What's up with that?

  5. What a great time! We've been to the area but not toured around as extensively as you have! Another place to revisit!

    1. Yup, the ever growing Bucket List! There are always places that are so wonderful a return trip is necessary. The Finger Lakes Region is one of them!

  6. Love seeing Scoopy out there having fun. I so enjoyed this post about the Finger Lakes area. Your photos of the canyon at Watkins Glen, notoriously difficult to photograph, are wonderful. We stayed at the KOA nearby when we were there, but it was later in the season. Would love to return, and your writing and photos reminded me why. We never made it to the Corning Museum, but will definitely do so next time.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Sue. We really enjoyed the area and left plenty of things for next time. Scoopy is still hanging in there having a great time on the road!

  7. Oh goodie, more places that are on our list. We've been wanting to get to the Finger Lakes region and it's fun to get a taste of it from your photos and blog. Watkins Glen and Corning Glass Museum, yes! Such a cute story about Steven and Zoe being "stars" in the Chihuly film. Haha, "hell no" to the Cooperstown thing. :-))

    1. I love that you are taking notes! Which comes first, Alaska or East Coast? :)

  8. East Coast, I think. Well....I think so. Dang, this is hard! Especially because we love summering in the San Juan Islands so much and have such a sweet gig on Lopez. What a luxury to have all of our choices be wonderful options!