Watkins Glen, NY is Gorges. I know, I know. That was groan-worthy, but Watkins Glen marks my fifth trip to New York’s sublime Finger Lakes Region (Skaneateles still remains my favorite, but only by a narrow margin).
Seneca Lake is capped by two major small towns, Geneva at its north point and Watkins Glen at the southern tip. In Watkins Glen, North and South Franklin Streets are the town’s main thoroughfare and it’s appropriately dotted with Mom and Pop shops intermingled with some franchise fast food chains. The downtown area looks to be in fits of revival; there’s a mix of new and old that lends an overall shabby chic quality to the surroundings. Nevertheless, Watkins Glen still manages to exude loads of charm and comfort.
Watkins Glen State Park
Aside from Seneca Lake itself, Watkins Glen has another amazing calling card. Right in the middle of downtown is Watkins Glen State Park. I took exactly 444 photographs of this place, and if you’ve ever been, you’ll know why.
The Park is a place where you witness firsthand what time and nature can accomplish. It alternately fascinates and depresses me. The fascination part is easily explainable – the countless millenia of rushing waters that managed to erode an old creek bed into the gorge it is today. Unlike the Grand Canyon, the park is more accessible and interactive. While the Canyon’s sheer scope awes you into stupefaction, it accomplishes the effect with its size and distance. The Gorge at Watkins Glen invokes the same effect from the opposing experience. By allowing you to be more intimate with its space, walking along its paths and feeling the rippled stones that once was an ancient seabed, you arrive at the same dumbstruck sensation. As the trails reveal the vast, undulating walls of cool, dark rock looming above, touching the wet ledges and getting wet by the rushing waterfall just feet in front of you, the experience is really no less awesome.
At the northern trails, the weather gets drier and sunnier. And looking down, the gorge reveals an array of forest greenery, dripping moss and lichen. And finally the vein of rushing waters at the very bottom continue its ceaseless carving of the landscape.
But to explain why it saddens me, well that’s a little trickier. Travel means exploration, but it’s also a displacement from the creature comforts of home. It invites introspection; new thoughts begin to form that the daily routine of life can invariably inhibit. When Carmela Soprano went to visit Paris, the altered setting shifted her thoughts and perspective, and she plangently observed, with surgical precision, I might add – the reason why travel can enlighten, sadden and thrill us all at the same time:
“We worry so much, sometimes it feels like that’s all we do, but in the end it just gets washed away. All of it just gets washed away.”