Thursday, June 19, 2008

Down The Gorge

My geology professor in college took our class on a field trip to Robert H Treman State Park just south of Ithaca, NY. Trails within the park run along a large stream that has carved a gorge in which you can identify several examples of geological phenomena we’d studied in class: rotational slump, landslide, bedding planes, rock fracture, plunge pools, freeze-thaw, running-water erosion, sedimentary deposition…

When we’d progressed a few dozen yards down the trail, our professor stopped us and shared what might have been just a good story: The scientist, Louis Agissiz had travelled the world studying geologic features. His exploration had led him to propose that earth had experienced an ice age, and that much of the land we now inhabit was once covered with deep glaciers.

With all his travels to so many amazing landscapes and vistas, when he first turned the corner into the gorge we were about to see, he had exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.” Truth, or fiction, I wanted to share that moment with my kids. So, this morning we drove from my dad’s lake house to the upper entrance of Robert H Treman State Park and the head of the Enfield Glen trail.

I’ve turned the corner into that gorge about a half dozen times in my life. But you know what? When we made the turn, I was stunned. Few places anywhere have astonished me with their beauty the way I was astonished in that moment. That section of the gorge belongs in a fantasy story—as exotic and breathtaking as any real estate in any popular movie: The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Star Wars films, The Quiet Earth—The Enfield Glen trail would fit in any of them without digital retouching.

I could tell that despite my excessive build up to the moment, my kids also were impressed by the natural beauty of the gorge trail. The early part of the trail travels a walkway with stone rails, stairs, and bridges all built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the depression. Moss has grown on the stonework, and it blends well with the natural rock of the gorge.

After passing several small waterfalls, plunge pools, and sandbars, the trail emerges at the top of a spectacular waterfall that splashes into a lower pool—stairs let you walk alongside the precipitous drop and provide several fine views both downstream toward a wooded valley and upstream along the trail we’d just walked.

On the trail, we encountered a red newt, a garter snake, and some workmen repairing some weather-worn stonework. I don’t envy them wheeling the cement, sand, and tools necessary to complete the maintenance.

If you’re in Ithaca for any reason, do yourself a favor and walk down the lower trail into the Enfield Glen gorge from the upper entrance of Robert H Treman park.

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