I have been telling Jayne that I would take her up to Ithaca and show her Cornell University (my alma mater) for most of our relationship. So when the first weekend in June rolled around this year and we were facing a rainy weekend in the Philadelphia area, I proposed we get out of town and see what Ithaca had to offer. It was already early afternoon when we made the final decision so we had to hustle home and pack. It took us some time to get ready since we hadn’t been on a road trip in a while, but we eventually grabbed our gear and hit the road around four for a whirlwind 24 hours at my alma mater.
Ithaca is located in upstate New York about four hours from New York City, and is actually quite a pleasant drive from Philadelphia. We reached Ithaca as the sun was setting and parked not far from the store (since it was summer) and walked over to the edge of Libe Slope near Uris Library to catch the sunset. It was beautiful and the perfect way to start our time in Ithaca. We did a quick spin around campus to show Jayne the sights as well as my north campus dorm building for the first two years.
We didn’t have any plans or a hotel reservation, but we were hungry, so we headed down to drive around the Commons and see what could be seen. It turned out that there was a festival and music concert happening there over the weekend, so it was packed. But we managed to find a parking spot and walked around for a few minutes to find an outdoor dining spot. We ended up grabbing a margarita and some food at Viva Taqueria and enjoying the beautiful early summer weather of upstate NY.
After we finished our drinks and food, we decided it was time to find a hotel and turn in. We found a decent option with a free continental breakfast past the Wegmans, and headed there for the night. So much had changed in the nearly twenty years since I had gone to school there!
After a good nights rest (and some food), we were ready to explore! We made our way first to Buttermilk Falls State Park, which was just down the street. Buttermilk Falls is an 800 acre park with five hiking trails, waterfall, lake and campground. Since we had a busy day ahead of us, we spent our time there watching Buttermilk Creek splash down the hill as it has done for the past 12,000 years. I often enjoyed the falls of Ithaca, so it was a great way to introduce Jayne to the wonders of Ithaca.
Our next stop was Taughannock Falls State Park. Jayne really enjoyed the drive along the lake as we talked about how nice it would be to spend some time at one of the houses there with a great view. It wasn’t long before we reached the state park. Taughannock Falls is the highest single drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains – 215 feet down into a 400 foot gorge.
We decided that we were going to the overlook on the north rim of the gorge and that was our first sight of Taughannock Falls. It was everything that I remembered (maybe more since it had rained recently!) and Jayne was impressed. After we took a bunch of photos, she even decided to buy an Ithaca is Gorges t-shirt at the souvenir shop.
While we were on the overlook, we saw a bunch of people that had hiked down to the deck at the base of the waterfall. I admitted that I had never actually done the hike and Jayne and I quickly agreed to break new ground with her. It was a nice walk through the woods along the river to the pool and falls. Just about the time that we started wondering how much farther it was, we were there. There was a small crowd but we got some great pictures and had a lot of fun in the beauty of the outdoors.
We didn’t spend too much time there because we had a lot to explore, but we were definitely enjoying the weather. After the hike back to the car, we headed south back into Ithaca and found one of my old haunts not far from Ithaca Falls. After wandering around a bit, we parked and took the trail back to the waterfall. You can see it from the bridge, but we wanted to get an up close view. After we took a few photos, we enjoyed watching a great blue heron go fishing in the river that I used to fish in. We even saw it catch a fish and got some great photos.
We made our way back up the hill past Gun Hill (where I used to live for a year) and stopped at the Johnson museum to walk out onto the suspension bridge across the gorge. It was fun – although there is a lot more safety netting than I remember!
I had also never been to the Johnson Museum of Art while I was there, so we went in and walked around for a bit before going to the top floor for the wonderful views of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake. I remember them fondly from an 8 AM math class my first year of college.
We were getting hungry, so we jumped back in the car and headed up to the Dairy Bar for some sandwiches and ice cream. The ice cream is made there at Cornell’s very own dairy processing plant. It was just starting to rain a bit so we took our time, and there was absolutely no crowd since it was in the middle of summer. The coffee, sandwiches and ice cream were perfect.
We had one last stop planned in Ithaca – Sapsucker Woods. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is just outside of Ithaca, New York and was part of the reason that I went to Cornell in the first place so many years ago. We had a ton of fun checking out the various exhibits, watching the many birds at the feeders, and walking around the pond as it rained on us.
When we were sufficiently wet and finished up with the birds, we got back in the car and encountered a family of canadian geese and their babies which we watched dry themselves on the side of the road for a few minutes. They eventually walked into the field and we left for one more unplanned stop – nearby Triphammer mall. Armed with some Cornell souvenirs and facing a four or so hour drive home, we decided to get on the road. But it was a wonderful trip to Ithaca and one that we will never forget.