Woke up at 4:45 and decided to get on my way early. The dew was heavy, so the tent and fly went away quite wet, but later in the day I was able to take them out and dry them out. The next two nights are to be spent indoors.
The drive west from Oquaga Creek State park, through some serious fog in the valleys was a descent into the civilization of highways. There were local outposts of quick food and expensive gasoline at first, and then construction––lots of construction. Say what you will of the stimulus bills, they seems to have kicked off a long-needed spate of highway fix-ups. These are never fun when you’re in the middle of five miles of barrels and merging idiots, but needed none the less. Soon the towns on the side of the highway became more evident; not just signs with names that I tried to imagine being pronounced by a local, but visible groups of chain stores and nationalized fast-food joints and big, truckers service stations. The more congested areas of the “Southern Tier,” as the highway signs proclaim this area to be, are indistinguishable from congested areas anywhere, at least from the highway. Not having yet found the balance between exploration and efficient travel, I move through these small cities and towns; Binghamton, Elmira, Bath, with a growing desire to be someplace.
Why is “someplace” most often away from where we are, someplace else?
Letchworth is a treat. The man in a store in Dansville, where I stop for garbage bags (wet stuff protection) tells me to continue up the highway further to reach the park, and when I insist I want to get to the southern end of Letchworth, in Portageville (at last a name that suggests its origin!) he gives me a sideways glance and says, “Well, then you have to go south to where this road T-bones Rt 436 and take a right. Go up and over.” I don’t know what “up-and-over” means in this context, and don’t ask, just pay the small bill and head south.
This part of NY has a lot of very gently rolling farmland and immense hills as well. Up-and-over means exactly what it seems to say, and the road rises before me at a grade of about 10% for over three miles, and then, after a brief cruise along the crest, drops just as precipitously for another 3.5 miles, to the village of Nunda (pronounced, for some reason, nun-day). Just a few miles on, an entrance to the park appeared on my right, but a sign warning me that this was not the real entrance, merely a picnic area, sends me through Portageville and up the road to the actual entrance to the park.
There is a WPA look to the hardscape of this place, all rustic stonework and small pavilions built with logs, but no telling signs or indications of its building in the literature handed me with my ticket (“Refundable if you eat lunch at the inn!”). A little research tells me that indeed, the CCC had a great hand in completing what the state of New York had begun before the war effort stopped them cold. There is an immensely high RR trestle just inside the park that passes over the road and then the Genesee River far below, and I stop to air my camping gear and take some pictures. The iron is marked 1875, and a sign tells me that this is actually a replacement for the wooden structure that served the railroad for years before that. The idea of a wooden trestle this high astounds me. The men who built and used these bridges were forging the future and were made of sterner stuff than the likes of me.
The falls, labeled and accompanied by parking lots and viewing stations, are impressive as well, and I no longer mock the appellation of “Grand Canyon” after standing at Inspiration Point. While the scale is certainly different from the western canyons that bear that name, there is a grandness to this place, and a sort of romantic wildness that fits my mood after Olana.
Friday night and Saturday are spent in the company of a friend from my early days at Boston Collage. We each came to feel that the place was not for us and left in our sophomore year, and this, perhaps more than any great friendship, drew me to visit him on this trip. I don’t know if his reasons for escaping that place echoed my own, but I remember him fondly and wanted to spend a day or so in his company as a mature man. It turned out to be a good idea.