Saturday, November 26, 2011

Letchworth Thanksgiving -- © Dave & Donna Spier

Trees on the canyon rim at Letchworth State Park, NY_© Donna Mason-Spier

This year’s Thanksgiving weather was pretty decent by western New York standards.  In fact, it's been the fifth warmest November on record.  Where we were, the weather didn’t live up to predictions, but we did get some sunny breaks in the afternoon between the morning cumulus clouds (probably coming off Lake Erie) and the evening cirrus coming in from the west that gave us a beautiful sunset to end the day.

Donna and I renewed our tradition of spending Thanksgiving in Letchworth State Park about midway between Rochester, NY and the Pennsylvania state line. After entering the park at the Mt. Morris [north] end, we drove the roughly 15 miles to the waterfalls near the south end. First stop was Inspiration Point which has heated restrooms open year round. There is a handicap-accessible interpretive trail along part of the rim and starting from the parking lot.

View from Inspiration Point -- © Donna Mason-Spier

At the end of the last Ice Age, glacial fill [clay, silt, sand and gravel that's part of the Valley Heads Moraine] blocked the return of the Genesee River to its ancestral valley just northeast of Portageville at the south end of the park. The river was forced west to the lowest divide and there it cut a new channel and began carving canyons through solid rock. A series of three waterfalls continues to deepen the gorge as they erode upstream [southward]. At Inspiration Point a short walk takes you to an overlook with a distant view of the Middle and Upper Falls.

From there we backtracked slightly to a side road and a short drive to Trailside Lodge for a picnic lunch.  Some years we have a little company; this year we had it all to ourselves. There are lots of tables inside, the building is heated and it turns out there are heated restrooms there too.  Our more-regular Thanksgiving dinner would be later at home.

Fireplace inside Trailside Lodge where we ate a picnic lunch -- © Dave Spier

District #2 schoolhouse beside the road to the trout pond -- © Donna Mason-Spier

Cross-bedded sedimentary rock layers on a natural joint plane
[roadcut beside main park road] -- © Donna Mason-Spier

After lunch, we continued south with a brief stop at the old schoolhouse near the Trout Pond and then down the hill past Glen Iris to a one-way drive descending to the old flood plain and a choice of parking areas. Our first direction was a short walk south to the Upper Falls which was nearly obscured by spray and mist rising from the plunge pool. It’s difficult to see, but the caprock is 28 feet of Nunda sandstone supported by weaker Gardeau sandstones and shales. Both formations are part of the late-Devonian West Falls group which in turn is part of the larger Catskill Delta underlying the Finger Lakes and Genesee regions.

Trail to Upper Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier
Deh-ge-wa-nus Creek descends to the river above Upper Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

At Letchworth Park, you can walk uphill past the crest of the Upper Falls and look back to see a rainbow in the mist when conditions are right. The rainbow is highest in late fall and early winter when the sun is near its lowest angle of the year. In the afternoon, the rainbow is downstream from the west side trail.  If you go, you might want to also take some pictures of the historic 234-foot high steel railroad bridge. They're talking about replacing it with a modern arch bridge.

Rainbow in the mist below Upper Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

From the Upper Falls it’s an easy half-mile walk north along the Genesee River toward the Middle Falls, probably the most spectacular of the three falls and the main attraction in the park.  Along the way we stopped to take a few pictures of the river which was unusually high and muddy for this time of year due to recent heavy rains.

Ripples on the Genesee River above Middle Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

Outcrop in the Genesee River above Middle Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

First hint of rainbow in the mist below crest of Middle Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

 If you continue north on the trail past the crest you’ll reach clearer views of the falls itself. Watch for another rainbow in the mist along the way. William Pryor Letchworth built his Glen Iris mansion overlooking this falls. It descends 107’ over rocks of the Gardeau formation.

Middle Falls, 107’ high, seen from below William Pryor Letchworth's mansion at Glen Iris -- © Donna Mason-Spier

Rainbow in the mist below Middle Falls -- © Donna Mason-Spier

Letchworth Park blog to be continued...

(In the meantime, you might want to check the Genesee River Wilds Project working to develop a series of parks and trails along the river from Letchworth south to Potter County, PA.)

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