Monday, May 25, 2009

Cornell 2: The Gorges

The Cornell University campus is set atop the hill above Ithaca, and Cayuga Lake. It stands on the brow of the mountain, overlooking the Finger Lakes to the west, and their deep gorges and rolling hills.

Eevery hill in the Finger Lakes region, overlooking the Lakes themselves, is deeply grooved with gorges cut through the stacked shales and sandstones by rivers. This region was scoured by the glaciers, which cut the grooves of the Lakes themselves. After the glaciers retreated, streams of water began cascading off the edges of the hills above the newly-formed lakes, eventually digging deep gorges into the cliffs and brows. That's one reason the Finger Lakes region is so rich with waterfalls. They're everywhere, on private as well as public lands. Everywhere there are streams flowing into the Lakes, they have waterfalls. It's a waterland paradise.

Since Cornell is set high on a hill above Cayuga Lake, it's no surprise that there should be two very deep gorges that pass right through campus. These are part of Cornell's scenic appeal, and serve as de facto swimming and sunbathing areas for students and citydwellers alike.

When I was at Cornell, I was in student housing to the north of the central campus, and had to cross this suspension foot bridge almost every day. This large, deep gorge just north of the central campus area separates much of the student housing from the main campus.

There's another gorge further north that runs between some of the athletic campus and student housing. And there's a third gorge that runs between the main quadrangle and the shopping district just south of campus, where most of the student-frequented little cafés and shops are located. It's a warren of small shops typical of every town that hosts a major university: funky, free-thinking, creative, occasionally a bit unkempt. There's also a performing arts center on the edge of this third gorge, where I attended a couple of modern dance recitals while at Cornell.

The largest gorge, though, was where I spent a lot of time in the water.

The view west towards the Cayuga Valley from the middle of the bridge. From here, you can see where the water reaches a lip of stone, and falls, before jagging to the right, and down the hill. Right there, where the river track jags, there's a small falls, about a ten foot drop, where we used to walk down the trail, and get right under the falls. There's a small cave carved by the water, little more than an overhang, that you can wedge yourself into, to watch the water come down from behind. This was our favorite swimming place. There's a bit of a pool there, which you can swim across, and sun on the rocks. It's more hidden from sight, more private. My friends and I used to come down here several times a week, walking down the trail from the bridge on the campus side, and spend hours in the water, or lounging in the sun, talking about the things college students talk about, hanging out, having fun.

This is from the jut of ridge above our favorite waterfall, looking upstream towards the foot bridge. I'm hanging out over 100 or so feet of air to grab this photograph.

This afternoon it was warm and sunny after a night of heavy rain. The rivers and waterfalls are powerful. You have to wade carefully across to get to this sunny ledge, when the water's this fierce. After dark, students would still sometimes come down here, or stay down here from the afternoon, to hang out talking into the night. I was once told that after dark, the swimming places became clothing-optional, mostly because no one could see down into the unlit gorges.

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