The Road Scholar program here in the Corning area is called the Finger Lakes sampler - a good name for this program, because there are so many different kinds of things to do here and we will sample them all. The woman who runs this program has many other programs that concentrate on one of the many topics we will address this week. Our whirlwind approach is good for folks like us that are not deeply interested in any one of these topics, but are enjoying a taste of it all. This makes for some very long touring days, but professional tourists like us can take it all in stride.
An aerial view of the Finger Lakes shows how they got their name. Glaciers carved eleven long, thin fissures into the area, which drain north into Lake Ontario, also carved by glaciers. Yesterday we had an extensive geology lesson given by a local professor who prepared us for our visit today to Watkins Glen State Park after she explained how the lakes were made. The glaciers helped to create massive fissures and folds in the rock and the water drainage has formed dramatic waterfalls where the rock ledges hold firm and a glen of 17 waterfalls that cut through the cracks. We walked a mile and a half ever downward through the glen, admiring the cascades, waterfalls and whirlpools. This area has had excessive amounts of rain lately and made Watkins Glen a terrific show. As our large group of Road Scholars worked their way through the canyon wearing name tags, a woman stopped me to inquire if we all were Rhodes Scholars. I really wanted to say yes!
Wineries flourish here since grapes grow so well on the steep slopes of the Finger Lakes. The lakes provide a more stable climate than the surrounding area and about seventy vineyards find great success here. Most of them are small and their product is not available all over the country like California wines are, but they are of high quality and we enjoyed sampling at one today - more tomorrow. The grapes are hanging heavy on the vines and will be harvested any day.
We went to Seneca Lake, one of the fingers, for a boat ride. The area is sparsely populated so most of the hillsides were full of green and not much else. A massive layer of salt lies below the rock layer that comprises the lake bottom provides on of the only industries here. Holes are drilled into the salt, fresh water is pumped in and dissolves the salt and the salty water is pumped back out and the salt is evaporated out. Salt and wine appear to be the major products here.
The next stop was at Elmira College, which houses the octagonal building where Mark Twain wrote many of his best known works. His wife was from Elmira and the Twain family came back for visits every summer for twenty years and lived with her sister. Twain smoked twenty cigars a day and his sister-in-law had the writing cottage built to get him and his bad smelling stogies out of her house. There were large windows on every side and Twain had lovely views of the lake and surrounding forest; they reminded him of the river views he had enjoyed from the pilot house on the Mississippi. Twain and his family are buried nearby.
We are staying at a local campground, but the rest of the group is housed at the Watson Homestead. Watson made his fortune as the first CEO of IBM and he bought the home where he was born and surrounding land and created a retreat center. Many Road Scholar sessions are held here as well as respite for folks recovering from cancer, religious retreats, and other groups with special interest in the area. The center has an Olympic size pool, hiking trails, climbing wall, mini golf, labyrinth, and other things to do that we will probably never get to. But we'll try.