What the Boss Likes – Finger Lakes vacation, part 1 – geology, food and drink

We’ve not taken a vacation for a couple of years due to various circumstances.  So this year, we decided to go somewhere relatively close to us here in central Pennsylvania but somewhere we’ve never been before.  We chose the Finger Lakes region of New York state, a place full of wineries, restaurants and interesting geology.

First thing I’ll tell you that in my opinion there are too many wineries up there.  The place started in wine production back in the 1800s, had a pause thanks to the utter ridiculous idea of Prohibition, and restarted in the 1970s.  There are some very good ones and then the rest?  Well, it’s far too many people making meh wine to cash in on the tourists.  And the meh wine can be dry or sweet, it’s just not anything special.

There are a few breweries springing up and distilleries. I’ll get into detail on some of them later.  The breweries will likely get too many also since hop production is returning to the Finger Lakes  and the state is offering tax incentives to use them.

The area is very much like where my husband and I grew up, though writ larger with the hills being twice as high and the valleys twice as wide. (nice satellite photo here, the lakes are at the bottom)  As the name indicates, there are lakes, long, narrow and some quite deep (the deepest, Seneca,  getting over 600’ or 188 meters). These are the result of glaciers and very soft rock, mostly shale, created from the erosion of the old mountains on the east coast.

We stayed on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport.  We also spent some time around Seneca Lake, the largest of the lakes.  My husband is having a great time postulating lake monsters, and with US Navy testing equipment in Seneca, it has all sorts of possibilities for stories on how the tests aren’t tests at all…..  🙂

These posts are going to combine stops along the road, reviews of food, wine, etc and of course my opinions.  I’m going to try to keep it vaguely chronological.

long down hill stretch.  Small white rectangle in right of photo is a tractor-trailer.
long down hill stretch. Small white rectangle in right of photo is a tractor-trailer.

We headed up US Route 15 which is pretty much a straight shot between Harrisburg PA and the lakes.  We stopped in Watkins Glen, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake.  It’s the location of the Watkins Glen state park, with great geology.  It also has the Watkins Glen NASCAR racetrack, an American pastime that seems to be nothing more than high-speed chariot racing, with the audience just as blood thirsty as the ancient Romans.    It supposedly had its origins in the bootleggers from Prohibition who had to get their illegal alcohol cargo in and out fast.  (incidentally, my husband’s grandmother, Effie, was one of those bootleggers, she was the hammer girl in the backseat  who would smash the glass bottles so the liquor could drain out the holes drilled in the floor of the car. Thus,  law enforcement would not catch them with the goods).  As you can see, the leaves are beginning to turn colors thanks to autumn in these latitudes.

wildflower café
wildflower café

We stopped for lunch at the Wildflower Café/Crooked Rooster Brew Pub (they stock Rooster Fish Brewing’s ales).   One reason we wanted to stop there is that they have deep fried jalepeno peppers.  Also got a blue cheese burger and a caprese Panini (tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil).  Beers were a good Hefeweizen for myself and a classic Mysterious amber ale for my husband.  Most of the small towns in the area are full of lovely Victorian mansions, results from the old wealth of timber, etc.

Fried jalapenos
Fried jalapenos


After lunch we headed to the state park, right on the edge of town.  The ad copy for the park says that it leaves visitors spellbound.  It also leaves them breathless, literally. The park is a chasm between 200 foot cliffs and has 800 plus steps on slippery rock paths that are all up from the town.  Sometimes they have a shuttle to bring you back down but they didn’t have that when we visited.   You want to be in shape for this and have good shoes.   Also, take water.  There’s plenty of it in the chasm but none to drink.

The park is very similar looking to the slot canyons in the US southwest and other parts of the world, although it’s wetter and darker.   The chasm is lined with walkways, all about one person wide.  They do have walls on them but the walls only go up to about mid-thigh.  If you have issues with heights, I would recommend giving this place a pass.   See photos in the gallery below.

Since my husband and I do like our sword and sorcery fiction, this all looks like where one would be meeting dwarves or elves.   One can imagine just how hard it would be to fight with sword and shield on such a small path.


Next post, more about the wine, mead, whiskey and food.